Empire of Mud: The Secret History of Washington, DC
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Washington, DC, gleams with stately columns and neoclassical temples, a pulsing hub of political power and prowess. But for decades it was one of the worst excuses for a capital city the world had ever seen. Before America became a world power in the twentieth century, Washington City was an eyesore at best and a disgrace at worst. Unfilled swamps, filthy canals, and rutted horse trails littered its landscape. Political bosses hired hooligans and thugs to conduct the nation's affairs. Legendary madams entertained clients from all stations of society and politicians of every party. The police served and protected with the aid of bribes and protection money. Beneath pestilential air, the city’s muddy roads led to a stumpy, half-finished obelisk to Washington here, a domeless Capitol Building there. Lining the streets stood boarding houses, tanneries, and slums. Deadly horse races gouged dusty streets, and opposing factions of volunteer firefighters battled one another like violent gangs rather than life-saving heroes. The city’s turbulent history set a precedent for the dishonesty, corruption, and mismanagement that have led generations to look suspiciously on the various sin--both real and imagined--of Washington politicians. Empire of Mud unearths and untangles the roots of our capital’s story and explores how the city was tainted from the outset, nearly stifled from becoming the proud citadel of the republic that George Washington and Pierre L'Enfant envisioned more than two centuries ago.
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estate houses by cooking, sewing, cleaning, and undertaking other household chores. They built new outbuildings and fixed old ones and generally performed the labors necessary to make the farm profitable. Even free blacks could be sold into slavery. The Alexandria prison where slaves were held until being sold to plantations in the Deep South. More numerous than the planters, though, were common slaveholders, who usually had only a few slaves they used as domestic workers. Some stayed in their
logic of the Revolution primarily involved securing individual rights by checking the powers of the state—the right to prevent unfair taxation in the years leading up to the War of Independence; the rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” embodied in the Declaration of Independence; the separation of powers laid out in the Constitution; the enumeration of individual liberties in the Bill of Rights. Yet, at the very time these concepts were codified into law, their antithesis was
summing up the era, decried “the total inadequacy of the force” to cover a city that had little to no police protection on most of its streets and alleys.6 One police officer walking seven blocks to the Capitol witnessed fourteen fights along the way. Another became exhausted from the endless conflict: Like the others, I used to spend the entire day in making arrests. As fast as I would return from taking one prisoner to the station-house I would make another arrest, and sometimes I used to
jobs and political patronage served as the carrot that went with the electoral stick, and Shepherd expertly glad-handed legislators in the local and national governments to do his bidding, trading their support of his costly projects with helping them gain admission to the upscale clubs and organizations they wanted to join. He regularly favored bids from contractors smart enough to buy materials and services from companies in which he had a stake. To publicize his projects, he used government