Civil War to Civil Rights
— Downtown Heritage Trail —
"Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable," Senator Daniel Webster, January 1830
Senator Daniel Webster, eloquent advocate for the preservation of the Union and a political giant in pre-Civil War America, lived and worked here. His home and office buildings, now demolished, were similar to the two surviving pre-Civil War buildings alongside this sign. Wester's buildings began where the ally is today, stretching to the west. In the mid-19th century this was a fashionable neighborhood of fine homes and magnificent churches within easy walking distance to the Capitol and near Washington's City Hall/Courthouse.
Webster's unmatched speaking ability helped bring about the Compromise of 1850. The compromise helped delay the Civil War for about ten years and ended the notorious slave trade in District of Columbia. But at the same time strengthened the fugitive slave law that compelled citizens to help capture and return individuals fleeing slavery.
In 1850, at 69 years of age and near the end of his life, Webster made his last great speech on the floor of the Senate in defense of the Union. He filed the galleries with spectators, many of whom were Washingtonians who regularly attended the entertaining and educational congressional debates. Webster likely developed his arguments here in his office.
Among the dignitaries who lived nearby were Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri, John C. Calhoun, vice president under President John Quincy Adams; and Salmon P. Chase, President Lincoln's secretary of the Treasury. President Lincoln attended the wedding of Kate Chase in the family home at Sixth and D Streets, now demolished. Lincoln attended the wedding of Chase's daughter Kate at the family home at Sixth and E Streets, now demolished.
In Webster's day, the First Unitarian Church of Washington stood at the corner of Sixth and D. The Unitarians were among the city's loudest anti-slavery voices. When they tolled the church bell endlessly the day abolitionist John Brown was executed in 1859, the city ordered the bell silenced for good. The former Recorder of Deeds building now occupies the church site.
The Civil War (1861 - 1865) transformed Washington, DC from a muddy backwater to a center of national power. Ever since, the city has been at the heart of the continuing struggle to realize fully the ideas for which the war was fought. The 25 signs that mark this trail follow the footsteps of Abraham Lincoln, Walt Whitman, Clara Barton, Frederick Douglas, and others, famous and humble, who shaped a nation and its capital city while living and working in historic downtown DC.
Civil War to Civil Rights Downtown Heritage Trail
is an Official Washington, DC Walking Trail. The self-guided tour consists of three distinct loops: West, Center, and East. Each one-mile loop offers about an hour of gentle exercise.
A free booklet capturing the trail's highlights is available at local businesses and institutions along the way. To download the free Civil War to Civil Rights Audio Tour, and learn about other DC neighborhoods, please visit www.CuturalTourismDC.org.