Washington was a great slave mart, and her slave-pen was one of the most infamous in the whole land. One woman, who had escaped from it, was pursued in her flight across the long bridge, and was gaining on the four men who followed her, when they shouted to some on the Virginia shore, who ran and intercepted her. Seeing her way blocked, and all hope of escape gone, with one wild cry she clasped her hands above her head, sprang into the Potomac, and was swept into that land beyond the River Death, where alone was hope for the American slave. Another woman with her two children was captured on the steps of the capitol building, whither she had fled for protection, and this, too, while the stars and stripes floated over it.
One of President Tyler’s daughters ran away with the man she loved, in order that they might be married, but for this they must reach foreign soil. A young lady of the White House could not marry the man of her choice in the United States. The lovers were captured, and she was brought to His Excellency, her father, who sold her to a slave-trader. From that Washington slave-pen she was taken to New Orleans by a man who expected to get twenty-five hundred dollars for her on account of her great beauty.
My letters to the New York Tribune, soon attracted so much attention that is was unpleasant for me to live in a hotel, and I became the guest of my friend Mrs. Emma D.E.N. Southworth. It was pleasant to look into her great, dreamy grey eyes, with their heavy lashes, at the broad forehead and the clustering brown curls, and have her sit and look into the fire and talk as she wrote of the strange fancies which peopled her busy brain.
Among the legislative absurdities which early attracted my attention was that of bringing every claim against the government before Congress. If a man thought government owed him ten dollars, the only way was to have the bill pass both houses. In my Tribune letters, I ventilated that thoroughly, and suggested a court, in which Brother Jonathan could appear by attorney. Mr. Greeley seconded the suggestion warmly, and this, I think, was the origin of the Court of Claims.
There was yet one innovation I wanted to make, although my stay in Washington would necessarily be short. No woman had ever had a place in the Congressional reporter’s gallery. This door I wanted to open to them, called on Vice-President Fillmore and asked him to assign me a seat in the Senate gallery. He was much surprised and tried to dissuade me. The place would be very unpleasant for a lady, would attract attention, I would not like it; but he gave me the seat. I occupied it one day, greatly to the surprise of the Senators, the reporters, and others on the floor and in the galleries; but felt that the novelty would soon wear off, and that women would work there and win bread without annoyance.
But the Senate had another sensation that day, for Foot, in a speech alluded to “the gentleman from Missouri.” Benton sprang to his feet, and started toward him, but a dozen members rushed up to hold him, and he roared: