On this day in 1800, President John Adams, in the last year of his only term as president, moved into the newly constructed President’s House, the original name for what is known today as the White House.
Adams had been living in temporary digs at Tunnicliffe’s City Hotel near the half-finished Capitol building since June 1800, when the federal government was moved from Philadelphia to the new capital city of Washington, D.C. In his biography of Adams, historian David McCullough recorded that when Adams first arrived in Washington, he wrote to his wife Abigail, at their home in Quincy, Massachusetts, that he was pleased with the new site for the federal government and had explored the soon-to-be President’s House with satisfaction.
Although workmen had rushed to finish plastering and painting walls before Adams returned to D.C. from a visit to Quincy in late October, construction remained unfinished when Adams rolled up in his carriage on November 1. However, the Adams’ furniture from their Philadelphia home was in place and a portrait of George Washington was already hanging in one room. The next day, Adams sent a note to Abigail, who would arrive in Washington later that month, saying that he hoped “none but honest and wise men [shall] ever rule under this roof.”
Although Adams was initially enthusiastic about the presidential mansion, he and Abigail soon found it to be cold and damp during the winter. Abigail, in a letter to a friend, wrote that the building was tolerable only so long as fires were lit in every room. She also noted that she had to hang their washing in an empty “audience room” (the current East Room).
John and Abigail Adams lived in what she called “the great castle” for only five months. Shortly after they moved in, Thomas Jefferson defeated Adams in his bid for re-election. Abigail was happy to leave Washington and departed in February 1801 for Quincy. As Jefferson was being sworn in on March 4, 1801, John Adams was already on his way back to Massachusetts, where he and Abigail lived out the rest of their days at their family farm.