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Robert G. Ingersoll quotation from “Some Mistakes of Moses” (1879)
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Walking Tour Stop 2

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Old D.C. City Hall and Court House
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Old D.C. City Hall and Court House

Superior Court of the District of Columbia, Building D, 451 Indiana Avenue, N.W.

This Greek Revival building by George Hadfield, whose cornerstone was laid in 1820 by President James Monroe, was originally the District of Columbia City Hall and Court House. With its ionic portico, it is considered an architecturally perfect example of the Greek Revival or Georgian style.

Among those tried here were John Surratt, one of the conspirators in Lincoln's assassination; Charles Guiteau, the assassin of President Garfield; and Albert Fall and Harry Sinclair, who were involved in the Teapot Dome scandal. Theodore Roosevelt had an office in the building when he served as Civil Service Commissioner. For a time before the Civil War, the building had served as a slave market. In 1861, a temporary addition was used for President Lincoln's first Inaugural Ball. Later, this addition served as a hospital for wounded Union soldiers. In 1863, the U.S. Government acquired part of the building for the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia, a Federal court.

D.C. Court of Appeals
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D.C. Court of Appeals

Ingersoll practiced law before this court, notably as defense counsel for Senator Stephen Dorsey in the Star Route trial. This case, which lasted from June 1882 to June 1883, was “the most sensational case of the Gilded Age (and of Ingersoll's career at the bar)” (Smith, 1990).

An exhibit on the Star Route trial, including a 19th century cartoon of Ingersoll, may be viewed at the U.S. Postal Museum at Massachusetts Avenue and North Capitol Street. Unfortunately, the “narrative account is quite wrong as to the facts,” declared Smith. There was no conspiracy between a Post Office official and Ingersoll’s clients to defraud the government. The defendants were acquitted. A contemporaneous cartoon shows a victorious Ingersoll leaving the courthouse with bags of counsel fees under his arms. In fact, his client Dorsey paid him a vacation ranch in New Mexico worth about $15,000. “Whereas, a fee of about $100,000 would not have been out of line in such a case.”

In front of the Superior Court building stands a gray stone statue of Abraham Lincoln by Lot Flannery. It was erected in 1868 as the first public monument to the martyred President. It reminds us that Ingersoll was the great champion of the Republican Party, the party of Lincoln. With regard to the Great Emancipator, he declared,

Abraham Lincoln was, in my judgment, in many respects the grandest man ever President of the United States. Upon his monument these words should be written: “Here sleeps the only man in the history of the world, who, having been clothed with almost absolute power, never abused it, except upon the side of mercy.”

Walking Directions (printable version)

To walk to tour stop #3:

Go west two blocks on D Street, toward 6th Street.

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