On Monday, March 4, 1850, the day after James Griffing completed his letter to Augusta Goodrich, John C. Calhoun, the enfeebled patriarch of Southern gentility and advocate of State's Rights, limped into the Senate chamber and listened, in silence, as his speech was read by Senator James Mason of Virginia. Calhoun's speech "maintained that the Union could be saved only by giving the South equal rights in the acquired territory, by halting the agitation of the slavery question, and by a constitutional amendment restoring 'to the South, in substance, the power she possessed of protecting herself before the equilibrium between the sections was destroyed by the action of this government.'" 
days later, Daniel Webster rose in support of Henry Clay's resolutions in a
speech that began: "I wish to speak today, not as a Massachusetts man, nor
as a Northern man, but as an American... I speak today for the preservation of
the Union. Hear me for my cause..." Webster
went on to argue that "there was no necessity for Congressional action on
slavery in the acquired territory... contending that slavery had been excluded
there by virtue of soil and climate."  The local newspapers were filled with the latest news from Washington as
easily agitated and offended egos buffeted each other in the Congressional
chambers, each day seemingly drawing closer and closer to unraveling the fabric
of the Nation. Could the Union
survive this latest round of internal conflict? Would the wedge be driven so deep this time that reconciliation would be
impossible? To a young man of 27
years and with the second term of his Select
school in Tunkhannock closed, the urge to see first-hand the news event of the
perhaps the entire century -- was too much to stifle. In a letter from Baltimore, James wrote to Augusta:
You will please pardon this seeming neglect of
mine in writing you. One, and the principal reason of my postponing so long to
notice your kind favor, was that I have been unable to tell you where to direct
your letters. I left Tunkhannock just eight days ago, shipped on board of a raft
to Columbia and came from there to this place in the [railroad] cars. If I had
time, I should be glad to give you a minutia of the trip. The [Susquehanna]
river was much higher than ordinary for a May freshet. The weather, some of the
time, very pleasant. And then to accompany this with the sublimity of the
scenery all along the Susquehanna would furnish material to talk and write about
[for] a whole book. Yet Oh! as in almost every place where nature has _______
seems to speak and demand our utmost attention, and reverence the ear if by far
too often pained by the horrid imprecations and foul annunciations of mistaken,
foolish men more especially along this rafting time. After all, I suppose we
will ever fa___ ____ze mixed with the sweet. The Gentleman I came with had a
very fine lot of [hired] hands. No accidents befell although the wind blew us
out of our course a few times. Yet with perseverance and watchfulness, we were
able to regain our proper place. In a drunken affray, I saw a young man knocked
off from a neighboring raft and would have been drowned had not two men seized
him just as he was going under the raft.
Saw many old acquaintances
about Columbia. Hannah Broadhead and Francis Catlin had left there two days
before I arrived. Was sorry as they came on here to Baltimore. Was right glad to
again see my brother Daniel. He was not at home 
when I first came so I left
word at the house that a 'Mr. Sayre' would be glad to see him at the Hotel upon
his return. He rather mistrusted who I was, but when he came to look for me,
[he] passed right by me, did not know me, and I presume would not have selected
me out of the crowd if after a while I had not arose and met him. I had not seen
him before in nearly six years and the good visit I have had thus far has much
more than repaid me for all the trouble I have taken to come here. His Lady
appears very affable and pleasant; is decidedly a business woman, and I think
would make an excellent housekeeper. Her store is at No. 74 Baltimore Street.
She sells flowers at wholesale & retail. She has under employ five hands who
are kept very busy in order to supply the demand. The Old people are church
members and appear very pleasant and kind. In short, all the circumstances
connected with my visit here exceeded all of my expectations.
Last Tuesday [May 14, 1850], I thought I would take a trip to Washington [D.C.] and I should have been indeed happy should I have been favored with your company. I had been anxious to visit that place for a long time. Because my brother could not very well leave his employer, I was obliged to go alone. The distance is about 32 miles by railroad [from Baltimore] and makes about 2 hours travel. I thought if I should start on the six o'clock train in the morning, I should get tired enough to return on the evening train. But as good luck would have it, I came across an old acquaintance shortly after I arrived there and the result was that I came back to Baltimore this (Thursday noon). And if my time and the depth of my pocket lining would allow, believe that I could have spent a month not only very agreeably, but also profitably. I had been preparing my imagination by allowing it to miniature the city long before my arrival, had allowed myself to wander unchecked amidst endless shrubbery, serpentine, circular, well-paved walks hemmed with the choicest selections of trees, whose far spreading branches would form a beautiful arch and whose bodies being festooned with wreaths of ivy and woodbine, would at times form arbors that the very fairies themselves would covet on a summer afternoon and evening.
So much for the outgrounds about the Capitol
[building]. Yet, after all, my imagination had fallen far below the reality. And
although the outgrounds exceeded, yet I think the building itself fell quite
below my expectations. To be sure, it is spacious and a person cannot fully
appreciate its enormity until they ascend to its summit and look down upon the
great rotunda below you.  From this giddy height, how
like a pigmy does
even the old president appear standing below. 
it must be remembered that it is the Capitol of this whole republic and it needs
a building of immense size. Yet I should think it near as large as the Asbury
House in New York City.
The Senate room is quite a small semicircular room containing just seats enough to accommodate that body and this has a gallery for spectators which will accommodate only about 2 or 3 hundred people. Hundreds and thousands that come here during the session of Congress for the purpose of hearing the members of the Senate speak are obliged to leave without being favored with the privilege. Business matters [in the Senate] seem to move so very slowly. The Senate never meets until 12 o'clock and then closes about 4. I succeeded in forcing my way in both afternoons of my stay. Had the gratification of listening to a speech by Henry Clay.  He presents much more of a rustic appearance than I expected he would. From the many likenesses I had seen of him, I succeeded in selecting him out from among the senators. Yet after all, I think that none I have ever seen really resemble him. His wrinkled face, white loose flaxen locks waving gently across his brows -- the corners of his mouth soiled with tobacco juice, are all wanting in his many features. Yet his former life, his lively social demeanor, his tall venerable form, his integrity of character, and his deep devotion to his Country's interests have won for himself a name and place in the affections of the American people that all the changes of time cannot readily efface. No senator is listened to with more profound attention and greater deference and respect is paid to none. Yet his feeble suppressed voice, his trembling frame and hoary locks bear unmistakable testimony that his career is nearly finished. Peace and prosperity ever attend him. 
here I am, my page almost done and letter just begun. There are a thousand
things about Washington I should be glad to tell you about but must wait until I
see you. Perhaps I shall not be home until July. I cannot tell with certainty.
At that time, Daniel and his wife intend to go home. I have obtained an agency
which will occupy me for awhile, and if I find I can do well by it, I am not
certain but I may follow it through the summer. I think it would be far better
for my health to travel about then to be confined in my schoolroom. How are you
pleased with your school this summer? How do all at Uncle William Stratton's [in
Newfield, New York]? What news from home? Where do you think of attending school
and how do you like teaching? I guess pretty well. Have you changed your mind
with respect to your summer's employment? Have you given any thought of going
through with a course of studies? Oh, I have just guessed it. You have about
concluded to go down east again in August, have you -- James
P.S. I shall be in Tunkhannock again next week and if you write direct upon the reception of this, I shall get your answer there, when I will let you know where I am from time to time. Monday morn, the 20th, shall leave town tomorrow.
 Richard B. Morris, Encyclopedia of American History, p. 212.
 Ibid., p 212.
 When James visited his brother Daniel Griffing in 1850, Daniel was living with his in-laws, Jacob & Phoebe Shaffner. The 1850 Baltimore, Ward 10 Census Record shows the following dwelling inhabitants:
 At the time that James visited Washington, D.C. in 1850, the Capitol building had been finished for about 25 years. It had fallen upon Charles Bulfinch to complete the construction of the Capitol, improving upon Benjamin Latrobe's original design. It was Bulfinch that designed and succeeded in completing the dome and rotunda in 1825. The wooden dome was replaced with an iron one during the Lincoln Administration. Apparently, even in the first dome, it was possible to climb a small winding stairway to the top of the rotunda.
The statue of George Washington that James viewed from the top of the
rotunda was undoubtedly the 11 foot tall statue of Washington sculpted by
Horatio Greenough in 1841. Charles
Dickens mentions the presence of this statue in the rotunda during his
visit to America in early 1842. The statue caused much controversy
for it depicted Washington as a classical figure, seated on an Olympian
throne in the guise of Zeus. Nathaniel
Hawthorne, expressing the layman's taste of the day, thought it was crazy to
even contemplate a nude version of "Pater Patriae."
"Did anybody ever see Washington naked!", he wrote. "It is inconceivable. He
had no nakedness, but I imagine, was born with his clothes on and his hair
powdered, and made a stately bow on his first appearance in the world."
A few years after its placement in the rotunda, the statue was
removed to the outside of the Capitol. It is now in the Smithsonian American History Museum.
 Perhaps it was an article in the "Baltimore Sun" on the day that he arrived in Baltimore that induced James to go to Washington, D.C. in the hopes of seeing his life-long champion, Henry Clay. In the May 13 [Monday], 1850 edition, the newspaper ran the following editorial:
Washington, May 12, 1850
"All eyes are now fixed on the compromise scheme and its great advocate, Mr. Clay, who will tomorrow make one of the most able efforts of his life in its vindication and support. I have no doubt that Mr. Clay will be able to demonstrate to the satisfaction of the American public the entire propriety of his plan of adjusting all the vexed questions. He will fail only in satisfying those who do not intend to be satisfied, and swear to resist every plan of adjustment. Those who wish to keep the question open for agitation can not be reconciled nor convinced by appeals to sense or to patriotism."
Henry Clay did speak for two hours during the Monday session. When James arrived the next day, he was disappointed in not hearing Henry Clay Speak. Perhaps that is one of the reasons he chose to spend the night in Washington as it was rumored that Henry Clay would rise again on Wednesday to argue the Compromise. As luck would have it, James did succeed in getting a seat in the Senate gallery on Wednesday and an opportunity to hear his political idol.
James' description of Henry Clay's speech sounds very similar to one that
was written by Clay's contemporary, John Wentworth, who claimed that Clay
earned a reputation for skillful, spontaneous debate on the Senate floor
rather than for prepared speeches. "Although
the Senate and galleries would always be filled when it was announced that
Mr. Clay was to speak, yet it was always with the expectation and hope that
some one would interrupt him, and a grand, intellectual sparring exposition
would take place. Of all men
whom I ever heard, I never knew one who could endure so much interruption
and discuss so many sides of the issues, and yet finish his speech with the
entire line of argument marked out in his mind from the beginning, as Mr.
Clay. Could the enemies of Mr.
Clay have formed a combination never to interrupt him, nor be interrupted by
him, they would have deprived him of much of his senatorial glory.
The best speeches of Calhoun, Webster, and Benton were well
considered, and read now much as when delivered. Not so with Mr. Clay's best speeches. They were unpremeditated, and as much a surprise to himself as to his
audience. Shorthand reporting
had not then reached its present condition. Thus, Clay must suffer with posterity, incapable of hearing the
varied intonations of his ever-pleasing voice, or of seeing his
gesticulations, his rising upon his toes, his stamp of the foot, his march
down the aisles until his long fingers would almost touch the president's
desk, and his backward tread to the seat, all the while speaking; his shake
of the head, his dangling hair, and his audience in the galleries rising and
leaning over as if to catch every syllable."
James' description of Henry Clay's speech sounds very similar to one that was written by Clay's contemporary, John Wentworth, who claimed that Clay earned a reputation for skillful, spontaneous debate on the Senate floor rather than for prepared speeches. "Although the Senate and galleries would always be filled when it was announced that Mr. Clay was to speak, yet it was always with the expectation and hope that some one would interrupt him, and a grand, intellectual sparring exposition would take place. Of all men whom I ever heard, I never knew one who could endure so much interruption and discuss so many sides of the issues, and yet finish his speech with the entire line of argument marked out in his mind from the beginning, as Mr. Clay. Could the enemies of Mr. Clay have formed a combination never to interrupt him, nor be interrupted by him, they would have deprived him of much of his senatorial glory. The best speeches of Calhoun, Webster, and Benton were well considered, and read now much as when delivered. Not so with Mr. Clay's best speeches. They were unpremeditated, and as much a surprise to himself as to his audience. Shorthand reporting had not then reached its present condition. Thus, Clay must suffer with posterity, incapable of hearing the varied intonations of his ever-pleasing voice, or of seeing his gesticulations, his rising upon his toes, his stamp of the foot, his march down the aisles until his long fingers would almost touch the president's desk, and his backward tread to the seat, all the while speaking; his shake of the head, his dangling hair, and his audience in the galleries rising and leaning over as if to catch every syllable."
When the noted English author Charles Dickens visited the Senate chamber in 1842, he could not refrain from recording his observation that most Americans -- including congressmen -- engaged in the filthy habit of chewing tobacco. He wrote:
"The Senate is a dignified and decorous body, and its proceedings are conducted with much gravity and order. Both houses are handsomely carpeted; but the state to which these carpets are reduced by the universal disregard of the spittoon with which every honourable member is accommodated, and the extraordinary improvements on the pattern which are squirted and dabbled upon it in every direction, do not admit of being described. I will merely observe, that I strongly recommend all strangers not to look at the floor, and if they happen to drop anything, though it be their purse, not to pick it up with an ungloved hand on any account."