Nelson Mandela may have held tough with the president of the United States yesterday, but he clearly saved his sentimentality for the U.S. Senate last night.

"We remember Joe Louis," the South African nationalist leader told the dinner party of senators, activists and journalists, "but to us it was not really a question of boxing, but the fact that a black man could rise to the top of his field in the profession he had chosen. That was proof that we could rise. The success achieved by blacks in this country, under great difficulties, is a great source of inspiration to us."

Mandela brought his highly charged anti-apartheid campaign to the Capitol last night, and not surprisingly, had the powers of Congress eating out of his hands before dessert was even served.

At the intimate dinner in the Russell building, which was originally intended for the Senate, Mandela called his visit to the United States the "fulfillment of a dream I have cherished since my young days." He thanked the "august body" for its support against apartheid and "racial oppression" and encouraged the participation of American businessmen in the development of a new and equal economy in his country. "We are looking at state participation as just one of our options," Mandela told the political leaders.

His hosts were equally effusive. "We admire his personal courage, his total commitment to a cause in which he believes, and his lack of bitterness towards those who had imprisoned him for a third of his life," said Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell.

It was the 71-year-old leader's second triumphant day in Washington -- but he looked tired. He and his wife, Winnie, arrived about 30 minutes late and stayed just over an hour.

The dinner was given by Sen. Terry Sanford (D-N.C.), a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, and Sen. David Boren (D-Okla.), a vocal anti-apartheid force in Congress. While the entire Senate was invited, only about 40 members showed, including John Glenn (D-Ohio), Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.), Joseph Biden (D-Del.), Charles Robb (D-Va.) and Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.). Also on hand were supporters Jesse Jackson, NAACP Executive Director Benjamin Hooks and singer Harry Belafonte.

In addition, Mandela's African National Congress traveling party, the House leadership, journalists and a few lucky political leaders from Sanford's and Boren's states were included. But in the absence of an official White House dinner, Boren and Sanford were deluged with calls from brazen hopefuls, seeking to cop an invite.

"Let's just say there were many interested people," said a spokesman for Boren, tactfully. "It was for the Senate and the decision was made very early on to keep it private."

In one sour Hill note earlier in the day, arch-conservative Rep. William Dannemeyer (R-Calif.) called it "a national disgrace" that the leader of the ANC was scheduled to address the U.S. Congress today. Dannemeyer cited Mandela's support of U.S. adversaries Yasser Arafat, Moammar Gadhafi and Fidel Castro. "Nelson Mandela is no Martin Luther King," he said. "He is more like H. Rap Brown or Willie Horton."

President Bush urged Mandela to renounce violence during their three-hour meeting yesterday morning, but he refused, telling the president he didn't have all the facts.

Several senators appeared slightly uneasy with Mandela's position on the issue of violence, as well as his loyalty to the three controversial leaders.

Simpson called all this "troubling."

"They say, 'We will do it this way,' but if that doesn't work they say, 'We'll do it our way,' and the {raised fist} salute goes up," he said. "I don't know what good that does in this day and age. There's a time warp here."

Glenn said he understood the context in which Mandela embraced Castro, Arafat and Gadhafi, but added, "These people are not our role models. I know they supported him in the past, but when you get to a certain level you have to move on to the future."

Jackson staunchly defended Mandela's position, asserting that South African President F. W. de Klerk "has not renounced violence as a precondition because apartheid is violence -- economic violence and racial violence.

"And this group that invaded Panama," he added, "they can't use his remark as some kind of moral contrast."

Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.) suggested that it was time for Mandela to address the future, "what South Africa will be after apartheid and after the ANC takes political control. That is very noticeably missing. Is he talking about a socialistic, communist state? Is he talking about a single party like Angola? Or is he talking about a real Eastern European democracy like Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland?

"I think the press has let him go through this beautiful euphoria visiting our country without asking him those questions," said DeConcini. "Or maybe they've asked him and he hasn't got an answer."

Still others were focused on the present.

"I believe that the reason Mandela is even out of jail is because of our sanction policy," said Biden. "I think this is an example that sanctions do work. They have impact. I'm not suggesting that we, the Congress, got Mandela out of jail. But I think what we did had a very positive impact on what's happening."

Last night, Nelson Mandela certainly couldn't have agreed more.