British troops invaded a nearly empty Capital city on August 24, 1814 during the War of 1812. Prior to the invasion clerks in the House of Representatives were frantically trying to find carts and oxen to evacuate the records of Congress safely out of the city. This letter, sent to the Clerk of the House on September 15, chronicles the actions of the two men left in the Clerk’s office who were in charge of removing as many records as possible. The clerks were only able to get one cart of manuscripts and papers out of the office before the Capitol went up in flames. Among the items lost were committee manuscripts from the 13th Congress, the secret journal of Congress, petitions submitted to Congress before 1799, and the private accounts and vouchers of the Clerk of the House. The Clerk forwarded this letter to the Speaker of the House on September 20 asking for a committee to be created to handle the investigation of the burning of the Capitol.
Letter to Patrick Magruder, Clerk of the House, 9/15/1814, HR 13A-D15.2, Records of the U.S. House of Representatives
Erecting the Capitol dome
Although President George Washington laid the cornerstone of the U.S. Capitol in 1793, construction of current dome did not begin until 1856. The dome, which replaced an earlier one made of copper and wood, took a decade to complete and cost just over one million dollars to build. This photograph was taken from the east side of the national
landmark on December 31, 1857.
Photograph of the Construction on the New U.S. Capitol Dome, 12/31/1857
On September 18, 1793, George Washington laid the cornerstone of the Capitol building, the future home of the legislative branch of government.
Six years earlier, on September 17, 1787, Washington was among the 39 men who signed the United States Constitution; effectively putting the framework of the new government into place. Despite this, the physical location of the government would not be completed for many years.
The north wing was finished in 1800; the south wing in 1811. Then the Capitol was burned in the War of 1812, but a rainstorm saved it from complete destruction (Congress was forced to meet in temporary quarters until 1819). During the Civil War, it was used as Union barracks.
Now, 219 years later, the building stands completed, with 540 rooms. In 1801, Thomas Jefferson became the first President to be inaugurated at the Capitol, a tradition that continues to this day.
Photograph of the Capitol Building under construction in Washington, DC, ca. 1863.
"Shacks, put up by the Bonus Army on the Anacostia flats, Washington, D.C., burning after the battle with the military. The Capitol in the background. 1932."
In the summer of 1932, in the midst of the Great Depression, World War I veterans seeking early payment of a bonus scheduled for 1945 assembled in Washington to pressure Congress and the White House. After the Senate rejected the bonus, most of the protesters went home, but a core of ten thousand members of the “Bonus Army” remained behind, many with their families. On the morning of July 28, violence erupted between the protesters and police, and President Hoover reluctantly sent in federal troops under Maj. Gen. Douglas MacArthur. Ignoring the President’s order for restraint, the flamboyant general drove the tattered protesters from the city and violently cleared their Anacostia campsite.