The US Capitol Building

The United States Capitol is the meeting place of the United States Congress, the legislature of the federal government of the United States. Located in Washington, D.C., it sits atop Capitol Hill at the eastern end of the National Mall. Though it has never been the geographic center of the District of Columbia, the Capitol is the origin by which both the quadrants of the District are divided and the city was planned. Officially, both the east and west sides of the Capitol are referred to as “fronts.” Historically, however, only the east front of the building was intended for the arrival of visitors and dignitaries.
Prior to establishing the nation’s capital in Washington, D.C., the United States Congress and its predecessors had met in Philadelphia, New York City, and a number of other locations. In September 1774, the First Continental Congress brought together delegates from the colonies in Philadelphia, followed by theSecond Continental Congress, which met from May 1775 to March 1781. After adopting the Articles of Confederation, the Congress of the Confederation was formed and convened in Philadelphia from March 1781 until June 1783, when a mob of angry soldiers converged upon Independence Hall, demanding payment for their service during the American Revolutionary War. Congress requested that John Dickinson, the governor of Pennsylvania, call up the militiato defend Congress from attacks by the protesters. In what became known as the Pennsylvania Mutiny of 1783, Dickinson sympathized with the protesters and refused to remove them from Philadelphia. As a result, Congress was forced to flee to Princeton, New Jersey, on June 21, 1783, and met inAnnapolis, Maryland and Trenton, New Jersey before ending up in New York City.
The United States Congress was established upon ratification of the United States Constitution and formally began on March 4, 1789. New York City remained home to Congress until July 1790, when the Residence Act was passed to pave the way for a permanent capital. The decision to locate the capital was contentious, but Alexander Hamilton helped broker a compromise in which the federal government would take on war debt incurred during the American Revolutionary War, in exchange for support from northern states for locating the capital along the Potomac River. As part of the legislation, Philadelphia was chosen as a temporary capital for ten years (until December 1800), until the nation’s capital in Washington, D.C. would be ready.
Pierre (Peter) Charles L’Enfant was given the task of creating the city plan for the new capital city. L’Enfant chose Jenkins Hill as the site for the Capitol building, with a grand boulevard connecting it with the President’s House, and a public space stretching westward to the Potomac River. In reviewing L’Enfant’s plan, Thomas Jefferson insisted the legislative building be called the “Capitol” rather than “Congress House”. The word “Capitol” comes from Latin, meaning city on a hill and is associated with the Roman temple to Jupiter Optimus Maximus on Capitoline Hill. In addition to coming up with a city plan, L’Enfant had been tasked with designing the Capitol and President’s House, however he was dismissed in February 1792 over disagreements with President George Washington and the commissioners, and there were no plans at that point for the Capitol.
In spring 1792, Thomas Jefferson proposed a design competition to solicit designs for the Capitol and the President’s House, and set a four-month deadline. The prize for the competition was $500 and a lot in the federal city. At least ten individuals submitted designs for the Capitol; however the drawings were regarded as crude and amateurish, reflecting the level of architectural skill present in the United States at the time. The most promising of the submissions was by Stephen Hallet, a trained French architect. However, Hallet’s designs were overly fancy, with too much French influence, and were deemed too costly.
A late entry by amateur architect William Thornton was submitted on January 31, 1793, to much praise for its “Grandeur, Simplicity, and Beauty” by Washington, along with praise from Jefferson. Thornton was inspired by the east front of the Louvre, as well as the Paris Pantheon for the center portion of the design Thornton’s design was officially approved in a letter, dated April 5, 1793, from Washington. In an effort to console Hallet, the commissioners appointed him to review Thornton’s plans, develop cost estimates, and serve as superintendent of construction. Hallet proceeded to pick apart and make drastic changes to Thornton’s design, which he saw as costly to build and problematic. In July 1793, Jefferson convened a five-member commission, bringing Hallet and Thornton together, along with James Hoban, to address problems with and revise Thornton’s plan. Hallet suggested changes to the floor plan, which could be fitted within the exterior design by Thornton. The revised plan was accepted, except that Jefferson and Washington insisted on an open recess in the center of the East front, which was part of Thornton’s original plan.
The original design by Thornton was later modified by Benjamin Henry Latrobe and then Charles Bulfinch. The current dome and the House and Senate wings were designed by Thomas U. Walter and August Schoenborn,[20] a German immigrant, and were completed under the supervision of Edward Clark.
Not long after the completion of both wings, the Capitol was partially burned by the British on August 24, 1814, during the War of 1812. George Bomford, andJoseph Gardner Swift, both military engineers, were called upon to help rebuild the Capitol. Reconstruction began in 1815 and was completed by 1819. Construction continued through to 1826, with the addition of the center Rotunda area and the first dome of the Capitol. Latrobe is principally connected with the original construction and many innovative interior features; his successor, Bulfinch, also played a major role, such as the design of the first dome.
By 1850, it became clear that the Capitol could not accommodate the growing number of legislators arriving from newly-admitted states. A new design competition was held, and President Millard Fillmore appointed Philadelphia architect Thomas U. Walter to carry out the expansion. Two new wings were added – a new chamber for the House of Representatives on the south side, and a new chamber for the Senate on the north.
When the Capitol was expanded in the 1850s, some of the construction labor was carried out by slaves “who cut the logs, laid the stones and baked the bricks”.The original plan was to use workers brought in from Europe; however, there was a poor response to recruitment efforts, and African Americans—free and slave—composed the majority of the work force.
The 1850 expansion more than doubled the length of the Capitol, dwarfing the original, timber-framed 1818 dome. In 1855, the decision was made to tear it down and replace it with the “wedding-cake style” cast-iron dome that stands today. Also designed by Walter, the new dome stood three times the height of the original dome and 100 feet (30 m) in diameter, yet had to be supported on the existing masonry piers. Like Mansart’s dome at Les Invalides (which he had visited in 1838), Walter’s dome is double, with a large oculus in the inner dome, through which is seen The Apotheosis of Washington painted on a shell suspended from the supporting ribs, which also support the visible exterior structure and the tholos that supports Freedom, a colossal statue that was added to the top of the dome in 1863.

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