Edition for Educators—Burning of the Capitol
Image courtesy of Library of Congress
When British forces took the United States capital in 1814, they set fire to both the Capitol and the White House. This drawing shows the damage done to the rotunda and House and Senate wings.
“After the people of this country had recovered from the surprise and astonishment they felt at hearing of the capture of this city, and the destruction of the public buildings, their first inquiry was, where shall Congress sit with safety and convenience? Some designated one place, some another; but few, if any, imagined that the Councils of the nation would continue here.”
—Speaker of the House Henry Clay, September 26, 1814
This month's Edition for Educators focuses on the War of 1812 in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the burning of the U.S. Capitol on August 24, 2014.
Featured Historical Highlights
The House's First Declaration of War
June 4, 1812
On this date, the House adopted a war resolution against Great Britain and Ireland, marking the first time it exercised its constitutional power to declare war.
The Burning of the Capitol in 1814
August 24, 1814
In the most devastating blow suffered by the U.S. during the War of 1812, British forces overran the capital city on this date setting fire to most major public buildings, including the U.S. Capitol. The attack, which occurred during a congressional recess, resulted in the resignation of the Clerk of the House and raised doubt about Congress' future in the capital city.
Image courtesy of Library of Congress
Clerk Patrick Magruder, a former Member, resigned the position in January 1815 shortly after the burning of the Capitol.
Thomas Jefferson’s Library
October 10, 1814
On this date a joint resolution to purchase Thomas Jefferson’s library
for the new Library of Congress was introduced in the House of Representatives. The resolution was an attempt to replace the congressional book collection destroyed when the British burned the Capitol six weeks earlier.
Discovering the “Lost” Records of the Early Congresses
January 22, 1939
For years, it was widely believed that when the British burned the Capitol in 1814 that all the records of the early Congresses were lost. However, a hideaway adjoining the House Document room proved to be a treasure trove of old documents that had survived the conflagration.
See more Historical Highlights featuring the War of 1812.
Featured People Profile
Clerk of the House Patrick Magruder
A popular Member of the 9th Congress (1805–1807), Patrick Magruder was the first former Member to be elected Clerk of the House following his electoral loss in the 1806 elections. But his fortunes changed when British forces sacked the capital city in August 1814.
According to the Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress, nearly 300 House Members served in the War of 1812.
The Speakers' Rooms in the Capitol
The Speaker of the House claimed office space spared by the 1814 fire. Formerly used by the Committee on Ways and Means and located just off the old House Chamber (now Statuary Hall), these rooms served as the Speaker's office from 1819 to 1857. It is now the Lindy Claiborne Boggs Congressional Women’s Reading Room, a retiring room for women Members.
The House Curator Gives a Tour of the Lindy Claiborne Boggs Congressional Women’s Reading Room:
See the Multimedia section for more tours of historic spaces in the U.S. Capitol.
Featured House Collection Object
Mace of the U.S. House of Representatives
The current silver Mace, a symbol of the House’s authority, has been in use in the House since 1841; however, the original House Mace was destroyed when the British burned the Capitol in 1814, and during the intervening years, the House used a wooden mace.
This is part of a series of blog posts for educators highlighting the resources available on History, Art & Archives of the U.S. House of Representatives. The series appears monthly. For lesson plans, fact sheets, glossaries, and other materials for the classroom, see the website's Education section.