Image courtesy of Library of Congress
In 1814, British troops attacked the District of Columbia and set fire to most of the federal buildings in the city.
On this date, on the Opening Day of the 13th Congress
(1813–1815), Patrick Magruder
of Maryland was elected to a fourth consecutive term as Clerk of the House
. But his fortunes changed when British forces sacked the capital city in August 1814. Popular and respected, Magruder first was chosen to serve as Clerk shortly after losing his House seat in the 1806 elections. In August 1814, Magruder was on leave for a protracted illness when British forces arrived. The invaders torched the Capitol, destroying much of the building, many congressional documents, and the holdings of the Library of Congress (at that time, the Clerk of the House was also traditionally the Librarian of Congress). Afterwards, Members were incensed that Magruder’s staff (then led in an acting capacity by his brother, George) had failed to save vital House records, including receipts and vouchers for congressional accounts. These had been locked in a desk and destroyed in the fire (apparently the only federal financial records lost to invading British forces). To clear his name, Magruder requested an internal investigation. House Speaker Langdon Cheves
of South Carolina appointed a select investigatory committee chaired by Congressman Joseph Pearson
of North Carolina. The committee discovered several financial discrepancies, including what it claimed to be nearly $20,000 in missing funds. Magruder addressed a letter to Speaker
Cheves in December 1814 refuting the charges. But a month later, on January 21, 1815, Representative James Clark
of Kentucky introduced a resolution to remove Magruder from office. Though the House postponed the vote for a week, Magruder resigned days later. In a letter to the Speaker, he professed “my entire innocence and ignorance of any misapplication of the public moneys,” and further defended his brother by noting that he could have accounted for all his expenditures “had not the unfortunate conflagration of the Capitol destroyed his accounts.” Patrick Magruder retired to a plantation owned by his wife’s family near Petersburg, Virginia, where he died in 1819.