Historical Highlights

The Burning of the Capitol in 1814

August 24, 1814
The Burning of the Capitol in 1814 Image courtesy of Library of Congress This 1814 drawing depicts the ruins of the U.S. Capitol after the British burned it. Visible in this image is the fire damage to the Senate and House wings, the damaged colonnade in the House of Representatives (shored up with firewood to prevent its collapse), and the gutted shell of the rotunda with the facade and roof missing.
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 occurred during a congressional recess, the House having adjourned for the session in April. When Members returned in September, Congress considered removing the seat of government from Washington. Fearing that a temporary relocation would become permanent, opponents killed the motion on the House Floor. It would take nearly five years to rebuild the House Chamber. One of the unintended consequences of the burning of the Capitol was the resignation of House Clerk Patrick Magruder. Magruder was not present in Washington on the day of the event and his two deputies mustered with local militia to defend the city. Despite these circumstances, Magruder was held responsible for the loss of many House records and he submitted his resignation on January 28, 1815.

Related Highlight Subjects