Whereas: Stories from the People’s House

Edition for Educators – The Old Hall of the House of Representatives

Interior of the House of Representatives, Washington/tiles/non-collection/1/10-25-text-Old-Hall-2005_041_0003.xml Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
Printer William Goodacre made this complex image of the Old Hall of the House.
“To what end more useful or grand, and at the same time simple and inexpensive, can we devote it than to ordain that it shall be set apart for the reception of such statuary as each State shall elect to be deserving of in this lasting commemoration?”
—Representative Justin Morrill of Vermont, April 19, 1864

It’s a room that opened shortly after the Republic’s birth, was burned by marauding British forces during some of Washington’s darkest days, witnessed passage of the Missouri Compromise of 1820, and even hosted a backbencher Illinois Congressman named Abraham Lincoln. The Old Hall of the House of Representatives had a cherished place in House history even before it housed marble and bronze likenesses of a host of prominent Americans in the National Statuary Hall Collection.

Featured Exhibit

Statuary Hall: The Transformation of the Old Hall of the House

On the opening day of the 10th Congress (1807–1809), October 26, 1807, the House first met in its new chamber, the Hall of the House of Representatives, in the South Wing. With the exception of the five years after the Capitol was burned in 1814, the House assembled in this space from 1807 to 1857. The marble-columned hall, originally designed by architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe (with extensive advice from President Thomas Jefferson) is an example of Greek Revival architecture. In the Old Hall of the House, Representatives debated the destiny of an expanding young nation.

Featured Objects in the House Collection

Exciting Scene in the House of Representatives, Washington, on the Announcement of N.P. Banks, As Speaker

In one of the most exciting scenes to take place in the Old Hall of the House, after 133 ballots—over the course of three months—the 34th Congress (1855–1857) finally elected Nathaniel Banks of Massachusetts as Speaker. The spectators’ reaction in the mezzanine of the chamber is the focus of this print, while the results are announced from the rostrum in the distance. Banks came to be known as a leading anti-slavery politician during the years leading up to the Civil War.

Floor of the House of Representatives of the United States, 29th Congress

Prints illustrating the old House Chamber's seating plan are among the first known Capitol souvenirs. Visitors could purchase these prints from vendors in the Capitol Rotunda, and then observe the House in session from the mezzanine in the adjacent chamber. This 29th Congress (1845–1847) floor plan was printed and sold by Casimir Bohn, a local bookstore proprietor.

Featured Historical Highlights

Congressman and Poet John Quincy Adams of Massachusetts

On April 16, 1831, Congressman John Quincy Adams proved he was a man of many talents, a poet as well as a statesman. His verse, “Fragments From an Unfinished Epistle To the Muse of History,” captured a poignant moment in his House career. While seated at his desk in the old House Chamber, Adams penned the poem honoring Clio, the Greek muse of history. He was inspired by a marble clock, located over the north door of the chamber, depicting Clio riding in the “Winged Car of History” and recording the deeds of Congress.

The Death of Representative John Quincy Adams of Massachusetts

On February 21, 1848, Representative and former President John Quincy Adams suffered a fatal stroke on the House Floor.

Creation of Statuary Hall

On July 2, 1864, President Abraham Lincoln signed into law legislation designating the Old Hall of the House as National Statuary Hall. Introduced by Representative Justin Morrill of Vermont, H. J. Res. 66 decreed that the former House Chamber would be transformed into an artistic showplace.

The Mysterious Centennial Safe of Mrs. Charles F. Deihm

On this date, Mrs. Charles F. Deihm attempted to give to Congress a large iron safe containing several quirky pieces of Americana that she had amassed during the country’s centennial celebration in 1876. Deihm had hoped that the safe would remain locked until 1976 when the then-President would open it to celebrate the national bicentennial, but Congress declined to accept it. Nevertheless, the safe came to the Capitol and was ceremoniously closed and locked in Statuary Hall in the presence of President Rutherford B. Hayes and Vice President William A. Wheeler.

More can be found searching subject “Statuary Hall” on the Historical Highlights search page.

Featured Blog Posts

“As Large as Life”: Lafayette's Portrait

What becomes a military legend most? For the Marquis de Lafayette, dashing hero of the American Revolution, the portrait now in the House Chamber was just the thing. More . . .

“Headquarters of Tobacco-Tinctured Saliva”

For generations, chewing tobacco was immensely popular in the House of Representatives. Members of Congress chewed with gusto, and spat tobacco juice with equal enthusiasm. Receptacles for tobacco spittle-spittoons-were a common sight in the Capitol from at least the 1830s. More . . .

More can be found under the House Chamber blog category.

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. For lesson plans, fact sheets, glossaries, and other materials for the classroom, see the website's Education section.