From its earliest iterations, the House Chamber has included space for the public and the press to observe the proceedings of Congress. The symbolic decorative program of the room continues above these sections for spectators, with the Lawgivers and the state seals.
The Lawgivers—23 marble relief sculptures that circle the upper walls of the galleries—added to the décor in the Chamber’s remodeling. In keeping with the federal-era notion that democracy did not spring fully formed from the Founding Fathers (as reflected in the inclusion of numerous symbols harkening to Republican Rome), the Lawgivers provide perspective on the long, globe-spanning process of establishing modern systems of law. The individuals represented—included for their work in establishing the principles incorporated into American law—were chosen by scholars from the University of Pennsylvania and the Columbia Historical Society of Washington, D.C. The diverse group includes Hammurabi, the King of Babylon, who authored the earliest surviving legal codes; Suleiman, Sultan of the Ottman Empire who reformed and improved civil and military codes; Simon de Montfort, a medieval English statesman who established an early form of representative government in England; and the more modern Napoleon, whose civil code influenced the United States’s legal system.
The 1857 Chamber was capped with an elaborate stained-glass ceiling, composed of a central bald eagle motif, surrounded by the seals of every state in the Union. The impetus for the mid–20th century remodeling project was fixing the compromised structural integrity of the roof, which resulted in the removal of this decorative ceiling.
Unlike many of the other Victorian decorative details of the Chamber, seals of the states were deemed worthy of retention. Rather than glass, though, plaster relief sculptures reproducing the stained-glass designs were made and installed around the periphery of the new ceiling. Newly admitted states and territories were later made in the same style.