Image courtesy of the Library of Congress
Workers pose with the Statue of Freedom on top of the Capitol during restoration work in the early 1900s.
On this date, workers adjoined the final piece of the iconic Statue of Freedom atop the new Capitol Dome amid a sober military ceremony, punctuated by a 35-gun salute from Capitol Hill and then from each of the dozen U.S. Army encampments protecting the capital during the Civil War. It marked the end of a tumultuous journey for the statue, which had at points been waylaid on its journey from Italy and delayed in its construction until a slave named Philip Reid cast the bronze statue in Washington. “Freedom now stands on the Dome of the Capitol of the United States,” wrote Commissioner of Public Buildings Benjamin B. French, “may she stand there forever not only in form, but in spirit.” And except for a few months in 1993 when it was removed for restorations, the Statue of Freedom has, as French hoped, stood upon the Dome as both a physical and allegorical reminder of America’s most fundamental principle. Five days after its installation, the 38th Congress
(1863–1865) convened to “face and settle the most important questions of the century,” in the words of House Speaker Schuyler Colfax
of Indiana. That Congress created the Freedmen’s Bureau for war refugees, initiated the nation’s first progressive income tax, and passed the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which, when adopted by the states, abolished slavery.