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Beautiful US Capitol Building | by paul_houle
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Beautiful US Capitol Building

Prior to establishing the nation's capital in Washington, D.C., the United States Congress and its predecessors had met in Philadelphia, New York City, and a number of other locations.[1] In September 1774, the First Continental Congress brought together delegates from the colonies in Philadelphia, followed by the Second Continental Congress which met from 1775 to 1781. Upon gaining independence, the Congress of the Confederation was formed, and convened in Philadelphia until June 1783, when a mob of angry soldiers converged upon Independence Hall, demanding payment for their service during the American Revolutionary War. Congress requested that John Dickinson, the governor of Pennsylvania, call up the militia to defend Congress from attacks by the protesters. In what became known as the Pennsylvania Mutiny of 1783, Dickinson sympathized with the protesters and refused to remove them from Philadelphia. As a result, Congress was forced to flee to Princeton, New Jersey on June 21, 1783,[2] and met in Annapolis, Maryland, and Trenton, New Jersey, before ending up in New York City.

 

The United States Congress was established upon ratification of the United States Constitution in 1789. New York City remained home to Congress until 1790,[3] when the Residence Act was passed to pave way for a permanent capital. The decision to locate the capital was contentious, but Alexander Hamilton helped broker a compromise in which the federal government would take on war debt incurred during the American Revolutionary War, in exchange for support from northern states for locating the capital along the Potomac River. As part of the legislation, Philadelphia was chosen as a temporary capital for ten years, until the nation's capital in Washington, D.C. would be ready.[4]

 

Pierre (Peter) Charles L'Enfant was given the task of creating the city plan for the new capital city.[5] L'Enfant chose Jenkins Hill as the site for the Capitol Building, with a grand boulevard connecting it with the President's House, and a public space stretching westward to the Potomac River.[6] In reviewing L'Enfant's plan, Thomas Jefferson insisted the legislative building be called the "Capitol", rather than "Congress House". The word "Capitol" comes from Latin, meaning city on a hill and is associated with the Roman temple to Jupiter Optimus Maximus on Capitoline Hill.[7] In addition to coming up with a city plan, L'Enfant had been tasked with designing the Capitol and President's House, however he was let go in February 1792 over disagreements with President George Washington and the commissioners, and there were no plans at that point for the Capitol.[8]

 

In spring 1792, Thomas Jefferson proposed a design competition to solicit designs for the Capitol and the President's House, and set a four-month deadline. The prize for the competition was $500 and a lot in the federal city. At least ten individuals submitted designs for the Capitol; however the drawings were regarded as crude and amateur, reflecting the level of architectural skill present in the United States at the time.[9] The most promising of the submissions was by Stephen Hallet, a trained French architect.[10] However, Hallet's designs were overly fancy, with too much French influence, and were deemed too costly.[11]

 

A late entry by amateur architect William Thornton was submitted on January 31, 1793, to much praise for its "Grandeur, Simplicity, and Beauty" by Washington, along with praise from Jefferson. Thornton was inspired by the east front of the Louvre, as well as the Pantheon for the center portion of the design.[12][13] Thornton's design was officially approved in a letter, dated April 5, 1793, from Washington.[14] In an effort to console Hallet, the commissioners appointed him to review Thornton's plans, develop cost estimates, and serve as superintendent of construction. Hallet proceeded to pick apart and make drastic changes to Thornton's design, which he saw as amateur with numerous problems and high costs to build.[15] In July 1793, Jefferson convened a five-member commission, bringing Hallet and Thornton together, along with James Hoban, to address problems with and revise Thornton's plan. Hallet suggested changes to the floor plan, which could be fitted within the exterior design by Thornton.[16][17] The revised plan was accepted, except that Jefferson and Washington insisted on an open recess in the center of the East front, which was part of Thornton's original plan.[18]

 

The original design by Thornton was later modified by Benjamin Henry Latrobe and then Charles Bulfinch. The current dome and the House and Senate wings were designed by Thomas U. Walter and August Schoenborn,[19] a German immigrant, and were completed under the supervision of Edward Clark.[20]

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Taken on October 30, 2009