The modern United States Capitol is a triumph of both engineering and design. From its 9-million-pound cast-iron dome to the dazzling opulence of the President's Room and the Senate corridors, the Capitol is one of the most renowned buildings in the world. But the history of the U.S. Capitol is also the history of America's most tumultuous years. As the new Capitol rose above Washington's skyline, battles over slavery and secession ripped the country apart. Ground was broken just months after Congress adopted the compromise of 1850, which was supposed to settle the "slavery question" for all time. The statue Freedom was placed atop the Capitol's new dome in 1863, five months after the Battle of Gettysburg.
In Freedom's Cap, the award-winning journalist Guy Gugliotta recounts the history and broader meaning of the Capitol building through the lives of the three men most responsible for its construction. We owe the building's scale and magnificence to none other than Jefferson Davis, who remained the Capitol's staunchest advocate up until the week he left Washington to become president of the Confederacy. Davis's protégé and the Capitol's lead engineer, Captain Montgomery C. Meigs, became quartermaster general of the Union Army and never forgave Davis for his betrayal of the nation. The Capitol's brilliant architect and Meigs's longtime rival, Thomas U. Walter, defended slavery at the beginning of the war but eventually turned fiercely against the South.
In impeccable detail, Gugliotta captures the clash of personalities behind the building of the Capitol and the unique engineering, architectural, design, and political challenges the three men collectively overcame to create the iconic seat of American government.
In this intensely researched historical gem, journalist Gugliotta describes the stormy 1850 1863 reconstruction of the U.S. Capitol as the nation geared up for civil war. Legislators hated the dank, older Capitol, where they froze in winter, sweltered in summer, and couldn't hear the speeches. By 1850, the roof sagged and walls were crumbling. Interestingly, the major force in rebuilding was then Mississippi senator (later secretary of war, then president of the Confederacy) Jefferson Davis. Despite his state's rights obsession, he pushed through proposals and won President Millard Fillmore's enthusiastic advocacy. There follows a fascinating chronicle of 13 years of bitter feuds, delays, controversies, accusations of corruption and incompetence, congressional harassment, secession, and war, until the statue Freedom Triumphant in War and Peace took its place atop the completed dome in November 1863. Although it may seem like a niche subject, Gugliotta has turned out a superb mixture of mid 19th-century American culture and technology with the turbulent history of the period. 65 b&w illus.