If you’ve been reading this blog long enough, you’re aware that most business days, we publish a Capitol or Congressional historical fact on Twitter and Facebook. As I looked through our list of potential facts for this week, I realized we have a little treasure trove of tidbits that will never make it onto our blog because of the end-of-year holiday hiatus. Despite my teasing post title, they’re not salacious, but I found them interesting nonetheless:
Some of Jefferson's books in the Library of Congress' holdings. (Michaela McNichol, Library of Congress)
Dec. 24, 1851
For the second time, a fire destroyed much of the Library of Congress’ book collection. Housed in the Capitol since the federal government moved to Washington, the library was a victim of the destructive British advance through the city in 1814. Thomas Jefferson, who had been a strong supporter of the library when president, offered to sell his personal library to the nation, and those 6,487 books became the foundation for the library’s new collection. On Christmas Even in 1851, a fire began in a faulty chimney flue in the Capitol; it destroyed two-thirds of the library’s 55,000 volume collection, including two-thirds of the original Jefferson acquisition. For more on Jefferson’s collection and the Library of Congress’ efforts to replace the destroyed volumes, click here.
This Harper’s Weekly image features members of the South Carolina delegation who resigned their seats on Christmas Eve 1860. (Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War, October 1861, Collection of U.S. House of Representatives)
Dec. 24, 1860
The House of Representatives received a letter from South Carolina’s congressmen, who stated that since South Carolina had seceded from the Union, their connection with the House was dissolved. Over the next few months, members from ten more states would also leave Congress as their states seceded.
Dec. 26, 1799
Congress convened in Philadelphia’s Congress Hall and immediately proceeded to the German Lutheran Church for a memorial joint session for George Washington. Washington had died in Virginia on Dec. 14, and President John Adams and Congress received the news Dec. 19. They adjourned for several days, and upon their return passed resolutions planning for the memorial service and a marble monument and tomb to be built in the Capitol in Washington as well as asking all Americans “to wear crape on the left arm, as mourning, for thirty days.” (Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States) On the 26th, Henry Lee of Virginia, who had been a general under Washington, delivered a eulogy that contained the famous assertion that Washington was “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.” After the service, Congress returned to its chambers and adjourned until the following day.
Dec. 26, 1941
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill addressed a joint meeting of Congress. The US had entered WWII only a few weeks earlier, and Churchill was in Washington to plan military strategy with US leaders. Many members of Congress were home for the holidays, so the joint meeting was staged (and filmed) in the Senate chamber rather than the House. Churchill began with humor but soon delivered darker news, including his belief that it would take at least 18 months to turn the tide of the war. He also strongly denounced both the Germans and the Japanese, and exited to thunderous applause at the conclusion of his speech.
A fruit compote of acorn squash, red currants, orange, pear, plums, red bell pepper, grapes, and eggplant from one of Brumidi's hallway frescoes, which used American flowers and fruit as key elements.
Dec. 28, 1854
Artist Constantino Brumidi met Captain Montgomery C. Meigs for the first time. Meigs was overseeing the building and decoration of the Capitol extension. Brumidi was looking for work in America after his involvement with Italian revolutionaries made him unwelcome in Italy. Brumidi’s work with frescoes dovetailed with Meigs’s vision for the Capitol, and Brumidi soon completed a test mural to Meigs’s satisfaction. Brumidi continued to work on painting the committee rooms, hallways, and public spaces of the Capitol, including the rotunda, until his death in 1880.