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–by Don Kennon


It’s a pity so many people find history boring. In the hands of talented teachers and writers, history can come alive and make it possible for people in the present to see how connected they are with the past. Two such talented writers are featured in the U.S. Capitol Historical Society’s March book signing events.

The first author, featured at our noon time program on March 20 in Ketchum Hall in the Veterans of Foreign Wars building (200 Maryland Ave. NE; Washington, DC), is the award-winning journalist Guy Gugliotta, author of the just released book, Freedom’s Cap: The United States Capitol and the Coming of the Civil War. Gugliotta covered Congress during a sixteen-year career as a national reporter for The Washington Post and for the last six years has been a freelance writer. He has written for The New York Times, National Geographic, Wired, Discover, and Smithsonian and he was the recipient of a United States Capitol Historical Society Fellowship while researching for Freedom’s Cap.

In Freedom’s Cap, the author recounts the history and broader meaning of the Capitol 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’ 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. Join us on Tuesday, March 20, to hear the author discuss his book and to autograph copies that will be available for purchase.

Our second featured author is novelist Joseph T. Wilkins, who on Thursday, March 22 will discuss his historical novel about colorful Speaker Thomas Brackett Reed and the raucous 51st Congress. The Speaker Who Locked Up the House in a Fight Against White Supremacy: A Novel of 1890 takes place in the House of Representatives in Washington, D.C., where progressive Republican Speaker Thomas B. Reed presides over a Congress in which the dying embers of the Civil War flare up again as he confronts Southern white supremacists in his determination to end their power.

It is also a story of a Congress whose pay was stolen by a House cashier who ran off with the money and his mistress; where the Speaker ordered the House doors locked to keep the members inside, only to have enraged ex-Confederate cavalry officers kick them open; where the Speaker had to order a lobbyist-organized whorehouse near the Ladies Gallery closed; and where a reporter from the Press Gallery shot and killed ex-Congressman Preston Taulbee on the main staircase of the House wing, and was acquitted of the charge of murder by the jury. A skillful blend of historical research and dramatic writing, The Speaker Who Locked up the House is a riveting tale that challenges our notions of the carefree and innocent 1890s.  And what is most amazing is that it is all true.

Mr. Wilkins is a lawyer and author who currently lives and practices in the Philadelphia area. He researched and wrote The Speaker Who Locked Up the House during a 40-year period in which he lived and worked in the nation’s capital.

Read the novel in advance and come with questions and comments for the author. Learn about the craft of writing historical fiction. The book is available for purchase from the publisher, or by download to Kindle or to Nook.

Both events are free and open to all. Pre-registration is strongly recommended. Email uschs@uschs.org with your contact information or call (202) 543-8919 x38 and leave a message with your information.