New Delhi: In its over 200-year history, the Capitol Hill in Washington has seen multiple demonstrations, assassination attempts and even small bombings. But Wednesday saw the first instance of its breach in two centuries.
Supporters of US President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol Hill Wednesday as the House of Representatives and the Senate held a rare joint session to begin certifying the results of the presidential election held in November 2020.
The mob breached the building and attempted to halt the counting of Electoral College votes, which shows a victory for Democratic Party candidate Joe Biden.
This was the first instance of its breach since 1814, when a British force destroyed multiple buildings, including the President’s mansion, in the US capital in an event known as the ‘Burning of Washington’.
What happened then?
In 1812, the US got engaged in a war with the British as it “sought an end to British impressment of American sailors, hoped to counter British policies that provoked Indian raids in the western territories, and looked for a way to annex Canada in order to lessen British influence in North America”.
On the night of 24 August 1814, as the War of 1812 raged on, British troops stormed the American capital and reduced most of the public official buildings to all but rubble.
The Capitol’s Senate wing and the Senate Chamber, among other buildings, were reminiscent of a “magnificent ruin” after the siege. However, it was a torrential rainstorm that saved the Capitol Hill from complete destruction.
According to the Capitol architect, at the time of the attack the structure that was still under construction had been “built with many fireproof materials that allowed for the preservation of the exterior and many interior rooms”. However, documents, statues and lights did not survive.
Following the mass destruction in Washington, then President James Madison convened with 19 senators in the only surviving building — Blodgett’s Hotel, on Eighth and E Streets, Northwest — where it was discussed to shift the government to its previous home of the 1790s, Philadelphia.
After debates that lasted until March 1815, the government chose to stay back as Madison authorised borrowing “from local banks to rebuild, on their existing sites, the Capitol, White House, and cabinet quarters”. It eventually took four years to complete.
Since then, the Capitol grounds have been home to several attacks: a failed assassination of President Andrew Jackson in 1835; bombing in the Senate reception room during World War I; four armed Puerto Rican separatists storming the House floor in 1954 to protest the military action in Laos, injuring five; and the far-left Weather Underground bombing of the Capitol in 1971 that didn’t result in fatalities.