Newspaper article Roll Call

Capitol Formation; Meet the Champions of the Capitol ; 'Freedom's Cap' Tells the Story of the Capitol's Expansion, Focusing on the Unlikely Hero Behind the Architectural Effort

Newspaper article Roll Call

Capitol Formation; Meet the Champions of the Capitol ; 'Freedom's Cap' Tells the Story of the Capitol's Expansion, Focusing on the Unlikely Hero Behind the Architectural Effort

Article excerpt

In his 1991 biography of Jefferson Davis, noted Civil War historian William C. Davis wrote that the future Confederate president's years as U.S. secretary of War "generated nothing we remember or care about today."

Davis the historian is one of my favorite writers, but in this case, he was dead wrong about Davis the secretary of War.

During his tenure at the head of the War Department during the administration of President Franklin Pierce, Davis was the driving force behind the expansion of the Capitol into the architectural landmark that we know today.

Even before he officially took over the project as the civilian administrator in charge of the Army Corps of Engineers, Davis had pushed the project as a Senator. The growing nation -- and growing Congress -- Davis argued, needed a bigger home for its legislature.

If it seems contradictory that the man who would one day lead a rebellion against the government whose seat was that same Capitol, that is only the beginning of the contradiction that is Jefferson Davis, whose enigmatic journey through the 1850s is the central human narrative in "Freedom's Cap: The United States Capitol and the Coming of the Civil War."

"From 1850 until the day he abandoned Washington to become president of the Confederacy eleven years later, Davis would be the new Capitol's political champion, benefactor, and shepherd," writes Guy Gugliotta, who once covered Congress for the Washington Post. "Without him the modern Capitol, recognized throughout the world as an enduring symbol of republican democracy, would never have existed."

Gugliotta's fondness for the building is evident on nearly every page, as he recounts the travails of those besides Davis who had a hand in the building of the House and Senate extensions and the new Dome.

In many ways it is a sordid tale of professional jealousy, partisan bickering, underhanded dealing, labor strife and cost overruns. Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.

But in a deeper sense, "Freedom's Cap" is a beautiful story about the triumph of republican government and the men devoted to it, none more than the Army engineer in charge, Capt. …

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