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January 9, 2021

Capitol under attack since 1814

Top Story

January 9, 2021

LAHORE: The American Senate and the country's House of Representatives (Congress), which pass laws at the 227-year-old US Capitol in Washington DC, have suffered attacks on various occasions since 1814.

A research shows that the 288-foot-high US Capitol is the location where American presidents deliver their annual State of the Union addresses, but it has also been the site of Sunday religious services, governmental functions, violence in the form of fire, break-ins, fistfights and shootings.

According to American media houses, when the Capitol was expanded in the 1850s, some of the construction labour was carried out by slaves who would cut the logs, lay the stones and baked the bricks.

According to some American government websites, to reconstruct the legislative building with the same materials and workmanship today, it would cost over $1 billion. That is 135 times more than the original cost incurred!

Much like the recently-witnessed attack on this historic building by armed and violent pro-Trump supporters, non-members of Congress have been guilty of firing weapons or planting bombs in the vicinity of the building, whose constructed area comprises of more than 173 million pounds of stone, brick, concrete and steel.

This is apart from the various duels and physical fights between American lawmakers. According to numerous American government websites and internationally-acknowledged website, history.com, fire had damaged the US Capitol building in 1814, as the 1812 war was still in progress.

Capitol building construction history:

The website states: "The ruins of the US Capitol following British attempts to burn the building; includes fire damage to the Senate and House wings, damaged colonnade in the House of Representatives shored up with firewood to prevent its collapse, and the shell of the rotunda with the facade and roof missing. Construction of the Capitol formally began on September 18, 1793, when President George Washington laid the first cornerstone. Enslaved Black people performed the actual construction of the Capitol. Congress began using the building in 1800, the year the federal government moved its operations from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C. Like many of the first federal buildings in D.C., the Capitol’s design was based on 19th-century neoclassical style, inspired by ancient Greek and Roman architecture."

It adds: "The Capitol’s construction continued until the War of 1812, when the country’s wartime mobilization forced it to a halt. A year into the conflict between the United States and the British Empire, American troops set fire to a capital in colonial Canada. In retaliation, British troops in 1814 burned federal buildings in Washington, D.C. -- including the White House and the Capitol."

History.com holds: "The fire didn’t completely destroy the Capitol, but it damaged enough of it that some members of Congress suggested relocating the federal government back to Philadelphia or find another city. Instead, workers rebuilt the Capitol and continued to expand it as the number of states -- and their representatives in Congress -- grew (today, it covers over 1.5 million square feet and has more than 600 rooms."

In 1856, Senator Charles Sumner was beaten with a cane on the floor of the United States Senate by Preston Smith Brooks, a strong advocate of slavery.

US Capitol police officers, Gibson and Chestnut, were killed on July 24, 1998 when a man called Russell Weston had opened fire inside the building after running through metal detectors at the door. Weston was later charged on July 26 for the murder of two officers during the shooting rampage.

Moreover, in July 1915, a former German professor at Harvard, Erich Muenter, had planted a package containing three sticks of dynamite in the Capitol near the Senate Reception room.

The website under review reveals: "The German-born man later wrote a letter to a Washington, D.C. newspaper saying he had planted the explosives to protest US wartime aid to Britain and said he hoped the detonation would "make enough noise to be heard above the voices that clamour for war.”

In 1954, four Puerto Rican Americans fired guns in the House of Representatives, injuring five congressmen. The attackers said they acted to demand independence for the US territory of Puerto Rico.

In 1971, a bomb exploded in the Capitol building. While the explosion did not injure anyone, it caused some $300,000 in damage. A group calling itself the Weather Underground claimed to be behind the bombing and said it was in protest of the ongoing US-supported bombing of Laos. History.com said: Some 13 years later, on November 7, 1983, a bomb tore through the second floor of the Senate wing of the Capitol. It caused an estimated $250,000 in damage.