The Capitol Dome

Summer 2016

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 1 of 55

From the editor: e Capitol Dome has stood as an architectural expression of national unity and an icon of representative government for 150 years. e Capitol Dome you hold in your hand has served as the United States Capitol Historical Society's quarterly newsletter for the last 53 of those years. In 2003 its first semi-annual "Special Edition" appeared. Expanding beyond the scope of a traditional newsletter, it sought to deliver the most recent, scholarly, insightful, and engaging articles possible to the Society's varied membership—all in living color. e vividly illustrated art and architecture of the Capitol have understandably occupied center stage in these pages, but readers could also expect articles on political culture, institutional history, and some of the remarkable personalities that have populated the Capitol since 1800. As the Society's Chief Guide Steven Livengood reminded a recent audience, the history of the Capitol's additions and remodeling reflects Democracy's own bumpy journey through constant reformation towards an ever-elusive perfection. Like the Capitol, the Dome stands poised to change yet again. e existence of this "Letter from the Editor" is itself a sign of those changes. Other examples that the reader will notice over time include more political history and historical narratives, some new features, and an expanded treatment of some features that already exist. "e Documentary Record," for example, will continue to show how a historical document sheds light on an episode of congressional history. But future entries will reach beyond the traditional definition of "document" to illustrate how artifacts also can be "read." "Society News" will continue to appear, but the newly relaunched USCHS website (www.uschs. org) is now the principal go-to resource for information about the Society's public programming and membership events. e Dome's primary purpose will be to highlight not the Society's goings-on but the Capitol's stories and their many players. e four articles in this issue address topics that are either little known or not typically thought of in connection with the Capitol or congressional history. Richard Chenoweth opens with his imagined recreation of a statue that has not been seen in more than two hundred years. His look at "the very first Miss Liberty," which once presided over the Speaker's chair no less dramatically than the Speaker presided over the House, is a fitting sequel to his article on Latrobe's first, pre-1814 House chamber, "e Most Beautiful Room in the World?" (e Capitol Dome, v. 51, 3[Fall 2014]:24-39). As he did in that article, Chenoweth brings his scholar's sense and his architect's sensibilities to trac- ing the tradition of aesthetics behind one of the first major iconographic statements incorporated into the interior design of the Capitol—a building distinguished for its iconography. We chose this year's quasquibicentennial (!) of the U.S. Bill of Rights to reflect on the sesquicentennial seventy-five years ago, in the dark days immediately preceding our nation's entry into World War II. It seems a fitting occasion for addressing the various historical rel- evancies of one of the most important documents ever produced by Congress. Dr. Kenneth Bowling, a leading historian of the Congress that passed the first ten amendments to the Constitution, brings the story forward 150 years to show how a "Charter of Freedom" devised to solve a civil rights crisis in 1789 was co-opted to help fight a human rights crisis in 1941. Look to a future issue of the Dome for Bowling's follow-up investigation into the fate of the physical copies of the Bill of Rights originally sent out to the thirteen states for ratification. Over the course of just four years, the Capitol's bronze foundry produced some of the most striking examples of mid-nineteenth-century decorative art to be seen today. eir principal difference from a display piece in a great museum like London's Victoria and Albert is that the works produced by the Capitol bronze shop are still serving the everyday functions for which they were intended—as handrails, door handles, etc. As Jennifer Blancato (from the Office of the Curator for the Architect of the Capitol) explores, the foundry's ultimate "boss" was Capt. Montgomery C. Meigs, the supervising engineer who made sure that the Capitol Extension of the 1850s and '60s showcased the very latest designs and techniques available. Guides direct the visitors' gaze upward to the cast iron Dome for proof of Meigs's success, without always considering the more quotidian evidence hidden in plain sight all around them. Other views of the Capitol hidden in plain sight are the engravings that pass through our hands every day in the form of U.S. currency. Margaret Richardson, Collections Manager for the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, tells this story in a heavily illustrated article that includes biographical profiles of the relatively unsung engravers. eir vision is literally imprinted in transactions that take place daily by people across the globe—although readers will undoubtedly lament that they don't get to see the artwork on the $50 bill nearly often enough! Look to upcoming issues of the Dome for stories about one of the newest and most unusual acquisitions of portraiture in the Senate col- lection, the Republic of Texas's "legation" to Congress (1836-45), and George Washington's empty tomb in the Capitol. We hope every issue of the Dome finds a welcome and permanent home on your bookshelf—or if, on your coffee table, it attracts the attention and admiration of guests, we hope you will encourage them too to subscribe by becoming a member of the U.S. Capitol Historical Society. William C. diGiacomantonio Editor and Chief Historian

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of The Capitol Dome - Summer 2016