The Capitol Dome

Fall 2014

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THE CAPITOL DOME 48 THIS PAGE: COURTESY BILL DICKINSON SOCIETY NEWS September SympoSium CommemorateS War of 1812 O n September 3 and 4, 2014, the U.S. Capitol Historical Society joined with the White House Historical Associa- tion and James Madison's Montpelier to conduct a symposium, "America Under Fire: Mr. Madison's War & the Burning of Washington City," on the burning of the public buildings in the Nation's Capital by British forces during the War of 1812. e symposium commemorated the bicentennial of the lowest point in the war, when on the evening of August 24, after hav - ing routed American forces at the Battle of Bladensburg, Mary- land, combined British army, naval, and marine forces entered Washington, D.C. and set fire to the unfinished Capitol, the President's House, and other public buildings. Leading scholars from the United States and Great Britain examined the subject from a variety of perspectives. e session on September 3 began with British historian Andrew Lambert placing the War of 1812 within the wider context of Great Brit - ain's conflict with Napoleon's France. Two speakers discussed aspects of the Madisons' roles in both the war and specifically in the capture of Washington in 1814. John A. Stagg addressed President Madison's role in the war; Catherine Allgor analyzed Dolly Madison's role, especially in the evacuation of the Presi - dent's House. Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Alan Taylor provided a fascinating perspective on the enslaved persons who fled to freedom behind British lines in the Chesapeake and pro- vided manpower and knowledge of local condi- tions to the advancing British forces. In the morning session on September 4, four speakers examined various aspects of the burn- ing of Washington. Donald Hickey spoke about the "folly and deception" of American politics that led to the War of 1812; Steve Vogel discussed the actions of Admiral Cockburn who commanded the British inva - sion; Holly C. Shulman provided a careful analysis of the various stories about Dolley Madison and the saving of the White House portrait of George Washington; and Ralph Eshelman demolished some of the timeworn myths about the burning, including the story that a storm put out the fires and saved the Capitol and White House from total destruction. e final session of the symposium featured three speakers addressing the aftermath of the burning of the Capitol and White House. Kenneth R. Bowling discussed the attempt to remove the capital from Washington, D.C. as a result of the war and how that attempt failed; Pa mela Scott focused on architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe and the rebuilding of the Capitol; and William Seale examined the development of the White House as a national symbol in the nineteenth century. e symposium concluded with Andrew Burstein and Nancy Isenberg discussing James Madison, the war, and constitutional development. Conference speakers (from left) Andrew Lambert, Donald Hickey, and Ralph Eshelman continued the discussion after their talks concluded. Conference speakers (from left) John Stagg, Andrew Lambert, Donald Hickey, and Ralph Eshelman

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