Inauguration of Abraham Lincoln, Washington DC

The inauguration of Abraham Lincoln on the east steps of the US Capitol, on March 5, 1861. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Washington DC

The same view in 2012:

073_2012

Although today regarded as one of the greatest US presidents, in 1861 there was much uncertainty surrounding the impending presidency of Abraham Lincoln – several southern states had already succeeded, and more would do so in the coming months, and in just over a month the Confederacy would open fire on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, thus beginning the Civil War.  During this time, the Capitol was under construction – other views of the inauguration show the fact that the dome was still very much incomplete, and this is often seen as a metaphor of the United States at this time – still very much a work in progress. Today, presidential inaugurations are held on the other side of the Capitol, and a lot has changed on the east front, as mentioned in the previous post about the Capitol.

US Capitol East Face, Washington DC

The east face of the US Capitol, as seen in 1846. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Daguerreotype Collection.

1840s

166 years later, in 2012:

072_2012

This is probably the oldest photo I’ve posted so far on this blog, and it illustrates just how many changes have been made to the US Capitol since it opened in 1800.  In fact, the Capitol of 1846 was very different from the original building – it was heavily damaged in 1814 when the British burned much of Washington.  By 1826, it had been reconstructed, this time with the central dome and the rotunda underneath it.

By 1850, construction began on the expansion of the building – the original legislative chambers were no longer big enough for the senators and representatives of the newly-formed states, so the present-day chambers were added on in new wings.  The original chambers are still there, and the location can still be seen in the 2012 photo, to the left and right of the dome.  The dome itself it probably the most obvious change – the newly-expanded building looked rather silly with such a short dome, so it was rebuilt between 1855 and 1866.

One difference that isn’t as noticeable is the front portico and the columns.  Although they appear to be the same, the entire east portico was expanded and rebuilt 33.5 feet outward, starting in 1958.  During this expansion, the columns themselves were replaced, and the original ones are now on display at the National Arboretum a little over 2 miles away.