SEPTEMBER 18 = Washington Lays Capitol Cornerstone

On today’s date, September 18, in 1793, President George Washington laid the cornerstone of the U.S. Capitol building. In a report found in a newspaper, the Alexandria Gazette, a grand procession which included two brass bands was said to have begun at the site wherein the White House was still being constructed in this, the still very new federal city. President Washington’s parade then moved across the Potomac River to the ground construction site for the capitol there to be met a volunteer artillery company, and a delegation of Masons in full regalia. And there the solemn ceremony commenced.

The New Nation’s Capitol

As a brand new nation, the United States lacked a set spot for her capitol.  Eight different cities served as the meeting place of Congress between 1789 and 1791, including Philadelphia, New York and Baltimore.  The Congress, on July 16, 1790 granted the President the authority to choose a permanent home for our nations federal government by passing the Residence Act.  In 1791, Washington chose the site for the

new seat of government from land provided by the State of Maryland – this would be called the District of Columbia, “Columbia” being a poetic name for the United States which was commonly used at that time. President Washington then chose three commissioners who in turn selected  French engineer Pierre Charles L’Enfant (above) to design a plan for the city. However, L’Enfant, a brilliant man but possessed of a headstrong temperament fought with these commissioners and wound up being fired in 1792. A competition for design was then held, and a Scotsman named William Thornton put forth the winning idea for the Capitol building. And on today’s date, the cornerstone was laid.

The Silver Cornerstone

It is known from the newspaper article, and from Masonic ritual that a trench having been dug for the foundation, the group took its place around the southeast corner of what would become the North Wing of the Capitol. A silver plate was presented by Washington (below) which read:

“This South East corner Stone, of the Capitol of the United States of America in the City of Washington, was laid on the 18th day of September 1793, in the thirteenth year of American Independence, in the first year of the second term of the Presidency of George Washington, whose virtues in the civil administration of his country have been as conspicuous and beneficial, as his Military valor and prudence have been useful in establishing her liberties…”

The Capitol Building’s Neo-Classical Design

At that point in time the U.S. capitol was set up in the city of Philadelphia, which was primarily a city built of bricks.  But George Washington, like many men of his day, saw his new republic as being based on the democracy of classical Greece, and wanted his new city to be styled accordingly. In fact he envisioned sitting atop Capitol Hill, a magnificent domed structure so he naturally enough favored the design idea with which the Scotsman Dr. Thornton had won the contest, possessing as it did “grandeur, simplicity, and beauty.” In a letter to Commissioner Johnson, Thomas Jefferson was even more effusive, saying that “It is simple, noble, beautiful, excellently distributed and moderate in size.”, noting that “No one is more delighted than him {President Washington}whose decision is most important.” The President would periodically return to the construction site to observe and oversee its progress, but sadly enough Washington would never see the end product of his cornerstone as he would die on December 14 of 1799, almost a year before the Capitol building’s completion.

The Capitol Building Since Then….

The Congress moved into its new digs and began work on November 17, 1800 working in the North Wing.  The House of Representatives moved into the south wing in 1807, with the finish to work on that portion of the building coming in 1811. However the old girl wasn’t peacefully humming for very long before the British Army attacked Washington D.C., during the War of 1812,  sacked the town and burnt a number of buildings.  Among these were the President’s Mansion (the White House), the U.S. Patent Office, and of course… the Capitol Building. Happily, God took pity on the U.S. that night by calling up a rain storm which saved her from burning to the ground.  Since then she has survived Civil War. during which troops were bivouacked inside her, and a military hospital was set up there as well.  In fact it was during the Civil War that the Capitols famous dome was actually completed at the direction of President Abraham Lincoln, who insisted on the work’s continuance. She has even survived the terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001 during which she was said to have been one of the murderer’s intended targets. She is now is visited by 3 million to 5 million people every year.

But That Silver Plate In the Capitol Cornerstone…

has never been located. The Masonic and other records speak of the silver plate as having been laid in the “southeast corner” but we simply do not know whether this refers to the southeast corner of the Senate wing, which was the first completed section of the building , or the southeast corner of the entire Capitol building as she was originally envisioned. This would place the priceless silver plate across the building on the House side. To this day, more than a couple of centuries later, the Architect of the Capitol is still looking in every conceivable spot for that cornerstone. But even with the use of Metal detectors he has never able to locate the silver plate.

Sources =

http://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/minute/George_Washington_Lays_Capitol_Cornerstone.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Washington,_D.C.

http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/capitol-cornerstone-is-laid

http://askville.amazon.com/Washington-DC-called-District-Columbia/AnswerViewer.do?requestId=3651533

http://freemasonsfordummies.blogspot.com/2011/01/freemasons-and-us-capitol-cornerstone.html

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