The History of the Capitol Building

The incomplete US Capitol after it was burned by the British during the War of 1812.


Early in the United States’ history, the Capitol Building, or United States Capitol, was authorized and built in the US’s newly formed capital in Washington D.C. It was to serve as the seat of the US government’s legislative branch from 1800 when the legislative branch was moved from Philadelphia to Washington D.C. Washington’s site was seen as a compromise between Northern and Southern states, which had disputed where the seat of government for the United States should be.

The Capitol building’s history begins with the passage of the Residence Act of 1790, which mandated a formal seat for the US federal government. Northern states would have preferred a site such as New York or Philadelphia as the likeliest place for the seat of the US government; however, after the federal government agreed to take on Revolutionary War debt from northern states, the northern states agreed to Washington D.C. becoming the newly built seat of government.

The US government gave the transition period for the legislative branch to be transferred to D.C. within 10 years, lasting between 1790-1800, and Philadelphia serving as the branch’s temporary home. The French-American engineer Pierre Charles L’Enfant designed the new capital city of Washington D.C., where he planned for ‘Congress House,’ as the Capitol was envisioned to be called, to be located on its present site on Jenkin’s Hill (now called Capitol Hill).

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Categories: History of the Early Republic

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