Not Since 200 Years Ago Has U.S. Capitol Been Breached

hundreds invaded congress, causing lawmakers to seek shelter elsewhere in the capitol

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

Not since 1814 has the U.S. Capitol building been breached, KREM reported. The Capitol was overrun while Congress was in session to certify November’s electoral votes that would declare President-elect Joe Biden as the 46th president of the United States. The last storming of the building occurred during the War of 1812.

Close up of American flag at the US Capitol Building
During the War of 1812 with the British, the Capitol building was stormed as British forces attempted to burn it to the ground. Photo By trekandshoot / Shutterstock

The U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C., was sieged on Wednesday, January 6, 2021. “On Wednesday, the Capitol was placed on lockdown as supporters of President Donald Trump marched inside the building, breaching police barricades,” the KREM article said. “Members of Congress were forced to evacuate, delaying the certification of Electoral College votes.

“Not since British soldiers burned a majority of Washington, D.C., to the ground during the War of 1812 has the U.S. Capitol been breached.”

In August 1814, when British forces overran the Capitol building and attempted to burn it down, both the capital city of the United States and the world were experiencing very different conditions and events than they are today in 2021.

An Unlikely War

“On the surface, no country was more ill-prepared to wage war in 1812 than the United States, much less to wage it against Great Britain,” said Dr. Allen C. Guelzo, the Henry R. Luce Professor of the Civil War Era and Director of Civil War Era Studies at Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. “Twelve years of Republican rule had successfully whittled the national budget and national taxes to one-fifteenth the size of Britain’s. The American army had only 7,500 men on its rolls, and they were commanded either by inexperienced junior officers or by senile veterans of the American Revolution.”

Dr. Guelzo said that the American navy consisted of just 16 commissioned warships, seven frigates, and “an assortment of sloops and gunboats.”

Just about everything possible went wrong for the American forces. A western assault into Canada by General William Hull failed when Hull lost his nerve and doubled back to Detroit, where a small force of British, Canadian, and Indian troops forced him to surrender without firing a single shot. The following year, William Henry Harrison was sent to repair Hull’s damage but his forces were stopped and slaughtered.

Enemies in the Capitol in 1814

“The British sailed boldly and bare-facedly into the Chesapeake Bay with hardly any opposition in June of 1814, landing virtually at will to burn several towns, and in August of 1814, pushing inland to burn the capital, Washington City, itself,” Dr. Guelzo said. “Only the stubborn defense put up by the garrison of Fort McHenry in Baltimore Harbor during the night of September 13 through 14, 1814, prevented the British from putting Baltimore to the torch as well.”

By the time that peace was pursued in late 1814, serious damage had been done not just to life and property but also to the image of the United States government. James Madison eagerly responded to a British offer to negotiate peace, but New England Federalists, whose towns had suffered the most damage, were already seeking a way out without presidential approval.

“In October of 1814, the Massachusetts legislature, top-heavy with disgruntled Federalists, passed a peace resolution and urged the New England states to make arrangements for a separate peace treaty with Britain,” Dr. Guelzo said.

“Sneering at the war as ‘Mr. Madison’s war,’ the New Englanders went so far as to organize a convention in Hartford, Connecticut, in December of 1814, with 22 delegates from all the New England states demanding new constitutional amendments to corral Madison’s powers, threatening to call a second convention in Boston for the purpose of seceding from the Union if their demands were not met.”

During the immediate days following the breach of the Capitol on January 6, the United States as a nation continues to process the events of that day. Members of Congress continue to deliberate what forthcoming actions will be taken or not taken as a response.

Edited by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily

Dr. Allen C. Guelzo contributed to this article. Dr. Guelzo is the Henry R. Luce Professor of the Civil War Era and Director of Civil War Era Studies at Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. He holds an MA and a PhD in History from the University of Pennsylvania.