National Geographic : 1964 Jan
"middle building" could even get started. On August 24, 1814, the invaders set fire to the Capitol and other public buildings. "I have never beheld a spectacle more ter rible," said an awed eyewitness, "and at the same time more magnificent." Congressmen later heard the tale that Adm. Sir George Cockburn had led his troops into the House of Representatives, that he took over the Speaker's chair and put to his men the mock question-"Shall this harbor of Yankee democracy be burned?" However it happened, the harbor of Yankee democracy was a blackened ruin when the British withdrew from the city the next day. Though a violent rainstorm had saved the buildings from utter destruction, the House, Senate, and Supreme Court Chambers were a shambles. The wooden walkway between the two wings had gone up in smoke. Many of the books in the Libraryof Congress were burned. Congress was homeless for five years. It met briefly in the Patent Office, formerly Blodget's Hotel, then moved into the "Brick Capitol," hurriedly built where the Supreme Court Building now stands. Outside this building, on March 4, 1817, spectators watched President-elect James Monroe take the oath in the city's first open air inaugural. It happened by compromise. Having disagreed on whether to sit on the Senate's "fine red chairs" or the "plain demo cratic" ones of the House, the legislators decid ed to build a platform outside and use neither.