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Ask Civics: Has The U.S. Capitol Ever Seen Violence Before?

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Sara Plourde/NHPR
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Today we're answering a question about violence in the U.S. Capitol building: Has the U.S. Capitol been ambushed before?

Listen to this short episode, or read on for the answer.

Do you have a question for the Civics 101 team? Submit it here.

The U.S. has a long history of politically motivated violence. And the U.S. Capitol building - as a symbol of the nation, a very public building, and a working office for thousands of people - can also be a target, as we saw in the unprecedented insurrection on January 6th. 

It has been said that government was invented to prevent violence. But governments can also perpetrate violence-...and become the target of violence. The United States Capitol Building - the very symbol of Western democracy - has the scars to prove it.

The first breach of the Capitol occurred during the War of 1812, a war between the Americans and the British over territory and trade. The British invaded Washington, D.C. in 1814 and set fire to the Capitol. The interior of the building was destroyed. 

One of the most notable incidents of violence occurred in 1856, the savage beating of Senator Charles Sumner for his abolitionist views by a fellow senator. Sumner barely survived his injuries. His blood stained the Senate floor.

President Andrew Jackson narrowly avoided an assasination attempt while attending a funeral at the Capitol in 1835.

The building has been bombed three separate times: first in 1915, when a Harvard Professor planted dynamite to protest U.S wartime aid to Britain. In 1971, an extremist group, The Weather Underground, a group that used violence to force political and social change, set off a bomb in a men’s room, in protest of the Vietnam War.

In 1983, a group protesting U.S. military involvement in Lebanon and Grenada detonated a bomb in the north wing of the building. Fortunately, only property - and not people - was injured in any of the bombings.

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