1863 One Hundred And Twenty-five Years Ago

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The rise of the U.S. population in the first half of the nineteenth century resulted in a corresponding rise in the number of representatives in Washington. Wings added to the Capitol building in the 185Os solved the overcrowding but made the building’s original dome look disproportionately small. Congress hired the architect Thomas U. Walter to design a new, larger one.

Made of iron and inspired by the domes of the cathedrals of St. Paul and St. Peter, the Walter dome—at 307 feet—stood almost twice as tall as the old one. During Lincoln’s first inauguration, the skeleton of the half-finished dome had loomed above him like an emblem of the disheveled Union. But by the end of 1863 the structure was complete, and in a ceremony on December 2 the shining new dome was capped with an allegorical statue by the sculptor Thomas Crawford depicting the “Goddess of Freedom.”

Edward Everett Male’s patriotic fable “The Man without a Country” appeared in December’s Atlantic Monthly . In it, Philip Nolan, on trial for conspiracy with Aaron Burr, cries out, “Damn the United States. I wish I may never hear of the United States again.” Taken at his word, Nolan receives an unorthodox sentence: a lifetime at sea, on an American man-of-war, denied any news of his land. Years later he redeems himself through heroism and on his deathbed he is finally given news of the republic he has come to love. A wistful plea for national unity in a country in the grip of civil war, the story was immensely popular.