1. George Washington’s Birthday: How It Started and Why We Celebrate As the first president of the United States, George Washington’s legacy remains strong in the American consciousness, and his birthday is celebrated in a variety of ways. In this article, readers can learn about the history of Washington’s birthday, how it has been celebrated, and why it continues to be observed today. 2. George Washington’s Mount Vernon Home Now Open For Tours George Washington’s Mount Vernon home is open for tours. This article details the history of the mansion, its restoration, and the various activities that guests can partake in while visiting the home. 3. George Washington: The Greatest American President This article examines the life and legacy of George Washington, highlighting his many accomplishments and contributions to the United States. It also looks at the reasons why he is widely considered to be the greatest American president. 4. George Washington: His Life and Accomplishments This article provides an overview of the life and accomplishments of George Washington. It looks at his service in the Revolutionary War, his presidency, and his role in shaping the United States. 5. George Washington’
When Constantino Brumidi first arrived at the United States Capitol in the winter of 1854-1855, he promptly made this sketch. The sketch was essentially his job application to paint the Capitol’s frescos. Brumidi outlined what would ultimately become his masterpiece, the decoration of the entire Capitol interior. And this little painting is where it all began. Montgomery Meigs was a cynical interviewer when Brumidi, a refugee from political turmoil in Italy, came looking for work. Meigs led the construction of the Capitol’s huge new wings and dome, and he wanted to decorate in a style that was nothing like America’s existing public buildings. Despite what budget hawks in Congress thought, those plain structures, he said, “starve in simple whitewash.” Meigs' ambitions outstripped the abilities of local artists, so he was skeptical and then pleased when he met “the lively old man with a very red nose,” who turned out to be a gifted painter. Brumidi, in turn, was probably just as pleased when Meigs set him a design challenge to prove he was the best painter for the job: “Cincinnatus Called from the Plow,” George Washington’s favorite subject from history. Brumidi knew just how he would tell the ancient Roman tale of civic virtue. He had painted the very same subject back in Rome. Before a month passed, the hopeful artist presented his sketched-out design, now in the House Collection. One look and Meigs was convinced. Cincinnatus got the full hero treatment. He stands at the center of the design and the center of the action, poised between his plow and the Roman Senate’s pleas for him to take the reins of power. Farming’s prominence made the composition even more appropriate for the spot Meigs had in mind, the east end of the Committee on Agriculture’s new barrel-vaulted hearing room.The sketch was so successful that Meigs told Brumidi to start right away, in that very room, ultimately destined for the Agriculture Committee, “which had only a rough coat of brown plaster.” Meigs continued to use the room as an office, and invited lawmakers to watch the artist at work. It was a wise move. Skeptical statesmen dropped by almost every day. Meigs was “relieved from much anxiety by finding that our Legislators visited and admired the picture and were much interested in its progress.” Brumidi worked hard and fast, completing the Cincinnatus fresco in just a month, through weather so cold the paint and plaster froze. His mettle proven, Meigs hired him to cover all four walls with frescoes, and the ceiling, too. By the time the painter got to the western end of the room, the design changed from the allegory of America’s bounty that Brumidi had sketched. It became a history painting to match Cincinnatus. The new plan mirrored the Roman story with a bit of Revolutionary War history—Israel Putnam called from his plow in 1775 to command the troops at the Battle of Bunker Hill. The paintings for Meigs’ office, which did become the Agriculture Committee’s room, were just the beginning for Brumidi. He continued painting the corridors, the ceremonial rooms, and most famously the Capitol’s Rotunda. The building today sparkles with more than 25 years’ worth of paintings wrought by Brumidi, all springing from this sketch, a small but very successful job application. Sources: William C. Allen, History of the United States Capitol. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 2001. Montgomery Meigs, Capitol Builder: The Shorthand Journals of Montgomery C. Meigs, 1853-1859, 1861. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 2000. Barbara Wolanin, Constantino Brumidi: Artist of the Capitol. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1998. Follow @USHouseHistory
What is the smallest object in the House Collection? The answer might surprise you.#AskACurator Smallest object is Rep. Jake Pickle’s pickle pin! Just a little over 1 inch long. pic.twitter.com/KttcHg2KOZ — U.S. House History (@USHouseHistory) September 17, 2014Large and small, the questions came, and @USHouseHistory answered them during #AskACurator day on September 17. In what has now become an annual Twitter event, 47,546 tweets used the hashtag #AskACurator to pose questions to and elicit answers from curators at 721 museums in 43 countries. They weren’t all directed to or coming from the House, but many were, and the House Curator Farar Elliott spent an hour answering them. Here are some of the most intriguing responses.Try matching the question to the response(s). Answers are at the bottom of the post:1. Do you have any images of astronauts visiting the Capitol? 2. How many objects are in your collection? 3. What’s the newest thing in your collection? The oldest? The hardest to move?A:@SBagarreur#AskACurator We moved a huge painting for 1st time in 100yrs. It took 11 people! http://t.co/2ywTHHfTYNpic.twitter.com/RLgdaYoPfd — U.S. House History (@USHouseHistory) September 17, 2014B:@NASAGoddard#AskACurator Congress invited astronauts to address it 6x. Here’s the1st one, John Glenn in 1962. pic.twitter.com/cXLHzCYKTP — U.S. House History (@USHouseHistory) September 17, 2014C:#AskACurator Our oldest object is George Washington’s bling, marking the 1793 Capitol cornerstone laying. pic.twitter.com/oiAe5WfK85 — U.S. House History (@USHouseHistory) September 17, 2014D:How many objects you #AskACurator ? 6250 catalogued, but we probably have 3X that number not yet catalogued. pic.twitter.com/EpoZqg5XVJ — U.S. House History (@USHouseHistory) September 17, 2014E:#AskACurator Newest object: 2014 @USPSstamps of Rep. Shirley Chisholm. Her slogan: “Unbought and Unbossed!” pic.twitter.com/0uagVlhlDc — U.S. House History (@USHouseHistory) September 17, 2014Answers:1. Do you have any images of astronauts visiting the Capitol? (B: John Glenn addresses Congress) 2. How many objects are in your collection? (D: Rep. Edith Nourse Rogers rides a tank) 3. What’s the newest thing in your collection? (E: Rep. Shirley Chisholm stamps) The oldest? (C: George Washington's bling) The hardest to move? (A: Peace portrait)It was a fast-paced hour, and of course the sign-off was Representative Adam Clayton Powell's signature phrase.House Curator Farar Elliott signing off #AskACurator "Keep the Faith Baby!" pic.twitter.com/XmElpq41rZ — U.S. House History (@USHouseHistory) September 17, 2014Follow @USHouseHistory
On July 4, 1809, an unusual reburial ceremony took place at the Wayne family burial grounds in Radnor, Pennsylvania. For 12 years, the remains of “Mad” Anthony Wayne, the Revolutionary War hero and former congressman, had rested 400 miles away on the shores of Lake Erie.But on that early summer day, Mad Anthony’s remains were going home—well, most of them were going home. Legend has it that the bumpy Pennsylvania roads on the way to Radnor jostled the cart carrying Mad Anthony’s body so violently that some of his bones bounced out and were never seen again. Another story has it that the cart tipped over causing the congressman’s skull to roll away and disappear. In either case, Mad Anthony—or what’s left of him—is said to haunt the trails and backwoods of the Keystone State.Mad Anthony Wayne may have become legend in death, but he likely loomed even larger in life. He was George Washington’s trusted lieutenant in the Continental Army, a friend to the Marquis de Lafayette, a Congressional Gold Medal recipient, a Representative from Georgia, the General-in-Chief of the U.S. Army, and triumphant defender of the Northwest Territory. In fact, his reburial that day in 1809 was complete with full military honors and attended by a congressional delegation and luminaries like General “Light Horse Harry” Lee of Virginia.In 1776, Wayne led the Pennsylvania militia, known as the Pennsylvania Line. Under Wayne’s leadership the Line soon became one of General Washington’s most reliable divisions. Around this time General Wayne earned the nickname “Mad Anthony.” Reportedly bestowed by an angry former confidant, the moniker stuck and Wayne’s men embraced it. In May 1779, Washington ordered Mad Anthony to storm Stony Point, New York (a fortified peninsula on the Hudson River), and Wayne replied with gusto, “Issue the order, and I’ll storm hell!” Many consider the battle at Stony Point to be a decisive victory in the northern front against the British. For his heroics and masterful strategy (an attack which included a surprise midnight bayonet attack), Wayne received a Congressional Gold Medal.After the Revolutionary War ended, General Wayne received a tract of land in Georgia as a reward for his service. At the urging of a family friend, he ran for election to the U.S. House in 1790. However, his tenure was brief as Wayne became embroiled in one of the first contested elections in the House. Former Representative James Jackson challenged Wayne’s residency qualifications and also asserted that ballots were improperly counted. The House Committee on Elections in the 2nd Congress (1791–1793) declared the election null on March 21, 1792. While embarrassed by the incident, Wayne emerged unscathed by his foray into politics: President Washington and Secretary of War Henry Knox named him General-in-Chief of the U.S. Army.Sent to secure the Northwest Territory (modern day Ohio and Michigan), Mad Anthony fortified the American borders against Native Americans and British troops for four years. Returning to Philadelphia from the Ohio Valley, Wayne fell ill in late November 1796. Two weeks later, he succumbed to his illness at a military post in Presque Isle (Erie, PA). On his death bed, he requested “to be buried at the crest of the hill near the flagpole.” The old soldier’s body rested peacefully under the flag pole for 12 years.In 1809, the Society of the Cincinnati contacted General Wayne’s family and suggested that the body of the Revolutionary War hero be returned to the family burial plot in southeastern Pennsylvania. Wayne’s son, Isaac, set off to retrieve his father’s remains.The story goes that when the body was exhumed those in attendance were stunned. The Major General was found to be perfectly preserved in full uniform. This presented a transportation problem since Isaac had brought a very small cart. The doctor in charge, J.C. Wallace, made the gruesome recommendation to remove the flesh from the bone by dismembering the body and boiling it in a pot. Once the ghastly task was completed, Wallace reinterred the knives, pot, and assorted other remains in the original grave site, and gave Isaac Wayne his father’s bones.On his way home, somewhere along the route from Erie to Radnor, Mad Anthony Wayne crossed that fine line between history and legend.Sources: Paul David Nelson, Anthony Wayne Soldier of the Early Republic (Bloomington: Indiana University Press), 1985; Noel Gerson, I’ll Storm Hell: A Biographical Novel of “Mad Anthony” Wayne (New York: Doubleday), 1967; Joseph Fox, Anthony Wayne, Washington’s Reliable General (Chicago: Adams Press), 1988. Richard Knopf, ed., Anthony Wayne: A Name In Arms Soldiers, Diplomat, Defender of Expansion Westward of a Nation, The Wayne-Knox-Pickering-McHenry Correspondence (Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press), 1960.Follow @USHouseHistory
In an institution still largely segregated and even unwelcoming to its African-American Members in the 1930s, Harry Parker’s six decades of loyal service to the House engendered respect and affection. The New York Times described the House Chamber’s 1937 celebration of Parker as the “most extraordinary tribute ever paid” to an African-American in the House up to that point. However, it was Parker’s illustrious “origin” that first endeared him to Members of Congress and the local media.Harry’s life story was one of fact and fiction. Parker claimed that he was born a slave between 1856 and 1865, “I don’t know how old I am, but I was born at Mount Vernon.” His apocryphal tale also boasted that an ancestor was one of President George Washington’s personal servants. Finally, Harry proclaimed, he had left Mount Vernon on the back of a milk wagon and missed his ride back to the plantation, causing him to find work shining shoes in the Capitol.Parker’s familial ties to Mount Vernon are not disputed. Harry’s father, Edmund Parker, came to Mount Vernon as an enslaved adolescent with John Augustine Washington II—a nephew of George Washington—in 1841. Edmund worked at Mount Vernon until the 1870s. The Parker family moved to Alexandria and later Pennsylvania, but returned to Washington in 1882. According to U.S. Census records, Harry was born in either Pennsylvania or Virginia in September 1871. Although the family remained in Washington, Edmund returned to Mount Vernon to work as a ceremonial guard in front of Washington’s tomb, where he regaled tourists with stories about antebellum Virginia.It is unclear when Harry started working in the Capitol, but he had already held a variety of jobs before committee Chairman William McKinley of Ohio hired him as an assistant for the Ways and Means Committee in the late 1880s. Parker served as the committee’s doorkeeper, prepared notepads, filled ice-water coolers, and tended to the needs of committee members. He remained on the staff despite the changes in party control. Parker recalled, “I’ve known many of the great ones from President McKinley on down,” including Speaker Nicholas Longworth of Ohio and Sereno Payne of New York, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.Upon his retirement in 1937, the House unanimously voted Parker an annual pension of $1,260. The bill’s sponsor was Lindsey Warren of North Carolina, chairman of the House Committee on Accounts and, ironically, just a few years before, a proponent of segregating the House Restaurant in a widely-publicized dispute with Representative Oscar De Priest of Illinois. Representative Warren waxed eloquent that Parker “has walked countless miles around these corridors . . . ministering to the committee he loves so much.” Warren told his colleagues, “Harry needs a rest, and who is there who would keep him from it in the fullness of his years?” Warren concluded his stirring oration, by crediting Parker as being “as much a part of this institution as is the dome over this building.”At that moment, Members stood and applauded Parker’s service for one full minute while he looked on from the House Gallery. Illinois Representative Arthur Mitchell, the second African-American elected to Congress in the 20th century, also spoke from the floor noting that Parker, “rendered distinguished service [to the House] and has shown himself to be worthy of the respect, the confidence, and the admiration of this great body.” After his retirement, Harry Parker returned to the Capitol to visit Members and to watch the opening of new Congresses until his health declined. At roughly 80 years of age, Harry Parker died on August 21, 1951, in Freedmen's Hospital (now Howard University Hospital) in Washington, D.C.Sources: Scott E. Casper, Sarah Johnson’s Mount Vernon: The Forgotten History of an American Shrine (New York: Hill and Wang, 2008): 185–187; Twelfth Census of the United States, 1900: Washington, Washington, District of Columbia, Roll T623, page 20A, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., http://search.ancestrylibrary.com (accessed 28 July 2014); Thirteenth Census of the United States, 1910: Precinct 8, Washington, District of Columbia, Roll T624_153, page 13B, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., http://search.ancestrylibrary.com (accessed 28 July 2014); Baltimore Sun, June 20, 1935; Washington Post, July 14, 1937; New York Times, July 14, 1937; Washington Post, October 17, 1937; Washington Post, July 31, 1940; New York Times, January 20, 1941; Washington Post, August 21, 1951; Congressional Record, House, 75th Cong., 1st sess. (13 July 1937): 7117–7120.Follow @USHouseHistory
The oldest object in the House Collection is also one of the smallest. It’s less than an inch across, but the man who owned it was a giant figure in American history. This tiny gold pendant, or fob, holds a piece of red carnelian stone with George Washington’s coat of arms and initials carved into it. The seal would be pressed into wax to seal letters. Washington received this fob seal on September 18, 1794, the first anniversary of the laying of the Capitol cornerstone. The date is engraved around the rim of the fob, along with Masonic symbols and the name of Washington’s home lodge “Alexandria Lodge No 22.” Like most gentlemen of the late 1700s, Washington wore his fob seals prominently. He owned two at his death. They hung from a short ribbon, which he used to pull his timepiece, attached at the other end, from a tight waistcoat pocket. As men’s waistcoats grew shorter, fobs grew more popular and became an essential part of masculine dress. Some men, like Washington, wore two fobs on their watch. Fobs appear in several Washington portraits, including Gilbert Stuart’s “Washington at Dorchester Heights” and John Trumbull’s “George Washington before the Battle of Trenton.” In some portraits, he is wearing two fob seals. One of them may be this seal, which would be well known to both Trumbull and Stuart. Although it’s hard to imagine Washington wearing jewelry, even something as practical as a seal, into battle, the artists were accurate in including the fobs in a battlefield portrait. Washington had worn a seal during the French and Indian War and lost it in the disastrous 1755 defeat of Braddock’s troops. In 1794, when this seal was made, all battles were won, the nation was at peace, and Washington’s personal interest in the Capitol made it an apt gift. He laid the cornerstone in 1793 in an elaborate Masonic ceremony, the first large public event in the new capital city. Washington himself conducted formal exercises and afterward, a 500-pound ox was barbecued and those in attendance “generally partook, with every abundance of other recreation,” according to the Alexandria Gazette. A year later, on the anniversary engraved on the seal, the atmosphere was not so jolly. Washington was unhappy with the slow progress and shoddy workmanship of the Capitol’s construction. Only one of the original commissioners in charge of the building was still there, and he was staying only until a replacement was named. Indeed, the Capitol was not finished when Washington died in 1799, and barely habitable when Congress moved to the city in 1800. Perhaps the fob was a hopeful wish that the project would someday be completed. It was, of course, and two centuries later, the seal was reunited with the institution it commemorated, when it returned to the Capitol as a gift to the nation from Ambassador and Mrs. Mel Sembler. Sources: Alexandria Gazette, September 25, 1793; William Allen, History of the United States Capitol. Washington DC: (GPO, 2001); Benson J. Lossing, The Home of Washington. Hartford, CT: (A.S. Hale & Company, 1871); Martha Gandy Fales, Jewelry in America, 1600-1900. Woodbridge, Suffolk, UK: Antique Collecors’ Club, 1995.Follow @USHouseHistory
“[The President] shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”—U.S. Constitution, Article II, Section 3The formal basis for the State of the Union address is from the U.S. Constitution. Earlier State of the Union addresses (also called Annual Messages) included agency budget requests and general reports on the health of the economy. During the 20th century, Congress required more-specialized reports on these two aspects, separate from the State of the Union. Over time, as the message content changed, so has the focus of the State of the Union.Featured ExhibitState of the Union Address Including President Barack H. Obama’s 2013 address, there have been a total of 92 in person Annual Messages/State of the Union Addresses. Since President Woodrow Wilson’s 1913 address, there have been a total of 80 in person addresses.Learn more about State of the Union trivia: “Annual Message” or “State of the Union”? How have the names, format, and expectations for the President’s report changed over time?How have changes in technology impacted the way in which the State of the Union has been delivered?Where and when has the Annual Message/ State of the Union been delivered over time?When did the opposition party formalize their response?Featured Historical HighlightsPresident George Washington Delivered his First Regular Annual Message to a Joint Session of Congress On January 8, 1790, George Washington delivered his first regular Annual Message to a Joint Session of Congress. Washington opted to make his address in person during the opening days of the second session of the 1st Congress (1789–1791). The President arrived by horse-drawn carriage on a cold January morning and spoke in the Senate Chamber of Federal Hall in New York City.The First Evening Annual Message On January 3, 1936, during the second session of the 74th Congress (1935–1937), President Franklin D. Roosevelt held the first nighttime Annual Message. Designed to reach the largest possible radio audience, the last-minute decision by Roosevelt to deliver an evening speech, spawned major media attention and heightened interest in Congress and the President.President John F. Kennedy’s First State of the Union Address On January 30, 1961, during the 87th Congress (1961–1963), President John F. Kennedy delivered his first State of the Union Address before a Joint Session of Congress. The occasion marked only the second time a newly elected President chose to give such a speech—the first was Kennedy’s predecessor, President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1953.See more Historical Highlights featuring the State of the Union Address.Featured Objects in the House CollectionPresident Reagan’s 1986 State of the Union Address President Ronald Reagan, Vice President George Bush and Speaker Tip O’Neill recognized four young heroes—a science student, a musical prodigy, an advocate for the homeless, and a crossing guard who pulled another child to safety—handpicked by the President as guests at the 1986 State of the Union. Reagan started this tradition at his 1982 State of the Union.President Truman’s 1950 State of the Union Address Amidst applause and jeers that fell along party lines, President Harry Truman delivered a speech that addressed the need to increase taxes and cut spending.More objects of Capitol Hill Events can be found on our Collections page.Featured Oral HistoryFormer Director of the House Radio–TV Gallery, Tina Tate, provides historical background on the technical requirements and logistical operations for the television coverage of Members’ responses in Statuary Hall following the State of the Union Address.More remembrances of Meetings & Ceremonies can be found on our Oral History page.Featured Blog PostPutting One Over on TeddyWhen Woodrow Wilson became President a century ago, he smashed an old tradition. Wilson had long suspected that the President could act as a prime minister for Congress, formulating party program and directing party strategy. The secret to this kind of leadership was the use of oratorical power to convince others of what was in the public interest. Wilson intended to replace written presidential messages with a direct address to a Joint Session, expecting this would seize the imagination of the country, give him the momentum to enact his policies, and set a new tone for the administration. Read More . . .This is part of a series of blog posts for educators highlighting the resources available on History, Art & Archives of the U.S. House of Representatives. For lesson plans, fact sheets, glossaries, and other materials for the classroom, see the website's Education section.
When Woodrow Wilson became President a century ago, he smashed an old tradition. Wilson had long suspected that the President could act as a prime minister for Congress, formulating party program and directing party strategy. The secret to this kind of leadership was the use of oratorical power to convince others of what was in the public interest. Wilson intended to replace written presidential messages with a direct address to a joint session, expecting this would seize the imagination of the country, give him the momentum to enact his policies, and set a new tone for the administration.The State of the Union Address as national ceremony is not that old. While the Constitution mandates that the President "shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient" (Article II, section 3), this duty has been performed in many ways. The first two Presidents, George Washington and John Adams, came to Congress amid great pomp to read the Message themselves. For Thomas Jefferson, the third President, these occasions too closely recalled the English monarch's address from the throne to open Parliament. Jefferson also hated public speaking, preferring to wield a pen.As a result, in 1801 Jefferson set a new precedent by sending the Annual Message as a document. Clerks would read the Message into the record, over time to largely empty chambers. Later Presidents merely summarized the annual reports of the executive departments, justifying budget requests rather than offering policy recommendations. President Theodore Roosevelt, however, knew the Annual Messages were widely distributed and held great potential. His messages looked forward rather than backward, justifying new goals and proposals for the nation. A professional writer, Roosevelt crafted Messages that would be clear, memorable, and win public support.When Wilson announced he would address Congress directly, agitated critics exhumed Jeffersonian fears of monarchy. Yet on December 2, 1913, the second afternoon of the 63rd Congress (1913–1915), the President arrived at the Capitol and was escorted to the House Chamber. Ten minutes later he left as Congress applauded his words. As the President rode back to the White House with his wife, the First Lady remarked to her husband that he had done something that his political rival, the flamboyant Roosevelt would have done "if only he had thought of it.""Yes," laughed Wilson, "I think I put one over on Teddy."
When people think of revolutionary fighters in the Americas they often think of George Washington, Toussaint Louverture, or Simón Bolívar. However, the first revolutionary fighter attempting to liberate the New World from European colonialism did not live in the 18th or 19th century but instead live