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Burning of Washington, 1814


[U.S. Capitol after burning by the British]

On August 24, 1814, as the War of 1812 raged on, invading British troops marched into Washington and set fire to the U.S. Capitol, the President's Mansion, and other local landmarks. The ensuing fire reduced all but one of the capital city's major public buildings to smoking rubble, and only a torrential rainstorm saved the Capitol from complete destruction. The blaze particularly devastated the Capitol's Senate wing, the oldest part of the building, which was honeycombed with vulnerable wooden floors and housed the valuable but combustible collection of books and manuscripts of the Library of Congress, then located in the Capitol building. Heat from the intense fire reduced the Senate chamber's marble columns to lime, leaving the room, in one description, "a most magnificent ruin." Quickly, President James Madison arranged for Congress to meet temporarily at Blodgett's Hotel when it returned to session in September, and the business of Congress continued uninterrupted. The following year, the Senate moved to the Brick Capitol, a large red-brick structure built to accommodate Congress temporarily. Not until 1819, after a major reconstruction project, did the Senate again meet in the historic Old Senate Chamber in the U.S. Capitol.