The U.S. Capitol is seen today as the seat of American government and liberty, proof in stone and marble of the stability of our political system. But it was erected during the tumultuous years just before and during the Civil War - a time when political stability seemed very far away.
Journalist Guy Gugliotta discusses his new book Freedom's Cap: The United States Capitol and the Coming of the Civil War on Thursday, March 22, 2012, at 6:30 p.m. at the Central Library, 14 W. 10th St.
The raising of the Capitol building was steeped in irony. Even as the majestic structure rose to dominate Washington's skyline, battles over slavery and secession were tearing the country apart.
Ground was broken shortly after Congress adopted the Compromise of 1850, which temporarily defused the issue of slavery in territories acquired during the Mexican-American War. Workers began to bolt into place the 9-million-pound cast-iron dome in 1856. The Statue of Freedom was placed at the top in 1863, just a few months after the Battle of Gettysburg.
It is a story filled with big personalities. U.S. Sen. Jefferson Davis was the Capitol's staunchest advocate right up to the moment he left Washington to become president of the Confederacy. This created a permanent rift between Davis and his protégé Montgomery Meigs, the engineer in charge of the construction. And Meigs had his own long-running feud with Thomas U. Walter, the Capitol's architect and a one-time Southern sympathizer who would turn fiercely against all who had betrayed the Union.
Writing for such publications as the Washington Post, the New York Times, National Geographic, Wired, Discover, and Smithsonian, Guy Gugliotta has been a foreign correspondent in Latin America, a congressional reporter, and a freelance science writer. He is also the author of Kings of Cocaine.
Admission is free. A 6 p.m. reception precedes the event. RSVP online  or call 816.701.3407. Free parking is available at the Library District Parking Garage at 10th & Baltimore.
Major funding for programs at the Kansas City Public Library is provided by a generous grant from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.