Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group
Freedom's Cap

Freedom's Cap

The United States Capitol and the Coming of the Civil War

Guy Gugliotta

Hill and Wang



Trade Paperback

The history of the modern United States Capitol, the iconic seat of the U.S. government, is also the history of America's most tumultuous years. As the majestic new building rose above Washington's skyline, battles over slavery and secession were ripping the country apart. Ground was broken just months after Congress adopted the compromise of 1850. Workers began to bolt the Capitol's 9-million-pound cast-iron dome into place in 1856. The statue Freedom was placed atop it in 1863, five months after the Battle of Gettysburg. Little known is the greater irony: the United States owes the building's scale and magnificence to Jefferson Davis, who remained the Capitol's staunchest advocate up until the week he left Washington to become president of the Confederacy. Davis's protégé and the engineer in charge was army captain Montgomery C. Meigs, who as Lincoln's quartermaster general of the Union Army would never forgive Davis's betrayal of the nation. The Capitol's brilliant architect, and Meigs's longtime rival, was Thomas U. Walter, a Southern sympathizer who would turn fiercely against the South and all who had betrayed the Union.

In Freedom's Cap, Guy Gugliotta, an award-winning journalist, science writer, and author, has captured with impeccable historical detail the clash of personalities behind the building of the Capitol and its extraordinary design and engineering.


Freedom's Cap

In 1850, the city of Washington was almost sixty years old. It had a population of 40,001, of whom 26 percent were classified as "colored" and 5 percent were slaves.1 Congress had...


Praise for Freedom's Cap

“[A] meticulously detailed history . . . Ironies abound.” —Abigail Meisel, The New York Times Book Review

“The construction of the [United States] Capitol as the world has known it since ‘Freedom' was put in place in the late autumn of 1863 is a story unto itself . . . and Guy Gugliotta tells it superbly in Freedom's Cap . . . With this book, he joins that estimable group of non-professional historians who have revived the practice of narrative history, one cherished by serious readers . . . Gugliotta writes lucidly and engagingly, he brings to life a huge cast of characters, he captures the physical setting of Washington in the mid-19th century and the mood of a city where ‘every transaction seemed to be poisoned by the issue of slavery,' and he has done a stupendous amount of research . . . Gugliotta has paid the great building, and the people who did so much to bring it into being, handsome tribute indeed.” —Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post

“Guy Gugliotta, in his splendid new book . . . gives us a fascinating tale of the struggles to design, fund and construct the new Capitol . . . Gugliotta deftly weaves a narrative of the difficult and massive construction project and the politics surrounding it.” —Al Kamen, The Washington Post

“[A] painstakingly researched, thoroughly intriguing historical detective story . . . [Gugliotta] adeptly orchestrates the intricate re-creation of a stormy episode in a particularly tempestuous era . . . Freedom's Cap is a classroom model of historical investigation and writing, the narrative colorful and captivating in its minutest detail.” —Dale L. Walker, The Dallas Morning News

“[A] fascinating new book . . . A tale of political intrigue, famous personalities, technological innovations and bitter feuds, all under the pervasive shadow of slavery and the threat of secession and Civil War . . . Gugliotta tells the story well.” —Steve Raymond, The Seattle Times

“Excellent and exhaustive . . . Mr. Gugliotta deftly demonstrates . . . how everything--everything--was political, from the shape and size of the dome that ultimately capped the building to the statuary, paintings and furnishings inside it.” —Roger K. Miller, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“[An] intensely researched historical gem . . . Gugliotta has turned out a superb mixture of mid-19th-century American culture and technology with the turbulent history of the period.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“A prodigiously researched, generously illustrated account of the transformation of the U. S. Capitol from a cramped, cold, noisy, inadequate and ugly structure into today's massive marble symbol of democracy . . . There are surprises on virtually every page . . . Impressive research underlies a well-told story.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“An engrossing and surprising chronicle that shifts between the rebuilding of the Capitol and the slow disintegration of the Union . . . This is a superbly written account.” —Jay Freeman, Booklist

“Wonderfully detailed . . . Gugliotta's research and narrative are outstanding, and one of the best aspects of Freedom's Cap is the side alleys and byways of the story that he uncovers.” —William C. Davis, History Book Club

“In this fascinating and well-written narrative, Guy Gugliotta tells the story of the rebuilding of the U.S . Capitol, an enterprise that occupied more than a decade before and during the Civil War. Combining the history of politics, art, and engineering, it shows how the monumental project's party, personal, and sectional rivalries reflected the crisis, and triumph, of a divided nation.” —Eric Foner, DeWitt Clinton Professor of History, Columbia University, and Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery

“In this splendidly researched and engagingly written new book, Guy Gugliotta deftly tells the intimately connected stories of the construction of the Capitol and the destruction of the Union. This is an original and compelling tale of how history really happens.” —Jon Meacham, former editor of Newsweek and Pulitzer Prize–winning author of American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House

“This fascinating narrative ties together America's preeminent architectural symbol and its most wrenching struggle. The building of the Capitol dome, an expression of unity, occurred as the nation was tearing itself apart in the lead-up to the Civil War. Guy Gugliotta's deeply researched tale features Montgomery Meigs and Jefferson Davis, whose partnership and subsequent clash mirrored their turbulent times.” —Walter Isaacson, former chairman and CEO of CNN and author of Steve Jobs

Reviews from Goodreads

About the author

Guy Gugliotta

Guy Gugliotta covered Congress during a sixteen-year career as a national reporter for The Washington Post and is now a freelance writer. He has written for The New York Times, National Geographic, Wired, Discover, and Smithsonian. He is the coauthor of Kings of Cocaine.

Guy Gugliotta

Carla Robbins

Guy Gugliotta

From the Publisher

Hill and Wang

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