United States Capitol after burning by the British
George Munger (1781-1825)
Ink and watercolour, 1814
59 x 50 cm
Library of Congress, Washington DC

George Munger’s drawing, one of the most significant and compelling images of the early republic, reminds us how short-lived the history of the United States might have been. In the evening hours of August 24, 1814, during the second year of the War of 1812, British expeditionary forces under the command of Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cockburn and Major General Robert Ross set fire to the unfinished Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. All the public buildings in the developing city, except the Patent Office Building, were put to the torch in retaliation for what the British perceived as excessive destruction by American forces the year before in York, capital of upper Canada. At the time of the British invasion, the unfinished Capitol building comprised two wings connected by a wooden causeway. This exceptional drawing, having descended in the Munger family, was purchased by the Library of Congress at the same time the White House purchased the companion view of the President’s House.