Historical Almanac of the U.S. Senate

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Author: Robert J. Dole  | Date: September 18, 1793

George Washington Places Capitol Cornerstone

On September 18, 1793, a large and boisterous crowd jostled around President George Washington as he placed the cornerstone of the Capitol Building. When Pierre Charles L’Enfant designed the new federal city, he had saved the choice rise of land known locally as Jenkins’ Hill expressly for the Congress’ home. It stood, he declared, "as a pedestal waiting for a monument." Choosing the right "monument" to crown this pedestal, however, proved difficult. None of the first designs was satisfactory, and some were downright ludicrous. Then, at the last minute, William Thornton, a physician and amateur architect, asked permission to submit a design. When it arrived, another amateur architect, Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, reported with relief, "it captivated the eyes and judgment of all."

Work on the new Capitol began immediately. By September 18, 1793, all was in readiness for the cornerstone to be laid. Festivities began with a grand parade. With drums beating and flags flying, brightly uniformed members of the Alexandria Volunteer Artillery and local Masonic lodges escorted President Washington across the Potomac, into the District, and up to the top of Capitol Hill. Masonic rituals, dating from the middle ages when stonemasons and the Masonic Order were closely associated, dominated the ceremonies. President Washington laid the cornerstone wearing a Masonic apron, reportedly made by the wife of General Lafayette. Using a silver trowel and a marble-headed gavel to set the stone in place, he then attached to it a silver plate proclaiming the date to be the thirteenth year after American independence, the first year of his second term, and the year 5793 of Masonry.

After fifteen salutes from the artillery, the Alexandria Gazette reported that "the whole company retired to an extensive booth, where an ox of 500 pounds’ weight was barbequed, of which the company generally partook."

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Chicago: Robert J. Dole, "George Washington Places Capitol Cornerstone," Historical Almanac of the U.S. Senate: A Series of Bicentennial Minutes Presented to the Senate During the One Hundredth Congress (Washington, D.C.: U.S Government Printing Office, 1989), in Original Sources, accessed September 25, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=LJ55FSTQZZXKFLC.

MLA: Dole, Robert J. "George Washington Places Capitol Cornerstone." Historical Almanac of the U.S. Senate: A Series of Bicentennial Minutes Presented to the Senate During the One Hundredth Congress, Washington, D.C., U.S Government Printing Office, 1989, in , Original Sources. 25 Sep. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=LJ55FSTQZZXKFLC.

Harvard: Dole, RJ 1989, 'George Washington Places Capitol Cornerstone' in Historical Almanac of the U.S. Senate: A Series of Bicentennial Minutes Presented to the Senate During the One Hundredth Congress, U.S Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C.. cited in , . Original Sources, retrieved 25 September 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=LJ55FSTQZZXKFLC.