The Public Interest

The triumph of the Capitol

Michael A. Scully

Winter 1984

Two newspapers of the period, in Maryland and Boston, published the same account, datelined Georgetown, September 21, 1793: “On Wednesday last one of the grandest Masonic processions took place, for the purpose of laying the cornerstone of the Capitol of the United States .... The procession marched two abreast, in the greatest solemn dignity, with music playing, drums beating, colors flying and spectators rejoicing.” The stern General Washington, by then President, laid a silver plate, on top of a cut stone, in a hole in the ground, on a hill called JenkinsHeights that overlooked a swamp. In the next 200 years, a hundred such ceremonies in every part of the globe would express the hopes of decolonized peoples against the smirk of history. So much hope, and so little reason to be hopeful. Here was the first of them, and typically, it chose for the site of its capital city-its Brasilia-a marshy wilderness.

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