Jefferson Davis, the Civil War, and the Building of the U.S. Capitol

Guy Gugliotta, author of 'Freedom's Cap,' discusses what it took to build the U.S. Capitol.

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[Washington Whispers: U.S. Government Still Pays Two Civil War Pensions]

What do you think people can learn today from your book?

You can look at it from the standpoint that even at a time of desperate polarization and trouble and conflict, Congress was able to do something. They were able to build the United States Capitol. But I think the most instructive way to look at it is how the more things change, the more they stay the same.

How so?

One of the things I noticed was how similar the business of Congress was in 1850 to the business of Congress in 2012. You have people absolutely refusing to compromise, equating compromise with weakness, you have people railing against the power of the federal government, railing against the "tyranny of the minority," the "tyranny of the majority," railing that there are too many aliens, too many foreigners taking American jobs, you have all of this stuff. It certainly runs parallel today.

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  • Corrected 4/16/2012: The headline of a previous version of this article misattributed Jefferson Davis’s role in building the Capitol.