February 13, 1861. The electoral votes affirming Lincoln are set to be counted, but hundreds of anti-Lincoln rioters storm the U.S. Capitol steps trying to stop the count. What was the aftermath of the mob trying to overtake the Capitol and how did democracy handle the test?
Fearing the nation’s capital faced a grave threat from Confederate insurrectionists, President Abraham Lincoln called on thousands of volunteers to defend the seat of government on April 15, 1861, after an attack on Fort Sumter.
Three days later, swarms of men answered Lincoln’s request and rallied for war.
Seeing the city teeming with Union soldiers, Ohio Sen. John Sherman later recalled in his memoirs: “The response of the loyal states to the call of Lincoln was perhaps the most remarkable uprising of a great people in the history of mankind.”
But, Sherman noted, they were not trained soldiers and had no discipline. Their stay in the Capitol — complete with staining the walls with bacon grease, swinging from ropes hanging from the dome and debating if they should ask for more booze — generated enormous anxiety for the people who worked in its halls.
This chapter of the Capitol’s history was recalled by journalists and lawmakers 160 years later.