It was only a few short days ago when we ushered in the New Year with the hope that 2021 would be better than 2020. That aspiration was destroyed five days later by the abhorrent and detestable assault that we all witnessed yesterday on not only the U.S. Capitol Building, but an assault on our American democracy. Like many of you, I was stunned and shocked by the images of a mob storming the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives as our elected leaders were following their constitutional duty to certify the election of the next President of the United States.
I subscribe to the point of view that the Statue of Freedom at the top of the U.S. Capitol faces East because the Sun will never set on the face of Freedom.
Forty-five years ago when I was in college, I was given the opportunity to intern for my Congressman from Illinois. One of my jobs was to give tours of the U.S. Capitol Building to the Congressman’s constituents. Although I didn’t know much about the history of the building at the time, I knew just enough to get by. This was an incredible opportunity for a blue-collar kid from a small midwestern town. The reason it was an incredible opportunity was that I was struck on those tours with the awe and reverence that I saw on the faces of those constituents when we walked the halls and when we entered the chambers of the Senate and House of Representatives. I could witness their pride and their respect of being in a building that has been called the “Shrine of Democracy.”
The founders of our country provided us with a Constitution that established a form of government that had never been tried before in the history of nations. The Constitution established a government that, as Abraham Lincoln said in his Gettysburg Address, is “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” Yesterday was an attack on our constitutional right of self-government.
As I watched the horrendous events unfold yesterday, I thought back to the day that many of us have seared in our minds – September 11, 2001. I thought of those courageous Americans on United Airlines Flight 93. The terrorists stormed the aircraft cockpit 46 minutes after takeoff. They took control of the aircraft and diverted it back toward Washington, D.C. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Ramzi bin al-Shibh, the architects of the terrorist attacks, said that the intended target of the aircraft was the U.S. Capitol Building. The courageous passengers who were on the flight called their loved ones for the last time before they stormed the cockpit, thus saving the U.S. Capitol from destruction. It was an act of war that was thwarted by what some called ordinary people. The history of our nation is based on ordinary people doing extraordinary things during unexpected times. The terrorists knew that the U.S. Capitol Building is not just the symbol of democracy to Americans, it’s the symbol of democracy to people throughout the world. It’s a symbol of America as “the shining city upon a hill,” the beacon of hope for the world.
When I gave those tours as a Congressional intern, I would mention that on August 24, 1814, the British invaded Washington during the War of 1812 and attempted to destroy the U.S. Capitol by fire, the symbol of our very young democracy. In what some have said was divine intervention, a sudden rainstorm prevented the complete destruction of the building. Before yesterday, that was the last time the U.S. Capitol had been physically attacked.
My internship with the Congressman led to a full-time position in his Capitol Hill office after I graduated from college. I lived just behind the U.S. Supreme Court Building. Each night I would walk home, and as I crossed the Capitol Plaza I would marvel at the majesty and beauty of the U.S. Capitol under the lights in the night sky. I would look up and stare at the Dome and for some reason it just didn’t seem real. It was overpowering. As I looked at the Dome, I’d think of the countless Americans who had given their lives throughout the history of our country so I could stand there in freedom looking at the greatest symbol of democracy in the history of mankind.
At the top of the U.S. Capitol Dome, there’s the Statue of Freedom. The statue is 19 feet, 6 inches; and weighs 15,000 pounds. It sits 288 feet above the ground. The design is of a woman who is tough, carrying a sword and a shield, and wearing a helmet of an eagle’s head with feathers. She stands on top of a pedestal of similar height, which has the words, “E. Pluribus Unum;” out of many, one.
The Statue of Freedom faces East, and there’s much lore surrounding the reason. Some say it faces East because it faces Great Britain, thus a post-Revolutionary War mockery of the British and their attempt in 1814 to destroy the U.S. Capitol. Some say that the Statue of Freedom faces East so it faces “Justice,” the statute on the U.S. Supreme Court; so that “Freedom” and “Justice” always see eye-to-eye.
After the tragic events of Wednesday, I subscribe to the point of view that the Statue of Freedom at the top of the U.S. Capitol faces East because the Sun will never set on the face of Freedom.