Quantcast

The assault of a president's son led to creation of US Capitol Police

The U.S. Capitol in an 1846 daguerreotype.

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS IMAGE BY JOHN PLUMBE

By GILLIAN BROCKELL AND PAUL DUGGAN | The Washington Post | Published: April 3, 2021

It began with a single watchman hired to safeguard the new Capitol building in the country's new capital in 1800. John Golding was the first member of what eventually became the U.S. Capitol Police, a force that grew to 2,300 officers over the course of the next two centuries.

On Friday, one officer, Billy Evans, was killed and another officer was injured when they were rammed by a vehicle near the Capitol.

The violence came less than three months after the Jan. 6 insurrection that resulted in five deaths, including Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick. Two other police officers who defended the Capitol against the rioters later died by suicide.

The Capitol Police have faced attacks before, though not two deadly incidents so close together. The force was born of violence.

In 1827, President John Quincy Adams requested the creation of a formal police force after his son was assaulted in the Capitol Rotunda.

Adams's single term in office was a notably bitter period in Washington; he won the White House in the disputed election of 1824, despite Andrew Jackson receiving a plurality of the vote. Jackson and his supporters spent the next four years faulting and insulting Adams wherever they could.

John Adams II was in his 20s and worked as his father's personal secretary. He had inherited "many of the peculiarities" of his father and grandfather, President John Adams, and could "make himself very obnoxious," according to The Atlantic in an 1880 reminisce.

In 1827, he insulted the editor of a Jackson-supporting newspaper at a party. Soon afterward, he came face-to-face with the editor on the steps of the Capitol Rotunda while delivering letters for his father. The editor pulled his nose and slapped him - a provocation for a duel, but the younger Adams did not fight back.

The president said the episode would not have happened if there had been more security, so he requested that Congress fund a formal police force to "secure the way between the president's office and Congress," according to the book "America's Royalty: All the Presidents' Children."

The U.S. Capitol Police was created the next year. It comprised four officers, who worked 15-hour shifts when Congress was in session. By 1935, there were 132 officers, according to the U.S. Capitol Police website. In addition to securing the Capitol grounds and surrounding areas, they provide security for congressional leadership.

The officer who died Friday was the sixth member of the Capitol Police force to die in the line of duty, according to the department.

Sgt. Christopher Eney died Aug. 4, 1984, after being accidentally shot by a fellow officer during a training exercise, the department said.

On July 24, 1998, Officer Jacob Chestnut and Detective John Gibson were fatally shot by a former mental patient who entered the building with a gun. The assailant later told a court-appointed psychiatrist that he was trying to prevent the United States from being destroyed by disease and cannibals.

On Jan. 17, 2014, Sgt. Clinton Holtz died of a heart attack after what the department said was stressful duty at the scene of a sexual assault, where he had been in command for responding officers.

In 2018, Capitol Police officers David Bailey and Crystal Griner were credited with saving members of Congress after they took down a gunman who opened fire on an Alexandria, Va., baseball field. The officers, who were injured in the attack, were there protecting Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., the House majority whip at the time, who was shot but survived his injuries.

- - -

The Washington Post's Theresa Vargas contributed to this report.