The nation’s Capitol building was quiet Thursday morning.

Peace had been restored in the halls, offices and House and Senate chambers.

But the airwaves were not quiet.

Politicians on both sides of the aisle vented their outrage after thousands of President Donald Trump’s supporters rolled like a tsunami, with all the destructive force that implies, onto the Capitol grounds, and many of them surged into the building and wreaked havoc.

At the time, Congress was meeting in joint session to certify the election of Joseph Biden as president.

Senators and representatives had to be evacuated to assure their safety.

Hundreds of those who initially demonstrated peacefully became rioters and criminals when they broke windows and doors and went on a rampage. One occupied a desk in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office, another the president’s chair in the Senate chamber.

In the end, five people would die from the day’s events.

One of those who stormed the building was Ashli Babbitt, whose husband hails from the Attleboro area. She was shot and killed.

A Capitol police officer died of injuries suffered in the chaos and three other rioters died from “medical conditions.”

Dozens were arrested.

The rampage, which came in the wake of a toxic political stew, was roundly condemned by both parties, though the mass protest was ignited by Trump’s constant attacks on the electoral process.

As shocking as it was, it was not the first time the Capitol has suffered violence.

Its construction was dependent upon slave labor — violence upon the foundation of the nation.

The British burned it in August 1814 during the War of 1812.

There was an assassination attempt on President Andrew Jackson in 1835.

The conflict over slavery led to many violent episodes.

Historian Joanne B. Freeman, a professor of American History and American Studies at Yale University, identified as many as 70 between 1830 and the Civil War in her book, “Field of Blood: Congressional Violence in Antebellum America,” about which she spoke to C-SPAN in 2018.

One of the most egregious was the 1856 assault on abolitionist Sen. Charles Sumner from Massachusetts by Rep. Preston Brooks of South Carolina where Brooks bashed Sumner bloody with a cane on the Senate floor.

In 1858, a brawl erupted on the House floor among 30 congressmen.

In 1915, Erich Muenter exploded a bomb in an empty Senate chamber to protest American support of the Allies in World War I.

In 1954, Puerto Rican nationalists entered the House chamber and opened fire on congressmen, injuring five.

In 1971, the Weather Underground set off a bomb in a Senate men’s room to protest the bombing of Laos during the Vietnam War.

In 1983, the “Resistance Conspiracy” set off a bomb in a Senate building corridor to protest U.S. actions in Grenada and Lebanon.

In 1998, two Capitol police officers were killed by a gunman.

But while violence has been interwoven in the history of the Capitol, U.S. History Professor William Hanna of Bridgewater State University said this episode sets unparalleled precedents.

“Unless we choose to include the British army’s attack of 1814, Wednesday’s assault was the most destructive attack in the building’s history,” he said in an email to The Sun Chronicle. “Never has such a large mob successfully breached the building’s defenses, and never has security been so overwhelmed.”

He said understanding how this happened will be “a critical undertaking going forward.”

Hanna described the assault as more than a political protest, noting that some of the rioters were armed.

“It was an insurrection attempting to prevent Congressional certification of an Electoral College vote,” he said. “Never before has there been an armed assault aiming to overturn a presidential election.”

And he said Trump is the first president to “incite mob violence to assist him in retaining office.”

Asked if he thought the assault will be a turning point for the divisive, extremist nature of U.S. politics or will only add fuel to the fire, he said only time will tell.

“So-called ‘turning points’ are seldom recognized as such until months or years after the event,” Hanna said.

But he’s hopeful that two positive results will emerge.

“The first is that Americans will become more aware of the real threat presented by seditious extremist groups,” he said. “Throughout history, despite abundant evidence, we have been reluctant to believe that home-grown domestic terrorism presents a significant national security threat. It does.”

He also wants people to be aware of how fragile our democracy is.

“I hope that the events of Wednesday, and indeed those of the last two months, will remind us that a representative democracy is the most fragile of political arrangements,” Hanna said. “Americans especially believe that our system can survive anything; after all, it always has. But when a thousand or more rioters are able to storm and then trash the symbol of our government, we should realize that our freedoms are vulnerable.”

George W. Rhodes can be reached at 508-236-0432.

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