On April 15, 1861, following the attack on Fort Sumter, SC, President Lincoln issued a call for 75,000 volunteers to serve in state militias for three months and to defend the Union:
Whereas the laws of the United States have been, for some time past, and now are, opposed, and the execution there of obstructed…by combinations too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings, or by the powers vested in the Marshals by law…I appeal to all loyal citizens to favor, facilitate, and aid this effort to maintain the honor, the integrity, and the existence of our National Union, and the perpetuity of popular Government, and to redress wrongs already long enough endured.A Proclamation by the President of the United States, April 15, 1861
The headcount, militia structure, and time limit were written into law in 1795 and had not changed, because the US did not have a large, standing army before the Civil War. By 1861, large numbers of officers in the small US Army had already begun leaving their posts to join the Confederacy. Governors from Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, and Arkansas refused, and began seceding.
Volunteers from Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, and the District of Columbia who responded to the call billeted in federal buildings, including the US Capitol. The first troops to arrive, from Pennsylvania, pushed through a mob in Baltimore to reach DC by train on April 18th. They headed straight for the Capitol. As more forces arrived, they fanned out across the District, in buildings rapidly converted to military use.
In the Summer of 1964, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, strengthening Black Americans’ right to vote. The FBI and members of the US Navy searched the swamps outside Philadelphia, Mississippi for missing voter registration activists John Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner. Local media and white supremacist politicians dismissed their disappearance as a publicity hoax. During the two month-long search the bodies of seven other murdered Black men and one Black boy were found in the swamps of Mississippi. Five have not been identified. After receiving a tip, troops found the young men’s bodies buried under an earthen dam on August 4th. Local members of the KKK, the county sheriff, and the Philadelphia police department were all implicated in the kidnapping and killings.
On August 17th, the US House of Representatives passed a resolution to install a plaque inside the Capitol to commemorate the quartering of volunteer troops at the outset of the Civil War. $2,500 was appropriated for the plaque in 1966.
A week after an insurrection beginning January 6, 2021, which was instigated and led by the president and abetted by congressional representatives from Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Missouri, New York, and North Carolina, plus others currently unknown, and which resulted in the storming of the Capitol, the killing of at least two police officers, four mob deaths, and the failed attempted rapes, torture, and public execution of multiple elected officials, and the failed attempt to stop the constitutionally mandated certification of the results of the presidential election, National Guard troops are once again quartering in the Capitol building, as the outgoing president and his collaborators continue to threaten violence against the country and elected leaders. Only this time they’re doing it under this plaque.
If the 103-year gap between the quartering and the commemorating teaches us anything, it’s that it’s probably good to give it at least a minute, history-wise, to see which side everyone ends up on.