A Spiteful Souvenir (3:15 min)
Curator: Mark Dimunation
Week of: December 28, 2009
During the War of 1812, the British army, under Admiral Cockburn, captured Washington, DC. They then set about destroying all public buildings in the fledgling capital city (including the White House and the Treasury) as retaliation for the massive destruction during the Battle of York in 1813, in which American forces looted and burned York (now Toronto).
Just before setting fire to the Capitol Building, Admiral Cockburn searched the president's ceremonial office for a memento that would match the official mace stolen from the Parliament Building by the American forces the previous year. He chose the only item labeled as "President of the U. States," a modest printed summary of the federal government's expenses.
Cockburn eventually gave the volume to his eldest brother, the governor of Bermuda, inscribing it as: "Taken in President's room in the Capitol, at the destruction of that building by the British, on the Capture of Washington 24th. August 1814." The book later was discovered and acquired by the famed antiquarian dealer Dr. A.S.W. Rosenbach and finally returned to the Library of Congress. Rosenbach completed the inscription begun by Cockburn: "And now, this sixth day of January, 1940, after 126 years, restored to the Library of Congress by A.S.W. Rosenbach."
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