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The Hall of Representatives, Washington

The Illustrated London News, vol. 38, no. 1082, p. 320.

April 6, 1861


Our Engraving gives a view of the new Hall of Representatives in the Capitol at Washington. The Hall is 139 feet long, 93 feet wide, and 36 feet high. The area of the room is 12,927 square feet, and it is estimated that about 5000 persons could find standing-places within it. It is in form a parallelogram, with galleries on three sides, affording room for 1200 persons, comfortably seated. Upon the floor are seats for 260 representatives, arranged upon a semicircular plan, the seat and desk of the Speaker of the House being at the centre of the semicircle, and in the middle of the south side of the Hall, which is one of the longer sides of the room. The ceiling is of cast iron, with large skylights. The cast-iron ceiling is deeply coffered with sunk panels, relieved with enriched mouldings. A richly-decorated cornice along the upper part of the wall, above the galleries, unites the wall and ceiling. The skylights are glazed with ornamented glass, having in the centre of each skylight the arms of a State or Territory, emblazoned in coloured glass. The decoration of the Hall is yet far from complete. Panels on the gallery fronts have been provided, which it is expected will be filled with pictures of American history, under the orders to be given by Congress; and the upper part of the walls is filled with niches, empty as yet, but which will, at some future day, be tenanted by the effigies in marble of their worthiest citizens.

The scene as depicted by our Artist at page 310 is highly characteristic, and is not, as may be supposed, wholly, if at all, in caricature. The contrast which it presents to our House of Commons is very striking. With us, though the appearance of members is easy enough, especially owing to their privilege of wearing their hats when seated, yet the arrangements of the seats renders their attitudes, as a rule, somewhat rigid, and any comfort in the way of lounging, as well as reading or writing, is not attainable in the House proper, though there is every facility in that way in the anterooms and libraries. None of the messengers of the House are permitted to come within the bar; and the reading of a newspaper or any book, but such as are used for quotation in debate, puts a member out of order. Exactly the reverse state of things prevails in the House of Representatives. Desks for writing and easy-chairs for lounging occupy the floor of the chamber; newspapers appear to be the rule; and lads bearing letters and messages are running about continually, like so many rabbits in a warren. Sometimes our legislators are noisy and excited; but no one ever saw any of them exhibiting in such poses as are depicted in our Illustration, which, looking at the comparative unconcern which appears to prevail, seem to be nothing extraordinary in the Transatlantic Assembly.

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