The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The assault of a president’s son led to the creation of the U.S. Capitol Police

The U.S. Capitol in a 1846 daguerreotype. The U.S. Capitol Police was formally created in 1828. (John Plumbe/Library of Congress)

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, William “Billy” Evans, was killed and another officer was injured when they were rammed by a vehicle near the Capitol.

One officer dead after man rams Capitol barricade; suspect fatally shot by police, officials say

The violence came less than three months after the Jan. 6 insurrection that resulted in five deaths, including Capitol Police officer Brian D. 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 out of violence.

In 1827, President John Quincy Adams requested the creation of a formal police force after his own 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 twenties 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 didn’t fight back.

The president believed the humiliating episode wouldn’t have happened if there had been more security, and so requested 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 only 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.

A history of violence at the U.S. Capitol

Acting Capitol Police chief Yogananda D. Pittman spoke to reporters on April 2 after a vehicle rammed into two officers at the U.S. Capitol. (Video: Reuters)

Black Capitol Police officer Eugene Goodman faced down a mostly White mob during the insurrection

The officer who lost his life 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 J. 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.), then the House majority whip, who was shot but survived his injuries.

Theresa Vargas contributed to this report.

Read more Retropolis:

Political extremists have attacked the U.S. Capitol before: A history of the violence

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