This section is from the book "The National Capitol. Its Architecture Art And History", by George C. Hazelton, Jr. Also available from Amazon: The National Capitol Its Architecture Art and History.
Wednesday evenings in the summer months, when the weather permits, the Marine Band plays on the eastern plaza for the education and enjoyment of the general public. This open campus has been the scene of nearly as much historic happening as the great pile itself.
On the night of April 14, 1865, two horsemen might have been seen galloping wildly up New Jersey Avenue, crossing this hill towards the bridge to Anacostia and hastening on to Maryland. In their flight, they almost crossed the shadow of the dome, but a short distance from the spot where Lincoln twice took the oath of office as President. The one was John Wilkes Booth, the other, Harold, his accomplice.
We recall a ghastly coincidence. The van which, during the long trial, carried Charles Guiteau from the jail to the court and return, daily took almost the same route along which Booth galloped that awful night, and equally within sight of the spot where Garfield became President.
This campus was the objective point of Coxey's " Army of the Commonweal " in the year of our Lord, 1894. It was May Day, and the plaza was thronged with holiday-makers curious to look upon the so-called army. Its three or four hundred men, ragged, dirty, unsheltered and weary after their march of six hundred miles, had been scantily fed by the chimera held out to them by " General " Coxey, who proposed, from the steps of the Capitol, to deliver an oration petitioning Congress to issue immediately $500,000,000 in paper money to be used in alleviating the sufferings of the workingmen throughout the country by employing them upon the public roads. The "army" was a curious spectacle, as heterogeneous as its contingent, the " Coxey Band," each member of which had devised some unique instrument of torture of his own, to say nothing of his individual tune. By the " General's " side in a phaeton sat Mrs. Coxey, proudly holding in her arms their promising infant, " Legal Tender" Coxey.
Congress and the city officials were so impressed with the dangerous aspect of the invasion, which the press had magnified for weeks, that squads of mounted police guarded the Capitol reservation. The " army" reached the grounds about one o'clock. City policemen escorted the " General " through the dense crowd to the central eastern steps. Here he was within the jurisdiction of the Capitol police, who literally elbowed him, his manuscripts and " army" back into the jurisdiction of the city authorities. The " General " after some oratorical remonstrance gave up the fight. Not so his lieutenants, " Marshal " Carl Browne and Christopher Columbus Jones ! In their ardor for the good cause, these worthies unfortunately disregarded the law to " Keep off the Grass," whereupon they were promptly surrounded by officers on horseback and arrested. An hour later, no trace of the contending forces was left upon the battle-field.
In this connection it is interesting to notice that it is forbidden by act of Congress to " make any harangue or oration " within the Capitol grounds. It also is forbidden by the same act there " to parade, stand, or move in proces-ions or assemblages, or display any flag, banner, or device designed or adapted to bring into public notice any party, organization, or movement." Congress has placed it, however, within the power of the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, acting concurrently, to suspend on proper occasions the above prohibition. In the bitter campaign of the fall of 1896, permission was granted to William Jennings Bryan to speak from the eastern steps. Speaker Reed, though among the strongest political antagonists of the principles to be presented by the orator, generously united with the Vice-President in granting the permission. Mr. Bryan, however, finally abandoned his intention as likely to form a bad precedent.