A Look At Why The U.S. Capitol Police Were Created

When supporters of President Donald Trump breached the Capitol on January 6, 2021, to contest Joe Biden's 2020 election win, the U.S. Capitol Police were simultaneously praised and deemed unprepared, as The New York Times reported. But is this the kind of thing the Capitol Police were meant to handle? After all, the history of the U.S. Capitol Police can be traced back to 1800, when just a single officer, John Golding, was assigned to protect the Capitol once Congress moved from Philadelphia to Washington D.C., according to the department's history. Nearly three decades later, a single incident turned the Capitol's security from the responsibility of a single watchman into a more properly staffed police force.

In 1827, political polarization was at its highest due to the presidential election of 1824 in which supporters of Andrew Jackson — and Jackson himself — accused John Quincy Adams of winning the election through a "corrupt bargain," instead of abiding by the popular vote (which Jackson won).

That hostility played out at a White House New Year's Eve celebration when Russell Jarvis, a journalist for the pro-Jackson newspaper,The Washington Telegraph, arrived with his wife and relatives from Boston. Jarvis accused John Adams Jr., the president's son and personal secretary, of making a "grievous insult to the ladies of my family," according to Senate records. For months, Jarvis waited to exact his revenge on Adams, according to The New York Times. Finally, in April 1828, Jarvis seized his opportunity when he saw Adams in the Capitol Rotunda and demanded an apology.

An assault on President John Quincy Adams' son led to beefed up security

When Adams declined, "I was excited by his continued refusal, and by a recollection of the offense, to commit an assault upon his person, which consisted merely in pulling his nose and slapping one side of his face, with my open hand," Jarvis wrote in the Niles' Register [via Senate records].

President John Quincy Adams sent a letter to Congress stating that "his secretary" had been assaulted by "a person" and requested that lawmakers provide funds to provide security for passage between the president's office and the Capitol to prevent similar incidents in the future, according to America's Royalty: All the Presidents' Children. Congress granted the president's request and officially approved the creation of a police force to protect the Capitol on May 2, 1828. The new force was small — just one captain and three officers who worked 15-hour shifts when Congress was in session and 10-hour shifts when it was not.

As the government has grown and the number of visitors has increased, so has the U.S. Capitol Police. Its ranks now number 2,100-strong, with all the capabilities of a modern police department, and has sole jurisdiction over the Capitol building and its grounds. Four of its officers have died in the line of duty since its founding nearly two centuries ago. Two were killed in 1998 after a man on the Secret Service's watchlist and diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia went on a shooting rampage at the Capitol, according to The New York Times.