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You Won't Need Much Time to Tour This 'Capital'


You can walk down every street of this American capital in less than an hour. And there's never a line to tour the president's house.

As you've no doubt guessed, we're talking about someplace other than Washington, D.C. It's Brookeville, a tiny Maryland town that was once — for a single day! — the seat of the American government.

The War of 1812 raged well past that year, and one day in August 1814, British forces fought their way into Washington and burned the White House and U.S. Capitol building.

President James Madison and his wife fled to Virginia with the nation's precious documents, including the U.S. Constitution. Then he, some of his Cabinet officials, and members of Congress turned north again, crossing the Potomac River into Maryland. They were searching for their generals and troops.

The refugees made their way to Brookeville, a Quaker crossroads community where the local postmaster and his wife were friends of the Madisons. Some say the president brought along the entire U.S. treasury, which in those days could be carried in a single strongbox.

Madison stayed overnight in Brookeville. He even held a rump Cabinet meeting at his friend's house. The next day, he and Secretary of State James Monroe got word of the defeat of the British at Baltimore in the battle that inspired our national anthem, and the government-on-the-run left to return to what remained of Washington.

These days, Brookeville, Maryland, population 140 or so, dozes languidly amid suburban sprawl, ignored by just about everybody — which is how most folks in this historic, if short-lived, United States capital city seem to like it.

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