Theodore Roosevelt Lays Building's Cornerstone

An immense crowd gathered at the northeast corner of the House Office Buildings site on April 14, 1906, to watch President Theodore Roosevelt lay its cornerstone. The ceremony went smoothly, but the president's speech afterwards was, according to the New York Times, the "sensation of Washington." Word spread that Roosevelt was going to use the occasion to discuss something big and there was an air of excited expectation as he began to speak. For half an hour Roosevelt railed against the press and the scurrilous practice of twisting words or misrepresenting facts in its indiscriminate assault on public men. During the speech he coined the word "muckrake" after a character in Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress who would look no other way but downward to continue raking the filth on the floor. "The liar is no whit better than the thief," Roosevelt declared, "and if his mendacity takes the form of slander, he may be worse than most thieves." The second part of the president's speech took only a few minutes to deliver but received the lion's share of attention in the press. In it Roosevelt called for a heavy inheritance tax, one that would prevent passing great fortunes from one generation to the next: "Such taxation should, of course, be aimed merely at the inheritance or transmission in their entirety of those fortunes swollen beyond all healthy limits." He declared that the goal of such a tax was a matter of personal conviction.