Wednesday, March 3, 2010
Thomas Jefferson Memorial
When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty. Thomas Jefferson
The Jefferson Memorial Memorial at the National Mall in Washington D.C. pays tribute to the author of the Declaration of Independence, one of our nation's founding fathers, a former President, an architect, farmer, educator, and one of the most enlightened men of the 18th Century.
To many, Thomas Jefferson epitomizes democracy. It was his fervent belief in the rights of man, government derived from the people, the separation of church and state, and free and universal education, that became the sacred tenets for our fledgling nation. His idea of a nation has been more prosperous, resilient, and long-lasting than any other nation in the history of mankind.
The planning of the memorial to Jefferson is quite a tale. For not only did the original architect die, and Japanese people chain themselves to its cherry trees during WWII, but the statue of Jefferson did not arrive to grace his exhibit until four years after the monument was dedicated.
The idea for the memorial came from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was upset that there was not a memorial dedicated to the accomplishments Jefferson, like there was to Lincoln and Washington. FDR felt that Jefferson had just as monumental of an impact on the nation as both of these men. In 1934, Congress passed a resolution to establish a Thomas Jefferson Memorial Commission to plan, design, and construct the memorial. The goal of the committee was to honor Jefferson as a president, politician, farmer, architect, educator, and intellectual. But the task of the committee was an arduous one indeed. For how do you honor the man who framed the nation, and a man with so many talents and accomplishments? Essentially, the commission had the task of creating a design to honor the guiding spirit of Jefferson, a spirit that still shines on.
Initial ideas for the monument included displaying the Declaration of Independence across from the Archives building and a colonial style library also across from the Archives building. However, FDR did not find either one of these ideas suitable for the honoring of such a man as Jefferson. The commission, along with FDR, wanted the monument to pay homage to all of Jefferson's characteristics and accomplishments. In the end, the commission settled on a design by the McMillan Commission, which was to create a five-point composition in the middle of the city. The idea was originally proposed by the person who first designed the federal city. At that time, the project was begun, but not completed. The commission decided that a fitting tribute to Jefferson would be to finish the project. The design for the project was then submitted by John Russell Pope. Quite fittingly, he chose a design that Jefferson had himself used for Monticello and the University of Virginia. It was composed of a circular dome based on the Panthenon in Rome. Because Pope utilized a design that Jefferson found so inspiring, it was seen as the ultimate tribute. The monument, fashioned after Jefferson's liking, would then convey the free and independent spirit that he had so embodied. In 1936, this design was accepted and the ground-breaking occurred.
The memorial sits as stately as the Parthenon with a statue of Jefferson featured as the centerpiece. Inside are engraved inscriptions taken from the Declaration of Independence, speeches, and more of his writings. Perhaps the most famous, from the Declaration of Independence, "We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, that to secure these rights governments are instituted among men. We...solemnly publish and declare, that these colonies are and of right ought to be free and independent states...And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence, we mutually pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor."
The total cost of the monument was a little over $3 million. It occupies 2.5 acres in the National Mall. The distance to the top of the dome is over 129 feet, while the thickness of the dome is 4 feet. The memorial weighs in at a massive 32,000 tons. The statue of Jefferson stands 19 feet tall and weighs 10,000 pounds.