Tuesday 23 July 2013

The Jefferson Memorial


"I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."

A crowd of 5000 gathered on a beautiful Spring day at the south side of the Potomac River's Tidal Basin.  Millions more listened on their cathedral-like radios from home.  The occasion was Thomas Jefferson's 200th birthday, marked by the unveiling of the Jefferson Memorial.  President Roosevelt, long a fan of President Jefferson, declared:  "Today in the midst of a great war for freedom, we dedicate a shrine to freedom."

The memorial, which was Roosevelt's idea, had been conceived seven years before.  After clearing the land of cherry and elm trees, builders got straight to work.  John Russell Pope was the architect chosen for the memorial.  Based on the Pantheon in Rome, the structure had 54 Ionic columns and was made of Georgia marble and limestone.

A contest was held to determine a sculptor for Jefferson's statue:  out of 101 entries, the successful one belonged to Rudolph Evans.  The 19-foot statue showed Jefferson standing in his waistcoat, knee breeches and fur-collared coat.  On the dedication day, the statue was made of plaster; the bronze version would not be cast until after the Second World War due to metal shortages.

Inside the memorial walls are four quotation blocks:  an excerpt from the Declaration of Independence, drafted in part by the third President; an excerpt from a Religious Freedom bill; and two other excerpts.  All four quotes reflect causes near and dear to Jefferson's heart.  

Jefferson pursued many interests and occupations.  Not just a President, he was also a political philosopher, diplomat, inventor, landowner, architect, musician, book collector, scientist and horticulturalist.  President John F. Kennedy, once in a room full of scholars, said that their combined minds would still not equal that of Jefferson.

Three and a half million tourists visited the Jefferson Memorial in 2005.  It is a popular memorial representing a popular president.


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