Therein Lies a Story...

Jefferson Memorial
Ashley S. young
February 22, 2009
JM thesis paper
Dc history


The creation of Washington DC was not an easy feat. Through majority of the process, there were betrayals and obstacles set in the way by opposers with their own personal agendas. For those who would create this mighty capital to be the central face of the country, there were a multitude of hurdles to be strafed before the foundation for our symbol of unity was made more than a pipe dream.
For another monument dreamed up one hundred thirty-four years later in the name of the capital’s most profound political theorists and the 3rd president of our nation, there was similar strife to be endured, albeit on a smaller scale. The two main questions I asked myself for this thesis paper were the following: "What are the similarities in the creation of DC in relations to the Jefferson memorial? Do these similarities show that the struggle to create, although under highly different circumstances, is in a way repetitive?" The way I answer these questions is by stating some of the instances in which the construction of these two creations were similar and connecting it back to 4 themes we discussed in class: Intent vs. Reality, Conflicts, Influence of Architecture, and Collective memory.

Thomas Jefferson Memorial, modeled after the Pantheon of Rome, is America's foremost memorial to our third president. In 1901, the McMillan Commission called for two new memorials in Washington’s monumental core. They both would be on land reclaimed from the Potomac River. One was to lie at the west end of a line beginning at the Capitol and passing through the Washington Monument. This area would, in 1922, be known as the Lincoln Memorial. The second would be at the end of a line extending south from the White House. The circular, colonnaded structure in the classic style was introduced to this country by Thomas Jefferson.
There was similar intent in L’Enfant’s mind. His designs for DC, as stated in Capital Speculations by Sarah Luria, were previously unheard of and very ambiguous: “…his huge city would lure citizens to invest in its lands ‘by necessitating a constant going in every direction whether for Spending the Social after noon or for transacting morning little business¬¬—the paths beaten through would to the eyes of all visitors best have depicted the grand feature of the city plan…”
In both instances, both projects had positive intentions; the Jefferson memorial, as Roosevelt decided, was reward for a man with such a tremendous impact on the founding of the city, and L’Enfant wanted that city to appear more magnificent than any country could dream in order to attract more investors. However, both men could not foresee the conflicts their ideas would cause…

Thomas Jefferson was a man of simple tastes. According to page 22 of the Luria reading, Jefferson wanted a design that had been used previously and that was proven to be effective: “…Jefferson appeals to a democratic history and seeks a model that is ‘approved by the general suffrage of the world.’”


Meanwhile, in the distant future: When a site was actually chosen, at the south side of the Tidal Basin, a group of female activists, who protested the location since it displaced a number of cherry trees, actually chained themselves to a few trees in order to stop construction. The remnants of a few cherry blossom trees are shown in the shot above. The Commission of Fine Arts objected to the pantheon design because it would compete with the Lincoln Memorial. The Commission took the design controversy all the way to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who preferred the pantheon design, and gave permission to proceed. The monument covers 18 acres in East Potomac Park on the Tidal Basin. It was, after some degree of opposition, authorized by Congress in 1934, built 1938–43, and dedicated in 1943. President Franklin Roosevelt presided over the dedication of the Jefferson Memorial on April 13, 1943, the 200th anniversary of Jefferson's birth.
The conflicts, arisen from both of these ideas of creation, have a similar feel in regards to the time involved. When the opposing party gets involved with what they feel is a valid argument, the date of completion of construction was pushed further and further back as the proponents defend their position. The result: Nothing gets done for a while until a compromise is reached.


The initial architect for the Jefferson Memorial was John Russell Pope. Pope's designs alternated between revivals of Gothic, Georgian, eighteenth-century French, and classical styles. Pope designed the Henry E. Huntington mausoleum on the grounds of The Huntington Library and later used the design as a prototype for the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C. The Jefferson Memorial and the National Gallery of Art were both neoclassical, modeled by Pope on the Roman Pantheon. It is similar to the design of Jefferson's library at the University of Virginia and of Jefferson's own, rejected, plans for the White House. After the sudden death of Pope, the mantel was taken up by Otto Eggers and Daniel Higgins. In 1941, Rudolph Evans was commissioned to design the statue in the heart of the memorial.
Likewise, L'Enfant's ideas for the new capital, as stated on page 12 of the Luria reading, was a blending of the clean-cut, square, uniform layout of Philadelphia, and the semi-chaotic street design of New York: “The New Federal City provided a third alternative to the labyrinthine New York and grid like Philadelphia by combining the attributes of both.”
Both architects created their greatest works of art by pulling previous ideas from other designs: L’Enfant from NY and Philadelphia, and Pope from Jefferson himself. This is not plagiarism; many “new” designs of not just architecture, but other forms of art are discovered by combing many compatible styles to form a unique, specific technique.


The sculpture was intended to represent the Age of Enlightenment, and pay tribute to Jefferson as philosopher and statesman. Jefferson Memorial history also lives in the powerful Weinman sculpture, this one of the five drafters of the Declaration of Independence, presenting to the fledgling Congress. Also noteworthy, adorning the interior of the Memorial, are five quotations on the wall taken from Jefferson's writings, illustrating the principles to which he dedicated his life. Perhaps the most powerful is his candid pledge: "I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man." around the dome of the ceiling.
What’s most interesting about the Jefferson memorial is not the design of the building itself; Jefferson was a proponent of this design, but the obelisk in the center of the dome. This is a MAJOR form of collective memory. Jefferson clearly states, on page 23 of the Luria reading, that he does not appraise large statues, even to pay homage to important figures: “Jefferson rejected the conventional taste for gigantic statues, complaining that they ‘all appear outré and monstrous. …To perceive those minuter circumstances with which constitute its beauty you must be near it.’” In other words, the 19ft, 5-ton sculpture of Jefferson is somewhat of a paradox: It immortalizes him as a key relic in the founding of our nation’s capital; however, according to his key principles, the man himself would not have dared desire such an obnoxious tribute.
A possible idea as to why the designers would have done such a thing is simple: They wanted visitors, when viewing this temple, to see a man of high moral who stood for the rights of man and equality for all; not the man who found a loophole to get the capitol placed in an area that would boost his own position to increase his own power; a mortal man with immaculate desires that sinned as such to fulfill his lusts as any other would. That is not the side of Jefferson any wanted to divulge.

Today, the Jefferson Memorial is maintained by the National Park Service. Many annual celebrations are held there, the most popular of which is the Cherry Blossom Festival in early April and the sunrise service every Easter morning. Adults and children alike have strolled amidst the canopy of cherry blossoms by the water, and have enjoyed renting paddleboats on the Tidal Basin afterwards. On a summer day, the breezes over the water provide cooling relief for visitors from cooler climates.

The Thomas Jefferson Memorial is now an important point in the city for both visitors and civilians. Like the capitol itself, its creation proves that a desire of an artist’s heart to unearth a work that will change their world will not be denied, no matter the time, place, or situation. Though there will always be people that shun them for it and try their hardest to assure that you will not succeed, a way will be found for the birth of a new creature that may convert the hearts and minds of all those ensnared by the magnitude of its meaning.



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