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Former President Taft dedicates Lincoln Memorial
Former President William Howard Taft dedicates the Lincoln Memorial on the Washington Mall on this day in 1922. At the time, Taft was serving as chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Taft remains the only former president ever to hold a seat on the Supreme Court. He served ...read more
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Lincoln Memorial is a monument honoring the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. Located on the extended axis of the National Mall, in Washington, D.C. The memorial is a tribute to Lincoln and the nation he fought to preserve during the Civil War (1861-1865). Lincoln Memorial is considered as one of the most profound symbols of American Democracy in the world. The memorial is administered by the National Park Service. The construction of the memorial started in 1914 and completed in May 1922. The monument was designed by the New York architect Henry Bacon and styled after a Greek Doric temple. The building has 36 Doric columns each representing one state of the Union at the time of Lincoln's death. When the memorial was completed, the Union had expanded with 12 more states and so the names of the 48 states were carved on the outside of the memorial's walls. After the admission of Alaska and Hawaii, a plaque was added with the names of the new states. The focus of the memorial is Daniel Chester French's sculpture of Abraham Lincoln seated in a chair. The heroic statue of Lincoln is about 19 feet high. The Gettysburg Address is inscribed on the south wall of the monument, and Lincoln's second inaugural address is inscribed on the north wall. Murals, painted by Jules Guerin depicting the principles evident in Lincoln's life, can be seen on the north and south walls of the memorial above the inscriptions of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address and his Second Inaugural. Lincoln Memorial is often used as a gathering place for protests and political rallies. In front of the building numerous speeches were given, of which the most famous was Martin Luther King Jr.’s "I Have a Dream". From the top of the stairs in front of the Lincoln Memorial, one can have a great view of the Washington Monument and the U.S. Capitol Building.
Address at the Dedication of the Lincoln Memorial
It is a supreme satisfaction officially to accept on behalf of the Government this superb monument to the savior of the republic. No official duty could be more welcome, no official function more pleasing. This memorial edifice is a noble tribute, gratefully bestowed, and in its offering is the reverent heart of America in its dedication is the consciousness of reverence and gratitude beautifully expressed.
Somehow my emotions incline me to speak simply as a reverent and grateful American rather than one in official, responsibility. I am thus inclined because the true measure of Lincoln is in his place today in the heart of American citizenship, though more than half a century has passed since his colossal service and his martyrdom. In every moment of peril, in every hour of discouragement, whenever the clouds gather, there is the image of Lincoln to rivet our hopes and to renew our faith. Whenever there is a glow of triumph over national achievement, there comes the reminder that but for Lincoln's heroic and unalterable faith in the Union, these triumphs could not have been.
No great character in all history has been more eulogized, no towering figure more monumented, no likeness more portrayed. Painters and sculptors portray as they see, and no two see precisely alike. So, too, is there varied emphasis in the portraiture of words but all are agreed about the rugged greatness, the surpassing tenderness, the unfailing wisdom of this master martyr.
History is concerned with the things accomplished. Biography deals with the methods and the individual attributes which led to accomplishment.
The supreme chapter in history is not emancipation, though that achievement would have exalted Lincoln throughout all the ages. The simple truth is that. Lincoln, recognizing an established order, would have compromised with the slavery that existed, if he could have halted its extension. Hating human slavery as he did, he doubtless believed in its ultimate abolition through the developing conscience of the American people, but he would have been the last man in the republic to resort to arms to effect its abolition. Emancipation was a means to the great end—maintained union and nationality. Here was the great purpose, here the towering hope, here the supreme faith. He treasured the inheritance handed down by the founding fathers, the ark of the covenant wrought through their heroic sacrifices, and builded in their inspired genius. The union must be preserved. It was the central thought, the unalterable purpose, the unyielding intent, the foundation of faith. It was worth every sacrifice, justified every cost, steeled the heart to sanction every crimsoned tide of blood. Here was the great experiment—popular government and constitutional union— menaced by greed expressed in human chattels. With the greed restricted and unthreatened, he could temporize. When it challenged federal authority and threatened the union, it pronounced its own doom. In the first inaugural, he quoted and reiterated his own oft-repeated utterance—"I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the states where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so." He believed in maintaining inviolate the rights of the states, but he believed no less firmly in the perpetuity of the union of the states. The union, having been contracted, could not be dissolved except by consent of all parties to the contract. He recognized the conflicting viewpoints, differing policies and controverted questions. But there were constitutional methods of settlement, and these must be employed.
In the first inaugural address he stressed the great general principle that
Here spoke the statesman, proclaiming deliberate public opinion as the supreme power of civilization, easily to be written into law when conviction should command. It ought to be tonic to the waning confidence of those of today who grow impatient that emphasized minority views are not hurried into the majority expressions of the republic. Deliberate public opinion never fails.
Later, closing his first inaugural, when anxiety gripped the nation, there spoke the generous, forgiving, sympathetic man of undaunted faith:
But he appealed in vain. Passion was aflame and war was made the arbiter. Americans fought Americans with equal courage and valor. There was an ambiguity in the constitution, which only a baptism in blood could efface. One may only speculate on what another might have done, but Fate seems to have summoned the one great hero best fitted to lead to the union's salvation.
His faith was inspiring, his resolution commanding, his sympathy reassuring, his simplicity enlisting, his patience unfailing. He was Faith, Patience and Courage, with his head above the clouds, unmoved by the storms which raged about his feet.
No leader was ever more unsparingly criticized or more bitterly assailed. He was lashed by angry tongues and ridiculed in press and speech until he drank from as bitter a cup as was ever put to human lips, but his faith was unshaken and his patience never exhausted. Some one sent me recently an illumined and framed quotation which fell from his lips when the storm of criticism was at its height:
He knew, of course, before the assassin robbed him of fuller realization, that the end was bringing him out all right. He knew when swords were sheathed and guns laid down, that the union he saved was riveted anew and made forever indissoluble. He knew that in the great crucible of fire and blood the dross had been burned from the misdirected patriotism of seceding states and the pure gold restored to shining stars in dear Old Glory again. He knew he had freed a race of bondmen and had given to the world the costly proof of the perpetuity of the American union. But I cannot restrain the wish that he might somehow know of the monuments to his memory throughout the world, and that we are dedicating today, on behalf of a grateful nation, this matchless memorial, whose forty-eight columns, representing forty-eight states in the concord of union, testify that the "end brought him out all right".
Reflecting now on the lampooning and heedless attack and unjustifiable abuse which .bruised his heart and tested his patience, we may accept its expression as one of the abused privileges under popular government, when passion sways and bitterness inspires, but for which there is compensation in the assurance that when men have their feet firmly planted in the right, and do the very best they can and "keep on doing it", they come out all right in the end, and all the storm does not amount to anything.
He rose to colossal stature in a day of imperiled union. He first appealed, and then commanded, and left the union secure and the nation supreme. His was a leadership for a great crisis, made loftier because of the inherent righteousness of his cause and the sublimity of his own faith. Washington inspired belief in the republic in its heroic beginning, Lincoln proved its quality in the heroic preservation. The Old World had wondered about the New-World experiment, and was quite ready to proclaim its futility when the civil war was threatening but Lincoln left the union unchallenged for all succeeding time. Not only was our nation given a new birth of freedom, but democracy was given a new sanction by that hand of divinity itself which has written the rights of humankind and pointed the way to their enjoyment.
Abraham Lincoln was no superman. Like the great Washington, whose monumental shaft towers nearby as a fit companion to the memorial we dedicate today, the two testifying the grateful love of all Americans to founder and savior—like Washington, Lincoln was a very natural human being, with the frailties mixed with the virtues of humanity. There are neither supermen nor demi-gods in the government of kingdoms, empires, or republics. It will be better for our conception of government and its institutions if we will understand this fact. It is vastly greater than finding the superman if we justify the confidence that our institutions are capable of bringing into authority, in time of stress, men big enough and strong enough to meet all demands.
Washington and Lincoln offered outstanding proof that a representative popular government, constitutionally founded, can find its own way to salvation and accomplishment. In the very beginning our American democracy turned to Washington, the aristocrat, for leadership in revolution, and the greater task of founding permanent institutions. The wisdom of Washington and Jefferson and Hamilton and Franklin was proven when Lincoln, the child of privation, of hardship, of barren environment and meager opportunity, rose to unquestioned leadership when disunion threatened.
Lincoln came almost as humbly as The Child of Bethlehem. His parents were unlettered, his home was devoid of every element of culture and refinement. He was no infant prodigy, no luxury facilitated or privilege hastened his development, but he had a God-given intellect, a love for work, a willingness to labor and a purpose to succeed.
Biographies differ about his ambition, but Herndon, who knew him as did no other, says he was greatly ambitious. I can believe that. Ambition is a commendable attribute, without which no man succeeds. Only inconsiderate ambition imperils.
Lincoln was modest, but he was sure of himself, and always greatly simple. Therein was his appeal to the confidence of his country. When he believed he was right a nation believed him to be right, and offered all in his support.
His work was so colossal, in the face of such discouragement, that none will dispute that he was incomparably the greatest of our presidents. He came to authority when the republic was beset by foes at home and abroad, and reestablished union and security. He made that gesture of his surpassing generosity which began reunion. Let us forget the treachery, corruption, and incompetence with which he had to combat, and recall his wisdom, his unselfishness, his sublime patience.
He resented no calumnies upon himself he held no man his enemy who had the power and will to serve the union, his vision was blinded by no jealousy. He took his advisers from among his rivals, invoked their patriotism and ignored their plottings. He dominated them by the sheer greatness of his intellect, the singleness and honesty of his purpose, and made them responsive to his hand for the accomplishment of the exalted purpose. Amid it all there was a gentleness, a kindness, a sympathetic sorrow, which suggest a divine intent to blend mercy, with power in supreme attainment.
This memorial, matchless tribute that it is, is less for Abraham Lincoln than for those of us today, and for those who follow after. His surpassing compensation would have been in living, to have his ten thousand sorrows dissipated in the rejoicings of the succeeding half century. He loved "his boys" in the army, and would have reveled in the great part they played in more than a half century of the pursuit of peace, and concord restored. How he would have been exalted by the chorus of the union after "the mystic chords" were "touched by the better angels of our nature"! How it would comfort his great soul to know that the states in the Southland join sincerely in honoring him, and have twice, since his day, joined, with all the fervor of his own great heart, in defending the flag! How it would soften his anguish to know that the South long since came to realize that a vain assassin robbed it of its most sincere and potent friend when it was prostrate and stricken, when Lincoln's sympathy and understanding would have helped to heal the wounds and hide the scars and speed the restoration! How with his love of freedom and justice, this apostle of humanity would have found his sorrows tenfold repaid to see the hundred millions to whom he bequeathed reunion and nationality, giving of their sons and daughters and all their fortunes to halt the armed march of autocracy and preserve civilization, even as he preserved the union!
More, how his great American heart would be aglow to note how resolutely we are going on, always on, holding to constitutional methods, amending to meet the requirements of a progressive civilization, clinging to majority rule, properly restrained, which is "the only true sovereign of a free people," and working to the fulfillment of the destiny of the world's greatest republic!
Fifty-seven years ago this people gave from their ranks, sprung from their own fiber, this plain man, holding their common ideals. They gave him first to service of the nation in the hour of peril, then to their pantheon of fame. With them and by them he is enshrined and exalted forever.
Today American gratitude, love and appreciation, give to Abraham Lincoln this lone white temple, a pantheon for him alone.
Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park
2995 Lincoln Farm Rd.
Hodgenville, KY 42748
Abraham Lincoln Boyhood Home at Knob Creek
7120 Bardstown Rd.
Hodgenville, KY 42748
66 Lincoln Square
Hodgenville, KY 42748
Lincoln Homestead State Park
Lincoln Homestead State Park
5079 Lincoln Park Rd.
Springfield, KY 40069
Old Fort Harrod State Park
100 S. College St.
Harrodsburg, KY 40330
578 W. Main St.
Lexington, KY 40507
Lincoln Memorial at Waterfront Park
Waterfront Development Corporation
129 E River Road
Louisville, KY 40280
Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site
P.O. Box 296
1825 Battlefield Rd. (KY 1920)
Perryville, KY 40468
Camp Nelson National Monument
6614 Old Danville Rd.
3033 Bardstown Rd.
Louisville, KY 40280
White Hall State Historic Site
500 White Hall Shrine Rd.
Richmond, KY 40475
Ashland, The Henry Clay Estate
120 Sycamore Rd.
Lexington, KY 40502
700 Capital Ave.
Frankfort, KY 40601
Hardin County History Museum
201 W. Dixie Ave.
Elizabethtown, KY 42701
Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park
Long before Abraham Lincoln became one of the preeminent leaders in American history, he spent his earliest years in Hodgenville, and his family had roots all around Kentucky. The Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park is home to the First Lincoln Memorial, which houses a replica of Lincoln’s birth cabin.
Abraham Lincoln Boyhood Home at Knob Creek
Of his boyhood home, Lincoln said, “My earliest recollection is of the Knob Creek place.” Located just 10 miles from his birthplace, the Knob Creek farm was the home of the Lincoln family from 1811 to 1816. Here, a young Abraham would help gather wood, carry water, and go fishing in the stream it was also where he first saw African Americans in bondage.
A series of life-size dioramas, period artifacts, and a superb collection of wax figures brings to life the major events in Abraham Lincoln's life. From the "Cabin Years" to "Ford's Theatre" and the years between, visitors of all ages enjoy this close-up experience with one of the world's greatest leaders. The Lincoln Museum is three miles north of Abraham Lincoln's Birthplace National Historical Park and seven miles west of Lincoln's Boyhood Home at Knob Creek. The Museum galleries include civil war memorabilia, a collection of original Lincoln art, a funeral train exhibit and more.
Lincoln Homestead State Park
Lincoln’s parents, Thomas and Nancy, both spent much of their childhoods in Central Kentucky. This state park explores those roots, showcasing Nancy’s girlhood home, replicas of Thomas’ boyhood cabin and blacksmith shop, and the home of Abraham’s favorite uncle, Mordecai Lincoln. There is also an 18-hole golf course, with splendid vistas of lakes and rolling countryside.
Old Fort Harrod State Park
One of Kentucky’s most significant historic sites, Old Fort Harrod State Park centers around a replica of Kentucky’s first permanent settlement. The park’s Mansion Museum houses Confederate and Union rooms filled with newspapers, firearms, photographs and other Civil War artifacts. You can also view the Lincoln Marriage Temple, the log cabin where Abraham Lincoln’s parents were wed in 1806.
Mary Todd Lincoln House
First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln grew up in the heart of downtown Lexington, and you can learn all about her fascinating life before, during and after her time in the White House, at her beautifully preserved childhood home.
Lincoln Memorial at Waterfront Park
On a beautiful spot overlooking the Ohio River, Abraham Lincoln sits beneath a tree in contemplation. This sculpture by renowned Louisville artist Ed Hamilton was dedicated in the summer of 2009 in honor of the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth. Surrounding Lincoln are bas reliefs with text exploring Lincoln’s early life in Kentucky, his growing political awareness, and his views on slavery and the Civil War.
Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site
The Battle of Perryville was one of the bloodiest battles in the Civil War, and left more than 7,600 soldiers killed, wounded or missing. At more than 1,000 acres, it is the largest battlefield in Kentucky, and one of the most unaltered in the nation. Take a self-guided tour of the battlefield, and visit the museum to learn the story of the Confederacy’s last major attempt to gain possession of Kentucky.
Camp Nelson National Monument
One of Kentucky’s most historically and culturally significant places, Camp Nelson was the third-largest recruiting and training depot in the nation for African-American soldiers during the Civil War. The camp supplied the Union with more than 10,000 African-American soldiers, and eight United States Colored Troops (USCT) regiments were organized here.
Today you can explore interpretive trails, forts, officers’ quarters, cemeteries, replica barracks, an Interpretive Center and more.
Farmington Historic Home
Farmington is the historic home and plantation site of John and Lucy Speed, completed in 1816. Farmington was a thriving 550-acre hemp plantation powered by the labor of nearly 60 enslaved African Americans who lived in cabins on the property. In the summer of 1841, Abraham Lincoln visited Farmington for three weeks, and had enduring relationships with the Speed family during his presidency. The property includes a visitor center with an exhibit room that interprets the plantation's history.
White Hall State Historic Site
This Italianate mansion was the home of Cassius Marcellus Clay, an emancipationist, politician, Ambassador to Russia and personal friend of Abraham Lincoln. The home has been immaculately restored and features period furnishings that offer a glimpse of upper-class life in Kentucky during the 1860s.
Ashland, the Henry Clay Estate
A magnificent antebellum plantation home on the outskirts of Lexington, Ashland was built by U.S. statesman Henry Clay and served as his home until his death in 1852. One of the most influential politicians of the 19th century, Clay was Abraham Lincoln’s political mentor, and in Lincoln’s words, “my beau ideal of a statesman.”
Kentucky State Capitol
The current Kentucky State Capitol was built between 1904 and 1910 using $1,000,000 in reparations from the federal government for damage sustained in the Civil War and for Kentucky’s services during the Spanish-American War. Inside the ornate rotunda, you can see statues of two prominent Civil War leaders – Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis, who were both born in Kentucky less than one year and 100 miles apart. Pick up a Capitol Building and Capitol Rotunda walking tour brochure to learn more about the Capitol’s Civil War history.
Hardin County History Museum
This museum tells the stories of Hardin County from its early Native American inhabitants to pioneers to the present day. You can also learn about the county’s Civil War involvement, and explore extensive stories of Lincoln, his family and friends.
Lincoln Memorial: A Temple of Tolerance
Invitations like the one above were sent to dignitaries, but the general public could also attend the May 22, 1922, opening of the Lincoln Memorial. This image shows a small portion of the massive crowd. (Top, Heritage Auctions, Dallas National Archives/Getty Images)
To add insult to injury, a group of “grey-clad survivors of the Confederate army”—elderly white men who had waged the rebellion to defy Lincoln and defend slavery—received special seats of honor alongside surviving veterans from the Union side. The Washington Post applauded the fact that “two groups of bowed men in blue and gray had seats to right and left of a flag for and against the existence of which they once did battle.” But an African-American eyewitness saw cruel irony in the fact that “Jim-Crowism of the grossest sort” had been practiced by “the hypocrites of the great nation” on a day devoted to Lincoln. The seating anomalies made it clear, he complained, that “the spoils have gone to the conquered, not the conquerors.”
That dedication day, yet another indignity awaited Lincoln’s African-American admirers. This additional slight, however, would at first be known only to a few of the special guests who ascended to the speakers’ platform atop the Lincoln Memorial steps—all of them as white as the pillars fronting the building. The only African-American speaker on that day’s program was Robert Russa Moton, principal of the all-black Tuskegee Institute. In a seemingly generous gesture, organizers had invited him to represent “the colored race” with a separate, and presumably equal, dedication speech. Though known as a conservative, Moton drafted a surprisingly provocative address, insisting: “So long as any group within our nation is denied the full protection of the law,” then what Lincoln had called his “unfinished work” would remain “still unfinished,” and the new Memorial itself, “but a hollow mockery.”
After reviewing Moton’s manuscript in advance, however, the White House insisted that the critical remarks be expunged Moton could either intone a more anodyne speech or forfeit his place on the program. Facing the prospect of losing the largest audience he had ever addressed, Moton gave in to the censors. His original manuscript would remain unpublished for decades.
Following Moton’s truncated speech, Chief Justice William Howard Taft, chairman of the Lincoln Memorial Commission, rose to declare almost defiantly that the new shrine represented the “restoration of brotherly love of the two sections,” not the two races. Lincoln, he insisted, was “as dear to the hearts of the South as to those of the North.”
In his own remarks, President Warren G. Harding seconded that emotion. As if speaking mainly to the Confederate veterans in the audience, Harding declared of Lincoln: “How it would soften his anguish to know that the South long since came to realize that a vain assassin robbed it of its most sincere and potent friend…[whose] sympathy and understanding would have helped heal the wounds and hide the scars and speed the restoration.” To the black newspaper the Chicago Defender, Harding’s words seemed “a supine and abject attempt to justify in palavering words of apology the greatest act of the greatest American—the freeing of the poor, helpless bondmen.” The paper went so far as to advise its readers that no Lincoln Memorial dedication had occurred at all that day.
In view of its disgraceful unveiling, the most remarkable thing about the Lincoln Memorial may be that it eventually emerged as the most universally revered of America’s secular shrines—and the most unifying.
Nearly a century later, it is now the first and most important stop on many Americans’ list of patriotic destinations, as well as a magnet for groups numbering in the tens of thousands. Here, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. capped the 1963 March on Washington with his “I Have a Dream” speech. Here, a beleaguered Richard Nixon famously appeared unannounced shortly before his resignation to commune with Lincoln’s spirit. And here, presidents-to-be from Bill Clinton to Donald Trump have appeared on the eves of their inaugurations to lay symbolic claim to Lincoln’s mantle. Whether serving as a shrine for contemplation or a rallying spot for protest or pageantry, the memorial seldom disappoints.
Sculptor Daniel Chester French poses with two plaster models of the Lincoln Memorial. Part of French’s genius was the ability to scale up his sculptures without losing proportion. (Topfoto/The Images Works)
Not unimportant, the memorial is the crowning achievement of the gifted but elusive man who created the statue that looms within its walls: sculptor Daniel Chester French (1850-1931). Thanks to his vision and talent, the site still evokes the combination of majesty and humility that Americans believe their country and their greatest leaders personify. The somber behemoth manages to present its subject, as French put it, in all “his simplicity, his grandeur, and his power”—no easy trinity of virtues to convey in a single work of art. The textured portrayal personifies Americans’ concurrent belief in both their collective modesty and their preeminent standing in the world.
French’s marble statue of Lincoln is probably the most famous sculpture ever created of or by an individual American—not to mention, at 19 feet in height and some 200 tons in weight, the largest. It is the most frequently visited, the most widely cherished, and the most often reproduced (in miniature and selfie alike) of national icons. In an age in which controversy rages over public statuary honoring Confederate generals, slave-holding founding fathers, and other blemished figures from the American past, French’s Lincoln remains majestically enthroned without objection.
That this inspiring statue was the work of a reserved, sometimes impenetrable, professional artist who lived most of his life in the Gilded Age and left few written clues about his ideas or instincts, makes its ever-expanding relevance all the more astonishing. A professional sculptor for nearly half a century when his most famous statue took its place among Washington’s great public monuments, “Dan” French was on the most obvious level a crusty New Englander, a man of many accomplishments but few words. His shut-mouthed exterior, however, masked the soul of a creative genius.
French never illuminated his art through explanation. Rather, he spoke, indeed existed, through his art—expressing himself passionately through an uncommon skill and a common touch that no other American sculptor has ever so successfully combined. “If I’m articulate at all,” he once remarked with typically modest understatement, “it is in my images.” Judged on visual terms alone, French became America’s most articulate public artist. He created the iconic “Minute Man” for his home town, Concord, Mass., when he was only 24 years old. He went on to fashion the central symbol of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, “The Republic,” along with acclaimed, realistic portraits of Ralph Waldo Emerson and John Adams. He specialized in campus statuary like “John Harvard,” “Thomas Gallaudet,” and “Alma Mater” at Columbia, along with evocative, symbol-laden cemetery markers honoring the late sculptor Martin Milmore in Boston and the three Concord-born Melvin brothers who died during the Civil War.
Wartime military heroes became a specialty as well—all of them, of course, Union men. By the time French earned the commission to create the Lincoln Memorial statue (seemingly without competition), he was already America’s best-known, highest-paid sculptor, a trustee of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and a summer resident of Stockbridge, Mass., where he lived and worked at a magnificent estate and studio, “Chesterwood”—now a National Trust site (see sidebar, below). French also chaired the National Commission of Fine Arts—the very body assigned to approve the Lincoln Memorial. He stepped down reluctantly only when it became evident the conflict of interest was insurmountable.
Even so, the project might easily have gone off the rails. For one thing, congressional backers did not all believe that the swampy park at the western edge of the new National Mall was a fitting and proper spot for a Lincoln Memorial. Alternative suggestions included Union Station, the Capitol, the National Observatory, the Soldiers’ Home, and the midpoint between Washington and the Confederate capital of Richmond.
Even when wiser heads prevailed regarding the site, details about the statue itself remained in dispute. To save time and money, some proposed ordering a replica of Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ “Standing Lincoln” in Chicago. It took a concerted effort by French and the Memorial architect, his frequent collaborator Henry Bacon, to block that effort.
The figure in the foreground is said to be one of the Piccirilli brothers, the Italian-born artisans who carved the marble statue under French’s supervision. Amazingly, the statue was never fully assembled until it was placed in the Memorial. (National Archives/Getty Images)
Yet French originally contemplated a standing Lincoln of his own. He rejected the idea only when he wisely calculated that visitors approaching it from the bottom steps outside would be unable to see the face of an upright statue. For a time, French toyed with the idea of casting his Lincoln in bronze, an idea he later rejected.
Planners chose the words of the Gettysburg Address and First Inaugural to surround the statue, but had French gotten his way, Lincoln’s farewell address to the people of Springfield, Ill., delivered on February 11, 1861, when he left for Washington, D.C., and his remarkable consolation letter to Lydia Parker Bixby, a Boston woman who lost five sons in battle, would have been added—the first an acknowledged masterpiece, though it antedated the Civil War the latter a work whose authorship has since come under question. Less turned out to be more. As if by magic, French produced a small clay model at Chesterwood that captured the essence of the future statue from the start.
Not until the building was nearing completion did the sculptor realize that the envisioned 12-foot-high final work would be dwarfed within its vast atrium. The sculptor convinced Congress to pay to increase its height by seven feet only after stringing a proportionately sized plaster head from the ceiling of the memorial’s interior to demonstrate that anything smaller would look underwhelming. French’s Italian-born, Bronx, N.Y., carvers then crafted the final statue from 28 blocks of marble. Remarkably, it was never assembled into a whole until it arrived at the building, block by block, in 1919.
The final result represented French’s last stand for classicism in the fast-approaching age of modernism. That his Lincoln Memorial has so defiantly transcended changing artistic tastes and shifting public moods is a testament to the artist’s almost defiant belief in the enduring relevance of the heroic image. With the Lincoln Memorial, French accomplished not only a magisterial portrait for posterity, but also a platform for its infinite aspirations.
But the metamorphosis of the Lincoln Memorial into something greater than a memorial to Lincoln did not commence until 1939, 17 years later. That spring, African-American contralto Marian Anderson was blocked from performing at the Washington headquarters of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Resigning her DAR membership in protest, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt urged that the concert be relocated to an even larger stage: the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. There, Anderson’s hour-long Easter Sunday program attracted an integrated crowd of 75,000, “the largest assemblage Washington has seen since Charles A. Lindbergh came back from Paris,” said the New York Herald-Tribune. A national radio broadcast brought to millions more Anderson’s magnificent renditions of “My Country ’Tis of Thee” and “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.”
The meaning of the Lincoln Memorial would never be the same it had been transfigured, in the course of a single hour, from a monument to sectional reunion into a touchstone for racial reconciliation. The prestige of the Memorial expanded further through the power of popular culture. Frank Capra’s film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, released just six months after the Anderson concert, featured a particularly evocative scene from its interior. In search of inspiration, the uncertain freshman “Senator Jefferson Smith,” in the person of Lincolnesque actor James Stewart, visits the Memorial and listens “dewy-eyed” as a little boy reads the Gettysburg Address aloud to his visually impaired grandfather. An elderly black man enters the chamber just as the words “new birth of freedom” escape from the child’s lips.
The scene fades out with a giant close-up of the statue’s face to the swelling strains of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “The Star Spangled Banner.” Dr. King’s appearance a quarter century later, in what he called “the symbolic shadow” of “a great American,” only cemented the metamorphosis.
The original, flawed 1922 Lincoln Memorial dedication closed with a benediction—after which most of the dignitaries along its top step clustered around white-bearded Robert Todd Lincoln, the president’s sole surviving son, to offer greetings. As the huge, segregated crowd below began to disperse, French strolled unnoticed into the building and spent a few silent minutes communing with the huge marble figure he had created. After a few moments in solitude, he glanced to his side and noticed Robert Russa Moton standing next to him, gazing at the work as well.
To French’s delight, Dr. Moton “praised the statue.” French, in turn, confided to him that he remained worried about the way it was lit, for despite last-minute modifications, the sculpture still did not look as he had intended. “Dr. Moton was a sympathetic listener and Dan found himself being drawn out to give him some of the details of the building,” remembered the sculptor’s daughter.
Did French confide to Moton that he had intended that the statue would “convey the mental and physical strength of the great president”? Did Moton confide his disappointment at the prejudice manifested at the dedication ceremony? Unfortunately, no one made a further record of their conversation.
We know only that after they spoke, “the powerfully built college president and the frail-looking sculptor walked out into the sunshine and the May wind as they went down the steps and stood on one of the terraces looking up at the memorial”—the same breathtaking view enjoyed by millions of fellow Americans, black and white, ever since.
Harold Holzer, winner of the Lincoln Prize and chairman of the Lincoln Forum, is the author, coauthor, or editor of 53 books, most recently Monument Man: The Life and Art of Daniel Chester French, from which this article is adapted.
The House at Monument Mountain
In 1896, longing for a place to live and work during the summertime, Daniel Chester French purchased a farmhouse in Stockbridge, Mass. Although the main structure was dilapidated and an old barn seemed unsuitable as a studio, the surrounding vistas captivated him: Monument Mountain rising in the near distance, and a carpet of trees and flowers blooming on all sides. French called it “the best ‘dry view’ he had ever seen.” Obtaining a cash advance on a statue he was fashioning of General Ulysses S. Grant, French paid $3,000 to acquire both buildings and 150 surrounding acres. He named his new estate “Chesterwood” after his grandparents’ hometown of Chester, N.H.
Chesterwood – the studio of Daniel Chester French located in Stockbridge, Connecticut. Daniel Chester French (1850-1931) was the sculptor of the statue of Abraham Lincoln in the Memorial in Washington, D.C. The studio has a standard-gauge railroad track used to roll large sculpture outdoors for viewing in natural light. The museum holds what is probably the largest single collection of work by any American sculptor.
For the next 33 years, French and his family summered here. The sculptor hired architect Henry Bacon—future designer of the Lincoln Memorial—to create a fine replacement house and an adjacent studio (moving the barn up the hill). By 1898, French began working here on an equestrian statue of George Washington for the city of Paris. Here, French would later fashion the original clay model of his seated Lincoln, plus sculptures of Civil War Generals Joseph Hooker and Charles Devens. French later said of his Chesterwood routine, “I spend six months of the year up there. That is heaven New York is—well, New York.”
When was the Lincoln Memorial Designed and Built?
While it was built over an eight-year period – between 1914–1922 — the Lincoln Memorial structure was first designed back in the late 1800s, when Congress decided to up the ante of the existing statue due to popular demand. Lincoln was a much-loved figure and the demand for a memorial more fitting of the president's legacy was considerable. The original statue was erected in 1868, three years after the assassination of the president. But, as we said, many believed that this statue was not fitting for the President and his services to the US, so they demanded a more impressive memorial to commemorate Lincoln.
Congress complied with this request and began to enlist designers and builders for the memorial project. At this point, a fierce debate raged on as some parties believed that Lincoln would have preferred a modest log cabin memorial. The original design was chosen, but the project ran out of steam soon afterwards. However, as the charitable subscriptions needed to build, the statue did not reach the necessary amount. At the turn of the 1900s, Congress was challenged again to create another monument. After five failed bills to restart the project, the sixth finally passed in 1910. The next step in the process was for the Lincoln Memorial Commission, led by President Taft, to decide upon a site and design for the project. Each of these came with their own debates surrounding them and the issue of where to place the statue was particularly contentious.
After the plans were approved, and although they changed throughout time, the building was finally underway. The statue of Lincoln was originally intended to be 10-feet tall, but it was nearly doubled in size to 19 feet after designers expressed concerns that the statue may look small compared to the huge housing that surrounded it. The result was the huge statue we see today, and it was obviously well built and maintained as it remains in impeccable condition to this day.
The 170-ton statue is composed of 28 blocks of white Georgia marble (Georgia Marble Company)  and rises 30 feet (9.1 m) from the floor, including the 19-foot (5.8 m) seated figure (with armchair and footrest) upon an 11-foot (3.4 m) high pedestal. The figure of Lincoln gazes directly ahead and slightly down with an expression of gravity and solemnity. His frock coat is unbuttoned, and a large United States flag is draped over the chair back and sides. French paid special attention to Lincoln's expressive hands, which rest on the enormous arms of a semi-circular ceremonial chair, the fronts of which bear fasces, emblems of authority from Roman antiquity. French used casts of his own fingers to achieve the correct placement.
Daniel Chester French was selected in 1914 by the Lincoln Memorial Committee to create a Lincoln statue as part of the memorial to be designed by architect Henry Bacon (1866–1924). French was already famous for his 1874 The Minute Man statue in Concord, Massachusetts. He was also the personal choice of Bacon who had already been collaborating with him for nearly 25 years. French resigned his chairmanship of the Fine Arts Commission in Washington, D.C.—a group closely affiliated with the memorial's design and creation—and commenced work in December.
French had already created (1909–1912) a major memorial statue of Lincoln—this one standing—for the Nebraska State Capitol (Abraham Lincoln, 1912) in Lincoln, Nebraska. His previous studies of Lincoln—which included biographies, photographs, and a life mask of Lincoln by Leonard Volk done in 1860—had prepared him for the challenging task of the larger statue. For the national memorial, he and Bacon decided that a large seated figure would be most appropriate. French started with a small clay study and subsequently created several plaster models, each time making subtle changes in the figure's pose or setting. He placed the President not in an ordinary 19th-century seat, but in a classical chair including fasces, a Roman symbol of authority, to convey that the subject was an eminence for all the ages.
Three plaster models of the Lincoln statue are at French's Chesterwood Studio, a National Trust Historic Site in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, including a plaster sketch (1915) and a six-foot plaster model (1916). The second of French's plasters, created at Chesterwood in the summer of 1916 (inscribed October 31) became the basis of the final work, which was originally envisioned as a 12-foot (3.7 m) bronze. In deciding the size of final statue French and Bacon took photographic enlargements of the model to the memorial under construction. Eventually French's longtime collaborators, the firm of Piccirilli Brothers, were commissioned to do the carving of a much larger sculpture, in marble from a quarry near Tate, Georgia.
It took a full year for French's design to be transferred to the massive marble blocks. French provided finishing strokes in the carvers' studio in The Bronx, New York City and after the statue was assembled in the memorial on the National Mall in 1920. Lighting the statue was a particular problem. In creating the work, French had understood that a large skylight would provide direct, natural illumination from overhead, but this was not included in the final plans. The horizontal light from the east caused Lincoln's facial features to appear flattened—making him appear to stare blankly, rather than wear a dignified expression—and highlighted his shins. French considered this a disaster. In the end, an arrangement of electric lights was devised to correct this situation.  The work was unveiled at the memorial's formal dedication on May 30, 1922.
15 Monumental Facts About the Lincoln Memorial
Seated proudly at the west end of Washington, D.C.’s National Mall, the Lincoln Memorial is one of the most beloved American monuments: It attracts millions of visitors each year. Here are a few things you might not know about its construction and legacy.
1. IT TOOK MORE THAN 50 YEARS TO GET A MEMORIAL FOR LINCOLN BUILT AND OPENED TO THE PUBLIC.
Efforts to create a fitting tribute to Abraham Lincoln began immediately after the leader’s assassination in 1865. Within two years, Congress had officially formed the Lincoln Monument Association and began seeking out craftsmen to bring the project to life. However, squabbling about the details of the project delayed construction until 1914. According to the National Parks Service, most of the memorial’s “architectural elements” were completed in April 1917 construction was slowed by World War I, and the memorial wouldn't open until 1922.
2. THE 19TH CENTURY DESIGN WAS MUCH MORE ELABORATE THAN THE FINISHED PRODUCT.
In the early legs of Congress’s plan to honor Lincoln, sculptor Clark Mills was enlisted to dream up the design. (Mills won the gig after creating a cast of Lincoln’s face and head in 1865 and a famous statue of Andrew Jackson on horseback in 1853.) Congress was not prepared, however, for Mills’s vision for the tribute, which involved a 12-foot likeness of Lincoln signing the Emancipation Proclamation and a collection of 36 bronze figures (six on horseback) all housed within a 70-foot structure.
3. ONE HIGHER-UP DISAPPROVED OF WEST POTOMAC PARK AS A MEMORIAL SITE DUE TO ITS SWAMPY AND CRIMINAL REPUTATION.
When the Lincoln Memorial project was revived in the early 20th century, there were still opponents of its construction—mainly, Speaker of the House Joe Cannon. Staunch conservative “Uncle Joe” had a number of problems with the project (including his aversion to big government spending), but Cannon’s main complaint involved the proposed design and location for the monument, which he felt were unworthy of his hero Lincoln. “So long as I live,” he once told Secretary of War Elihu Root, “I'll never let a memorial to Abraham Lincoln be erected in that g-------d swamp,” referring to the marshy terrain and proclivity for producing discarded dead bodies.
4. THE TRAIN STATION WAS A PROPOSED ALTERNATE LOCATION FOR THE MEMORIAL.
Washington, D.C.’s Union Station, a major American transportation hub since its opening in 1907, was suggested by Cannon’s allies as a superior venue for a tribute to Abraham Lincoln than the Potomac River could ever be. President Theodore Roosevelt originally approved the relocation of the project to the railway stop, but took heat from the American Institute of Architects, which wanted to maintain plans for developing the Potomac site.
5. LINCOLN’S ARMS SIT ON A ROMAN SYMBOL.
The Lincoln Memorial was brought to life through the collaboration of many designers and artisans. Daniel Chester French designed the statue of America’s 16th President—which was produced by a family of Tuscan marble carvers known as the Piccirilli Brothers—and architect Henry Bacon created the monument building. The Italian Piccirillis injected Roman influence into the project, modeling the pillars upon which Lincoln rests his arms on fasces, the bundles of wood that have represented power for centuries.
6. THERE ARE ALSO GREEK INFLUENCES IN THE MEMORIAL.
Meanwhile, Bacon approached the construction of the exterior building using design cues from the classic Greek Doric temple. According to the National Park Service, it was based specifically on the Parthenon. Bacon reportedly felt that “a memorial to the man who defended democracy should be modeled after a structure from the birthplace of democracy.”
7. BACON’S CHIEF COMPETITOR HAD A FEW OUTRAGEOUS IDEAS FOR THE MONUMENT.
When some elected officials took exception to Bacon’s ideas for the structure, architect John Russell Pope presented alternative designs for a tribute to Lincoln: Among his proposals were a traditional Mayan temple, a Mesopotamian ziggurat, and an Egyptian pyramid.
8. THE MEMORIAL WAS ACTUALLY THE SECOND LINCOLN SCULPTURE DESIGNED BY FRENCH.
Just two years before beginning on the Washington project, French presented a bronze statue of Lincoln to the Abraham Lincoln Memorial Association of Lincoln, Neb. The piece depicts the President upright with his hands joined at the waist and head tilted downward. As would be the case with the later memorial, the base on which the sculpture sits was designed by Bacon. The statue still sits on the grounds of the Nebraska State Capitol.
9. LINCOLN NEARLY DOUBLED IN SIZE AS THE PLAN PROGRESSED.
French’s initial blueprints included a 10-foot Lincoln. As not to see the President outdone by the grandeur of Bacon’s surrounding hall, French bulked Honest Abe up to a more majestic height of 19 feet.
10. ABOUT 40 PERCENT OF THE MONUMENT IS UNDERGROUND.
When viewers bask in the 99-foot-tall, 202-foot-wide Lincoln Memorial, they’re really only seeing a little more than half of the construction. Rooted beneath the ground is the piece’s foundation, which extends 66 feet into the earth at its deepest point to support the weight of the marble structure.
11. LINCOLN’S SON LIVED TO SEE THE UNVEILING OF THE MONUMENT.
In the end, the memorial took eight years to build. Among those present to observe the Lincoln Memorial’s official dedication in May 1922 was a 78-year-old Robert Todd Lincoln, the only surviving son of the former president, who had visited the site during construction.
12. FRENCH MAY HAVE DESIGNED THE STATUE WITH A NOD TO AMERICAN SIGN LANGUAGE.
Observers who are literate in American Sign Language have taken note of the positioning of the sculpted Lincoln’s fingers, recognizing in their arrangement the signification of the letters A and L. Although there is no record to indicated that French intended to have the statue engaged in the act of signing, historian Gerald J. Prokopowicz finds reason to believe that the design was deliberate. Among the facts supporting Prokopowicz’s claim include a sculpture French had made of education of the deaf pioneer Gallaudet where he was teaching a student the letter A, and the fact that French is known to have tweaked his original models of Lincoln’s right hand from a clenched hand to an open one.
Furthermore, Lincoln himself was particularly invested in the cause of furthering the study of sign language: He authorized the creation and signed the charter of Gallaudet University, the school for the deaf whose founder French had also sculpted.
13. AN AD HOC CONCERT WAS HELD ON THE MEMORIAL STEPS IN RESPONSE TO RACIAL PREJUDICE.
In 1939, African American singer Marian Anderson was prohibited from performing at the Daughters of the American Revolution’s Washington, D.C. Constitution Hall. After catching wind of this discrimination, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and Secretary of the Interior Harold LeClair Ickes offered up the Lincoln Memorial as the venue for a massive concert to feature Anderson on the forthcoming Easter Sunday. Anderson performed at the historic site before a crowd of 70,000.
14. RICHARD NIXON VISITED THE MONUMENT AT 4 A.M. ONE NIGHT TO DEBATE THE MERITS OF THE VIETNAM WAR.
As opposition to the Vietnam War found traction among American youth, sites like the Lincoln Memorial became venues for pacifist protests. In May 1970, just days after the Kent State shootings, the monument hosted a candlelight vigil that lasted into the night. The demonstration attracted an unlikely visitor: President Richard Nixon, who visited the Memorial just after 4 a.m. to “talk some sense” into the protesting crowd of around 30 students. Nixon later recounted, “"I walked over to a group of them and shook hands. They were not unfriendly. As a matter of fact they seemed somewhat over-awed and of course quite surprised."
15. THE MEMORIAL WALLS FEATURE A TYPO.
The north wall of the monument building features an inscription of Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address, a speech originally delivered in March 1865 at the tail end of the Civil War. Lincoln’s memorable incantation, “With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured,” concludes the first paragraph of the inscription, though with a minor error: The word “FUTURE” is misspelled as “EUTURE,” a blunder that remains visible despite attempts to correct it.
History & Culture
Abraham Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865, just as the Civil War was ending. By March of 1867, Congress incorporated the Lincoln Monument Association to build a memorial to the slain 16th president. Learn about the main features of the Lincoln Memorial, including the statue of Lincoln, murals, and inscriptions. Discover how and why it was constructed, the landscape and views that surround it, and the monumental efforts taken over the years to preserve and maintain this iconic site.
Abraham Lincoln , the 16th President of the United States and titan of our national heritage, grew up as a poor boy on the frontier. Reading books by candlelight, after long hours at school or on the farm, proved invaluable to young Lincoln. He later served as a store clerk, a river trader, and a "rail-splitter" used to hard physical labor. A plain speaker for plain folks, Lincoln blended his love of the written word with a strong work ethic and pursued a legal career, then a political one from the Illinois state legislature to the U.S. Congress. Here was a man who aspired to lead a nation.
National Archives and Records Administration
Learn about the Memorial Builders - the unique collection of planners, sculptors, artists, financiers, politicians and park officials that came together to build the Lincoln Memorial.