Thomas Jefferson Memorial

The Thomas Jefferson Memorial is a presidential memorial in Washington, D.C. that is dedicated to Thomas Jefferson, an American Founding Father and the third President of the United States. The neoclassical building was designed by John Russell Pope. It was built by Philadelphia contractor John McShain. Construction began in 1939, the building was completed in 1943, and the bronze statue of Jefferson was added in 1947.

The Jefferson Memorial is managed by the National Park Service under its National Mall and Memorial Parks division. In 2007, it was ranked fourth on the List of America's Favorite Architecture by the American Institute of Architects.

History
Conception

The current site of the Memorial was originally created using landfill dredged from the Potomac River in the late 19th century. It became a popular bathing beach for Washingtonians and other locals.

It became apparent that the site was well suited for another high-profile memorial since it sat directly south of the White House. By 1901 the Senate Park Commission, better known as the McMillan Commission, had proposed placing a pantheon-like structure on the site hosting "the statues of the illustrious men of the nation, or whether the memory of some individual shall be honored by a monument of the first rank may be left to the future"; no action was ever taken by Congress on this issue.

A design competition was held for a memorial to Theodore Roosevelt in 1925. The winning design was submitted by John Russell Pope and consisted of a half-circle memorial situated next to a circular basin. The plan was never funded by Congress and was not built.

The Memorial's chance came in 1934 when President Franklin Roosevelt, an admirer of Jefferson himself, inquired to the Commission of Fine Arts about the possibility of erecting a memorial to Jefferson, including it in the plans for the Federal Triangle project, which was under construction at the time. Later the same year, Congressman John J. Boylan jumped off FDR's starting point and urged Congress to create the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Commission. Boylan was appointed the Commission's first chairman and Congress eventually appropriated $3 million for a memorial to Jefferson.

The Commission chose John Russell Pope as the architect in 1935. Pope was also the architect of the National Archives Building and original (west) building of the National Gallery of Art. He prepared four different plans for the project, each on a different site. One was on the Anacostia River at the end of East Capitol Street; one at Lincoln Park; one on the south side of the National Mall across from the National Archives; and one situated on the Tidal Basin, directly south of the White House. The Commission preferred the site on the Tidal Basin mainly because it was the most prominent site and because it completed the four-point plan called for by the McMillan Commission (Lincoln Memorial to the Capitol; White House to the Tidal Basin site). Pope designed a very large pantheon-like structure, to sit on a square platform, and to be flanked by two smaller, rectangular, colonnaded buildings.

Construction

Construction began on December 15, 1938 and the cornerstone was laid on November 15, 1939, by president Franklin Roosevelt. By this point Pope had died (1937) and his surviving partners, Daniel P. Higgins and Otto R. Eggers, took over construction of the memorial. The design was modified at the request of the Commission of Fine Arts to a more conservative design.

Construction commenced amid significant opposition. The Commission of Fine Arts never actually approved any design for the Memorial and even published a pamphlet in 1939 opposing both the design and site of the Memorial. In addition, many Washingtonians opposed the site because it was not aligned with L'Enfant's original plan. Finally, many well established elm and cherry trees had to be removed for construction. Construction continued amid the opposition.

In 1939, the Memorial Commission hosted a competition to select a sculptor for the planned statue in the center of the Memorial. They received 101 entries and chose six finalists. Of the six, Rudulph Evans was chosen as the main sculptor and Adolph A. Weinman was chosen to sculpt the pediment relief situated above the entrance.

The Jefferson Memorial was officially dedicated by President Roosevelt on April 13, 1943, the 200th anniversary of Jefferson's birthday. At that time, Evans' statue had not yet been finished. Due to material shortages during World War II, the statue that was installed at the time was a plaster cast of Evans' work painted to look like bronze. The finished bronze statue was installed in 1947, having been cast by the Roman Bronze Company of New York.

One of the last American public monuments in the Beaux-Arts tradition, the Memorial was severely criticized even as it was being built, by those who adhered to the modernist argument that dressing 20th century buildings like Greek and Roman temples constituted a "tired architectural lie." More than 60 years ago, Pope responded with silence to critics who dismissed him as part of an enervated architectural elite practicing "styles that are safely dead." As a National Memorial it was administratively listed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 15, 1966.

Description

Composed of circular marble steps, a portico, a circular colonnade of Ionic order columns, and a shallow dome, the building is open to the elements. Pope made references to the Roman Pantheon and Jefferson's own design for the Rotunda at the University of Virginia. It is situated in West Potomac Park, on the shore of the Tidal Basin of the Potomac River. The Jefferson Memorial, and the White House located directly north, form one of the main anchor points in the area of the National Mall in D.C. The Washington Monument, just east of the axis on the national Mall, was intended to be located at the intersection of the White House and the site for the Jefferson Memorial to the south, but soft swampy ground which defied 19th century engineering required it be sited to the east.

The interior

The interior of the memorial has a 19-foot (5.8 m) tall, 10,000 lb (4336 kg) bronze statue of Jefferson by sculptor Rudulph Evans showing Jefferson looking out toward the White House. This statue was added four years after the dedication. The interior walls are engraved with passages from Jefferson's writings. Most prominent are the words which are inscribed in a frieze below the dome: "I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man." This sentence is taken from a September 23, 1800, letter by Jefferson to Dr. Benjamin Rush wherein he defends the constitutional refusal to recognize a state religion.

On the panel of the southwest interior wall are excerpts from the Declaration of Independence, written in 1776:

Note that the inscription uses the word "inalienable", as in Jefferson's draft, rather than "unalienable", as in the published Declaration.

On the panel of the northwest interior wall is an excerpt from "A Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom, 1777", except for the last sentence, which is taken from a letter of August 28, 1789, to James Madison:

The quotes from the panel of the northeast interior wall are from multiple sources. The first sentence, beginning "God who gave...", is from "A Summary View of the Rights of British America". The second, third and fourth sentences are from Notes on the State of Virginia. The fifth sentence, beginning "Nothing is more...", is from Jefferson's autobiography. The sixth sentence, beginning "Establish the law...", is from an August 13, 1790, letter to George Wythe. The final sentence is from a letter of January 4, 1786, to George Washington:

The inscription on the panel of the southeast interior wall is redacted and excerpted from a letter July 12, 1816, to Samuel Kercheval:

University of Alberta history professor Ronald Hamowy has called the inscriptions "erhaps the most egregious examples of invoking Jefferson for purely transient political purposes." Hamowy argues that:

The excerpts chosen from the Declaration have been criticized because the first half alters Jefferson's prose (for the sake of saving space) and eliminates the right of revolution passage that Jefferson believed was the point of the Declaration, while much of the second half (from "solemnly publish" to "divine providence") was not written by Jefferson.

The fifth sentence quoted on the northeast interior wall ("Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than these people are to be free.") has been called "misleadingly truncated" by historian Garry Wills, because Jefferson's sentence continued with: "Nor is it less certain that the two races, equally free, cannot live in the same government."

Location

The site of the monument is in Washington D.C. West Potomac Park, on the shore of the Potomac River Tidal Basin, is enhanced with the massed planting of Japanese cherry trees, a gift from the people of Japan in 1912.

The monument is not as prominent in popular culture as other Washington, D.C. buildings and monuments, possibly due to its location well removed from the National Mall and the Washington Metro. The Jefferson Memorial hosts many events and ceremonies each year, including memorial exercises, the Easter Sunrise Service, and the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival.

The monument is open 24 hours a day but park rangers are there only until 11:30 p.m. (0330 UTC)

Dancing controversy

In April 2008, Mary Brooke Oberwetter was arrested at the Jefferson Memorial while participating in an organized celebration of the 265th birthday of President Jefferson. Ms. Oberwetter and the group were dancing silently as they listened to music on headphones. She was charged with demonstrating without a permit (charge later dropped) and interfering with park police.

Oberwetter sued the arresting officer and park police for violating her First Amendment right to free expression and Fourth Amendment right against unlawful seizure (illegal arrest). In May 2011, the U.S. Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia rejected Oberwetter's claims, confirming a lower court's finding that "the Jefferson Memorial is a nonpublic forum reserved for the tranquil commemoration of Jefferson's legacy" and that Ms. Oberwetter had violated reasonable rules in place intended to maintain the monument for that purpose. Oberwetter v Hilliard (C.A.D.C. No. 10-5078, 5/17/11)

On May 29, 2011, five visitors were arrested while dancing inside the monument in protest of the court's decision. The protest and arrests were captured by numerous press and amateur photographers. There have been accusations of police brutality.

The statute in question is under the Code of Federal Regulations, 36 C.F.R. § 7.96(g)(3)(ii)(C). In the Oberwetter ruling the appellate court determined that "dancing" meets the definition of "demonstration" as set forth in the statute. "The term demonstrations includes demonstrations, picketing, speechmaking, marching, holding vigils or religious services and all other like forms of conduct which involve the communication or expression of views or grievances, engaged in by one or more persons, the conduct of which has the effect, intent or propensity to draw a crowd or onlookers. This term does not include casual park use by visitors or tourists which does not have an intent or propensity to attract a crowd or onlookers."

Bibliography
  • Bedford, Steven McLeod, John Russell Pope: Architect of Empire, Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., New York, NY 1998
  • Goode, James M. The Outdoor Sculpture of Washington D.C., Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington D.C. 1974
  • The National Parks: Index 2001–2003. Washington: U.S. Department of the Interior.

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