Thomas Jefferson Memorial Statue

Thomas Jefferson memorial architecture is not confined to the monument honoring the third American president: it includes the very principles serving as the foundation for American democracy. Jefferson left to the future not only ideas but also a great body of practical achievements. President Kennedy recognized those accomplishments when he told a gathering of Nobel Prize winners that they were the greatest assemblage of talent in the White House since Jefferson had dinner there alone. With his strong beliefs in the rights of man and a government derived from the people, in the principle of a government free from religious imposition, and in equal access to educational resources, Thomas Jefferson took a powerful stand for humanitarian freedom over two centuries ago that still resonates with our people today.

Jefferson Memorial Statue
Jefferson Memorial Statue

Jefferson Memorial history is inextricably linked to the time in which it was created, when the world was at war and freedom was not taken for granted. By an Act of Congress in 1934, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Commission was created to erect the memorial and its accompanying Thomas Jefferson memorial statue. Their present-day location at the Tidal Basin was selected in 1937. Initially the public was critical of the choice of location, since it threatened some of the lovely Tidal Basin cherry trees. These beautiful trees were a gift to the United States from Japan, and have consequently been preserved as part of the site.

Jefferson Memorial Inscriptions
Jefferson Memorial Inscriptions

More controversy surrounded the selection of the design of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial architecture. 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. Architect John Russell Pope used Jefferson's own architectural tastes in the memorial design. Upon the untimely death of Pope in August 1937, construction was accomplished under the leadership of architects Otto Eggers and Daniel Higgins. Finally, on November 15, 1939, President Roosevelt laid the cornerstone of the Memorial.

Thomas Jefferson Memorial Statue
Thomas Jefferson Memorial Statue

The Thomas Jefferson memorial statue was commissioned from sculptor Rudolph Evans in 1941. He created a towering bronze statue of Jefferson standing 19 feet tall, boosted six feet higher by its black granite pedestal. Jefferson appears to be looking out from the memorial's interior toward the White House. 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 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."

Jefferson Memorial Map
Jefferson Memorial Map

Today, the Jefferson Memorial is maintained by the National Park Service. Many annual celebrations are held there, the most popular of which are 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 downtown in DC, and is easiest to access via the Smithsonian Metro stop. It opens every day at 8:00 am and closes just before midnight. Visiting the memorial is, of course, free.

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