DC Explorer: Thomas Jefferson Memorial

Earlier this week, we visited The Washington Monument and The Lincoln Memorial as American Nomad explores Washington D.C.’s National Mall…today we’re taking time to reflect on American Independence and Democracy at the Thomas Jefferson Memorial.

Born in 1743 in Virginia, Jefferson’s keen intellect and diverse skill set from lawyer to farmer to architect to musician to politican and beyond formed his path as one of America’s founding leaders. Jefferson was sworn in as America’s third president in 1801, is ingrained in the DNA of the American democratic ideals for freedom today.

His authorship of The Declaration of Independence in 1776 against Great Britain, spelled out the cause for American Independence – and the rallying cry of democracy and pursuit of freedom around the world.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.” – Thomas Jefferson, portion of The Declaration of Independence.

After The Revolutionary War, Jefferson served as a farmer, architect and statesman. He served as the Governor of Virginia, Secretary of State under President Washington and Vice President under John Adams before taking office in 1801 as President.

The keystone of Jefferson’s presidency was his role in The Louisiana Purchase and commissioning The Lewis and Clark Expedition.

  • The Louisiana Purchase: In 1803, Jefferson negotiated arguably the best land deal in history, when the US purchased The Louisiana Territory from France for only $15 million dollars. The purchase doubled the size of the United States from the Mississippi River west to the Rocky Mountains.
    • Napoleon was mounting his conquests in Europe and needed quick cash for his campaigns. Jefferson took advantage of the situation – adding 828,000 square miles to the United States. This equates to increased territory that would eventually make up fifteen states
  • Jefferson enlisted his friend and fellow Virginian Meriwether Lewis as well as William Clark to survey the new land from the Mississippi, west on The Missouri River. The goal was to find the mythical ‘Northwest Passage’ – but instead they discovered purple mountains majesty, great plains, unique Native American cultures, an abundance of wildlife (including the praire dog – which was sent back to DC). Having lived in Lewis and Clark Country in Montana I’m a history nut for all this L & C and Jefferson’s role in the Corps of Discovery mission. Learn more here.

Creating a monument:

  • The Jefferson Memorial was first proposed in 1925. Architects were asked to submit their designs in a national competition. John Russell Pope, who also designed The National Gallery and National Archives Building in Washington won the competion, but…
    • Unfortunately a lack of funding and other issues stalled the project from getting off the ground until…
    • In 1934, Jefferson admirer, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, convinced Congress to fund the memorial ($3 million dollars)
    • John Russell Pope was re-recruited to the post as architect.
  • Pope’s neoclassical design plays tribute to Jefferson’s own architectural creations – The University of Virginia Rotunda and Jefferson’s home of Monticello (Charlottesville, VA); the style is also similar to the Roman Pantheon
  • The memorial building is a circular, open-air structure featuring a shallow dome supported by a circular colonnade of twenty-six Ionic columns. An additional twelve columns support the north portico, and four columns stand in each of the memorials four openings.
  • The exterior of the memorial is constructed of white Imperial Danby marble from Vermont and rests on a series of granite and marble-stepped terraces, flanked by granite buttresses, leading up from the Tidal Basin.
  • On the portico, there is a sculpture by Adolph A. Weinman, depicting the five members of the drafting committe of the Declaration of Independence submitting their report to Congress.
  • The interior is simple and solemn – a place to reflect and ponder…What is the cost of freedom? How are we called to serve as citizens?
  • The interior features a 19 ft. tall bronze statue of Jefferson designed by Rudolph Evans. Jefferson stands centered in the chamber on a black Minnesota granite pedestal, which is inscribed with the dates of Jefferson’s birth and death (1743-1826). The statue depicts Jefferson in mid-life, holding the Declaration of Independence in his left hand.
  • Four quotations from Jefferson’s writings are carved into the walls of the memorial chamber. An excerpt from the Declaration of Independence, the document for which Jefferson is best known, is located on the southwest wall. The southeast wall features a statement on the evolution of law and the constitution, which was taken from a letter written to Samuel Kercheval in 1816. reference from NPS

The Jefferson Memorial overlooks The Tidal Basin, which is one of the most serene spots in Washington.

  • The Tidal Basin was first built in the 1800s. It is part of the West Potomac Park, which is an extension of The National Mall. The park includes: The Jefferson Memorial, Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, the FDR Memorial, the George Mason Memorial, the John Paul Jones Memorial, the Floral Library and the site of the first Cherry Tree Planting.
  • The Tidal Basin is surrounded by Japanese Cherry Trees (given by Japan as a gift in 1912) and is the location most associated with Washington’s Cherry Blossom Festival each spring.
  • The Tidal Basin is 107 acres in size and 10 feet deep.
  • It was built to harness the power of the tides of the nearby Potomac River to flush silt and sediment from the Washington Channel.
  • Twice a day at high tide, 250 million US gallons of water from the Potomac River enter the Tidal Basin through the inlet gates. As the tide turns, water trying to flow out of the inlet gates causes the gates to close, and the outlet gates on the Washington Channel side of the Basin open. The rush of water out of the Tidal Basin sweeps away any silt or sediment build up inside the Washington Channel, keeping it navigable

To plan your visit check out the park guide and calendar of events on the NPS website. They often hosts lectures, ranger walks and more – a perfect way to reflect and learn at The Jefferson Memorial.

Next time we’ll tour a few more monuments and memorials before excavating history and more at The Smithsonian Institute.

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Purpose of American Nomad: To share my love of travel, history and museums with others.

About: American Nomad is written by Adele Lassiter, a travel enthusiast with a background in history, art and technology sales. In addition to running American Nomad, Adele is an artist and published author of cozy romances. Check out her cozy romance novel, Solitude Lake on Amazon (Adele Darcy)

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