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Monday, December 19, 2016

Thomas Jefferson and the Jefferson Memorial

From The Founders, Religion and Government:




Today we end our tour of Washington D.C. at the Jefferson Memorial. It is newer than the other memorials we have seen. Construction began in 1939. The building was completed in 1943 with the bronze statue added in 1947. It sits on the Tidal Basin off of the mall in a line with the White House and the Washington Monument.

The building is neoclassical in design with Ionic columns, a portico, egg and dart molding, and a dome. The last is certainly fitting as Thomas Jefferson himself used domes in the buildings he designed. The walls and circular steps are of white marble from Vermont. Like the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson is open air. Over the main entrance is a portico featuring bas relief sculptures of the members of the Committee of Five which wrote the Declaration of Independence.

The most stunning feature of the interior is the statue of Jefferson himself. It is a freestanding bronze towering 19 feet tall and weighing five tons. As Jefferson stares off into the distance some say he is keeping an eye on the White House. This would be a fitting thing for the man who was concerned with limiting the power of government. However, he is actually facing the Treasury Building and looking at the statue of Alexander Hamilton his greatest political rival. Somehow this also seems fitting.

Like the Lincoln Memorial, the walls of the Jefferson are covered with quotes. Beneath the dome encircling the walls is a quote from a letter Jefferson wrote to Dr. Benjamin Rush:

"...I have sworn upon the altar of god eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."

Panel one is a quotation from the Declaration of Independence of which Jefferson was the primary author:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, that to secure these rights governments are instituted among men. We...solemnly publish and declare, that these colonies are and of right ought to be free and independent states...And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence, we mutually pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor."

Panel two is quote from Jefferson's "A Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom.” As it appears on the wall:

"Almighty God hath created the mind free. All attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens...are a departure from the plan of the Holy Author of our religion...No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship or ministry or shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but all men shall be free to profess and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion. I know but one code of morality for men whether acting singly or collectively."

Panel three is a combination of quotes from his “A Summary View of the Rights of British America,” Notes on the State of Virginia, Query XVIII, his autobiography, a letter to George Wythe, and a letter to George Washington:

"God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever. Commerce between master and slave is despotism. Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than that these people are to be free. Establish a law for educating the common people. This it is the business of the state and on a general plan."

Panel four is on the Constitution and was taken from a letter to Samuel Kercheval:

"I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors."

There was some controversy at the time of construction as critics pointed out that quotes were included which seemed to support the policies of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, president at the time of planning and construction. In fact, Jefferson would not have supported the New Deal or any expansion of the federal government. It would seem controversy is nothing new. Eighty years ago it was using the words of a Founder to support going beyond the Constitution. Today Jefferson's words in support of religious freedom are twisted to support limiting the liberties of the religious.

"I am for freedom of religion, & against all maneuvres to bring about a legal ascendancy of one sect over another."
~ Letter to Elbridge Gerry (1799)



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