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Former President Taft dedicates Lincoln Memorial

Former President Taft dedicates Lincoln Memorial

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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 from 1921 to 1930. He recalled his time on the court as his most rewarding career, later writing in his memoirs, "I don’t remember that I was ever president."

READ MORE: The Lincoln Memorial's Bizarre Rejected Designs

Growing Into Public Service

High atop one of Cincinnati's most prominent hilltops stands the two-story Greek Revival house where William Howard Taft was born and grew up. Hard work, a good education, and an interest in civic duty are attributes that made the Taft family outstanding leaders over the years. The environment that shaped Taft's character and philosophy is highlighted on a visit to the site. Read More

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Find out basic information about what the park has to offer visitors on a visit to the Taft family house and Taft education center.

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Lincoln Memorial Important Individuals

President Lincoln’s only surviving son was a special guest at the May 30, 1922 dedication ceremony for the Lincoln Memorial, receiving an ovation when he reached his seat. Robert Todd Lincoln did not deliver remarks but listened with great interest as other speakers paid tribute to his father. Robert took great interest in the memorial as it emerged within Potomac Park and frequently requested that his driver pass the site so that he could observe the progress he even secured permission once to visit the site in the midst of ongoing construction.

Born in Springfield, Illinois in 1843, Robert was the eldest of the four Lincoln sons. He was graduated from Harvard College, and then served briefly with Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, being present at General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House. Robert went on to have a successful career as a lawyer and businessman, and served as Secretary of War under Presidents James Garfield and Chester Arthur. During Benjamin Harrison’s administration, Robert served as Minister to Great Britain. He died at his home in Vermont in 1926 and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery within sight of his father’s memorial.

Robert Moton

At the Lincoln Memorial dedication ceremony, Dr. Moton delivered the keynote address, promoting equality among the races, even as he spoke to a largely segregated audience. Dr. Robert Moton had succeeded Booker T. Washington, as the second president of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. During his tenure, from 1915 to 1935, he contributed to the growth of the Institute by adding a department for training teachers and led a fight for black doctors and nurses at the Tuskegee Veterans Hospital. In 1921, Moton wrote a letter to President-Elect Warren G. Harding with a list of suggestions for improving race relations. Interestingly, Harding and Moton would share a platform just a year later, as both took part in the Lincoln Memorial dedication on May 30, 1922.

William Howard Taft

President William Howard Taft signed the bill to create a memorial to Abraham Lincoln in February 1911. When the Lincoln Memorial was dedicated on May 30, 1922, now Chief Justice William Howard Taft was there to officiate over the ceremony.

Taft was born in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1857, the son of a distinguished judge. He was graduated from Yale, then returned to Cincinnati to study and practice law before embarking on a diplomatic and political career. As the Twenty-seventh President of the United States, Taft was in a position to appoint member of the Lincoln Memorial Commission as well as the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts both bodies were instrumental in choosing the design and the location of the new memorial.

Having lost his bid for reelection in 1912 to Woodrow Wilson, Taft left the presidency and became a law professor at Yale University. President Warren G. Harding appointed Taft Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States in 1921 this had been Taft’s ultimate career goal.

While speaking at the Lincoln Memorial dedication ceremony, Taft remarked on the memorial’s emphasis of national unity, an important goal of the Lincoln presidency, "Here on the banks of the Potomac, the boundary between the two sections, whose conflict made the burden, passion, and triumph of his life, it is particularly appropriate that it should stand."

Warren G. Harding

The Twenty-ninth President of the United States who accepted the Lincoln Memorial on behalf of the American People. Born near Marion, Ohio, in 1865 during the last year of the Civil War, Harding became the publisher of a newspaper before inaugurating his political career. Known for his speaking ability, Harding did not disappoint the crowd during the memorial dedication ceremony as he praised Lincoln as the essential American leader who “rose to colossal stature in a day of imperiled union.”

Calvin Coolidge

The Vice President of the United States in 1922, Coolidge also attended the May 30 dedication ceremony for the Lincoln Memorial. Born in Plymouth, Vermont, on the 4th of July, 1872, during the presidency of Ulysses S. Grant, Vice President Coolidge had presided over the April 1922 dedication of the Ulysses S. Grant Memorial on the opposite end of the National Mall within the view from the Lincoln Memorial.

Marian Anderson

The well-known opera singer who performed at the Lincoln Memorial for a 1939 Easter Sunday concert, after the Daughters of the American Revolution denied her the opportunity to perform at nearby Constitution Hall because of her race. A crowd of 75,000 people gathered to listen to her, as the Lincoln Memorial shifted from being solely a place to celebrate the reunited nation to one that also represented the struggle to extend freedom to every American citizen.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

The civil rights leader who sought to improve race relations and guarantee for every American those fundamental rights for which Lincoln had fought and that had been denied for far too long. His devotion to equality and human rights brought King to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963 for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom during which he delivered one of the more memorable and moving speeches in American history.

Former President Taft dedicates Lincoln Memorial - HISTORY

West Potomac Park, on Lincoln Memorial Circle. just west of the Reflecting Pool and directly east of Arlington Memorial Bridge and the Potomac River, Washington.

This memorial ranks with the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial as one of the most beloved shrines in the Nation. Outstanding among the many sites and monuments honoring President Lincoln, it symbolizes his belief in the freedom and dignity of all men. The monument is also one of the most impressive examples of classical architecture in the United States.

The first major effort to commemorate Lincoln occurred on March 29, 1867, or 2 years after his death, when Congress incorporated the Lincoln Monument Association for the purpose of erecting an appropriate memorial. Despite some preliminary planning, the association failed to accomplish its objective. In subsequent years, several other organizations considered and abandoned similar projects. Finally, in February 1911, Congress created the Lincoln Memorial Commission, under whose auspices the present memorial was constructed.

Lincoln Memorial. (National Park Service, Boucher, 1976.)

In 1912 the commission chose a site, at the west end of the Mall in West Potomac Park on the axis of the Capitol and the Washington Monument. The next year, Congress approved a design submitted by architect Henry Bacon. Workmen broke ground in 1914 and the following year laid the cornerstone. At the dedication ceremony, on Memorial Day, May 30, 1922, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and former President William Howard Taft, who was also chairman of the Lincoln Memorial Commission, presented the structure to President Warren G. Harding, who accepted it on behalf of the people of the United States.

The memorial, constructed primarily of white Colorado-Yule marble, is of classical design and resembles the Parthenon, in Athens, Greece. The basic structure, rectangular in shape, is surrounded on all four sides by a colonnade of 36 Doric columns, one for each State at the time of Lincoln's death. Their names, separated by double wreaths of pine and laurel boughs, are carved into the frieze above the colonnade. Inscribed on the walls over the frieze are the names of the 48 States at the time of the dedication, linked together by a series of garlands broken at intervals by eagle wings. The date of admission to the Union appears in Roman numerals under the name of each State. An unusual architectural feature of the memorial is the tilting inward of the columns, the outer facade above them, and to a lesser degree the main walls to prevent an illusion, created by the size of the structure, that it is bulging at the top.

Statue in Lincoln Memorial. (National Park Service.)

A long flight of steps rising from a landscaped terrace and circular driveway leads up to the entranceway, which faces eastward toward the Reflecting Pool and Washington Monument. Two tripods, each cut from a single block of pink Tennessee marble, flank the steps and two columns behind the colonnade support the lintels over the entrance. The interior walls of the memorial chamber are constructed of Indiana limestone the floor and wall base, of pink Tennessee marble. The ceiling features bronze girders ornamented with laurel and oak leaves. The panels between the girders are of Alabama marble saturated with paraffin to produce translucency.

Eight Ionic columns, arranged in two rows of four, divide the chamber into three sections. In the center section is the huge seated statue of Lincoln designed by sculptor Daniel C. French. It was carved over a period of 4 years from 28 blocks of Georgia white marble and rests on an oblong pedestal and plat marble. A large stone tablet inscribed with Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address adorns the wall of the north section of the chamber. A similar tablet on the wall of the south section contains the Gettysburg Address. Above each of these tablets is a mural painted by Jules Guerin. The murals, 60 feet long and 12 feet high, allegorically depict some of the principles espoused by Lincoln.

Lincoln Memorial dedicated, May 30, 1922

Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who have died in the nation’s service. On this day in 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson officially declared Waterloo, New York, as the birthplace of Memorial Day.

But it is hard to pinpoint its origins. More than likely, it had many separate beginnings as communities across the country held ceremonies to honor their dead soldiers in the aftermath of the Civil War — a struggle that claimed more lives than any conflict in U.S. history and prompted the establishment of national cemeteries.

In 1868, Gen. John Logan, commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, officially proclaimed Decoration Day. A few weeks later, it was first observed on this day when flowers were placed on the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. In 1873, New York became the first state to officially recognize the holiday. Southern states, however, declined to mark the day until after World War I, when the holiday became one that honors Americans who died fighting in all wars.

Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), a World War II veteran, introduced legislation in 1999 that would have restored May 30, rather than the last Monday in May, as the official day of observance. His proposal reflected the view that by converting the day into a three-day weekend — a practice that began in 1971 under the Uniform Holidays Act — Congress had diminished its original meaning. Inouye’s initiative never advanced out of committee.

On this day in 1922, William Howard Taft, a former president who at the time was chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court and president of the Lincoln Memorial commission, dedicated the structure, which stands on the west end of the National Mall. Taft thereupon presented it to President Warren Harding, who accepted it on behalf of the American people. The ceremony was attended by President Abraham Lincoln’s only surviving child, 78-year-old Robert Todd Lincoln.

The project had gotten underway in 1914 after Congress approved a $300,000 appropriation, about $14.5 million in today’s dollars. Henry Bacon, a New York architect, designed the neoclassical structure, which had taken eight years to complete. Daniel Chester French, a Massachusetts sculptor, designed the 19-foot statue of Lincoln.

Former President Taft dedicates Lincoln Memorial - HISTORY

A view of the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial as seen from the Washington Monument (Credit: Library of Congress)

“Thus a pathetic handful of the fast dwindling survivors of the Civil War, some of whom knew Lincoln, had the satisfaction of witnessing within their lifetime the dedication of a marble symbol of Stanton’s announcement that the Great Emancipator belongs to the ages. Grand Army men, led by Lewis S. Pilcer, Commander-in-Chief, presented the colors and laid symbols of the army and navy at the foot of the structure, Across the aisle sat gray-clad confederate veterans, and from their seats they could look over the Potomac to the Virginia Hills, where Arlington, once the home of Robert E. Lee, nestles among the trees.” [1]

This was how The New York Times described the scene on May 30, 1922, when the Lincoln Memorial was dedicated. It was a grand event and thousands of Washingtonians and others, including Civil War veterans on both sides, converged upon the Mall for the ceremony. With a touch of poetic license, The Baltimore Sun described the size of the excited crowd.

“The swelling tide of humble people who stood for hours under a blazing sun to claim this temple of freedom and the man whose memory it enshrines as their own. Far as the eye could reach from the high base of the memorial, Americans were spread over the lawns and clustering under the trees that grace the setting. How many may have been there to hear the words of the speakers, caught up and flung to far distances by the amplifiers that studded the coping atop the marble structure, no man might estimate.” [2]

The members of the crowd at the dedication ceremony, just beneath the Memorial (Credit: Library of Congress)

Viewers could have arrived at the dedication ceremonies by utilizing the latest new technology, the automobile. Planners of the dedication ceremony now had to consider how several thousand cars could be guided and parked throughout the nearby area to arrive at and leave from the dedication ceremony. Metropolitan police claimed that their efforts had successfully prevented any traffic difficulties and avoided the kind of massive traffic jam that had occurred a few months earlier on the day of the burial of the unknown soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. [3]

The proceedings began with an invocation by Reverend Wallace Radcliffe of the New York Presbyterian Church, followed by a speech by Robert Russa Moton, the day’s only African American speaker. Following Moton, poet Edwin Markham read aloud his poem, “Lincoln, The Man of the People.” Former President William H. Taft then gave a speech presenting the memorial to Harding, who also delivered a speech celebrating the monumental achievement. The ceremony then ended with a benediction by Reverend Radcliffe, who concluded the dedication by consecrating the new memorial.

Audience members heard the speeches from a distance with the help of microphones and loudspeakers that carried the words of the day’s chosen speakers. The U.S. Navy also broadcast the ceremony across two of its local radio networks. [4]

The day prior to the dedication, The Washington Post crowed that two million people would be able to hear the dedicatory ceremony with these new technologies, saying “Amplifying devices, cleverly concealed so that they did not detract from the beauty of the memorial, carried the speakers’ voices several hundred yards, and by the same means the speeches were sent broadcast by radiophone.” [5]

William Howard Taft presenting the new Lincoln Memorial to President Harding, who accepted it on behalf of the country.
(Credit: Library of Congress) The members of the Lincoln Memorial Commission, with Chairman Taft seated at center. (Credit: Library of Congress) Robert Lincoln is guided up the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, May 30, 1922. (Credit: Library of Congress)

However, perhaps the most important guest of all was 79-year-old, Robert Todd Lincoln, the only surviving son of the sixteenth president. Making what turned out to be his last public appearance, the younger Lincoln’s pale and aged visage reminded members of the audience of his father, martyred in the final days of the Civil War at nearby Ford’s Theatre.

An aged Robert Todd Lincoln at the dedication of the memorial to his father (Credit: Library of Congress)

During the Civil War, Robert had served in the US Army under Ulysses S. Grant and then gone on to a successful career in law and business. He had also served as Secretary of War under Presidents James Garfield and Chester Arthur before becoming the Minister to Great Britain under President Benjamin Harrison. He would die in 1926 and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. [11]

The throngs in attendance for the dedication would have noticed another aspect of the event, though in Washington of the 1920s it was so ordinary that most probably would not have remarked upon it: There was strictly segregated seating at the ceremony. African American attendees were forcibly directed to a colored section of the stands by a marine who was noted for his roughness. When the marine was later questioned regarding his behavior, he reportedly replied, “That’s the only way you can handle these damned ‘niggers.’” [12]

The African American speaker at the event also confronted marginalization during and after the ceremony, although he was allowed to give a speech that contrasted with those of Taft and Harding. Robert Russa Moton was a race leader chosen by the Commission to give the first speech at the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial. Moton had been carefully chosen, as he was an “accommodationist” who had advised Wilson and Harding on the subject of race relations. Moton had succeeded Booker T. Washington as the principal of Tuskegee Institute in 1915, and he agreed with Washington that economic uplift rather than racial equality should be the focus of African American efforts. [13]

While the white organizers of the dedication had carefully selected Moton, the speech that he initially submitted to the Lincoln Memorial Commission was deemed too radical. Moton had hoped to position Lincoln as part of the larger narrative of African American struggle against discrimination, and to raise a call for racial justice in the United States. Instead, the Commission forced him to give a more mild speech, yet one where he still questioned the extent of American racial progress since 1865.

Robert Russa Moton speaking at the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial (Credit: Library of Congress)

Mainstream white newspapers would largely dismiss Moton’s speech, reporting on it only sparsely and often inaccurately. The Washington Post did not speak of Moton by name when they wrote of “A representative of the race for which the Great Emancipator did so much likewise lifted his voice in gratitude for the freedom of so many in American from serfdom.” Another article from the Post reported the speech as if it had been a triumphant and unqualified assertion of American racial progress under the headline, “Freedom to Negro Justified, He Says.” [14]

Airplanes were permitted to fly over the memorial before and after the dedication in order to take birds-eye-view photographs, but a no-fly zone was imposed during the proceedings. One commercial pilot, however, mistook the timing of the ceremony, and flew over the memorial as the President was speaking, causing horrible noise and briefly drowning out Harding’s speech. [15]

The guffaw helped spur new airspace restrictions over the District. [16]

Despite the technical difficulties, the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial was an event that confirmed the monument’s place as a beloved part of the new National Mall and affirmed the place of the sixteenth president in the memory of the nation. In a myriad of ways, the scene outside the new marble structure reminded Americans of both how far they had come since the Civil War and how far society still had to go.

90th Anniversary of the Dedication of the Lincoln Memorial

Memorial Day, May 30, 2012 will mark the 90th anniversary of the dedication of the Abraham Lincoln Memorial. The construction and dedication of this memorial not only stood as a symbol of one our great presidents, but also as a temple to our reunification as a people. The memorial was meant to resemble the Parthenon in Athens and was adorned with ancient symbols of unity and strength. The dedication in 1922 included a number of notable figures: the President of Tuskegee Institute, Dr. Robert Moton Chief Justice and former President William Howard Taft President Warren G. Harding and Abraham Lincoln's son, Robert Todd Lincoln, who was also a former secretary of war and ambassador to Great Britain. The audience also included Civil War veterans from both North and South. Not only were there over 50,000 people in attendance, this ceremony was broadcast across the nation through the new medium of radio.

Lincoln Memorial Dedication, May 30, 1922 (Library of Congress photo)

The dedication ceremony began with an invocation by Reverend Wallace Radcliffe from the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church that Abraham Lincoln attended. This speech was followed by the main address, delivered by Dr. Robert Moton. The content of his speech touched on the origins of the discrimination African Americans were experiencing that very day, seated as they were in a separate section. His speech related the contradictory legacy of liberty and bondage by comparing the two ships bound for America: the Mayflower, headed for a land of religious freedom, and a slave ship from Africa, carrying its human cargo. Ever since then, Moton observed, the two principles had been contending for the soul of America. Following Moton's speech, Poet Edwin Markham read his poem "Lincoln, The Man of The People." Chief Justice William Howard Taft then presented the memorial to President Warren G. Harding.

William Howard Taft, Warren G. Harding, and Robert Todd Lincoln (left to right) at the Lincoln Memorial dedication. (Library of Congress photo)

Harding was part of a new breed of Republicans, and also the last of our presidents to be born before the end of the Civil War. An eloquent speaker, President Harding's acceptance speech summarized the memorial's importance by saying, "this Memorial is less for Abraham Lincoln than those of us today, and for those who follow after." The dedication ceremony then concluded with Reverend Radcliff consecrating the memorial with his closing benediction.

Despite the construction of the Lincoln Memorial, the nation would have a long way to go toward the completion of those ideals for which Abraham Lincoln stood. It would take other great Americans, such as Marian Anderson and Martin Luther King, Jr., to break those barriers of segregation faced by Dr. Robert Moton and those seated in the audience that day. Those historic figures would further add to the memorial's meaning by taking Abraham Lincoln's vision of equality to its full measure.

Lincoln Memorial

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Lincoln Memorial, stately monument in Washington, D.C., honouring Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, and “the virtues of tolerance, honesty, and constancy in the human spirit.” Designed by Henry Bacon on a plan similar to that of the Parthenon in Athens, the structure was constructed on reclaimed marshland along the banks of the Potomac River. The site selection caused controversy the speaker of the House of Representatives, Joseph Cannon, favoured a more prominent spot across the Potomac, maintaining: “I’ll never let a memorial to Abraham Lincoln be erected in that g– damned swamp.” The cornerstone was set in 1915, and the completed memorial was dedicated before more than 50,000 people on May 30, 1922. Lincoln’s only surviving son, Robert Todd Lincoln, attended the ceremony. President Warren G. Harding and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court William Howard Taft, a former president, delivered addresses. Ironically, despite Lincoln’s renown as the “Great Emancipator,” the dedication ceremonies were strictly segregated even Robert Moton, president of Tuskegee Institute, who spoke in the ceremony, was not allowed to sit on the speaker’s platform and instead was required to sit in an area reserved for African Americans.

The Lincoln Memorial includes 36 columns of Colorado marble, one for each state in the Union at the time of Lincoln’s death in 1865 each column stands 44 feet (13.4 metres) high. The names of the 48 contiguous states are listed above the colonnade, and the dates of their admission to the Union are engraved in Roman numerals. Because Hawaii and Alaska attained statehood several decades after the Lincoln Memorial was finished, their names are inscribed on a plaque located on the front steps.

The interior features a 19-foot (5.8-metre) seated statue of Lincoln made of Georgia white marble. It was assembled on the premises from 28 pieces and rests on a pedestal of Tennessee marble. The statue was designed by Daniel Chester French and carved by the Piccirilli brothers of New York. Inscribed on the south wall of the monument is Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, on the north wall his Second Inaugural Address. On the ceiling are two paintings by Jules Guerin, Reunion and Progress and Emancipation of a Race. On a direct east-west axis with the Washington Monument and the United States Capitol, the Lincoln Memorial serves as the terminus to the western end of the Mall. It is situated on the Reflecting Pool near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Korean War Veterans Memorial.

The Lincoln Memorial was an important symbol of the American civil rights movement. Marian Anderson, the famed African American contralto, with the support of first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, was granted permission by the Department of the Interior to perform at the Lincoln Memorial in 1939 after being denied the right to sing at Constitution Hall by the Daughters of the American Revolution. In 1963, on the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in front of more than 200,000 people.


The first public memorial to United States President Abraham Lincoln in Washington, D.C., was a statue by Lot Flannery erected in front of the District of Columbia City Hall in 1868, three years after Lincoln's assassination. [5] [6] Demands for a fitting national memorial had been voiced since the time of Lincoln's death. In 1867, Congress passed the first of many bills incorporating a commission to erect a monument for the sixteenth president. An American sculptor, Clark Mills, was chosen to design the monument. His plans reflected the nationalistic spirit of the time, and called for a 70-foot (21 m) structure adorned with six equestrian and 31 pedestrian statues of colossal proportions, crowned by a 12-foot (3.7 m) statue of Abraham Lincoln. Subscriptions for the project were insufficient. [7]

The matter lay dormant until the start of the 20th century, when, under the leadership of Senator Shelby M. Cullom of Illinois, six separate bills were introduced in Congress for the incorporation of a new memorial commission. The first five bills, proposed in the years 1901, 1902, and 1908, met with defeat because of opposition from Speaker Joe Cannon. The sixth bill (Senate Bill 9449), introduced on December 13, 1910, passed. The Lincoln Memorial Commission had its first meeting the following year and United States President William H. Taft was chosen as the commission's president. Progress continued at a steady pace and by 1913 Congress had approved of the commission's choice of design and location. [7]

There were questions regarding the commission's plan. Many thought that architect Henry Bacon's Greek temple design was far too ostentatious for a man of Lincoln's humble character. Instead, they proposed a simple log cabin shrine. The site too did not go unopposed. The recently reclaimed land in West Potomac Park was seen by many to be either too swampy or too inaccessible. Other sites, such as Union Station, were put forth. The Commission stood firm in its recommendation, feeling that the Potomac Park location, situated on the Washington Monument–Capitol axis, overlooking the Potomac River and surrounded by open land, was ideal. Furthermore, the Potomac Park site had already been designated in the McMillan Plan of 1901 to be the location of a future monument comparable to that of the Washington Monument. [7] [8]

With Congressional approval and a $300,000 allocation, the project got underway. On February 12, 1914, a dedication ceremony was conducted and the following month the actual construction began. Work progressed steadily according to schedule. Some changes were made to the plan. The statue of Lincoln, originally designed to be 10 feet (3.0 m) tall, was enlarged to 19 feet (5.8 m) to prevent it from being overwhelmed by the huge chamber. As late as 1920, the decision was made to substitute an open portal for the bronze and glass grille which was to have guarded the entrance. Despite these changes, the Memorial was finished on schedule. Commission president William H. Taft – who was then Chief Justice of the United States – dedicated the Memorial on May 30, 1922, and presented it to United States President Warren G. Harding, who accepted it on behalf of the American people. Lincoln's only surviving son, 78-year-old Robert Todd Lincoln, was in attendance. [9] Prominent African Americans were invited to the event and discovered upon arrival they were assigned a segregated section guarded by U. S. Marines. [10]

The Memorial was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 15, 1966. [11]

The exterior of the Memorial echoes a classic Greek temple and features Yule marble quarried from Colorado. The structure measures 189.7 by 118.5 feet (57.8 by 36.1 m) and is 99 feet (30 m) tall. It is surrounded by a peristyle of 36 fluted Doric columns, one for each of the 36 states in the Union at the time of Lincoln's death, and two columns in-antis at the entrance behind the colonnade. The columns stand 44 feet (13 m) tall with a base diameter of 7.5 feet (2.3 m). Each column is built from 12 drums including the capital. The columns, like the exterior walls and facades, are inclined slightly toward the building's interior. This is to compensate for perspective distortions which would otherwise make the memorial appear to bulge out at the top when compared with the bottom, a common feature of Ancient Greek architecture. [12]

Above the colonnade, inscribed on the frieze, are the names of the 36 states in the Union at the time of Lincoln's death and the dates in which they entered the Union. [Note 1] Their names are separated by double wreath medallions in bas-relief. The cornice is composed of a carved scroll regularly interspersed with projecting lions' heads and ornamented with palmetto cresting along the upper edge. Above this on the attic frieze are inscribed the names of the 48 states present at the time of the Memorial's dedication. A bit higher is a garland joined by ribbons and palm leaves, supported by the wings of eagles. All ornamentation on the friezes and cornices was done by Ernest C. Bairstow. [12]

The Memorial is anchored in a concrete foundation, 44 to 66 feet (13 to 20 m) in depth, constructed by M. F. Comer and Company and the National Foundation and Engineering Company, and is encompassed by a 187-by-257-foot (57 by 78 m) rectangular granite retaining wall measuring 14 feet (4.3 m) in height. [12]

Leading up to the shrine on the east side are the main steps. Beginning at the edge of the Reflecting Pool, the steps rise to the Lincoln Memorial Circle roadway surrounding the edifice, then to the main portal, intermittently spaced with a series of platforms. Flanking the steps as they approach the entrance are two buttresses each crowned with an 11-foot (3.4 m) tall tripod carved from pink Tennessee marble [12] by the Piccirilli Brothers. [13]

The Memorial's interior is divided into three chambers by two rows of four Ionic columns, each 50 feet (15 m) tall and 5.5 feet (1.7 m) across at their base. The central chamber, housing the statue of Lincoln, is 60 feet wide, 74 feet deep, and 60 feet high. [14] The north and south chambers display carved inscriptions of Lincoln's second inaugural address and his Gettysburg Address. [Note 2] Bordering these inscriptions are pilasters ornamented with fasces, eagles, and wreaths. The inscriptions and adjoining ornamentation are by Evelyn Beatrice Longman. [12]

The Memorial is replete with symbolic elements. The 36 columns represent the states of the Union at the time of Lincoln's death the 48 stone festoons above the columns represent the 48 states in 1922. Inside, each inscription is surmounted by a 60-by-12-foot (18.3 by 3.7 m) mural by Jules Guerin portraying principles seen as evident in Lincoln's life: Freedom, Liberty, Morality, Justice, and the Law on the south wall Unity, Fraternity, and Charity on the north. Cypress trees, representing Eternity, are in the murals' backgrounds. The murals' paint incorporated kerosene and wax to protect the exposed artwork from fluctuations in temperature and moisture. [15]

The ceiling consists of bronze girders ornamented with laurel and oak leaves. Between these are panels of Alabama marble, saturated with paraffin to increase translucency. But feeling that the statue required even more light, Bacon and French designed metal slats for the ceiling to conceal floodlights, which could be modulated to supplement the natural light this modification was installed in 1929. The one major alteration since was the addition of an elevator for the disabled in the 1970s. [15]

Undercroft Edit

Below the memorial is an undercroft. Due to water seeping through the calcium carbonate within the marble, over time stalactites and stalagmites have formed within the undercroft. [16] During the 1970s and 1980s, there were regular tours of the undercroft. [17] The tours stopped abruptly in 1989 after a visitor noticed asbestos and notified the National Park Service. [18] For the memorial's centennial in 2022, the undercroft is planned to be open to visitors following a rehabilitation project funded by David Rubenstein. [19] [20]


Lying between the north and south chambers of the open-air Memorial is the central hall, which contains the large solitary figure of Abraham Lincoln sitting in contemplation. Its sculptor, Daniel Chester French, supervised the Piccirilli Brothers in its construction, and it took four years to complete.

The 175-short-ton (159 t) statue, carved from Georgia white marble, was shipped in 28 pieces. [15] Originally intended to be only 10 feet (3.0 m) tall, the sculpture was enlarged to 19 feet (5.8 m) from head to foot considering it would look small within the extensive interior space. [21] If Lincoln were depicted standing, he would be 28 feet (8.5 m) tall.

The widest span of the statue corresponds to its height, and it rests upon an oblong pedestal of Tennessee marble 10 feet (3.0 m) high, 16 feet (4.9 m) wide, and 17 feet (5.2 m) deep. Directly beneath this lies a platform of Tennessee marble about 34.5 feet (10.5 m) long, 28 feet (8.5 m) wide, and 6.5 inches (0.17 m) high. Lincoln's arms rest on representations of Roman fasces, a subtle touch that associates the statue with the Augustan (and imperial) theme (obelisk and funerary monuments) of the Washington Mall. [22] The statue is discretely bordered by two pilasters, one on each side. Between these pilasters, and above Lincoln's head, is engraved an epitaph of Lincoln [15] by Royal Cortissoz. [23]

Sculptural features Edit

An urban legend holds that the face of General Robert E. Lee is carved onto the back of Lincoln's head, [24] and looks back across the Potomac toward his former home, Arlington House (now within the bounds of Arlington National Cemetery). Another popular legend is that Lincoln's hands are shown using sign language to represent his initials, his left hand signing an A and his right signing an L. The National Park Service denies both legends. [24]

However, historian Gerald Prokopowicz writes that, while it is not clear that sculptor Daniel Chester French intended Lincoln's hands to be formed into sign language versions of his initials, it is possible that French did intend it, because he was familiar with American Sign Language, and he would have had a reason to do so, that is, to pay tribute to Lincoln for having signed the federal legislation giving Gallaudet University, a university for the deaf, the authority to grant college degrees. [25] The National Geographic Society's publication "Pinpointing the Past in Washington, D.C." states that Daniel Chester French had a son who was deaf and that the sculptor was familiar with sign language. [26] [27] Historian James A. Percoco has observed that, although there are no extant documents showing that French had Lincoln's hands carved to represent the letters "A" and "L" in American Sign Language, "I think you can conclude that it's reasonable to have that kind of summation about the hands." [28]

The Memorial has become a symbolically sacred venue, especially for the Civil Rights Movement. In 1939, the Daughters of the American Revolution refused to allow the African-American contralto Marian Anderson to perform before an integrated audience at the organization's Constitution Hall. At the suggestion of Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harold L. Ickes, the Secretary of the Interior, arranged for a performance on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday of that year, to a live audience of 75,000 and a nationwide radio audience. [29]

On August 28, 1963, the memorial grounds were the site of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which proved to be a high point of the American Civil Rights Movement. It is estimated that approximately 250,000 people came to the event, where they heard Martin Luther King Jr., deliver his historic "I Have a Dream" speech before the memorial honoring the president who had issued the Emancipation Proclamation 100 years earlier. King's speech, with its language of patriotism and its evocation of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, was meant to match the symbolism of the Lincoln Memorial as a monument to national unity. [30] Labor leader Walter Reuther, an organizer of the march, persuaded the other organizers to move the march to the Lincoln Memorial from the Capitol Building. Reuther believed the location would be less threatening to Congress and that the occasion would be especially appropriate underneath the gaze of Abraham Lincoln's statute. [31] The D.C. police also appreciated the location because it was surrounded on three sides by water, so that any incident could be easily contained. [32]

Twenty years later, on August 28, 1983, crowds gathered again to mark the 20th Anniversary Mobilization for Jobs, Peace and Freedom, to reflect on progress in gaining civil rights for African Americans and to commit to correcting continuing injustices. King's speech is such a part of the Lincoln Memorial story, that the spot on which King stood, on the landing eighteen steps below Lincoln's statue, was engraved in 2003 in recognition of the 40th anniversary of the event. [33]

Vandalism Edit

In September 1962, amid the civil rights movement, vandals painted the words "nigger lover" in foot-high pink letters on the rear wall. [35]

On July 26, 2013, the statue's base and legs were splashed with green paint. [36] A 58-year-old Chinese national was arrested and admitted to a psychiatric facility she was later found to be incompetent to stand trial. [37]

On February 27, 2017, graffiti written in permanent marker was found at the memorial, the Washington Monument, the District of Columbia War Memorial, and the National World War II Memorial, saying "Jackie shot JFK", "blood test is a lie", as well as other claims. Street signs and utility boxes were also defaced. Authorities believed that a single person was responsible for all the vandalism. [38]

On August 15, 2017, Reuters reported that "Fuck law" was spray painted in red on one of the columns. The initials "M+E" were etched on the same pillar. A "mild, gel-type architectural paint stripper" was used to remove the paint without damaging the memorial. However, the etching was deemed "permanent damage." A Smithsonian Institution directional sign several blocks away was also defaced. [39] [40]

On September 18, 2017, Nurtilek Bakirov from Kyrgyzstan was arrested when a police officer saw him vandalizing the Memorial at around 1:00 PM EDT. Bakirov used a penny to carve the letters "HYPT MAEK" in what appeared to be Cyrillic letters into the fifth pillar on the north side. As of September 20, 2017 [update] , police do not know what the words mean, although there is a possibility that they contain a reference to the vandal's name. Court documents indicate that the letters cannot be completely removed, but could be polished at the cost of approximately $2,000. A conservator for the National Park Service said that the stone would weather over time, helping to obscure the letters, although she characterized it as "permanent damage". [41]

On May 30, 2020, during protests in the wake of George Floyd's death, vandals spray-painted "Yall not tired yet?" beside the steps leading to the memorial. The National World War II Memorial was also vandalized that night. [42] [43]


  • This commemorates the Presidency of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States serving between 1861 and 1865.
  • Designed to resemble a Greek temple, its 36 Doric columns represent the 36 states of the Union when Lincoln was assassinated in April 1865.
  • Lincoln's famous Gettysburg Address is etched on the south interior wall, whilst his second inaugural speech is sketched on the north wall.
  • Officially dedicated on May 30, 1922, with President Warren Harding and former President William Howard Taft in attendance.
  • The memorial is featured prominently on the reverse side of penny, which is the official one cent piece of the United States.
  • Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1966.
  • Carved into the exterior walls are the 48 states of the Union upon its completion in 1922. Alaska and Hawaii are represented with a plaque in the approach plaza.
  • The sculpture of Lincoln housed in the memorial was crafted by Daniel Chester French, and is 19 feet tall and sculpted out of white Georgia marble.
  • On August 28, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous "I Have a Dream Speech" on the front steps of the memorial.
  • This forms the western focal point and is on a direct axis with both the Washington Monument in the center and the United States Capitol on the eastern end of the National Mall.

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Robert A. Taft Memorial

The Robert A. Taft Memorial and Carillon is a carillon dedicated as a memorial to U.S. Senator Robert Alphonso Taft, son of President William Howard Taft.

The memorial is located north of the Capitol, on Constitution Avenue between New Jersey Avenue and First Street, N.W. Designed by architect Douglas W. Orr, the memorial consists of a Tennessee marble tower and a 10-foot (3.0 m) bronze statue of Senator Taft sculpted by Wheeler Williams. The shaft of the tower measures 100 feet (30 m) high, 11 feet (3.4 m) deep, and 32 feet (9.8 m) wide. Above the statue is inscribed, "This Memorial to Robert A. Taft, presented by the people to the Congress of the United States, stands as a tribute to the honesty, indomitable courage, and high principles of free government symbolized by his life." The base of the memorial measures 55 by 45 feet (14 m) and stands approximately 15 feet (4.6 m) high. Jets of water flow into a basin that rings the base.

The twenty-seven bells in the upper part of the tower were cast in the Paccard Foundry in Annecy-le-Vieux, France. The largest, or bourdon bell, weighs 7 tons (6350 kg). At the dedication ceremony on April 14, 1959, former President Herbert Hoover stated, "When these great bells ring out, it will be a summons to integrity and courage." The large central bell strikes on the hour, while the smaller fixed bells chime on the quarter-hour. By resolution of Congress, they play "The Star-Spangled Banner" at 2 p.m. on the Fourth of July. [1]

Construction of the memorial was authorized by S.Con.Res. 44, [2] which was passed by the Senate and the House of Representatives in July 1955. It was funded by popular subscription from every state in the nation. More than a million dollars were collected.

"This memorial to Robert A. Taft, presented by the people to the Congress of the United States, stands as a tribute to the honesty, indomitable courage, and high principles of free government symbolized by his life."

"If we wish to make democracy permanent in this country, let us abide by the fundamental principles laid down in the Constitution. Let us see that the state is the servant of its people, and that the people are not the servants of the state."