The Lincoln Memorial
Written by Sarah Worthy
Second only to the White House as the most recognized historical site in Washington D.C, the Lincoln Memorial is an inspiring monument that celebrates our ability as Americans to overcome obstacles towards democracy and freedom. The memorial was built to honor our 16th President, Abraham Lincoln, and a country that withstood a civil war and created a free, democratic society for all people regardless of skin color. This amazing memorial was the work of 3 men and took nine years to complete.
Most visitors to the memorial will immediately recognize the kind and gentle face of Abraham Lincoln gazing down from his throne, but the history of the memorial both in its conception and in its relevance to more modern historical events are unfamiliar to most. The plan for the memorial was first conceptualized in 1867, shortly after Abraham Lincoln’s death, to celebrate a great president that united the North and the South after a bitter civil war and brought more attention to freedom and the rights that all Americans deserved, not just white Americans, thus ending slavery.
Congress approved funding for the memorial in 1910 and construction began in 1914. The Lincoln Memorial’s architecture was inspired by the Greek Temple architecture to honor the first democratic society of ancient Greece. The memorial itself was designed by Henry Bacon and included 36 columns each inscribed with the name of one of the 36 states that made up the United States of America at the time. Inside the Temple there are two small chambers to the north and south of the central hallway which houses Lincoln’s statue.
The South Chamber contains a carved inscription of Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address and is illustrated by artist Jules Guerin with a mural that depicts an angel flanked on either side by slaves who were freed by the emancipation. Jules Guerin illustrated the North Chamber, which contains Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address, with the same angel shown uniting the north and the south at the end of the Civil War. These speeches exemplified Lincoln’s beliefs that all men were created equal and deserved respect, compassion and freedom. They were probably the two most influential speeches in his presidency, which reunited our country and brought freedom to Black Americans.
The statue of Abraham Lincoln was created by sculptor Daniel Chester French and took more than 4 years to complete. The original plans had it standing at 10 feet tall, but this was changed to 19 feet tall in order that the massive temple did not overpower the statue. French worked very hard to incorporate Lincoln’s personality into the statue including using his hands. Lincoln’s statue has one hand clenched into a fist to show the strength and determination he needed during his Presidency and one hand open and relaxed, representing the compassion and respect Lincoln showed to all people.
The powerful symbolism that is exuded from this monument is what prompted Martin Luther King Jr. To give his famous “I have a dream” speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial. It is also why a number of protests and public gatherings are held at the base of its stairs. You cannot help but feel overwhelmed with pride and emotion at what Abraham Lincoln was able to accomplish, and what we as Americans have accomplished because of him as you stand at the feet of this great man’s memorial.