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Construction of the Memorial
The first public memorial to 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. Demands for a fitting national memorial had been voiced since the time of Lincoln's death. In 1867, the 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.
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 formerU.S. 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.
The Lincoln Memorial construction took place between 1914 and 1922. Work crews had completed most of the memorial architectural elements by April 1917 when the United States entered into the First World War, but work slowed as a result. Steady progress nonetheless was maintained on the interior decorations, granite terrace, approach plaza, and grounds landscaping.
From the chamber of the memorial, one can appreciate the different stones used in its construction. The terrace walls and lower steps comprise granite blocks from Massachusetts - the upper steps, outside façade, and columns contain marble blocks from Colorado - the interior walls and columns are Indiana limestone - the floor is pink Tennessee marble - the ceiling tiles are Alabama marble – and the Lincoln statue comprises 28 pieces of Georgia marble. These building materials may seem random, but Henry Bacon specifically chose each one to tell a very specific story. A country torn apart by war can come together, not only to build something beautiful, but also explain the reunification of the states.
With the completion of the Lincoln Memorial in 1922, the east/west vista of the National Mall nearly was complete. The Reflecting Pool would be finished shortly thereafter and the visual connection between the Father of the Country and the Savior of the Country would be fulfilled.
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.
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.”
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.
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.