Thomas Jefferson was one of the most prominent Founding Fathers of the United States. He was also one of the principal authors of the famous ‘Declaration of Independence’ – the document in which United States of America declared their independence from Britain and enunciated their principles of equality and liberty.
The Jefferson Memorial is dedicated to Thomas Jefferson and is a beautiful neoclassical structure with a portico, dome, a statue of the Founding Father and famous excerpts from the Declaration.
The site of the Jefferson Memorial occupies an important place near the White House. Early in the 20th century, the U.S. Congress started exploring the idea of creating a memorial on the site. However, the Congress was unsure as to who the memorial should be dedicated to. Initially, a design competition was launched to solicit designs for a memorial for Theodore Roosevelt. However, the plans never materialized.
Later when Franklin D. Roosevelt became the President of the United States, he supported the idea of a memorial for Thomas Jefferson, a figure he deeply admired. Efforts for such a memorial began in 1934 and within the next few years, Congress not only approved the funding for the project but also finalized the architect to spearhead the construction.
John Russell Pope was selected as the architect who would oversee the construction of the Memorial. Pope’s design was adopted but he passed away in 1937 before any actual construction could begin in 1938. His partners took over the design and construction of the project and a number of modifications were made to the original design.
As the construction continued, it was decided that a bronze statue of Jefferson would also be installed inside the memorial. A competition was hosted to choose the sculptor who would create the statue. In the end, Rudolph Evans was selected to sculpt a figure of Jefferson. Construction on the memorial completed in 1943 and it was dedicated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
The Jefferson Memorial is located in the West Potomac Park by the Tidal Basin. It stands by a groove of rare cherry trees gifted by the Japanese people to the United States in 1912. The memorial sits directly south from the White House.
The Washington Monument is also located close to the memorial. The location of the memorial caused a significant controversy at the time of its planning and construction. Many believed that the project would cause damage to the cherry trees. Others, like the Commission of Fine Arts, also opposed the location of the memorial.
The Jefferson Memorial has a neoclassical architecture with many aspects directly inspired from the Roman Pantheon temple. The exterior of the facade features circular marble steps that ascend towards the actual building.
The entrance to the building features Ionic order columns. On the front, the columns rise up to meet a pediment with a sculpture of the Committee of Five, the members who principally drafted the Declaration. Behind the pediment is a shallow dome. Marble is the main material used in the construction of the memorial. Granite is also intermittently used to occasionally contrast the marble.
The original architecture of the building features more modern features but once Pope passed away, modifications were made to the original design to make it appear more conservative and closer to the classic styles.
The interior of the memorial is open to the elements, so it is naturally lighted and ventilated. Notable interior features include the dome ceiling and frieze, the interior ceiling of the portico, important inscriptions from the Declaration and a huge bronze statue of Thomas Jefferson. The overall design of the interior is relatively simple, again reflecting the classic taste of ancient Rome.
The original design and plan for the Jefferson Memorial didn’t include a statue of Thomas Jefferson. It was in 1939 that a decision was made to install a statue inside the memorial. Rudolph Evans was selected as the sculptor for the statue.
When the memorials construction was actually completed in 1943, the statue was still incomplete. At the time, World War II was going on and there was a shortage of the bronze required to build the statue. So a plaster statue was temporarily erected, to be replaced by a bronze statue later.
In 1947, the bronze statue was completed and it replaced the plaster statue. The bronze statue of Jefferson stands 19 feet tall and weighs 4336 kg in bronze. The statue stands on a pedestal and is flanked by important inscriptions from Jefferson’s letters and works on all sides.
One of the most notable features of the Jefferson Memorials interior is iconic inscriptions that reflect Jefferson’s ideals. One of these inscriptions is a popular excerpt from the Declaration document, stating:
“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”.
A quote taken from one of Jefferson’s letters is inscribed upon the frieze right below the dome of the memorial. This quote reads, “I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man”.
“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 these people are to be free. Establish the law for educating the common people. This it is the business of the state to effect and on a general plan.”