The Lincoln Memorial is probably one of the United States most recognized memorials. Seen in movies and television shows, it looms in the distance and gives an awe-inspiring sense of patriotism. Everyone knows the famous speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr – “I have a dream” took place on the steps before this memorial. Located on the National Mall, this memorial was designed to honor our 16th president – Abraham Lincoln. It, of course only seems right the speech would take place before the very man who fought to keep our country together over the issue of slavery. Oh, many will argue the real reason was state rights, but at the heart of this issue of state rights was the right to decide if the stated wanted to be slave or free. The country was being torn apart as each territory became a state and had to declare itself one or the other. Each side was afraid of losing the balance of power. There seemed to be this overwhelming need to keep the number the same. As in Bloody Kansas, people died for it. When you walk into the Lincoln Memorial and look up into the eyes of Abraham Lincoln, you see the anguish and fatigue in his eyes. The weight of the country is on his shoulders, but sitting in that chair, you sense his willingness to take on this enormous issue and correct what men tried to fix during the writing of the Declaration of Independence. Back then, learned men such as Thomas Jefferson fought to have slavery included in the declaration – the make all men free, but was asked to remove it from the document – the men afraid the document would not pass if such a point was included. Abraham Lincoln had no such qualms – for over 80 years our young country battled with the idea of slavery and abolishing it. Once he was elected, states seceded from the Union – sensing what was on the horizon and determined to fight President Lincoln every step of the way.
Lincoln’s assassination shocked the badly battered nation. In 1867, the Lincoln Monument Association was started by Congress to build a memorial to our slain president. Unfortunately it wasn’t until 1902 that a location was chosen on a piece of swampland. Architect Henry Bacon was chosen to design the building and Daniel Chester French was chosen to make the main statue of Lincoln. The first stone was set on February 12, 1914. Eight years later, the monument was dedicated with Lincoln’s only surviving child – Robert Todd Lincoln present for the ceremony. The monument has every appearance of a Greek Doric temple. The 36 columns were said to be representative of the 25 states in the Union and the 11 southern states that seceded. Each of the 36 states’ names are inscribed above each column in the order they joined the union. The remaining 22 states were carved on the attic walls in the same way – in order of when they joined the union. Finally, a plaque in front of the monument commemorates when Hawaii and Alaska joined the union in 1959.
At the moment, the reflecting pool before the memorial is gone. Dredged up because of filtration problems, a new one is being designed and will replace it soon. Inside the monument the famous words of the Gettysburg Address are inscribed on the south wall. Those words – spoke on November 19, 1863 send shivers down the spine.
“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate – we can not consecrate – we cannot hallow – this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
On the opposite wall is Lincoln’s second inaugural address. Above both are murals by Jules Guerin that show an angel freeing a slave and the unity of the North and South. Behind Lincoln’s head are the following words: In this temple as in the hearts of the people for whom he saved the union the memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever.