Thursday, November 15, 2007

November 15, 1939:

FDR at Cornerstone Laying of the Jefferson Memorial

In the fall of 1939, the 32nd President of the United States spoke at a ceremony marking the laying of the cornerstone of a new monument in Washington DC, one honoring the Third President of the United States. Early in his presidency, Franklin Roosevelt had let it be known that he wanted a prominent memorial to Jefferson in Washington DC, one in the same league as the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. Congress went along with the idea, and by 1939 the neoclassical memorial, a design by John Russell Pope, was under way at a site on the Tidal Basin. The memorial was formally dedicated on April 13, 1943, the bicentennial of Jefferson's birth.

On the occasion of the laying of the cornerstone, Franklin Roosevelt said of his predecessor:

"...In all of the hundred and fifty years of our existence as a constitutional nation, many memorials to its civil and military chiefs have been set up in the National Capital. But it has been reserved to two of those leaders to receive special tribute in the nation's capital by the erection of national shrines perpetuating their memories, over and above the appreciation and the regard tendered to other great citizens of the Republic.

"Today we lay the cornerstone of a third great shrine—adding the name of Thomas Jefferson to the names of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln...

"Washington represented abilities recognized in every part of the young nation and, indeed, in every part of the civilized world of his day; for he was not only a great military leader, not only a great moderator in bringing together discordant elements in the formation of a constitutional nation, not only a great executive' of that nation in its troublesome early years, but also a man of vision and accomplishments in private civil fields-talented engineer and surveyor, planner of highways and canals, patron of husbandry, friend of scientists and fellow of political thinkers.

"Lincoln, too, was a many-sided man. Pioneer of the wilderness, counsel for the under-privileged, soldier in an Indian war, master of the English tongue, rallying point for a torn nation, emancipator—not of slaves alone, but of those of heavy heart everywhere—foe of malice, and teacher of good-will.

"To those we add today another American of many parts—not Jefferson the founder of a party, but the Jefferson whose influence is felt today in many of the current activities of mankind...

"He lived, as we live, in the midst of a struggle between rule by the self-chosen individual or the self-appointed few and rule by the franchise and approval of the many. He believed, as we do, that the average opinion of mankind is in the long run superior to the dictates of the self-chosen...

"It may be that the conflict between the two forms of philosophy will continue for centuries to come; but we in the United States are more than ever satisfied with the republican form of Government based on regularly recurring opportunities to our citizens to choose their leaders for themselves.

"Therefore, in memory of the many-sided Thomas Jefferson and in honor of the ever-present vitality of his type of Americanism, we lay the cornerstone of this shrine."

1 comment:

Geoff Elliott said...

And of course little did FDR realize at the time that he himself would be honored with what might be the most beautiful memorial in Washington, D.C.

Geoff Elliott

The Abraham Lincoln Blog