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THE PRESIDENTS of the United States
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Historic Sites and Buildings

National Park Service Jefferson Memorial
District of Columbia
Jefferson Memorial
Jefferson Memorial

Directly south of the White House and the Washington Monument, on the southeast edge of the Tidal Basin, SW., Washington.

This memorial, a circular colonnaded structure in the classic style associated with Jefferson in this country, honors his contributions to the founding and growth of the Republic. Author of the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, the Nation's third President, and apostle of democratic government and freedoms, Jefferson served with distinction in many high offices. An opponent of tyranny and proponent of personal liberty, he believed in a simple democratic form of government, freedom of the press, freedom of speech, education of the populace, and the dignity of the common man.

The reflections of the memorial in the Tidal Basin enhance its beauty. More important factors than the purely esthetic, however influenced selection of the site. Jefferson's position in the Nation's history demanded a memorial site of prominence in the central plan of the Capital and in relation to other national memorials already built. The Capitol, the White House, and the Mall had been located in accordance with the L'Enfant plan. The subsequent erection of the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial on the approximate west axis of the Capitol established the cardinal points of the city's plan. The lone remaining site in this cross-like scheme was the one selected for the Jefferson Memorial south of the Tidal Basin on a line with the south axis of the White House.

The significance of the classic architectural scheme of the memorial is apparent to even the casual student of Jefferson. One of the best-known characteristics of his genius was his many-sided ability and the remarkable practical application of his vast knowledge to many fields of activity. His outstanding ability as an architect can be seen in the design of the Virginia State Capitol, which was essentially his. His designs of the Rotunda at the University of Virginia and his home, Monticello, further indicate his preference for classical architecture.

The entrance to the memorial is from the plaza on the north, or Tidal Basin, side. The sculpture group above the entrance way, the work of Adolph A. Weinman of New York City, depicts Jefferson standing among the committee appointed by the Continental Congress to write the Declaration of Independence. To his left, as viewed from the steps, are Benjamin Franklin and John Adams, and seated on his right are Roger Sherman and Robert R. Livingston.

Jefferson Memorial
Jefferson Memorial. (National Park Service, Boucher, 1976)

The interior of the memorial is dominated by a heroic statue of Jefferson. Rudulph Evans, the sculptor, was chosen from more than 100 who participated in a nationwide competition conducted by the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Commission. The statue is 19 feet high and stands in the center of the memorial room upon a 6-foot pedestal of black Minnesota granite. The statue, together with the wall inscriptions executed in bronze, is in pleasant contrast with the white Georgia marble of the interior, and the Indiana limestone of the dome, approximately 67 feet above the head of the statue. Through the four colonnaded openings of the memorial—two on the east-west axis and two on the north-south—the statue may be viewed from many angles and with varying light and shadows.

The exterior walls and dome of Danby Imperial Vermont marble reach approximately 96 feet above the entrance. In early spring, usually in April, when the hundreds of Japanese cherry trees bordering the Tidal Basin are in bloom, the memorial appears in its most beautiful setting. During this period, the annual Cherry Blossom Festival is staged near the Tidal Basin.

In 1934 Congress passed the act that provided for the building of a permanent memorial to Jefferson in the Capital City. The Thomas Jefferson Memorial Commission, created by this legislation, assumed responsibility for the planning and supervision of the project. The designers were John R. Pope, Otto R. Eggers, and Daniel P. Higgins. Ground-breaking ceremonies were held on December 15, 1938, and the cornerstone officially laid on November 15, 1939. On both these occasions, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and commission members took part. The memorial was dedicated on April 13, 1943, the 200th anniversary of Jefferson's birth.

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Last Updated: 22-Jan-2004