Lincoln Memorial: History, Facts & Location

Instructor: Grace Pisano

Grace has a bachelor's degree in history and a master's degree in teaching. She previously taught high school in several states around the country.

The Lincoln Memorial stands over the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Dedicated to the nation's leader who desired unity during the Civil War, the memorial is full of symbolism and reminders of the things President Abraham Lincoln valued during his life.

Honoring the 'Greatest President'

All of America's 45 presidents have left their legacy and mark on the country in a profound way. Typically, a citizen's political party and personal beliefs determine his or her opinion of the executive officer. However, the 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, is continually voted the best president in U.S. history in a survey of modern Americans. Because of this, congressmen, architects, and historians who worked together to create the Lincoln Memorial in his honor knew that the monument must stand out among the other monuments in Washington, D.C.

Abraham Lincoln was president during the Civil War and is famous for prioritizing unity in the country. He was assassinated shortly after the war ended on April 14, 1865. Congress quickly decided that something needed to be done to honor him.

In 1910, Shelby M. Cullom and Joseph G. Cannon, members of the House of Representatives, passed the Lincoln Memorial Bill, which was signed by President William Howard Taft in 1911. The bill created the Lincoln Memorial Commission and set aside $2 million to construct the monument. In this lesson, learn about the Lincoln Memorial's architecture, design, and construction and its place in history.

Architecture and Construction

The plan for the Lincoln Memorial was designed by Henry Bacon, a New York architect who spent much time studying the architecture of Europe, specifically ancient Greece. He decided to model the Lincoln Memorial after the Parthenon because Greece was the birthplace of democracy, which was so close to Lincoln's heart.

The Lincoln Memorial took eight years to build; it was constructed from 1914 until 1922. A unique piece of symbolism of the monument is that it took stones from six states (marble from Colorado, Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia; limestone from Indiana; and granite from Massachusetts). Using a myriad of stones represented many states coming together, which was Lincoln's goal throughout the Civil War.

The memorial is 190 feet long, 120 feet wide, and 99 feet tall. There are 38 Doric columns (simple, straightforward columns invented by the Greeks) that represent the states in the Union at the time of Lincoln's presidency. Inside, there are three chambers. The north and south chambers mirror each other, and each has an inscription of one of Lincoln's speeches and a mural. The murals are 60 feet by 12 feet, and each weighs 600 pounds! One chamber has a mural titled ''Emancipation,'' which represents freedom and liberty and has an inscription of the Gettysburg Address below it. The other chamber has the words from Lincoln's second inaugural address with a mural titled ''Unity,'' which shows the Angel of Truth joining two people (who represent the Union and Confederacy). The third chamber holds the statue of Abraham Lincoln.

The statue of Abraham Lincoln inside the Lincoln Memorial. What do you notice about his hands?

This 19-foot statue of Lincoln in the memorial was sculpted by Daniel Chester French. Because of his work at the Lincoln Memorial, French is one of the most famous sculptors of the 20th century. To ensure that the representation of Lincoln was as accurate as possible, he studied firsthand accounts, images, and even the castings of Lincoln's hands. French used symbolism when making Lincoln's hands. Lincoln's left hand is clenched, representing his need to fight and be stern during his presidency. His right hand is relaxed, which shows that after the war, he was welcoming to the Confederacy to create a reunified country. The statue is made of 175 tons of marble and had to be shipped to Washington in 28 pieces.

The Lincoln Memorial's Place in History

The Lincoln Memorial was dedicated on May 30, 1922. The ceremony was attended by Civil War veterans and Lincoln's son, Robert Todd Lincoln. An image of the Lincoln Memorial was on the penny from 1959 to 2008 and has been on the back of the five-dollar bill since 1929.

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