1973 10¢ Jefferson Memorial
US #1510 includes text from the Declaration of Independence.

On April 13, 1943, the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, DC, was officially dedicated.

In the early 1900s, citizens of Washington, DC, recognized that a site on the shore of the Potomac River’s Tidal Basin, directly south of the White House, would be an ideal place for a high-profile monument. The Senate Park Commission proposed that a Pantheon-like structure be built there with “the statues of the illustrious men of the nation, or whether the memory of some individual shall be honored by a monument of the first rank may be left to the future.” But no further action was taken.

In 1918, the area was made into a beach, but it closed in 1925. That same year, the district held a design competition for a memorial in honor of Theodore Roosevelt. John Russell Pope’s design won, but Congress never allocated funds and the memorial was never built.

1973-74 10¢ Jefferson Memorial, imperf pair with free regular
US #1520//20b – Jefferson Memorial imperforate error pair with regular stamp free.

Then in 1934, President Franklin Roosevelt, a long-time admirer of Jefferson, suggested to the Commission of Fine Arts that they erect a memorial to Jefferson as part of the Federal Triangle Project. That year Congressman John J. Boylan supported Roosevelt’s proposal and pushed Congress to establish the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Commission. He succeeded and eventually received $3 million for the project.

2002 $3.85 Jefferson Memorial, Priority Mail
US #3647 includes hidden printing that can only be seen through a special decoder lens.

The Commission selected John Russell Pope, architect of the National Archives Building and original west building of the National Gallery of Art. Pope created plans for four different sites, and the Commission ultimately selected the one on the Tidal Basin because it was the most prominent site. Pope died before construction began, but his partners took over the project.

1966 5¢ Beautification of America
US #1318 – Beautification of America stamp picturing the Jefferson Memorial.

Construction finally began on December 15, 1938. Less than a year later, on November 15, 1939, President Roosevelt laid the cornerstone in a special ceremony. He called the memorial America’s “third great shrine” (following the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial). He went on to say, “In the current era in the erection of noble buildings in all parts of the country we recognize the enormous influence of Jefferson in the American application of classic art to homes and public buildings – an influence that makes itself felt today in the selection of the design for this very shrine for which we are laying the cornerstone.”

1989 15¢ Postal Card - Jefferson Memorial
US #UX144 – 1989 Jefferson Memorial First Day Post Card

In spite of the support of Congress and the president, the memorial faced opposition even as it was being built. The Commission on Fine Arts never approved the memorial and printed a pamphlet opposing its design and location. Many people within the district opposed the memorial because it wasn’t part of the city’s original plan, created by Pierre L’Enfant. There was also outrage because the memorial’s construction meant the chopping down of cherry trees and flowering dogwoods. Eventually the design was made more conservative (some of the trees had to be removed, but more were planted) and construction was able to move forward.

2012 45¢ Cherry Blossom Centennial
US #4651-52 – Cherry blossom centennial stamps picture the Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial.

America’s entry into World War II slowed progress on the Memorial. Scheduled to be completed in 1941, it wasn’t done until 1943. That year, on April 13 (Jefferson’s 200th birthday) Roosevelt officially dedicated the monument. The ceremony was short – just 15 minutes. There was supposed to be a 19-foot tall bronze statue of Jefferson inside the memorial, but material shortages brought on by the war made that impossible. Instead, they placed a plaster cast of the statue painted in bronze in the center. The completed 10,000-pound statue was installed in 1947.

2002 $3.85 Jefferson Memorial, Priority Mail Colorano Silk Cachet First Day Cover
US #3647 – Colorano Silk Cachet First Day Cover

The memorial was designed to reflect Jefferson’s admiration of Roman architecture. The building is open to the elements and features circular marble steps, a portico, Ionic order columns, and a shallow dome. Passages of Jefferson’s writings are engraved on the walls.

10/5/1966, USA Postcard #1318, The Jefferson Memorial at Cherry Blossom Time
Item #AC560 – Jefferson Memorial and Cherry Blossoms First Day Post Card

The Memorial was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1966 and in 2007 the American Institute of Architects ranked it fourth on the “List of America’s Favorite Architecture”.

Click here to read all or click here to watch part of FDRs address at the 1943 dedication ceremony.

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7 Comments

  1. I have mixed feelings about this man.He was a man who spoke of freedom and liberty,who kept and bred his slaves.

    1. It’s foolish to judge people’s views from 200 and more year’s ago by the standards of today. I expect your great-great grandchildren will likely judge you and me harshly for some of our views.

      1. Never,at any time in history was it acceptable to enslave and breed human beings.The nazis were wrong and Jefferson was wrong.

  2. I agree with Charles to a point. There were contemporaries of Jefferson who spoke out against slavery, but few if any were southern slaveholders. Jefferson owned many slaves, and it takes a special kind of bravery and integrity to speak out against ones own self interest. The best that can be said of Jefferson is that he believed (or said that he did) that future generations would deal with the question of slavery.

  3. History is history … what happened whenever and wherever through the course of man’s history is what was going on at the time, as the planet’s development and improvement has changed and progressed up to today. Slavery, monarchial control, dictatorships and other savage-living that people have had to experience over the centuries has progressed up till now and is still going on today … look at communist-controlled China, Russia, North Korea, muslim-dictator-controlled Iran, and some other countries in Africa and across the globe. Their people are suffering but that’s life for them also today. Slavery in the US, up until it was abolished in 1965, was typical at the time across the globe and had nothing to do with President Jefferson, a brilliant U.S. President. He was living where he was over his lifetime during the time of world slavery. The facts are just what was going on at the time. Thanks, Mystic, for another upgrading lesson from history … whether it was good or bad … it’s just history … about what was going on in that era in time .

  4. History is history … what happened whenever and wherever through the course of man’s history is what was going on at the time, as the planet’s development and improvement has changed and progressed up to today. Slavery, monarchial control, dictatorships and other savage-living that people have had to experience over the centuries has progressed up till now and is still going on today … look at communist-controlled China, Russia, North Korea, muslim-dictator-controlled Iran, and some other countries in Africa and across the globe. Their people are suffering but that’s life for them also today. Slavery in the US, up until it was abolished in 1865, was typical at the time across the globe and had nothing to do with President Jefferson, a brilliant U.S. President. He was living where he was over his lifetime during the time of world slavery. The facts are just what was going on then. Thanks, Mystic, for another upgrading lesson from history … about what was going on in that era in time .

    1. Well, Jefferson knew that slavery was wrong and did nothing about it in his lifetime. When we analyze Jefferson’s entire life and public career, that has to be part of it.

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