Essential Architecture- Washington D.C.

Thomas Jefferson Memorial


John Russell Pope, FAIA


Washington, DC








Established April 13, 1943
Total visitation 2,312,726 (in 2005)

The Jefferson Memorial from outside

The Thomas Jefferson Memorial is a presidential memorial in Washington, D.C. that is dedicated to Thomas Jefferson, an American Founding Father and the third president of the United States.

The neoclassical building was designed by John Russell Pope. It was built by Philadelphia contractor John McShain and was completed in 1943. When completed, the memorial occupied one of the last significant sites left in the city.

Composed of circular marble steps, a portico, a circular colonnade of Ionic order columns, and a shallow dome, the building is open to the elements. Pope made references to the Roman Pantheon and Jefferson's own design for the Rotunda at the University of Virginia. It is situated in West Potomac Park, on the shore of the Tidal Basin of the Potomac River. The Jefferson Memorial and the White House located directly north, form one of the main anchor points in the area of the National Mall in D.C. The Washington Monument just east of the axis on the national Mall was intended to be located at the intersection of the White House and the site for the Jefferson Memorial to the south but soft swampy ground which defied nineteenth century engineering required it be sited to the east. The Jefferson Memorial is managed by the National Park Service under its National Mall and Memorial Parks division.

By 1930, there were monuments in Washington D.C. commemorating great United States presidents, including Abraham Lincoln and George Washington. President Franklin Roosevelt thought that Thomas Jefferson also deserved a monument. On June 26, 1934, following his initiative, Congress passed a resolution to create a monument commemorating Jefferson.

Jefferson Memorial at dusk, illuminated

Under construction in 1940, as seen from the top of the Washington Monument.

Rudulph Evans' statue of Thomas Jefferson with the Declaration of Independence preamble to the right

The front steps of the Jefferson Memorial

The Jefferson Memorial at night, reflected on the Tidal Basin.

Memorial as seen from across the Tidal Basin

The memorial was designed by John Russell Pope — also the architect of the original (west) building of the National Gallery of Art. The memorial's design reflects characteristics of buildings designed by Jefferson such as Monticello and the Rotunda, which reflect his fascination with Roman architecture. The Jefferson Memorial bears some resemblance to the Pantheon of Rome.

The cornerstone was laid on November 15, 1939 — two years after Pope's death. Daniel P. Higgins and Otto R. Eggers took over construction of the memorial. The memorial was constructed with Danby Imperial marble (Vermont) for the exterior walls and columns, Tennessee pink marble for the interior floor, Georgian white marble for the interior wall panels, and Missouri gray marble for the pedestal. Indiana limestone was used in construction of the ceiling. [1] The cost of construction was slightly more than $3 million.

The Jefferson Memorial was officially dedicated on April 13, 1943 — the 200th anniversary of Jefferson's birthday. One of the last American public monuments in the Beaux-Arts tradition, it was severely criticized even as it was being built, by those who adhered to the modernist argument that dressing 20th century buildings like Greek and Roman temples constituted a "tired architectural lie." More than 60 years ago, Pope responded with silence to critics who dismissed him as part of an enervated architectural elite practicing "styles that are safely dead". As a National Memorial it was administratively listed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 15, 1966.

The interior of the memorial has a 19 foot (5.8 m) tall, 10,000 pound (5 ton) bronze statue of Jefferson by sculptor Rudulph Evans which was added four years after the dedication, and the interior walls are engraved with passages from Jefferson's writings. Most prominent are the words which are inscribed in a frieze below the dome: "I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man." This sentence is taken from a September 23, 1800, letter by Jefferson to Dr. Benjamin Rush.

Inscriptions in the Statue Chamber

I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.
Appears on the interior frieze below the dome. Excerpted from a letter to Dr. Benjamin Rush, September 23, 1800.

We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, that to secure these rights governments are instituted among men. We...solemnly publish and declare, that these colonies are and of right ought to be free and independent states...And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence, we mutually pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.
Appears on the panel of the southwest interior wall. Excerpted from the Declaration of Independence, 1776.

Almighty God hath created the mind free...All attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens...are a departure from the plan of the Holy Author of our religion...No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship or ministry or shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but all men shall be free to profess and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion. I know but one code of morality for men whether acting singly or collectively.
Appears on the panel of the northwest interior wall. Excerpted from two sources: first, "A Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom, 1777"; the last sentence beginning "I know but one..." is taken from a letter to James Madison, August 28, 1789.

God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever. Commerce between master and slave is despotism. Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than these people are to be free. Establish the law for educating the common people. This it is the business of the state to effect and on a general plan.
Appears on the panel of the northeast interior wall. Excerpted from multiple sources:
The first sentence, beginning "God who gave...", is from "A Summary View of the Rights of British America".
The second, third and fourth sentences, beginning "Can the liberties...", "Indeed I tremble..." and "Commerce between master...", are from Notes on the State of Virginia.
The fifth sentence, beginning "Nothing is more...", is from Jefferson's autobiography.
The sixth sentence, beginning "Establish the law...", is from a Letter to George Wythe, August 13, 1790.
The final sentence, beginning "This it is", is from a letter to George Washington, January 4, 1786.

I am certainly not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.
Appears on the panel of the southeast interior wall. Redacted and excerpted from a letter to Samuel Kercheval, July 12, 1816.

The Jefferson Memorial has a room filled with his accomplishments and a 5 foot tall bio inscribed in granite.


The Jefferson Memorial seen from across the Tidal Basin on a foggy night.The site of the monument in Washington D.C West Potomac Park, on the shore of the Potomac River Tidal Basin, is enhanced with the massed planting of Japanese cherry trees, the gift of the people of Japan in 1912. The monument is not as prominent in popular culture as other Washington, D.C. buildings and monuments, possibly due to its location well removed from the National Mall and the Washington Metro.

Satellite View of the Jefferson Memorial.

The Jefferson Memorial hosts many events and ceremonies each year, including memorial exercises, the Easter Sunrise Service, and the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival.

Popular Reference
A character visits the memorial at the end of the film Bob Roberts.
In an episode of The Simpsons, Lisa Simpson visits the memorial and Jefferson laments "No one ever comes to see me. I don't blame them. I never did anything important. Just the Declaration of Independence, the Louisiana Purchase, the dumbwaiter...Wait! Please don't go. I get so lonely..."

Bedford, Steven McLeod, John Russell Pope: Architect of Empire, Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., New York, NY 1998
Goode, James M. The Outdoor Sculpture of Washington D.C., Smithsonian Institute Press, Washington D.C. 1974
The National Parks: Index 2001–2003. Washington: U.S. Department of the Interior.
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