by Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Author’s program note: I am amongst the most vociferous critics of excessive government spending and waste, but today I am proud of the overdue restoration of the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, a key part of what makes the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. such a serene and pleasing place, an absolutely essential destination for all citizens; a place which like Mecca, one must visit at least once in one’s life, thoughtful, respectful, yearning to be touched and uplifted by its lofty presence, never disappointed or let down.
The $34 million spent to restore the reflecting pool, the largest in the capital, is chump-change by Washington standards… but even if the cost was far more than it is, it would be money well spent…for the role of Abraham Lincoln, 16th president, is fundamental to understanding our Great Republic and reminding us just who we are and what we stand for.
Start by seeing and feeling what you see.
One of the several excellent vantage points for this revered tableau is from the Washington Monument. From this grand obelisk forever pointing up, the only suitable direction for our great endeavors, you see the long, rectangular pool which punctuates the National Mall. No true American, indeed no lover of freedom anywhere, can see this sight without a pang, for to walk the Mall and regard its monuments is to be touched by the greatest people of the nation, their exalted deeds and, always, their searing words which moved multitudes, inspiring the people, opening their minds and shaping our mission for bettering not just our lives but the lives of people worldwide, for that is a crucial and essential aspect of our national work.
How it all began.
There is a deep irony about the Lincoln Memorial and its jewel, the reflecting pool. If he had lived to complete his second term, it is unlikely Lincoln would have had such a monument. Instead, it might have been something like the nearby Jefferson Memorial, respectful to be sure but without the impact of what exists today. But a Southern sympathizer named John Wilkes Booth assassinated the president, and a nation riven by anger, rage, revenge, and a determination that this man and his mission be remembered forever, impelled the creation of an unparalleled civic temple which could not fail to impress and awe every visitor.
Its objective was to glorify Lincoln and the federal union he preserved. The resulting monument must, all agreed, make this abundantly clear, unmistakable, resounding through the years to come. Thus must Lincoln and his great deeds be remembered and raised high. The living Lincoln may not have wanted so much, probably would not… but for the martyred president the grieving, adamant nation would have it so and so it was.
But, of course, nothing in Washington then or now can be accomplished without disagreement, argument, posturing and rancor. Lincoln, for all that he was the savior of the Great Republic, was the first Republican president and as such anathema to the gentlemen of the defunct Confederacy and the Northern Democrats who relied on their votes and block support. Monument to Lincoln there might ultimately be, but the road to that end would be as acrimonious and obstructed as the defeated Confederates could make it and as unimpressive as their potent congressional power could influence.
Thus, starting in 1867, Congress passed the first of many bills designed to advance matters, this time by creating a commission to erect a Lincoln monument. But it and a plethora of similar legislation were stalled, not just for years but for decades, most notably by House Speaker (and Democrat) Joe Cannon who between 1901 and 1908 made sure every such bill was defeated. Great Lincoln had defeated these rebels and their pernicious notions in life. They would do what they could to defeat him in death. But even here they failed, and at long last in 1910 the necessary legislation was passed, funds voted, design and location approved. Now the great work could be started in earnest…
And so a classic Greek temple featuring Yule marble from Colorado arose. It had 36 fluted Doric columns, one for each of the 36 states in the Union at the time of Lincoln’s death. Above the colonnade, inscribed on the frieze, are the names of the 36 states in the Union when Lincoln died. Every aspect of this graceful monument of simplicity even severity, elegance and restrained grandeur reinforced just one concept: the integrity of our federal union, united, indissoluble, eternal. And there, in solemn majesty, the one man who more than any other made these words a reality.
There, as rendered by sculptor Daniel Chester French, Abraham Lincoln, 19 feet tall from head to foot, resides for the numberless ages, a man of power, determination, resolution, contemplation… and most important a man of mercy, empathy, and love as evidenced by the words selected to adorn the walls and make it clear to posterity who he was and what he believed.
Of course, the Gettysburg Address, once known by every school child (but not today), was inscribed. And so were the immortal words from Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address (1865): “With malice towards none; with charity for all… to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”
Now it was time for the Reflecting Pool.
Along the way, it was decided that this temple as much to the Great Republic as to Lincoln, could be made glorious with a reflecting pool that would dramatically show the treasures of the National Mall while magnifying in its waters the Mall’s trees and an expansive sky seemingly without limit. And so the Reflecting Pool of 2,029 feet (over a third of a mile) was added, modeled on the grand canals of Versailles and Fontainebleau, to be dedicated along with the Memorial itself in 1922.
The last surviving Lincoln was present that notable day, eldest son Robert Todd, more a Todd than a Lincoln. He never said what he thought about the apotheosis unto civic saint of the rough, ungainly, uncouth father who had so often embarrassed him. Whatever it was went with him to the grave.
Over the years, this grand conception went steadily downhill, fetid, fouled with dirt, duck droppings, and trash. It was a monument to nothing more than poor management and oversight and because of its decaying fabric the loss of 500,000 gallons of city water a week, 30 million gallons a year. Now, thanks to public outrage and good old American technology and expertise, these problems are solved, not least the pool’s water supply which has been updated to eliminate stagnant water (and those noxious smells) by circulating water from the Tidal Basin. This place of a nation’s veneration is now magnificent again, ready for its unending stream of visitors, all needing Lincoln’s message of humanity and harmony, more necessary now than ever.
Author’s program note. For the music to accompany this article, I have selected “Dixie” written by Dan Emmett in 1859. Why this song, the finest reel ever written? Because of Lincoln himself. In 1865, he said “I have always thought that ‘Dixie’ was one of the best tunes I ever heard.” And so it is… You can find it in any search engine.
About the Author
Harvard-educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant is CEO of Worldprofit, Inc., providing a wide range of online services for small and-home based businesses. Services include home business training, affiliate marketing training, earn-at-home programs, traffic tools, advertising, webcasting, hosting, design, WordPress Blogs and more. Find out why Worldprofit is considered the # 1 online Home Business Training program by getting a free Associate Membership today at http://www.Worldprofit.com