Posts Tagged ‘Declaration of Independence’

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The Trylon of Freedom

During this lunchtime bike ride I came across an unusual free-standing column in the plaza in front of the E. Barrett Prettyman United States Courthouse, located on Constitution Avenue east of John Marshall Park, between 3rd and 4th Streets (MAP), not far from the Sir William Blackstone Statue and directly across the street from The George Gordon Meade Memorial in Downtown D.C.

The 24-foot three-sided granite obelisk is entitled The Trylon of Freedom, and  was dedicated along with the courthouse in 1954.  The work was designed by Carl Paul Jennewein, a German-born American sculptor.  Best known for sculpting architectural elements in buildings, his work appears throughout the United States.  Locally, Jennewein’s works include two panels in The White House, sculptures in the Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice building, monumental figures in the Rayburn House Office Building, The Darlington Memorial Fountain, and monumental eagles at the entrance to Arlington National Cemetery and on the Arlington Memorial Bridge.

The Trylon of Freedom features base relief representations of the freedoms exemplified by the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, with the three sides symbolically representing the
the division of power among the three branches of the Federal government: legislative, judicial and executive.

The southwest side represents the executive branch and depicts freedom of the press, speech and religion.  It is adorned with relief carvings of a men at work on a printing press to illustrate the right to freedom of press; a man giving a speech to illustrate the right to freedom of speech; and a woman kneeling in prayer and a man standing in front of a cross to illustrate freedom of religion.

The southeast side, which represents the legislative branch, is adorned with relief carvings of a courtroom with a defendant standing before a judge and jury to illustrate the right to trial by jury; a man mediating between a prisoner and his executioner to illustrate protection against cruel and unusual punishment; and a wharf with confiscated goods to illustrate illegal search and seizure.

And finally, the north side represents the judicial branch and is adorned with a relief carving of the Great Seal of the United States, and is inscribed with quotes from the Declaration of Independence, the Preamble to the Constitution and Article V of the Bill of Rights.  The inscriptions read, “We hold these truths to be self-evident. That all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.  [Declaration of Independence]; “We the people of the United States in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves & our posterity, do ordain & establish this constitution for the United States of America.” [Preamble to the Constitution], and; “No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without the due process of law.”  [Article V of the Bill or Rights]

Interestingly, the Federal courthouse where the Trylon of Freedom is located was renamed in 1997 in honor of E. Barrett Prettyman, the former Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.  And it was Prettyman who 43 years earlier had advocated for the installation of the artwork in front of the new courthouse.

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Memorial to the 56 Signers of the Declaration of Independence

Memorials to historic figures of national significance are commonplace in D.C., but the memorial I visited on this lunchtime bike ride is dedicated to one of the most select group of important people in our nation’s history. It is known as the Memorial to the 56 Signers of the Declaration of Independence, it is located on the island in the lake located in Constitution Gardens, which occupies 50 prime acres of landscaped grounds approximately halfway between The Washington Monument and The Lincoln Memorial. Located to the west of 17th Street and south of Constitution Avenue in northwest D.C. (MAP), the gardens are bordered on the west by The Vietnam Veterans Memorial and on the south by The Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool. But despite its central location on the National Mall, it is a quiet haven in the heart of the bustling capital city.

The memorial was a gift from the American Revolution Bicentennial Administration, and consists of 56 granite blocks which are inscribed with the signatures of the 56 delegates to the Second Continental Congress who signed the Declaration of Independence. Each stone also contains the corresponding signer’s occupation and his home town. The signatures look just like the original pen and ink signatures which are on the bottom of the Declaration of Independence. The granite blocks are then arranged in 13 groups, representing the 13 original states, and are grouped based on the home of the signer. It was designed by Landscape Architect Joseph E. Brown, approved by Congress in 1978, and construction was completed in 1984. It was then dedicated on July 2, 1984, exactly 208 years after the Continental Congress voted to approve the Declaration of Independence.

Although Thomas Jefferson is often considered to be the “author” of the Declaration of Independence, he wasn’t the only person who contributed to its content. Jefferson was a member of a five-person committee appointed by the Continental Congress to write a Declaration of Independence. In addition to Jefferson, the Declaration Committee included Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Robert Livingston, and Roger Sherman.  However, one of the members of the committee, never signed it.  Livingston believed that it was too soon to declare independence and, therefore, refused to sign it.  So although he is one of its authors, Livingston was not included in this memorial.

After Jefferson completed the first draft of the Declaration of Independence the other members of the Declaration committee and the Continental Congress made 86 changes to Jefferson’s draft, including shortening the overall length by more than a quarter. Jefferson was quite unhappy about some of the edits made to the original draft.  He had originally included language condemning the British promotion of the slave trade, even though Jefferson himself was a slave owner. This criticism of the slave trade was one of the portions removed from the final version, despite Jefferson’s objections.

Depending on perspective and how it was perceived at the time, the Declaration of Independence was considered to either form the foundation of a new, independent country, or as a document of treason against the King of England. And had events turned out differently, the only stones commemorating these “Founding Fathers” would have been their gravestones. But despite their success in launching the United States of America, many of these men paid a very steep price for signing the document and their involvement in the birth of this new nation.

Of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence, a number saw their homes and property occupied, ransacked, looted, and vandalized by the British. Some were captured by the British during the course of the Revolutionary War, and subjected to the ill treatment typically afforded to prisoners of war during their captivity. Others saw their sons captured or killed while serving in the Revolutionary Army. Some even saw their wives captured and jailed by the British. But despite what they would go on to sacrifice, each man, by signing the document, pledged: “For the support of this declaration, with firm reliance on the protection of the divine providence, we mutually pledge to each other, our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”  It was this commitment that is honored in this memorial.

However, one of the signers, a lawyer from New Jersey named Richard Stockton, became the only signer of the Declaration of Independence to recant his support of the revolution. On November 30, 1776, he was captured by the British and thrown in jail. After months of harsh treatment and meager rations, Stockton repudiated his signature on the Declaration of Independence and swore his allegiance to King George III. A broken man when he regained his freedom, he took a new oath of loyalty to the state of New Jersey in December 1777, and again supported the Revolution until victory was achieved in September of 1783.  Despite once repudiating his signature and recanting his support for the Revolution, Stockton is nonetheless included on the memorial.

So this Memorial to the 56 Signers of the Declaration of Independence does not include one of the authors of the Declaration, but does include a signer who later repudiated his signature.  I guess this just highlights how complex our “Founding Fathers” actually were.

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In addition to the famously prominent signature of John Hancock from Massachusetts, the President of the Continental Congress, the remaining signatories of the Declaration of Independence consisted of: Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple and Matthew Thornton (who was the last man to sign the document, on November 4, 1776), all from the state of New Hampshire; Samuel Adams, John Adams (who later became the second President), Robert Treat Paine and Elbridge Gerry from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts; Stephen Hopkins and William Ellery from the state of Rhode Island; Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams and Oliver Wolcott from the state of Connecticut; William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis and Lewis Morris from the state of New York; Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart and Abraham Clark from the state of New Jersey; Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin (who, at the age of 70, was the oldest to sign the Declaration), John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson and George Ross, all from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; George Read, Caesar Rodney and Thomas McKean from the state of Delaware; Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll of Carrollton, from the state of Maryland; George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson (who later became the third President), Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee and Carter Braxton from the Commonwealth of Virginia; William Hooper, Joseph Hewes and John Penn from the state of North Carolina; Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr. (who at 26 years old was the youngest person to sign), and Arthur Middleton from the state of South Carolina, and; Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall and George Walton from the state of Georgia.

Statue of Doctor John Witherspoon

Statue of Doctor John Witherspoon

On today’s anniversary of his death in 1794, I chose the Statue of Doctor John Witherspoon at the intersections of Connecticut Avenue, N Street and 18th Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s DuPont Circle neighborhood as the destination for this bike ride. The bronze sculpture by William Couper is part of a group of fourteen statues in D.C. known collectively as the “American Revolution Statuary.” They are listed together as a group on the National Register of Historic Places, and are scattered across the city, mainly in squares and traffic circles.

John Knox Witherspoon was born in February of 1723 at Gifford, a parish of Yester, at East Lothian, Scotland. He was a Scots Presbyterian minister before he and his family emigrated to New Jersey in 1768 in order to become President and head professor of the small Presbyterian College of New Jersey, which would eventually become Princeton University.

As a native Scotsman who was long wary of the power British Crown, Witherspoon came to support the Revolution in his new country. He was then elected in June of 1776 to the Continental Congress as part of the New Jersey delegation, and appointed Congressional Chaplain. He voted to adopt the Virginia Resolution for Independence, which was finally approved on July 2, 1776. The text of the document formally announcing this action, the United States Declaration of Independence, was approved two days later, to which Witherspoon was a signatory, and the only college president to sign it.

Witherspoon went on to serve in Congress until November 1782, and became one of its most influential members. He served on over 100 committees, spoke often in debate; helped draft the Articles of Confederation, and played a major role in shaping foreign policy. He also helped organize the Federal government’s executive departments.  He later served twice in the New Jersey Legislature, and strongly supported the adoption of the United States Constitution during the New Jersey ratification debates.

Actress Reese Witherspoon has claimed to be a direct descendant of John Witherspoon. However, it has been noted by the Society of the Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence that her claim has yet to be verified.

The Jefferson Memorial

The Jefferson Memorial

On this day in 1939, the 32nd President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, laid the cornerstone of the memorial to our nation’s 3rd President, Thomas Jefferson. Construction of the memorial had begun the previous December, and would not be completed until 1943. The 19-foot tall bronze statue of Jefferson by the sculptor Rudulph Evans was subsequently added four years later, in 1947. Then, 75 years after the laying of the cornerstone, I rode to the memorial on this lunchtime bike.

As a public official, historian, philosopher, lawyer, businessman and plantation owner, Thomas Jefferson served his country for over five decades. In addition to being our country’s 3rd President, he was also one of America’s founding fathers, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, Vice President of the United States, the first U.S. Secretary of State, member of the Continental Congress, a state legislator and Governor of Virginia, United States Minister to France, and the founder of the University of Virginia.

The Memorial to Thomas Jefferson is a neoclassical building which features circular marble steps, a portico, a circular colonnade of Ionic order columns, and a shallow dome.  It is located in West Potomac Park, on the shore of the Potomac River Tidal Basin (MAP), and is enhanced with the massed planting of Japanese cherry trees, a gift from the people of Japan in 1912. Because many of the well-established cherry trees had to be removed for construction, there was significant opposition to its being built at that location. However, construction continued amid the opposition.

In addition to the domed building which is open to the elements and the prominent statue of Jefferson, the memorial prominently features quotes and exerpts from Jefferson’s writings.  On the panel of the southwest interior wall are excerpts from the Declaration of Independence, which reads, “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.”

On the northwest interior wall is an a panel with an excerpt from “A Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom, 1777”, except for the last sentence, which is taken from a letter of August 28, 1789, to James Madison.  It reads, “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.”

The quotes from the panel of the northeast interior wall are from multiple sources, and reads, “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.”

The inscription on the panel of the southeast interior wall is redacted and excerpted from a letter of July 12, 1816, to Samuel Kercheval.  It reads, “I am 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.”

The monument is not as prominent in popular culture as other D.C. buildings and monuments, possibly due to its location well removed from the National Mall and its poor approximation to the Washington Metro subway system and accessibility to tourists. The Jefferson Memorial hosts many events and ceremonies each year, including memorial exercises, the National Easter Sunrise Service, and the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival.

On the American Institute of Architects list of America’s favorite architecture, it ranks fourth behind the Empire State Building, The White House, and Washington National Cathedral. The Jefferson Memorial is managed by the National Park Service under its National Mall and Memorial Parks division. The monument is open 24 hours a day but park rangers are there only until 11:30 p.m. However, the monument is only a few hundred yards from the National Park Police D.C. Headquarters in East Potomac Park.

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