In the pantheon of Founding Fathers, with the possible exception of George Washington, none rank higher than Thomas Jefferson. However, when it comes to the number of visitors to the Memorial in DC that celebrates his life and legacy, Jefferson's rank is not quite as lofty.
The problem is not Jefferson's popularity; it is the location of his Memorial, which is in a more remote site than those celebrating Washington and Lincoln, as well as those commemorating America's involvement in World War II and the Vietnam War.
However, the road-less-traveled aspect of the Jefferson Memorial, which is located on the edge of the Tidal Basin, also makes it one of the city's most attractive spots.
Of course, in any visit you are first struck by the architectural majesty of the memorial. But you can also learn much about the man Jefferson, who was at various times a political philosopher, an architect, a musician, a book collector, a scientist, a horticulturist, an inventor, a diplomat, the chief writer of The Declaration of Independence, and the 3rd President of the United States. In fact, the breadth of Jefferson's intellect and accomplishments was so great that it prompted President John Kennedy to call a 1960's gathering of American Nobel Prize winners the greatest assemblage of talent in the White House since Jefferson had dined there alone.
Memorial architect John Russell Pope was influenced by Jefferson's taste as expressed in his writings and demonstrated by his works. The circular colonnaded structure which surrounds the bronze statue of Jefferson in its middle, is an adaptation of the classical style that the former president brought into use in this country.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose own memorial sits near the Jefferson site, dedicated the Jefferson Memorial on April 13, 1943 on the 200th anniversary of Jefferson's birth.
As far as his legacy is concerned, Jefferson himself asked to be remembered for 3 things:
- The Declaration of Independence
- the Statutes of Virginia for Religious Freedom and
- being the Father of the University of Virginia
His lifelong passion for learning is encapsulated in this 1816 quote, one of dozens featured in his Memorial: "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and what will never be."
Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
Park rangers are at the Jefferson Memorial everyday from 9 am to 5 pm except Christmas to answer questions and give talks. A bookstore and a gift store in the lower lobby carry items relating to Jefferson's life and philosophy. To learn more about Jefferson and his Memorial, click here.