Across from the Washington Monument, towards the western end of National Mall rests a massive construction that holds the fearless and humble statue of Abraham Lincoln. In my feeble millennial mind, the monument had been there since Washington’s tower was built in 1888. It always seemed to be in the background of photos of historical events for example, the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War Protests, and the Women’s Rights Movement.
Lincoln, as the assassinated 16th President of the United States, is an iconic being in himself however the historical context shaping the construction and symbolism of the memorial makes the actual site of the Lincoln Memorial iconic as well. Built in a time when women had just earned the right to vote, and soon to follow the outbreak of the Vietnam, then the red scare, the Lincoln Memorial has witnessed and partaken in a lot. Considering that many Americans have taken pilgrimages to the statue, and many movements have found themselves at Lincoln’s feet, the powerful symbol of Lincoln’s Memorial is apparent. What exactly is this symbol however? Beyond seeing Lincoln as the Great Emancipator, it is interesting to consider what ideals his statue represents to lead leaders like MLK to choose this site for their own iconic speeches or marches.
It is safe to say that just about every aspect of the memorial is symbolically placed. The first thing you notice is the temple-like pantheon that houses Lincoln’s statue. The thirty six columns holding the structure symbolizes the thirty six reunited states at the time of Lincoln’s death. Beyond this literal symbol, the appearance of the temple-like structure is also symbolic of Lincoln. He appears as a Greek god would, in the center of his marble home and this was done in an attempt to highlight the reverence and idea of holiness of Lincoln’s legacy. Adding to the holiness, The character of Lincoln is also symbolized by the three-chamber design of the interior. The center of the chamber contains the statue of Lincoln with one hand clenched the other free to symbolize his strength and simultaneous compassion. The other two chambers contains inscriptions of two Lincoln speeches- the Gettysburg Address, and the Second Inaugural Address. These were chosen because they were seen to also be powerful examples of his character. The two speeches further exemplify the notion that Lincoln is both a strong and compassionate friend invoked of liberty.
There are plenty of false symbols including the rumor that Lincoln’s hands were designed to symbol American Sign Language letters. Despite false interpretations the fact remains that the Lincoln Memorial is a revered symbol of Lincoln as an iconic human. The whole structure of the memorial was strategically placed to represent certain qualities of this President. The temple design subconsciously alludes to the god like status we have placed on Lincoln’s status overall and the whole design alludes to the fact that Lincoln will forever be an enshrined icon of freedom and liberty.