Franklin D. Roosevelt photo

Address at the Cornerstone Laying of the Jefferson Memorial, Washington, D.C.

November 15, 1939

Mr. Gibboney, Gentlemen of the Commission:

This is the second occasion on which I have had the privilege of coming in an official capacity to this site; and I hope that by January in 1941, I shall be able to come to the final dedication of the Memorial itself.

In the earliest days of the Republic under the Constitution, the representatives of the several States of the Union were in substantial agreement that a national capital should be founded in a Federal district set apart from the jurisdiction of any individual State. That purpose was, in a true sense, a symbol of a realization of national unity; and the final location of the national capital in this place proclaimed a proper compromise between the interest of the North, the South, the seaboard and the interior, as they existed at that time.

In all of the hundred and fifty years of our existence as a constitutional nation, many memorials to its civil and military chiefs have been set up in the National Capital. But it has been reserved to two of those leaders to receive special tribute in the nation's capital by the erection of national shrines perpetuating their memories, over and above the appreciation and the regard tendered to other great citizens of the Republic.

Today we lay the cornerstone of a third great shrine—adding the name of Thomas Jefferson to the names of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

I have spoken of the national character of the District of Columbia itself, a capital which represents today the vitality, not of thirteen Atlantic seaboard States, but of forty-eight States which encompass the whole width of the continent.

This vitality envisages many-sided interests; and it is therefore fitting that among hundreds of monuments to famous Americans the three great shrines are dedicated to men of many-sided qualities.

Washington represented abilities recognized in every part of the young nation and, indeed, in every part of the civilized world of his day; for he was not only a great military leader, not only a great moderator in bringing together discordant elements in the formation of a constitutional nation, not only a great executive' of that nation in its troublesome early years, but also a man of vision and accomplishments in private civil fields-talented engineer and surveyor, planner of highways and canals, patron of husbandry, friend of scientists and fellow of political thinkers.

Lincoln, too, was a many-sided man. Pioneer of the wilderness, counsel for the under-privileged, soldier in an Indian war, master of the English tongue, rallying point for a torn nation, emancipator—not of slaves alone, but of those of heavy heart everywhere—foe of malice, and teacher of good-will.

To those we add today another American of many parts-not Jefferson the founder of a party, but the Jefferson whose influence is felt today in many of the current activities of mankind.

When in the year of 1939 America speaks of its Bill of Rights, we think of the author of the Statute for religious liberty in Virginia.

When today Americans celebrate the anniversary of the Fourth of July 1776, our minds revert to Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence.

And when each spring we take part in commencement exercises of schools and universities, we go back to the days of Jefferson, founder of the University of Virginia.

When we think of his older contemporary, Benjamin Franklin, as the experimenter in physics, we remember that Jefferson was an inventor of numerous small devices to make human life simpler and happier, and that he, too, experimented in the biology of live stock and of agriculture.

In the current era in the erection of noble buildings in all parts of the country we recognize the enormous influence of Jefferson in the American application of classic art to homes and public buildings—an influence that makes itself felt today in the selection of the design for this very shrine for which we are laying the cornerstone.

But it was in the field of political philosophy that Jefferson's significance is transcendent.

He lived, as we live, in the midst of a struggle between rule by the self-chosen individual or the self-appointed few and rule by the franchise and approval of the many. He believed, as we do, that the average opinion of mankind is in the long run superior to the dictates of the self-chosen.

During all the years that have followed Thomas Jefferson, the United States has expanded his philosophy into a greater achievement of security of the nation, security of the individual and national unity, than in any other part of the world.

It may be that the conflict between the two forms of philosophy will continue for centuries to come; but we in the United States are more than ever satisfied with the republican form of Government based on regularly recurring opportunities to our citizens to choose their leaders for themselves.

Therefore, in memory of the many-sided Thomas Jefferson and in honor of the ever-present vitality of his type of Americanism, we lay the cornerstone of this shrine.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Address at the Cornerstone Laying of the Jefferson Memorial, Washington, D.C. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/210278

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