Dwight D. Eisenhower photo

Remarks at the Capitol at the Dedication of the Rotunda Frieze

May 11, 1954

Mr. Chairman, Mr. Vice President, Mr. Speaker, members of this distinguished audience:

No man could find words to describe the color and romance-the dignity and majesty-of this spot.

The frieze above us, the paintings and statuary surrounding us, are symbolically representative of more than 400 years of American history. It is fascinating to contemplate, for only a brief moment, the nature of that 400 years. At its beginning, man moved at the same rate and by the same means that were used by the Pharaohs-the horse, the ox, and the tiny sailing vessel were the best means at hand.

In the last panel of this great frieze above us is represented the invention of the machine that now allows man to travel almost at the speed that the earth turns toward the sun. Soon, undoubtedly, he will do so.

We find here represented the great fusion of foreign bloods that brought about this Nation that became America. The Spaniards in their explorations; the French in their colonization and their assistance to the colonists as they fought the War of Independence; the English; and, finally, in the great artistry of the Italians. These are representative of the bloodstreams that, joining here in this great country of promise and opportunity, have produced the great Nation that is symbolized here in this Rotunda.

But more than being merry a compressed history of America, this spot is in a very real sense the heart of America. In this room, and in the rooms immediately adjoining, our "greats" have trod and spoken-Lincoln, and Webster, and Clay, and Jackson-all those names that thrill us merely by uttering them.

Immediately in front of me, for generations, all Presidents of the United States have taken their oath of office. Here indeed is not only a spot that reminds us of America, of her past, and her achievements, but it is one that in a very real sense is America.

And now this frieze, through the genius of an American artist, has been completed. But the thought does not cross our minds that the history of America is completed. Atop the Capitol dome the great statue still faces the east-the rising sun-ready to meet the challenge of the day.

And so the mind is intrigued with the thought as to what would be depicted in another frieze, if it should be started, or if there should be additional panels provided somewhere.

Of course, we cannot guess at the exact incidents of our history that could be there emplaced, but we do know this: they would not be there to commemorate the shattering effects of an atom bomb or a hydrogen bomb. There would be depicted progress that brings happiness to humans. There would be something that would imply and indicate and record a stronger America-stronger spiritually, intellectually, economically, in every way needed to allow America to serve her role in leading the world to a more secure and peaceful existence.

Certainly, there would be panels commemorating significant events in the long quest that man has made toward peace, and which indeed must soon reach some kind of fruition, or the alternative is bleak indeed.

But we have confidence, as we look at the record of America's past, that she can so lead. She has not failed. She will not.

And so, as I gather here today with this distinguished company, accorded the great honor of dedicating this frieze to all those future Americans who from this day on shall come here and gain renewed inspiration to do their work, I pray with you, and I share your confidence, that that future will be one of increasing strength, increasing security for all America, and all the world.

And so, in that sense, in that spirit, I dedicate this frieze to the future of America.

NOTE: The President's opening words "Mr. Chairman" referred to Thomas A. Jenkins, U.S. Representative from Ohio. Representative Jenkins introduced the bill providing for the completion of the frieze and served as a member of the committee for the execution of the project. The subjects of the new panels by artist Allyn Cox are the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, and the invention of the airplane by the Wright Brothers. The dedication exercises were held at 11:00 a.m.; for full text see Congressional Record (vol. 100, p. 6369).

Dwight D. Eisenhower, Remarks at the Capitol at the Dedication of the Rotunda Frieze Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/273584

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