Tag archives: American History

After 246 Years, Old Glory Still Endures

by Molly Carman

June 14, 2021

One of the most identifying symbols of a nation is its flag. In the United States, the stars and stripes that fly over federal buildings, schools, and on our front porches remind every American of the price of freedom. Although the design has changed over the years as the union grew, Old Glory has represented America since 1775. Because of the significance of this patriotic symbol, Americans observe Flag Day each year, remembering the history of the flag and the nation it represents, how it was made, and what the flag symbolizes.

The first design of an American flag was presented on December 3, 1775 and it was known as the Grand Union Flag. While the designer of the flag is not known for certain, it was first hoisted on the Continental Navy man-of-war USS Alfred, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on December 2, 1775, by Lieutenant John Paul Jones. On the first design, the section where the blue background and the stars now reside was originally occupied by a small British flag. This design was used until June 14, 1777 when the 13-star design was adopted as the official flag of the United States of America. According to the Library of Congress, “To date, there have been twenty-seven official versions of the flag, but the arrangement of the stars varied according to the flag-makers’ preferences until 1912 when President Taft standardized the then-new flag’s forty-eight stars into six rows of eight. The forty-nine-star flag (1959-60), as well as the fifty-star flag, also have standardized star patterns.”

The original design of the 13-star flag is credited to Elizabeth Griscom, more commonly known as Betsy Ross. Although no official documentation exists to confirm she was commissioned to design and manufacture the first American flag, it is accepted because of the accredited testimonials from her grandchildren. Betsy was born on January 1, 1752, as the eighth of 17 children in a Quaker family. After completing her education, she was apprenticed to an upholsterer named John Webster. She broke from her family when she married John Ross who did not follow the Quaker faith. Tragically, John died three years into the marriage, leaving Betsy a childless widow. According to the testimony of her grandson, it was soon after her husband’s death that she was visited and commissioned by George Washington, Robert Morris, and George Ross in the summer of 1776 to make the flag for the new nation.

Our flag has been celebrated in various ways throughout our nation’s history. However, the first official celebration of the flag was on June 14, 1870, which was the 100th anniversary of the Flag Resolution which declared Ross’s design to be the national flag of the United States. Bernard J. Cigrand was the first schoolteacher to organize a flag day event at a school and later was recognized as the “Father of Flag Day.” He inspired other teachers to add the holiday to their school calendars. This movement later led to an order by New York governor Frank S. Black in 1897 when he ordered that all public schools have an American flag displayed outside their building.

Flag Day continued to be recognized by various states throughout the following years and was consistently observed in 36 state and local governments until 1916 when President Woodrow Wilson signed a Presidential Proclamation declaring June 14 as National Flag Day. Thirty-three years later, on August 3, 1949, President Harry Truman officially signed the holiday into law and the motion passed Congress that June 14 be recognized as National Flag Day.

Flag Day recognizes the banner that charged into battle as the united colonies fought for their independence in the Revolutionary War. As we salute the flag of the United States of America, we demonstrate our respect for those who laid the foundation of our nation. It is to the flag of the United States that we pledge our loyalty, our liberty, and our sacred honor. On Flag Day, it is appropriate to recite The Pledge of Allegiance: “I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

The Prayer That Saved America

by Worth Loving

May 12, 2021

In 1858, Abraham Lincoln gave a now-famous speech to the Illinois Republican Party as he accepted their nomination for the U.S. Senate. In this speech he referenced Matthew 12:25, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Indeed, the nation would quite literally split in half a little over two years later. But less than 100 years prior, we nearly ceased to be a nation.

The United States was a mere six years old and was on the brink of collapse. Our first form of government, the Articles of Confederation, proved to be an abysmal failure due to a weak central government that failed to keep the young nation united. In May of 1787, the states decided to send delegates to Philadelphia to draft a new governing document—what is today known as the Constitutional Convention.

The convention dragged on for weeks amid the stifling heat and humidity of the Philadelphia summer. There was fierce debate among the delegates regarding representation in the new Congress. Delegates from the small states favored equal representation, known as the New Jersey Plan. Delegates from larger states, on the other hand, favored a more proportional representation based on population, known as the Virginia Plan. Apparently, there was such vigorous debate that it sometimes descended into a shouting match. Some delegates left and never returned. By late June, it was an open question whether an agreement could be reached to save the young nation.

It was at this point that the aged delegate from Pennsylvania offered his sage advice. Benjamin Franklin, now 81 years old, was a frail figure compared to his younger self who spent years frolicking in France as the U.S. ambassador. In fact, he was now so weak and feeble that he often had to be carried into the convention on a sedan chair. Additionally, he would write out his speeches and have a fellow Pennsylvania delegate deliver them in his stead. What makes this speech unique is that Franklin actually rose from his chair and delivered the speech himself.

Mr. President:

The small progress we have made after four or five weeks close attendance and continual reasonings with each other—our different sentiments on almost every question, several of the last producing as many noes as ays, is methinks a melancholy proof of the imperfection of the Human Understanding. We indeed seem to feel our own want of political wisdom, since we have been running about in search of it. We have gone back to ancient history for models of government, and examined the different forms of those Republics which having been formed with the seeds of their own dissolution now no longer exist. And we have viewed Modern States all round Europe, but find none of their Constitutions suitable to our circumstances.

In this situation of this Assembly groping as it were in the dark to find political truth, and scarce able to distinguish it when presented to us, how has it happened, Sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of lights to illuminate our understandings? In the beginning of the contest with Great Britain, when we were sensible of danger we had daily prayer in this room for the Divine Protection.—Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a Superintending providence in our favor. To that kind providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful friend? Or do we imagine that we no longer need His assistance.

I have lived, Sir, a long time and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth—that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings that “except the Lord build they labor in vain that build it.” I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the Builders of Babel: We shall be divided by our little partial local interests; our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall be become a reproach and a bye word down to future age. And what is worse, mankind may hereafter from this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing Governments by Human Wisdom, and leave it to chance, war, and conquest.

I therefore beg leave to move—that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the Clergy of this City be requested to officiate in that service. 

As a result of Franklin’s speech, the rest of the Convention proceeded smoothly. Although a chaplain was never appointed, likely because the Convention couldn’t afford to pay one, the delegates gathered a few days later on the anniversary of our independence at the Reformed Calvinist Lutheran Church for a sermon and prayer. A few weeks later, the delegates reached a compromise, known as the Connecticut Compromise, that gave birth to the House and Senate prescribed in our Constitution today. On September 17, 1787, the U.S Constitution was signed by 39 of the 55 delegates. While there were still great disagreements among the delegates, they chose to put aside those differences for the greater good. The “miracle at Philadelphia” was birthed through prayer. The new Constitution also honored Franklin’s request—a chaplain was appointed for both the House and Senate. To this day, both houses of Congress are opened in prayer by a chaplain before they proceed to business.

While Franklin was publicly a professed Christian, privately he did not believe in Christ’s saving work on the cross. Franklin believed he could live a virtuous life and perform enough good works to gain Heaven. Again, this makes his call to prayer at the Constitutional Convention even more unique. 

Over 240 years later, Benjamin Franklin’s call to prayer is just as relevant today. Perhaps we are even more divided today than we were in 1787. Have we forgotten “that powerful Friend” who gave this nation our independence? Have we thought of “humbly applying to the Father of Lights to illuminate our understandings”?

James 5:16 says that “the effective fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” We need Christians to offer up prayers for our nation, that our leaders would set aside their differences for the common good. Prayer literally saved our nation, and it can do so again today.

90 Years Ago Today, a Rousing Poem Became Our National Anthem

by Molly Carman

March 3, 2021

Ninety years ago today, on March 3, 1931, Congress officially designated “The Star-Spangled Banner” by Francis Scott Key as the national anthem of the United States of America. Key’s song is a reminder of the fight for freedom and the patriots who gave their lives during the founding of our country. Key wrote this poem as a tribute to our flag as a beacon of hope and liberty for all American citizens and the world. On the anniversary of this poem becoming our national anthem, it is appropriate to remember the price so many have paid throughout our history to secure our rights and liberty.

Francis Scott Key did not anticipate that his poem would one day become the anthem and make him famous, but his poetic words and reputation proceeded him. He was born to a wealthy family in Frederick County, Maryland on August 1, 1779. He attended St. John’s College in Annapolis. After finishing his studies, he learned and practiced law under his uncle for several years. In 1802 he married Mary Tayloe “Polly” Lloyd and the couple moved to Georgetown where he practiced law. Key gained notoriety when he defended Justus Eric Bollman and Samuel Swartwout who had been charged with treason. He would go on to serve as the District Attorney for the District of Columbia and even an advisor to President Andrew Jackson in the 1860s.

During the War of 1812, the British attacked Fort McHenry on September 13, 1814. For over 25 hours, cannon fire, bombs, and militia tested the resilience of the fort. The British attacked the fort after successfully marching through Washington, D.C. where they burned the Capitol and the White House. During the assault, Key made an agreement with the British and boarded one of their ships to rescue his friend who was a prisoner of war. As the battle continued into the night, the British forced Key to remain on the ship to prevent him from aiding his countrymen. From the ship it seemed as though all hope was lost for America. However, it was the sight at dawn that inspired Key to pen the famous words to his short poem, originally titled, “Defense of Fort M’Henry.”

O say can you see by the dawn’s early light

What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming

Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight

O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?

And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air

Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there

O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave

O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

The poem describes the beautiful sight of liberty overcoming tyranny as the United States flag soared over the fort at dawn declaring an American victory. The banner was specifically commissioned by Major Armistead who was in command of Fort McHenry. Mary Pickersgill along with her daughter, two nieces, and servant all worked for over six weeks to complete the flag. They made two flags, one to charge the garrison that was 17 by 25 feet, and another to fly over the fort that was 30 by 42 feet. Both had 15 red and white stripes and 15 stars to represent the 15 states at the time. It is estimated that they used over 300 yards of wool; she was paid nearly $600 when it was complete. When it was clear that America had claimed the victory, the larger of the flags was raised. This flag was passed down through the Armistead family. Over time, pieces were cut off and shared with veterans, family friends, historians, and political figures. Today what is left of the flag is preserved in the Smithsonian Museum of American History.

Within a week, the poem that Key wrote describing the victory at Fort McHenry was published in the Baltimore Patriot, a local newspaper, and its popularity soon spread. Key’s brother-in-law set the poem to music and took the tune from a men’s social club song called, “To Anacreon to Heaven.” After the poem was put to music it was renamed, “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Because of the vulgar connotation of the tune as a “drinking song” and its association with the social club, Congress rejected it when the song was first proposed as the national anthem in 1930. Its leaders wanted the national anthem to have more wholesome and honorable origins. Further some members did not agree with adopting the song because it was difficult to march or dance to the rhythm. Other well-known patriotic songs such as “America the Beautiful,” “Hail, Columbia,” and “My Country, Tis of Thee” where all close contenders in the debate for America’s anthem. Finally, in 1931 they came to a consensus and “The Star-Spangled Banner” was declared the national anthem.

Our national anthem is a testimony of our nation’s history and founding. As we sing the words together before a ball game, in our schools, on Independence Day, and at political events, it’s a great opportunity to take the time to remember that freedom is never free. It is our sacred duty to preserve life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness so that the next generation might benefit from the freedom that we have because of the sacrifice of the generations before us.

The Washington Monument: A Tribute to Leadership and Religious Heritage

by Laura Grossberndt , Hayden Sledge

September 21, 2020

The history of the United States is preserved in archives, books, and the collective memory of the American people. It is also preserved in monuments, memorials, and statues made from marble, granite, bronze, or plaster.

Our nation’s capital is home to some of the world’s most recognizable and frequently visited monuments. This blog series will explore the events and people they commemorate, devoting particular attention to the spiritual themes depicted. By shedding light on our nation’s deep religious heritage, this series aims to inspire the next generation to emulate virtues and merits from America’s past that are worth memorializing.

FRC’s blog series on monuments is written by FRC summer interns and edited by David Closson, FRC’s Director of Christian Ethics and Biblical Worldview. Be sure to read our previous posts on the Lincoln Memorial, the World War II Memorial, the Joan of Arc Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, the 56 Signers of the Declaration of Independence Memorial, the Japanese American Memorial, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, the Titanic Memorial, and the Thomas Jefferson Memorial.

The Washington Monument serves as a memorial to the life of George Washington, particularly his leadership as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War and as the first president of the United States. It also stands as a reminder of America’s rich religious heritage.

Washington was so pivotal to America’s founding that he has been called the “father of his country.” He was a member of the First Continental Congress in 1774 and then was appointed commander-in-chief of the army in 1775. As a general, he is especially remembered for his stalwart leadership during the winter encampment at Valley Forge in 1777-78. After leading America to victory and independence on the battlefield, Washington presided over the convention that produced the U.S. Constitution. In 1789, he was unanimously elected the nation’s first president.

President Washington and his administration laid a strong foundation for the United States of America. Some notable events during Washington’s presidency include the celebration of the first federally-recognized Thanksgiving, the putting down of the Whiskey Rebellion, the induction of new states (North Carolina, Rhode Island, Vermont, Kentucky, and Tennessee), and the approval of the Bill of Rights. Washington also oversaw the signing of the Jay Treaty (normalizing trade relations with Great Britain), Pinckney’s Treaty (friendship with Spain), and the Treaty of Tripoli (access to Mediterranean shipping routes). Washington also set the presidential precedent of selecting a cabinet of advisors and stepping down after two terms.

Even before Washington became president, members of Congress wanted to create a statue of him to honor his wartime accomplishments. However, because the young country was lacking in funds, the project was scrapped.

Pierre L’Enfant, the designer of the federal capital (which was officially named after the first president in 1791), envisioned a monument honoring President Washington and even designated a special spot for an equestrian statue of Washington in his initial layout of the city.

The Washington National Monument Society, a private organization started by President James Madison and Chief Justice John Marshall, raised funds for the monument’s construction. First Lady Dolley Madison and Elizabeth Hamilton, widow of Alexander Hamilton, were also instrumental in raising funds. In 1833, the Society facilitated a contest to design the monument. The contest’s winner, Robert Mills, also designed the U.S. Treasury Building and the U.S. Patent Office. The latter building now holds the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

On July 4, 1848, a cornerstone-laying ceremony was held. President James K. Polk and future presidents James Buchanan, Abraham Lincoln, and Andrew Johnson were in attendance. Embedded in the cornerstone is a box of artifacts, including a portrait of Washington.

By 1854, Mills had built 156 feet of the monument. His design was incredibly daunting, and he encountered many obstacles during its construction. For example, when Pope Pius IX donated a stone from the Roman Temple of Concord, the gift sparked an outcry from the “Know Nothing” Party that opposed Catholicism and Catholic immigrants.

Unfortunately, Mills died in 1855 before the monument could be completed. The unfinished monument stood untouched for two decades.

In 1876, President Ulysses S. Grant approved funding to finish the monument, and work resumed in 1879. When Thomas Casey and the U.S. Army of Engineers could not find the original rock quarry, they were forced to use different stone. As a result, three different shades of stone from three different quarries were used in the monument’s construction.

In 1885, 36 years after the cornerstone had been laid, the monument was finished. On February 21, 1885, the day before Washington’s birthday, the monument was dedicated. At the time, the 555-foot-tall Egyptian-style obelisk was the tallest building in the world.

The Washington Monument has been the location of a few notable events. In 1982, veteran and anti-nuclear weapons activist Norman Mayer drove to the bottom of the monument and threatened that he would blow it up with 1,000 pounds of dynamite. Thousands of people were evacuated, but some were held hostage with Mayer. After ten hours, he let the hostages leave and was shot and killed by U.S. Park Police. Authorities later carefully inspected Mayer’s van and did not find the explosives he had claimed to have.

On August 23, 2011, the monument endured a severe earthquake. Although people were inside the monument at the time, no one was injured. It cost $15 million to repair the damage incurred by the earthquake.

It is worth noting that the Washington Monument represents more than the nation’s first president. The monument itself honors and reflects the Judeo-Christian values America was founded upon.

Many people and institutions contributed stones for the Washington Monument. Many of these stones are inscribed with names and short messages. One such stone donated by Sabbath School Children of the Methodist E. Church in Philadelphia is engraved with John 5:39 (“Search the Scriptures”), Luke 18:16 (“Suffer little children to come unto me and forbid them not for of such is the Kingdom of God.”) and Proverbs 22:6 (“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”) An image of the stone can be found here.

Other stones are engraved with phrases including “The memory of the just is blessed” (Proverbs 10:7), “Holiness to the Lord,” “In God We Trust,” “Qui Transtulit Sustinet” (“He who transplanted sustains”), and “May Heaven to this Union continue its beneficence.” At the top of the monument is an aluminum cap engraved with the Latin phrase “Laus Deo” (“Praise be to God”). A list of memorial stones and their inscriptions can be found here. A gallery of photos of some of the stones can be found here.

In 2007, a controversy arose involving the monument’s cap. While the monument was being renovated, a replica cap in the monument’s museum was removed and later put back in such a way that the “Laus Deo” inscription was not visible. Also, the accompanying plaque omitted the meaning of “Laus Deo.” After public outcry, the National Park Service later apologized and included the meaning of “Laus Deo” on the new plaque.

The Washington Monument isn’t just a soaring memorial to “the father of his country.” The verses and religious phrases inscribed on its stones serve as reminders of the Judeo-Christian values and religious freedom that played an important role in America’s founding.

The Thomas Jefferson Memorial: A Monument to Freedom

by Sarah Rumpf

September 15, 2020

The history of the United States is preserved in archives, books, and the collective memory of the American people. It is also preserved in monuments, memorials, and statues made from marble, granite, bronze, or plaster.

Our nation’s capital is home to some of the world’s most recognizable and frequently visited monuments. This blog series will explore the events and people they commemorate, devoting particular attention to the spiritual themes depicted. By shedding light on our nation’s deep religious heritage, this series aims to inspire the next generation to emulate virtues and merits from America’s past that are worth memorializing.

FRC’s blog series on monuments is written by FRC summer interns and edited by David Closson, FRC’s Director of Christian Ethics and Biblical Worldview. Be sure to read our previous posts on the Lincoln Memorial, the World War II Memorial, the Joan of Arc Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, the 56 Signers of the Declaration of Independence Memorial, the Japanese American Memorial, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, and the Titanic Memorial.

The Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C. honors the life and work of Thomas Jefferson—the author of the Declaration of Independence, the first secretary of state, the second vice president, and the third president of the United States. An influential figure in America’s early development, Jefferson was a lifelong advocate for limited government, religious freedom, and public education. Although Jefferson tragically failed to uphold the right of personal liberty of his fellow humans—namely, slaves—throughout his life, Jefferson’s advocacy for religious freedom continues to benefit people of all faiths, backgrounds, and ethnicities today.

Congress created the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Commission in 1934, nine years before the bicentennial of Jefferson’s birth in 1743. The site of the memorial had been originally intended for Theodore Roosevelt; however, President Franklin D. Roosevelt deeply admired Jefferson and used his influence to secure the site for the Founding Father. In 1935, the commission selected John Russell Pope, one of the nation’s most famous architects committed to the classical tradition, as the architect for the memorial.

Pope’s original design called for a huge building and the transformation of the Tidal Basin into a series of reflecting pools, rectangular terraces, and formal rows of trees. This design was controversial; many people expressed concern about the possible destruction of the Tidal Basin’s famous cherry trees. These trees had been a gift from the government of Japan in 1912 and were beloved by Washington, D.C.’s residents.

After Pope’s death in 1937, his colleagues Otto R. Eggers and David P. Higgins took over the project. President Roosevelt approved their more modest design, and Congress approved the first part of the $3 million construction cost in 1938. Work began that year and continued throughout World War II. On April 13, 1943, the bicentennial of Jefferson’s birth, President Roosevelt dedicated the completed memorial. To the 5,000 spectators and a radio audience of millions, Roosevelt proclaimed, “Today in the midst of a great war for freedom, we dedicate a shrine to freedom.”

Upon entering the Jefferson Memorial, the visitor will notice at its center the Jefferson statue, standing 19 feet tall atop a black Minnesota granite pedestal inscribed with the dates of Jefferson’s birth and death (1743-1826). The statue is surrounded by columns, quotes from Jefferson, and a coffered ceiling above. Interestingly, when the memorial construction was completed in 1943, there was a shortage of bronze due to World War II. A plaster statue was temporarily erected, to be replaced by a bronze statue in 1947. The statue depicts Jefferson holding the Declaration of Independence in his left hand. The interior of the Jefferson Memorial is comprised of white Georgia marble, the floor of pink Tennessee marble, and the massive dome of Indiana limestone. The dome’s interior is divided into two parts: the lower section has a coffered surface, and the upper section has a smooth, uninterrupted surface.

The architects of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial chose the materials not only for their aesthetic appeal but also for what they each symbolized. The exterior stonework is from Vermont, while the interior walls are from Georgia; this symbolized the geographic extremes of the original 13 colonies—from New England to the Deep South. Inside, the flooring and inner dome material are from Tennessee and Indiana; this symbolizes the expanding Union. The bronze statue of Jefferson stands atop a massive block of Minnesota granite with a gray Missouri marble ring surrounding its base; this symbolizes the impact President Jefferson had with the Louisiana Purchase during his presidency in 1803.

Thomas Jefferson has been closely associated with religious freedom for more than two centuries. The Jefferson Memorial was built to commemorate an esteemed advocate for personal spiritual freedom who believed that religion was a matter of conscience so long as it is not “injurious to others” and that the state should guarantee religious freedom for “the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindu, and infidel of every denomination.” Jefferson firmly believed that broad religious freedom and toleration were essential in a nation that was comprised of people from diverse backgrounds.

Today, Christians benefit from Jefferson’s convictions on personal religious freedom. Although Thomas Jefferson was not a Christian himself and is generally understood to have been a deist (i.e., accepting God’s existence but denying supernatural revelation and the deity and miracles of Jesus), Jefferson’s advocacy for religious freedom has helped ease the spread of the gospel. American Christians have an obligation to use the earthly freedom we have to preach spiritual freedom through the gospel. Galatians 5:13 states, “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” Let us continue to practice the religious liberty that Thomas Jefferson fought to preserve.

Sarah Rumpf is a Development intern at Family Research Council.

The Titanic Memorial: A Tribute to Sacrifice and Celebration of Life

by Molly Carman

August 26, 2020

The history of the United States is preserved in archives, books, and the collective memory of the American people. It is also preserved in monuments, memorials, and statues made from marble, granite, bronze, or plaster.

Our nation’s capital is home to some of the world’s most recognizable and frequently visited monuments. This blog series will explore the events and people they commemorate, devoting particular attention to the spiritual themes depicted. By shedding light on our nation’s deep religious heritage, this series aims to inspire the next generation to emulate virtues and merits from America’s past that are worth memorializing.

FRC’s blog series on monuments is written by FRC summer interns and edited by David Closson, FRC’s Director of Christian Ethics and Biblical Worldview. Be sure to read our previous posts on the Lincoln Memorial, the World War II Memorial, the Joan of Arc Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, the 56 Signers of the Declaration of Independence MemorialJapanese American Memorial, and the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

On April 15, 1912, the RMS Titanic sank in the Atlantic Ocean after striking an iceberg on her maiden voyage. The sinking of the so-called “unsinkable ship” and massive loss of life (over 1,500 of the 2,224 passengers) garnered international attention and led to major changes in maritime safety regulations.

Following the sinking of the Titanic, a movement arose to commemorate those who perished in the tragedy, specifically the men who had abided by the ship’s policy of admitting women and children into the lifeboats first. Approximately 75 percent of the men aboard the Titanic died in the icy waters of the Atlantic when the ship sank.

Within a month of the ship’s sinking, planning and fundraising to build a monument in memory of these men were already underway. Helen Herron Taft, wife of President William Howard Taft, gave the first recorded donation to the Women’s Titanic Memorial Association, which was chaired by Clara Hay, the widow of Secretary of State John Hay. Titanic survivors and family members were prominent contributors. Two such donors were the widow of the late Pennsylvania railroad magnate John Thayer and Mrs. Archibald Forbes, who donated the money she had won playing bridge against the late John Jacob Astor the night the ship sank. Both Mr. Thayer and Mr. Astor died onboard. In the end, over $40,000 was raised toward the memorial.

The Women’s Titanic Memorial Association sponsored and organized a design competition for the memorial exclusively among female artists. The original design for the monument was an arch, but the committee preferred a statue designed by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney and chose it instead. While Whitney was the designer, she did not sculpt the memorial. Rather, the monument’s base was sculpted and engraved by Henry Bacon, the same architect who designed and built the Lincoln Memorial. The statue on top of the base was carved from a single piece of red granite by John Horrigan in Quincy, Massachusetts.

Located at the northern tip of Fort McNair in Washington D.C., the memorial is a 15-foot statue of a young man with his arms stretched wide in a posture of hospitality, sacrifice, and surrender toward heaven. His head is tilted upward, his eyes are closed, and a peaceful expression rests across his face. A crown of laurels rests on the young man’s head, a symbol of honor, like the wreaths given to champions in ancient Rome. Finally, a drape covers most of the statue’s left side, maintaining his innocence and demonstrating his humility.

On the granite base of the memorial is the inscription:

To the brave men who perished in the wreck of the Titanic

April 15, 1912

They gave their lives that women and children might be saved

Erected by the women of America

 

On the back of the base, it reads:

To the young and the old

The rich and the poor

The ignorant and the learned

All

Who gave their lives nobly

To save women and children

 

It took 17 years to build the memorial, due to a lack of funds, but on May 26, 1931, it was finally dedicated in a coveted spot along the Potomac. It was unveiled by Helen Herron Taft, the now-widow of William Howard Taft, who had been president at the time of the Titanic’s sinking. Unfortunately, the memorial was taken down in 1966 and put into storage. Its former site is now home to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. However, the memorial reemerged from storage in 1968 and now resides at the northern tip of Fort McNair.

We can learn three truths from the Titanic Memorial and the men it honors. First, the statue is in a posture of peace. As Christians, we must remember Jesus’ invitation and promise to give rest to all who come to Him (Matthew 11:28). Despite the dark nights we may face, true rest from our fears can be found in Christ.

Second, the statue is in a posture of surrender. Christians must remember to surrender to God daily and trust His will for our lives. Consider the refrain of Christ’s prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane before he suffered for our sakes, “Yet not my will, but thine be done” (Luke 22:42). We must surrender our lives to God so that we might truly live for Him.

Third, the statue represents sacrifice. Christians must remember Christ’s ultimate sacrifice for us on the cross. John 15:13 reminds us that “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” Just as men onboard the Titanic sacrificed their lives so others might live, so Christ laid down His life for the world, so that all might live.

The Martin Luther King Memorial: A Monument to Justice and Peace

by Samantha Stahl

August 20, 2020

The history of the United States is preserved in archives, books, and the collective memory of the American people. It is also preserved in monuments, memorials, and statues made from marble, granite, bronze, or plaster.

Our nation’s capital is home to some of the world’s most recognizable and frequently visited monuments. This blog series will explore the events and people they commemorate, devoting particular attention to the spiritual themes depicted. By shedding light on our nation’s deep religious heritage, this series aims to inspire the next generation to emulate virtues and merits from America’s past that are worth memorializing.

FRC’s blog series on monuments is written by FRC summer interns and edited by David Closson, FRC’s Director of Christian Ethics and Biblical Worldview. Be sure to read our previous posts on the Lincoln Memorial, the World War II Memorial, the Joan of Arc Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, the 56 Signers of the Declaration of Independence Memorial, and the Japanese American Memorial.

Overlooking the Tidal Basin and facing the Jefferson Memorial is the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. The King Memorial commemorates the foremost leader of the civil rights movement and stands as a tribute to the ideals he dedicated his life to advancing.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Baptist preacher, orator, and activist. He led the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott, organized nonviolent protests throughout the American south, and served as the first president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Additionally, King helped organize the 1963 March on Washington, during which he delivered his well-known “I Have A Dream” speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. King championed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 in recognition of his nonviolent protests and work toward racial equality. Tragically, King was assassinated in 1968.

Today, the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. are enshrined forever in a stunning granite memorial on the National Mall. Every aspect of the memorial is symbolic, including its physical address, 1964 Independence Avenue, which symbolizes the year the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act was signed into law. Visitors pass through a narrow valley hewn into the “Mountain of Despair” and out into open freedom, where the missing part of the mountain, the “Stone of Hope,” stands. In this Stone of Hope, King’s likeness is engraved. This walk (through the Mountain of Despair and out to the Stone of Hope) represents the victory of the Civil Rights Movement, born out of disappointment and grief. “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope,” from King’s August 28, 1963 “I Have A Dream” speech is engraved in the monument.

A 450-foot long inscription wall that spans the width of the monument’s plaza contains 14 excerpts from King’s sermons and speeches, which serve as a reminder of the values King stood for: peace, democracy, justice, and love. Quotes include:

  • Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” 1963
  • Make a career of humanity. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in.” District of Columbia, 1959
  • The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” 1963
  • True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.” 1958

The process of establishing a national memorial to Martin Luther King, Jr began in the mid-1980s, when Boston University’s oldest African American intercollegiate fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha (the fraternity King was a member in the1950s), presented the idea. In 1996, Congress passed a resolution authorizing Alpha Phi Alpha to establish a memorial to King in Washington, D.C., and in 1998, President Clinton signed the resolution. In 1999, the National Memorial Project Foundation held a design competition, which attracted 900 submissions from 52 countries. In 2006, Lei Yixin was selected to sculpt the statue of King. Yixin completed 80 percent of King’s statue at his studio in Changsha, China, before traveling to D.C. to finish the rest. The completed memorial opened to the public on October 16, 2011, following a dedication ceremony attended by President Obama.

King’s legacy was to choose love over hate, a conviction he rooted in Scripture. Specifically, Christ’s Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) inspired King to respond to inequality with nonviolence and love. His Christian faith motivated him to make use of the suffering he endured during the struggle for civil rights. King looked forward to the day when those in office would “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with [their] God” (Micah 6:8).

King firmly believed his work was God’s will, as he stated in his final speech on April 3, 1968. In this emotional speech the night before he was assassinated, King preached, “I just want to do God’s will. And He has allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I have looked over and I have seen the Promised Land.” King knew he might not see the “Promised Land” (i.e., an America free of racial tension), but he had hope that “we as a people will get to the Promised Land.” He concluded his final speech by quoting the Battle Hymn of the Republic, noting, “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!”

King’s legacy of peace, democracy, justice, and love should serve as a model for us today. At a time of heightened racial tensions, King would likely renounce violence and encourage Americans to remember that we are all God’s children.

Samantha Stahl is a Communications intern at Family Research Council.

The Japanese American Memorial: A Monument to Reconciliation

by Hayden Sledge

August 18, 2020

The history of the United States is preserved in archives, books, and the collective memory of the American people. It is also preserved in monuments, memorials, and statues made from marble, granite, bronze, or plaster.

Our nation’s capital is home to some of the world’s most recognizable and frequently visited monuments. This blog series will explore the events and people they commemorate, devoting particular attention to the spiritual themes depicted. By shedding light on our nation’s deep religious heritage, this series aims to inspire the next generation to emulate virtues and merits from America’s past that are worth memorializing.

FRC’s blog series on monuments is written by FRC summer interns and edited by David Closson, FRC’s Director of Christian Ethics and Biblical Worldview. Be sure to read our previous posts on the Lincoln Memorial, the World War II Memorial, the Joan of Arc Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, and the 56 Signers of the Declaration of Independence Memorial.

Many visitors to our nation’s capital are unfamiliar with the Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism During World War II, a monument recognizing the oppression that hundreds of thousands of Japanese Americans experienced during World War II.

Around 120,000 Japanese Americans were placed in internment camps after Franklin D. Roosevelt signed executive order 9066 that permitted the secretary of war to remove any resident aliens from parts of the western United States identified as military areas. This executive order disproportionately affected Japanese Americans, mainly because the United States was deeply distressed after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

We now know as a nation that the United States’ treatment of Japanese Americans during World War II was anything but decent. Former President Ford acknowledged the United States’ wrongdoing in 1976. Then in 1988, President Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act and said, “Here we admit a wrong. Here we affirm our commitment as a nation to equal justice under the law.” Later, in 1992, President Bush signed a law to start the building of the memorial. The Japanese American Memorial symbolizes the United States’ desire and commitment to never again commit such an act of injustice.

In 1988, after the country realized it had wronged the Japanese American people, internees were granted $20,000. This reparation could never bring complete healing to all those hurt by the executive order, but it was nevertheless an intentional action the government took to show remorse in addition to simply apologizing.

Many of the internees selflessly donated their reparations to the building of a memorial in 1999. On November 9, 2000, Deputy Secretary of Defense Rudy de Leon and United States Attorney General Janet Reno spoke at the dedication of the Japanese American Memorial.

The memorial is comprised of a wall and a sculpture of two cranes. Davis Buckley and Nina Akamu designed the memorial. Nina Akamu, a third-generation Japanese American, dutifully sculpted the two cranes. Since Akamu’s grandfather had been in one of the internment camps, crafting the sculpture was especially personal for her. Akamu’s grandfather was of Japanese heritage and had been arrested in Hawaii. He later died of a heart attack while in the internment camp due to his diabetes.

With her grandfather’s story in mind, Akamu designed the two red-crowned cranes to be entangled in barbed wire. The cranes’ ability to persevere amidst the wires represents their commitment to patriotism. They remained loyal to the United States, even though they were experiencing unnecessary hardship. The cranes symbolize the body and spirit of these Japanese Americans. The cranes are also pressed up against each other, representing Japanese Americans’ need for each other during such a difficult time. The birds’ wings are sculpted to look like a torch symbolizing freedom, as well as the 442nd freedom torch, which symbolized the 442nd regiment, a regiment comprised of Japanese Americans.

The memorial “Honor Wall” honors more than 800 soldiers that died fighting for the United States. Norman Y. Mineta’s and Akemi Dawn Matsumoto Ehrlich’s poem “The Legacy” are both featured. The 10 concentration camps and the number of internees at each camp are listed on the wall.

The memorial wall also honors Mike M. Masaoka, a civil rights activist and a staff sergeant of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Robert T. Matsui, an internee at Tule Lake, and Daniel K. Inouye, a U.S. congressman, U.S. senator, and captain of the 442nd Regional Combat Team, are also remembered on the wall. Finally, U.S. presidents Reagan and Truman are quoted.

This memorial showcases the diligence of the Japanese Americans and honors their sacrifice, but this memorial is also a reminder of humanity’s inherent brokenness. It is a reminder that our sin never just affects us, but those around us as well. When we recognize sin, we are called to turn from our wicked ways. Acts 3:19 says, “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.”

By God’s grace, He calls us to become more like Him by fleeing from evil, and He, in turn, blesses us. Matthew 3:8 says, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” When we turn from evil, God calls us to seek justice and glorify Him with our lives. Isaiah 1:17 says, “Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” By God’s grace, we can learn from our mistakes and chart a course that is more honoring to Him.

With Scripture in mind and an understanding of the memorial’s history, we can live with a commitment to seek healing and restoration. The Japanese American Memorial serves both as a reminder of our country’s past sins against the Japanese American people and a symbol of progress, revealing just how far the United States has come as a nation.

Hayden Sledge is a Coalitions intern at Family Research Council.

The 56 Signers of the Declaration of Independence Memorial: Life, Liberty, and Legacy

by Molly Carman

August 14, 2020

The history of the United States is preserved in archives, books, and the collective memory of the American people. It is also preserved in monuments, memorials, and statues made from marble, granite, bronze, or plaster.

Our nation’s capital is home to some of the world’s most recognizable and frequently visited monuments. This blog series will explore the events and people they commemorate, devoting particular attention to the spiritual themes depicted. By shedding light on our nation’s deep religious heritage, this series aims to inspire the next generation to emulate virtues and merits from America’s past that are worth memorializing.

FRC’s blog series on monuments is written by FRC summer interns and edited by David Closson, FRC’s Director of Christian Ethics and Biblical Worldview. Be sure to read our previous posts on the Lincoln Memorial, the World War II Memorial, the Joan of Arc Memorial, and the Korean War Memorial.

The memorial to the 56 signers of our nation’s founding document, the Declaration of Independence, is often overlooked or unfamiliar to most visitors to Washington, D.C. The memorial is located on a small island, in a part of the National Mall called Constitution Gardens, which is north of the reflecting pool between the World War II and Lincoln memorials.

In April 1978, Congress passed an act “To authorize the Secretary of the Interior to memorialize the fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence in Constitution Gardens in the District of Columbia.” The completed memorial was dedicated on July 2, 1984, 208 years after the Continental Congress voted in favor of independence.

The first stone of the footbridge to the island reads, “A Memorial to the 56 Signers of the Declaration of Independence; A gift from the American Revolution Bicentennial Administration 1976.” The final stone of the bridge reads, “In Congress, July 4th, 1776, The Unanimous Declaration of the thirteen United States of America.” The first step into the memorial is engraved with the final lines of the Declaration, “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm Reliance on the Protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”

Designed and sculpted by landscape artist Joseph Brown, the memorial is comprised of a semi-circle of angled blocks of granite. Brown engraved onto these blocks each signer’s signature, enhancing them with gold leaf. Below the signatures, he printed each man’s name, profession, and hometown. The stones are grouped together by state, with Pennsylvania’s nine signers flanking the memorial’s entrance. The 13 state names are written at the base of the stones.

The 56 signers held a variety of professions. There were 19 lawyers, as well as 23 farmers, planters, or merchants of some kind. Four were doctors, three were judges, and two were politicians. The last five were a writer, a surveyor, an ironmaster, a statesman, and a clergyman.

Interestingly, 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. 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. 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 in the memorial.

While the signers of the Declaration of Independence held several different types of political positions, only John Witherspoon from New Jersey has “clergyman” identified as his occupation. However, Layman Hall from Georgia was also a clergyman who had graduated from Yale Divinity School; he changed careers and became a physician out of Yale Medical School in 1756. Because being a physician was his second and primary occupation, this is what is engraved on the memorial.

Originally from Scotland, Witherspoon attended the University of Edinburgh, where he received a Master of Arts, followed by four years of divinity school. Afterward, he became an ordained minister, all by age 20. Because of his contribution to the church and his educational background, he was awarded a Doctor of Divinity from the University of St. Andrews.

At that time in history, the most educated men where the clergy. The College of New Jersey (modern-day Princeton) needed additional scholars to join their assembly. Witherspoon made the treacherous journey to the American Colonies in 1768.

Initially abstaining from political involvement, Witherspoon focused on his success in the college and his church. However, with time he came to support the revolutionary cause, accepting appointments to the committees of correspondence and safety in early 1776. That same year, during his commencement speech at Princeton, Witherspoon demonstrated a change of heart, saying, “I beseech you to make wise improvement of the present threatening aspect of public affairs, and to remember that your duty to God, to your country, and to your families, and to yourselves, is the same.”

Later that same year, Witherspoon was elected to the Continental Congress just in time to vote in favor of Richard Henry Lee’s Resolution for independence and sign the Declaration of Independence. In Witherspoon’s later years, he suffered an injury that caused him to lose one of his eyes, and with time he lost the sight of the other, rendering him completely blind. He later died on his farm near Princeton at the age of 71.

Like Witherspoon, Christians should not be afraid to be engaged politically. Witherspoon was often characterized as one devoted to advancing the “cause of Christian liberty by forming the minds of youth.” Family Research Council chartered a program in 1997 called the Witherspoon Fellowship. Though not under the same name, the internship program continues today, challenging, mentoring, and developing students academically, practically, and spiritually.

Molly Carman is a Policy and Government Affairs intern whose research focuses on developing a biblical worldview on issues related to family and current events.

FRC’s Top 7 Trending Items (Week of July 26)

by Family Research Council

July 31, 2020

Here are “The 7” top trending items at FRC over the past seven days:

1. Washington Update: “Black Lives Matter Makes Its Marx”

How many Christians plaster “Black Lives Matter” across their social media pages not realizing that they’re supporting a group with radical beliefs? Americans are terrified that if they don’t embrace Black Lives Matter, they’ll be labeled as bigots and racists. The extremists are counting on that fear.

2. Washington Update: “Barr Brawl in the House”

House Democrats have been itching to get Attorney General William Barr on the stand for more than a year. But when that wish came true, the Left blew it as they raged, interrupted, and mocked their way through five hours of the hearing.

3. Blog: “Hope in Nebraska: Nebraska Pushes Towards Banning Dismemberment Abortions”

Recently, Nebraska’s state senators successfully brought a bill prohibiting dismemberment abortions to the legislature for debate and a vote. The author of the bill, State Senator Suzanne Geist, believes most Nebraskans will agree with the bill once they learn the horrors of dismemberment abortions.

4. Blog: “Lessons in Perseverance from the Life of William Wilberforce”

The abolition of slavery. Women’s suffrage. Civil rights for black Americans. These reforms came about through years of dedicated efforts from people who refused to quit. As we fight to protect life, family, and religious freedom, we can look to the life of William Wilberforce as inspiration, a man dedicated to the abolition of slavery in the British Empire.

5. Washington Watch: Dr. Teryn Clarke worries that a political agenda is covering up the truth about the coronavirus

Dr. Teryn Clarke, one of the doctors who participated in Monday’s Tea Party Patriots news conference, joined Tony Perkins to discuss the Facebook, Google/YouTube, and Twitter censorship of the viral video.

6. Washington Watch: Sec. Chad Wolf insists that peaceful protestors don’t commit violent crimes

Chad Wolf, Acting Secretary of Homeland Security, joined Tony Perkins to discuss the federal response to the riots in Portland and other cities, and on protestors showing up outside his home.

7. Washington Watch: Andy McCarthy insists the ACLU’s case against federal troops in Portland is as flimsy as it gets

Andy McCarthy, former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York and Senior Fellow at the National Review Institute, joined Sarah Perry to discuss a federal judge issuing a restraining order against federal agents tasked with protecting a federal courthouse in Portland from violent rioters.

For more from FRC, visit our website at frc.org, our blog at frcblog.com, our Facebook page, Twitter account, and Instagram account. Get the latest on what FRC is saying about the current issues of the day that impact the state of faith, family, and freedom, both domestically and abroad. Check out “The 7” at the end of every week to get our highlights of the week’s trending items. Have a great weekend!

  • Page 1 of 2
  • 1
  • 2
Archives