Statesman, scholar, philosopher, president — Thomas Jefferson was all of them, and much more. Easily one of the greatest leaders the nation had ever had, he was long overdue for a national monument when Congress authorized the building of one in 1934. The location chosen was directly south of the White House, at the Potomac River Tidal Basin, the site of cherry blossom trees donated by the people of Japan in 1912. The trees were removed, and a pantheon to Jefferson began going up.
On this day, November 15, in 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt laid down the cornerstone for the Jefferson Memorial, the “third great shrine,” as he called it, in honor of the third President of the United States.
Similar to the Lincoln memorial (a similarity for which it was criticized), behind the columns, inside the structure is a bronze statue of Jefferson that stands 19 feet tall, weighing 1,000 pounds. Inscribed on the wall are excerpts from the Jefferson-composed Declaration of Independence, and from his letters to colleagues, including one to George Washington in which he wrote “Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than these people are to be free.”