The two men who helped create the world’s greatest library

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This is from the National Constitution Center. 

I knew about Thomas Jefferson selling his book collection to replenish the Library Of Congress.

I never heard of Ainsworth Rand Spofford until now. 

The Library of Congress has survived an attack by the British and a lack of government funding to become the world’s biggest library, with the helping hands of two people in the 19th century.


Ainsworth Rand Spofford










One person is familiar to most Americans: Thomas Jefferson. The other is a newspaper editor who came to Washington during the Civil War and created an institution on a grand scale.

Ainsworth Rand Spofford was a journalist who reported on the war and lobbied to become the head of the Library of Congress. His three decades as the Librarian of Congress put the institution on the path of becoming a world-class institution. Subsequent librarians expanded the scope and impact of the institution.

The Library of Congress was created by Congress (of course) on April 24, 1800, with the approval of President Thomas Jefferson. But it had a rocky start. The book collection was kept at the Capitol, and only Congress, the president and the vice president (at the time, Aaron Burr) were allowed to borrow books.

It was destroyed in 1814 when British troops attacked the building. Fortunately, former President Jefferson, the continent’s biggest book lover, agreed to sell his collection to the Library for the sum of $23,950 in 1815. Congress passed the bill to approve the purchase by a narrow margin along party lines.

The Jefferson purchase doubled the library’s size, to more than 6,000 books, and it planted Jefferson’s ideals about global learning as a philosophy that would set the stage for the institution’s growth after the Civil War.

Before Spofford took over as the Librarian of Congress, the institution served mostly as a resource for lawmakers. Much of the collection, which grew to 55,000 volumes, was destroyed in a Christmas Eve fire in 1851.

Spofford sought to make the Library of Congress the biggest library in the United States, which he was able to do within three years after his appointment by President Abraham Lincoln in 1864.

Spofford also played a key role in a move that would guarantee the Library’s vital role in national learning. In 1870, Congress appointed the Library of Congress, and its librarian, as the institution that coordinated all copyright functions in the United States. The law required that two copies of every book, pamphlet, map, print, photograph, and piece of music be deposited in the Library of Congress. In subsequent years, movies, audio recordings, and digital materials became part of the copyright registration process.

Spofford also championed a standalone building for the Library of Congress outside of the Capitol building to host the burgeoning collection. It took 26 years–the remainder of Spofford’s tenure as Librarian–to get the building approved and constructed.

The new Library (now known as the Jefferson Building) was based on the Paris Opera House and instantly became a national monument and source of pride.

Today, the Library of Congress continues its mission to “support the Congress in fulfilling its constitutional duties and to further the progress of knowledge and creativity for the benefit of the American people.”

Its collection contains more than 155 million items, including more than 35 million catalogued books and other print materials in 460 languages; more than 68 million manuscripts; the largest rare book collection in North America; and the world’s largest collection of legal materials, films, maps, sheet music, and sound recordings.

Its current rival for the title of the world’s biggest library is the British Library in London. It also contains more than 150 million items, but it trails the Library of Congress when it comes to shelf space used.

One of the current exhibitions at the Library of Congress is a reconstruction of Jefferson’s original library.

The Library was able to assemble most of the books lost in the 1851 fire, and it acquired some rare volumes with the support of Jerry Jones, the current owner of the Dallas Cowboys football team.



Official: Tubman replaces Jackson, Hamilton remains on currency

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This is from the National Constitution Center.

I guess Old Andy “By God” Jackson is not politically correct.

I scheduled but the scheduler gave me a big screw you.

The Treasury Department has officially announced that Founding Father (and Broadway star) Alexander Hamilton will stay on the $10 bill and Harriet Tubman will replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill.

On Twitter, the Department confirmed that Hamilton will on the front of the $10 bill, with five women associated with suffrage on the back: Alice Paul, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth and Lucretia Mott. On the $20 bill, Tubman is on the front, with images of Jackson and the White House on the inverse.

Images of people associated with the Lincoln Memorial, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Eleanor Roosevelt and Marian Anderson, will be added to the inverse of the $5 bill.

Jack Lew and Lin-Manuel Miranda

Lew with Lin-Manuel Miranda

News of Lew’s decision leaked out over the weekend about Hamilton, and Tubman’s selection was reported by major media outlets on Wednesday morning.

Since the initial reports on the weekend, there has been an going debate about the decision to not put a woman on the $10 bill’s front was in fact a “step back” for women – since the Treasury Department will feature a mural of famous suffragette’s on the bill’s back.

Cokie Roberts, the TV commentator, wrote in the New York Times on Wednesday that the move with the $10 bill was “another ‘wait your turn’ moment for American women” and she would put Hamilton’s wife’s picture on the $10 bill.

Tubman, the famed abolitionist, had been one rumored candidate for the $20 bill spot, along with Rosa Parks.

Jackson, the seventh President of the United States, has appeared on the $20 bill since 1928, when replaced Grover Cleveland on the widely circulated currency.  During the same year, Hamilton was moved from the $1,000 bill to the $10 bill, where he replaced … Andrew Jackson.

Other past occupants of $20 currency notes include explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, Robert Morris and Benjamin Franklin. The $20 bill alumni include Cleveland in the Federal Reserve era, and George Washington, James Garfield, Pocahontas and Alexander Hamilton in the pre-Fed era.

Last June, Lew announced a five-year process to find the right woman, or women, to go on the new version of the $10 bill, replacing Hamilton, the father of the Treasury Department and one of the seminal Founding Fathers.

Lew soon walked back the idea that Hamilton was disappearing from the currency scene. Lew told The Wall Street Journal that Hamilton would play some role as an icon on Americans currency, but he wasn’t specific. “We made it clear that Alexander Hamilton will remain part of our currency,” Lew said. “He played such a formative role in establishing our economic system. We are proud to continue to plan on honoring Alexander Hamilton.”

Ironically, Jackson was deeply opposed to paper currency. And no one really knows why the Treasury Department put Jackson on the $20 bill in 1928.

One person who lobbied Lew to keep Hamilton on the $10 bill was Lin-Manuel Miranda, the star of Broadway’s hit musical, “Hamilton.” Miranda has met with Lew twice, once backstage on Broadway and second time in Washington when the play’s stars sung at the White House in March.

On This Day, Lee surrenders at Appomattox

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This is from the National Constitution Center.


On a Palm Sunday 151 years ago today, Confederate General Robert E. Lee agreed to surrender his Army of Northern Virginia, marking a symbolic end to the Civil War.





The overall Confederate surrender took place in stages over the following two months, with other Confederate armies reaching surrender agreements after Lee met with Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House.

But the loss of Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia was a fatal blow to the Confederacy.

Lee’s troops had been besieged by Grant’s Union forces at Petersburg and Richmond for a 10-month period starting in June 1864. Lee used his considerable experience as a combat engineer to have his troops dig trenches to slow the Union advance.

But on April 1, Union forces led by General Phillip Sheridan took a key transportation link at Five Forks, and Grant broke through the Petersburg defenses the following day.

Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia withdrew to the southwest harried by Grant’s forces. On April 6, about a quarter of Lee’s army surrendered after it was cut off from Lee and surrounded by Union forces. The next day, Lee and Grant started corresponding about a possible surrender of the rest of the Army of Northern Virginia.

Grant said it was “my duty to shift from myself the responsibility of any further effusion of blood by asking of you the surrender of that portion of the Confederate States army known as the Army of Northern Virginia.” Lee then asked about surrender terms.

The two military leaders agreed to meet under a truce at the home of Wilmer McLean in Appomattox on the afternoon of April 9. A sharply dressed Lee and Lieutenant Colonial Charles Marshall arrived first, followed by a slightly disheveled Grant and his officers, a group that included Robert Todd Lincoln.

The generals had met once before during the Mexican-American War, and they briefly chatted about the experience.

Lee then asked Grant to write down the surrender terms, which allowed Lee’s officers to keep their side arms and horses, and a similar provision was provided for Lee’s cavalry and artillery troops. All of Lee’s troops were to “be allowed to return to their homes, and not be disturbed by United States authority so long as they observe their paroles and the laws in force where they may reside.” Grant also provided rations for the starved Confederate troops.

The generous surrender terms avoided potential trials of Confederate leaders and served as a blue print for other surrenders that followed.

After the papers were signed, Lee and Grant shook hands. And after Lee mounted his horse, Grant and his officers saluted Lee, who returned the gesture. Approximately, 28,000 Confederate soldiers laid down their weapons over the next three days and returned home.

On this day, Jeannette Rankin’s history-making moment

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This is from the National Constitution Center.

It was on April 2, 1917 that Jeannette Rankin became the first woman in Congress. But within days, she became the target of national scorn for voting against America’s entry into World War I.








Four years before the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which extended the right to vote to all American women, Rankin was elected to be the first woman member of Congress in 1916. A Republican from Montana, Rankin ran on a platform promising a constitutional amendment for woman’s suffrage and reforms on other social welfare issues such as child labor. Despite the fact that she was elected in 1916, she wasn’t sworn in as a Representative until April 2nd, 1917, only after Congress had a month long debate about whether a woman was fit to be a United States Representative.

Born in 1880, Jeanette Rankin was a trailblazer and activist from a young age. After graduating Montana State University, she worked as a social worker in Washington before joining the woman suffrage movement in that state, which extended to woman the right to vote in 1910. By 1914 she was experienced in navigating the woman suffrage battle and was a lobbyist for the National American Woman Suffrage Association, where she contributed to the woman suffrage campaign in Montana.

When she announced her candidacy for a House seat in Montana in 1916, some were understandably skeptical about her chances. While her election was a long shot, she benefitted from her political experience and reputation as an activist, and from support from her wealthy brother Wellington. During the campaign, she took a staunchly pacifist position towards U.S. participation in World War I, and she pledged that she would not vote for any American involvement in the deadly European conflict. After her victory, she acknowledged the gravity of her achievement for women across the country, and said that she was “deeply conscious of the responsibility resting upon” her.

On April 2nd, the same day that she officially became the first female member of Congress, President Wilson addressed Congress encouraging it to pass a declaration of war and authorize United States involvement in World War I.

As she voted no on the declaration of war three days later, she told her colleagues “I want to stand by my country, but I cannot vote for war”. The resolution ultimately passed 373 to 50, but Rankin established herself as both an active member of Congress and a staunch anti-war representative.

The Helena Independent called her “a dagger in the hands of the German propagandists, a dupe of the Kaiser, a member of the Hun army in the United States, and a crying schoolgirl.” Others questioned if women were able to be congressional representatives. “Miss Rankin’s vote is regarded, not as that of a pacifist, but rather as one dictated by the inherent abhorrence of women for war,” said the New York Times.

Later in 1917, Rankin led the fight in Congress to create the Committee on Woman Suffrage, and worked on the Committee to produce a constitutional amendment extending suffrage to women nationally. While the particular resolution the committee produced eventually failed to pass the Senate, she rallied support for it among her colleagues in the House by asking on the floor, “How shall we explain to them the meaning of democracy if the same Congress that voted to make the world safe for democracy refuses to give this small measure of democracy to the women of our country?”

As she was considering reelection in 1918, the Montana house passed legislation altering how representatives from the state were to be elected, which resulted in her being assigned to an overwhelmingly Democratic district. Acknowledging the difficulty of being re-elected to the House, she decided to campaign for the Senate seat in Montana, but eventually lost in the Republican primary. Never one to easily capitulate in the face of adversity, she pursued a third party run for Senate but eventually finished third.

After spending the next 20 years as an anti-war and social welfare activist, she ran again for a House seat in Montana in 1940. Again she triumphed and joined the House as the United States was debating whether to enter another world war. Even in the face of the destruction in Europe and the imperialism of Nazi Germany, she remarked on the House floor that “as a woman, I can’t go to war, and I refuse to send anyone else.”

Most pacifist sentiment quickly evaporated in the Untied States after the attack by Japan on Pearl Harbor and President Roosevelt asked for a declaration of war. Rankin’s sole vote against a declaration of war against Japan garnered “boos and hisses” in the House chamber, and made her the only representative to vote against entry to both World Wars.

While she maintained that “killing more people won’t help matters,” her vote was extremely unpopular and contributed to her decision to not seek re-election in 1942. After her term she continued to be an anti-war advocate, and was outspoken against America’s involvement in Vietnam decades after her vote against the WWII declaration.

Rankin died in 1973 after a colorful life of public service, activism, and courageous, historic firsts. Today, nearly 20 percent of members of Congress are women, and occupy leadership positions like Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. While parity among men and women has still yet to be realized, it’s obvious that the efforts of activists and trailblazers like Rankin have helped move our country forward, and recognize the ideals first articulated in the Declaration of Independence and Constitution.


The Alaska purchase: Folly or good fortune?

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This is from the National Constitution Center.

I say Seward’s purchase of Alaska is good fortune.

On this day in 1867, United States Secretary of State William Seward signs a deal acquiring Alaska, an agreement that was ridiculed by some as “Seward’s Folly” and opposed in the House.










In today’s popular culture, Seward is best known for his association with Abraham Lincoln. But his name is also forever linked to a decision back that brought Alaska into the fold as a United States territory, at a bargain price: The cost for Alaska in 1867 was $7.2 million, which is about $116 million in 2016 dollars.

Link: Read the treaty

Seward negotiated the deal in an extended bargaining session with Russian minister to the United States Eduard de Stoeckl on March 30, 1867. The Senate passed the treaty a few days later, but the House held up funding the purchase for more than a year, as the public debate raged over the purchase price and soundness of Seward’s decision.

On October 18, 1867, the United States took possession of Alaska from Russia under the terms of a formal land transfer, in a ceremony in the town of Sitka.

The Alaska Purchase gave the United States a land mass of 586,412 square miles, an area about twice the size of Texas. But it came at a time when the United States had just ended the Civil War, and it had an abundance of underpopulated land.

Prior to World War II, Alaska suffered from a bit of an inferiority complex and its own internal politics. In the wake of “Seward’s Folly,” Alaska avoided national attention until its Gold Rush began in the 1890s.

It became a territory in 1912 and started making noise about becoming a state four years later. As its strategic importance became obvious during World War II, in 1946 Alaska held a referendum asking Congress to consider it for statehood.

The Democrats during the 1950s favored Alaska as the 49th state, while the Republicans wanted Hawaii admitted by itself. The reason was that each new state gets two U.S. senators and at least one new House member, and the admission of a new state can swing votes in Congress.

Alaska became the 49th state in January 1959 after a compromise was reached in Congress.

In recent years, there has been some revisionist history about Seward’s decision. In 2009, University of Iowa economist David Barker argued, using a different set of statistics, that the federal government has lost money on the Alaska deal since 1867—because of the amount of federal subsidies spent on Alaska.

“The fact that the federal government has not profited from Alaska supports the contention of the new Western history that the West has generally been subsidized by the federal government,” he said.

That theory was contested on a New York Times blog a year later by two professors in Alaska, who said Barker’s calculations didn’t take into account broader measures.

The GOP nomination math: Confusing and complicated

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This is from the National Constitution Center.

My hope is that the Establishment Republicans does not screw the pooch by adopting the  DemocRats          Superdelegates.

As the presidential nomination process heads toward a big April, the twisted math behind picking the next Republican nominee is coming under close scrutiny.

Trump-536The current GOP front runner, Donald Trump, has received most of the votes and delegates in the primaries and caucuses contested so far. Trump has 696 delegates as of March 18th, well ahead of his nearest rival, Ted Cruz, with 424 delegates. That’s led some political observers to say that if Trump’s nomination isn’t inevitable, it is highly likely.

Adding to the confusion is a smaller group of observers who see the possibility of a contested convention in July at Cleveland. Trump needs 1,237 delegates for a first-ballot nomination, and while there are some winner-take-all states coming up, Trump has only taken about 47 percent of possible delegates in the races concluded so far. Using that simple number, these observers think Trump needs to win about 53 percent of the remaining delegates to get that first-ballot nomination.

That is the easy part of the math. Because of the different rules for the remaining Republican primaries and caucuses, there are few clear-cut winner-take-all primaries.

We used the website to look all the primary and caucus rules to get a sense how the voting could progress. There are a lot of variations compared to the Democratic primary system, where the only variables are proportional elections and Super Delegates.

According to the  website, of the 22 states and territories yet to vote for the Republicans, only five have primaries where the one candidate with the most votes in the state automatically gets all the delegates: Arizona, Delaware, Nebraska, New Jersey and South Dakota.

States like Pennsylvania and California, with their huge delegate slates, are considered winner-take-all elections with a catch. In California, there are 53 Congressional districts, each with three votes. The candidate with the most votes within that district gets its three votes. So if Trump wins 25 districts and Cruz wins 25 districts, each gets 75 delegates.

In Pennsylvania, there is a loophole primary, where a proxies for the candidates run in each Congressional district.  But 17 of the state’s 71 delegates go to the winner of the state-wide vote.

And in Trump’s home state, New York, its delegates are part of a winner-take-most process. Of the state’s 95 delegates, 81 are selected in 27 Congressional districts. In each district, if a candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote, he gets all three votes; if not, the top candidate gets two votes, and second-place finisher gets one vote.

On the surface, it would seem logical that Trump would need to get 53 percent of the popular vote to get 53 percent of its delegates. But using the March 15thIllinois primary as an example, with its loophole, winner-take-all primary rules, Trump took 39 percent of the popular vote but won 78 percent of the delegates. Why? Because Trump swept 10 of the 18 Congressional district races.

Looking at the total remaining delegates remaining, roughly 983 delegates, Trump would need something in the 53-55 percent range to get to the magical 1,237 number. Assuming Trump gets pure winner-take-all states in Arizona and Delaware, and he picks up mandated delegates in Wisconsin, Maryland and Pennsylvania, Trump would be just 405 delegates short of the nomination. And California and its 172 delegates use a format like Illinois that awards all the delegates within each district to one candidate, which favors Trump.

What would hurt Trump could be losses in winner-take-all states New Jersey, Nebraska and South Dakota, and unexpectedly poor showings in the bigger remaining states. Still, in a scenario like that, where Trump gets about 47 percent of delegates, he is short of the nomination by just about 79 delegates. How well Trump will do in a three-candidate contest is another unknown factor.

By April 27, the GOP outcome should be much clearer, since New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Connecticut will have voted in the prior week. The primary season concludes on June 7, with 303 delegates at stake in five states, including California and New Jersey. At that point, if Trump hasn’t secured the nomination, his “number to clinch” will be very clear.

And what do the non-political pundits think, like professional betting outfits that offer people a chance to wager on the primary-season outcome? The websiteElection Betting Odds analyzes these “prop bets” from, and it lists Trump as a 70 percent favorite to get the nomination. Other betting sites show similar odds.

Selma: The Shining Moment In The Conscience Of Man

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This is from the National Constitution Center. 

One person that very seldom gets mentioned in these type marches was conservative Charlton Heston.

They were also Jewish Rabbi’s that marched.

Many DemocRats like Bull Connor and George Wallace opposed civil right.


On March 7, 1965, civil rights activists were attacked by Alabama police fought near a bridge in Selma, Alabama, in a moment that shocked a nation and helped lead to the Voting Rights Act. Today, the images are still shocking and the debate over voting rights remains unsettled.


Bloody Sunday led to more marches











A crowd of about 525 people gathered near the Edmund Pettus Bridge to start a 45-mile march to Montgomery, Alabama, to raise awareness about the killing of Jimmie Lee Jackson. Jackson was shot three weeks earlier by an Alabama state trooper as he was protecting his mother during voter registration march.

The group led by Hosea Williams and John Lewis walked over the Pettus Bridge and it was then attacked, in front of journalists and photographers, by Alabama state police and a posse that had been formed for the occasion that was acting under the orders of Alabama Governor George Wallace. The police gave the group two minutes to leave the scene; the protesters opted to pray.

Newspapers at the time were graphic in their description of the one-sided confrontation. National television networks also had extended coverage of the scene, where marchers were beaten as they prayed and then gassed by police and the posse, as white onlookers cheered.

Absent from the first march was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was at his Atlanta church on what became known as “Bloody Sunday.” King quickly told reporters that he was heading to Selma to lead a second march on Tuesday. King also said he would seek restraining orders against Wallace and state police in federal court.

One image that resonated nationally was the picture of an injured marcher, Amelia Boynton. The local political and civil rights leader was beaten and gassed by police on the Pettus Bridge and she was carried off the bridge in front of the media gathered at the scene.

The second march at Selma on March 9 was short and ceremonial, as civil rights leaders waited for legal support. Dr. King led marchers over the Pettus Bridge and back to a church were the march began. But tragically, segregationists attacked three white ministers who took part in the march as they were eating dinner later that night, killing the Rev. James Reeb.

On March 17, federal judge Frank Johnson ruled that the demonstrators had a First Amendment right to march, saying that, “The law is clear that the right to petition one’s government for the redress of grievances may be exercised in large groups . . . . These rights may . . . be exercised by marching, even along public highways.”

Two days earlier, President Lyndon Johnson presented a draft of the Voting Rights Act to Congress. President Johnson had hoped that Governor Wallace would use the National Guard in Alabama to protect an upcoming third march, but Wallace refused, saying the state couldn’t afford the expense of supplying the troops.

For the third march, President Johnson sent 3,000 federal troops to Selma and he federalized the National Guard there. A group of 8,000 people set off from Selma and four days later, their numbers swelled to 25,000 when they arrived in Montgomery.

Wallace refused to accept a petition from the marchers and then Dr. King spoke to the large crowd.

“Selma, Alabama, has become a shining moment in the conscience of man. If the worst in American life lurked in the dark streets, the best of American instincts arose passionately from across the nation to overcome it,” King said. “The confrontation of good and evil compressed in the tiny community of Selma, generated the massive power that turned the whole nation to a new course.”

In August 1965, President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law. Special invited guests at the event were Amelia Boynton and Dr. King.


Today In History: Abraham Lincoln’s two great Inaugural Addresses

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This is from the National Constitution Center.

Abraham Lincoln’s two inaugural speeches were both historic and prophetic, and both given on March 4th. Read some of the highlights of these landmark addresses.


The first Lincoln Inaugural Address, 1861











Lincoln became president in 1861 as the southern states were leaving the Union. Four years later, Lincoln was preparing to unify the nation after the Civil War, but he would be killed within a month.

Highlights from 1861 inaugural address

By Monday, March 4, 1861, seven states had left the Union and Lincoln addressed his remarks to the South.

Considered one of America’s great speeches, its conclusion is one of Lincoln’s most-quoted passages.

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature,” Lincoln said.

Link: Full text of 1861 inaugural address

In 1865, Lincoln was already planning the difficult process of reunification. Thousands showed up to hear Lincoln speak on Saturday, March 4, 1865 , including John Wilkes Booth. His second inauguration speech is now part of the Lincoln Memorial.

Highlights from 1865 inaugural address

Containing just 698 words, the speech is one of the best-known in American history, including its conclusion:

“With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan — to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”

Link: Full text of 1865 inaugural address

10 fascinating facts about the Washington Monument

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This is from the National Constitution Center.

The iconic Washington Monument is celebrating its 231st birthday this Sunday. Learn how it took 40 years to complete the project, and the surprising connections it has to the Pope, Abraham Lincoln, and the Constitution.


The Monument before the Civil War

The Washington Monument has endured after its rather lengthy planning process, and it recently survived a major challenge: a three-year hiatus after an earthquake hit the Washing, D.C. area.

In May 2014, almost three years after it closed after a 5.8 magnitude struck on August, 22, 2011, the obelisk reopened. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis, philanthropist David Rubenstein, and National Mall & Memorial Parks Superintendent Bob Vogel were at the reopening ceremony.

Rubenstein’s generous contributions helped moved the restoration project forward. Jarvis said in a statement that Rubenstein had joined an impressive line of civic-minded donors, such as Stephen Mather, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and Andrew Carnegie, who made contributions to the national park system.

The Washington Monument officially was dedicated on February 21, 1885. In a speech written for that event by Robert Winthrop, who attended the groundbreaking ceremony in 1845, there was one memorable line: “An earthquake may shake its foundations … but the character which it commemorates and illustrates is secure.”

That’s not the only interesting fact or coincidence about the iconic monument. Here are 10 more fascinating facts about this American symbol.

1. James Madison had an early role in getting the monument project started. In 1833, the Washington National Monument Society, a private organization, came up with the idea for the tribute to the first President. Madison along with Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall started the society.

2. The first monument design featured a rotunda and a Roman-like George Washington. The initial winning bid came from architect Robert Mills, whose designed a flat topped obelisk with a statue of Washington in a chariot, along with statues of 30 Founding Fathers. The current obelisk design was proposed in 1876.

3. The Masons, and the Pope, were involved with the monument. Yes, the Free Masons were involved in the cornerstone ceremony and they used Washington’s masonic symbols in the ceremony. At the 1848 ceremony were 20,000 people, and a container that held copies of the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and other objects was buried in the cornerstone.

4. Abraham Lincoln was at the 1848 cornerstone ceremony. The eclectic guest list included three James Buchanan, Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, Dolley Madison and Alexander Hamilton’s widow, Betsey Hamilton, and of course, the then-current President, James K. Polk.

5. So how does the Pope fit into all of this? The Society asked for people to donate ceremonial stones as part of the construction process. Pope Pius IX donated a memorial stone of marble, which infuriated the anti-Catholic Know Nothing Party. The Know Nothings got their revenge by rigging the leadership election for the Washington National Monument Society. Congress cut off monument funding for 5 years until the Know Nothings left the group.

6. Nothing happened to the monument for a 22-year period. After the Know Nothing takeover in the 1850s, the monument became stalled to the point that it was used as a slaughter yard and cattle pen during the Civil War. Congress took over the project in 1876.

7. It took the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to get the job done. The Engineers were called in to work with Lt. Col. Thomas Lincoln Casey to modify the original ornate plans. The monument’s stripped-down, lean look was part of a cost-cutting effort. On December 6, 1884, an aluminum cap, used as a lighting-protection, device was placed on top. In February 1885, the dedication ceremony took place.

8. The Monument was the world’s tallest building when it was dedicated.The Washington Monument as dedicated stood at 555 feet 5 inches tall. The Cologne Cathedral had been the world’s tallest man-made structure. The Eiffel Tower soon surpassed the Monument.

9. The Monument is an engineering marvel. The Washington Post recently pointed out an interesting fact in an on-going debate about the Monument as the world’s tallest free-standing masonry structure. The Monument’s marble blocks are held together by just gravity and friction, and no mortar was used in the process.

10. The Washington Monument: Movie star. Nothing says “location shot” in a film like the Washington Monument, especially when the icon is under attack from aliens and terrorists, or used as a backdrop in a thriller or mystery. But maybe the most memorable appearance, in a real-life moment, occurred in August 1963, when the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke on the mall in Washington, with the Lincoln Memorial stage facing the Monument.


Four famous people who almost served on the Supreme Court

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This is from the National Constitution Center.

I did not know this.

The call from the President to become a Supreme Court Justice is a hard offer to refuse. But not everyone in history has accepted it. Here’s a look at four famous cases where prominent people passed on joining the most-powerful court in the land.

passedonscPatrick Henry

The revolutionary firebrand apparently was offered the position of Chief Justice of the United States in late 1795 after John Jay resigned and John Rutledge failed as a recess appointment.Letters from Light Horse Harry Lee to Henry indicated an offer was coming from President Washington to serve on the Court. Henry didn’t respond for several weeks, leading Washington to call the incident “embarrassing in the extreme” to Lee in a separate letter. Henry had already declined the position of Secretary of State and he didn’t wind up as Chief Justice when Oliver Ellsworth was confirmed instead.

Thomas Dewey

The two-time Republican nominee for President (in 1944 and 1948) was reportedly considered for the Supreme Court by Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and Lyndon Johnson, turning down both their offers to join the Court. According to the New York Times obituary for Earl Warren, Eisenhower offered the Chief Justice position in 1953 to John Foster Dulles and Dewey first, and both men declined. Warren then accepted. A decade later, Johnson reportedly offered Dewey a Supreme Court seat after Dewey didn’t support Barry Goldwater in the 1964 presidential election, and Dewey declined again.

Howard Baker

Senator Baker was a Majority Leader and White House Chief of Staff, but Baker also had a chance to join the Supreme Court in 1971 at the request of President Richard Nixon. Baker had been an attorney in Tennessee before winning a 1966 U.S. Senate election there. Five years later, President Nixon made Baker his first choice for one of two positions on the Court, as a replacement for Hugo Black or John Marshall Harlan.

According to John Dean, also of Watergate notoriety, Baker paused about accepting the appointment as he weighed the financial aspects of a Supreme Court position. Nixon moved on to William Rehnquist as Baker’s replacement as Baker delayed.  But it was then Baker in 1973, as a Senator at the Watergate hearings, who asked Dean the famous question, “What did the president know, and when did he know it?”

Mario Cuomo

The former presidential candidate and New York Governor was openly mentioned by Bill Clinton as a possible Supreme Court Justice when Clinton was a presidential candidate. A year later, Cuomo released a statement to Clinton and the public about his Supreme Court aspirations. “I do not know whether you might indeed have nominated me, but because there has been public speculation … I think I owe it to you to make clear now that I do not wish to be considered,” Cuomo said.

In 2012, Clinton confirmed that he had made the offer to Cuomo while he was President. And in a prior book, George Stephanopoulos said a deal was within minutes of being struck when Cuomo changed his mind about the nomination in 1993. Instead, Ruth Bader Ginsburg received the call from the White House.

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