By Tim Nolting

Across The Fence

December 6th: Not Just Another Day


December 6, 1865: The Thirteenth Amendment to The Constitution of The United States is adopted. Passed by the House in April of 1864 and the Senate in January of 1865, President Lincoln was assassinated before seeing the first amendment to the Constitution in more than 60 years finally adopted. The historic amendment states clearly and concisely that; “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

December 6, 1884: The Washington Monument is completed. Although discussion regarding an appropriate memorial for the Revolutionary War hero had begun in 1783, a hundred years would pass before the long awaited memorial would become a reality. Initial plans for the memorial called for an equestrian statue of Washington to be placed near a Congressional building that was intended to be constructed in the future. In 1791, Then-President Washington and French architect Pierre L’Enfant, laid out plans for a new federal capital on the Potomac River. The site plan included a proposed memorial located at a point where a line running due south from the center of the White House would cross a line that ran west from the center of the Capitol. However, when final plans for the actual memorial were approved, the ground at the site proved too unstable for the size and weight of the huge obelisk. At the originally planned site, there now stands a small monolith designated as the Jefferson Pier. A more stable location for the monument was located 390 feet East-South-East of the Jefferson Pier and that is where the foundation was begun.

After Washington’s death in 1799 Congress authorized the construction of an appropriate memorial to be built on the grounds of the national capital. However, that decision was reversed in 1801 when Jeffersonian-Republicans took over the Congress. The Republican Congress of 1801 was appalled that Washington had become a symbol of the Federalist Party and considered the idea of building monuments to powerful men to be in opposition with the values of Republicanism. In addition to opposing the construction of a memorial in Washington’s honor, they also blocked the use of his image on U.S. currency and banned the celebration of his birthday.

I find it disheartening to learn that, even from the beginning, our elected officials squabbled like children over matters of inconsequential partisanship rather than joining forces to accomplish what is honorable and right. Every elected official, every citizen, everyone who considers themselves to be a patriot should read, and take to heart, the profound words of President George Washington’s farewell address.

George Washington presided over the Constitutional Convention of 1787 because of the weaknesses he saw in the Articles of Confederation. He became president in 1789 and successfully brought rival political factions together to create a unified nation. He was instrumental in establishing a strong, fiscally responsible national government that avoided war, quelled rebellion and garnered the overwhelming support and acceptance of the American people. His farewell address was the definitive guide for national virtue, a passionate warning against the pitfalls of partisanship, sectionalism, involvement in foreign wars and an advocacy for devotion to civic duty and patriotism.

Finally, in 1832 during the 100th anniversary of Washington’s birth, a large group of private citizens formed the Washington National Monument Society and began a campaign to raise the necessary funds to construct a suitable monument. Four years later they had a fund of $28,000 and announced a competition for the design of the memorial. Architect Robert Mills, who had also recently been chosen as the Architect of Public Buildings for Washington, submitted the winning design.

Contributions continued to trickle in until a total of $87,000 had been raised. Although significant, it was far from the one million dollar price tag of Mills’ design. The monument proposed by Mills was similar to the towering obelisk we see today, but also included a colonnade surrounding the base of the structure with statues of 30 Revolutionary War heroes and a statue of Washington in a horse drawn chariot. Hoping to spur additional donations the committee decided to begin the building of the obelisk and let the amount of future donations determine the feasibility of the colonnade.

At long last, in an elaborate Fourth of July celebration in 1848 the Freemasons, of which Washington had been a member, laid the cornerstone of what would be the Washington Monument. One dignitary who spoke at the celebration eulogized Washington with these words; “No more Washington’s shall come in our time...But his virtues are stamped on the heart of mankind. He who is great in the battlefield looks upward to the generalship of Washington. He who grows wise in counsel feels that he is imitating Washington. He who can resign power against the wishes of a people, has in his eye the bright example of Washington.”

From 1854 until well after the end of the Civil War construction continued in irregular fits and starts with poor quality material and less than satisfactory workmanship. Although little progress had been made in the nearly quarter-century between 1854 and 1876 much of the work that had been done had to be torn down. In 1876, the centennial year of the Declaration of Independence, Congress agreed to appropriate $200,000 for the continuation of the monuments construction. The Greek design with the massive colonnade was abandoned and a more classic Egyptian style designed by William Wetmore Story was adopted. 1879 saw the beginning of steady progress under the supervision of the U.S Army Corps of Engineers until its completion in 1884.

When completed, the Washington Monument was then the tallest structure in the world and remained so until completion of the Eiffel Tower. However, it is still the tallest, man-made, stone structure on the planet. The Monument stands at over 555 feet that is ten times taller than its base of 55 feet. There are a total of 36, 491 blocks of granite and marble that together with the foundation weigh more than 164 million pounds. In 1910 a city law was passed that prohibited any future buildings to be taller than the Washington Monument, a lasting tribute to the monumental contributions made by ‘the father of our country’.

At the time of the completion of the obelisk, aluminum was equal in value to silver. And so instead of a silver crown that would tarnish, a 100-ounce pyramid of polished aluminum was placed at the peak. Each side of the small crown is engraved, with the north, south and west face bearing historical details of the multiple dates and names included and involved in the long struggle from inception to completion. The east side, facing the rising sun of each new day, is inscribed with only two words, Laus Deo. Translated from the concise Latin to say, “Praise be to God.”

December 6, 1917: In Canada’s Halifax harbor, a French freighter, the Mont Blanc collided with a Belgian steamer the Imo. Both ships were loaded with ammunition for use in WWI. The collision sparked a fire that ignited the combined eight million tons of TNT that the two ships carried. The blast leveled the surrounding town, flattened shops and homes. The resulting wave washed other ships out of the harbor, up and onto the nearby docks. In all, over 1,600 were killed, including 500 children in a nearby school, with more than 8,000 injured. The spreading fireball incinerated everything for several miles around with the blast being felt 125 miles away.

December 6, 1941: Observers in the Royal Australian Air Force reported sighting Japanese naval escorts, cruisers and destroyers near the Malayan coast. Intelligence reports indicate that the fleet is headed to Thailand. President Roosevelt, unaware that the Japanese activity is a diversionary maneuver, sends a telegram to Emperor Hirohito imploring that “for the sake of humanity, [the emperor intervene] to prevent further death and destruction in the world.”

Roosevelt is unaware that 600 miles northwest of Hawaii, Admiral Yamamoto, commander of the Japanese fleet, has announced to his men: “The rise or fall of the empire depends upon this battle. Everyone will do his duty with utmost efforts.” The following early morning will find dozens of squadrons of Japanese Zero’s over Pearl Harbor.

December 6, 1928: Despite the countless events that have occurred throughout the years on the sixth day of each December, there is one event that strikes a much stronger memory in my mind and in my heart. This day is the day that we have celebrated my mother’s birthday for the past 83 years. This December 6th is the first time that she is no longer here to celebrate with us. This year, December 6, 2012 she would have been 84 years old.

This year is the first year that we celebrated Thanksgiving without her presence. This year is the first year that Christmas will come and go without a card and a handwritten note from her. Perhaps she did not change the course of history and there will be no towering monuments to commemorate her time here with us. But this year, December 6th will be a day of remembering all the years that she was. I miss her.

December 6th is not just another day.


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