The Lincoln Memorial: How It Stands Today

While the entire United States was in the midst of WWII, the construction for the Abraham Lincoln Memorial began in the District of Columbia in 1915. Seven years later, the 27,336 square-foot memorial was finally completed after an expenditure of nearly 3 million dollars. [2] Now, almost a century later, over 6 million people visit the memorial each year. [4] In comparison, 30 million visit Rome each year. [7] Although the numbers differ greatly, the Lincoln Memorial is the most visited site in D.C. and is said to bring in 204 million dollars into the local economy. [4] The importance of the monument, and the man, cannot be overstated. Even today, Lincoln’s legacy is helping stimulate our country’s economy.

Almost everything about the Lincoln Memorial is grand and memorable. It boasts a 19 foot tall President Lincoln sitting upon a massive chair looking over a nation once torn into. Memorials are inherently designed to designate a particular location in order to remember a person or event. They, in essence, immortalize the event or figure for which they were built by creating public memory in which the tourists participate and spread. This particular monument was built for Lincoln and to encourage thoughts about his legacy by spreading his two most famous speeches and apotheosizing his person. The site demonstrates his continuing importance upon American culture, and even our American identity. If you look at all the monuments within the National Mall, they commemorate wars or national figures, which recall the sacrifice that Americans have made, as well as the greatness of a few which with their power, took responsibility for leading the nation forward.

A bird's-eye view of the Lincoln Memorial, Reflecting Pool, Washington Monument and the Mall, April 1, 2010, courtesy of Kevin Ambrose.

A bird’s-eye view of the Lincoln Memorial, Reflecting Pool, Washington Monument and the Mall, April 1, 2010, courtesy of Kevin Ambrose.

At the same time, location is critical and often symbolizes the actual importance of an event or person to American history. For instance, the Washington Monument is at the center of the National Mall. In the line of power, the Lincoln Memorial is next, as only a mile separates the two, with the reflecting pool in between. The close proximity between the two memorials implies the importance of the national figures they represent. On the western end of the Mall are the WWII Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, and the Vietnam Memorial; however, these monuments are off to the side and not centered. The location of the Lincoln Memorial perpetuates the importance of Lincoln’s legacy in American history.


When visiting the Lincoln Memorial, the viewer must first summon the strength to climb the 57 marble steps. Upon completion, the tourist is rewarded with the sight of Honest Abe sitting atop his throne. This vision is oddly regal for a nation with a phobia of kings. In appearance, Lincoln is massively large, has a calm demeanor, and possesses a clenched fist. The creator of the memorial did not want to perpetuate the image of Lincoln looking or acting like a totalitarian that suspended habeas corpus, which is the view Southerners had of him during the Antebellum and Reconstruction eras. Overall, his facial and body language promote an idea of calmness and intellectual thought. His face is incredibly calm, kind, and possibly compassionate. Furthermore, his expression almost appears as if he is subtly calculating in which way he will save the Union. No doubt the artist wished to portray his wisdom, which was the reason he was affectionately referred to as “The Ancient One” within the White House. [1]

In its appearance, the Parthenon resembles the Lincoln Memorial in both ascetics and composition.  Picture courtesy of The History Channel.

In its appearance, the Parthenon resembles the Lincoln Memorial in both ascetics and composition. Picture courtesy of The History Channel.

The classical Greek influence in the design of the Lincoln Memorial will no doubt be noticed, as the columns resemble that of many ancient temples. The similarities are striking as the overall compensation of the memorial echoes that of the Parthenon. The style is often referred to as the “Doric Order.” [6] As you can see, the columns and general construction reflect the Greek style. This was most likely done in order to create an antique appearance and to generate a sense of respect towards Lincoln and the monument. The quote behind Lincoln even refers to the memorial as a “temple,” demonstrating the apotheosis we have grown accustomed to seeing at modern, historic monuments, and there is no doubt that the designer was trying to create reverence in the same way by using such terminology.

Within the Lincoln Memorial, upon the walls are inscriptions of the Gettysburg Address and Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, two of the most important speeches in American history. Both are carved into the surface of the memorial on opposing sides of Lincoln. Furthermore, both speeches represent pivotal moments during the Civil War. The Gettysburg Address came Gettysburg Addressduring a point in which the Confederate Army had just invaded the North, but after a coincidental battle, the North turned the tide of war in monumental fashion. The speech in its entirety is only a measly 278 words, which is rather short, but in those brief sentences, Lincoln demonstrates his mastery of language and thought. [2] He is able to completely encapsulate the true meaning of the war, and its importance to our country. Placing the Gettysburg Address upon his memorial allows us to remember how truly great he was. It breathes life into his cold, rocky body. The second speech engraved on the walls of the memorial, the Second Inaugural Address, was delivered on March 4th, 1865, just weeks before the end of the Civil War, and consequently, Lincoln’s assassination. These words would be the last time the President addressed the nation as a whole. In a way, these are his last words to his citizens. Their importance is unquestionable, which is why the inclusion of this speech in the memorial effectively immortalizes the man that is Abraham Lincoln.

The location, semblance, and speeches within the Lincoln Memorial continue to represent and perpetuate the greatness of Abraham Lincoln and his distinctly American legacy. The temple-esque appearance of the memorial is aptly fitting of a historical figure that holds such reverence and importance to our country. In every way possible, the Lincoln Memorial is truly befitting of a man who saved a nation.

Works Cited

  1. “Abraham Lincoln.” For Kids ***. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Apr. 2015.
  2. “The Abraham Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.” The Abraham Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Apr. 2015.
  3. “Abraham Lincoln: Second Inaugural Address. U.S. Inaugural Addresses. 1989.” Abraham Lincoln: Second Inaugural Address. U.S. Inaugural Addresses. 1989. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Apr. 2015.
  4. Austermuhle, Martin. “Lincoln Memorial Leads All Local Sites in Number of Visitors.” DCist. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Apr. 2015.
  5. “DC Monuments Tour.” D.C. Monuments Tour. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Apr. 2015.
  6. “Doric.” Classical Orders of Architecture. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Apr. 2015.
  7. Messia, Hada. “Tourists in Rome Face New Tax.” CNN. Cable News Network, 04 Jan. 2011. Web. 17 Apr. 2015.


1 thought on “The Lincoln Memorial: How It Stands Today

  1. Reagan Cline

    I find it interesting that the Lincoln Memorial so closely resembles ancient religious temples. And it honors Lincoln as almost more than a man with the massive size, position on a throne, and robes flowing behind him. The memorial elevates Lincoln to the status of an American god, yet Lincoln remains a ‘man of the people’ in public memory. Though the monument is somewhat imposing, it is more personal than Washington’s obelisk. The Lincoln Memorial preserves his kind face and powerful words, both of which are more symbolic of a man than the display of power with the obelisk.

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