Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Washington Monument hanky-panky

Sure, you know the Washington Monument in D.C. It honors our first president. When it was dedicated in 1885, it was the tallest structure in the world, all 555 feet of it.

You may not know that the Washington National Monument Society was founded in 1833 to build the memorial obelisk. Why did it take 52 years to finish it?

Part of the explanation is poor management. The original society, with Chief Justice of the Supreme Court John Marshall as president, made a silly decision to raise $1 million for the project by asking 1,000,000 Americans to chip in $1 each. At the time, there were only about 13 million Americans. In the first three years, they collected about $20,000. By 1847, they had gathered in $87,000, enough to get the work started.

Washington Monument, under construction

By 1854 the base of the marble obelisk was 156 feet high. Ugly politics brought the project to a standstill. Men aligned with the nativist Know Nothing Party—it created a political power base by exaggerating anti-immigration and anti-Catholic fears among a population that opposed German and Irish Catholic immigration—gained control of the monument society and effectively shut down the work when Pope Pius IX sent a marble block as a contribution to honor Washington’s memory. There was vandalism at the site, fundraising bogged down and then the Civil War pushed the project onto everyone’s back burner.

The Congress didn’t get around  to restarting the work until 1876. With federal funding and project management, the gleaming obelisk was dedicated within eight years.

You might ask: What does nativism, xenophobia, religious intolerance and hatred have to do with the purpose of the Washington Monument?

Good question.

What’s the point of nativism, xenophobia, religious intolerance and hatred? What motivates the people who sing those ugly songs?

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

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