- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 27, 2002

The contributions of 19th-century sculptor Clark Mills to the Washington cityscape are fairly well known, including his equestrian statue of Andrew Jackson in Lafayette Square, across from the White House, and the statue of "Armed Freedom" atop the U.S. Capitol. What could have been one of his most famous creations, however, never came to be a Lincoln monument, unrelated to the Lincoln Memorial known today.

To honor the slain president, local residents founded a National Lincoln Monument Association, which was incorporated by Congress on March 30, 1867. The plan was to raise $400,000 solely from private donations for a monument to be located on the Capitol grounds. (Today's memorial cost about $3 million.)

If the $400,000 was not raised within four years, contributions would be returned although apparently this was not done.

If contributions reached $100,000, the federal government said it would donate 12 condemned bronze cannons from the Washington arsenal to be used for making statues. It is uncertain whether even this figure was ever reached, but Congress issued the cannons in any case, under an act approved June 25, 1868.

Mills' design for the monument included a granite base with three levels to hold a total of 35 statues. The whole would reach a height of 70 feet.

Around the base would be six equestrian statues of Union Army leaders. The first story would contain three groups depicting blacks advancing from slavery to freedom. Between these groups, three bas-reliefs would show the attack on Fort Sumter and the House and the Senate amending the Constitution presumably to add the 13th Amendment.

The second, smaller story also would show three groups: the Cabinet, officers of the Navy and other Lincoln supporters, and finally the fall of Richmond and Lee's surrender.

At the top was to be a statue of Lincoln signing the Emancipation Proclamation.

Then nothing much happened. A short paragraph in the Nov. 20, 1880, Harper's Weekly mentioned that the National Lincoln Monument Association "will be reorganized the coming winter." It also stated that Mills had cast a statue of Salmon P. Chase, secretary of the Treasury during most of Lincoln's presidency.

Apparently, Mills had not gotten further than that when he died in 1883. The May 9, 1885, issue of Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper ran an even smaller paragraph under "Personal Gossip," revealing that the unfinished Chase statue "was sold at auction the other day, for what it was worth as old metal."

Several critical articles about the moribund project were published in 1910 in the April 24 and May 5 Washington Star, and the May 31 Washington Post mentioned that the remaining money just two bonds of $1,000 each, plus "about" $1,300 interest was being held by the U.S. Treasury. The Post added that there was a suggestion it "could be used as a nucleus for the fund to be raised by the proposed new Lincoln Memorial Association."

It appears that not even that was done, for the Dec. 6, 1925, Star reported that the two bonds were still being held at Treasury, and the unclaimed interest by then was $2,445.50. The fate of this money is uncertain; perhaps it was added to the general revenue.

With all due respect to Clark Mills' career and the disappointment he must have felt, perhaps it is for the best that the memorial association did not succeed in its object. Today's Greco-Roman-style temple for Lincoln (designed by architect Henry Bacon in 1912, begun in 1914 and dedicated in 1922) is probably a more universal and timeless design, and it certainly draws visitors from all over the world.


John Lockwood is an amateur historian who has lived in the Washington area for most of the past 40 years.


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