Today in History

Today in History: December 6

The Washington Monument

Horydczak examining top of Washington Monument
Horydczak on Top of Washington Monument, between 1920 and 1950.
Washington as It Was: Photographs by Theodor Horydcak, 1923-1959

On December 6, 1884, workers placed the 3,300-pound marble capstone on the Washington Monument and topped it with a nine-inch pyramid of cast aluminum, completing construction of the 555-foot Egyptian obelisk. Nearly fifty years earlier, the Washington National Monument Society choose Robert Mills' design to honor first American president and founding father George Washington. The privately funded organization laid the monument's cornerstone on Independence Day, 1848, in Washington, D.C.

For twenty years, lack of funds and loss of support for the Washington National Monument Society left the obelisk incomplete at a height of about 156 feet. Finally, in 1876, President Ulysses Grant authorized the federal government to finish construction. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers took over the project two years later.

Color view of Washington Monument at Sunset
Washington Monument, between 1920 and 1950.
Theodor Horydczak, photographer
Washington as It Was: Photographs by Theodor Horydcak, 1923-1959

Day and night, spring through winter, the Washington Monument is a focal point of the National Mall and a center of celebrations including concerts and the annual Independence Day fireworks display. The observation deck affords spectacular panoramic views of the nation's capital.

When construction was completed in 1884, the Washington Monument was the world's tallest masonry structure. Today, the approximately 36,000-stacked blocks of granite and marble compose the world's tallest freestanding masonry structure. In a city of monuments, locals refer to the obelisk as "The Monument." By law—District of Columbia building code--it will remain the tallest structure in Washington, D.C., dominating the skyline and accenting Pierre-Charles L'Enfant's plan for the city.

Salmon P. Chase

Seated portrait of Salmon P. Chase
Portrait of Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase,
between 1860 and 1865.
Selected Civil War Photographs, 1861-1865

On December 6, 1864, Abraham Lincoln nominated Salmon P. Chase chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court; he was sworn in on December 15. A graduate of Dartmouth College, Chase studied law under Attorney General William Wirt.

He championed Sunday schools and temperance in the 1830s, and by the 1840s was an active member of the abolitionist movement. Chase defended fugitive slaves in Ohio and played a key role in creating the Free Soil Party, which opposed the expansion of slavery into the territories. With Free Soil support, Chase was elected to the Senate early in 1849.

Chief Justice Taft Dedicated Salmon P. Chase Memorial
Chief Justice Taft Dedicated Salmon P. Chase Memorial,
June 3, 1923.
Prints & Photographs Online Catalog

Chase founded the Ohio Republican party and next served as the state's first Republican governor from 1855 to 1859. In office, he vigorously opposed the Kansas-Nebraska Act and defended the rights of African Americans.

At the 1860 Republican convention, Chase permitted delegates pledged to support him to cast decisive votes for Abraham Lincoln. As a reward, in 1861--just two days after beginning his second term as senator, Chase left the Senate to serve as Lincoln's secretary of the treasury.

Chase continued to support African Americans. He drafted the first two clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. Signed into law in 1868, the amendment extended citizenship rights to all people born or naturalized in the United States.

In a letter to the Colored People's Educational Monument Association, Chase asserted:

Our national experience has demonstrated that public order reposes most securely on the broad basis of universal suffrage. It has proved, also, that universal suffrage is the surest broad basis of universal guarantee and most powerful stimulus of individual, social, and political progress. May it not prove, moreover, in that work of re-organization which now engages the thoughts of all patriotic men, that universal suffrage is the best reconciler of the most comprehensive lenity with the most perfect public security and the most speedy and certain revival of general prosperity?

Hon. Salmon P. Chase, Chief Justice of the United States to Williams Syphax and J. F. Cook, Committee,
Celebration by the Colored People's Educational Monument Association in Memory of Abraham Lincoln…, August 16, 1865.
African American Perspectives: Pamphlets from the Daniel A. P. Murray Collection, 1818-1907

Supreme Court—where he served until his death, Chase presided over the Senate's impeachment trial and acquittal of President Andrew Johnson. Chase suffered a stroke and died on May 7, 1873. He was honored with a formal state funeral. Originally buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in Washington, D.C., he was later reinterred in Spring Grove Cemetery in Ohio, the state that he served.

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