I’ve not seen this statue of my favorite United States president, but I enjoyed reading about how it came about. French’s dedication comments from that day, only three years after Lincoln’s death, share not only some of Lincoln’s accomplishments but also provide a glimpse into his character and humanity. The article is linked below and well worth reading. Here is the introduction to French’s remarks:
“Of all the Lincoln likenesses in Washington, D.C., this statue probably ranks among the least known. On April 15, 1868, the third anniversary of the president’s death, it became the city’s first statue dedicated in his honor. It was erected outside City Hall, now the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. Designed by Lot Flannery and hailed as an accurate depiction, it eventually fell out of favor and was removed in 1919; only after a public outcry was it restored in 1923.
On dedication day a crowd estimated at 15,000 to 20,000 pressed near the statue, filling the streets, gazing from roofs and windows, even clinging to treetops. Flags hung at half-staff, guns boomed on the half hour, and public buildings and schools stood closed. Prominent guests gathered on a wooden platform but members of Congress were conspicuously absent; they were preoccupied with impeachment proceedings against President Andrew Johnson, who unveiled the statue.
The ceremonies included prayer, music, a Masonic dedication, a formal address, poetry, and the sculptor’s introduction. The speaker, Benjamin B. French, knew the president well because he served as his Commissioner of Public Buildings. Before delivering his speech he stood in the mud and drizzling rain for half an hour while the Masonic ceremonies proceeded.
French’s remarks retain their interest today mainly because of his striking first-hand impressions of Lincoln. He drew upon his now-famous journal when recalling events such as Lincoln’s first inauguration and the Gettysburg Address. He also quoted from a newspaper article he wrote describing the president’s death and funeral services. A Washington printer, McGill A. Witherow, published the statue dedication speech in booklet form during 1868. The text below appeared in the April 15, 1868, Washington Evening Star.”
Toward the end of French’s speech:
And now, my fellow citizens, we have erected, as I believe the first public statue to the memory of that President, who, more than any other since Washington lived and ever will live in the hearts of the loyal people. Here, where he won from all who knew him — and who is there who did not know him — golden opinions; here, where in the midst of his friends, while enjoying a brief respite from the cares and perplexities of his exalted but laborious station, he was struck down in death, by the hand of the foul and cowardly assassin, have we this day placed upon its pedestal the plain unassuming, but almost speaking semblance, of that plain unassuming, but noble and godlike specimen of human nature. [Applause.]
We have erected it where the earliest kiss of rosy day, as she approaches from the East, may fall upon it, and where the last gleam of evening’s mellow light may salute it as the twilight darkens into night. Here it stands, as it were, in the plaza of the city; and here it will stand, we hope, to be seen by generations long hence to come. [Cries of “It will.”]
Let the fathers of the city, in times of trouble, gather around it, and acquire inspiration by calling to mind the firmness, patience, fidelity, zeal, and nobleness of character of him whom it represents. Let the generations of young men gather around it, and recall, as their example and their guide, the virtue, sobriety, modesty, and uprightness of life and purpose of that great man. And let us all bear in mind and ever profit by the remembrance how Abraham Lincoln placed all his trust in God, and implored His blessing upon every act of his exemplary life!