The FREEDOM lady atop the United State Capitol dome has dominated the District of Columbia for more than a century, yet few people know the history behind this statue. She isn’t our most celebrated emigrant, but she should be, for the fiction-like perils she encountered on her voyage from Rome surpass those coming across on the Mayflower. All ships used in transporting this statue had ill-fated voyages. In an effort to lighten one ship’s load during the height of one storm, a captain ordered some cargo scuttled. The sailors begged for permission to throw the heavy sculptured lady overboard, but the skipper refused, saying, “No! We’ll flounder before we through FREEDOM away!”
The year was 1863. It was a clear, cold December day in Washington, D.C. President Lincoln watched as the bronze figure took shape. The head, last of the statue’s five molded parts, was bolted into place as the clock struck twelve—high noon! Drums rolled! Men shouted! Flags were unfurled. From the fort on Capitol Hill came a thirty-five gun salute, one boom for each state. The cannons and a few battle-scarred Union soldiers were the only reminders of the war!
Even though the country was in the throes of the Civil War, President Lincoln felt the people needed something to assure them that all the bloodshed had not been in vain. Most construction work had stopped throughout the District, but President Lincoln insisted that the work on the Capitol dome be continued in spite of the fighting.
“If people see the Capitol going on, it will be a sign,” the President reasoned—an indication “that we intend the Union shall go on.”
President Lincoln had faith in the statue—its design was intriguing. He had become so absorbed in watching it take form that he had forgotten about the adverse reviews and the lack of interest given to his “few appropriate remarks” two weeks earlier at the dedication of a cemetery on a battlefield at Gettysburg.
The sculptor, Thomas Crawford, under a government grant, designed this allegorical figure to depict the liberty which the United States had won; he called her “Armed Liberty.” But when forced to modify the design of her headpiece, he retitled her FREEDOM.
The word freedom was the better title—for “She represents freedom for the United States of America and for the Cosmos, not just for mankind but also for all of creation. To initiate awakening in the people of our great country is Divine destiny—to bring Peace and Freedom to the world and the entire cosmos which is reflected in the inscription at the base of the Lady of Freedom: ‘E Pluribus Unum,’ out of many one” (Morrnah Simeona).
From an Article written by Marie Forker, appearing in the July, 1973, edition of Applied Christianity.
~ David Norris