Bil Browning

31 Days: The Thoughtful Founding Father

Filed By Bil Browning | August 18, 2011 8:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: cherry blossom festival, Jefferson Memorial, power of the mind, Thomas Jefferson

This photo's story is after the jump.

jefferson-memorial.jpg

I'm doing a series of posts for 31 days that will feature a photo from my personal collections and the backstory behind the picture. I'm trying to stick with shots that have not appeared on the site before. I'm using the stories as a writing exercise to help me prepare for writing a book. You can find the rest of the series posts here:

The Jefferson Memorial is my favorite. You can have your giant white obelisks and reflecting pools, but I'll stick with the simple beauty of the tidal basin's Roman-inspired monument any day.

I can remember visiting DC in middle school. We toured all the usual places, but the Jefferson Memorial caught my eye in a way the others didn't. When Jerame and I came back to DC for trips, we never had the time to go there and even after we moved here we never found the time to make the trip. It wasn't until his mom came to visit during cherry blossom season before we went.

The walk around the cherry trees in bloom was crowded with people snapping photos and posing in front of sprays of white and pink blossoms. The trees surround the tidal pool and the water provides a nice background for photos. A long-range shot of the monument across the pool, however, was marred by tacky tourist paddle boats that seemed hideously out of place with the tranquil simplicity of the softly lapping water and the wall of slowly falling flowers.

By the time we'd made it to the Jefferson Memorial, we'd already been to the Washington Monument, the WW2 memorial, the White House and other must-see landmarks. We were saving the Lincoln Memorial for the walk back into the downtown area, but we were getting a little footsore and tired. Since it was starting to sprinkle, we decided to take a break at the monument.

With so many people traipsing among the cherry trees, I expected the memorial to be stuffed with tourists gazing up at Jefferson's thoughtful visage and wondering what it was, exactly, that he'd done again. As I watched the folks walk up to the statue and look, I kept expecting a crazy teabagger to walk up to the dark statue and say, "What? A founding father was black?!" before renouncing his American citizenship on the spot.

The inner sanctum was remarkably empty though. For a while, there may have been more guards standing around than tourists. I was able to snap this photo looking up at the philosopher president with no one around. I like how the light seems to be shining down on his face directly and the quote behind him on the wall seems to echo the enlightened theme.

I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.

Around the inside edge of the monument is inscribed, "I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."

I rather picture Jefferson as the Leonardo da Vinci of Presidents. His memorial suits him.


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Just awesome. Two of my favorite subjects to shoot are statuary and architecture. My mind always wonders about the artist and builders far more than the their finished product

Thanks Sayen. It's been really nice to wake up each morning to a nice comment from you about the photo and story. It's made it worthwhile to do them. :)

Thanks for the photo, and the quotation, Bill. Jefferson and Franklin are my two favorite Founding Fathers - I could wish we had men and women of their caliber and credibility today. Below is another from Jefferson - I think it's very much in the same vein as the quotation inscribed in his memorial, and certainly appropriate for what we're facing in today's political arena:

Shake off all the fears of servile prejudices, under which weak minds are servilely crouched. Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call on her tribunal for every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear.
- Thomas Jefferson