1913

Email Print
FacebookTwitterShare


DIGG THIS

In one remarkable
burst at the beginning of the 20th century, Washington,
DC, enacted revolutionary legislation and broke ground on breathtaking
monuments that would make it the political, economic, and mythic
center of a new American realm.

1913 stands
out as the busiest year in a short, intense period of centralization
and consolidation. In the space of a few years, the leaders in the
nation's capital successfully squared America's historic, republican
institutions with a blueprint for imperial grandeur formerly undreamed
of. To accomplish this seemingly impossible feat, these leaders
had to fuse together two clashing regions into a united imperium.
Despite the smoldering distrust left over from one of history's
bloodiest wars, North and South would meld at this time into a united
force greater than anything the world had ever seen. This unification
process would transform Washington, DC, from the administrative
center of a constitutionally limited government into a ruling world
capital, a city brimming with powerful, white marble images that
not only gave physical form to mystical notions of divine purpose,
but also symbolized a newfound oneness of resolve to carry out that
purpose. E pluribus unum would no longer describe a Federal
government voluntarily created by various State governments; it
now invoked a new nation and a new people forged in the furnace
of war.

1913 was the
fiftieth anniversary of that war's greatest battle, Gettysburg,
and the approach of that momentous date must have intensified ongoing
efforts to realize this new blueprint, as well as inevitably reminding
its architects of the great difficulty facing them in making this
vision a reality. Chief among these architects was Woodrow Wilson,
who served as president from 1913 to 1921. Despite the utter confidence
he publicly expressed for realizing this new conception of the United
States, even going so far as describing it as determined by the
hand of God, Wilson privately confessed nervousness about his mission.
While penning his speech commemorating the fiftieth anniversary
of the Battle of Gettysburg, Wilson wrote a letter to his wife:

“It is no
ordinary celebration….It is to celebrate the end of all feeling
as well as the end of all strife between the sections…. If the
President should refuse to go this time … it would be hotly
resented by a very large part of the public. It would be suggested
that he is a Southerner and out of sympathy with the occasion.”

Wilson's Southern
birth — of Ohio parents — worked to his advantage, allowing him
to address Southerners as one of their own, though he disdained
Southern distinctiveness to the point that he urged his wife, Edith,
to "rectify" her Southern accent. Wilson's mission was
always nationalistic, aimed at redirecting Southern martial spirit
toward supporting an aggressive foreign policy. At the national
convention of the United Confederate Veterans he told the old warriors
that the war they'd fought was a crucible that transformed the nation
into an instrument of God's will:

"God
was working out in His own way the method by which we should best
serve human freedom — by making this nation a great united, indivisible,
indestructible instrument in His hands for the accomplishment
of these great things.”

At the July
4, 1913, commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the battle
of Gettysburg, Wilson proclaimed:

“We have
found one another again as brothers and comrades in arms, enemies
no longer, generous friends rather… How complete the union has
become and how dear to all of us, how unquestioned, how benign
and majestic.”

And at Wilson's
1913 address at the dedication of the monument to Southerners at
Arlington National Cemetery, he again referred to his vision for
the new America:

"Let
us first heal our own divisions. Let us first see that we are
a united and irresistible nation, and then let us put all that
force at the service of humanity."

Wilson correctly
recognized the simmering resentment Arlington symbolized. Union
general Montgomery Meigs had seized Robert E. Lee's family home
and turned it into an estate for the dead in 1864 — certainly as
a deliberate insult to the South's most cherished hero. Like Woodrow
Wilson, Meigs was born in the South of Northern parents, but unlike
Wilson, did not attempt to conceal his contempt for the Southern
cause. Even after the war, Southern women were refused permission
to place flowers on the graves of their loved ones buried at the
national cemetery Meigs founded. No wonder so many Southern families
removed their loved ones from Arlington in the 1890s and 1900s —
they couldn't stomach the idea of having their men buried in a Northern
shrine.

In order to
forge Wilson's "united and irresistible nation" from a
loose federation of States, political and economic power had to
be centralized in Washington, DC. 1913 saw the passage of the 17th
amendment, which stripped the State legislatures of the right to
appoint Senators to represent them in the nation's capital, and
instead authorized direct election of Senators. This made the Senate
subject to the influence of Washington special interests.

The 16th
amendment, passed in February, 1913, gave the Federal government
tremendous economic power by allowing it to directly tax personal
income. Not only did this provide Washington, DC, with nearly unlimited
treasure, it also yielded vast amounts of information about its
citizens, as well as new tools to control them (witness Al Capone's
prosecution, not for bootlegging, but for Federal income tax evasion).
And the 1913 creation of the Federal Reserve System resurrected
an institution that States' Rights defenders had long opposed, a
central bank. Senator Nelson Aldrich, who had been instrumental
in passing the 16th amendment, boasted that before the
Federal Reserve was passed, New York bankers could only dominate
the reserves of New York, but now could dominate the bank reserves
of the entire country.

When Europe
erupted in war in 1914, New York bankers pounced on it as an investment
opportunity of historic proportions. J. P. Morgan provided Britain
and France with more than 2 billion dollars in loans. The inevitable
coming together of the aims of centralized banking and centralized
government steered Wilson toward breaking his campaign promise of
American neutrality, and siding with the Allies. In Wilson's mind,
he now helmed a united and irresistible nation whose force he could
now place "at the service of humanity" to carry out the
"great things” he had vowed. With the political and
economic power that Wilson and others had strived to centralize
in Washington DC, the Federal government now commanded the means
to assert itself as a benevolent empire out to re-make the world.
Sadly, as Jim Powell documents in Wilson’s
War: How Woodrow Wilson’s Great Blunder Led to Hitler, Lenin, Stalin,
and World War II
, America's intervention may have protected
Morgan's investment, but also afflicted Western civilization with
demons that still torment us.

But
before any of this transpired, before Washington could launch its
ill-conceived crusade to spread democracy by force of arms, it had
to have its people unified, eager to realize their divine mission.
The nation's capital had to recast itself as the binding force that
held its far-flung lands together. To symbolize its new role in
the benevolent American empire, Washington, DC, constructed the
Arlington Bridge. As authorized by a bill passed in 1913, the Arlington
Bridge literally and figuratively connected North and South. Robert
E. Lee's former home was now connected to the nation's capital by
a bridge constructed of North Carolina marble.

The Arlington
Bridge changed the view from Arlington estate, a vista made famous
by the Marquis de Lafayette's pronouncement that it was "the
finest view in the world." As seen
from the heights of Arlington, Memorial Drive creates a straight
line to Arlington Memorial Bridge, which stretches across the Potomac
and ends at the Lincoln Memorial.

This scene
is reminiscent of Trajan's Column, which celebrated the Emperor's
triumph over the rebellious Dacians and their forced reunification
with Rome. That Trajan's Column served as an inspiration for Arlington's
panoramic view of Washington, DC, would fit with the capital's grand
vision of itself, and with the column's reputation as both a funerary
and victory memorial. Both the 1806 Colonne Vendome in Paris, and
the 1808 Nelson Column in Dublin were modeled after it. The base
of Trajan's Column is a square foundation, an actual mortuary. The
main column rises above it. At the top of the original column stood
Trajan, triumphant. Similarly, the virtual column in "New Rome"
proclaims the forced reunification of the South with the United
States. It can be visualized as beginning at Arlington House and
the Cemetery — the home of Robert E. Lee taken by the Union army
and turned into a burial ground. On top of that base is Memorial
Drive and Arlington Bridge, which one can imagine as a column. And
perched on top — in triumph — is Abraham Lincoln, the conqueror
of the rebellious South.

The presence
of Abraham Lincoln appears regal and overpowering within the cavernous,
dusky memorial, which was authorized in 1911. Lincoln’s statue is
composed of Georgia marble, symbolically incorporating a formerly
rebellious province into a tribute to its conqueror. The etched
inscription over Lincoln specifically identifies the structure as
a temple rather than a memorial, and the chair he occupies was designed
not for a president, but a ruler. To emphasize that impression,
Lincoln’s hands rest on two Roman-style fasces, the ancient symbol
of imperial unity. On the north wall of the Lincoln Memorial is
a mural entitled The Unity of North and South.”

By making Lincoln
godlike, even honoring him with his own temple, Washington, DC,
conferred a kind of divine status on all future presidents (even
Gerald Ford). And to back up the symbolic connection to Roman emperors,
future US presidents would have the muscle to back up their new
status. Thanks to the measures passed in 1913, future presidents
would indeed wield the power of the Caesars. Those who doubt this
should note the current uproar caused by the President's unilateral
decision to expand a war the nation wants ended.

For
those who can stomach it, viewing the heavy-handed symbolism of
Washington, DC's monuments is very instructive. As you study them,
remember that monuments serve a political purpose by defining —
or re-defining — citizens' relationship with their government. That's
why governments spend so much on the monuments they want, and destroy
the ones they don't. Do Washington DC's monuments proclaim the government's
power to hold a sprawling country together by force, or do they
honor a republic based on constitutionally limited government? To
answer that question, drive to Washington, DC, some day and see
for yourself. If you live in New York or San Francisco, you can
start your trip by taking the Lincoln Highway, the first to link
both coasts. It was originally proposed in 1913.

January
13, 2007

Michael
C. Tuggle [send him mail]
is
a project manager and writer in Charlotte, NC. His first book, Confederates
in the Boardroom
, explores the implications of organizational
science on political systems, and is published by Traveller Press.

Email Print
FacebookTwitterShare