UNCLE JOE CANNON: “I knew Abe Lincoln. Abe Lincoln was a friend of mine.”


That was basically yesterday’s message from the former Speaker of the House, Joseph Gurney Cannon who, despite recently being ousted in a palace revolt, has set a record — unlikely to be broken anytime soon — as the longest serving, most powerful Speaker ever.

In his speech, summarized in the Chicago Daily  Tribune, Uncle Joe “paid a touching tribute to the memory of Lincoln”:

Mr. Speaker, I stand here as a representative from Illinois. I had a personal acquaintance with Abraham Lincoln when I was a young man. I loved Abraham Lincoln personally. I loved his magnificent service in the preservation of the union, the great, wise, strong, charitable, patriot man.

Uncle Joe made his remarks in connection with the proposal — currently being filibustered — that was first advanced more than a decade ago to build a large memorial temple to President Lincoln on the west end of the Mall opposite Capitol Hill (so that the Washington Monument will bisect the east-west axis).

Readers unfamiliar with Uncle Joe may be interested to know that he is the main reason a memorial temple wasn’t built years ago. A budget hawk, despite his love for Lincoln he could not justify the $2 million cost, and he preferred that the site instead be used as a vegetable garden for the poor, vowing:  “So long as I live, I’ll never let a memorial to Abraham Lincoln be erected in that goddamned swamp.”

As set forth in a 1902 Senate report, the proposed memorial temple would sit on land which has been reclaimed from the Potomac River flats through work starting in 1882, on a “memorial site of the greatest possible dignity”:

Crowning the rond point, as the Arc de Triomphe crowns the Place de l’Etoile at Paris, should stand a memorial erected to the memory of that one man in our history as a nation who is worthy to be named with George Washington — Abraham Lincoln.

Whatever may be the exact form selected for the memorial to Lincoln, in type it should possess the quality of universality, and also it should have a character essentially distinct from that of any monument either now existing in the District or hereafter to be erected. The type which the Commission has in mind is a great portico of Doric columns rising from an unbroken stylobate. This portico, while affording a point of vantage from which one obtains a commanding outlook, both upon the river and eastward to the Capitol, has for its chief function to support a panel bearing an inscription taken either from the Gettysburg speech or from some one of the immortal messages of the savior of the Union.

. . . At the head of the canal, at the eastern approach to the memorial, it is proposed to place a statue of Abraham Lincoln . . . .

According to the artist’s rendition included in the 1902 report, the proposed memorial temple would look something like this:


Truly, erecting a structure incorporating columns in the style of a Greek temple is the most fitting way to honor a world historical figure such as Lincoln, around whom such a cult of personality has formed.


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