George Washington’s statue, featured on the July 2 Free Times cover, presents an eye-catching image for Fourth of July celebrations: the State House, the fireworks and the statue itself. But the statue carries more meaning to the day than fun and fireworks.
This likeness of Washington that guards the State House steps is a copy of the original marble statue commissioned by the Virginia General Assembly in 1784 for its new State House in Richmond. That building was designed mainly by Thomas Jefferson, who was serving as a diplomat to France at the time along with his colleague, Benjamin Franklin.
The Virginia governor wrote both men asking them to recommend the finest European sculptor of the day to make a monumental statue of Washington. Without hesitation, they recommended Jean-Antoine Houdon, the French artist who had sculpted major royalty and statesmen throughout the Western world. Without waiting for a reply from Virginia, they persuaded the artist to come to America; Houdon postponed his commission from Catherine the Great to scuttle over to Mount Vernon and visit with Washington for two weeks, getting to know his habits and his personality so that he could realize these traits in his creation.
To make Washington’s facial characteristics as real as possible, Houdon insisted on making a facemask of Washington. This required Washington having his face smeared with wet clay and lying still for hours with straws placed in his nostrils. The result was a mold of Washington’s face that, some say, is the most realistic rendition of his face ever produced. Washington requested that he be represented in his civilian clothes, rather than in Roman toga, which was the fashion of the day. He would relent, however, if it might represent poor taste not to be cast in the European neo-Classic style. The statue cleverly compromises the differences in style: Washington is attired in civilian attire, but his arm rests on a drape-covered Roman column.
The Virginia Assembly first occupied its new capitol in 1792, and the Washington statue was placed in the spacious rotunda in 1796, three years before Washington’s death. More than 50 years later, the Virginia Assembly granted exclusive rights to Richmond artist William James Hubbard to make bronze casts of the statue. Although many copies by others were made later, only six of these originals exist. South Carolina’s General Assembly bought the third of these originals, and it was installed at the State House in 1858.
Some seven years later, with the burning of Columbia toward the end of the Civil War, the statue was moved to the basement of the unfinished State House for safekeeping. It was there that the walking stick was broken off, reportedly by a member of the Iowa occupying forces. (The broken piece was later returned and now is stored in the S.C. Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum.)
We have alluded to the strong French connection of the Washington statue. But the French role in the Fourth of July celebrations is even stronger. The French, under the leadership of King Louis XVI, contributed mightily to the struggling colonists. Had the French not offered such aid, our Declaration of Independence might be nothing but a scrap of paper and we might still be “royal” subjects. Washington and Louis XVI made our Fourth of July celebration possible. Ironically, the French king would later be beheaded by his own band of revolutionaries.
But there is another twist of events. Toward the end of the Civil War, as the buildings on Richardson Street (now Main Street) were laid waste during the burning of Columbia, one that survived was the French consulate.
The cover feature of Free Times presents an exciting image, but a deeper appreciation of the Fourth of July is inspired by viewing the celebration in a fuller context. What’s more, the “rockets’ red glare” circling Washington’s head offer an added climax.
Reagan Wasn’t Deranged, But Obama Is
Regarding the June 11 edition of America’s Numero Uno Comic, “Reagan & Manson”: I think Mr. Montage is confused comparing Ronald Reagan and Charles Manson. He probably was thinking “Barack Hussein Obama & Charles Manson.” Here’s why:
• Barack H. Obama and Manson are both deranged and delusional.
• BHO and Manson are both supreme narcissists.
• BHO and Manson are both motivated by hatred and destruction — one against the United States, the other against everything in general.
It’s not hard to figure out who the third deranged and hatemonger is here. What grates on me even more is why you would stoop so low as to print such hate-filled sludge.
Mary E. Anderson
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