Warren G. Harding dedicating the Lincoln Memorial (photo courtesy of Ohio History Connection)
Ohio Life

Warren G. Harding Dedicates the Lincoln Memorial

On May 30, 1922, the Ohio native and President of the United States formally accepted the then-new Washington memorial to Abraham Lincoln on behalf of the American people.

Nearly 60 years after his assassination, the love and admiration Americans continued to show for their country’s 16th president was on full display when the Lincoln Memorial was dedicated in the nation’s capital on Decoration Day, now known as Memorial Day, in 1922.

The momentous occasion brought together prominent figures of the time, including President and Ohio native Warren G. Harding as well as chief justice of the United States Supreme Court, former president and fellow Ohioan William Howard Taft. Robert Todd Lincoln, the last surviving son of Abraham Lincoln, was also present for the event.

“Men great in councils of the nation were there,” the Fremont Daily Messenger reported in its May 31, 1922, edition. “The president came to accept in the nation’s name the memorial reared at the river brim.”

The report noted that Taft, who served as head of the memorial commission, officially transferred the Lincoln Memorial to the president, who accepted it for all Americans.

Harding spoke of the spirit of togetherness evident during the dedication and of the South’s commitment to the Union since Lincoln’s death.

“How it would comfort his great soul to know that the states of the southland join sincerely in honoring him and have twice since his day joined with all the fervor of his own great heart in defending the flag,” he said during the event.

Harding also spoke of what the late president might have thought of the United States during the current day and age — 57 years after his assassination.

“More, how his great American heart would be aglow to note how we are going on,” he said. “Always on, holding to constitutional methods, amending to meet requirements of a progressive civilization, clinging to majority rule, properly restrained, which is the only true sovereign of a free people, and working to the fulfillment of the destiny of the world’s greatest republic.”

According to the National Park Service, the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial was attended by an estimated 50,000 people. It also marked the first time that a president of the United States spoke to the American people by radio, with upwards of 2 million people tuning in to hear the president speak in homes across the nation.

In a special dispatch in the May 28, 1922, edition of The Cincinnati Enquirer, the Lincoln Memorial was described in detail.  “The Memorial stands in a great open space on a mound built of a series of terraces, rising a to a total height above grade of 122 feet. A colonnade of great Doric columns of white marble surrounds the walls within which in the center space is a colossal statue of Lincoln.”

Above Lincoln’s head, carved into stone, are the words that countless visitors to the memorial have read since that day in late May over a century ago ago.

“In this temple as in the hearts of the people for whom he saved the Union the memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever.”