Monday, July 4, 2016

Freedom is a colossal bronze standing figure which tops the U.S. Capitol Dome in Washington, D.C.

The statue is 19.5 feet tall and weighs approximately 15,000 pounds.

Freedom is a female allegorical figure whose right hand holds the hilt of a sheathed sword while a laurel wreath of victory and the Shield of the United States are clasped in her left hand. She wears a chiton, a draped garment from ancient Greece. A brooch inscribed "U.S." is affixed to the front of the chiton, just below the breast. She is partially covered by a heavy, Native American-style, fringed blanket thrown over her left shoulder. She wears a military helmet adorned with stars and an eagle's head, which is itself crowned by an umbrella-like crest of feathers.

Freedom faces east towards the main entrance of the Capitol and the rising sun.

The Architect of the Capitol, Thomas Ustick Walter, drew the original model for Freedom in 1855. Walter intended for the statue to be a Goddess of Liberty. However, Walter was no sculptor.

Instead, sculptor Thomas Crawford was commissioned to design the statue. He executed it in plaster model in his studio in Rome. Initially, the statue was to have worn a liberty cap -- a soft, conical cap with the tip pulled forward. These had been worn during the American Revolution. When Secretary of War Jefferson Davis saw the drawing of the liberty cap, he demanded that it be replaced. Davis saw the liberty cap as a slap against slave states in the South. So Crawford replaced the liberty cap with a military helmet, topped by an American eagle's head and a crest of feathers.

The plaster model was shipped to the United States in 1859. The statue was cast in five sections in 1860 by Clark Mills, who owned a bronze foundry on the outskirts of Washington. Work came to a halt in 1861 because of the Civil War, but resumed in 1862.

While Freedom was being cast, the foreman went on strike. Mills turned the casting project over to Philip Reid, a slave working at the facility. Reid not only cast most of Freedom, but presided over its assembly at the Capitol.

Late in 1863, the statue was hoisted by former slaves in sections and assembled atop the Capitol Dome. The final segment, the head and shoulders, was raised and put in place on December 2, 1863. 35 artillery guns fired in saltue, and in turn were answered by the guns of the 12 forts around Washington, D.C.

The original plaster model now stands in the Capitol Visitor Center.

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