“The purpose of the memorial is to communicate the founding, expansion, preservation, and unification of the United States with colossal statues of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt.”
--Gutzon Borglum, sculptor
Between 1927 and 1941, four hundred men carved the façade of Mount Rushmore using explosives and hand tools. The presidents depicted—Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt—each had a profound impact on the “founding, expansion, preservation, and unification of the United States.”
At the dedication of the memorial on August 10, 1927, President Calvin Coolidge proclaimed that the monument “will be decidedly American in its conception, in its magnitude, in its meaning altogether worthy of our Country. No one can look upon it understandingly without realizing that it is a picture of hope fulfilled.”
Coolidge continued, further explaining the purpose of the million dollar monument, stating that “the figure of these Presidents has been placed here because by following the truth they built for eternity. The fundamental principles which they represented have been wrought into the very being of our Country. They are steadfast as these ancient hills.”
Coolidge summarized the importance of the monument in saying, “This memorial will be another national shrine to which future generations will repair to declare their continuing allegiance to independence, to self-government, to freedom and to economic justice.”
What were the economic institutions which each President sought to uphold?
George Washington is best known for his commanding role during the American Revolution and, thereafter, as our nation’s first president. Although much has been debated about Washington’s presidency, he was unambiguous about the societal ills caused by paper money. Selecting “his aide-de-camp from the Revolution, the charming and controversial, Alexander Hamilton,” as the first Treasury Secretary, the young nation began with sound economic policy and with a currency backed by precious metals.
Thomas Jefferson “is remembered for many things — of which the Declaration of Independence, the founding of the University of Virginia, the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, his presidency of the United States, and the Louisiana Purchase are highlights. Jefferson also is well remembered for his passionate opposition to his colleague in the Washington cabinet Alexander Hamilton.”
The editor of this site continues,
By the time our sixteenth president, Abraham Lincoln, took the oath of office on March 4, 1861, the country was not only on the verge of Civil War but also a financial disaster. The nation’s coffers were almost empty, left in disarray from three decades of Jacksonian fiscal policies, and the government faced a continuing liquidity crisis in light of the demands generated by Civil War expenditures.
Early in his administration, Lincoln recognized that the war’s outcome would be largely determined by resources. Thus, he understood the imperative of raising funds to carry out the war effort. It was against this backdrop that Lincoln appointed Salmon P. Chase to the Treasury, authorizing Chase alone to act on all matters pertaining to the country’s finances. Chase, like most everyone else at the time, underestimated the severity of the War—both its duration and its cost. Just as dangerous, perhaps, Chase overestimated the usefulness of Jackson era financial policies to deal with the crisis.
The Union needed money, but it also needed a uniform convertible currency—one which unlike the existing state bank notes was not easily counterfeited and whose value was reliable. Civil War Congressman James G. Blaine observed that this was “the most momentous financial step ever taken by Congress.” Blaine continued, “It was admitted to be a doubtful if not dangerous exercise of power; but the law of necessity overrides all other laws, and asserts its right to govern. All doubts were decided in favor of the nation, in the belief that dangers which were remote and contingent could be more easily dealt with than those which were certain and imminent.”
Although paper currency—the greenback—was necessary to finance the Union’s war effort and to keep the Union intact, the nation would remain off the gold standard until 1879.
Our twenty-sixth president and the first of the twentieth century, Teddy Roosevelt, became known as one of America’s greatest presidents. He is, perhaps, best known for his anti-trust policies. During his first state of the union address on December 3, 1901, Roosevelt outlined his economic policy. He said, “The well-being of the wage-worker is a prime consideration of our entire policy of economic legislation.” He continued, “Doubt, apprehension, uncertainty are exactly what we most wish to avoid in the interest of our commercial and material well-being.”
In terms of the monetary standard, Roosevelt was unambiguous, stating that “The Act of March 14, 1900, intended unequivocally to establish gold as the standard money and to maintain at a parity therewith all forms of money medium in use with us, has been shown to be timely and judicious.”
Roosevelt also addressed the question of national surpluses and deficits: “The utmost care should be taken not to reduce the revenues so that there will be any possibility of a deficit; but, after providing against any such contingency, means should be adopted which will bring the revenues more nearly within the limit of our actual needs.”
On the matter of federal expenditures, Roosevelt said: “I call special attention to the need of strict economy in expenditures. … Only by avoidance of spending money on what is needless or unjustifiable can we legitimately keep our income to the point required to meet our needs that are genuine.”