The vision of Gutzon Borglum, the creator of the monument that carved Washington, Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Lincoln into the side of Mt. Rushmore, was always larger than life. It would be during the Coolidge Era that the project would commence and mark the first of many dedications by none other than President Coolidge himself during his stay in the Black Hills in the summer of 1927.
By that time the rough contours of Washington’s iconic image had already emerged from the rock but Borglum had even bigger plans for the entire site, as this digital image of the monument depicts. For the massive inscription with a timeline of key dates in America’s development meant to go alongside the portraits, Borglum had one writer in mind. At a time when there was no shortage of good wordsmiths, the one Guzton wanted for the entablature could bend with apparent ease the mighty power of words like few could. He had demonstrated the superlative ability to tersely and pithily say volumes in just a few short sentences..and to say it well. That man was, yet again, Calvin Coolidge.
He was to write brief descriptions of the key dates to be carved and did so but then the project hit a number of snags. Of course, there were challenges presented by the composition of the rock but other difficulties doomed Cal’s further involvement. The press failed to help matters by misreporting the content and scope of what was perhaps the greatest writing assignment for a memorial a President had ever been given. But it was Borglum’s revision and the media’s “correction” of Coolidge’s words (factual mistakes he had taken care not to make that Rushmore’s visionary introduced to the former President’s text) that convinced Cal to sign off before it got worse. He always did have a good sense about the merits of men and effort.
Found in the personal files of President Coolidge are the original words, as he wrote them, wonderfully recounted by Daniel J. Heisey in the 1987 issue of “The Real Calvin Coolidge.” Cal, writing with an emphasis on the four Presidents Borglum intended to feature on the Mount, begins with what started it all (both his birthday and America’s):
Declaration of Independence
1776 – Our Continental Congress Proclaimed to the World Jefferson’s Immortal Phrasing of the Right to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. By the Declaration of Independence Our Fathers Conceived a Nation Dedicated to the Preservation of Equal Human Rights.
1787 – The People of the United States Led By Washington, Father of His Country, Framed the Constitution Under the Inspired Provisions of which We have Enjoyed the Blessings of Peace and Prosperity and Our Integrity as a Nation Has Been Maintained.
1803 – The Louisiana Purchase Doubled Our Area, Assured for US the Mississippi and Tributaries, Added to Our Resources, Started Territorial Expansion, Solidified the West, Increased Powers of Central Government and Determined Flexibility of the Constitution.
1819 – Cession of Florida By Spain, Followed by Monroe Doctrine in 1823.
1845 – Annexation of Independent Republic of Texas as Our Largest State, Realizing Dream of Sam Houston. Fixed Rio Grande as International Boundary, Protecting US from Foreign Influence. Brought Back into Union Many Colonists. Increased Solidarity of West.
1846 – By Peaceful Agreement with Great Britain Northern Boundary of Oregon Area Fixed at Latitude 49°.
1848 – Acquisition of California and New Mexico from Mexico Following Proclamation of Peace Completed Pacific Shore Line to Match Atlantic.
1867 – Purchase of Alaska First Acquisition of Exterior Territory.
1904 – Roosevelt Acquired Zone for and Began Construction of Panama Canal, Fulfilling Vision of Columbus and Giving US Short Water Route Between Eastern and Western Coasts.
Solidification Under Lincoln
(Date ?) Lincoln’s Great Ability and Humane Wisdom Preserved Our Nation and Brought About Its Rebirth and Solidification.
Here it is, Coolidge friends, the monument that might have been. Next time you go to Rushmore, give a thought to the silent influence of #30 and recall that not every man of granite can be seen on its face.