Ireland Becomes a Free State: The Anglo-Irish Peace Treaty, 1921

2021-12-07T15:29:59-06:00December 7, 2021|HH 2021|

Ireland Becomes a Free State:
The Anglo-Irish Peace Treaty,
December 6, 1921

Ireland’s struggle for sovereignty from her English conquerers endured for over 700 years. Those centuries contain some of the most inspiring, heartbreaking and pertinent stories I’ve ever read—they are the stories of ordinary men and women who were resilient in spite of their losses and who were raised to fight and triumph gloriously.

Birth of the Irish Republic, by Walter Paget (1863–1935)

Growing up in my parents’ home, my favorite coffee table book was a hefty thing, vividly capturing Ireland’s War for Independence from 1916 to 1921, their final struggle to achieve this long hoped for dream. I found the human elements of this war to leap off the page and inspire sympathy, admiration and dread.

Members of the British military and the Royal Irish Constabulary near Limerick, c. 1920

These are quite recent events—only 100 years ago today the Irish War for Independence ended when the Anglo-Irish treaty was signed and the status of Free State for Ireland emerged. This agreement was finally reached after five years of continuous guerrilla warfare causing the deaths of hundreds of civilians and soldiers and eliciting the garnered attention of the whole world.

These treaty negotiations were hampered by continued hostilities on both sides. An agreement might never have been reached if England’s Prime Minister had not threatened to resume outright war if his deadline of three days was not met. So it was that the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed at two in the morning on December 6, 1921. The noteworthy signatories on it include Prime Minister Lloyd George, Lord Birkenhead, Arthur Griffith, Winston Churchill and Michael Collins. The latter wrote his fiancé that same day:

Signed final page of the Anglo-Irish Treaty

“I think what have I got for Ireland?. . . Something which she has wanted these past 700 years—will anyone be satisfied with this bargain, will anyone?. . . I don’t know how things will go now but with God’s help we have brought peace to this land of ours—a peace which will end this old strife of ours forever.”

Michael Collins (1890-1922) lead negotiator and General of the Irish Free state forces was assassinated by anti-treaty rebels the following year

To some, the Treaty was a shameful compromise. To the visionary Collins and many others it was the first giant step towards a free Ireland. As he put it, “It gives us freedom, not the ultimate freedom that all nations desire. . . but the freedom to achieve it.” This did not prevent civil war from breaking out in Ireland after the treaty was accepted and ratified by both popular vote and Ireland’s government. The vote was close and ratification was rushed. Tragically, the treaty was outspokenly condemned by Ireland’s sitting President, Éamon de Valera. This was the spark that ignited further division and outright civil war. It wasn’t until 1937 that Ireland became a fully self-governing republic.

Éamon de Valera (1882-1975), born in New York City to a Spanish father and Irish mother

Once submerged in the details of Ireland’s struggle, it’s easy to identify some of the aspects that may apply to our current political turmoil. It is worth noting that despite its current obscurity, the methods the Irish Republican Army used against the British empire became the acknowledged prototype for guerrilla warfare in the 20th century.

Firstly, this was a war fought by entire families. By that I mean every every man, woman and able child considered it natural and dutiful to assume a role in fighting for self governance, both together and separately: The women furtively carried censored ballots and information in the handles of their milk pails for the purpose of passing intelligence. Children kept watch for and spied on soldiers at street corners as a regular day job. And the men split their duties between earning a living and dismantling a corrupt empire—the latter requiring a vast array of talents.

Secondly, a strong unity of purpose prevailed, and even those citizens not as compelled by revolutionary impulses were loath to turn in a neighbor. This unity may have been the single most important ingredient that made their cause so effective. One significant result was wide-spread confusion in the British intelligence service as their policy was to arrest or execute all suspected civilians in order to maintain martial law.

Constance Markievicz (1868-1927) was a founding member of the Irish Citizen Army, and took part in the Easter Rising in 1916, an attempt to end British rule and establish an Irish Republic

Tragically, many of these families who had fought so ferociously together before the treaty soon turned against one another in the Civil War that followed. While Britain was left in peace, the Irish fought amongst themselves so mercilessly that they left Ireland a wrecked shell of its former ideal. This infighting and terror did not fully stop until the 1990s and the inbred distrust within the nation still haunts each succeeding generation.

In April 1922, Anti-Treaty forces had taken over the Four Courts building in Dublin. The subsequent bombardment by National Army forces in June led to a huge explosion of stored munitions which destroyed the Public Records Office, and along with it a huge swathe of Irish cultural memory

Thirdly, this was a propaganda and information war. The tactic of fighting the British in open combat was nearly eliminated after the doomed Easter Rising of 1916. Instead, the Irish focused on securing the ballot box and infiltrating the network of British spies and assassins. This British network had proved successful at crushing previous uprisings by arresting Irish leaders at the very first suspicion of revolutionary activities. The methods the Irish Republican Army used to achieve this control over government Intelligence were brutal and condemned by the British as unethical. This, however, did not serve to deter the British from inflicting upon the Irish people equally brutal reprisals.

The aftermath of the Easter Rising, a failed attempt to throw off the British government and establish an independent Irish republic

Lastly, unlike many previous uprisings, this final war was the product of a long nurtured cultural struggle known as the Gaelic Revival. There was a general acknowledgment by the generation’s leaders that their long outlawed culture, language and history had to be revived. They knew this heritage must be learned and valued by Ireland’s youth before any martial attempt would be blessed with lasting success.

The aftermath of The Burning of Cork by British forces December 11-12, 1920

With this purposeful throwing off of imperial indoctrination, there grew an ever increasing admiration for America’s founding documents and principles of liberty and self government. Catholic Ireland’s struggle—as in the contemporary communist Revolution of Russia, or even that of the French—was to justify the singularly Protestant assertion that freedom is a God-given right. Asserting that freedom can neither be claimed nor earned, but is a right inherited from God, the one true Lawmaker, dictates that neither Popes nor ordained Sovereigns can take that away. The inhabitants of County Cork found themselves in the thick of this dilemma when the Pope excommunicated the entire county simply for defending their homes as British troops set them ablaze!

In conclusion, in a Christian nation, methods of warfare matter. And when you have once pushed the moral line of conduct against your enemy, it is shockingly easy to use the same methods on your friends, given provocation. By doing so, you destroy what you once fought for and greatly risk destroying the collective conscience of your nation.

Unity in any human endeavor is a miracle without which any struggle is doomed. The prioritizing of self-importance and grudges above truth and duty can divide even the closest of comrades. Comparing other revolutions, however well intentioned, to our own, confirms to us the momentous presence of our merciful God in the crafting of the United States. Many noble people have, in their own countries and lifetimes, striven in vain for the glorious outcome which graced our War for Independence. God makes the time right for revival and prosperity, and a repentant and humble people is a unified people.

Great Seal of the Irish Free State

But thank God there are in every generation, even in Ireland, men with vision and devotion who will give their lives for the advancement of truth, even if they do not live to reap its full harvest. And in a country of storytellers, such as Ireland, those dead heroes are never far from the mind and heart of each subsequent generation as they fight for truth and liberty.

First B-24 Built at Ford Plant in Ypsilanti, Michigan, 1942

2021-11-30T11:59:20-06:00November 30, 2021|HH 2021|

“Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.” —James 4:14

First B-24 Built at Ford Plant in
Ypsilanti, Michigan, November 28, 1942

When the Second World War began, the United States military high command realized that bombing the enemy’s war-production, submarines, and field forces would require new technology, new and more deadly machines, and strategies that would complement or even replace ground forces. The airplanes of the First World War proved inadequate for most tactical missions in the Second. American manufacturers competed to design new fighters and bombers, and then convince the Army to buy their models. Automobile plants were converted to the production of both ground armored vehicles and flying machines. New manufacturing plants sprouted in many cities of the United States. Consolidated Aircraft began building planes in the 1920s. By 1936 they had landed a contract to build the PBY Catalina for the United States Navy, a sea-landing aircraft that they continued to build throughout WWII, used primarily in the Pacific Theatre of Operations.

A Consolidated PBY Catalina at sea anchor during WWII

An early model of the Consolidated B-24 plane

In 1938, one year before the start of WWII and three years before the United States joined the Allies against Japan and Germany, Consolidated engineers designed a bomber that met the requirements laid down by the U.S. Army Air Corps (USAAC). The first prototype came off the line at the end of 1939. The first production line B-24 Liberator left the Ypsilanti, Michigan, Ford Plant on November 28, 1942, the first Liberator of the more than 8,685 that would take to the air from the Michigan plant. More than 18,500 were built in the war, many produced at Consolidated’s main facility in San Diego, which employed 41,000 people by 1941. At the height of production one B-24 was completed every 59 minutes. They carried ten .50 caliber Browning machine guns for self-defense from four turrets and two waist positions, and 8,000 pounds of bombs for short range and 5,000 for long range bombing sorties.

Consolidated B-24J Liberators under construction at the Consolidated-Vultee plant in San Diego, California, during the summer of 1944

More than 100,000 American airmen were killed in WWII, about one-quarter of the nation’s total losses. Almost 7,000 of those deaths were due to accidents, many in the United States. Designing planes and flying the early models, especially, proved hazardous, and the B-24, with a crew capacity of ten men contributed its share of accidental fatalities. In the European theatre (ETO) of operations, the B-24 became known as “the flying coffin,” “the boxcar with wings” and the “widow-maker.” The Liberator was difficult to fly and had a poor low-speed performance compared to its sister B-17. Nonetheless, the B-24 was the most-produced bomber and multi-engine aircraft in history, and fought in every theatre of the Second World War. The pilots liked the roomier cockpit than in the B-17 construction, its larger payload, its ability to take a beating from anti-aircraft fire and fighter planes, and faster speed in the air.

A rare color photograph of a B-24 in RAF service

The typical crew included four officers—Pilot, Co-Pilot, Navigator and Bombardier. The other six men were enlisted, usually sporting three stripes—flight engineer, tail gunner, ball turret gunner, radio operator, and two waist gunners. They flew in a system of four planes in a box pattern, almost wing-tip to wing-tip with “stacks” of the other identical formations not far in a formidable armada of roaring bombers. Every plane had an artistic image and name painted near the nose.

An informal group portrait of a crew of a Consolidated B-24 Liberator bomber aircraft of the RAAF, standing beside their aircraft

The United States Air Corps began strategic bombing in the fall of 1942 and did not let up until the war in Germany ended. The Eighth Air Force flying out of English airfields flew B-24s and B-17s, totaling 1,440,000 sorties and dropped 2.7 million tons of bombs on France and Germany, killing hundreds of thousands of civilians and military personnel across Europe. The famous Hollywood actor Jimmy Stewart commanded the 703rd Squadron of the 445th Bomber Group, and became one of the most competent, distinguished, and decorated Squadron Commanders of the war. Leading his bomber group as the pilot of a B-24, he rose to the rank of Brigadier General and remained in the Reserves after the war, for the rest of his life. His heroic career in the Eighth Air Force has been recounted in several excellent biographies.

Colonel Jimmy Stewart receiving the Croix de Guerre with Palm in 1944

A consolidated B-24 Liberator of the 15th A.F. releases its bombs on the railyards at Muhldorf, Germany, on March 19, 1945

Strategic bombing became one of the most controversial military actions of the war. Many people, including military policy-makers, understood that Scripture forbade making war against civilian populations and food production. The Joint Chiefs justified raining death and destruction on manufacturing or transportation centers, often located in heavily populated areas, by arguing that such firepower would cripple the enemy’s capacity to continue the fight and thus shorten the war, saving lives in the long run. Pragmatic decisions and revenge usually trumped moral compunction when it came to bombing the cities of Germany and Japan. Ironically perhaps, the German ability to repair damage and rebuild factories, as well as going underground with production, barely stalled until the war ended with Hitler’s suicide and the subsequent surrender of armies. More than 1,200 B-24 crew members were shot out of the sky, and more than 850 of them died.

15th Air Force B-24s fly through flak and over the destruction created by preceding waves of bombers, 1944

Sherman Burns Atlanta, 1864

2021-11-15T15:34:44-06:00November 15, 2021|HH 2021|

“I will stir up Egyptian against Egyptian—brother will fight against brother, neighbor against neighbor, city against city, kingdom against kingdom.” —Isaiah 19:2

Sherman Burns Atlanta, November, 1864

Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman fought side by side for two years—Shiloh, The Vicksburg Campaign and Chattanooga. President Lincoln decided to turn command of running the war over to Grant because of his great success in the western theatre of the Civil War, and because the general understood the strategies that Lincoln desired—wholesale destruction of the armies of the Confederacy and its “infrastructure”, such as industry, food, and civilian morale. The price would likely be high—especially for the enemy, especially for the non-combatants upon whom Southern independence depended as much as did the “rebel” armies. Napoleon had introduced total war in the early century against the enemies of France; Grant and Sherman would show the world how well it worked in the American context.

General Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885)

General William Tecumseh Sherman (1820-1891)

Grant ordered Sherman to take charge of the armies in the west and capture the vital manufacturing city of Atlanta. The Atlanta arsenal employed 5,500 men and women producing percussion caps, gun carriages and all sorts of ammunition. The Confederate Quartermaster Department employed 3,000 seamstresses who produced in a three-month period 37,000 wool jackets, 13,400 pairs of pants, 10,000 cotton shirts, 13,700 sets of drawers, and 1,500 flannel shirts. One steam tannery produced 3,500 pairs of shoes in its first month. Eighteen warehouses were packed with 45,000 pounds of dried beef, 4.75 million pounds of bacon, 1,700 barrels of flour and much more. The Chattahoochee River provided power for the cotton mills in Atlanta and across the river in Roswell, where blankets, flags, and other clothing were manufactured. Four key railroad lines converged in Atlanta to transport both civilians and military forces—soldiers, casualties, prisoners and supplies to all parts of the Confederacy east of the Mississippi. Atlanta was also home to military hospitals, large and small. The city was the most highly entrenched and defended place in North America, except for the enemy capitols.

The Atlanta rolling mill, before the seige of Atlanta

The Atlanta rolling mill, after the seige of Atlanta

Sherman joined three armies to accomplish his mission—The Army of the Ohio, The Army of the Tennessee, and the Army of the Cumberland—more than 110,000 men against General Joseph Johnston’s estimated 70,000 Confederates. The campaign roughly followed the rail line from Chattanooga to Atlanta. The armies fought a series of mostly small battles in May through September, 1864, beginning at Resaca and ending after Kennesaw Mountain, just outside Atlanta. The Union forces moved relentlessly southward as Johnston avoided being brought to decisive battle through strategic retreats, until he crossed the Chattahoochee and entered the forts and entrenchments defending the city itself. Political pressure and personal animus brought the replacement of Johnston with a younger and more aggressive commander, John Bell Hood, who was not fully recovered from the loss of an arm and a leg in previous battles.

General Joseph E. Johnston (1807-1891)

General John Bell Hood (1831-1879)

Sherman relished the Confederate change in command, knowing that Hood would never settle for defending the city without attacking out of his protected forts to drive away the invaders. The Battles of Peachtree Creek and the Battle of Atlanta proved his surmise, and Hood lost thousands of irreplaceable men in futile offensives. Sherman shelled the city relentlessly for over a month, killing civilians and destroying homes using “hot shot”: incendiary shells that started fires when they struck. He sent cavalry expeditions and infantry columns into the countryside to cut the railroads and draw Hood from the city. His tactics worked and on September 1, Hood, with his supply lines cut off, marched his surviving 30,000 troops out of the city, delivering it to the 81,000 men that Sherman still commanded.

The Potter (or Ponder) home served as a Confederate sharpshooter post, until targeted for destruction by Union artillery

A building in Atlanta, showing the devastating destructiveness of Sherman’s methods

On September 4, Sherman issued orders for the many Unionist citizens of the city to abandon their homes and move to the North and all others to the South—an attempt to totally depopulate the city. Over the next two months, the Union army settled into Atlanta sleeping in the beds of the evicted tenants and property owners. The fall of the city improved Abraham Lincoln’s chances of reelection in November and fulfilled the first step in Grant’s grand scheme to carve up the Confederacy and destroy its armies and morale.

The Atlanta train depot, showing evacuees trying to leave town before the seige, and having to abandon wagonloads of belongings

The Atlanta train depot roundhouse, after the seige

Sherman devised his next step also—an innovative plan to march his army across Georgia to the City of Savannah, living off the land and burning and pillaging, without mercy or remorse, the civilians who stood in his path. Hood took the Confederate army into Tennessee for the “Franklin/Nashville” campaign and the blue hordes “marching through Georgia” faced little, and usually no opposition. Before beginning his cross-country orgy of destruction, however, Sherman gave orders on November 12 to burn down the business district of Atlanta.

Union troops relax around a destroyed home in the Atlanta area

The meticulously planned utter destruction of Atlanta—gladly approved by Grant himself and a reflection of the administration’s policy according to the President—continued for three days, the last Union troops lighting the final fires on November 15, and marching away as Atlanta burned. Some of the surrounding towns were put to the torch as well, especially Marietta. It would prove a nice tune-up for a sixty-mile-wide swath of blackened landscape and former homes, from Atlanta to the sea, celebrated in a popular marching tune sung by Sherman’s army in the victory parade in Washington after the war ended. When General Sherman said “war is hell,” he meant it!

The Potter (or Ponder) home (white house in the background) and surrounding countryside showing the utter destruction of war, including buildings stripped down to their frames so that the siding might be repurposed

Resources for Further Study

  • What the Yankees Did To Us: Sherman’s Bombardment and Wrecking of Atlanta, by Stephen Davis, Mercer Univ. Press, 2012


The Battle of Tippecanoe, 1811

2021-11-15T14:40:17-06:00November 15, 2021|HH 2021|

“And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation.” —Acts 17:26

The Battle of Tippecanoe, November 7, 1811

Out of 45 United States Presidents, 29 experienced military service, 17 saw combat, several of them in more than one war. Twelve American Presidents served as generals. Although he fought in several military engagements, General William Henry Harrison (1773-1841) is remembered primarily for one great military engagement—and one which eventually led to his presidency—fought near the confluence of the Wabash and Tippecanoe Rivers in Indiana on November 7, 1811.

Battle of Tippecanoe: American troops under the leadership of General William Henry Harrison are shown fighting the Indian forces of The Prophet, Tenskwatawa (the brother of Tecumseh)

William Henry Harrison, the last president born under British rule, saw his first light of day in Charles City County, Virginia, a couple of miles from the birthplace of one of his successors in the presidency, John Tyler. His father, Benjamin Harrison V, signed the Declaration of Independence and his grandson Benjamin became the 23rd President of the United States. The seventh and youngest son of Benjamin V, Harrison grew up at Berkley Plantation on the James River in the highest antebellum class of society. He was homeschooled by tutors until the age of fourteen, and then attended the foremost Presbyterian college in the South, Hamden-Sydney. His father pulled him out, perhaps lest he abandon their aristocratic Episcopal heritage. He studied medicine at U. Penn under Benjamin Rush (difficult to avoid Presbyterians in those days) but entered military service under the advice of Virginia Governor “Light Horse Harry” Henry Lee, the father of Robert E. Lee.

William Henry Harrison (1773-1841)

Battle of Fallen Timbers, in which Harrison fought

He served as a junior officer under General “Mad” Anthony Wayne, fought at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1792 in the Northwest Indian War, and was a signatory of the Treaty of Greenville which ceded most of Ohio to the United States. He eloped and married the daughter of a former colonel in the Revolutionary War, who forbade the match; Anna Symmes bore him ten children and the old colonel eventually reconciled with Harrison. He rose steadily through the ranks until resigning from military service in 1798 to enter politics. He remained in the Northwest Territories and eventually served in the U.S. Congress for a term and was appointed Governor of the Indiana Territory.

Grouseland, the home of Harrison during his time as Governor of Indiana, and where he met with Tecumseh but failed to make peace, this failure leading eventually to the Battle of Tippecanoe

The land over which he claimed jurisdiction and governance proved a turbulent territory. Although he was able to negotiate land cessions from three other tribes, the Shawnee—large and well-led by Tecumseh and his brother Tenskwatawa (known as “The Prophet”)—contended with the American settlers and military forces in the region. Tecumseh met with Governor Harrison at his home and demanded the treaties be abrogated and the Indian land returned. When Harrison denied any concessions, Tecumseh became an ambassador to other tribal groups as far South as Tennessee and Alabama, seeking to persuade a pan-Indian alliance to drive the white men out of the Ohio Valley and Northwest territories back across the Appalachians.

Tecumseh (1768-1813

Tenskwatawa “The Prophet” (1775-1836)

Tecumseh’s brother Tenskwatawa—more of a religious mystic than a warrior—convinced the warriors to attack Governor Harrison and his troops, having had a dream that the white men’s bullets would not hurt them, though he knew that his brother would likely consider such an attack premature and ill-advised without allies. The Secretary of War gave Harrison orders to settle the contentious matters, by military force if necessary. Harrison marched a thousand men, both regulars and militia, to meet with the Shawnee leaders at Prophetstown. Witnesses and historians disagree over who fired the first shots, which led the two armies into a ferocious battle. The soldiers had slept with their rifles loaded but the camp was not fortified. The firing erupted at about 4:00am November 7, 1811, but the natives attacked piecemeal on different segments of the line. The U.S. regulars rushed in squads to militia lines that needed quick reinforcement, as the Indian commanders White Loon and Stone Eater urged their warriors into the militia whose small-bore rifles had little effect on them.

Tecumseh loses his temper when Harrison refuses to rescind the Treaty of Fort Wayne

The battle lasted more than two hours and Harrison lost about sixty killed including many officers, and one hundred twenty-six wounded; Indian losses were estimated to be about fifty killed and eighty wounded. The last assaults were finally beaten off and the Indians retreated to Prophetstown. After taking the town, now inhabited only by older women, the soldiers burned it down with all the stored provisions of the Shawnee. They also dug up the cemetery and scattered the remains, which was reciprocated by the tribesmen after the soldiers left the area. The engagement captured the imagination of the country as the Battle of Tippecanoe, but the Shawnee increased their depredations, killing many civilians in isolated settlements and cabins. The following year, Tecumseh joined the British in driving the Americans out of the Northwest in the War of 1812. The Tippecanoe battle participants were given thanks by Congress, but Governor Harrison’s name was removed from the original bill. He resigned his governorship and returned to the army as a general, leading his troops to triumph in Canada in the defeat of the British in the Battle of the Thames, where Tecumseh was killed.

Treaty map of Prophetstown and site of Battle of Tippecanoe, 1819

In 1840 William Henry Harrison ran for President with John Tyler as Vice President—two men from the same county in Virginia! Their campaign slogan was “Tippecanoe and Tyler too.” Shortly after his inauguration, however, Old Tippecanoe contracted pneumonia and was treated with blood-letting, ipecac, castor oil, calomel, mustard plasters, boiling petroleum, and Virginia snakeroot. He died one month into his presidency.

Harrison’s official Presidential portrait

Mount Rushmore Completed, 1941

2021-11-03T12:46:44-05:00November 3, 2021|HH 2021|

Mount Rushmore Completed, October 31, 1941

For centuries men have sculpted busts and images of heroes, gods, soldiers, politicians, literary giants, family members and others, in order to remember their lives and deeds. A certain amount of symbolism often attends many statues or profiles, reminding the viewer of principles and beliefs. They are often very fine teaching tools to educate the next generation concerning their debt to the men of the past and to revere their history. Christians, Jews, and Muslims are prohibited from worshipping such images—such idolatry is severely proscribed in their respective Scriptures. Revolutionaries, in their quest to erase the memory of the men or ideas of the past, practice a senseless iconoclasm by destroying monuments, texts, and even cemeteries. The ancient Romans called the action damnatio memoriae, “condemnation of memory.” It has become a commonplace orgy of destruction in our own revolutionary times. Happily, the destroyers eventually become the destroyed themselves.

This Confederate Memorial Carving in Stone Mountain, GA depicts three Confederate leaders of the Civil War: President Jefferson Davis and Generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson on their favorite horses, Blackjack, Traveller, and Little Sorrel, respectively

There are a number of significant such monuments to great men of the past that still command our attention. Some of the most magnificent sculptures have been carved out of mountains; the most important and memorable ones include the Confederate heroes on Stone Mountain, Georgia, and Indian warrior Crazy Horse in South Dakota. The most popular and most visited of the gigantic carved-in-stone sculptures in the United States, and perhaps the world, are found on Mount Rushmore, also in South Dakota. Those carvings of four popular Presidents of the United States was completed on the last day of October, 1941.

Mount Rushmore with the sculpted heads of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln (left to right)

The mountain location itself underwent several name changes through the centuries. The Black Hills area where the monument is located, was “granted” to the Sioux Nation by the United States government in 1868 in the Treaty of Fort Laramie. The tribe’s historic name for the mountain was “The Six Grandfathers.” After the discovery of gold in the region by a military expedition led by Colonel George Armstrong Custer in 1874, miners and gold-diggers flooded into the Indian land, until the U.S. government reneged on the treaty, created new reservations nearby for the Sioux, and forced them to live on the newly designated desert plats. The Six Grandfather’s Mountain was renamed in 1930 after a wealthy investor, hunter and prospector, Charles Rushmore.

The Black Hills is a small and isolated mountain range rising from the Great Plains of North America in western South Dakota and extending into Wyoming

In the glow of prosperity of the early 1920s, a South Dakota historian suggested creating a mountain carving of Presidents that would attract tourism to the state. Brilliant and nationally-known sculptor Gutzon Borglum—the child of Mormon Swedish immigrants—was contracted to create the monument. Borglum’s bold and somewhat eccentric personality—and his attraction to a vigorous patriotic nationalism—had resulted in friendship with Theodore Roosevelt, political activism in the Progressive Party, and leadership as a “Worshipful Master” in a New York Scottish Rite Masonic Lodge. As a domineering personality and perfectionist, Borglum was difficult to work with; he completed a number of highly regarded sculptures, including Union General Phillip Sheridan, Democratic politician William Jennings Bryan, Thomas Paine, Woodrow Wilson, and Abraham Lincoln, but was fired from the Stone Mountain project in Georgia. His success in creating the Mount Rushmore sculptures, however, would make him the greatest public art sculptor in the world.

John Gutzon de la Mothe Borglum (1867-1941)

Borglum himself chose the four presidents, who represented the first one hundred fifty years of the United States, for their dual roles of preserving the Republic and their expansionist policies that added territory and federal authority over millions of acres of land: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt. While Borglum designed the project and determined the general engineering processes using dynamite and “honeycoming,” an Italian immigrant stonemason named Luigi Del Bianco was hired as the chief carver, and more than four hundred men were hired as the laborers. The work began October 4th, 1927 and the sculptures were dedicated as they were completed over the next fifteen years. More than 400,000 tons of rock were blasted off the mountain.

Luigi Del Bianco (1892-1969)

Early on in the construction of Mount Rushmore, Jefferson was intended to be on the left of Washington, however, the rock was unstable and the incomplete Jefferson was destroyed, with a fresh likeness carved to the right of Washington

Gutzon Borglum died in 1941 before the project was finished. His son Lincoln—an accomplished sculptor in his own right and the assistant to his father—completed the massive project in October of that year. Other elements had been planned for inclusion, but the federal funds for the project that the senators from South Dakota had originally been able to wrangle from Congress, were no longer available for increased appropriation. The last living carver of Mount Rushmore, Nick Clifford, died at the age of ninety-eight in 2019.

Borglum’s model of Mount Rushmore after Jefferson had to be moved to be between Washington and Roosevelt, and also showing Borglum’s original vision of much taller and more detailed carvings

More than two million visitors view Mount Rushmore each year, South Dakota’s top tourist attraction. Various groups have lobbied for the addition of more presidential sculptures on Rushmore. The top prospects, according to a New York Times poll of “social scientists,” should be Franklin Roosevelt and Barack Obama. A recent poll of Landmark Events historians, who lead a wonderful history tour of South Dakota, voted unanimously for Presidents John Tyler and Grover Cleveland to be added on Mount Rushmore. Congressional funding is not pending at this time.

The inimitable Mr. Potter and our good friend Stan Bass in front of Mount Rushmore during Landmark Events’ recent Spirit of the West tour in South Dakota

Join Landmark Events for a 5-day tour of America’s Heartland. Venture by coach to the iconic attractions of the area: Mount Rushmore, Badlands National Park, Devils Tower, and much more! Learn More >

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