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The Washington Monument is a large, tall, sand-colored obelisk near the west end of the National Mall in Washington, D.C. It is a United States Presidential Memorial constructed to commemorate the first U.S. president, George Washington. The monument, made of marble, granite, and sandstone, is both the world's tallest stone structure and the world's tallest obelisk, standing 555 feet 5⅛ inches (169.294 m) in height. It is also the tallest structure in Washington D.C. It was designed by Robert Mills, an architect of the 1840s. The actual construction of the monument began in 1848 but was not completed until 1884, almost 30 years after the architect's death. This hiatus in construction happened because of co-option by the Know-Nothing party, a lack of funds, and the intervention of the American Civil War. A difference in shading of the marble, visible approximately 150 feet (46 m) up, shows where construction was halted for a number of years. Its cornerstone was laid on July 4, 1848; the capstone was set on December 6, 1884, and the completed monument was dedicated on February 21, 1885. It officially opened October 9, 1888. Upon completion, it became the world's tallest structure, a title it inherited from the Cologne Cathedral and held until 1889, when the Eiffel Tower was finished in Paris, France.

The Washington Monument reflection can be seen in the aptly named Reflecting Pool, a rectangular pool extending to the west toward the Lincoln Memorial.

Above the Founding Fathers of the United States, George Washington earned the title "Father of the Country" in recognition of his leadership in the cause of American independence. Appointed as commander of the Continental Army in 1775, he molded a fighting force that won independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain. In 1787, as president of the Constitutional Convention, he helped guide the deliberations to form a government that has lasted for more than 200 years. Two years later he was unanimously elected the President of the United States. Washington defined the Presidency and helped develop the relationships among the three branches of government. He established precedents which successfully launched the new government on its course. He refused the trappings of power and veered from monarchical government and traditions and twice—despite considerable pressure to do otherwise—gave up the most powerful position in the Americas. Washington remained ever mindful of the ramifications of his decisions and actions. With this monument the citizens of the United States show their enduring gratitude and respect.

When the Revolutionary War ended, no man in the United States commanded more respect than George Washington. Americans celebrated his ability to win the war despite limited supplies and inexperienced men, and they admired his decision to refuse a salary and accept only reimbursements for his expenses. Their regard increased further when it became known that he had rejected a proposal by some of his officers to make him king of the new country. It was not only what Washington did but the way he did it: Abigail Adams, wife of John Adams, described him as "polite with dignity, affable without familiarity, distant without haughtiness, grave without austerity, modest, wise, and good."

Washington retired to his plantation at Mount Vernon after the war, but he soon had to decide whether to return to public life. As it became clear the Articles of Confederation had left the federal government too weak to levy taxes, regulate trade, or control its borders, men such as James Madison began calling for a convention that would strengthen its authority. Washington was reluctant to attend because he had business affairs to manage at Mount Vernon. If he did not go to Philadelphia, however, he worried about his reputation and about the future of the country. He finally decided that, since "to see this nation happy… is so much the wish of my soul," he would serve as one of Virginia's representatives. The other delegates during the summer of 1787 chose him to preside over their deliberations, which ultimately produced the U.S. Constitution.

A key part of the Constitution was the development of the office of president of the United States. No one seemed more qualified to fill that position than Washington, and in 1789 he began the first of his two terms. He used the nation's respect for him to develop respect for this new office, but he simultaneously tried to quiet fears that the president would become as powerful as the king the new country had fought against. He tried to create the kind of solid government he thought the nation needed, supporting a national bank, collecting taxes to pay for expenses, and strengthening the Army and Navy. Though many people wanted him to stay for a third term, in 1797 he again retired to Mount Vernon. Washington died suddenly two years later. His death restarted attempts to honor him. As early as 1783, the Continental Congress had resolved "That an equestrian statue of George Washington be erected at the place where the residence of Congress shall be established." The proposal called for engraving on the statue which explained it had been erected "in honor of George Washington, the illustrious Commander-in-Chief of the Armies of the United States of America during the war which vindicated and secured their liberty, sovereignty, and independence."

Ten days after Washington's death, a Congressional committee recommended a different type of monument. John Marshall, a Representative from Virginia (who later became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court) proposed that a tomb be erected within the Capitol. But a lack of funds, disagreement over what type of memorial would best honor the country's first president, and the Washington family's reluctance to move his body prevented progress on any project.

January 2009

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