Historical Highlights

A Joint Session to commemorate the completion of the Washington Monument

February 21, 1885
A Joint Session to commemorate the completion of the Washington Monument Image courtesy of Library of Congress This circa 1900 image features a view of the Washington Monument facing east towards the U.S. Capitol.
On this date, the House and Senate met in a Joint Session to commemorate the completion of the Washington Monument. The movement to construct a monument in Washington’s honor began in 1783, when a volunteer association suggested erecting a memorial in the new capital city. Formed in 1833, the Washington Monument Association included luminaries such as John Marshall and James Madison of Virginia. Funded by a combination of private donations and federal appropriations, the monument was built in fits and starts between 1848 and 1861. The Civil War and a lack of funding suspended the project from 1861 to 1876. In August 1876, Congress passed a concurrent resolution that appropriated $2 million to complete the monument. Due to the weak structural foundation, it still took builders almost nine years to finish it. Commemoration ceremonies began at the monument grounds. Senator John Sherman of Ohio, chairman of the Joint Congressional Committee for the Monument, noted that the 555-foot high, 55-foot wide edifice was “simple in form, admirable in proportions, composed of enduring marble and granite, resting upon foundations broad and deep…” A parade then proceeded down Pennsylvania Avenue toward the Capitol. Minute guns fired salutes simultaneously from the monument, the Navy Yard in Southwest Washington, D.C., and Fort Myer in northern Virginia. The commemoration ceremonies in the House Chamber included Members of Congress, executive branch officials, and descendants and relatives of George Washington. Former Speaker Robert Winthrop of Massachusetts, whose comments were read to the Joint Session, said, “those of us…who have followed the slow ascent of the stupendous pile, sometimes with hope and sometimes with despair, its successful completion is…an unspeakable relief, as well as a heartfelt delight and joy.”

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