The mystery of the first monument that didn’t happen — Lincoln One Cent Coin

Today, the Lincoln One Cent Coin remembers when Congress chartered the National Lincoln Monument Association of Washington, D. C. with legislation approved March 30, 1867.

But, in comparing the proposed monument of 1867 and the actual memorial built years later, the real one is more impressive.

Commentary on the first monument from the Reporter of May 1904:


A Movement that was Lost.

Present agitation for the erection in Washington, D. C., of a monument to Abraham Lincoln, in which are officially interested Secretaries Hay and Taft, Senator Wetmore and Representatives Richardson and McCreary, recalls the fact that nearly forty years ago a similar movement was authorized by congress, was backed by the most eminent men of the country, and launched under what appeared to be the most favorable auspices.

Money was raised by popular subscription, the design for the monument approved, a site selected, and captured cannon turned over to the monument association by the war department from which were to be cast the bronze figures to surmount the granite pedestal.

But the monument was never erected.

The movement, despite the promise of its beginning, appears to have languished and died, says the Washington Post.

Search of all available sources of information fails to disclose the preservation of any records of the association, even the disposition of the money collected by popular subscription remaining a mystery.

It was provided that unless the monument was completed in four years subscriptions should be returned.

No money was returned.

Senator Cullom of Illinois, who was named as one of the incorporators in the act of congress creating the association, said recently that if he ever had knowledge of the association’s existence he had forgotten it.

He could give no information as to why the project was not carried to completion or as to the disposition of whatever money was collected.

The National Lincoln Monument Association of Washington, D. C., was chartered by act of congress approved March 30, 1867, and the list of incorporators named in the act of incorporation included cabinet ministers, senators, representatives and distinguished citizens.

Only a few of them are now alive.

The monument was to be erected in front of the capitol and was to be known as the National Lincoln Monument.

The act provided that the following persons should constitute a body corporate for the purpose of erecting the monument “Commemorative of the great charter of emancipation and individual liberty in America:” Alexander H. Randall, James Harlan, Alexander Ramsey, Nathaniel P. Banks, Sidney Perham, John Conness, John T. Wilson, Godlove S. Orth, Delos R. Ashley, Herbert E. Paine, Charles O’Niell, Burt Van Horn, John F. Driggs, Frederick E. Woodbridge, Jacob Benton, John Hill, Shelby M. Cullom, Thomas A. Jenks, Orrin S. Ferry, N. B. Smithers, Francis Thomas, Samuel McKee, Horace Maynard, John T. Benjamin, Rutus Mallory, Sidney Clark, Daniel Polsley, Walter A. Burleigh, john Taffee, and their successors.

A photograph of the proposed monument was issued with a description on the reverse side.

The design was by Clark Mills, and had been approved by the association.

An imposing certificate in the form of a receipt for subscriptions was engraved and printed at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, and apparently the popular subscriptions were limited at $1 each, as the words “One Dollar” were made a part of the engraving.

The receipts were signed by the treasurer of the association, Gen. F. E. Spinner, who at that time was also treasurer of the United States.

The following description of the monument as designed by Mills and accepted by the association was copyrighted and published:

The pedestal to be of granite, and figures bronze.

The whole structure to be 70 feet, surmounted by thirty-five colossal figures.

Its construction triangular, the base of which admits three groups, representing slavery.

The first (to the right) represents the slave in his most abject state, as when brought to this country. Here we behold him nude, deprived of all which tends to elate the heart with any spirit of pride or independence.

The second represents a less abject stage. He is here partly clad, more enlightened, and hence, realizing his bondage, startles with a love of freedom.

The third (behind) is the ransomed slave, redeemed from bondage by the blood of Liberty, who, having struck off his shackles, holds them triumphantly aloft. The slave is pictured gratefully bowing at her feet.

Between these groups are three bas-reliefs. The first represents Firing on Fort Sumter. The other two represent the Senate and House amending the Constitution.

The second story, first group, represents the members of the cabinet in council, while Seward points toward Europe, as though explaining the importance of the act.

The second group, officers of the navy and prominent Union men who stood by the president during the war. The third, the fall of Richmond and the surrender of Lee.

The crowning figure is the President in the act of signing the proclamation. At his feet are Liberty and Justice, while behind sits Time, watching the hour-glass, missioned, as it were, from heaven.

At the base of the steps leading from the center structure are equestrian statues of leading commanders of the army.

How much money was raised by the association is not known, but if the law was strictly complied with, the full amount of $100,000 must have been subscribed, as” the records in the office of the chief of ordnance, war department, show that twelve bronze guns were issued to the association under the act approved June 25, 1868.

That act provided that “no metal as aforesaid shall be thus appropriated until the voluntary subscriptions for said purpose and actually in the hands of the treasurer shall amount to $100,000.”

In the office of the treasurer of the United States there is nothing to show the existence of the association except several hundreds of the blank certificate-receipts and a half dozen copies of Volume 1, No. 1, of what evidently was intended to be a periodical devoted to the movement, called “The National Lincoln Monument.”

It bears date of May 14, 1868. And yet, with all this mighty enginery and organization, no monument appears in the capital.

What became of the money, and what became of the entire movement, is a mystery that will probably never be explained.

Manifestly, at this late day, if a Lincoln monument is to be erected in the capital that shall outclass anything of this nature hitherto attempted, as is proposed, congress should have the matter in its immediate charge, and the work should be done from the public treasury, so that there can be no chance for a possible repetition of the fiasco of forty years ago.


The Lincoln One Cent Coin shows with an artist’s image, circa 1867, of the proposed monument designed by Mr. Mills.

Lincoln One Cent Coin