George Washington Papers

Enclosure: Giuseppe Ceracchi to the United States Senate and House of Representatives, 31 October 1791


Giuseppe Ceracchi to the United States Senate and House of Representatives

Philadelphia 31st October 1791.

Joseph Ceracchi, a Roman Sculptor begs leave to submit to your Honors the annexed Design, which he has conceived of a Monument for perpetuating the Memory of the American Revolution.1

If Congress should think proper to encourage this Design, the Artist, satisfied with the Glory, which his performance will receive from the Subject itself, desires no pecuniary Reward, and only wishes to have the Expence defrayed, necessarily attending on such a work.

He has Sketched a Model of this work of the Height of about six feet, which will best convey the Idea of the intended Execution, and which he begs leave to submit to the Judgment of Congress.

Should his Offer be thought worthy of Acceptance, he will be happy in dedicating his Labours to a work, the Subject of which being so glorious in itself must insure Immortality to the Artist.2

Joseph Ceracchi

DS (copy), DLC:GW.

1Ceracchi’s accompanying description of his “Monument designed to perpetuate the Memory of American Liberty” reads:

“A Rock is represented, on the Summit of which is an Equestrian Statue of George Washington; around which are four allegorical groupes, alluding to Events, which have been completed; to our present Situation, and to (most probably) future incidents. He wears a Chlamys over antique Armour. Recourse has been had to Antiquity on this Occasion (as on others) in order to combine elegance of Taste with grandeur of Conception. The Federal Constitution is placed in his right hand.

“In one of the groupes appears the figure of Mars, reclining near his trophies, having been restrained by Policy from further Exertions. From her he receives an Olive branch, the emblem of Peace, for the grand purpose of establishing a Republican Government. A Genius, in the form of an Infant, clasps a Wolf, and indicates, that ferocity is subdued by Virtue. A female figure, expressive of Policy, attempts to soften the furious Spirit of the God of War. Allegorical Wings, which are veiled, are placed on her head, and under her Arm is a geographical Volume expressive of foreign Politics and internal Government. An elderly Man, clad in a consular habit, holding the Fasces, and trampling on a Crown, is exhibited; and the flaming Altar of Liberty, near which he stands, affords a competent idea of Republican Government.

“In another groupe Apollo appears celebrating the Praises of the new States, which are registered by Clio, on the tablets of History.

“A third groupe shows us the Triumph of America with respect to Arts, Agriculture, and Commerce. She sits on the Sea Coast, holding the Cap of Liberty in one hand, and in the other a Sceptre—A Rattle Snake is on her helmet, and Stars beam from her Aegis.

“Benevolent Nature issues from a Cavern, holding a Cornucopia in one hand, and with the other expressing from her ringlets the Sources of rivers. She is crowned with thirteen towers, and overhead four Infants, representing the Seasons, are ready to receive and enjoy her bounties—On the opposite side Neptune is seated between two Rivers exhorting Mercury to advance under his protection, American Commerce, and the glory of the American Flag.

“The fourth and last groupe represents Minerva, the Patroness of Arts and Sciences, sitting on a fragment of an Egyptian Obelisk, leaning on a figure of Osyris, and holding the Papyrus. Near her stands a Genius with a flambeau in one hand and in the other a Butterfly, expressive of the grand Principles of fire and animation.

“The Equestrian Statue intended to be cast in bronze, and the allegorical groupes to be of the finest Italian Marble—The height of the whole Monument to be about sixty feet, and each of the allegorical figures to be fifteen feet high.

“The sketch of this Monument is now at Oeller’s Hotel Chesnut Street” (DLC:GW).

2Ceracchi’s memorial was presented to the Senate and the House of Representatives on 31 Oct. 1791, both of which ordered it to be laid on the table. On 6 Dec. the House appointed Egbert Benson, Elbridge Gerry, and William Loughton Smith members of a joint committee with the Senate to consider means of carrying out the earlier resolution of the Continental Congress, but the Senate apparently never acted on the proposal (Annals of Congress description begins Joseph Gales, Sr., comp. The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States; with an Appendix, Containing Important State Papers and Public Documents, and All the Laws of a Public Nature. 42 vols. Washington, D.C., 1834–56. description ends , 2d Cong., 1st sess., 20, 149, 598–99; Journal of the House description begins The Journal of the House of Representatives: George Washington Administration 1789–1797. Edited by Martin P. Claussen. 9 vols. Wilmington, Del., 1977. description ends , 4:17, 48). On 7 Aug. 1783 Congress had resolved “That an equestrian statue of General Washington, be erected at the place where the residence of Congress shall be established,” to commemorate GW’s role in the British evacuation of Boston and the battles of Trenton, Princeton, Monmouth, and Yorktown (JCC, description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends 24:494–95). On 11 April 1792 the House committed Ceracchi’s memorial to Gerry, Benson, Richard Bland Lee, William Vans Murray, and Thomas Tudor Tucker. Gerry presented a report on 17 April, which the House read and ordered to lie on the table (Journal of the House description begins The Journal of the House of Representatives: George Washington Administration 1789–1797. Edited by Martin P. Claussen. 9 vols. Wilmington, Del., 1977. description ends , 4:181, 187, 216). This report proposed that the House resolve that “the Secretary of State, the Secretary of the Treasury, and the Secretary at War, for the time being, . . . be appointed Commissioners, to cause the said Monument to be completed, agreeably to the said resolutions, with such additional ornaments emblematical of the virtue and heroism of the citizens of the United States, in effecting the the late revolution, as may inspire reverence for republican government, and cherish that union and love of country, by which this great event has been atchieved” and that “Congress will provide at their next session for the payment of [blank] dollars per annum, for a term not exceeding 10 years, to complete the said monument” (Gazette of the United States [Philadelphia], 25 April). On 7 May the House recommitted the report to the same committee, and Lee reported the same day: “It appears to your committee, that Mr. Ceracchi is an artist of great reputation in Europe, a gentleman of respectable character, and has been actuated by the most honorable motives in offering to dedicate his genius and labors to the service of the United States. It appears however . . . that at the present time it might not be expedient to go into the expenses which the Monument voted by Congress on the seventh day of August [1783] . . . would require, especially with the additional ornaments proposed by the artist.” This report was read twice and agreed to by the House (Journal of the House description begins The Journal of the House of Representatives: George Washington Administration 1789–1797. Edited by Martin P. Claussen. 9 vols. Wilmington, Del., 1977. description ends , 4:216). Even before this rejection Ceracchi had sought private contributions for the monument, soliciting subscriptions in New York in early March 1792 (Hamilton to Richard Harison, 7 Mar., Nicholas Low to Hamilton, 25 Mar., n.15, in Syrett, Hamilton Papers, description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends 11:111–12, 26:661). John Jay, who had viewed Ceracchi’s model before writing to Benson on 31 Mar., called the design “a noble one, worthy of the attention of the United States and honourable to the taste and talents of the artist,” who “will be the most proper person to execute it.” Jay admitted that a congressional appropriation would “be unreasonable on account of the Indian war” at this time, but the plan at least could be adopted immediately without incurring any expenses. He recommended seeking private donations and state contributions, as well as the financial expertise of Hamilton. Jay concluded: “I confess to you that the effect which this measure would naturally have on the President’s feelings is with me an additional inducement. We shall not be reproached for letting him die by an executioner or in chains, or in exile, or in neglect and disgrace, as many Greek and Roman patriots died. On the contrary, we shall be commended throughout all generations for the part we have hitherto acted respecting him. It is only while he lives that we can have the satisfaction of offering fruits of gratitude and affection to his enjoyment; posterity can have only the expensive pleasure of strewing flowers on his grave” (Johnston, Jay Papers, description begins Henry P. Johnston, ed. The Correspondence and Public Papers of John Jay. 4 vols. New York and London, 1890-93. description ends 3:417–18). Despite another subscription effort during Ceracchi’s second visit to America, his monument to GW and the American Revolution was never erected. The sculptor returned to Europe an embittered man and was executed in Paris for his involvement in a plot to assassinate Napoleon Bonaparte.

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