The head-scratching reaction of the average tourist to the National Monument to the Forefathers at Plymouth, Massachusetts, measures the degree to which the present age has lost contact with the allegorical and iconographical meanings of older public monuments. This paper recreates the historical context for the architect Hammatt Billings's original design (1854) for the monument and its ultimate realization (dedicated 1889) by revealing the design process and its relationship to the historical and oratorical ideals of the 1850s. The original design not only existed as heir to the allegorical tradition of western art and architecture; it was formed by the hopes and fears of the decade previous to the Civil War. It reflected the reading of the nation's legendary past employed by New England orators and statesmen, such as Daniel Webster and Edward Everett, who espoused a common filiopietism in support of a sacred Union that they saw unraveling before them. The divisive Civil War accordingly delayed the erection of the monument to a common heritage. Although it was reduced and altered in postponed execution, the original design was well known from engravings and statuettes given as premiums for contributions to the building fund, and served as one precedent for Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi's better-known Statue of Liberty.
- Copyright 1995 The Society of Architectural Historians