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The Amazing History Behind the Very Christian Plaque at Mount Rushmore

01/28/2016 Comments (13)

The story behind a plaque at Mount Rushmore explaining the history of the United States of America with quite a Christian flavor would probably surprise many people.

President Calvin Coolidge met the artist Gutzon Borglum who prompted him to dedicate the site for a carving of four president's busts in the 1920's. Coolidge helped to raise funds and was even present as the cornerstone was laid and said, “We have come here to dedicate a cornerstone laid by the hand of the Almighty. …The union of these four presidents carved on the face of the everlasting Black Hills of South Dakota … will be distinctly American in its conception, in its magnitude, in its meaning."

Borglum, in turn, asked that Coolidge himself write the inscription that would accompany the portraits on Rushmore. You see he didn't want a group of heads in a mountain without an explanation. He feared that without an "entablature," generations in the future wouldn't understand their importance or significance, much like Stonehenge or the rock faces of Easter Island. The words were supposed to appear writ large right next to the presidents' heads. A law was passed partly funding the project and stating that Coolidge would write the inscription that would "endure for 5,000 centuries."

After his presidency, Coolidge went to work on a 500 word history of America for the inscription. This is where things went off the rails a bit. In 1930, Borglum released the first two paragraphs in Coolidge's essay all about the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Problem is that Borglum was a little unhappy with Coolidge's writing and edited it. Heavily. Pretty gutsy, huh? Editing a president and all. The bigger problem is that he inserted some historical inaccuracies. And it quickly became a laughingstock. Coolidge then, predictably, distanced himself from the entire project.

So the project continued but without any inscription explaining it. So Borglum, not one to give up on something he wanted, took his case to famed newspaper owner William Randolph Hearst, asking him to run a contest in his newspapers asking people to write the text that would appear on the mountain and the best 500 word essay would be chosen by a commission with Franklin Delano Roosevelt, his wife Eleanor and other notables of the time. One minor problem is that the law stated that Coolidge would write the text but as he died the year before, nobody made a stink about it. The contest was a national hit with Hearst's newspapers receiving over 100,000 submissions. There were winners for different age groups including a college edition winner, a grade school winner, and a high school winner, as well as an overall winner by the name of John Edward Bradley.

But another problem occurred. The temperamental Borglum didn't like any of them. None of them. And he refused to carve any of the essays into the side of the mountain. You know how artists can be. He decided he would write the text himself. But the problem for Borglum is that with the Depression only getting worse, funding for his project got a little thin and the entablature was nixed altogether.

Interestingly, the college winner was a young man by the name of William Burkett of Nebraska. By winning the college age contest he earned a scholarship which allowed him to go to college and become quite successful. He always credited his success to the Rushmore contest. However, in 1975, William Burkett was present to see his essay inscribed on a bronze plaque and installed at Mount Rushmore, at the site of Borglum's studio there. Burkett's essay is as follows:

Almighty God, from this pulpit of stone The American People render thanksgiving and praise for the new era of civilization brought forth upon this continent. Centuries of tyrannical oppression sent to these shores, God-fearing men to seek in freedom the guidance of the Benevolent Hand in the progress toward wisdom, goodness toward men, and piety toward God.
1776 Consequently, on July 4, 1776, our forefathers promulgated a principle never before successfully asserted, that life, liberty, equality, and pursuit of happiness were the birthrights of all mankind. In this declaration of independence, formulated by Jefferson, beat a heart for all humanity. It declared this country free from British rule and announced the inalienable sovereignty of the people. Freedom's soldiers victoriously consecrated this land with their life's blood to be free forevermore.
1787 Then, 1787, for the first time a government was formed that derived its just powers from the consent of the governed. General Washington and representatives from the thirteen states formed this sacred constitution, which embodies our faith in God and in mankind by giving equal participation in government to all citizens, distributing the powers of governing threefold, securing freedom of speech and of the press, establishing the right to worship the infinite according to conscience, and assuring this nation's general welfare against an embattled world this chart of national guidance has for 145 years weathered the ravages of time. Its supreme trial came under pressure of civil war.
1801-65. The deadly doctrines of secession and slavery were then purged away in blood. The seal of the Union's finality, set by President Lincoln, was accomplished like all our triumphs of law and humanity, through the wisdom and the power of an honest, Christian heart. Farsighted American statesmanship acquired by treaties, vast wilderness territories where progressive, adventurous Americans spread civilization and Christianity.
1803 The picturesque Florida peninsula was ceded as payment of the Spanish obligations due to Americans.
1845 Texas, having patterned American democracy during the ten years of freedom from Mexican rule, accepted the invitation to join the sisterhood of states.
1846 The Oregon country was peacefully apportioned by the 49th parallel as the compromised international boundary of the two English-speaking nations.
1848 California and territory likewise rich in natural resources was acquired as the consequence of an inevitable conflict with Mexico. In spirit of mutual concession, the United States granted additional indemnities for the adjustment of the international boundary, extending from the Rio Grande to the Gulf of California.
1850 Texas willingly ceded the disputed Rio Grande region, thus ending the dramatic acquisition of the West.
1867 Alaska was purchased from Russia.
1904 The Panama Canal Zone was purchased as authorized by President Theodore Roosevelt, whereupon our people built a navigable highway to conveniently enable the world's people to share the fruits of the earth and of human industry.
Now these areas are welded into a nation possessing unity, liberty, power, integrity and faith in God with responsible development of character and the steady performance of humanitarian duty. Holding no fear of the economic and political, chaotic clouds hovering over the earth, the consecrated Americans dedicate this nation before God, to exalt righteousness and to maintain mankind's constituted liberties so long as the earth shall endure.

If atheist organizations get a load of this plaque I'm sure lawsuits will be filed by this afternoon.

HT Kai's Coolidge Blog

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About Matthew Archbold

Matthew Archbold
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Matt Archbold graduated from Saint Joseph's University in 1995. He is a former journalist who left the newspaper business to raise his five children. He writes for the Creative Minority Report.