The Statue Freedom

The statue Freedom sits atop the Capitol Building in Washington D.C. It was recently restored and returned to its original position. At a celebration to commemorate the 200th Anniversary of the Capitol, Rita Dove read her poem, Lady Freedom Among Us, written to commemorate the occasion.

Thomas Crawford: The Sculptor

From They Built The Capitol. Ihna Thayer Frary. Richmond: Garrett and Massie, 1940. (Reprinted with permission)

Most widely known of Crawford's works is the gigantic figure of Freedom that surmounts the Dome. For making the model of this he was awarded $5,000. His plaster model passed through a series of adventures that sound like Action and make us wonder that it ever survived to reach its lofty position above Capitol Hill.

The sculptor's death occurred while the model was still in Italy, and it was not until April 19, 1858, that it was shipped from Leghorn. The bark on which it was being transported sprung a leak, and, a month after departing from the port of Leghorn, it put in at Gibraltar for repairs. All the cargo except the heavy model was unloaded, and the vessel was calked. This meant a delay of another month, but finally a second start was made for New York.

The voyage had scarcely begun when heavy gales were encountered, the bark again developed serious leaks, and much of her cargo of citron and baled rags was thrown overboard. The end of this month found the ill-fated little craft at Bermuda, where it was found to be in such bad condition that it was sold and the cargo sent on to its destination in another ship.

Only a portion of the model was included in this cargo, which arrived in New York on December 27, 1858, and it was not until the following March that the last sections of the model were shipped by schooner from New York to Washington. Nearly a year had elapsed from the time the big crates left Leghorn until they were finally unloaded at the United States Capitol.

Arrangements had been made to have the figure cast at a foundry near Bladensburg, and work was under way, when the outbreak of the Civil War brought an abrupt stop to operations. Work was soon resumed, however, and on December 2, 1863, the statue was placed in position as the crowning feature of the Capitol.


Thomas Crawford was born in 1813 or 1814, probably at New York. As a child he showed a decided bent toward art and at the age of fourteen went to work for a wood carver. When nineteen he apprenticed himself to Frazee and Launitz, makers of monuments, and studied in the evening classes at the National Academy of Design.

He tried his hand at marble busts, and carved such unusually delicate detail on the regular marble work of the shop that his employers advised him to pursue his studies in Italy. Accordingly, he sailed in May, 1835, for Leghorn, and was received most cordially in Rome by Thorwaldsen, to whom he had a letter from Launitz, who assisted him and gave him the run of his studio.

The young man worked far beyond his strength while in Rome, at one time modeling seventeen busts in ten weeks. His health broke and for a time his outlook was dark, but with recovery commissions began to pour in upon him. Charles Sumner gave him a commission and spread his fame in this country. This necessitated a return from Europe and while here, in 1844, he married a sister of Julia Ward Howe.

After a stay in the United States, Crawford returned to Rome, working there from 1850 to 1856. He contracted a serious disease in one of his eyes and went for treatment to London, where he died on September 10, 1857.

His most important commission in this country, aside from those on the Capitol, was that for figures on the Washington Monument at Richmond, which was designed by Robert Mills. For this, Crawford modeled the equestrian figure of Washington, and the two figures of Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry. Following his death the other figures were completed by Randolph Rogers.

(Photographs courtesy of The Architect of the Capitol)

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