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Monumental Error

March 2023
1min read

A RECENT VISITOR to the Lincoln Memorial accosted the National Park Service, its custodian, with a complaint. Viewing the state names and their years of admission to the Union that circle the memorial, he was surprised to find the wrong date inscribed for his home state of Ohio: MDCCCII—a year too early, he contended.

Reference books back him up: all list 1803 as Ohio’s date of statehood. It appeared that the creators of the Lincoln Memorial had made a mistake.

And yet the architect Henry Bacon and the sculptor Daniel Chester French had taken infinite pains with their masterpiece when they designed it (1912-22). The visitor’s only recourse was to check the date of the act declaring Ohio’s statehood. There it was: the Joint Resolution for Admitting the State of Ohio into the Union—approved August 7, 1953.

Yes, 1953. For although Ohio had long been regarded as the seventeenth state, its statehood lacked the certitude desirable if not essential in such matters. A congressional enabling act of April 30, 1802. had authorized the inhabitants of the territory to form a state constitution. They did so on November 29. Another federal enactment of February 19, 1803, establishing a new district court there, presumed that Ohio had become a state upon compliance with the enabling act. On March 1 of that year the legislature was seated, the governor took office, and Ohio began functioning as a state.

But for the next century and a half authorities differed on just when she had become one, some dating her statehood from the 1802 adoption of the constitution, others from the inauguration of state government in 1803.

At last, in 1953, Rep. George H. Bender introduced the resolution to admit Ohio to the union effective March 1, 1803. Sen. George Smathers complained that “many persons have labored under the impression that Ohio was already in the Union,” and Sen. William Knowland of California raised the provocative possibility that “perhaps the Members of Congress from Ohio all these years may have been drawing their salaries illegally,” while Sen. Carl Hayden was worried that passage of the resolution would somehow jeopardize Arizona’s distinction of being, at that time, the last to achieve statehood.

But in the end, of course, the Senate endorsed the resolution and sent it on to the White House. There, Dwight Eisenhower, exercising a power over the past rarely granted mortals, made Ohio one of the United States of America 150 years earlier.

And thus it happened that Ohio’s date on the Lincoln Memorial, a valid choice in 1922, was rendered wrong in 1953.

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