In 1928, Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945), then assistant secretary of the U.S. Navy , visited Washington, D.C. , and was disappointed that there was no memorial dedicated to President Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826; served 1801–9). Later, as president, Roosevelt expressed his view that such a memorial should be built, and in 1934 Congress passed a Joint Resolution to establish a Thomas Jefferson Memorial Commission (TJMC). The commission was given authority to plan, design, and construct the memorial.
The commission chose architect John Russell Pope (1874–1937) to submit a design. The National Competitions Committee for Architecture protested that the commission had not held a design contest, a more democratic selection process that Jefferson himself would have desired. Conflict notwithstanding, Pope designed a memorial based
on the Pantheon in Rome, which Jefferson had publicly declared to be a perfect model of a circular building. An adaptation of the design, favored by the Commission of Fine Arts, was accepted in 1936. Pope's death the following year led to further controversy as to which design was better, Pope's original, or the modified version. Ultimately, the TJMC chose one of Pope's earlier Pantheon designs and then had it modified by Pope's former associates. President Roosevelt approved it.
The memorial, which sits on the shore of the Potomac River Tidal Basin, directly south of the White House, was completed in 1943. It is constructed of marble and limestone and cost just over $3 million. In 1912, Japan gave the United States a gift of three thousand Japanese cherry trees, which line the Tidal Basin. Nearly four thousand more of these trees were planted in 1956.
Inside the monument stands a nineteen-foot bronze statue of Jefferson. Weighing in at 10,000 pounds, the statue was added four years after the official dedication of the memorial in 1943. Inside the statue chamber are inscribed quotations taken from the Declaration of Independence and personal letters from Jefferson to important figures from the early years of the United States.