1950 3¢ Statue of Freedom
National Capital Sesquicentennial Issue
Issue Date: April 20, 1950
City: Washington, D.C.
Printed By: Bureau of Engraving and Printing
Printing Method: Rotary Press
Perforations: 10 ½ x 11
Color: Bright blue
The “Statue of Freedom,” pictured in U.S. #989, was designed by Thomas Crawford. It stands on top of the Capitol Dome in Washington, D.C. The statue was originally designed in 1855 as wearing a “Phrygian” cap – a historic symbol of freedom from slavery. But Jefferson Davis, then Secretary of War and in charge of the construction of the statue, strongly objected. He felt the use of the cap was a commentary against the practice of slavery in the South.
Davis, who later became the President of the Confederacy during the Civil War, supported slavery. The Phrygian cap arose from the ancient Roman tradition of slaves who won their freedom being allowed to wear the cap. Davis did not want any symbol of slaves desiring freedom, and ordered the design changed. He refused to allow work to proceed until it was.
Montgomery Miegs, the supervising engineer of the project, told Crawford, “Mr. Davis says that he does not like the cap of Liberty introduced into the composition because American Liberty is original and not the liberty of the free slave.” Crawford changed the design to a Roman helmet with eagle feathers – which from a distance has often been confused with a Native American headdress.
A Symbol of Unity and Strength
The Capitol dome and the “Statue of Freedom” have an interesting history. Construction of the dome was incomplete when the Civil War began in 1861. Although resources on both sides of the conflict were strained, President Abraham Lincoln insisted the work continue as a symbol of American unity. Nearly 9 million pounds of ironwork was used to build the famous Capitol dome.
On December 2, 1863, the “Statue of Freedom” was placed on top of the dome. Fanfare included a 35-gun salute – one for every state of the divided Union – and a return salute from 12 forts surrounding Washington, D.C. The pageantry, and the “Statue of Freedom,” were visible from nearby Virginia – the seat of the Confederate States of America!
Powerfully symbolic, the “Statue of Freedom” had graced the Newspaper and Periodical Revenue stamps of 1875 and 1895. When the figure was again selected for the new stamp series in 1922, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing referred to an existing engraving in its files. However, the engraving was mistakenly labeled “America,” and the incorrect name was inscribed on the $5 stamp.
National Capital Sesquicentennial
A set of four U.S. stamps was issued in 1950 in honor of the 150th anniversary of the establishment of Washington, D.C., as the nation’s capital. The stamps portrayed the three branches of government (Executive, Judicial, Legislative), as well as the concepts of Liberty and Freedom.
The idea that the capital be a district that was not part of any state was first put forth by James Madison, in Essay No. 43 of the Federalist Papers. The Compromise of 1790 resulted in the federal government assuming the war debt of the individual states in return for the placement of the national capital in the South.
A provision in the U.S. Constitution allowed for an area like a square of 10-mile sides. The land was donated by both Maryland and Virginia. The City of Washington and the Territory of Columbia were originally two separate entities, but in 1801, both the territory and the city (as well as neighboring cities Georgetown and Alexandria) were placed under the direct control of Congress. The federal government officially moved into the District in 1800.