Lafayette Square, on the surface looks to be a symbol of unadulterated patriotism, a space in which those who had helped craft today’s United States of America were honored in the heart of its own capital. While this square does still stand as a place of honor, through this essay, I will argue that the symmetric and systematic placement of the monuments within the square’s reach contribute to a much more complex commonplace, using lines of placement within the space to contain elements of international influence and allow national presence to govern the area. Lafayette Square, located adjacent to the White House was named for General Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, a French revolutionary who significantly aided in the American Revolution (Biography of the Marquis De Lafayette). Since the unofficial creation of the square, the space has been used as a soldier encampment, graveyard and slave market among other things (Lafayette Square, Washington, D.C.).
Not until its official construction in 1891 did the Square honor the man for which the space is named, General Lafayette (Lafayette Square, Washington, DC). Previous to this the square was home to only one statue. Located at the center of the square, a statue was erected in 1853, depicted President Andrew Jackson riding atop a rearing horse (Lafayette Square, Washington, DC). The physical monuments of this site prove to create hard lines and borders. Through the placement and memoriam of these statues, a layered effect is created in the space, contributing to the containment of foreign influence in the area.
At the heart of these multilayered organism is Andrew Jackson. The statue created in honor of The United States seventh president shows Jackson riding atop a rearing horse, as reported by the US General Service Administration (Lafayette Square, Washington, DC). The GSA also reports that this very statue was the first in the nation to be cast in bronze, a trend that would soon be followed by many sculptors (Lafayette Square, Washington, DC). The placement of this statue at the heart of the square is bold enough to leave many wondering why the Square was not named for the man whose image the statue was created in. A few feet beyond the statue and the pristine grass that surrounds it, is a fence meant to keep the statue and its surroundings untouched by the squares visitors. This fence differentiates this monument from the others in the square, marking it as the only one in which guests can not interact with. This emphasis does not go unnoticed on the larger scale of the square. The placement of Andrew Jackson’s memorial as well as the architecture surrounding it creates an untouchable American figure at the heart of Lafayette Square, establishing the purely American core of the area.
Beyond the nationalistic core of the square is an open space filled with manicured grass, fountains and benches, creating the ideal space for anything from a tour group to a protest. This meat of the Square is forever changing, based on the areas clientele at any given moment. Beyond this, the perimeter of Lafayette Square holds tribute to four individuals: Major General Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, Major Général Comte Jean de Rochambeau, Brigadier General Thaddeus Kosciuszko, and Major General Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben (Lafayette Square, Washington, DC). These monuments cover each of the four corners of the square, creating an international perimeter. The relative location of these four statues to the central statue of Andrew Jackson creates the first glimpse of the layered structure of the area. The foreign influence for which the park is named, lays only on the perimeter of the square, while Andrew Jackson’s presence holds most of the inner square. The differing levels of influence present in both of these layers allows for the containment of each to their specified area of the square. Moreover, these statutes, unlike that of President Andrew Jackson have no surrounding barriers separating them from the public’s reach. This further signifies the shift in ranking for layer to layer of the square.
Solidifying the layered rhetoric of the square lays in what is located just beyond the foreign perimeter of the area. Beyond the square, only a short distance away, are two extremely american locations, serving to enclose and contain the layer of foreign influence that is the perimeter of Lafayette Square. Just outside of this perimeter sites St. John’s Episcopal Church, also knows as “The Church of the president’s” (Welcome to St. John’s Church). The church gets its street name from the fact that every president, starting with President James Madison, has attended a service at this very church (Welcome to St. John’s Church). The traditional decor as well as its rich nationalistic history solidifies this location as one of great national influence. This influence, paired with its proximity to the perimeter of Lafayette Square helps to further contain the thin layer of international culture present in the area. Another nearby barrier for this international influence is a somewhat less prestigious location. Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab restaurant sits right outside of Lafayette Square. The upscale, two-story restaurant is known for its American cuisine and rated 4.6 stars on yelp.com (History of Joe’s). The rhetoric of this space in relation to Lafayette square is that of final American dominance over the area. The addition of yet another respected, well revered American staple in such close proximity to the already contained foreign influence in the area solidifies the third layer of the space as nationalistic.
While it was no secret when beginning my research on Lafayette Square that the space would be on of national pride and focus, what did surprise me was the space’s acknowledgement of foreign influence and simultaneous containment of this influence to a thin perimeter. While analyzing the rhetor of the square and learning more about the space’s history and the American government, I can not help but feel that this containment is not coincidental. It seems only logical to me that from a nationalistic point of view, the honoring of foreign dignitaries in the heart of our nation’s capital and an area of such American pride, would be contained to small, less significant areas.
“Biography of the Marquis De Lafayette.” Ushistory.org, Independence Hall Association,
www.ushistory.org/valleyforge/served/lafayette.html. Accessed 27 Feb. 2017.
“Joe’S.net.” Joe’S.net, joes.net/dc/. Accessed 2 May 2017.
“Lafayette Square, Washington, D.C.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 2 May 2017, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lafayette_Square,_Washington,_D.C. Accessed 2 May 2017.
“WELCOME TO SAINT JOHN’S CHURCH.” St Johns Church, stjohns-dc.org/welcome-to-saint-johns-church/history/. Accessed 30 Apr. 2017.