About Those US Capitol Statues Nancy Wants to Dispose Of

 

One of my privileges as a former Secretary of the United States Senate is the ability to conduct guided tours of the US Capitol. One of the offices I supervised was the US Senate Historical Office. One of the Secretary’s responsibilities is to promote the history and significance of the US Senate, a responsibility that I continue to relish. During my tours, I frequently stop to point out certain statues, especially in Statuary Hall (the former House Chamber until about 1857, when the current Chamber was completed).

So when the latest brouhaha over statues began, especially given the “presentism” gripping our political discourse, I knew right away it would find its way to many of those statues. Speaker Nancy Pelosi did not disappoint, calling for the removal of 11 statues of historical figures she finds especially objectionable.

Here’s what you need to know. About 100 of those statues, half of which are located in Statuary Hall, are there under a Concurrent Resolution that invited every state to send up to two statues of their choosing. They get to decide; not Congress, not Speaker Pelosi. Other statues are placed under other congressional resolutions.

These statues, and the people they feature, have interesting histories, not to mention the abundant symbolism throughout the complex. Robert E. Lee’s statue used to be located in the Capitol Rotunda but was moved to the crypt, on the first floor below the rotunda, to accommodate a monument to women’s suffrage — “three ladies in a tub,” it is affectionally and frequently referred to. If you’ve seen it, you know why.

I always point out a few (such as the aforementioned monument to women’s suffrage), including those of Alexander Stephens, from Georgia, and Jefferson Davis, of Mississippi. Stephens was a deeply racist Democratic Congressman from Georgia who opposed southern secession but became, rather infamously, the Vice President of the Confederacy; Davis, of course, was the first and only President of the Confederacy, and before that a Democratic US Senator and Secretary of War under President Franklin Pierce. In recent years, I’ve warned that those statues would likely not survive.

My favorite statues include Hawaii’s King Kamehameha (which was moved to a more prominent place in the Capitol’s Visitor Center); Iowa’s Norm Borlaug, the father of the “green revolution” and a plant biologist credited with saving millions of lives from starvation; Rosa Parks, who famously refused to take a seat in the “back of the bus” and triggered Civil Rights legislation; and astronaut Jack Swigert from the aborted Apollo 13 moon mission, who sadly died just after being elected to Congress from Colorado but before being sworn in.

Another favorite, on the first floor below the House Chamber, is that of Oregon’s Edward Dickinson Baker, a famous abolitionist who raised his own regiment for the Union and led troops — as a sitting US Senator — into the Battle of Balls Bluff at what is now Leesburg, VA. He died in that battle. Can you imagine any Senator doing that today?

So, sorry, Nancy, you don’t get to decide by yourself which statues come and go. But maybe Members of Congress should thoughtfully decide by what standards we should apply to the removal or location of all statues. Former Speaker John Boehner actually began that process during his tenure but I don’t know what happened to it. And, in all cases, there is much history to learn from all of them. You’ll likely find it is more nuanced and complicated than you think — especially concerning those former Confederates, some of whom went on to serve to reunite the country in some remarkable ways — including Robert E. Lee who, by the way, never wanted to be memorialized.

Addendum: The federal statute that governs the removal of statues under the National Statuary Hall Collection can be found here.

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  1. Tex929rr Coolidge
    Tex929rr
    @Tex929rr

    Based on my travels there, about half of West Virginia is named for former Klansman Robert Byrd.  There is a good place to start. 

    • #1
  2. Bucknelldad Coolidge
    Bucknelldad
    @SoupGuy

    Tex929rr (View Comment):

    Based on my travels there, about half of West Virginia is named for former Klansman Robert Byrd. There is a good place to start.

    I can’t wait for the discussions to begin about one Woodrow Wilson, who was arguably the most racist President in American history. He’s buried at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. 

     

    • #2
  3. Bill Nelson Inactive
    Bill Nelson
    @BillNelson

    Simple solution for those provided by the states: have the citizens of each state decide if a statute goes or stays (plebiscite) and propose any replacements. As for those for which the Senate is responsible, they get to choose. I would like someone to find the original justification for the choice.

    But at the end of the day, they are merely symbols.

    • #3
  4. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    How was Wilson’s protégé FDR about race? Oh, yes, there was the whole Japanese thing. Those Democrats have never been very good on the issue. Do they have a statue of Margaret Sanger. too?

    • #4
  5. DrewInWisconsin Doesn't Care Member
    DrewInWisconsin Doesn't Care
    @DrewInWisconsin

    The American Taliban doesn’t give a crap about your statues. They will demand to tear them all down and “start from zero.”

    I wonder if the United States has a future anymore.

    • #5
  6. Bucknelldad Coolidge
    Bucknelldad
    @SoupGuy

    Arahant (View Comment):

    How was Wilson’s protégé FDR about race? Oh, yes, there was the whole Japanese thing. Those Democrats have never been very good on the issue. Do they have a statue of Margaret Sanger. too?

    I’m pleased to report that Margaret Sanger’s statute is nowhere to be found in the US Capitol (not that someone may have tried, at some point). 

     

    • #6
  7. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… Member
    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio…
    @ArizonaPatriot

    Minor correction: Jefferson Davis was Secretary of War under Franklin Pierce, not Andrew Jackson.

    • #7
  8. Bucknelldad Coolidge
    Bucknelldad
    @SoupGuy

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):

    Minor correction: Jefferson Davis was Secretary of War under Franklin Pierce, not Andrew Jackson.

    Thank you for that correction. I will fix that in the text.

    • #8
  9. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    What?  No statues of Rachel Carson or Margaret Sanger?

    • #9
  10. Al French of Damascus Moderator
    Al French of Damascus
    @AlFrench

    The statue of Edward Dickinson Baker is not one of the two provided by the people of Oregon under the concurrent resolution. Those two are John McLoughlin and Jason Lee. McLoughlin was the chief factor for Hudson Bay Company in what later became Oregon and was very helpful to the early pioneers. Jason Lee was a Methodist missionary and founder of the Willamette Mission and the city of Salem. In 2015 there was a movement to replace the statues with those of Chief Joseph and Abigail Scott Duniway (because white males). The 2016 legislature failed to act and the movement died down. I’m partial to retaining the statue of Jason Lee, as my great great grandfather came to Oregon in 1839 as part of the mission.

    • #10
  11. KentForrester Moderator
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    I say tear down all the statues and then melt all the marble, or whatever they’re made of, and make one gigantic statue of George Floyd. 

    • #11
  12. Charlotte Member
    Charlotte
    @Charlotte

    Norman Borlaug FTW! I’m so glad to learn that his statue is in the Capitol. Terrific post.

    • #12
  13. MichaelKennedy Inactive
    MichaelKennedy
    @MichaelKennedy

    Stephens was not a hero but he did try to end the war negotiating with Sherman for surrender of Joe Johnston’s army.  That of course, got Sherman in lots of trouble with Stanton.  Sherman did not know of Lincoln’s assassination and was trying to follow Lincoln’s plan of reconciliation.

    • #13
  14. Rodin Member
    Rodin
    @Rodin

    The “three ladies in a tub” statute:

    • #14
  15. 9thDistrictNeighbor Member
    9thDistrictNeighbor
    @9thDistrictNeighbor

    Imagine the cognitive dissonance about all the southern Democrat slave owners, like Wade Hampton.  From wikipedia:

    He came from a wealthy planter family, and shortly before the war he was one of the largest slaveholders in the Southeast….

    At the end of Reconstruction, with the withdrawal of federal troops from the state, Hampton was leader of the Redeemers who restored white rule. His campaign for governor was marked by extensive violence by the Red Shirts, a paramilitary group that served the Democratic Party by disrupting elections and suppressing black and Republican voting in the state. He was elected Governor, serving 1876 to 1879. After that, he served two terms as U.S. Senator, from 1879 to 1891.

    • #15
  16. Bucknelldad Coolidge
    Bucknelldad
    @SoupGuy

    Rodin (View Comment):

    The “three ladies in a tub” statute:

    Yes, at its former location in the crypt. The women depicted here include Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The bit of protruding marble behind them represents the “unfinished work of women’s suffrage.” I believe it weighs about 14 tons, and it cost about $70,000 in the early 1990s to relocate it upstairs to the Capitol Rotunda. 

    • #16
  17. Lois Lane Coolidge
    Lois Lane
    @LoisLane

    I’d say we should just do statues of dogs now, but then the cat people would scratch off their faces….

    • #17
  18. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Lois Lane (View Comment):

    I’d say we should just do statues of dogs now, but then the cat people would scratch off their faces….

    Better believe it.

    • #18
  19. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Lois Lane (View Comment):

    I’d say we should just do statues of dogs now, but then the cat people would scratch off their faces….

    Better believe it.

    Maybe we should do like the Jews and the Muslims, and eliminate all graven images. There were forms of Reformation Christianity that went through iconoclast stages, too, but they didn’t stick with it consistently.  

    • #19