• Michael Thompson

National Statuary Hall Collection = National Disgrace

It is April of 1864, and Union General-in-Chief Ulysses S. Grant is about to begin his Wilderness Campaign Offensive into Northern Virginia to end the Confederate rebellion and the bloodiest conflict in American history. A short 70 miles away, back in Washington, Congress had voted to turn the Old Hall of the House of Representatives meeting chamber into a gallery of statues. Their aim was to represent no more than two deceased individuals from each state that were worthy of national commemoration.



Therefore, it would probably be stunning for members of the 38th United States Congress to learn, that the room would eventually enshrine eleven individuals who, at that very moment, were engaged in sedition and succession for the purpose of having the right to keep another human being as a slave.

The decades following the Civil War saw revisionist history take hold as “The Lost Cause” became the defining Southern narrative of the Civil War. It spoke of a valiant, Southern revolt against the tyrannical Northern States, who were hellbent on stamping out their noble way of life. Reframing the Civil War meant turning traitors into heroes, and this led to the construction of numerous monuments to the Confederacy over the next hundred years.


Thankfully, times have been changing and America is being forced to acknowledge those more forgettable moments in its long history. Over the last few years, an effort has begun to quash the fictitious “Lost Cause” and this involves the removal of the many Confederate Memorials from public view. This removal movement has only intensified since the May 2020 killing of George Floyd in Minnesota, and rightfully so. As Americans, we should want the best immortalized for posterity.


Now, I understand that history can be complicated. One may be able to make an argument that some of the individuals were only young, enlisted men. As such, I will not try and make cases against Floridian Edward Douglass White or West Virginian John Kenna, both of whom were under-21 when the Civil War ended.


Furthermore, there have even been steps taken to replace some of the statues in the collection. Alabama replaced Jabez Lamar in 2008 and Virginia replaced Robert E. Lee in 2020. Floridian Edmund Kirby Smith and Arkansas’s Uriah Rose are both in the process of replacement by their respective state legislatures.


Let’s look at who is left.

  • Jefferson Davis, Mississippi, President of Confederate States, or leader of the movement to ensure states’ rights of enslavement be preserved.

  • Alexander Stephens, Georgia, Vice President of the Confederate States, gave the infamous Cornerstone Speech in which he states quite succinctly that the Confederacy is built upon the fact first and foremost that “the negro is not equal to the white man.”

  • James Z. George, Mississippi, Colonel of Confederate States, became a Senator after the Civil War and actively worked to disenfranchise black men.

  • Wade Hampton III, South Carolina, Lieutenant General of the Confederate States, after the Civil War, Hampton became a proponent of the Lost Cause. In 1876, Hampton became Governor of South Carolina while engaging in the suppression of the black vote.

  • Zebulon Vance, North Carolina, Colonel in the CSA and post-war Governor of North Carolina. Vance believed in black inferiority, held slaves, and was a suspected member of the Ku Klux Klan.

These 5 men endorsed the destruction of this Republic and promoted a continuation of slavery. Now, it is not as if these men should be completely forgotten. Of course, it is important for Americans to be reminded of the worst it has to offer, if for no more reason as not to repeat the same mistakes again. They simply should be relegated to history books and museums and never in a way that suggests honorable. Take a page from Virginia, where Robert E. Lee’s statue is now residing in the Virginia Museum of History and Culture. If we are going to build monuments and erect statues, it should be to those who suffered and to those who fought slavery.


Their continued presence in the National Statuary Hall is an embarrassment to the United States Congress and the citizens. Any individual who took an active leadership role in the Confederacy or was an officer in the Confederate Army should immediately be removed from public viewing. Pack the statues in some crates and ship them back to their home state where they can be properly displayed in museums with proper context.






Sources

The Wilderness Campaign - https://www.nps.gov/frsp/learn/historyculture/wildspot.htm

National Statuary Hall - https://www.aoc.gov/explore-capitol-campus/art/about-national-statuary-hall-collection

38th Congress - https://history.house.gov/Congressional-Overview/Profiles/38th/

"Lost Cause" - https://www.battlefields.org/learn/articles/lost-cause-definition-and-origins

Virginia Museum of History and Culture - ttps://virginiahistory.org/


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