It may not get as much attention as the president’s angry opposition to the removal of the names of Confederate military figures from U.S. military facilities, which his own Secretary of the Army was actively considering, but there’s a more central repository of rebel symbols in Washington: the statues in the U.S. Capitol called the National Statuary Hall Collection. Beginning in 1864, Congress set aside some space near the rotunda for each state to display statues of two great citizens they had produced. Naturally as the Confederate States rejoined the Union, they tended to defiantly honor the Heroes in Grey who had taken up arms against their own country in the dishonorable cause of defending and expanding slavery. Eleven of these figures are still displayed in the collection, including the Confederate President Jefferson Davis of Mississippi, and Vice-President Alexander Stephens of Georgia.
House Democrats are now making an effort to send the rebels home. But as The Hill reports, Republicans are blocking it:
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) on Thursday blocked the Senate from passing a bill to remove Confederate statues from the Capitol.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) tried to pass the bill by unanimous consent, which allows legislation to pass without a vote but also enables any one senator to block it.
The measure would remove statues of individuals who voluntarily served in the Confederacy from the Capitol.
With perhaps unintentional irony, Republicans are defending their presence as a matter of states’ rights.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer had the best line on this particular argument:
“Candidly, I don’t think it would be too imposing to ask our states not to send statues of people who actively fought against this country. You know, there is a reason that Connecticut doesn’t send a statue of Benedict Arnold.”
Southern states have been very gradually cleaning up their act in changing their symbols in the collection. Alabama substituted a statue of Helen Keller for one of Confederate politician and army officer Jabez Curry in 2009. And Congress made a gesture in 2013 by placing in the Capitol a statue of civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks as someone representing the entire country.
In a separate effort, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is trying to remove some portraits of certain Confederate predecessors:
Pelosi said on Thursday that she had ordered the removal of four portraits in the Capitol of previous Speakers who served in the Confederacy.
“We didn’t know about this until we were taking inventory of the statues and the curator told us that there were four paintings of Speakers in the Capitol of the United States, four Speakers who had served in the Confederacy,” Pelosi told reporters in the Capitol.
In opposing this whole effort, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell played the old floodgates card:
“What I do think is clearly a bridge too far is this nonsense that we need to airbrush the Capitol and scrub out everybody from years ago who had any connection to slavery,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters on Tuesday.
Someone needs to explain to McConnell that the men whose images mar the Capitol weren’t just slaveowners, but traitors who broke countless oaths against this country out of the belief that any restriction on their property “rights” in human beings was intolerable, and had to be preempted by a bloody civil war. Their removal from the Capitol is a simple matter of recapturing a historical truth that has been obscured for far too long. In a moment when long-delayed racial injustices are being addressed, this one should be an easy call.