january 6

There Are Still Confederates in the U.S. Capitol

Confederate president Jefferson Davis lives on in Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

When President Joe Biden spoke on the morning of January 6 from Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol, he remarked at the profane presence of rioters who had carried Confederate flags into “this sacred space” a year ago: “the Confederate flag that symbolized the cause to destroy America, to rip us apart. Even during the Civil War, that never, ever happened. But it happened here in 2021.”

The president is certainly right that anyone carrying a rebel banner into the Capitol during the Civil War would have been arrested, removed, and probably charged with treason. But unfortunately, the powers that be in the post-Reconstruction era valued “reconciliation” with ex-Confederates at the expense of the rights and interests of the former slaves they were in the process of subjugating all over again, and they continued to do so for at least a century. As it happens, the proof of this tolerance for the Lost Cause and its evil tenets surrounded Biden as he spoke on January 6, with the statues of five former Confederate officials or military officers among the 35 that give Statuary Hall its name. They include the arch-traitor and Confederate president Jefferson Davis (representing Mississippi) and his vice-president, Alexander Stephens (representing Georgia). Three other statues of ex-Confederates are in different parts of the Capitol, all part of a collection of 100, with two representatives designated by each state.

Ex-Confederate states have been gradually replacing their famous insurrectionists in the Capitol collection. Alabama replaced Confederate politician and officer Jabez Lamar Monroe Curry with Helen Keller in 2009. Virginia gave Robert E. Lee the heave-ho in 2020 (his image will be replaced by that of civil-rights activist Barbara Johns). And soon, Florida Confederate general Edmund Kirby Smith will give way to educator Mary McLeod Bethune.

In 2020, Nancy Pelosi made an effort via the joint congressional Committee on the Library (which governs Statuary Hall) to remove the remaining Confederate statues from the Capitol (separately, she removed several portraits of former Confederates that were in areas of the Capitol she controlled). But her Senate counterpart, Republican Roy Blunt, refused to go along and objected to a unanimous consent motion by Cory Booker to force the issue, citing (without irony, I believe) states’-rights concerns.

So statues of the men who worked and fought to destroy the United States of America in defense of slavery and white supremacy linger on in the Capitol, all but mocking Biden by their silent but impudent presence. No wonder the latter-day insurrectionists were emboldened to carry the battle flag of the Confederacy into the “sacred space” long profaned by accommodation to the ex-rebels in this and many other ways.

There Are Still Confederates in the U.S. Capitol