- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 22, 2020

The House moved to scrub the Capitol of statues of men who served the Confederacy and former Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney by passing a bill Wednesday evening that would ban them from being on display.

The bill passed 305-113 with significant bipartisan support.

House Democrats said the legislation would help America grapple with the country’s legacy of slavery without erasing that history.

“This day is about doing better, recognizing our faults, not honoring them. Relegating them yes to history, but not to honor,” said House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer. “These statues are part of our history. We cannot deny our history. As a matter of fact, if we deny our history, it has been said we are condemned to relive our history.

“This is not about any of us being perfect human beings. Our founders were not perfect human beings. They were extraordinary human beings, and they created a union and articulated premises that are good premises today. Even if we didn’t live them out,” the Maryland Democrat added.

Introduced by Mr. Hoyer and the Congressional Black Caucus, the bill would require states to withdraw and replace any statue of an individual who served in the Confederacy’s army against the Union — of which there are nine currently in the Capitol — as well as Jefferson Davis and Alexander Hamilton Stephens, the president and vice president, respectively, of the Confederacy.

The legislation incorporates another bill Mr. Hoyer introduced this year to swap out the bust of Taney, who hailed from Maryland, with that of the late Justice Thurgood Marshall, the high court’s first Black justice.

Taney wrote the 1857 Dred Scott ruling, which said that the Constitution did not recognize enslaved people as U.S. citizens and therefore they could not sue in federal court. It also declared the Missouri Compromise, a deal meant to appease escalating tensions over slavery, unconstitutional, barring Congress from prohibiting slavery in the western territories.

Three other busts also would be removed: former North Carolina Gov. Charles Aycock, former Vice President John Calhoun from South Carolina, and former Sen. and Gov. James Paul Clarke of Arkansas, all of whom were vocal champions of White supremacy.

Rep. Tom McClintock, California Republican, opposed the measure, saying the Confederacy was a stain on American history but the bill strips away states’ rights.

“I have no problems with removing — lawfully — any monument that specifically honors this rebellion. That’s not what this bill does,” he said on the House floor. “It’s only the bad things in our history that we can use to measure all the good things in our history.”

He said requiring states to withdraw certain statues is “not our decision. That’s a decision that has always belonged to the individual states.”

The top-down approach from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, ruffled feathers with lawmakers in states whose statues were targeted.

In Mississippi, elected officials told The Washington Times that they had already held discussions about replacing their statues amid the current racial justice uproar. But some resented Mrs. Pelosi ordering the removal of their statues.

“The fact that Nancy Pelosi ‘demanded’ this wasn’t helpful. Mississippians don’t like being told we have to do things by outsiders and that especially includes someone like Pelosi,” a state lawmaker said privately.

One idea floated among lawmakers was to tap into Mississippi’s rich history and commission statues of guitar legend Robert Johnson or “King of Rock and Roll” Elvis Presley.

Larry McCluney, commander in chief of the 100,000-member Sons of Confederate Veterans, said removing the statues ignores the post-war history and contributions made by many of the men now regarded as dubious.

Joseph Wheeler, for instance, is one of Alabama’s statues and he was buried in his later uniform as a major general of the U.S. Army, Mr. McCluney noted.

Citing Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural address and Ulysses S. Grant’s words about the Confederate surrender at Appomattox, Mr. McCluney said Mrs. Pelosi is taking a crimped view of history.

“All this has become so politicized it overlooks the contributions of these men,” Mr. McCluney said, adding that all had been pardoned after the war. “They were good countrymen who helped reconcile and heal this nation and they do deserve the respect they are given.”

House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn, South Carolina Democrat and member of the Congressional Black Caucus, said the statues, and the nuanced discussion their pasts involve, belong in a museum, not in a place of honor like the Capitol.

“I think that what we need to do is discern between what should be honored and what should be relegated to the museums and to other places that commemorate that history,” he said. “That’s not eradicating history. That’s putting history in its proper place.”

A recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that there has been a surge in support for removing Confederate statues — 51% of voters agree compared to 35% in 2018.

However, 41% say the statues should be moved to museums and 31% would agree with adding plaques to address the complicated historical context.

The bill is only the start of the removal process. Committees overseeing the statues and busts in the Capitol need to convene, and the House cannot act unilaterally, meaning it needs to get the Senate to sign off.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, has defended states’ rights to choose statues displayed at the Capitol. He called Mrs. Pelosi’s effort an attempt to “airbrush” history.

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