Using Statuary Hall in D.C. to Teach Historical Memory

History teachers that work in communities that include Confederate monuments enjoy a big advantage in their ability to introduce this ongoing debate about history and memory to their students. But even if you don’t have a Confederate monument close by there are other ways that you can bring the debate home to engage your students about the moral significance of how we remember our collective past and how those choices speak to our understanding of who we are as a community and a nation.

One way to proceed is to have students explore their state’s choice of statues in Statuary Hall, located in the United States Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. Beginning in 1864 each state was authorized to select two statues of “notable citizens” for display inside the building. Of course, there are rules governing selection as well as the replacement of statues, which was authorized by legislation introduced in 2000.

In recent years a number of these statues have come under scrutiny, especially those with connections to the Confederacy. Examples include Georgia’s selection of Alexander Stephens and Virginia’s selection of Robert E. Lee. Florida is close to replacing Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith with Mary McLeod Bethune.

Here is a short video that can be used to introduce students to the controversy.

The nice thing about using Statuary Hall is that the questions that students can consider are not exclusive to Confederate statues alone. The entry points into this lesson focus students on identifying who their state currently honors and whether or not it should continue.

Questions to Guide Student Research

  • Who does your state honor? Students should conduct research on his/her history.
  • What year was the selection made and how was the selection process carried out?
  • How was the selection justified at the time? Why specifically was the individual honored?
  • What was happening in the state and nation at the time that might help to explain why the individual was selected?
  • Does the selection hold up in 2018? Should the statue be maintained or is it time to select a new honoree.

At this point a vote should be taken to determine whether the statue should be replaced. If it is determined that the statue[s] ought to be replaced students can then transition to selecting a new honoree.

There are a number of ways to proceed. I prefer to place students in small groups to guarantee that everyone is given an opportunity to contribute. This stage must be preceded by student research into their preferred choice. In these small groups students should be encouraged to arrive at a consensus that includes a brief explanation of their choice.

The groups should then share their selections with the entire class. Have the class debate their choices with the goal of selecting two finalists. Students should write up a proposal explaining why it is time to replace the current statues with new honorees.

What To Do With the Proposal

The final proposal or report should be presented in a public setting, especially if the lesson brings up strong opinions among your students. A student presentation at a local city council meeting might be appropriate, but every effort should be made to connect students with their state senator or local representative in Washington, D.C.

Remember, that the purpose of this lesson is to demonstrate for students that how their community chooses to remember and commemorate the past matters and that they have a voice in this process.

What I have outlined here can be amended in any number of ways depending on the size of your class, the amount of time that can be allocated to such a lesson and other factors, but I hope it at least gives you some idea of how you can engage your students meaningfully in this ongoing national discussion.

25 comments… add one
  • Joyce Harrison Jan 22, 2018

    I am fascinated by the art in the Capitol. When I was young in the 1960s the only people of color in Statuary Hall were Seqouyah and King Kamehameha I. There were fewer than half a dozen women represented, and only one of these was a statue dedicated before the late 1950s (Frances Willard (1905)).
    Thankfully, the statuary has changed over the years to represent the contributions of women and people of color. Personally, I think the earlier statuary should remain, provided we explain the historical context: that states were asked to contribute statues that represented their finest citizens. In the early twentieth century, that often included white supremacists. It’s an important lesson in how we’ve thought about ourselves and our history over the past 100+ years.
    As the collection has grown, many statues have been relocated to other parts of the Capitol–the Hall of Columns and the Crypt, for example. Robert E. Lee and John C. Calhoun are already in the Crypt. How about moving people like Jefferson Davis and Alexander Stephens there, too, and making National Statuary Hall and the Capitol Visitor Center the showcase for how we look at ourselves now?

    • Ted McKnight Jan 22, 2018

      The Lincoln Memorial is far too large to fit in the Crypt, so it is in dire need of re-interpretation. There are still people that believe he was one of the best Presidents, rather than the overseer of America’s most tragic and unnecessary war.

      • Mike Furlan Jan 22, 2018

        Looks like a Русский Бот is still running. But on the odd chance that a real person is on the other end let me ask, why not have Benedict Arnold, John Walker Jr., Nidal Hassan, Robert Hanson, Julius and Ethyl Rosenberg, Aaron Burr, Tokyo Rose, Aldrich Ames, and Adam Gadahn statues too? Probably need one of Jane Fonda posing on the NVA AA gun while we are at it. All traitors. All Americans. All at least as well known as the current line up and historically significant. They were not well known white supremacists however, I’m guessing that would be your only issue.

        • Reggie Bartlett Jan 23, 2018

          The fact that you fall back on that Russian Bot crap just shows you don’t live in reality.

          • Mike Furlan Jan 23, 2018

            Reggie, you’re right. I’m so embarrassed, it isn’t Русский Бот, it’s his cousin Slovenian Bot. You must admit, they do sound a lot alike.

            Sorry Slovenian Bot. Say Hi to Melania for me.

            Anyway Reggie, what do you think about framework for discussion above. Are we locked into the those choices forever? My take was a response to the common neo-Confederate fall back position, that right or wrong those men were historic and we need to deal with the history associated with them.

        • Matthew Tenney Jan 24, 2018

          The crime of treason requires a traitorous intent. The intent was to leave the Union, not overthrow the government. And wasn’t Burr acquitted of the charge?

          • Reader Jan 24, 2018

            What the heck’s “tratorious intent”? The Constitution says that “[t]reason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.” Are you saying those alleged traitors were unaware of the fact that they were levying war? Or that they were doing so against the U.S.? I am pretty sure U.S. Army Col. Robert E. Lee of the knew that he was levying war against the United States.

            • Matthew Tenney Jan 24, 2018

              The reference for “traitorous intent” is http://law.jrank.org/pages/10876/Treason.html
              Since they fully believed that they were no longer citizens of the USA, they could not have a traitorous intent.

              • Reader Jan 26, 2018

                Actually, the cited article states that the intent needed for the crime of treason is the intent to levy war against the U.S. or to adhere to its enemies.

            • Mike Furlan Jan 24, 2018

              There was no “reply” button next to Matthew’s post, but his reference to http://law.jrank.org/pages/10876/Treason.html, includes the following:

              “After the U.S. CIVIL WAR, for example, all Confederate soldiers were vulnerable to charges of treason, regardless of their role in the secession or insurrection of the Southern states. No treason charges were filed against these soldiers, however, because President ANDREW JOHNSON issued a universal AMNESTY.”

              His reference directly refutes his point.

              I was joking about bots, but I’m beginning to wonder.

              • Matthew Tenney Jan 24, 2018

                It doesn’t refute my statements. Of course they were “vulnerable” but what counts is proving it in a court of law. And yes, President Johnson issued an amnesty but that was December 1868 and the war had been over for three and a half years. That’s ridiculous. They were never going to try those Confederates.

              • Jimmy Dick Jan 24, 2018

                They issued a blanket pardon instead. The SCOTUS documents of the time period refer to the acts of the confederates as treason and labelled the confederates traitors. You don’t need to go much further than that. Rather than try every rebel for treason, a blanket amnesty took care of most of it. They wisely chose not to make martyrs of anyone.

                Johnson issued a general amnesty on May 29, 1865. He issued individual pardons for three years and then issued the final proclamation on December 25, 1868.

              • Ratherdrive Feb 5, 2018

                Since there can be no pardon in the absence of a crime to be pardoned FROM, the acceptance of a pardon carries with it the imputation of guilt, as in judicial, legal, guilt.

                The prosecution for such crime is prevented, but not the personal disgrace. So says SCOTUS in “Burdick.”

                Those who are legally innocent should never accept a pardon.

              • Matthew Tenney Feb 5, 2018

                Amnesty and pardons are different. In a pardon, there is forgiveness; in amnesty, there is forgetfulness. Amnesty stops the prosecution and no guilt is assigned. You can reject a pardon but not amnesty. I understand Jefferson Davis refused a pardon.

              • Ratherdrive Feb 8, 2018

                Yes, that is correct. Amnesties are offered before judicial involvement begins and are usually intended for large groups of people, and in the case of the Confederacy, amnesty was extended only to the lower ranks of the CSA Army, for example, but not to the officers. The officers were offered judicial pardons, one at a time, upon formal written application and loyalty oath. Which protected them from any prosecution being initiated, but not from guilt.

                The legal logic is that without the guilt being established and accepted, there would be nothing to get a judicial pardon FROM.

              • Matthew Tenney Jan 25, 2018

                To Jimmy Dick. ( No reply button.)
                He wrote: “. The SCOTUS documents of the time period refer to the acts of the confederates as treason and labelled the confederates traitors. You don’t need to go much further than that.” I guess I would ask how you would like being convicted in such a manner.

                You also wrote: “They wisely chose not to make martyrs of anyone.” Wouldn’t it have been wiser to convict and then pardon? The way it went rightly suggests that the north wasn’t able to convict in a real court of law.

              • Jimmy Dick Jan 25, 2018

                Why waste time on an open and shut case? Blanket amnesty was easier. You are missing the context here and trying to read what you want in this. The conclusion was obvious to everyone back then.

                What you miss is why Johnson did what he did. He wanted to restore white rule in the southern states and to do that he had to allow the traitors, which in this pardon in 1865 were the common soldiers, not their leaders to regain their civil rights. He couldn’t do 750,000 or so trials. He didn’t need to do them either. The amnesty took care of that.

              • Matthew Tenney Jan 25, 2018

                I think calling people traitors is a bullying tactic and un-American.

              • Jimmy Dick Jan 25, 2018

                In the case of the Confederates, it is accurate. They met the definition of the term. They met the standard of treason as defined by the Founders in the US Constitution. They were considered traitors then and now.

                Un-American? That whole rebellion was un-American. There was no justification for that rebellion beyond the protection of slavery and by that the foundation of white supremacy which empowered the slave owners as the elite of the slave states.

                There is no reason to commemorate the people who committed treason against the United States of America. The very act of doing so is a slap in the face of this nation.

              • Matthew Tenney Jan 26, 2018

                To Jimmy Dick (again no reply button)
                Did you see words in the Constitution about testimony of witnesses and of conviction in courts? Article 11, states: “Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.” It is un-American to take away that right.
                Since those states were convinced that they were a separate nation and that they were being invaded by the north in an illegal war, they do deserve honor for heroic resistance.

              • Kevin Levin Jan 26, 2018

                Since those states were convinced that they were a separate nation and that they were being invaded by the north in an illegal war, they do deserve honor for heroic resistance.

                The secession of southern states took place before any “invasion” happened. Let’s at least get some basic facts straight.

              • Matthew Tenney Jan 26, 2018

                to Kevin Levin. “The secession of southern states took place before any “invasion” happened. Let’s at least get some basic facts straight.”
                Well, except for four states. I don’t see what I wrote that contradicts what you just wrote.

              • Jimmy Dick Jan 27, 2018

                Matthew,
                Are you just skipping the part where the traitors attacked the United States of America prior to a shot being fired by US forces against the traitors? You know, firing on the Star of the West, the attack at Ft. Sumter, actions down in Florida? What about seizing US property such as post offices, the US Mint in Louisiana, federal arsenals, US Navy shipyards, and other federal facilities? Let’s not forget Jefferson Davis called up men to form an army way before he ordered the attack at Ft. Sumter.
                Since you ignore the Constitution, I’m sure you are ignoring the part where it calls for the President to enforce it by putting down domestic insurrections which the rebellion by the traitors definitely was.

  • Msb Jan 22, 2018

    And not just Confederates. There are 7 women, if I counted right, out of this 100. Apparently not counting the Anthony, Stanton & Mott statue that used to be in the Capitol crypt. If these statues show who matters, plainly the answer is “white men”. And can we say that that answer is inaccurate?

    • Ted McKnight Jan 22, 2018

      In fairness to and recognition of women’s accomplishments, they had little opportunity to contribute. No one mentions anything about Founding Mothers. Fortunately, we have advanced.

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