Tallying Enslavers and Confederates Depicted at the U.S. Capitol

Posted in the 18th century in the news, today in light of the 18th century by Editor on February 19, 2023

John Trumbull, General George Washington Resigning His Commission, 23 December 1783, installed in the Capitol in 1824, oil on canvas, 12 × 18 feet (Washington, DC: Capitol Rotunda). As noted in The Post article, 19 of the 31 people identified in the painting were enslavers.

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From The Washington Post:

Gillian Brockell, “Art at Capitol Honors 141 Enslavers and 13 Confederates. Who Are They?,” The Washington Post (27 December 2022). The Post examined more than 400 statues, paintings, and other artworks in the U.S. Capitol. This is what we found.

As part of a year-long investigation into Congress’s relationship with slavery, The Washington Post analyzed more than 400 artworks in the U.S. Capitol building, from the Crypt to the ceiling of the Capitol Rotunda, and found that one-third honor enslavers or Confederates. Another six honor possible enslavers—people whose slaveholding status is in dispute. . . .

Just as governments and institutions across the country struggle with the complex and contradictory legacies of celebrated historical figures with troubling racial records, so too does any effort to catalogue the role of the Capitol artworks’ subjects in the institution of slavery. This analysis, for example, includes at least four enslavers—Benjamin Franklin, John Dickinson, Rufus King, and Bartolomé de las Casas—who voluntarily freed the people they enslaved and publicly disavowed slavery while they were living. Other people, such as Daniel Webster and Samuel Morse, were vocal defenders of slavery but did not themselves enslave people; artworks honoring them are not counted in The Post’s tally. . . .

All 11 states that joined the Confederacy have at least one statue depicting an enslaver or Confederate. But the homages to enslavers are by no means restricted to these states: Except for New Hampshire, all of the original 13 states have statues depicting enslavers or possible enslavers.

Massachusetts, for example, is represented by John Winthrop, who is best known for proclaiming a “shining city on a hill” but who also enslaved at least three Pequot people and, as colonial governor, helped legalize the enslavement of Africans.

Both of New York’s statues honor enslavers. One is Declaration of Independence co-writer Robert R. Livingston, who came from a prominent slave-trading family and personally enslaved 15 people in 1790. He also owned brothels that housed Black women who may have been enslaved. The other is former vice president George Clinton, who served under Jefferson and Madison and enslaved at least eight people in his lifetime. . . .

The full article is available here»

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