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A Senator Speaks Out Against Confederate Monuments… in 1910


Captured in a bronze likeness, Robert E. Lee stares off into the distance. He seems deep in thought — perhaps mulling an alternate history of victory in which the general who led the Confederate Army emerges victorious.

The statue, still standing today in the U.S. Capitol building, is part of the National Statuary Hall Collection of 100 sculptures of founding fathers and luminaries from all 50 states. The statue, sculpted by Virginia artist Edward Valentine, depicts Lee wearing his Confederate uniform and carrying a hat in hand, signs of the humility and noble surrender that Lee loyalists claimed were his greatest trait and accomplishment. In 1909, Valentine’s memorial to Lee joined sculptures to other historical movers and shakers in the Hall.

But Senator Weldon B. Heyburn, an Idaho Republican, would have none of it. The following year, in January 1910, Heyburn let loose with a hell-raising speech that, according to newspaper reports of the time, called the placement of the general’s statue in the Capitol a “desecration” and compared Lee to an infamous suspected traitor from another time.

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Read more at Smithsonian.com