GOP lawmaker calls for Confederate portrait to be put back in Capitol
South Carolina Rep. Jeff Duncan (R) is calling on Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to reverse her order for portraits of previous House Speakers who served in the Confederacy to be removed from the Capitol.
In a letter to Pelosi on Friday, Duncan argued that taking down the portraits is an attempt to erase history. The GOP lawmaker said that “every leader in history, including ourselves, has flaws and imperfections” and suggested that taking down the paintings was a “slippery slope.”
“I write you in opposition of this request, specifically the request to remove the portrait of former Speaker of the House James L. Orr of South Carolina. The 3rd Congressional District of South Carolina is the modern Congressional district Mr. Orr would have represented when he was a Member of Congress,” he wrote.
“Mr. Orr was a Congressman from South Carolina for four terms, served as Speaker from 1857-1859, was the last Speaker to preside in the Old House chamber, and one of only two Speakers to hail from South Carolina. As you are very aware, it has been the tradition of the House to have a portrait displayed of the past Speaker after their service,” he added.
Duncan highlighted Orr’s time in politics, noting that at the end of the Civil War, he was appointed under former President Andrew Johnson (D) to serve as the commissioner to represent the provisional government of South Carolina as it rejoined the Union, and was the first governor in South Carolina to be elected by popular vote before going on to become the ambassador to Russia after being appointed by former President Ulysses S. Grant (R).
“To say the least, Mr. Orr not only served his home state of South Carolina, but our great nation as well in many capacities in different Presidential administrations,” Duncan wrote.
“You were elected to be the Speaker for the whole House of Representatives, not just for the people of San Francisco. I am very concerned at the precedent that your action sets and that it will end with removing history.”
Duncan slammed “cancel culture,” questioning whether portraits and statues of the founders of the country would also be removed given their ties to slavery or if politicians who have made comments about Confederate leaders in the past should have their memorials taken down.
“Will we next remove statues of Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson over ties to slavery? What about the memorial of Franklin D. Roosevelt over his position on internment camps?” he continued.
“Should the Baltimore memorial of your father Thomas D’Alesandro Jr. be removed for his comments concerning Confederate leaders?” he asked.
The House Republican argued that controversial statements made by Democrats should also be addressed before portraits are removed, adding that he believes it could further divide the nation.
“And if it is so important that we police those who have made controversial comments, why then are you attempting to discipline former Members who have been dead for over 100 years, when you as Speaker have refused to discipline current Members of your caucus who have made anti-Semitic statements?” he wrote.
“Simply put, this is a dangerous path to go down and I do not believe that removing a portrait outside the chamber of the People’s House will benefit our country, foster more equality, or help Americans achieve greater economic prosperity.”
Duncan requested that if the portrait has to be removed from the Speaker’s Lobby in the Capitol, that it can be displayed in his congressional office in the Rayburn House Office Building.
Pelosi called for the portraits’ removal on Thursday, which comes on the heels of her request to remove 11 Confederate statues from Statuary Hall last week.
“We didn’t know about this until we were taking inventory of the statues and the curator told us that there were four paintings of Speakers in the Capitol of the United States, four Speakers who had served in the Confederacy,” she told reporters Thursday.
A renewed debate over removing Confederate imagery and other figures including Christopher Columbus has erupted across the country after the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died in police custody late last month.