U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi this week ordered that portraits of former House Speakers who had served in the Confederacy be removed from the Capitol. Now, one Republican congressman from South Carolina is calling on her to put them back up.
As The Hill reported, South Carolina Rep. Jeff Duncan wrote a letter to Pelosi on Friday saying her decision to have the portraits removed is an attempt to erase history. He wrote that every leader throughout history “has flaws and imperfections” and warned that it could lead to a “slippery slope” if the paintings were allowed to be removed permanently.
In the letter, Duncan specifically pointed to a portrait of former House Speaker James L. Orr of South Carolina, who would have been in the same district as Duncan today. Duncan wrote that Orr played a significant role in American history, the last speaker to a president in the Old House chamber and one of only two to hail from South Carolina.
Duncan added that Orr served under former President Andrew Johnson as commissioner representing the provisional government of South Carolina when it rejoined the union. Former President Ulysses S. Grant, who as a general led the Union to victory over the Confederacy in the Civil War, later appointed Orr to serve as ambassador to Russia.
Confederate statues and monuments have come under increased scrutiny amid nationwide protests following the killing of George Floyd, with protesters calling for them to be removed as part of a larger movement demanding racial equality. A number of protests have either damaged or pulled down these statues in southern cities.
Defenders have said these statues represent an important part of American history, an idea that Duncan referenced in his letter to Pelosi.
“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 wrote.
Duncan went on to criticize “cancel culture,” questioning whether statues of former presidents George Washington or Thomas Jefferson should also be removed given their ties to slavery. He also pointed specifically to Pelosi’s father, Thomas D’Alesandro Jr., who helped to dedicate the Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee Monument in Baltimore when he was mayor there.
Pelosi announced that the portraits would be removed for Juneteenth, a day that commemorates when enslaved people in Texas were finally informed of their freedom more than two years after former President Abraham Lincoln passed the Emancipation Proclamation.