Russell Shorto

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Monthly Archives: August 2017

Statues and Us

Monday, August 21, 2017

In July 1776, after George Washington had the Declaration of Independence read to his troops gathered in lower Manhattan, some of the men responded by racing off down Broadway, where they pulled down the statue of King George III that stood outside the British fort and cut its head off. Washington approved of the “Zeal in the public cause” but was outraged at the disorder. He didn’t question the necessity of the act but he scolded that it should have been done “by the proper authorities.” At the other end of his military career, the man who was now becoming recognized as the father of a new nation expressed naked pleasure at being asked to sit for a statue of his own likeness. While admitting he was no artist, he spent time pondering the appearance of a statue that was intended to represent the foundation on which American society would be built. Statues mattered to the first president. They matter too to the forty-fifth. If you work from the premise that Donald Trump has within him a need to sow chaos, it suddenly seems obvious that he would hit on the issue of Confederate statues. Statues memorialize, and what is … Continue reading