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Mar 05

The Politics of Statues: Pennsylvania, Oregon, and your state

Thermometer Issues

Certain issues are thermometer issues. They warn us and alert us to changes in a situation.

The Visit

A few years ago I was in DC with family and at the end of a tour of the Capital I asked to go away and look at something while the others talked. I wanted to see the statue of John Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg in Statuary Hall.

The Muhlenbergs

In the early 1700’s the Lutherans in American were losing members to the Moravians and others. They believed that the problem was a lack of trained clergy and sent to Germany for help. In 1742 Henry (Heinrich) Melchior Muhlenberg was sent to Pennsylvania. He became the patriarch of the Muhlenberg family that was influential in American politics and education for over a century. One of his sons was Peter (John Peter Gabriel) Muhlenberg.

Would the German Americas fight? The role of the German Americans was a key issue in the early months of the American Revolution. The King of England was also the Duke of Hanover in Germany. He hired German mercenaries to fight in America. Would the German Americans fight against King George?

On January 21, 1776 Peter Muhlenberg preached on Ecclesiastes 3 to his Lutheran congregation in Woodstock, Virginia. As he spoke on verse eight, “a time of war and a time of peace,” he opened his pastor’s robe revealing the uniform of an officer in the Continental Army underneath. He told the congregation, “This is the time of war.” This account was preserved by a great nephew and is doubted by some. The statue in Statuary Hall captures the moment when he opened the robe revealing the uniform.

He led troops in the south and was later at Valley Forge and other battles in the north. At Yorktown he held the right flank under Lafayette and finished the war as a Major General.

He later served in various positions in Pennsylvania and was a member of the House of Representatives and the Senate in Washington.

His brother Frederick was the first speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Pennsylvania

In Statuary Hall Pennsylvania chose Peter Muhlenberg and Robert Fulton, the inventor of the steamboat, to represent the state.

Oregon

Currently, Jason Lee and John McLoughlin represent Oregon. John Lee was a Methodist missionary who founded a school that would become Willamette University. McLoughlin, whose general store in Oregon City was the last stop on the Oregon Trail, is considered the “Father of Oregon.”

The procedures governing the hall provide that a state can change its statues.

On August 24, 2014, Governor Kitzhaber of Oregon established a commission by executive order to study whether the Oregon statues should be changed. The governor and leaders of the Oregon legislature chose the members of the committee. The committee recommended removal of the statues of Lee and McLoughlin to places of honor in Oregon. Their places in Statuary Hall would be taken by Nez Perce leader, Chief Joseph, and pioneering woman rights activist Abigail Scott Duniway.

Are the statues a thermometer issue?

I have read short biographies of some of those chosen in the first century of Statuary Hall beginning in 1807. Many of them were open about and active in their Christian faith. America is becoming more secular. The replacement of these statues by certain states will become a thermometer issue. It will tell us something about how people think and what they value.

Your State

Who represents your state in Statuary Hall?

You should read a short biography of their lives. Why are they there?

What does this thermometer issue say about your state…our nation?

If you have any thoughts, please comment.

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