Md. lawmakers fight proposed swap of statues in U.S. Capitol

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By Jeff Newman
The Maryland Independent
Thursday, February 24, 2011

A proposal to replace a statue of Maryland revolutionary John Hanson in the U.S. Capitol with one of abolitionist Harriet Tubman has been met with resistance by members of the Maryland General Assembly, including several from Southern Maryland.

Every state has two statues in the National Statuary Hall Collection, a chamber in the U.S. Capitol dedicated to sculptures of significant Americans.

Maryland features Hanson, a Charles County planter born in 1715 who became a leading revolutionary and the first person elected president of the Continental Congress under the Articles of Confederation, and Charles Carroll, an 18th-century statesman from Annapolis and a delegate to the Continental Congress. Both were submitted in 1903.

The bill proposes to remove Hanson's statue and substitute one of Tubman, who was born into slavery in Dorchester County in 1822. She escaped in 1849 and went on to become a Union spy during the Civil War and a leader in the civil rights and women's suffrage movements in the 19th century. Tubman is perhaps best known for rescuing dozens of slaves via the Underground Railroad.

Congress passed legislation in 2000 allowing states to replace their original statues with those of later leaders. California replaced a statue of Civil War orator Thomas Starr King with one of former president Ronald Reagan in 2009, and Kansas is set to install a statue of aviator Amelia Earhart after replacing another sculpture with former president Dwight Eisenhower in 2003.

The bill is sponsored by Del. Susan Lee (D-Montgomery) and Sen. Catherine Pugh (D-Baltimore), chairwomen of the women's and black caucuses, respectively, and has the support of several lawmakers in both chambers as well as Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) and Attorney General Douglas Gansler.

"Harriet Tubman was one of Maryland's great trailblazers who reminds us of our state's heritage and the history and strength of our nation," O'Malley said. "It would be a great tribute to her life and legacy to have a statue of her in the National Statuary Hall."

Lee said Tubman is the "embodiment of a great American hero and she's a great Marylander. I would say she's a great inspiration, not only for women and minorities but for everybody."

Sen. Thomas "Mac" Middleton, a direct descendant of Hanson's brother, Alfred, said that Tubman deserves to be honored, but not at the expense of Hanson.

"She was one of the leaders in civil rights, and Maryland should recognize her," Middleton (D-Charles) said. "But to substitute her statue for the John Hanson statue - I don't know if there's a clear understanding or recognition by the sponsors and co-sponsors of the bill of just how important a figure John Hanson was."

The bill's text refers to Hanson's presidency as a "largely ceremonial role" and states that Annapolis would be a better place to relocate his statue.

Lee said that the thousands of people who visit Annapolis every year will give Hanson's statue even greater recognition and prominence among Marylanders.


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