Thursday, June 4, 2009

Statuary Hall

In 1807, the U.S. House of Representatives began meeting in a new chamber in the Capitol building. The meeting room was destroyed in 1814, in the British burning of Washington, during the War of 1812. Restoration of the House chamber was completed in 1819.

There were two main reasons why it was replaced by a new House chamber, in 1857. For one thing, as the country grew, the number of representatives increased, going from 141 in 1807 to 234 in 1857. They needed more space. Also, the acoustics in the old meeting hall were horrible. House members found it difficult to hear their colleagues during congressional debates. (Of course, some of them might have thought that was just fine, but the situation was untenable.)

The old House chamber then became National Statuary Hall. Each state was invited to submit two statues of prominent citizens. The room is still used for that purpose, but it eventually became overcrowded, and some of the statues were moved elsewhere in the Capitol.

California was originally represented by statues of Father Junipero Serra, an 18th-century Spanish missionary, and Thomas Starr King, a 19th-century Unitarian minister. But, this week, King got demoted to the state capitol in Sacramento.

His replacement was Ronald Reagan. In 2000, Congress authorized states to make such substitutions. The only other replacement was done by Kansas, which honored another former president, Dwight Eisenhower, in place of one of its 19th-century governors, George Washington Glick.

Here is an account of the installation of the Reagan statue in the New York Times blog, The Caucus. As one might expect, the most prominent roles in the ceremony were played by Republicans, but the Democratic leaders of both houses also took part.

Image: Architect of the Capitol

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

there has been some discussion amongst the overtly liberal press about the republican's recent failures.

chief among them has been representation regarding reagan's big tent approach to politics and how that is lacking in the current batch of elected representatives.

it is doubly interesting then that those to whom reagan reached out to were oblivious or indifferent to the ceremony.

as politics have become increasingly polarized, this would have been a good opportunity for more dems to embrace the big tent.