Late Thursday, Nancy Pelosi had four of her predecessors removed from a Portrait Collection that adorns the Speaker’s Lobby in Congress. These Democratic Speakers were ostensibly banished from the halls of Congress pursuant to their Confederate ties. Madam Speaker insisted in a news conference that she was unaware of the portraits or their unsavory provenance until recently, despite their conspicuous location just outside the House chamber where she has worked for the last 33 years. Having finally learned of the offensive paintings, Pelosi ordered them taken down. Oddly, she neglects to note in her letter ordering the removal that all had been Democrats:
I write today to request the immediate removal of the portraits in the U.S. Capitol of four previous Speakers who served in the Confederacy: Robert Hunter of Virginia (1839-1841), Howell Cobb of Georgia (1849-1851), James Orr of South Carolina (1857-1859), and Charles Crisp of Georgia (1891-1895).… There is no room in the hallowed halls of Congress or in any place of honor for memorializing men who embody the violent bigotry and grotesque racism of the Confederacy.
This exercise in virtue signaling is of a piece with the destruction of statues and other monuments that has become all the rage with our friends on the left. In this case, however, it isn’t merely a random example of virtue signaling. It is part of an ongoing effort to whitewash the sordid racism that has defined the history of the Democratic Party from its founding to this day. Before we get to the more subtle racism currently practiced by Speaker Pelosi and her accomplices, a brief history of the four men whose likenesses have disappeared from the Portrait Collection is in order. First, it should be noted that the Democratic commitment to slavery was such that they elected each of these people Speaker of the House.
Charles Crisp is something of an outlier in Pelosi’s portrait purge. He wasn’t a member of Congress when the Civil War began. Indeed, he wasn’t old enough to hold public office even at the end of the war.
Robert Hunter was a lawyer and a well-established member of the Virginia planter class. He began his political career as a Whig, but joined the Democratic Party in 1844 and remained a Democrat until he died in 1887. Hunter served two terms in the House of Representatives, including one term as Speaker. He was then elected to the U.S. Senate, where he represented Virginia until he and 14 other Democratic senators were expelled from Congress for fomenting rebellion against the United States. During the Civil War, he was appointed Confederate Secretary of State. He later served in the Confederate Senate. In 1868, Hunter was pardoned by Democratic President Andrew Johnson.
Howell Cobb was elected as a Democrat to the House of Representatives five times and served a single term as Speaker. He later served as Secretary of the Treasury under Democratic President James Buchanan. Cobb became a vehement agitator for secession after Republican Abraham Lincoln won the 1860 election: “Black Republicanism is the ruling sentiment at the North, and by the election of Lincoln.… They have trampled upon the Constitution.” Cobb enjoys the dubious distinction of having his plantation burned to the ground by Union Gen. William T. Sherman’s troops during the fabled “March to the Sea.” Cobb, like Hunter, was pardoned in 1868 by Democratic President Andrew Johnson.
James Orr served as a Democratic Congressman from South Carolina from 1849 to 1859, serving as Speaker during his last term in the House. After Lincoln was elected, Orr became a reluctant secessionist and became involved in the unsuccessful negotiations between South Carolina and Washington, the failure of which ultimately led to the bombardment of Fort Sumter. During the Civil War he commanded a rifle regiment and later served in the Confederate Senate. After the war he was elected governor of South Carolina in 1865, but the pro-slavery Orr was forced to leave office after the Constitution of 1868 was adopted. He was replaced by South Carolina’s first Republican governor, Robert K. Scott.
Charles Crisp is something of an outlier in Pelosi’s portrait purge. He wasn’t a member of Congress when the Civil War began. Indeed, he wasn’t old enough to hold public office even at the end of the war. He did enlist in the Confederate army as an adolescent and was captured in 1864 when he was 19. After the war he “read the law” in Americus, Georgia and was admitted to the bar in 1866. He practiced law for 15 years and first ran for Congress as a Democrat in 1882. He served seven terms, the last two as Speaker of the House. He died in 1896 while seeking a Senate seat, and his son was elected as a Democrat to the 54th Congress to fill the vacancy left by the death of his father.
Robert Hunter, Howell Cobb, James Orr, and Charles Crisp had three things in common. All were Democrats, all served the Confederacy in some capacity, and all preceded Pelosi as Speakers of the House. So, is Madam Speaker really worried about tainting “the hallowed halls of Congress” by “memorializing men who embody the violent bigotry and grotesque racism of the Confederacy”? Or is she concerned that the Democratic record on race is so egregious that the urgent call for the removal of portraits and statues will look more like the need to remove the evidence of her party’s multifarious racial sins?