Presentation Type

Oral Presentation

Category

Social Sciences/Humanities

Abstract/Artist Statement

“The Statue Must Be Removed!”: The Memorialization of Daniel Webster and the Great Northern Compromisers, 1853-Present Michael Larmann University of Montana, History Department, Doctoral Student 860-235-7881 | michael.larmann@umontana.edu The removal of statues has become a controversial topic in American society over the course of the past decade.Although statues of Confederate figures in the South have attracted the most attention in recent years, in the mid-nineteenth century, statues of Northern “compromisers”—those who sanctioned slavery rather than joining the abolitionist cause—also created controversy. Northern politicians such as Daniel Webster and President Millard Fillmore are two such figures who are historically notorious for supporting the Compromise of 1850, which postponed sectional hostilities, but also perpetuated chattel slavery and promoted slave catching in the United States for another decade. This research project analyzes the statues and memorialization of such Northern compromisers from the mid-nineteenth century up until today. It furthermore contributes to emerging scholarship on statues, nineteenth-century American history, and the creation of memory. Daniel Webster will serve as the focus of this project, since the erection of his statue in Boston, Massachusetts in 1859 started one of the first controversies in the United States about memorializing compromise. Through the use of memorial committee records, abolitionist newspapers, petitions, correspondence, broadsheets, and speeches, this project will analyze the controversy of memorializing Daniel Webster, the Massachusetts senator who infamously supported the Fugitive Slave Law in 1850. This project also analyzes how academics and the American public has since remembered Webster, Fillmore, and similar northern compromisers up until the present by looking at the erection of later statues and analyzing bibliographies. Popular culture sources that featured Daniel Webster’s image including theatre productions, movies, and non-academic books will help determine how the American public has remembered Webster since the nineteenth century, if they do at all. The final portion of this project discusses where historic actors such as Webster fit into today’s debates on memorializing controversial figures. The goal of this project is to understand how the American public has memorialized northern compromisers over time and where they sit with us today. Additionally, this research emphasizes the politics and power dimensions involved in building statues in the nineteenth century. The Webster statue in particular was the work of the private and wealthy Boston Brahmin elite class. A discussion about statues is also a story about the groups that erected them and the environments in which they are built. Therefore, this project also explains the processes and importance through which people engraved statues and memorials into the physical landscape and material environment of the American metropolis in the nineteenth century. This research on the Daniel Webster statue and the image of the Northern compromiser reveals that criticisms and debates about removing and building statues temporally go back to the mid-nineteenth century. This past decade in our nation’s history was not the first time that citizens have debated memorializing controversial individuals. Members of the American public were debating the meanings of memorialization and statues longer ago than previously believed.

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Anya Jabour

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“The Statue Must Be Removed!”: Debates on Statues and the Memorialization of Daniel Webster and the Great Compromisers, 1852 – Present

“The Statue Must Be Removed!”: The Memorialization of Daniel Webster and the Great Northern Compromisers, 1853-Present Michael Larmann University of Montana, History Department, Doctoral Student 860-235-7881 | michael.larmann@umontana.edu The removal of statues has become a controversial topic in American society over the course of the past decade.Although statues of Confederate figures in the South have attracted the most attention in recent years, in the mid-nineteenth century, statues of Northern “compromisers”—those who sanctioned slavery rather than joining the abolitionist cause—also created controversy. Northern politicians such as Daniel Webster and President Millard Fillmore are two such figures who are historically notorious for supporting the Compromise of 1850, which postponed sectional hostilities, but also perpetuated chattel slavery and promoted slave catching in the United States for another decade. This research project analyzes the statues and memorialization of such Northern compromisers from the mid-nineteenth century up until today. It furthermore contributes to emerging scholarship on statues, nineteenth-century American history, and the creation of memory. Daniel Webster will serve as the focus of this project, since the erection of his statue in Boston, Massachusetts in 1859 started one of the first controversies in the United States about memorializing compromise. Through the use of memorial committee records, abolitionist newspapers, petitions, correspondence, broadsheets, and speeches, this project will analyze the controversy of memorializing Daniel Webster, the Massachusetts senator who infamously supported the Fugitive Slave Law in 1850. This project also analyzes how academics and the American public has since remembered Webster, Fillmore, and similar northern compromisers up until the present by looking at the erection of later statues and analyzing bibliographies. Popular culture sources that featured Daniel Webster’s image including theatre productions, movies, and non-academic books will help determine how the American public has remembered Webster since the nineteenth century, if they do at all. The final portion of this project discusses where historic actors such as Webster fit into today’s debates on memorializing controversial figures. The goal of this project is to understand how the American public has memorialized northern compromisers over time and where they sit with us today. Additionally, this research emphasizes the politics and power dimensions involved in building statues in the nineteenth century. The Webster statue in particular was the work of the private and wealthy Boston Brahmin elite class. A discussion about statues is also a story about the groups that erected them and the environments in which they are built. Therefore, this project also explains the processes and importance through which people engraved statues and memorials into the physical landscape and material environment of the American metropolis in the nineteenth century. This research on the Daniel Webster statue and the image of the Northern compromiser reveals that criticisms and debates about removing and building statues temporally go back to the mid-nineteenth century. This past decade in our nation’s history was not the first time that citizens have debated memorializing controversial individuals. Members of the American public were debating the meanings of memorialization and statues longer ago than previously believed.