‘Symbols of hate’ — Madigan wants Stephen Douglas portrait, statues removed from state Capitol
House Speaker Mike Madigan said he will introduce a resolution to replace a Stephen Douglas portrait with one of former President Barack Obama whom he called “a more fitting representation of the modern-day Democratic Party.” In the meantime, the powerful Southwest Side Democrat said he plans to cover the portrait.
The Velvet Hammer is taking a swing at the Little Giant.
Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan on Thursday said he’s pushing to remove a portrait of Stephen Douglas from the Illinois House chambers, saying he just learned a few months ago “of Stephen Douglas’ disturbing past as a Mississippi slave owner and his abhorrent words toward people of color.”
Douglas, a Democratic senator from Illinois, is best known for his debates with Abraham Lincoln and the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which created “popular sovereignty” — leaving open the question of slavery — in order to build a transcontinental railroad.
“Stephen Douglas had touted his bill as a peaceful settlement of national issues, but what it produced was a prelude to civil war,” a U.S. Senate summary of the Kansas-Nebraska Act notes.
Douglas was known as the “Little Giant,” because he was 5 foot 4 inches tall, but cast a long shadow in national politics.
His tomb is in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood, just east of South 35th Street and Cottage Grove.
Madigan, 78, said he learned of Douglas’ past from Sidney Blumenthal’s book “All the Powers of Earth, a volume in a series of Lincoln biographies. The speaker said he became more “resolute” in his decision to remove the portrait after George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police.
Madigan is far from alone. Across the country, Confederate monuments and images are being removed as the country grapples with its heavily documented racist past. This week in Richmond, Virginia, crews were removing Confederate monuments after the city’s mayor ordered all city-owned Confederate statues cleared away, according to the Associated Press.
Known as the “Velvet Hammer,” for his quiet but iron-fisted control of the House, Madigan said he will introduce a resolution to authorize the removal, and to also replace the portrait with one of former President Barack Obama, whom he called “a more fitting representation of the modern-day Democratic Party.”
In the meantime, the powerful Southwest Side Democrat said he plans to cover the portrait until he can get the resolution passed.
The speaker says he’s also calling for the removal of statues of Douglas and Pierre Menard — a 19th Century state official who owned enslaved people — from the Capitol grounds. And he wants to move a statue of the the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. “to a location of more prominence and honor.”
The speaker said he wants a “thorough review of all statues, portraits and symbols on the Capitol grounds to ensure any inappropriate fixtures are removed and all feel welcome.”
“Memorializing people and a time that allowed slavery and fostered bigotry and oppression has no place in the Illinois House, where the work of all Illinoisans is conducted,” Madigan said in a statement. “We can only move forward in creating a more just world when these symbols of hate are removed from our everyday lives.”
According to Dave Druker, spokesman for Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, two statues of Douglas sit on the Capitol grounds: One is outside on the east side of the Capitol, and the other is inside on the second floor near the Hall of Governors. Douglas’ statue is one of several honoring Illinois legislators. The Douglas portrait is inside the House chambers.
Lincoln is also memorialized with two statues at the Capitol, Druker said.
The outdoor Douglas statue was dedicated on Oct. 5, 1918 and was produced for about $25,000. The statue was moved in 1935 to its present location.
“Engraved on the base of the statue is Douglas’ dying message to his children, ‘... to obey the laws and support the Constitution of the United States,’” the Secretary of State’s office wrote in a statue tour pamphlet.
A statue of Menard sits on the lawn between the southwest corner of the Capitol and the Howlett Building near Second street, Druker said. The son of Menard’s former business partner donated about $10,000 for the statue and a 10-foot granite base, according to the secretary of state’s office.
Menard was a French Canadian businessman and fur trader, and was presiding officer of the Illinois Territorial Legislature. He also served as the state’s first lieutenant governor between 1818 and 1822, according to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Menard’s home in Ellis Grove is a historical site open to visitors. Menard is listed as a “slave owner,” on the state’s website.
The 8-foot bronze statue of Menard was placed on the Capitol lawn on May 28, 1886. The sculpture shows Menard “depicted trading with a Native American along the Mississippi River. The fox skin and calumet pipe symbolize the peaceful commerce Menard fostered between the Native American and white communities,” the tour pamphlet reads.