After nearly two hundred years, a statue of Founding Father and primary author of the Declaration of Independence Thomas Jefferson has been taken out of New York’s City Council Chamber.
The statue, which reportedly weighed almost 900 pounds, was moved out of the building by workers from Marshall Fine Arts. It will be given on a long-term loan to the New York Historical Society. The removal process took several hours.
Last month, the city’s public design commission unanimously voted to remove the statue after concerns about Jefferson and his relationship to slavery.
“This Administration owes it to the more than five million New Yorkers of color our members – past, present and future – represent, to resolve that the individuals memorialized within the confines of our People’s House be reflective not only of the best traditions of our city’s history and its diversity but unquestionable character,” the city’s council’s Black, Latino, and Asian Caucus said in a statement.
Erin Thompson, author of the forthcoming “Smashing Statues: The Rise and Fall of America’s Public Monuments” said that public input should go along with monument removal.
“Removing a monument without a public conversation about why it’s happening is useless. New Yorkers all need to talk about who we want to honor and why,” she said.
Thompson, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, added, “Moving this statue doesn’t mean New Yorkers will forget who Thomas Jefferson was — but some of them might learn from the controversy that the man who wrote ‘all men are created equal’ owned over 600 of his fellow humans.”
Staten Island City Council Member Joe Borelli said that Mayor Bill de Blasio was waging a “progressive war on history.”
“The de Blasio administration will continue the progressive war on history as he, himself, fades away into a portrait on a City Hall wall,” he told the New York Post.
The commission that decided to remove the statue is not elected, but instead appointed by the city’s mayor. A spokesperson for Mayor de Blasio said at the time that he hoped to “provide valuable historical context” to the statue.
“The original bronze statue, by sculptor Pierre-Jean David, is still on display in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington, DC. The plaster replica was gifted to City Hall by naval officer and Jefferson admirer Uriah Phillips Levy in 1834,” the New York Post reported.
Levy, a Jewish naval commodore once called Jefferson “one of the greatest men in history” and “an inspiration to millions of Americans.”
Leading the efforts to remove Jefferson was Democrat Corey Johnson, New York City Council Speaker.
“There are disturbing images of divisiveness and racism in our City that need to be revisited immediately,” he said in a letter to Mayor de Blasio. “That starts with City Hall.”
Jefferson had a storied career in American politics serving as governor of Virginia, a delegate to the Second Continental Congress, secretary of state for George Washington, vice president, the third U.S. president, and founder of the University of Virginia.
A statue of President Theodore Roosevelt is also being moved after 80 years from its place in front of New York City’s American Museum of Natural History. It will be relocated to the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library in North Dakota.
The Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library Foundation said that the statue was “problematic” and “denies passersby consent and context.”