Monumental Controversies: Mount Rushmore, Four Presidents, and the Quest for National Unity
In recent years the United States has witnessed major controversies surrounding past American presidents, monuments, and sites. Consider Mount Rushmore, which features the heads of the nation’s most revered presidents—George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt. Is Rushmore a proud national achievement or a symbol of the U.S. theft and desecration of the Lakota Sioux’s sacred land? Is it fair to denigrate George Washington for having owned slaves and Thomas Jefferson for having had a relationship with Sally Hemings, an enslaved woman, to the point of dismissing these men’s accomplishments? Should we retroactively hold Abraham Lincoln accountable for having signed off on the largest single-day mass execution in U.S. history, of thirty-eight Dakota men? How do we reckon with Theodore Roosevelt’s legacy? He was criticized for his imperialist policies but praised for his prolabor antitrust and conservation programs. These charged issues and many others have been plaguing our nation and prompting the removal of Confederate statues and flags amid racial unrest, a national pandemic, and political strife.
Noted art historian Harriet F. Senie tackles these pivotal subjects and more in Monumental Controversies. Senie places partisan politics aside as she investigates subjects that have not been adequately covered in classrooms or literature and require substantial reconciliation in order for Americans to come to terms with their history. She shines a spotlight on the complicated facts surrounding these figures, monuments, and sites, enabling us to revisit the flaws of our Founding Fathers and their checkered legacies while still recognizing their enormous importance and influence on the United States of America.
Monumental Controversies presents strategies to create an inclusive narrative that honors the varied stakeholders in a democracy—a vital step toward healing the divisiveness that now appears to be a dominant feature of American discourse. As the public and press reconsider the viability of the American experiment in democracy, Senie offers a thoughtful reflection on the complex lives and legacies of the four presidents memorialized on Mount Rushmore. All four presidents faced some of the most contentious times in our history and yet they championed unity, made possible by acknowledging and accepting opposing opinions as a basic premise of democracy. Historians, curators, government officials, academics, and students at all levels will be riveted by this authoritative work.