In the midst of a national wave of commemorative hero monuments honoring the Civil War that characterized the late nineteenth century, Americans began to consider erecting fitting monuments to foreign-born Revolutionary War heroes in Washington, DC. Once initiated with statues to Lafayette and Rochambeau, this movement fostered the support of fraternal organizations, church groups, clergy, political leaders, and laity alike, who joined in the crusade to honor a Catholic Revolutionary War hero. Catholics, especially Irish American Catholics, determined to honor Commodore John Barry with a statue in the nation’s capital. As a result, Commodore Barry, first commander of the United States Navy, a relatively unacknowledged naval hero, became the focal point of public discourse on patriotism. Beginning in earnest in 1902 with a congressional bill to erect the Barry statue, a group of congressmen urged on by their constituents labored for its passage. Throughout the four years until its passage in 1906, public sentiment for the statue split along sectarian lines. Debates on who should hold the title, the Father of the American Navy, ensued. Efforts to suppress the bill in Congress were mounted and ultimately failed. At its passage, Catholics finally had, in Commodore Barry, definitive proof that, at the very foundation of the United States, their forefathers, labored and sacrificed for freedom in this country.


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