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JAMES MCCONNEL “Time and circumstance work great changes in public sentiment” Royal Statues and Monuments in the United States of America, 1770–2010 A t a banquet to celebrate Queen Victoria’s birthday held at London’s Hotel Cecil on May 25, 1899, the guest of honor, former British prime minister Lord Rosebery, described the “many members of the American Society in London” in attendance, including the U.S. consul general, as “representing a great commonwealth of states once part of the British empire, but [now] nearer than any country except the colonies.” In response to this declaration of transatlantic friendship, an American, one Colonel Taylor, responded on behalf of the society by paying tribute to the queen and reading out a cablegram that he had recently received from Tampa, Florida, where a number of Royal Navy men-ofwar were then visiting: “The Floridians salute you, assembled here in thousands, with the invited British warships uniting with us in celebrating Queen Victoria’s birthday. Let Americans honor the British queen by erecting a statue of her majesty in the United States paid for by Americans. Will the London Americans inaugurate the movement? Their brothers on this side will do the rest.” The London gathering responded with a “storm of cheers” and in turn sent a message to Tampa stating that “Americans now at the banquet with their English brothers . . . cordially endorse the proposed honor to her majesty.”1 The late 1890s were the high point of transatlantic Anglo-Saxonism, an ideology that “helped shape the anglophilia of important policy makers” in America while “undermining the anglophobia” of others.2 However, away from the bonhomie of the Hotel Cecil, some American commentators looked rather more coolly on the proposal from Florida. Indeed, while the Washington Post conceded that “time and circumstance had worked great changes in public sentiment,” it nonetheless recalled that the “last British monarch who adorned a public place in this country was so little esteemed by Americans that his counterfeit was considered useful only as material for casting bullets to be shot at his scarlet-coated minions.” This reflection on the fate of colonial New York’s equestrian statue of George III—unveiled in 1770 only to be ritually destroyed six years later by 156 | JAMES MCCONNEL soldiers of George Washington’s Continental army—prompted the newspaper to conclude that “while the reconciliation of the branches of the English-speaking race gives cause for sincere congratulation,” this rapprochement ought, nonetheless , to “be symbolized in a more appropriate manner than that proposed by the jolly banqueters at Tampa.”3 The lukewarm response of the diners at the Hotel Cecil helped to dampen enthusiasm for the project in 1899, but the idea put forward by the Floridians was not so far-fetched. After all, on the same day as it had been made, President William McKinley had sent Queen Victoria a message of congratulation on her eightieth birthday, while in Albany, Gov. Theodore Roosevelt had unveiled a painting of the queen at the New York state capitol building, at which “two marines , English and American, standing on either side of the portrait, [had] clasped each other’s hands” to symbolize Anglo-American amity.4 Indeed the idea of erecting a statue of Queen Victoria in the United States in 1899 was by no means the first and was far from the last such proposal. Yet, as this essay demonstrates, the cold water poured on the proposal by the Washington Post was indicative of a consistent strand of American opinion that could celebrate improved Anglo-American relations, and even appreciate the benefits of transatlantic cultural diplomacy, while at the same time seeing little benefit in the erection of statues to English queens and kings on American soil. That so many statues of and monuments to English crowned heads of one kind or another were nevertheless erected in the United States of America in the half-century or so after 1899 is the central phenomenon explored here.5 The earliest recorded monumental tribute to a European crowned head to be erected in North America was not New York’s statue of George III but instead a bust of France’s Louis XIV in Quebec City almost a century earlier. In 1686 the attendant of New France, Jean Bochart de Champigny, had arranged for a bronze bust of the king to be erected in the newly named Place Royale.6 Quebec’s royal square was rather modest when compared to some of the...


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