Two Sculptures for the Capitol
Horatio Greenough's Rescue and Luigi Persico's Discovery of America
VIVIEN GREEN FRYD
The consequence of belief in America's "manifest destiny" to expand the nation westward--spreading democracy, Christianity, and civilization across the continent--has become a major theme of revisionist histories of the nineteenth century. In her study of the production and reception of two statues designed to ornament the nation's capitol, Vivien Fryd examines the use of public sculpture as a vehicle to convey, and to justify, official government policies that sanctioned the seizure of Western lands and the containment of the Native American population.
Focusing on themes that captivated the American imagination, such as the "discovery" of the New World and the subsequent conflict between "civilization" and "savagery," Fryd explains this pairing of an enlightened Columbus with a heroic American pioneer as a powerful endorsement of expansionist ideology. Through the posture of the American Indians within these sculptural groupings, which employ an unmistakable rhetoric of domination and triumph, awestruck reverence for Columbus is contrasted with savage brutality brought under control as a righteous settler defends his family and, by extension, the legitimacy of his predecessors' claims.
Horatio Greenough Rescue  and Luigi Persico's Discovery of America , once prominently situated on the main staircase of the United States Capitol, created controversy even in their own day. Both the Discovery and the Rescue were intimately tied up with the ideas of America as a nation and its attitudes toward the Indian, and were the objects of considerable thought and debate in the press. By the twentieth century, the criticism had become intense. As early as 1939 a joint resolution submitted to, but not passed by, the House recommended that the Rescue be "ground into dust, and scattered to the four winds, that no more remembrance may be perpetuated of our barbaric past, and that it may not be a constant reminder to our American Indian citizens. . . ." 1 Two years later, the House considered a joint resolution that suggested, "the group [the Rescue] now disgracing the entrance to the Capitol . . ." be replaced with "a statue of one of the great Indian leaders famous in American history. . . ." 2 In 1952, the California Indian Rights Association objected to the racist imagery of both the Discovery and the Rescue. 3 Additional correspondence from this and other Indian groups to various Congressmen and to the architect of the Capitol demanded the removal of these two works. 4 In 1958, the federal government removed the sculptural decoration from the