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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi gave a bizarre and convoluted answer to a question regarding her feelings over the removal of statues and monuments to historical American figures, saying she doesn’t “even have my grandmother’s earrings.”
“In Baltimore, in Little Italy, the statue of Christopher Columbus was removed or taken down. And I wonder if you have anything to share about that?” a reporter asked.
“Well, I don’t even have my grandmother’s earrings,” Pelosi, a California Democrat, said in response during a press conference.
Reporter: "In Baltimore, in Little Italy, the statue of Christopher Columbus was removed or taken down. And I wonder if you have anything to share about that?"
Speaker Nancy Pelosi: "Well, I don't even have my grandmother's earrings." pic.twitter.com/ND8G1SDSY3
— The Hill (@thehill) July 9, 2020
“I’m not a big, you know, let’s see what we have in terms of monuments,” she continued. “I’m more interested in what people have accomplished.”
Columbus, an Italian explorer, was credited with discovering America, though historical accounts note he actually found a number of the Caribbean and Central American islands.
“I think that it’s up to the communities to decide what statues they want to see. But I think that it’s very important that we take down any of the statues of people that committed treason against the United States of America, as those statues exist in the halls of Congress,” Pelosi further stated, likely a reference to Confederate monuments she only recently expressed concerns about, as the Black Lives Matter movement once again became prominent.
“I’m not somebody who’s wedded to a statue,” she added. “Again, if the community doesn’t want the statue there, the statue shouldn’t be there.”
She went on to say while she is “proud of her Italian-American pride,” she credited the discovery of America to Amerigo Vespucci, who — like Columbus — was an Italian explorer and merchant whose voyages were sponsored by Spain.
But, she added, “I don’t really care that much about statues.”
It should be noted that some statues are protected by local and state laws, which of course, would have to be changed in order to have monuments removed. One town in Ohio recently declared itself a “statuary sanctuary city” and offered to take all monuments from cities that no longer want to display them.
As for Pelosi’s ad hoc history lesson, there is much she gets wrong.
While “America” is believed to have been derived from the first name of Vespucci, the Vikings had actually established colonies in North America around 1000 A.D., or nearly 500 years ahead of Columbus and Vespucci, meaning they weren’t the first whites to ‘discover’ the New World.
In terms of characterizing Confederate leaders as “traitors,” historians note that while secession was not outlined in the Constitution, neither was it prohibited. The founding document only described ways for states to be admitted into the union, not how they could leave, giving Southern political leaders the impression they could do so without reprisal.
Also, explains University of Virginia legal history professor Cynthia Nicoletti, who wrote “Secession on Trial: The Treason Prosecution of Jefferson Davis,” the Confederacy’s only president, some Southerners and Northerners believed at the time that states could opt out of a union they voluntarily joined.
She notes that Davis was never put on trial for treason, though it appears that it would have been an easy case to prove.
“Treason in the Constitution is levying war against the United States,” Nicoletti said. “It was incredibly easy for them to prove that Davis levied war against the U.S.; that was his job.”
But that dynamic changes if states are no longer part of the United States.
“Davis’ argument would go: ‘When my state, Mississippi, seceded from the Union in 1861, that removed my United States citizenship,’” Nicoletti said. “And treason is a crime of loyalty; in order to commit it, you need to be a U.S. citizen. So everybody thought at the time that this case was going to raise the question of whether secession is constitutional, and there was worry about whether or not Davis was going to be convicted.”
Additionally, legal experts at the time worried that other actions taken by the Union during the war, including swapping prisoners of war and observing rights of foreign governments under the law of nations, would have been utilized to strengthen the case for secession, the professor noted.
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