AUGUSTA, Maine — A state senator wants to send Joshua Chamberlain, Maine’s famous Civil War general, to Washington.
Each state is allowed two statues in the National Statuary Hall Collection at the U.S. Capitol. Maine is represented by the state’s first governor, William King, and Hannibal Hamlin, a South Paris native and vice president under Abraham Lincoln.
But Sen. Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon, wants to bring the King statue home and replace it with a statue of Chamberlain, who served as governor and was president of Bowdoin College after the war.
Mason presented a bill to the Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee on Thursday, noting that returning the King statue to Maine made sense because the state will mark its 200th anniversary in five years.
“Both of these men have served Maine as governor, and both are vital to understanding Maine and the history of our great state,” Mason said.
“Gov. King led the charge in ensuring that Maine became an independent state, and it would be an honor to have his statue displayed here in our State House,” Mason said. “Gen. Chamberlain is an American hero and his story is shared in classrooms across the country. He was instrumental in keeping our Union together, and he deserves recognition at the federal level in the United States Capitol where his statue would help educate Americans about the important role Maine and Mainers played in defending our Union.”
Chamberlain is more of a national hero compared to King, Mason said.
“Anybody who has a general knowledge of the Civil War knows that without Joshua Chamberlain and the men of the 20th Maine, we may have seen the war go in a different direction,” Mason said.
He said the statue of King should be returned to the Capitol in Augusta because while serving in the Massachusetts Legislature, he fought to gain Maine’s independent statehood.
“William King has had 100 years in Statuary Hall,” Mason said. “It’s time for him to come home and be displayed here in our state Capitol. The people of Maine need to know who their first governor was, and there’s no better way to do it than a large statue displayed here in the Hall of Flags.”
But state Rep. Jennifer DeChant, D-Bath, said she hoped the committee would keep King’s statue in Washington. DeChant noted that Bath was King’s adopted hometown, and the city has cherished his connection and the idea of his statue, the only one of him, being displayed at the U.S. Capitol.
“Let me be clear, I am not here to testify against Joshua Chamberlain,” she said. “That would be like testifying against Santa Claus.”
But, DeChant said, she wanted to offer a friendly suggestion that instead of removing King from Washington, the committee might decide to bring the statue of Hamlin home.
She said Hamlin, as Lincoln’s vice president during his first term, was represented by another statue on display elsewhere in Washington.
The legislation proposed by Mason establishes an 11-member commission to study the change in Maine’s statues in the national collection.
All costs associated with the replacement of the statue and the transportation of a new one to Washington, D.C., would be paid for with private donations, according to the release.
The committee also heard from two well-known Maine historians, including Earle Shettleworth, the Maine state historian, and Thomas Desjardin, the commissioner of education.
Desjardin, a Chamberlain expert, pointed out there is no monument to Chamberlain anywhere outside Maine, and it seemed fitting there should be one.
Shettleworth said swapping the statues would be costly. He said a national search might be necessary to find a sculptor who could create a likeness of Chamberlain to the standard of quality expected for the U.S. Capitol.