Long-dead James J. Shields faces GOP in new tussle
By Gerry Regan
Library of Congress
James J. Shields, still fending off Republicans.
After battling Republicans in elections throughout much of his nearly 50-year-long career, Irish-American politico and Civil War hero James J. Shields may go another round with the GOP in a fight for his 112-year-old perch in Washington, D.C.
Illinois State Rep. Robert Pritchard, a Republican from Hinckley, has set the stage for this rumble by introducing a resolution in the state house seeking the removal of Shields' statue from the Capitol to make way for a statue of native son and Republican icon Ronald Reagan.
Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library
Ronald W. Reagan, 1981
Some Irish-Americans in the state, though, have begun resisting any move to yield the place of honor of the long-dead Irish-born general, whose statue Illinois provided in 1893 for the Capitol's National Statuary Hall.
"My reaction (to the resolution) is not one so much pro-Shields but anti-Reagan," said J. Sean Callan, a Lake Forest, Ill.-based psychiatrist and author of "Courage and Country: James Shields, More Than Irish Luck," a 512-page biography on Shields. "Reagan did nothing specifically for the state of Illinois. Shields did."
With the resolution, though, Pritchard said in a phone interview, he wants to honor the only U.S. president born in Illinois. "(Reagan) achieved great things for democracy around the world."
Architect of the Capitol
James Shields' statue at the National Statuary Hall Collection in the United States Capitol.
Pritchard represents Illinois' 70th House District. He said the idea for the resolution came from a constituent who spent last summer as an intern in the office of U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, a fellow Republican from Illinois. The student's duties included leading visitors on tours through the Capitol. "He observed that a lot of people didn't know James Shields, and (they) marveled that President Reagan wasn't honored (there) as an outstanding Illinois citizen."
SHIELDS VS. REAGAN:
Shields J. Shields: A Brief Biography
Women Lay Behind Shields-Lincoln Duel
Key Dates in Shields' Life
How Shields Beat "Stonewall"
Shields, who died in 1879 at age 73, may have a particularly strong base of support in heavily Democratic Chicago, where Irish activists still hold considerable sway. Some, like Chicago native Pat Hickey and Dublin-born Callan, have closely examined Shields' career.
"I've got my mick up about this," Hickey said. Hickey, director of development for the city's Leo High School, calls Pritchard's effort an affront to Irish-Americans and Catholics, and he's been working the phones on Shields' behalf.
"To completely assign (Shields) to historical oblivion is a real injustice to the man's life," Hickey said. He pointed to Shields' courage in starting his life anew in America after immigrating as a teen-ager, his distinction as the only U.S. senator to gain election from three states (Illinois, Minnesota and Missouri), and his valiant service commanding soldiers in both the Mexican and Civil War. Shields is also the only individual to ever challenge political rival Abraham Lincoln to a duel. (See Hickey's accompanying profile of Shields on WGT.)
James J. Shields: A Chronology
1806 - Born to Charles and Anne McDonnell Shields, Co. Tyrone, Ireland.
1822-23 - Immigrated to the United States.
1826? - Settled in Kaskaskia, Ill.; taught school and studied law.
1832 - Fought in Black Hawk War. Later, admitted to the Illinois Bar.
1836 - Elected to Illinois Legislature.
1839 - Becomes Illinois State Auditor.
1842 - Challenges Abraham Lincoln to a duel, settles dispute peacefully.
1843 - Named to Illinois Supreme Court.
1845 - Appointed General Land Office Commissioner by President Polk.
1846 - Resigns post and is commissioned Brigadier General of Illinois Volunteers: Grievously wounded leading troops during Mexican War. Serves as Governor General of Tampico, Mexico.
1848 - Mustered out of military, President Polk appoints Shields Territorial Governor of Oregon. (Shields declines the post.) Elected to U.S. Senate to represent Illinois, serves one term.
1855 - Shields' reelection bid fails. He moves to Minnesota.
1857 - Elected U. S. Senator for Minnesota, defeated for reelection in 1859.
1861 - Settles in California, marries Mary Ann Carr. Three of their five children survive to adulthood. Appointed Railroad Commissioner. Later, appointed brigadier general by Pres. Lincoln.
1862 - Shields, though severely wounded, defeats Confederate genius, Thomas 'Stonewall' Jackson at Kernstown, Va.
1863 - Resigns his commission. Returns to California, again serves as Railroad Commissioner.
1866 - Settles his family in Carrollton, Mo.
1874 to 1877 - Serves as Adjutant General of Missouri. Elected to Missouri Legislature.
1879 - Elected to fill out an unexpired term for Missouri in the U.S. Senate. He dies at Ottumwa, Iowa, while delivering a speech on June 1, 1879.
To this, Pritchard replied: "Reagan is of Irish descent, so this is certainly not an attempt to demean the contributions that Irish citizens have made to our history.
"(Shields) served the state and country very well. I think, though, 100 years is a good (enough amount of) time to honor an individual." Pritchard said he still wants Shields' statue to have a place of honor, though in the state capitol in Springfield.
But that attitude doesn't placate Tom Boyle, vice president of Chicago's Irish American Heritage Center, which has 1,900 members. "If you take a look at the history of James Shields, the man was an Irish immigrant for openers and went to on to become a general in the Union Army. As somebody already put it to me, Ronald Reagan never held office in Illinois." Boyle also points out that Reagan, though he served in the Army during World War II, never saw combat, while the highly decorated Shields was severely wounded twice.
As well, Boyle said, the Irish in the state are unlikely to embrace Reagan as one of their own. "I don't know that the man was ever active in Irish affairs. … He never picked up the challenge to resolve the conflict in Northern Ireland."
The statue of Shields, created by Leonard W. Volk, is located in the Capitol's Hall of Columns. It is part of the National Statuary Hall Collection, created in 1864 to honor persons notable in each state's history. The entire collection consists of 98 statues, contributed by 50 states. Each state is allowed two statues, furnished by the states themselves. Nevada and New Mexico have provided one each. Illinois' other statue in the collection is that of New York native Frances Willard, a noted 19th century anti-alcohol crusader and the first woman to be so honored.
Why not propose that Reagan's statue replace that of Willard, given by Illinois in 1905, instead of Shields, Pritchard was asked.
To completely assign (Shields) to historical oblivion is a real injustice to the man's life." —Chicago native Pat Hickey
"(Shields') is the oldest. My philosophy is, at an appropriate time period, we should rotate our statues. We should bring Miss Willard back to Illinois (eventually), as well. Congress granted a process (for doing that)."
Shields was born in Altmore, County Tyrone, in 1806 and immigrated circa 1822, settling in Illinois. Becoming state auditor, the Democrat challenged eventual Republican standard-bearer Abraham Lincoln to a duel in 1842, feeling maligned by three letters in a Springfield newspaper accusing him of malfeasance. Lincoln begrudgingly accepted, and, holding a 7-inch height advantage, chose cavalry broadswords as the weapons. Fortunately for posterity, cooler heads prevailed, and Lincoln apologized for his role in the letters. They later became friends, with Lincoln appointing Shields a brigadier general during the Civil War.
Rep. Robert Pritchard
Illinois State Rep. Robert Pritchard.
Ronald Reagan, the United States' 40th president, was born Feb. 6, 1911, to Nelle and John Reagan, a shoe salesman, in Tampico, Ill. He grew up in Dixon, Ill., and graduated from the state's Eureka College in 1932. The former president's great-grandfather emigrated from Ballyporeen, County Tipperary. Ronald Reagan died June 5, 2004, at age 93 after suffering from Alzheimer's disease since at least 1994.
Pritchard's resolution states about Reagan: "During his presidency, he worked in a bipartisan manner to enact his bold agenda of restoring accountability and common sense to government which led to an unprecedented economic expansion … his commitment to our armed forces contributed to the restoration of pride in America, her values and those cherished by the free world, and prepared America's Armed Forces to win the Gulf War; his vision of 'peace through strength' led to the end of the Cold War and the ultimate demise of the Soviet Union, guaranteeing basic human rights for millions of people."
Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library
Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Nov. 6, 1986, Camp David, Md.
Many Irish-American supporters of a united Ireland were repelled by Reagan's warm friendship with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who many Irish blame for presiding over the death of 10 IRA and INLA hunger strikers in 1981. Critics of Reagan also point to his creation of a budget deficit larger than the combined total of all of his 39 predecessors and support for right-wing guerrillas in Nicaragua with profits from illicit arms sales to Iran.
The little-known National Statuary Hall Collection was established July 2, 1864. In advocating for its creation, U.S. Rep. Justin S. Morrill, asked rhetorically: "To what end more useful or grand, and at the same time simple and inexpensive, can we devote it (the Chamber of the Capitol) than to ordain that it shall be set apart for the reception of such statuary as each State shall elect to be deserving of in this lasting commemoration?"
Pritchard's resolution, if passed by the House, would require approval by the state Senate and Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a Democrat. The measure had one co-sponsor as of Feb. 18, fellow Republican David Reis. Passage is far from certain as the Democrats hold majorities in both the House and Senate. The current legislative session ends May 27.
Irish American News
Tom Boyle: "Ronald Reagan never held office in Illinois."
The process for replacing statues was set out in a federal law passed in 2000, despite Morrill's purpose of a "lasting commemoration." Only one state to date has availed itself of the law, with Kansas replacing a statue of 19th century Gov. George Washington Glick with one of Dwight Eisenhower.
"Shields has vanished from the face of American history," though not from American politics, lamented Callan, who noted the great difficulty he had in learning about Shields even in Shields Township, where Callan lives. Callan recalled unflattering attention Shields garnered five years ago, during the successful Senate campaign of Hillary Rodham Clinton in New York. Some pundits compared her move to New York prior to her campaign to Shields' shifting his residence while gaining election to Senate terms for three states.
Callan said this analogy was unfair, as Shields didn't relocate to better position himself for office. He said, turning the argument around, "Talk about carpetbaggers, (recently defeated Republican Senate candidate in Illinois Alan) Keyes is from Maryland." WGT
How Shields Beat 'Stonewall'
James J. Shield's military career was capped by his division's defeat of legendary Confederate commander Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson at the Battle of Kernstown on March 23, 1862.
Library of Congress
Thomas J. Jackson, painted in 1913
There is no question that Shields' soldiers won at Kernstown, about 3 miles south of Winchester in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley. The question of who commanded them that day is less certain, though. For the third time in his military career, Shields suffered a serious battlefield wound, having his arm broken by a shell fragment during the skirmishing the day before the battle. As he had done in Mexico, where he gained a promotion to major general, he was leading from the front.
Sidelined by his wound, Shields told Col. Nathan Kimball to assume command, but he continued to issue orders to Kimball. One of these orders was to keep Col. Turner Ashby's cavalry from giving Jackson accurate information about the disposition of Shields' division. Shields then marched a brigade north through Winchester, to make it appear he was retreating, while keeping the remainder of his division near by. People in town apparently told Ashby of Shields' seeming retreat, and Ashby informed Jackson. The battle resulted.
Thinking his force of just under 4,000 would be facing a rear guard, Jackson attacked. Shields actually had nearly 9,000 soldiers, and would place more than 6,000 into the action. Much of the tactical action in the battle was directed by Kimball, and he deserves credit for that, but Jackson's defeat under such circumstances was nearly assured, barring any large tactical blunder. — Joseph E. Gannon
Website of Illinois State Representative Robert Pritchard
Biography of Ronald Reagan from The Official Website of The White House
BBC (June 6, 2004): "Reagan's Mixed White House Legacy"
President Ronald W. Reagan's June 3, 1984, Remarks to the People of Ballyporeen, County Tipperary.
Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library
Full Text of Illinois House Representative Robert Pritchard's HJR 0008
This page was edited by Rick Grant, and produced by Joseph E. Gannon.
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