Keeping a Promise to Honor a Hero
In 1783, the United States government passed a resolution accepting a portrait of Bernardo de Galvez as a gift from Oliver Pollock to the American people. As commanded by Carlos III, King of Spain, General Galvez had harassed the British in the Gulf of Mexico in support of the American Revolution. The same resolution that accepted the portrait of Galvez asserted that it should “be placed in the room in which Congress meets.”
The government of the United States at the time was under the Articles of Confederation, and the current U.S. Capitol Building was years away from being built. Still, Congress had resolved to hang a portrait of Galvez in “the room in which Congress meets.” If Congress is to honor this resolution, Galvez’s portrait should be hanging somewhere in the U.S. Capitol Building. But even though the government made this promise, to date, it has not kept its word.
George Washington and many others of the Revolutionary generation were well aware of Spain’s help in the struggle of the United States to gain its independence from Great Britain. The hanging of a portrait of Galvez was to be a public display of American appreciation for Spain’s assistance.
The failure of the United States to keep its word on this matter has come to the attention of Dr. Teresa Valcarce-Graciani, who has singlehandedly championed this issue, along with informing several members of Congress. Among the members of the House who have expressed interest in righting this wrong are Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Jeff Miller (R-FL), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Xavier Becerra (D-CA). In the Senate, only Rob Menendez (D-NJ) has expressed interest in having a portrait of Galvez hung in the U.S. Capitol Building.
Dr. Valcarce-Graciani has also rallied several organizations to this cause. Among these are the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution (the DAR) and the National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution (the SAR). The DAR, the SAR and other organizations represent over four million people who support this effort.
In addition to all the support Dr. Valcarce-Graciani has garnered for this cause, she has also arranged for a replica of a portrait of Galvez to be donated to the United States so that it may be hung in the U.S. Capitol Building. The original portrait from which this replica is copied was a gift from King Carlos III to General Galvez himself, and is part of a private collection in Málaga, Spain.
Dr. Valcarce-Graciani received an e-mail from Congressman Van Hollen’s office that the Curator with the Architect of the Capitol “noted that the resolution from 1783 would not be applicable to this Congress.” While this may be technically correct, it is morally wrong.
When Alexander Hamilton proposed Funding and Assumption in the First Federal Congress, there were members who argued the government of the United States under the Constitution should not be held responsible for debt incurred by any of the several states or by the United States when it was governed by either the Continental Congress or the Confederation Congress. That argument was morally wrong then, and it is morally wrong now to assert that a promise made by the Confederation Congress to honor a Revolutionary War hero should not be kept by the Federal Congress.
Absent any commitment from Congress, we are left with an unkept promise to honor a Spanish hero of the American Revolution. Millions of Americans want to see this promise kept, to see this hero honored, and it won’t cost the United States anything. But if Congress fails to honor its promise, it will cost the United States a blow to her integrity. Spain was our friend when we struggled for our independence. Let us show Spain that we remember her support, and thank her for it, by placing a portrait of General Galvez in the U.S. Capitol Building.
Joseph W. Dooley is the President General of the National Society, Sons of the American Revolution.