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Auchter's Art: Protecting our institutions

John Auchter
Michigan Radio

I've been reading a book called Bad Days in History by Michael Farquhar. It's sort of a devotional with "a gleefully grim chronicle of misfortune, mayhem, and misery for every day of the year." It was published in 2015, so it obviously doesn't include January 6, 2021, but it definitely should if there ever is a next edition.

I did, however, find an entry with rough parallels. January 6 was not the first time our country has had to deal with that sort of extreme nationalistic behavior. Perhaps we can find some solace in that:

"The magnificent stone obelisk that is the Washington Monument today was still just a stump in 1854. And thanks to the actions of a group of anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant political agitators called the American party, or 'Know-Nothings,' it remained that way for more than two decades.

The trouble began when Pope Pius IX donated a black marble stone for the memorial, one taken from the ruins of the temple of Concord in the Roman Forum. Though many other states and organizations had also given inscribed slabs to the construction effort, the Know-Nothings saw the papal gift as a loathsome declaration of the Vatican's intent to control the United States through the mass influx of Catholic immigrants.

Outraged by the Holy Father’s supposed insult, a band of Know-Nothing Party thugs appeared at the construction site during the late hours of March 5, 1854, overpowered the guard, and snatched away the Vatican stone. Not content with this brazen act of thievery, the Know-Nothings next seized control of the Washington National Monument Society through a rigged election and took over construction. They didn't get very far, though — installing only a few layers of inferior marble (which later had to be replaced) before an appalled Congress stopped funding the project altogether.

It was not until 1877, with the Know-Nothings having long since dissipated, that the work on the Washington Monument resumed. It was finally completed in 1884, and stands as the tallest freestanding stone structure in the world. Evidence of the Know-Nothings legacy is still clearly visible, however: The exterior of the obelisk is of two distinct shades of marble. The stone used in the first stage of construction was unavailable when the job was resumed so many years later."

- Bad Days in History by Michael Farquhar

Since 1995 John has created Michigan-based editorial cartoons for the Grand Rapids Business Journal, the Grand Rapids Press, and MLive Newspapers. His cartoons are currently featured at MichiganPublic.org and are syndicated to newspapers through the Michigan Press Association. John is an active member of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists. You can view an archive of his editorial work and other cartoons at Auchtoon.com.
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