Biden admin backflip: William Penn statue spared removal

In a stunning eleventh-hour reversal, the Biden administration has reneged on its plans to remove the statue of William Penn, the founder of the state of Pennsylvania, from the park that commemorates the state’s founding and that is located on the land where Penn’s original home, the Slate Roof House, once stood.

The statue’s removal was part of a National Park Service (NPS) proposal to rehabilitate Welcome Park in the historic Old City district of Philadelphia, the city Penn also founded.

Announced on 5 January, the proposed rehabilitation of the park was to include an “expanded interpretation of the Native American history of Philadelphia” and — as its pretext — a “more welcoming, accurate, and inclusive experience for visitors”.

Welcome Park was named for the ship Welcome that carried William Penn from English tyranny to the promise of freedom in the New World.

Almost cancelled

To be axed along with the statue of William Penn was a replica of his Slate Roof House, both of which were to be “removed and not reinstalled”. A timeline recounting the deeds of William Penn and highlighting his kindness towards Native Americans was also slated for demolition.

NPR had claimed: “In a separate and future effort, new exhibit panels will be installed on the south site wall to replace the Penn timeline,” though no proposal or funding for such a project had been announced, nor any assurance that the new panels would mention William Penn.

“The reimagined Welcome Park maintains certain aspects of the original design such as the street grid, the rivers and the east wall while adding a new planted buffer on three sides, and a ceremonial gathering space with circular benches,” according to NPR.

However, after significant public outcry, on Monday, the National Park Service reversed course on its decision, claiming that its proposal was a draft” that was released prematurely and had not been subject to a complete internal agency review”.

It appears that Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro was involved in the sudden reversal, on Monday evening tweeting, “My team has been in contact with the Biden Administration throughout the day to correct this decision. Im pleased Welcome Park will remain the rightful home of this William Penn statue — right here in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Penn founded.”

The planned act of historical desecration was just the latest move by a Biden White House apparently committed to the political notion of Year Zero, in which a society’s culture and traditions are systematically erased to make way for a new revolutionary culture.


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The National Park Service is an agency within the US Department of the Interior, currently headed by Biden appointee Deb Haaland, who was celebrated by the Biden administration as “the first Native American to serve as a cabinet secretary”.

The NPS, which oversees 54 acres of historic sites in the Old City district of Philadelphia — including the Liberty Bell, Congress Hall, and Independence Hall, where the Constitution was drafted and the Declaration of Independence was signed — is led by Director Charles Sams III, also of Native American extraction.

The new Penn-free park proposal had been “developed in consultations with the representatives of the indigenous nations of the Haudenosaunee, the Delaware Nation, Delaware Tribe of Indians, the Shawnee Tribe, and the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma,” according to NPS.

Historical accuracy

An Anglican turned Quaker, William Penn stands out from among his European settler peers as uniquely warm-hearted towards the continent’s original inhabitants. According to a biography of Penn by the Philadelphia-based non-profit Independence Hall Association:

After the building plans for Philadelphia (“Brotherly Love”) had been completed, and Penn’s political ideas had been put into a workable form, Penn explored the interior. He befriended the local Indians (primarily of the Leni Lenape (aka Delaware) tribe), and ensured that they were paid fairly for their lands. Penn even learned several different Indian dialects in order to communicate in negotiations without interpreters.

Penn introduced laws saying that if a European did an Indian wrong, there would be a fair trial, with an equal number of people from both groups deciding the matter. His measures in this matter proved successful: even though later colonists did not treat the Indians as fairly as Penn and his first group of colonists had done, colonists and Indians remained at peace in Pennsylvania much longer than in the other English colonies.

One of the historical markers that had been doomed for removal, entitled ‘Friend of the Indians’, includes a quote from Penn reflecting on these events:

When the purchase was agreed, great promises passed between us of kindness and good neighbourhood, and that the Indians and English must live in love, as long as the sun gave light.”

Welcome Park in its current form dates back to 1982, when the design was unveiled to commemorate the 300th anniversary of Penn’s founding of the colony of Pennsylvania.

There is no question that it has since fallen into a state of disrepair and is in dire need of a facelift.

However, that William Penn’s statue and model house were to be removed, and that his life and accomplishments were no longer to be marked with interpretive signage — all at the location where his home once stood — smacked of a wilful act of historical erasure.

In 2021, Democrat lawmakers in the House of Representatives proposed the Confederate Monument Removal Act in an effort to “remove all statues of individuals who voluntarily served the Confederate States of America from display in the United States Capitol”. Happily, the Bill didn’t pass.

But what the House Democrats failed to achieve, woke Federal agencies, local governments and political agitators have enacted to great effect across the country.

The question is not so much which statue or monument will be next, but which ones will be left standing once their Year Zero obsession is finally satiated.

It is a victory for goodwill, patriotism and commonsense that William Penn’s statue and memory will be retained — at least for now.

Ben Terangi is a freelance journalist writing from Milwaukee.

Image: Luca Borghi, Wikimedia Commons


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