9 Reasons Pennsylvania Rocks The Capitol

Statues and paintings of famous and fascinating Pennsylvanians are scattered throughout the U.S. Capitol. Here are just a few:

1. Benjamin Franklin: “Well done is better than well said.”

How are your New Year’s resolutions coming? Check out Ben Franklin’s “13 virtues” self-improvement plan and see why this author, inventor, scientist, statesman, and diplomat has a statue on the second floor of the Capitol, just outside the Senate chamber. (See also, polymath.)

2. Oliver Hazard Perry: “We have met the enemy, and they are ours.”

Great Britain was angling to reclaim its lost colonies in the War of 1812. By 1813, it looked like they might get their way. Enter Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry. First, this scrappy young sailor built new warships with help from the industrious people of Erie. Then, he forced the surrender of the entire British fleet on Lake Erie, despite heavy damage to his own vessel, the Brig Lawrence, in the first two hours of the battle. He did all of this when he was 28, by the way. For that, this 16 × 26 ft. painting of him hangs outside the Senate chamber, just across from Benjamin Franklin’s statue.

3. William Penn: Rebellious son

His father, the admiral, was concerned the young Penn had fallen in with the wrong crowd during his wild schooling days at Oxford: pacifist Quakers. William Penn nevertheless stood by his convictions. They would eventually inspire him to found our Commonwealth and name it after his disapproving dad. Here he is with the Lenni Lenape Indians in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol.

4. Thomas Mifflin: Patriots can make mistakes too

Criticized for his deficiencies as Quartermaster General of the Continental Army and implicated in the infamous Conway Cabal, Pennsylvania’s first governor Thomas Mifflin did not let past mistakes keep him down. Ironically, here he is presiding over Washington’s historic resignation as commander of the Continental Army. (This scene is found in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol.)

5. Robert Morris: He bankrolled America

During the Revolutionary War, General Washington’s Continental Army was so chronically short of funds that it nearly dissolved due to lack of pay. Philadelphia financier Robert Morris stepped in. From his own personal funds, he paid soldiers’ salaries and purchased weaponry, food, equipment, and clothing for the army. It’s no wonder why he is pictured here receiving a bag of money from Mercury, god of commerce. (This beautiful painting is in “The Apotheosis of Washington” that adorns the Capitol dome.)

6. Dr. Benjamin Rush: Father of American psychiatry

Doctor, abolitionist, statesman, and advocate for women’s education, Dr. Benjamin Rush was a man ahead of his time, even if he also over-prescribed “bleeding” as a remedy for illness … You can find him with our other Founding Fathers in the Rotunda.

7. John Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg: Not to be overshadowed

Ever feel like you have a lot to live up to? Peter Muhlenberg’s dad, Henry, was the “Father of American Lutheranism” and the namesake of Muhlenberg College. His brother, Frederick, was the first Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. “Devil Pete” would do his best though. Here he is in the Crypt, exchanging his reverend’s robes for an officer’s uniform before joining in the American Revolution. After the war, he would serve as Vice President of Pennsylvania, U.S. Representative, Senator, and nominal leader of the crucial Pennsylvania Dutch vote.

8. Robert Fulton: Inventor extraordinaire

You might remember him from junior high as the inventor of the steam boat. Actually, Fulton developed the first steamboat to be commercially viable. He did, however, construct the earliest practical submarine while living in France. Back home in America, he built the first profitable steamboat, the North River Steamboat (now known as the Clermont) in New York. He ponders his designs here in Statuary Hall.

9. James Buchanan: An unenviable task

When you get dismayed by some of the partisan division of today, take a look at what Pennsylvania’s only president, James Buchanan, had to deal with from 1857-1861. This marker in Statuary Hall – the original House of Representatives – indicates the location of his desk when he served as a congressman.

(All photos taken by Sen. Toomey’s staff.)

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