Not worthy of honor

Council Member Levin calls for the portrait of New York Governor Horatio Seymour to be removed


A racist campaign

New York Governor Horatio Seymour's portrait is prominently displayed in City Hall. Governor Seymour ran one of the most racist campaigns in presidential history. The campaign's motto was "This is a White Man's Country; Let White Men Rule."

On August 18, Council Member Levin wrote the following letter to Signe Nielsen, President of the New York City Public Design Commission.

I write to you to request that the portrait of New York Governor Horatio Seymour be removed from its position of prominent display at City Hall.

This past Tuesday night, thousands of people gathered at the University of Virginia for a candlelight vigil honoring 32-year-old Heather Heyer. Heather, who was among hundreds protesting white supremacists and neo-nazis, died during an attack attempting to terrorize those speaking out against hate.

Cities across the country, many in former confederate states, are rising to the challenge of building a future without hate. For many communities this means the removal of monuments celebrating figures who promoted racial enmity. This is not to say we should ignore history—we should research, but not revere these individuals.

It was in this spirit that Charlottesville decided to remove a statue of Confederate Army General Robert E. Lee. This decision precipitated a reaction from hate groups whose violent rhetoric and violent actions lead to senseless injury and death. We find ourselves in the midst of a struggle to define the future of our nation. 

This debate is not limited to former confederate states. Racism and hate were not exclusive traits of the Antebellum south. Many in the north shared the beliefs of white supremacy, and an example of this is former New York governor Horatio Seymour. In 1868, Governor Seymour was the Democratic candidate for President against General Ulysses S. Grant. The Seymour/Blair ticket ran perhaps the most racist presidential campaign our country has ever seen. The campaign was marked by open appeals to racism, vigorous opposition to Reconstruction, and intimidation and terrorism in the south by the newly formed Ku Klux Klan. The Seymour/Blair campaign slogan stated their position unequivocally: "Our ticket, Our Motto: This is a White Man's Country; Let White Men Rule."   

In addition, prior to his 1868 campaign, while governor of New York, Seymour denounced the Emancipation Proclamation in horrifying terms, opposed the enlistment of African Americans as Union soldiers, vehemently opposed the draft and is widely seen as having enabled the 1863 New York City Draft Riots, during which the Colored Orphan Asylum was burned to the ground by rioters, and over 100 people were killed, including 11 African American men who were lynched.

Many of the sentiments expressed by Governor Seymour throughout his career are antithetical to everything we in New York City government believe in. And yet at City Hall, as one turns left to walk towards the Mayor's office, there hangs a 105-inch portrait of former Governor Horatio Seymour prominently displayed. While I appreciate the historical significance of the City Hall Portrait Collection and acknowledge that Horatio Seymour was in fact Governor of the State of New York, the prominent placement of this portrait signifies veneration for him. For several years, every time I walk past this portrait I am reminded of Governor Seymour's 1868 campaign motto: "This is a White Man's Country; Let White Men Rule."  We should not be celebrating this man's legacy. 

I believe that some other portrait in the Collection, of a figure with a more constructive legacy to our city and country, would be more appropriate in this location.