Tolerance and Patriotic Unity: Chicago’s Heald Square Monument

 With the impending peril of World War II, Chicago searched for American patriots who represented them and could serve as the city’s democratic role models. They discovered the heroes they were looking for in Robert Morris, Haym Salomon, and George Washington. Barnet Hodes and the Patriotic Foundation of Chicago designed the Heald Square Monument to symbolize patriotic unity and tolerance during a global conflict. Today, however, this message is muddled due to its three patriots’ complicated legacies.

Heald Square Monument located on Chicago’s Riverwalk on Wacker Drive.
Photo taken by Jennifer Barry on November 9, 2020.

In the 1930s, well-connected Chicagoan lawyer Barnet Hodes led the efforts of the city’s elites to construct the Heald Square Monument. In July 1936, Hodes gathered Chicago’s political and financial leaders to form the Patriotic Foundation of Chicago, a non-profit dedicated to promoting democratic values [1]. Chicago’s leaders rallied behind Hodes and his monument to the American Revolution to demonstrate how Americans came together to serve their country in times of crisis [2]. Rather than rely on philanthropic support with the Foundation, Hodes hoped that Chicago’s citizens would be inspired by the monument’s patriotic message, and he successfully appealed for their financial support [3]. Next, Hodes and the Foundation sought American Revolutionary heroes who represented their patriotic beliefs.

The patriots of the Heald Square Monument. From left to right: Robert Morris, George Washington, and Haym Salomon.
Photo taken by Jennifer Barry on November 9, 2020.
 

The Patriotic Foundation of Chicago selected civilian financiers Robert Morris and Haym Salomon for their monument, with revolutionary war hero George Washington as the focal point. As a Polish Jewish immigrant, Hodes was deeply inspired by Haym Salomon [4].  Salomon was a Polish Jewish immigrant who served as a spy, arranged the escape of American prisoners of war, and secured funding for the revolutionary American government. As a leading figure in the Continental Congress, English immigrant Robert Morris, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, was appointed superintendent of finance in 1781. Morris and Salomon, both resourceful businessmen, worked together to provide critically needed money and supplies for Washington and the Continental Army [5]. With the aid given by Morris and Salomon, Washington prolonged the war until Great Britain could no longer afford to continue to fight and was forced to grant American independence. The Patriotic Foundation of Chicago envisioned that Chicagoans would be inspired by the three patriots’ abundant generosity so that their country could endure.

Quote engraved on the front of the base of the Heald Square Monument:


“the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.”

President George Washington to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island, August 18, 1790. Full letter found on Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/05-06-02-0135.

Hodes and the Patriotic Foundation of Chicago commissioned renowned sculptor Lorado Taft to design the monument. With celebrated sculptures across Illinois, including Chicago’s Fountain of Time, Taft was passionate about the project because of his American Revolutionary ancestors [6]. Fearing possible anti-Semitic attacks, Hodes strongly urged Taft to craft the statues in a way that protected Salomon [7]. Taft gave the monument a profound but straightforward design: the three bronze patriots holding hands in patriotic unity atop a large rectangular stone base. Engraved on the base’s front are the patriots’ names and a powerful quote from Washington condemning bigotry and offering protection to all citizens who stand by the American government [8]. The base’s back has a bronze plaque with an image celebrating America’s tolerance of ethnic diversity. The plaque depicted an enthroned Lady Liberty, reminiscent of New York City’s Statue of Liberty, extending her welcoming arms and torch over the masses seeking America’s shores. While Taft died before its completion, he crafted a monument that unequivocally displayed Chicago’s values of patriotism, unity, and tolerance of all peoples.

The seated Lady Liberty plaque on back of the Heald Square Monument.
Rossfishman123, Bronze plaque showing Lorado Taft’s seated Statue of Liberty, Atlas Obscura, https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/heald-square-monument.

After five years of fundraising and sculpting, Chicago’s citizens dedicated its Morris-Washington-Salomon monument on December 15, 1941, the 150th anniversary of the Bill of Rights. Adding significance to the day was Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor the week before. Chicago and the rest of the nation would be entering another world war. The monument was placed in Heald Square, named after Nathan Heald, a heroic American officer during the War of 1812 who commanded Fort Dearborn, formerly found in the area [9]. While the fort is gone, Chicago’s financial district has since taken over, and the Heald Square Monument was given a prominent location on Wacker Drive on the Chicago River’s south side. The “great triumvirate of patriots,” as President Franklin Roosevelt called the monument [10], were calling Chicago’s citizens to join in the upcoming fight against fascism and graciously receive people of diverse identities seeking American freedoms.

While Hodes and the Patriotic Foundation of Chicago designed the Heald Square Monument to convey patriotic unity and tolerance, it also imparts a subtle exclusionary message. In their selection of Morris, Washington, and Salomon, they made clear that the ideal American patriots are privileged white men in positions of wealth and power. Both Morris and Washington owned slaves who were forced to work on their plantations for their economic benefit [11]. They expected Salomon, the lone non-Christian, to bear the full weight of showing American tolerance for immigrants. They chose to commemorate American tolerance as the American government detained Japanese American citizens on baseless racial fears in detention camps. The Heald Square Monument’s provoking expression of patriotic unity and tolerance is confounded due to its commemoration of three privileged white men and its ignorance of the United States’ long history of racial intolerance.

The Heald Square Monument and its inspiring yet questionable message has been caught up in the recent highly politized atmosphere. Given its historical importance, the City of Chicago has owned Heald Square since 1959, including its monument, which the Chicago City Council selected as a Chicago Landmark in 1971 [12]. During the nationwide police brutality protests in May 2020, the Heald Square Monument was graffitied with offensive racial slurs that attacked the statues and their tolerant message. [13]. When the monument’s damage was discovered, some Chicagoans, out of respect for the three revolutionary patriots, quickly washed away the hateful slogans [14]. While Hodes was concerned about possible anti-Semitic attacks on Salomon’s statue, he never feared for Morris and Washington’s statues. The Heald Square Monument, with its optimistic portrayal of patriotic unity and tolerance, resonates today while raising doubt if the United States has acted on those principles. 

Hodes and the Patriotic Foundation of Chicago believed that the noble patriots of the Heald Square Monument would encourage the people of Chicago to follow their example of patriotic unity and tolerance. These noble patriots have become problematic given their status as privileged white men. The Heald Square Monument reflected Chicago’s political and business leaders and the white middle class who funded it. By honoring Morris, Washington, and Salomon, they disregarded how bigotry and prejudice have been sanctioned throughout American history and snubbed people of color and women’s contributions to the country. Patriotic unity and tolerance are admirable ideals that Americans should strive to live by as they grapple with their heroes’ complex reputations.

The 11-foot-tall statues of Robert Morris, George Washington, and Haym Salomon in a pose of patriotic unity and tolerance.

Photo taken by Jennifer Barry on November 9, 2020.

Meghan Flannery, Loyola University Chicago

[1] Harry Barnard, “This Great Triumvirate of Patriots”: The Inspiring Story Behind Lorado Taft’s Chicago Monument to George Washington, Robert Morris, and Haym Salomon (Chicago: Follett Publishing Company, 1971), 17.

[2] Christopher J. Young, “Barnet Hodes’s Quest to Remember Haym Salomon, the Almost-Forgotten Jewish Patriot of the American Revolution,” The American Jewish Archives Journal 63, no. 2 (2011): 44, http://americanjewisharchives.org/publications/journal/PDF/2011_63_02_00_young.pdf.

[3] Young, “Barnet Hodes’s Quest,” 54.

[4] Young, “Barnet Hodes’s Quest,” 48.

[5] Barnard, “This Great Triumvirate of Patriots, 50.  

[6] Barnard, “This Great Triumvirate of Patriots,81.

[7] Young, “Barnet Hodes’s Quest,” 51.

[8] George Washington, “From George Washington to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island, 18 August 1790,” Founders Online, National Archives, accessed November 1, 2020, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/05-06-02-0135.

[9] Neil Gale, “The History of the Heald Square Monument at Wacker Drive and Wabash Avenue in Chicago, Illinois,” Digital Research Library of Illinois History Journal, The Living History of Illinois and Chicago Community, last modified January 7, 2018, https://drloihjournal.blogspot.com/2018/01/heald-square-monument-chicago-illinois.html.

[10] Barnard, “This Great Triumvirate of Patriots,95.

[11] “Updated Robert Morris,” The Founders & Slavery: Contradictions of Liberty: Created by Students from Marywood University’s HIST 399: Slavery and Abolition in the Atlantic World, last modified April 19, 2015, https://foundersandslavery.wordpress.com/2015/04/19/updated-robert-morris/#:~:text=Even%20though%20Robert%20Morris%20actively,who%20worked%20as%20household%20servants.

[12] Gale, “The History of the Heald Square Monument.”

[13] CWBChicago (@CWBChicago), “The Heald Square Monument—George Washington and the two principal financiers of the American Revolution,” Twitter photo, May 31, 2020, https://twitter.com/CWBChicago/status/1267285376055554051.

[14] G Picks (@picks996), “There was some good people cleaning this off yesterday, here is a picture,” Twitter photo, June 1, 2020, https://twitter.com/picks996/status/1267533887422566401.

Bibliography

Barnard, Harry. “This Great Triumvirate of Patriots”: The Inspiring Story Behind Lorado Taft’s Chicago Monument to George Washington, Robert Morris, and Haym Salomon. Chicago: Follett Publishing Company, 1971.

Gale, Neil.“The History of the Heald Square Monument at Wacker Drive and Wabash Avenue in Chicago, Illinois.” Digital Research Library of Illinois History Journal. The Living History of Illinois and Chicago Community. Last modified January 7, 2018. https://drloihjournal.blogspot.com/2018/01/heald-square-monument-chicago-illinois.html.

Rossfishman123. Bronze plaque showing Lorado Taft’s seated Statue of Liberty. Atlas Obscura. Accessed November 1, 2020. https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/heald-square-monument.

“Updated Robert Morris.” The Founders & Slavery: Contradictions of Liberty: Created by Students from Marywood University’s HIST 399: Slavery and Abolition in the Atlantic World. Last modified April 19, 2015. https://foundersandslavery.wordpress.com/2015/04/19/updated-robert-morris/#:~:text=Even%20though%20Robert%20Morris%20actively,who%20worked%20as%20household%20servants.

Washington, George. “From George Washington to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island, 18 August 1790.” Founders Online, National Archives. Accessed November 1, 2020. https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/05-06-02-0135.

Young, Christopher J. “Barnet Hodes’s Quest to Remember Haym Salomon, the Almost-Forgotten Jewish Patriot of the American Revolution.” The American Jewish Archives Journal 63, no. 2 (2011): 43-62. http://americanjewisharchives.org/publications/journal/PDF/2011_63_02_00_young.pdf.

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