Familiar faces in the U.S. Capitol

Published 11:21 am Wednesday, July 20, 2016

by U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas

Aiming to get away this summer?

If you land in the nation’s capital, you may see more familiar faces than you would expect. And while I’m willing to bet you’ll recognize two Texas icons, I won’t make the same bet that they will recognize you.

That’s because those familiar faces, Sam Houston and Stephen F. Austin, are chiseled from marble and placed in the halls of the United States Capitol.

These two statues were sent by the Texas State Legislature to represent us as a reminder of the storied history and distinct culture of the Lone Star State.

Houston and Stephen F. Austin have watched over lawmakers and visitors in the halls of the U.S. Capitol since 1905, presiding over every congressional debate and law passed through both chambers.

The two men were invited to the Capitol by a law signed almost exactly 122 years ago on July 2, 1894. Its author, Representative Justin S. Morrill of Vermont, announced his idea with the question: “To what end more useful or grand, and at the same time simple and inexpensive, can we devote it [the Chamber] than to ordain that it shall be set apart for the reception of such statuary as each State shall elect to be deserving of in this lasting commemoration?”

Walking frequently past the statues sent to Washington from each of the fifty states, I have to say I agree with him.

You’ll find Sam Houston, most famous for securing Texas’ independence from Mexico and serving as the first and last President of the Republic of Texas, standing proudly in Statuary Hall of the U.S. Capitol. When Texas joined the United States in 1845, he served as the state’s first U.S. Senator – the same seat I’m proud to hold today.

One floor below him in the Capitol’s Hall of Columns stands Stephen F. Austin. Remembered fondly as the ‘Father of Texas,’ Austin famously led ‘the old 300’ into Texas to start the first large settlement of Anglo-American families in the Mexican territory. He presided over the Texas Convention that eventually led to the Texas Revolution, and he led the Texas army to victory at the Siege of Bexar. When Austin lost the election for President of the Republic of Texas in 1836 to Sam Houston, the latter appointed him as Secretary of State. Unfortunately, he died two months later and never lived to see Texas become the 28th state to join our nation.

Aside from their obvious role in shaping our state as it is today, these two men have a lot in common. Both Texans were actually born in Virginia – Mr. Houston in Timber Ridge, and Mr. Austin in a southwestern town that was later named Austinville. Both took a turn serving as commander-in-chief during the Texas Revolution. And of course both have a legacy as the namesake of two landmark Texas cities.

Today, both represent Texas’ fiery spirit and strong culture of independence in the United States Capitol.

Beyond their biographies, the statues themselves share some key characteristics. Both icons are chiseled from marble. Both statues were commissioned in 1892 for the Chicago World’s Fair the following year. And both were crafted from start to finish by Elisabet Ney, an Austin icon and German artist who created sculptures for European royalty before settling in Texas in 1863.

If you have plans to visit Washington, D.C. this summer and are interested in visiting the Capitol, please give my office a call. I’d love for you to see Sam Houston and Stephen F. Austin memorialized in all their marble glory.

Senator John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas, is a member of the Senate Judiciary and Finance Committees.