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People who live outside Lisbon, or aren’t United States history buffs, might not know the name Clement Vallandigham.
Internet searches for Vallandigham have no doubt seen a big boost in the last week, after a local organization announced plans to put a statue of Lisbon’s native son in the town square.
Lisbon Landmark Foundation wants to build a statue of Clement Vallandigham next to the Civil War-era cannon in town square.
Vallandigham was born in what was then NEW Lisbon in 1820. His statue would mark the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.
“We thought that he was one of the best and controversial people to address,” said Susan Mowery, with the Lisbon Landmark Foundation.
Controversial would be putting it mildly. A quick internet search, or glance in the history books, show Vallandigham was an outspoken northern democrat during the Civil War. In 1863, he was arrested, imprisoned and later banished to the Confederacy, for derogatory comments he made in a speech about President Lincoln. His comments called the Civil War a “wicked, cruel unnecessary war…a war for the freedom of blacks, and the enslavement of whites.”
“You can’t pull one sentence out of a speech, you can’t pull one item out of what somebody stands for in their life, and he stood for the constitutional rights, and state’s rights, and free speech,” said Mowery.
Salem resident Sarah Fitch Robinson feels that the choice of Vallandigham is wrong.
“Free speech fine, but if it’s bad free speech, go ahead, but we don’t have to put a statue up to you,” said Fitch Robinson.
Some in the crowd at a town hall meeting held in council chambers Wednesday night felt a statue of Vallandigham would be disrespectful, and sends the wrong message about what Lisbon stands for.
“I think it would be so offensive to African-Americans,” said Fitch Robinson.
The Village Council President, Roger Gallo admitted he didn’t know much about Vallandigham’s politics when council gave the go-ahead to build the statue.
“I’d like to defer to folks who know more about it, have more passion than I do, and hopefully we’ll learn something here and come up to a reasonable solution,” said Gallo.
Council could decide whether to rescind its decision at its meeting next week.