As the U.S. military considers the propriety of naming bases after guys who fought for the other side and the House speaker orders the removal of some of her predecessors’ portraits on similar grounds, Washington state has some reckonings of its own to deal with.
The Tacoma News Tribune last week raised questions about the namesake of its home county, Franklin Pierce, the 14th president.
Naming a county after a president or other prominent figure was a pretty common occurrence in the 1800s, when Washington and other states were splitting up land for ease of government. After all, the new counties needed to be called something to differentiate them from their neighbors, and Washington’s founders seemed to have two choices — political figures whose good graces might be useful in procuring statehood or difficult to pronounce and spell Native American names that would instantly reveal if someone “ain’t from around here.”
Spokane obviously opted for the latter.
Although he did not put on gray and march under the Stars and Bars, Pierce, as the newspaper points out, was pretty instrumental in maintaining slavery in the nation while he was president. He was also a vocal critic of President Lincoln during the Civil War and good buds with Jefferson Davis.
Pierce isn’t the only county namesake with a troubling history where slavery is concerned.