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Portraits Approved for Senate Reception Room

On October 19, 2000, the Senate approved the recommendation by the Senate Commission on Art naming two distinguished former senators whose portrait images will be added to the Senate Reception Room. Senators Arthur H. Vandenberg (Republican- Michigan, 1928-1951), and Robert F. Wagner (Democrat-New York, 1927-1949) have been selected. The portraits of Arthur Vandenberg and Robert Wagner will join those of Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, John C. Calhoun, Robert M. La Follette, Sr., and Robert A. Taft, Sr. The existing Reception Room portraits were selected in 1957 by a special committee chaired by Senator John F. Kennedy.

The Senate Commission on Art members are Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle, Senators Strom Thurmond, Mitch McConnell, and Christopher Dodd. A resolution introduced last November directed members of the Commission to select two "outstanding legislators with a deep appreciation for the Senate, who will serve as role models for future Americans." The resolution directed the Commission to choose senators who are no longer living, and who have not served as senator since 1979. It also excluded senators who served as vice president since they were "visibly and appropriately commemorated through the Vice Presidential bust collection." Finally, the resolution gave first priority to "those Senators who are not already commemorated in the Capitol or Senate office buildings," although it did not exclude those so honored.

The Senate Historical Office assisted the Commission in identifying candidates to honor from all eras of Senate history, from the late 18th century to the third quarter of the 20th century. Commission members decided to focus on the mid-20th century, a period in which the Senate played a particularly significant role in addressing the problems of the nation as an industrial society and an emerging world power.

Arthur H. Vandenberg, Senator from Michigan, 1928-1951

Senator Arthur Vandenberg delivered a celebrated "speech heard round the world" in the Senate chamber on January 10, 1945, announcing his conversion from isolationism to internationalism. He called on America to assume the responsibilities of world leadership and endorsed the creation of the United Nations. Previously, Vandenberg had been a leading proponent of isolationism, determined to keep the United States out of another world war, but the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor caused him to reassess his position. During the Second World War, he grappled with the potential international role for the United States in the postwar world. In 1947, at the start of the Cold War, Vandenberg became chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In that position, he cooperated with the Truman administration in forging bipartisan support for the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, and NATO – the first mutual defense treaty that the United States had entered since its alliance with France during the American Revolution. Asserting that "politics stops at the water's edge," Vandenberg's Senate career stands as a monument to the benefits of bipartisanship in American foreign policy.

Robert F. Wagner, Senator from New York, 1929-1949

Senator Robert Wagner authored sweeping legislation that dramatically changed the American social and economic landscape. As chairman of the New York Assembly State Factory Investigation Committee from 1911 to 1915 he had investigated the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire and other industrial hazards. These experiences sharpened his commitment to reform. After serving on the New York Supreme Court, Wagner was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1926 and during the New Deal era became chairman of the Senate Banking and Currency Committee. He sponsored a long list of legislation to provide retirement security, affordable housing, and the right to work with dignity and safety. Two of his most notable bills were enacted into law in 1935: the Social Security Act to provide old-age pensions to Americans; and the Wagner Labor Act, to guarantee labor's right to organize and bargain collectively. One journalist commented, "Whether you like his laws or deplore them, he has placed on the books legislation more important and far-reaching than any American in history since the days of the founding fathers."