The consequence of belief in America’s “manifest destiny” to expand the nation westward—spreading democracy, Christianity, and civilization across the continent—has become a major theme of revisionist histories of the nineteenth century. In her study of the production and reception of two statues designed to ornament the natioris capitol, Vivien Fryd examines the use of public sculpture as a vehicle to convey, and to justify, official government policies that sanctioned the seizure of Western lands and the containment of the Native American population.

Focusing on themes that captivated the American imagination, such as the “discovery” of the New World and the subsequent conflict between “civilization” and “savagery,” Fryd explains this pairing of an enlightened Columbus with a heroic American pioneer as a powerful endorsement of expansionist ideology. Through the posture of the American Indians within these sculptural groupings, which employ an unmistakable rhetoric of domination and triumph, awestruck reverence for Columbus is contrasted with savage brutality brought under control as a righteous settler defends his family and, by extension, the legitimacy of his predecessors’ claims.