WASHINGTON — The eldest grandson of President Harry Truman pulled down a black cloak to unveil a towering bronze statue of his late grandfather during a ceremony Thursday at the U.S. Capitol to dedicate the sculpture honoring the 33rd president.
“My grandfather was a modest man,” Clifton Truman Daniel said. “And, frankly, slightly embarrassed by statues.”
The statue of Truman, known for making some of the most crucial decisions in American history, both abroad and domestically, will reside in the heart of the Capitol, part of the National Statuary Hall Collection of 100 statues. Each state gets two, and Truman will represent his home state of Missouri.
The front inscription of his statue is carved with Truman’s well-known motto: “The Buck Stops Here.”
Missouri Republican Sen. Roy Blunt said he often thought of the difficult decisions Truman had to make as president, such as ending World War II, facilitating the ratification of the United Nations charter and transitioning the country from a time of war to peace.
“It’s great for us today to see him now in the building he loved, in a democracy that he cherished, in a world that he made so much to design and create and make it what it is today,” Blunt said.
The 7-foot, 1,000-pound bronze statue resides on a 3-foot pedestal in the Rotunda, which is a large, circular room in the center of the Capitol. The statue is nestled between historical paintings of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the Surrender of General Burgoyne at Saratoga, N.Y.
The Truman statue joins those depicting nine other presidents in the Rotunda. The others are Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Ulysses Grant, Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, Andrew Jackson, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford.
The Truman statue replaces one of founding father Alexander Hamilton, which staff relocated to the Hall of Columns.
Years of work
The Truman Library Institute — the non-profit fundraising arm of the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum in Independence, Mo. — and Missouri lawmakers had lobbied for the former president to take his place among various American political icons in the Statuary Hall Collection that is visited by millions of tourists, and frequently passed by congressional staff, lawmakers and journalists.
The institute raised about $400,000 for the transportation and installation and commission by artist Tom Corbin for the Truman statue.
“This statue proves that government can work, and work quickly,” Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II, a Missouri Democrat, said. “This only took us 20 years.”
The crowd of 100 or so chuckled.
Cleaver touted Truman’s civil rights legacy. The president desegregated the military, was the first president to meet with the NAACP, established the President’s Committee on Civil Rights and signed an executive order that prohibits race-based employment discrimination in the federal government.
“President Truman truly helped create the Black middle class that enabled African Americans to advance and participate in the prosperity of this great nation,” Cleaver said.
Before he was president, Truman served in the U.S. Senate representing Missouri. President Franklin D. Roosevelt tapped him as his vice presidential running mate in 1944.
Eighty-two days into his term as vice president, Truman was called to the White House, where he would learn of Roosevelt’s death and be sworn in as president.
During his term, he would shape the country’s foreign policy for decades to come. He formed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and facilitated the United Nations charter, and established global alliances to deter the spread of communism.
Domestically, he signed into law the National Security Act of 1947, creating the CIA, Air Force, Joint Chiefs of Staff and National Security Council, and also paved the way for national health care.
Due to overcrowding — and aesthetic preferences — only one statue from each state is placed in Statuary Hall.
The House of Representatives used to convene in Statuary Hall, but lawmakers moved into a bigger chamber, leaving the room empty. Former Rep. Justin S. Morrill, Democrat of Vermont, in April 1864 proposed that each state be allowed a statute in the hall, which Congress then passed into law three months later.
“However, the aesthetic appearance of the Hall began to suffer from overcrowding until, in 1933, the situation became unbearable,” according to the Architect of the Capitol’s website.
In 1933 Congress passed a resolution stating that each state is allowed one statue in the hall. The other 50 statues can be found in various locations such as the Rotunda, the Senate Wing, the Crypt or the Capitol Visitor Center.
Truman will replace Missouri’s statue of Sen. Thomas Hart Benton, a Democrat who served from 1821 to 1851.
Benton was somewhat of a hothead. He dueled President Andrew Jackson, leaving Jackson, then a general during the War of 1812, with a bullet in his arm. Benton was also nearly shot on the Senate floor on the cusp of the Civil War in 1850 during a heated exchange with Mississippi Sen. Henry Foote.
“I have no pistols! Let him fire!,” Benton said, according to Senate archives. “Stand out of the way and let the assassin fire!”
Foote never fired.
Benton advocated for Missouri to become a slave state during its early formation in 1821, believing the issue would divide the nation. His views changed in 1835, not wanting slavery to spread, but also not wanting it to be abolished, according to the State Historical Society of Missouri.
Benton’s statue will be moved to the State Historical Society of Missouri, in Columbia.
The second statue in the National Statuary Hall Collection representing Missouri is of Francis Preston Blair Jr. The state of Missouri gave the statue to the collection in 1899. Blair was a lawyer from St. Louis who was instrumental in keeping Missouri part of the Union during the Civil War, where he served as a major general.
Blair unsuccessfully ran as a Democratic candidate for vice president in 1868. He became a U.S. senator in 1870, filling a vacant seat, but lost his re-election bid in 1872. He died in 1875 and was buried at Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis.
This article by Ariana Figueroa is published by permission of The Missouri Independent.