It is well known that Vice President Aaron Burr killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel.
But what few Americans know is that President Harry Truman what’s more pulled out Hamilton.
Hamilton was not knocked down in a duel. But congressional officials recently removed the statue of Hamilton from the Capitol rotunda in exchange for a statue of the 33rd president.
Hamilton’s statue is now exiled in the Capitol’s “Hall of Columns,” a long, ornate corridor on the first floor of the House wing.
Compared to the rotunda, the Hall of Columns is not exactly “the room where it happens”.
In the Hall of Columns, Hamilton’s company is not as elite as the list of presidents that line the rotunda. Hamilton now stands in the third row of Congress with a statue of Senator Jacob Collamer of Vermont. Collamer was a leading member of the Whig party and served as US Postmaster General. Nearby is a statue of Senator John Kenna, DW.V., who served in the Confederate Army. Finally, there is a representation of John Gorrie from Florida. Gorrie’s claim to fame is that he received a patent for an ice machine.
That’s one way to turn your back on Hamilton.
Alexander Hamilton has enjoyed a renaissance in recent years thanks to the Broadway success of Lin-Manuel Miranda. But, as they sing in the musical, “Oceans rise. Empires fall.” And even Hamilton’s recent rise in popularity was no match as he took on Truman and a coveted spot in the Capitol rotunda.
It’s location, location, location, just like in real estate.
Most of the spaces in the Capitol rotunda are reserved for presidents. George Washington. Thomas Jefferson. Abraham Lincoln. Andrew Jackson. Ulysses S. Grant. James Garfield. Dwight Eisenhower. Gerard Ford. Ronald Regan.
There are two exceptions. There is a bust of Martin Luther King Jr. and a huge sculpture titled “Portrait of Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony.” It is a tribute to women’s suffrage.
But aside from those figures, now only the statues of the presidents stand in the rotunda. And as King George III proclaimed in Hamilton about other American presidents: “Next to Washington, they all look small.”
Politics dictates that there is no way King or the women’s monument will be removed. So they fired Hamilton.
Each of the 50 states can choose two statues to represent them in the Capitol collection.
The Missouri legislature selected Truman as its statue, dispensing with an 1899 statue of the late Sen. Thomas Hart Benton, D-Mo. Known as “Old Bullion,” Benton served in the Senate from 1821 to 1851. But the senator wasn’t even as famous as the painter of the same name. Like many statues officials have replaced on Capitol Hill in recent years, Benton was overlooked by history. Benton also defended slavery. So it’s no surprise that Show Me State showed Benton the door and opted for Truman.
Benton’s statue never stood in the Capitol rotunda. Representation of him resided in Statuary Hall, the old chamber of the House. So they changed Benton to Truman and Hamilton to Truman. As they say in Major League Baseball, Hamilton was “designated for assignment.”
And, click, boom, Hamilton was demoted from the Capitol Rotunda to the Hall of Columns.
Downstairs in the Hall of Columns, the Hamilton building now stands next to a sculpture of the late Senator Pat McCarran, D-Nev. McCarran was a key figure in the creation of the United States Air Force. The Las Vegas airport was named after McCarran until recently. Nevada officials renamed the airport in honor of the late Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. McCarran co-authored the famous “McCarran-Ferguson Act.” The law created an exception for insurance companies from federal regulations. But McCarran was also a notorious racist. There has been talk for years about swapping the McCarran statue.
Despite its downgrade, the 1868 statue of Hamilton could tell you that you’re not “throwing my shot,” just like the play’s main character.
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Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., hinted that he would like to see Hamilton back in the rotunda. The New York Democrat consulted with Senate Rules Committee Chairwoman Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., about the decision to trade Hamilton for Truman. The Senate Rules Committee is a panel in charge of placing statues on Capitol Hill.
There is a line in the musical that is prescient about Hamilton and the other Founding Fathers. He talks about Hamilton’s descent on Capitol Hill.
“You have no control. Who lives, who dies. Who tells your story”, sings the chorus.
The hagiography of Washington, Jefferson and James Madison overshadowed Hamilton, especially since Aaron Burr cut his life short in the duel. Despite his presence on the $10 bill, Hamilton was banished to the back pages of American history until Ron Chernow wrote his biography of him in 2004. Miranda magnified Hamilton’s legacy from there with his musical Tony winner in 2015.
But Hamilton’s most prominent place in the American political experience was in the same center of the American political experience: the Capitol Rotunda.
Truman’s status as president certainly makes him worthy of his place in the rotunda. Truman may be more connected to the Capitol than some of his colleagues. He served a decade in the Senate and, as Vice President to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was President of the Senate. In fact, Truman went from the Senate to vice president and then president less than three months after FDR’s death.
Vice presidents frequently presided over daily sessions of the Senate in those days. Truman spent much of April 12, 1945, monitoring a Senate debate on a water treaty with Mexico. Towards the end of the afternoon, Truman made his way to a special hidden office in the Capitol used by House Speaker Sam Rayburn, D-Tex. Rayburn often invited fellow legislators of his to join him in what was called the “Board of Education.” They were discussing the legislation on libations. Truman was Rayburn’s guest that day.
But White House press secretary Steve Early interrupted his bourbon and water branch with an urgent phone call, asking Truman to get back to the White House as quickly as possible. Truman did not know why at the time.
FDR was dead and Truman was minutes away from becoming president.
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Truman excused himself from the conclave with Rayburn and ran across the building from the House wing to the Vice President’s office on the Senate side of the Capitol. Truman had to pick up his hat before he could leave. It was rare in the 1940s to see a man outside without his hat.
Ironically, on the way to the Senate wing of the Capitol, Truman ran through the Hall of Columns and the very spot where Hamilton’s statue stands today.
Truman’s oldest grandson, Clifton Truman Daniel, spoke at the dedication ceremony for his grandfather’s statue in the rotunda.
“Do your duty and history will do you justice,” said Daniel.
It is unclear whether Hamilton’s demotion to the Hall of Columns is permanent.
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But Hamilton can take comfort in a line sung by King George III in the musical.
“You’ll be back. You’ll soon see,” King George sang.