The push by Congressman Emanuel Cleaver II to have a statue of President Harry Truman placed in the U.S. Capitol is moving ahead – but with a twist he did not anticipate or want.
On Monday, Cleaver said Missouri Republicans have maneuvered successfully to demote one of the state’s better known statesmen, Thomas Hart Benton. He was Missouri’s first U.S. senator, serving for 30 years until his opposition to slavery cost him his political career in the years just before the Civil War.
Benton’s statue, which has stood in the Capitol for more than a century, will be sent to St. Louis for display there.
“No, I disagree with what happened,” Cleaver said.
Here’s the issue: Every state gets to choose two favorite sons or daughters to honor with a statue in the Capitol. Occasionally states swap them out – at their expense, not that of the federal taxpayer – as Kansas did with President Eisenhower and California did with President Reagan.
Sixteen years ago, the Missouri General Assembly voted to do that for Truman, moving him in for Francis Preston Blair, who played a crucial role in keeping Missouri in the Union during the Civil War, was a Democratic U.S. senator and was the Democrats’ nominee for vice president in 1868.
However, progress on a Truman statue sputtered for several years until Cleaver took up the cause about four years ago, calling it a matter of state pride.
Now private money has been raised for statue, and Cleaver said it’s his understanding that it could be ready early next year.
But Republican members of Congress pointed to Blair’s Republican connections, and the office of Congressman Sam Graves has gone to far as to say that “... Francis Blair is a much more historically significant figure to the state than Thomas Hart Benton.” Last year, Republicans in Missouri’s U.S. House delegation told Cleaver they wanted a change – keep Blair instead of Benton. There are six Republicans and two Democrats in that delegation, and Cleaver concedes there’s little he can do to stop this.
Also, before he left office last month, former Gov. Eric Greitens wrote a letter to the architect of the Capitol, formally stating that Missouri wants the switch.
Cleaver favored keeping Benton from the start but acknowledges that the decision has been made.
“To be 100 percent straight,” he said, “the delegation never voted on it.”