By an act of Congress in 1864, each state is allowed two statues of “notable citizens” to be displayed in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall. Each state is allowed two and only two statues. If they choose, states may switch who they honor, but in doing so they have to remove a previous honoree. Iowa has started the process to do so, replacing James Harlan with Norman Borlaug.
While I feel Norman Borlaug is certainly worthy of the honor (see my post on him below) I think it’s unfortunate to rip it away from the current honorees.
I’m especially disturbed with their repeated dismissal of Samuel Kirkwood and James Harlan as mere “19th-century politicians.” Samuel Kirkwood was Iowa’s Civil War governor. He kept the state going during one of the most difficult times in the state’s history. “During the Civil War the governor was credited with recruiting enough volunteers to put together over fifty regiments of infantry and cavalry for the Union cause. He used much of his own money to partially outfit the troops.” He did such a good job that he was repeated called on to fill jobs in Washington, D.C. and was called out of retirement to once again return to the jobs of Iowa Governor and Senator in turn. He was even recruited to run for Presidency. Iowa would look a lot different today if it was not for the years of work on our behalf that Kirkwood put in. Today Kirkwood Community College, where I work, is named in his honor.
Sen. James Harlan was likewise an accomplished figure. He served repeatedly as Senator and also as Secretary of the Interior. He was in short, not just some anonymous 19th century politician, but someone better well known and respected nationally than any of the men and women who just voted to strip him of the honor are today. How well known and connected was he? His daughter married Robert Lincoln, yes President Abraham Lincoln’s only son to live to adulthood Robert Lincoln. In fact, Harlan was one of Lincoln’s principal advisers. Harlan even was in the group of men that surrounded Abraham Lincoln during the death watch at the house across from Ford’s theater.
While perhaps Borlaug’s world wide life saving work is worth replacing one of these two men (current word is that Harlan will be the one replaced), they certainly should be treated with more respect in the process than be dismissed as if they were merely any two political hacks. Thank you Kirkwood and Harlan. Your valuable work still stands.
James Harlan statue scroll down to find image.
James Harlan Grave
Samuel Kirkwood Grave
Norman Borlaug Grave
UPDATE: My mother contacted State Senator Joe Bolkcom who responded: “The resolution we passed calls for the statue of Senator Harlan to be brought to the Iowa Capitol.”
UPDATE 2014: They did switch out Borlaug for Harlan and hopefully I’ll get a chance to do a further post about that soon. So far no further attempts to dethrone Kirkwood which I’m truly glad about.
UPDATE 2015: Found this short biography Kirkwood held, not really his accomplishments or background, but a nice list of offices held.
UPDATED September 30, 2015: Here is an update on what happened to the Harlan statue:
Sarah S. Uthoff is the main force behind Trundlebed Tales striving to bring the History, Mystery, Magic and Imagination of Laura Ingalls Wilder and other greats of children’s literature and history to life for a new generation. Uthoff is a nationally known Laura Ingalls Wilder authority and has presented at five of the Wilder homesites, many conferences and numerous libraries, museums, and events around the Midwest. Attend one of her programs, schedule one yourself, watch her videos, listen to her podcast, and find her on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, and Academia.edu. Professionally she is a reference librarian at Kirkwood Community College and director of the Oxford (Iowa) Public Library.