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As Nixon sees it: Blair soon to be out, and Truman in, at U.S. Capitol

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 2, 2009 - Why does a Civil War general who was an unsuccessful vice presidential hopeful outrank a former president?

That's the question that Gov. Jay Nixon and U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan have sought to answer -- and correct -- after learning that Missouri's only man in the White House, Harry S Truman, doesn't have a statue in the U.S. Capitol.

That's because Missouri has never taken the official steps to oust one of the state's two statues now in Statuary Hall -- former Sen. Thomas Hart Benton and former Rep. (and general) Francis Preston Blair.

Every state is allowed two -- and only two -- statues in that hallowed hall. If Nixon has his way, Blair's bust will soon be back in Jefferson City.

The governor's office announced today that, earlier this week, the governor "officially transmitted to the Architect of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., a request to begin the process of replacing the existing statue of Francis Preston Blair in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall with a statue of President Harry S Truman."

The first attempt was made seven years ago, under then-Gov. Bob Holden, a fellow Democrat. The Legislature adopted, and Holden signed, "House Concurrent Resolution 16 to request approval from the Joint Committee on the Library of Congress to replace the statue of Blair with a statue of President Truman." 

Apparently, Carnahan recently was told by the Capitol Architect "that the official request had never been properly transmitted."

So Nixon, Carnahan and U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Kansas City (whose district includes Truman's home in Independence) are trying again.

Now that Nixon has forwarded the request again to the Capitol Architect, the next step will be Congress’ Joint Committee on the Library.

According to the governor's office:

"If the Joint Committee on the Library approves the request to honor President Truman in Statuary Hall, the state is responsible for securing funds to hire the artist, create the sculpture and pedestal, to transmit the new sculpture to the Capitol in Washington, D.C., and to return the previous sculpture to Missouri.  Should this process move forward, Gov. Nixon would work with the General Assembly, Missouri’s Congressional delegation and others to determine the best course of action to raise private funds for this project."

The upshot is that Harry's bust will likely soon be in Washington, and Blair's will return to Missouri. It's unclear where Blair's statue will end up, but presumably somewhere in the state Capitol.

Nixon explained that the switch was necessary, to reflect Missouri's proper political heritage. “Harry Truman is one of America’s most beloved Presidents, and one of the Show-Me State’s proudest sons,” he said.

Blair was a member of Congress and served as a major general in the U.S. Army during the Civil War. He also was a candidate for Vice President of the United States.

But nobody outranks Truman.

Except maybe former Sen. Benton, whose statue is under no threat -- for now -- of losing its place in the U.S. Capitol.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.