On May 17, 1923, the Treasury Department officially unveiled the statue of Alexander Hamilton in the South Plaza of the Treasury Building.
The Program of Exercises Attending the Unveiling of the Statute of Alexander Hamilton, available from US Archives includes the following statement on Hamilton’s life and legacy:
ALEXANDER HAMILTON was born in the island of Nevis, West Indies, on January 1 1, 1757, and died in New York July 12, 1804. At the age of 12 years it was necessary for him to earn his own living as clerk in a counting house at Saint Croix, but his genius being soon recognized funds were raised by his friends to enable him to come to America to finish his education. He arrived here in 1772 and in 1774 entered college where he made a brilliant record as a student. In March, 1776, he secured a commission in the Continental Army and participated in important battles of the Revolution, displaying skill and courage. He also served as aid-de- camp on the staff of Washington. At the close of the war he was but 24 years of age, but was even then considered one of the great men of the day. He was elected to the Continental Congress from New York October 1, 1782, but resigned in 1783 and returned to the practice of law. He took an active part in the preparation of the Constitution of which he was a signer. When Congress in 1789 established a Treasury Department, Washington at once made Hamilton its first Secretary, where his great ability was devoted to organizing the Department and inaugurating a successful national financial policy. The Encyclopedia Americana in its biography of this great public character says “American history presents no more striking character than Alexander Hamilton. He was not popular, nor did he strive after popularity, but after 100 years his name still holds a noble eminence. He lived for the public good. Eloquent and refined, able and brilliant, the embodiment of devotion, integrity and courage, he has left as deep a mark upon our political institutions as any other statesman our country has produced.”
Funds for the statue were raised by the Alexander Hamilton Association, which was established in February 1908 “for the purpose of raising, by public or private subscription, the money necessary to erect a suitable memorial in the form of a monument or statue to perpetuate the memory and commemorate the public achievements of Alexander Hamilton.” The president of the association was Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan, the lone dissenter in the Plessy v. Ferguson case who famously wrote:
“Our constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens. In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law. The humblest is the peer of the most powerful. The law regards man as man, and takes no account of his surroundings or of his color when his civil rights as guaranteed by the supreme law of the land are involved.”
After Justice Harlan’s death, the presidency was taken over by Justice Josiah A. Van Orsdel, who presided over the final unveiling of the statue. Congress appropriated $10,000 for the statute, and the other funds were furnished by the Alexander Hamilton Association and private donors.
The statue is inscribed on three sides. The front inscription reads:
1757 — 1804
FIRST SECRETARY OF THE TREASURY
SOLDIER, ORATOR, STATESMAN
CHAMPION OF CONSTITUTIONAL UNION,
REPRESENTATIVE GOVERNMENT AND
The back inscription reads:
“He smote the rock of the national resources and abundant streams of revenue gushed forth. He touched the dead corpse of the public credit and it sprang upon its feet.”