Images of Hamilton: the Statue at the Treasury Building

On May 17, 1923, the Treasury Department officially unveiled the statue of Alexander Hamilton in the South Plaza of the Treasury Building.

2016-01-11_14-29-15
Image from US Archives

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:

ALEXANDER HAMILTON

1757 — 1804

FIRST SECRETARY OF THE TREASURY

SOLDIER, ORATOR, STATESMAN
CHAMPION OF CONSTITUTIONAL UNION,
REPRESENTATIVE GOVERNMENT AND
NATIONAL INTEGRITY

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.”

Image from the Smithsonian Art Inventories Catalog

Images of Hamilton: William Rimmer Statue in Boston

Visitors to Boston may have noticed a unique Hamilton statute on Commonwealth Avenue, between Arlington Street and Berkeley Street.  The statue, erected in 1865 was the first to appear on Commonwealth Avenue.  According to the iWalked Boston audio tour guide, the it is also the only stone structure on the Commonwealth Avenue Mall.  The statue was funded by Thomas Lee and designed by Dr. William Rimmer, who had a fascinating background as a physician and a sculptor.

Public Art Boston offers this description of the statue:

This sculpture by William Rimmer shows Hamilton with cloth draped over his Colonial-era outfit. The heavy folds of drapery bring to mind depictions of Greek and Roman leaders in ancient statuary. Through this anachronistic touch, Rimmer evoked the first democratic-style governments in ancient Greece, thereby emphasizing Hamilton’s formative role in the newly emerging American democracy. Interestingly, Rimmer was a physician before devoting himself to art. He did not use a model to create the statue, but instead employed his unique knowledge of human anatomy to chisel Hamilton’s body from a block of granite. Due to Rimmer’s unusual technique, this sculpture is particularly fragile and difficult to maintain.

 

Rimmer’s design was extremely controversial during his time, and

Massachusetts: A Guide to Its Places and People states:

“Rimmer had a theory, ahead of his time, of working impressionistically without models.  Though contemporary criticism was violently averse, the statue was admired by Hamilton’s own family for its graceful and somewhat aloof pose, characteristic of its subject.”

An 1895 issue of the New England Magazine describing Boston’s statues states:

“A curious work is the granite statue of Alexander Hamilton by Dr. William Rimmer, in Commonwealth Avenue.  It stands on a high and massive granite pedestal; and it was given to the city in 1865 by Thomas Lee, who also gave the Esther Monument.  There is little or no modeling, except about the head, and the appearance of the figure suggests a snow image which is partially melted.”

Take a look for yourself the next time you’re in Boston!