November 22, 2014

Harlan statue will move from U.S. Capitol to Mt. Pleasant

The likeness of a notable 19th century Iowan will be shipped from the U.S. Capitol to a southeast Iowa college next year. The statue of James Harlan will be on permanent loan to Iowa Wesleyan College in Mount Pleasant. Senator Rich Taylor is from Mount Pleasant.

“The town feels that James was a rich and strong part of our heritage and we would like his statue returned to Mount Pleasant,” Taylor says. Harlan became president of Iowa Wesleyan in 1853 — then went to serve in the U.S. Senate in 1855.

“There’s an awful lot of great ties to the Harlan/Lincoln House in Mount Pleasant James Harlan built in, I believe, 1867,” Taylor says. Harlan and Abraham Lincoln were close friends and Harlan’s daughter married the president’s oldest son, Robert Todd Lincoln.

Senator Tom Courtney of Burlington says James Harlan served a total of 16 years in the U.S. Senate. “James Harlan was a great Iowan of his day,” Courtney says. A statue of Harlan has been standing in the U.S. Capitol for 90 years, but legislators voted a couple of years ago to replace Harlan’s likeness with a statue of 1972 Nobel Peace Prize winner Norman Borlaug, a native of Cresco, Iowa.

The switch out will happen about a year from now and Courtney says the original plan had been to bring Harlan back to Des Moines. “Normally they’re put in the basement of the capitol…and everybody forgets about ‘em, but the folks in Mount Pleasant would like to have him back,” Coutney says.

“It’s my understanding he’ll have a position of honor there in Mount Pleasant.” Harlan died in 1899 and is buried in Mount Pleasant. In 1850 he turned down a chance to be the Whig Party’s nominee for governor of Iowa. He was a member of the “Free Soil” Party when he became a U.S. Senator in 1855 and then two years later Harlan joined the Republican Party.

“You know, there are a lot of great Iowans,” Courtney says. “I think this James Harlan was one of the greats. He was a Republican, but I’m saying that anyway.”

A few senators laughed and Courtney, who is a Democrat, smiled. In mid-March the Iowa House approved giving the Harlan statue to Iowa Wesleyan College, so with Monday’s vote in the Iowa Senate, the deal is sealed.