Thomas R. Marshall and the Unveiling of the Lew Wallace Statue

One hundred and two years ago on January 10, 1910 the Statue of General Lew Wallace was dedicated in Statuary Hall in the United States Capitol at a stirring unveiling ceremony and reception. After an invocation, the statue was unveiled by Lew Wallace, Jr., the General’s grandson. Joining members of Lew Wallace’s family was an impressive list of dignitaries that included James Whitcomb Riley and Senator Albert J. Beveridge. The statue was formally accepted on behalf of the State of Indiana by its 27th governor, Thomas R. Marshall.

Wallace Statue
Wallace Statue in Washington, D.C.

Marshall was well acquainted with Lew Wallace as their paths had crossed many times—including the first time when they were on opposite sides of a lawsuit. Marshall was born in North Manchester in a politically active family in 1854. Four years later he attended one of the Lincoln-Douglas Debates and spent the debates sitting on the lap of either Abraham Lincoln or Stephen A. Douglas depending on which man was speaking at the moment. In 1869, at the age of 15 Marshall graduated from High School in Fort Wayne and his parents enrolled him at Wabash College. He joined Phi Gamma Delta fraternity, did all he could to promote Democratic politics, and graduated not knowing whether he wanted to be a preacher or a doctor.

He was a talented speaker and writer and he took a job with the school newspaper, The Geyser. In 1872, during his final year he wrote an unflattering column about a lady lecturer at the College implying that she was “seeking liberties” with the boys in her boarding house. The lady did not take kindly to the inference and hired Lew Wallace has her attorney who filed a suit for $20,000. Marshall fled to Indianapolis and hired the powerful attorney (and future President) Benjamin Harrison. Harrison and Wallace were long-time friends and ultimately Harrison was able to convince the woman to drop her suit by demonstrating that the charges were likely true and she probably didn’t wish to risk a public trial. When Marshall went to pay Harrison for his services, Harrison refused to charge Marshall, but instead gave the young man a stern lecture on ethics and proper behavior.

Marshall went on to graduate at the top of his class and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. Like Lew Wallace (who was an honorary member of Phi Gamma Delta fraternity), Marshall maintained a strong interest in his alma mater and like Wallace, Marshall went on to join the Masonic Lodge. As a result of the libel case he was involved in during his senior year, Marshall became interested in the law. He studied with different attorneys and quickly gained a wide reputation as a gifted orator.

After some devastating personal losses in the early 1880s, Marshall began drinking heavily for a few years and became an alcoholic. With the support of his wife (she locked him in the house for two weeks) Marshall gave up drinking and became an increasingly progressive Democrat and a Prohibitionist. It was his leadership in the Temperance movement that helped to propel him into politics and on January 11, 1909 to become the 27th Governor of the State.

As Governor and a personal friend, Marshall presided at the unveiling of the statue and offered a lengthy and mellifluous oration extolling the virtues Lew Wallace. With grand gesture he asked: “Do I attempt to paint the lily or to gild refined gold when I declare that the man who could do something in the hour of peace as well as in the hour of war to keep alive the traditions of the Republic is doubly blessed and doubly worthy of honor?” As the oration continued he went on to note that: “If other States produce lawyers of renown, it stands of record in the courts of Indiana that Wallace was opposing counsel to Hendricks, Harrison, Morton, McDonald, and Turpie.” The orator neglected to point out that in his opposition to Harrison, Wallace was suing a young Thomas Marshall!

After a speech that included references to the greatness of Greece and Rome, the “flaming spirit of patriotism,” “Divine destiny,” the Apostle Paul, Count Egmont, Napoleon, Goldsmith, Jefferson, the Divine Comedy and Paradise Lost, Demosthenes, Achilles, and Themistocles, Marshall wound down with concluding thoughts that included “. . .it would have been necessary for Lincoln to have waded through slaughter to a throne and to have shut the gates of mercy on mankind. Here he waded through slaughter only to a cross and opened wide the gates of mercy to mankind.” After great applause, Marshall’s finishing comments recognized the statue of Wallace stating: “. . . the statue of a full-orbed man, the rays of whose life were shed not only upon things temporal, but upon things spiritual; the rays of whose life helped to bring to fruition human freedom; and the rays of whose life are helping still to bring to fruition Divine compassion.” After the final applause, Marshall introduced James Whitcomb Riley and the program continued.

Just two years after this speech, Marshall’s leadership in the Democratic Party and Indiana’s critical role as a swing state led to his nomination as vice president on the Democratic ticket with Woodrow Wilson. While the two were successful in the election, they had very different personalities which led to Wilson limiting Marshall’s activities. Marshall went on to play an enormously important role in the Wilson administration as President of the Senate in the months leading up to World War I and as a gifted orator who travelled the country during the War. In the wake of Wilson’s stroke Marshall took over many of the public duties of the president but was prevented from seeing Wilson for the rest of his term. Rather than force a constitutional crisis, Marshall refused to fight Mrs. Wilson and the few close advisors who were permitted access to the president. Marshall did not see the president until the last day of Wilson’s administration.

Thomas_Riley_MarshallAfter the end of the Wilson administration, Marshall returned to his law practice in Indianapolis and travelled widely. For all of his support of a progressive agenda, Marshall is best remembered for his wit. One of his favorite jokes was about a woman with two sons, one of whom went to sea and one of whom was elected vice president; neither was ever heard of again. On hearing of his nomination as vice president, he announced that he was not surprised, as “Indiana is the mother of Vice Presidents; home of more second-class men than any other” and after his election as vice president, he sent Woodrow Wilson a book, inscribed “From your only Vice.”

His name was briefly floated for the 1920 presidential election, but he threw his support behind James Cox for president and Franklin Roosevelt for vice president. When the Republican team of Harding and Coolidge won, Marshall sent a note to Coolidge in which he offered him his “sincere condolences” for his misfortune in being elected vice president. Perhaps his most famous quip came during his service as President of the Senate when, in response to Senator Joseph Bristow’s catalog of the nation’s needs, Marshall leaned over and quipped the often-repeated phrase, “What this country needs is a really good five-cent cigar”.

The Wallace family maintained a friendship with Marshall over the years. In 1925, Lew Wallace, Jr. contributed some thoughts to Marshall’s autobiography Recollections of Thomas R. Marshall: A Hoosier Salad as he noted slightly tongue in cheek: “I first knew Marshall when Governor of Indiana—not too impressive then. He grew in stature as no other man, in politics, and public life, with whom I had some associations. There was something very “home spun” in his innate characteristics and growth that was very wholesome and appealing. He was often “the wise man for salt” in his ‘perfect salad.”

The statue that Lew, Jr. unveiled was made of white marble by Andrew O’Connor. Henry Wallace, Lew’s son and the father of Lew, Jr. so liked this statue that he asked the sculptor to make a bronze replica. After 100 years, this bronze version continues to grace the grounds of the Lew Wallace Study.

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