The second statue from the right in the introduction picture of this series was donated by the state of Maine. The subject of the statue was the first Republican Vice President. Elected in 1860, Hannibal Hamlin was on the ticket with Abraham Lincoln. He was not asked to join Lincoln on the ticket for reelection in 1864. One might wonder how America would have progressed after the Civil War with a President Hamlin rather than a President Johnson, but of course we will never know.
Hannibal Hamlin had a long career in politics. He started as a Democrat, but left the party because of his anti-slavery views. He was elected to the Maine House of Representatives in 1835, and served until 1841. He then served as Maine’s congressman in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1843 until 1847. He became the U.S. Senator from Maine in 1847 and would remain so until 1861. There was a brief interruption during 1857 when he served as Maine’s Governor. Hamlin had run for governor because the new Republican Party that he had just joined in 1856 had urged him to do so. He ran with the agreement that he could return to the Senate if he wanted to. He was elected governor, but he resigned because he preferred being a Senator. He was the first Republican governor of Maine.
Hamlin was selected by the Republican Party in 1860 to run as vice president because he was against slavery, and being from Maine, he would help bring in votes from the Northeast to balance the ticket. He learned of the nomination while playing cards in Maine. He did not want it, but was told that if he declined, he would be giving ammunition to the Democrats. He wrote this to his wife explaining why he accepted the offer, “I neither expected or desired it. But it has been made and as a faithful man to the cause [of limiting slavery], it leaves me no alternative but to accept it.”
As vice president, Hamlin did not have a close relationship with Lincoln. Vice presidents of that era were not major players in the executive branch. They did not even attend cabinet meetings. Their role was more active in the legislative branch as President of the Senate. Although Hamlin loved the Senate, he did not relish his role there as vice president.
Even though Hamlin was a reluctant vice president, he was disappointed when he learned he was being replaced on the ticket in the 1864 election. Andrew Johnson of Tennessee was selected. It was felt that a southerner would be a better asset when the reconstruction of a nation would begin.
The irony of the departure from Washington for Vice President Hamlin must have been obvious to many as Vice President Andrew Johnson gave a long incoherent speech because he was fortified with whiskey. Vice President Hannibal Hamlin had banned liquor from the Senate Chambers and had created a more decorous institution. A few short weeks later, Andrew Johnson would be President of the United States.
In 1869, Hamlin was again elected as Maine’s senator, and served two terms. From 1881 until 1882, he was the U.S. Ambassador to Spain. His health was on the decline, so he refused to run for the senate again.
Hannibal Hamlin died on Independence Day, July 4, 1891, a few hours after he collapsed and fell unconscious while playing cards in Maine at the age of 81.
Diana Erbio is a freelance writer and author of “Coming to America: A Girl Struggles to Find her Way in a New World”. Read more in her series Statues: The People They Salute, by going to the Table of Contents for links to her posts about statues in the National Statuary Hall Collection and others. Visit & Like the Facebook Page. Sign up for the Newsletter so you don’t miss new posts in the series.