Should Washington’s Union Station be renamed for Harry S. Truman? Today, Missouri’s senators introduced a bill to do just that.
Truman was a good president, and he’s probably somewhat underappreciated in terms of physical honors in Washington. On the other hand, Dwight D. Eisenhower was a good president, too, and a much more important American hero (Truman’s contributions outside of his presidency were rather minimal). Looking only at 20th century presidents, Ike has an edge.
Missouri’s Democratic senator, Claire McCaskill, has come up with some reasons that Union Station would be an appropriate monument to Truman — “the station once housed U.S. Car No. 1, or the presidential rail car, which Truman used for his `whistle-stop campaign’ tour, which started and ended at Union Station,” according to the Washington Post. But that’s a stretch. I’d rather just honor the most deserving and undermonumented, rather than the president with the closest tie to trains or that station.
But there’s no reason to restrict the question to 20th-century presidents. I continue to believe that James Madison is the most under-celebrated U.S. political figure when it comes to physical heritage in Washington. The building named after him, part of the Library of Congress, is generally considered to be hideous.1 There’s also Ben Franklin; sure, he’s not associated with the city of Washington or with trains, but so what?
Or perhaps it shouldn’t be a political figure at all. It’s Washington, so there’s always Duke Ellington, right? Walter Johnson?
I have no objection to honoring Truman. But I suspect we can do better.
1 If it was up to me, I’d just swap the Library of Congress buildings, letting Madison have the gorgeous main edifice and leaving Jefferson with the modern one — or perhaps giving that one to Hubert Humphrey or one of the other greats from Congress.
[Cross-posted at Bloomberg View]