I have lived in Laclede County my entire life. The statue of the Statesman is a staple sight for those who live here. It wasn’t until recently that I decided to learn more about the man whose image is forever cast in bronze outside the Laclede County Courthouse.
Richard Parks Bland was a local lawyer, educator, and politician who supported silver as an addition to the gold standard in the United States. He served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1873 – 1895 and again from 1897 until his death in 1899.
Richard Parks Bland was a giant in his day. He was well-known throughout the country and was a strong contender for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1896. He was in Washington for more than 20 years, getting to know the movers and shakers of the era. In his time on the Hill, he became friends with another well-known politician, William Jennings Bryan.
Though he was more than just a one-issue politician, Bland was most known for his fierce support of bimetallism and earned the nickname “Silver Dick.” According to Lebanon educator, Maggie Corry:
“Dr. Slaughter, former Superintendent of Lebanon schools, once told me that early on, because Richard “Dick” Bland’s political issue was silver usage, there was serious consideration for naming the high school mascot a ‘Dick’—Lebanon would be known as ‘The Home of the Silver Dicks’!”
I’m sure the locals are happy that idea never gained any traction.
Bland was so well-known and well-liked, that his friends on Capitol Hill decided to donate a statue in his honor to the city of Lebanon. News of the statue was printed in newspapers across the country, from Vermont to California. According to an article printed in the Los Angeles Herald on 26 June 1902:
“The suggestion for a monument was first made by William J. Bryan… The statue is five feet and eleven inches, being the exact height of Mr. Bland… It is pronounced by those who have seen it to be a splendid likeness of the man.”
The statue was unveiled on 18 June 1902 at the Laclede County Courthouse. William Jennings Bryan, and others, addressed the large crowd as they dedicated the likeness of their beloved Statesman.
The pedestal of the statue is engraved on one side with part of one of Bland’s speeches, reading: “I do speak for the great masses of the Missouri valley, when I say that he will not submit to the domination of any political party, however much we may love it, that lays the sacrificing hand upon silver and will demonetize it.”
Though Bland was well-known in his day, by the time Harold Bell Wright published The Calling of Dan Matthews in 1909, the memory of the Statesman had faded. The statue is mentioned several times in the story, set in the fictional town of Corinth, which is actually based on Lebanon. Wright summed up the feelings of most locals beautifully, even those of 100+ years later, when he wrote:
“Sometimes, when the Doctor looks at the monument – the cast-iron image of his old friend, in its cast-iron attitude, forever delivering that speech on an issue as dead today as an edict of one of the Pharaohs – he laughs, and sometimes, even as he laughs, he curses.”