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The Philosopher

Hartley Burr Alexander

Hartley Burr Alexander, Professor of Philosophy, was born in Lincoln, Nebraska, in 1873. He spent his youth in the Midwest and his school years in Syracuse, Nebraska. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Nebraska in 1897.

Hartley Burr Alexander

Hartley Burr Alexander Bust ( Nebraska Capitol )

Hartley Burr Alexander, Professor of Philosophy, was born in Lincoln, Nebraska, in 1873. He spent his youth in the Midwest and his school years in Syracuse, Nebraska. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Nebraska in 1897. After receiving his doctorate in philosophy from Columbia University in 1901, he worked in the East as an editor until his appointment as a professor and dean of Philosophy at the University of Nebraska in 1908. In 1928 Alexander went to Scripps College in Claremont, California, where he helped establish the philosophy program and remained there until his death in 1939. During his life, Alexander studied Native American cultures, writing extensively on the subject. During his university career he wrote many books and essays on democracy and political thought. He brought this background to the work for Nebraska’s Capitol. Alexander’s philosophical ideals can be read throughout the inscriptions placed on the building and in the themes which the artists followed as they decorated the Capitol. Alexander’s collaboration with Goodhue on the Nebraska State Capitol lead to his involvement in the design of other notable structures, including Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha, the Oregon State Capitol, Rockefeller Center in New York, and another collaboration with Goodhue on the Los Angeles Public Library.

Alexander’s themes for the program of art and symbolism in the Nebraska State Capitol were based on human settlement in Nebraska and the development of democracy as a form of government. In developing and writing the inscriptions for the interior and exterior of the Capitol Alexander drew upon statesmen, philosophers, Plains Indian lore and his own insight. The inscription over the main entrance of the Capitol was inspired by his father, who had taught him, “The Salvation of the State is Watchfulness of the Citizen.” Watchfulness, and our responsibility as citizens to work for a more noble life guided Alexander’s thoughts.

Main North Entrance Portal

North Entrance Portal

 

INSCRIPTIONS ON THE NEBRASKA STATE CAPITOL

Exterior Inscriptions
 
North Stair Buttresses

HONOUR TO
PIONEERS
WHO BROKE
THE SODS
THAT MEN
TO COME
MIGHT LIVE

HONOUR TO
CITIZENS
WHO BUILD
AN HOUSE
OF STATE
WHERE MEN
LIVE WELL

     
Bison Panels on the North Entrance

BORN OF THE EARTH
AND TOUCHED BY THE DEEP BLUE SKY
OUT OF THE DISTANT PAST
I COME UNTO YOU
YOUR MOTHER CORN
Pawnee Ritual Song

ARISE WITH THE DAWN
BATHE IN THE MORNING SUN
SLEEP WHEN THE BIRDS NO LONGER FLY
AWAKE WHEN THE FIRST FAINT DAWN APPEARS
Sioux Lore

IN BEAUTY I WALK
WITH BEAUTY BEFORE ME I WALK
WITH BEAUTY BEHIND ME I WALK
WITH BEAUTY ABOVE AND ABOUT ME I WALK
Navaho Hymn

AS ONWARD WE WEND
THINKING OF OUR CHILDREN
MANY TRAILS OF BUFFALO WE BEHOLD
MANY TRAILS OF LIFE
Pawnee Ritual Song

     
South Facade Parapet
POLITICAL SOCIETY EXISTS FOR THE SAKE OF NOBLE LIVING—Aristotle

Interior Inscriptions

North Vestibule Dome
BEHOLD THEY COME AS HOUSEHOLDERS
BRINGING EARTH’S FIRST FRUITS
REJOICING THAT THE SOIL HATH REWARDED THEIR LABORS
WITH THE ABUNDANCE OF ITS SEASONS


Frieze Below Rotunda Cornice
 
HE WHO WOULD DULY INQUIRE ABOUT THE BEST FORM OF THE STATE OUGHT FIRST TO DETERMINE WHICH IS THE MOST ELIGIBLE LIFE—Aristotle

MEN SHOULD NOT THINK IT SLAVERY TO LIVE ACCORDING TO THE RULE OF THE CONSTITUTION FOR IT IS THEIR SALVATION—Aristotle

LAWS AND CONSTITUTIONS SPRING FROM THE MORAL DISPOSITIONS OF THE MEMBERS OF THE STATE—Plato

LAW AND ORDER DELIVERS THE SOUL—Plato

A COMMUNITY LIKE AN INDIVIDUAL HAS A WORK TO DO—Aristotle


Frieze Above Supreme Court Bench
EYES AND EARS ARE POOR WITNESSES WHEN THE SOUL IS BARBAROUS
Heraclitus
 

East Lounge Mantelpiece
PRIVATE HONOR : PUBLIC GOOD


West Lounge Mantelpiece
THE BASIS OF OUR POLITICAL SYSTEM IS THE RIGHT OF THE PEOPLE TO MAKE AND ALTER THEIR CONSTITUTIONS OF GOVERNMENT : BUT THE CONSTITUTION WHICH AT ANY TIME EXISTS, TILL CHANGED BY AN EXPLICIT AND AUTHENTIC ACT OF THE WHOLE PEOPLE, IS SACREDLY OBLIGATORY UPON ALL: THE VERY IDEA OF THE POWER AND THE RIGHT OF THE PEOPLE TO ESTABLISH GOVERNMENT PRESUPPOSES THE DUTY OF EVERY INDIVIDUAL TO OBEY THE ESTABLISHED GOVERNMENT
From Washington’s Farewell Address
 

14th Floor Memorial Hall Frieze
WITH MALICE TOWARD NONE: WITH CHARITY FOR ALL: WITH FIRMNESS IN THE RIGHT AS GOD GIVES US TO SEE THE RIGHT: LET US STRIVE ON TO FINISH THE WORK WE ARE IN: TO BIND UP THE NATION’S WOUNDS: TO CARE FOR HIM WHO SHALL HAVE BORNE THE BATTLE AND FOR HIS WIDOW AND HIS ORPHAN: TO DO ALL WHICH MAY ACHIEVE AND CHERISH A JUST AND LASTING PEACE AMONG OURSELVES AND WITH ALL NATIONS
From Lincoln’s Second Inaugural
 

 

 

 

 

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The architect who designed the Nebraska State Capitol was Bertram Goodhue. The thematic program of the Capitol was developed by Dr. Hartley Burr Alexander. Sculptor for the Capitol was Lee Lawrie, and Hildreth Meiere designed all the floor and ceiling mosaics. The building was constructed over a ten year period in four building phases. Construction began in 1922 and was completed in 1932. Total cost of the building was just under $10 million.


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Capitol quick facts

  • Construction started in 1922, completed in 1932.
  • The architect was Bertram G. Goodhue.
  • There are 15 floors above ground.
  • The building is 400 feet tall.
  • It is the third Nebraska State Capitol.
  • It cost $9.8 million in 1932 dollars.

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