The Sagebrush Rebellion: A Western Backlash to Environmentalism and Jimmy Carter

The first Sagebrush Rebellion: what sparked it and how it ended — High  Country News – Know the West

In the 1970s, the environmental movement was gaining great sway. Congress had easily agreed to the Clean Air Act Amendments as well as the Water Pollution Control Act of 1972, and it was under President Nixon that the Environmental Protection Agency was established. These were not, at the time, particularly partisan measures. However, an increased push to conserve land under federal ownership was underway, and this, combined with other policies, would alienate the West politically.

In 1976, Congress passed the Federal Land Policy Management Act, which officially shifted the goal of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) from being permissive in allowing landowners and ranchers to extract from land to conservation. In truth, however, this act just made official what had been going on for years and had really began with the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934, with significant limitations being placed on grazing by the 1950s and 1960s. In 1974, the National Resources Defense Council prevailed in a lawsuit against the Secretary of the Interior after arguing that public lands were overgrazed, and thus environmental impact statements on grazing are needed (Library of Congress). All these developments may not have been such a problem had the election results been different in 1976. President Jimmy Carter and the West never seemed to get on…in that election he lost every Western state to Ford.

The Carter Administration’s policies rubbed many Westerners the wrong way as they seemed to often work to the region’s detriment. As Jonathan Thompson (2016) notes, “To the rebels, President Jimmy Carter was an especially onerous landlord. On the one hand he tried to cut off funding to a slate of federal water projects pending throughout the West (thus depriving the region of its lifeblood), and on the other wanted to turn large portions of the region into an MX missile launching pad (cutting off other access to that land and making us a target for the Soviet Union). While Lamm wouldn’t exactly count himself as a Sagebrush Rebel, he also revolted against the federal landlord when Carter and Congress implemented an $88 billion synfuels subsidy program that led to water-guzzling, destructive oil shale development in the Interior West.”

The Sagebrush Rebellion attracted many in the West, especially ranchers, mine-owners, and politicians. Senators Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), and Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) were the most notable supporters, as they were, with prominent uranium miner and San Juan County, Utah Commissioner Cal Black, leaders of League for the Advancement of States Equal Rights (LASER). LASER and other rebels wanted more say in the use of western lands and some wanted return of control of these lands from the feds to the states. In 1979, the movement had its first political success when the Nevada State Legislature passed the “Sagebrush Rebellion Act”, which declared public lands in Nevada to be the property of the state and held that federal ownership of 86% of the state was unconstitutional. Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming the next year passed their own Sagebrush bills. California and Washington did so as well but the former was vetoed by Governor Jerry Brown and the latter was subsequently voted down by the voters. Undersecretary of the Interior James Joseph expressed the view of the Carter Administration on the Sagebrush Rebellion in 1979, “The old interests which have for so long dictated public land policies have lost control. Many of you have been saying for years that more than stockmen have a stake in how the public lands are grazed; more than miners have a right to suggest how, when and where mining will be done on the public lands; more than loggers care – and may rightfully comment on how our timber resources are managed. There is nothing particularly mysterious, I now believe, in what is being called the “Sagebrush Rebellion.” Indeed, it is the time-honored response of the fellow who upon finding he can no longer dictate the rules of the game decided to take his ball and go home” (Nelson, 30). The Carter Administration was aiming to change the game on how the West was viewed in the name of accommodating other interests, including some newer residents of the West more interested in environmentalism and recreation, but these policies were working against the interests of more than just the powers-that-were. Democratic Governor Richard Lamm of Colorado, not a Sagebrush Rebel himself, stated on the matter, “with regard to public lands, and issues related to public lands, the Carter administration was a western nightmare” (Nelson, 30).  In 1980, the Sagebrush rebels attracted a powerful ally…indeed their most powerful yet: Ronald Reagan.  

During Reagan’s campaign, he stated, “I happen to be one who cheers and supports the sagebrush Rebellion. Count me in as a rebel” (Bump). However, in terms of practical policy, the Sagebrush rebels came up short. Proposals to transfer federal lands back to the states proved unfeasible per the results of studies commissioned by Governors Scott Matheson (D-Utah) and Richard Lamm (D-Colo.). These found that the states would take on net annual financial burdens if they indeed got what they wished with the Sagebrush bills. Of the thirteen western states, only New Mexico, North Dakota, and Wyoming would gain in revenue if all land was transferred, and only North Dakota would slightly gain if it was surface only and not resources as well. There were many, however, who sought a way between the Carter Administration’s approach and those who wanted all the lands transferred to the states. One of these people was James G. Watt.

After Reagan was elected president, he nominated and got confirmed Watt as Interior Secretary. He, like many others, thought of the Sagebrush Rebellion as a protest movement against federal land-management policies, especially under the Carter Administration, rather than possessing a set of concrete policy proposals. Watt held on the Sagebrush Rebellion, “I do not think that [transfer of federal lands to states] is needed. That is not the first order of priority, certainly. What we must do is defuse the Sagebrush Rebellion. The Sagebrush Rebellion has been caused by an arrogant attitude by the Department of Interior land managers, who have refused to consult and include in their decision-making process State and Local governments and land users” (Nelson, 33). Ultimately, it was the policies of Interior Secretary James G. Watt, which were accommodating to western states by transferring hundreds of thousands of acres from the federal government to the states and made the department more receptive to the concerns of the West, that proved satisfactory to most Sagebrush rebels. Environmentalists had a different take on Watt, seeing him as one of the most anti-environment cabinet officers in modern political history for his pro-development policies and his restrained use of the Endangered Species Act.

Governor Richard Lamm, not on friendly terms with Carter on the West, had this to say about the Sagebrush Rebellion in 1982, “(The) Sagebrush (Rebellion) comes into relief as what it really is — a murky fusion of idealism and greed that may not be heroic, nor righteous, nor even intelligent. Only one certainty exists — that Sagebrush is a revolt against federal authority, and that its taproot grows deep in the century’s history. Beyond this, it is incoherent. Part hypocrisy, part demagoguery, partly the honest anger of honest people, it is a movement of confusion and hysteria and terrifyingly destructive potential. What it is no one fully understands. What it will do no one can tell” (Thompson). A lot of the Sagebrush Rebellion, in truth, can be attributed to the Carter Administration’s policies on land use in the West, which were a hodgepodge of policies that worked to environmentalism, national defense, and could even be harmful to the environment (synfuels). All, however, worked to the detriment of the West, from those who were established and wealthy to those who were not, as the Carter Administration’s policies served to limit economic growth in these regions.


Bump, P. (2016, January 4). That time Ronald Reagan joined a ‘rebellion’ – but still couldn’t change federal land laws. The Washington Post.

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Nelson, R.H. (1984). Why the Sagebrush Revolt Burned Out. AEI Journal on Government and Society, 8(3).

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The Sagebrush Rebellion, 1960-1982. Library of Congress.

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Thompson, J. (2016, January 14). The first Sagebrush Rebellion: what sparked it and how it ended. High Country News.

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Earl Landgrebe: Nixon’s Last Republican Defender

In 1968, Republican politician Charles Halleck of Indiana, who had battled New Deal liberalism since taking office in 1935 and had led the House GOP from 1959 to 1965, chose to retire. In his place, Earl Landgrebe (1916-1986), a state legislator and the head of Landgrebe Motor Transport, was elected to Congress. While Halleck was willing to compromise for Republican presidents and on foreign aid, Landgrebe was ultra-conservative and seldom budged for Nixon when he wanted to go left, including on the Family Assistance Plan, which would have provided guaranteed minimum income for working families. His MC-Index lifetime score stands at a whopping 99% and his DW-Nominate score stands as 0.793, only being outdone in his conservatism by that scale during his time in Congress by H.R. Gross of Iowa, John G. Schmitz of California, and Durward G. Hall of Missouri. Americans for Constitutional Action also found Landgrebe quite conservative, with him having a lifetime score of 95%. His record on civil rights was negative, with the only proposal he ever backed being the Nixon Administration’s Philadelphia Plan in 1969. The Equal Rights Amendment, strengthening the Civil Rights Act of 1964, funding the Civil Rights Commission, and strengthening the Jury Selection Act of 1968 all met with his disapproval. Landgrebe was also the only member of Congress to oppose a cancer research appropriations bill, citing cost as well as stating that curing cancer would only alter “which way you’re going to go” (Pearson). He also was, strangely enough, arrested in Moscow in 1972 during an official visit to the USSR for distributing Bibles. That year, he was one of only seven representatives to vote against the SALT (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks) Treaty and this was consistent with his staunchly hawkish record on the Vietnam War, seeking an end with total victory for the United States. Landgrebe faced criticism for insufficiently supporting President Nixon and him being the only Indiana Republican representative to fail to join the Indiana Committee for the Re-Election of the President. Landgrebe had greater difficulty winning reelection than his predecessor given his unique brand of ultra-conservatism and in 1972 Indiana House Majority Leader Richard Boehning challenged him, albeit unsuccessfully, in the Republican primary. Landgrebe, however, was quick to embrace certain Nixon initiatives, including détente and his visit to China. Despite criticisms from other Republicans that he was insufficiently loyal to Nixon, Landgrebe would after Nixon’s reelection prove himself to be loyal like none other in the Republican Party.

On February 6th, 1974, he was one of only four Republican representatives to vote against an impeachment inquiry into President Nixon. This vote was not at the time a litmus test on whether impeachment was supported or opposed, but he refused to even consider moving forward. After the release of the Watergate tapes, Landgrebe refused to listen to them or read the transcripts and stated “Don’t confuse me with the facts. I’ve got a closed mind. I will not vote for impeachment. I’m going to stick with my president even if he and I have to be taken out of this building and shot” (Pearson). It turned out this was unnecessary given Nixon’s resignation, but such a refusal gained him his 15 minutes of fame in American political history.

On August 20th, Landgrebe was one of only three representatives to vote against approving the report recommending that Congress impeach President Nixon, the other two strangely enough were Democrats: Otto Passman of Louisiana and Sonny Montgomery of Mississippi. Both were staunch supporters of Nixon, with the former going as far as to state, “I contend that Richard M. Nixon is the greatest President this country ever had. Rather than take any chance of doing anything offensive to this great man, I decided to vote ‘no’”, while Landgrebe himself obstinately refused to agree with the report or to praise the Judiciary Committee for their work (Rosenbaum). It is hard to imagine in this day and age, or indeed any day and age, a politician from the opposing party of a president forced into resignation praising said president as the greatest.

In 1974, rather than being taken out and shot, he lost reelection along with four other Indiana Republicans, only receiving 39% of the vote against Purdue University history professor Floyd Fithian. By contrast, in 1972 Landgrebe had defeated him by over nine points. The last time a Democrat had won the district was in 1932. In one of his last votes, he voted against the confirmation of Nelson Rockefeller, a bête noire for conservative activists, as Gerald Ford’s vice president, citing his “extreme liberalism” (Journal and Courier).

In a 1979 interview, Landgrebe justified his position on Nixon, stating “he had not committed a treasonable offense” and stuck to this position for the remainder of his life (The Star Press). On February 13, 1980, he confronted strikers from the Machinists Union while making deliveries to the Union Rolls Corporation. While he succeeded in making deliveries twice, the third time his truck was surrounded, with strikers shouting obscenities and taunts, battering his truck, and breaking the side window, showering Landgrebe with broken glass. The incident was broken up a local sheriff. He died of a heart attack on July 1, 1986, aged 70. Former President Nixon, having appreciated his last-stand support, publicly praised him and sent a representative to his funeral. Landgrebe stands as one of the stranger figures in American political history, a man who succeeded a political leader to office and was not afraid to take lonely stances, only to lose the district for the GOP in six years based at least partly on his outspoken refusal to face facts.


Ex-Hoosier Congressman Dies. (1986, July 1). The Star Press.

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Knebl, C. (1986, July 2). Nixon praises Landgrebe for ‘support and counsel’. Vidette-Messenger of Porter County.

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Landgrebe Motor Transport, Inc., and Earl F. Landgrebe, plaintiffs-appellants, v. District 72, International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers, AFL-CIO, and Local 1227, International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers, defendants-appellees, 763 F. 2d 241 (7th Cir. 1985).

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Landgrebe votes ‘no’ for Rocky. (1974, December 21). Journal and Courier.

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Pearson, R. (1986, July 1). Obituaries. The Washington Post.

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Rosenbaum, D.E. (1974, August 21). House Formally Concludes Inquiry Into Impeachment. The New York Times.

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Schumpert, L. (1972, April 1). Why Won’t He Speak for Nixon? Journal and Courier, Lafayette-West Lafayette, Indiana.

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To Agree to H. Res. 1333, Authorizing the Printing of the Report Recommending That The House Exercise Its Constitutional Power to Impeach Richard M. Nixon, President of the United States. Govtrack.

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“When You’re Out of Schmitz, You’re Out of Gear!”: Orange County’s Outrageously Offensive Congressman

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Imagine if you will, a man is elected to Congress who openly spites the president who is a member of his party and a resident of his district, a man who is kicked out of the John Birch Society, a man whose primary point of contention with his also conservative opponent is on the subject of birth control, a man who makes his predecessor James B. Utt look moderate by comparison, and a man who sees fit to run for president after little more than a term in Congress. What you have, ladies and gentlemen, is the one and only John G. Schmitz (1930-2001).

Schmitz’s foray into politcs began during his time in the Marines, when as a lieutenant colonel he was teaching a course on communism. One night in 1962 he witnessed a woman being attacked with a knife on the side of the road and with the sheer command of his voice he disarmed the attacker. Although the woman died of her wounds, Schmitz was regarded as a hero and conservatives in Orange County were keen to recruit him to run for public office. In 1964, he won election to the state Senate representing the county. During this time, Schmitz was certainly the most right-wing figure in the California Senate. A prominent member of the John Birch Society, he claimed the Watts riots were a communist operation and spoke against the Mulford Gun Control Bill, which prohibited open carry and was at the time a consensus measure from both the right and left and had the endorsement of the National Rifle Association as well as the approval of Governor Ronald Reagan. To him, Reagan’s approval constituted a betrayal for conservatives. This placed Schmitz in the same camp as the Black Panthers, the group at which the legislation was aimed. Politics makes strange bedfellows indeed!

On March 1, 1970, Congressman Utt, who I have covered before, keeled over from a heart attack and who else but State Senator Schmitz was the candidate to succeed him? Schmitz, campaigning with the slogan, “When You’re Out of Schmitz, You’re Out of Gear!”, based on a Schlitz beer commercial of the time, won the election and proceeded to be among the most conservative members of Congress, supporting Nixon when he supported conservatism. Both his lifetime ACA and MC-Index scores are a whopping 99%. He wrote the introduction to Gary Allen’s and Larry Abraham’s None Dare Call It Conspiracy (1971), which alleges that there is a global world order conspiring to accomplish communism in many different countries with policies such as an income tax, a central bank, and explode the national debt through deficit spending. Like Schmitz, Allen and Abraham were prominent members of the John Birch Society. He became notorious for his offensive and at times hilarious remarks, which are at the bottom of this post. However, one remark that offended his most famous constituent was, “I have no objection to President Nixon going to China, I just object to his coming back” (Cannon). Nixon, who was between the moderate to liberal Republicans and the conservatives, was pissed, and he recruited Orange County assessor Andrew J. Hinshaw to defeat him for renomination. Hinshaw was successful, but unlike Schmitz he turned out to be a crook and would be sentenced to prison in 1976 for accepting bribes as assessor.

Presidential Bid

Having been defeated for renomination, he stood in place of George Wallace for the American Independent Party nomination after he had been shot and paralyzed from the waist down by would-be assassin Arthur Bremer. Although he was not the only Republican to challenge Nixon for president as Congressmen John Ashbrook of Ohio and Pete McCloskey of California ran for the Republican nomination from his right and left respectively, neither chose to challenge him in the general election. Schmitz got over a million votes, having his best performance in Idaho. He was not done with politics, however, and in 1978 he was again elected to the California Senate.

Feud with Gloria Allred and Downfall

Schmitz, who as a Catholic was staunchly pro-life, in 1981 held hearings on abortion, in which feminist attorney Gloria Allred testified for the pro-choice position and subsequently presented him with a chastity belt. Schmitz’s committee subsequently issued a press release written by aide Brad Evans under instructions from Schmitz to “blast Allred” with the following headline, “Senator Schmitz and His Committee Survive Attack of the Bulldykes”, in which his opponents were described as having “hard, Jewish and (arguably) female faces” and referred to Allred as a “slick, butch lawyeress” (Deutsch). The press release also denounced opposition witnesses as “imported lesbians from anti-male and pro-abortion queer groups in San Francisco and other centers of decadence” (Deutsch). Allred sued Schmitz for defamation and the case was settled for $20,000 and a public apology. This incident cost him both his committee chairmanship and his membership in the John Birch Society.

In 1982, Schmitz was invited by Yasser Arafat to meet in Beirut, because according to him “I used the word Jewish in a non-adulatory manner”, which he accepted and agreed to act as his messenger in the US (Macdonald). He subsequently held a press conference outlining Arafat’s peace plan, which was timed to happen during Passover. Allred was present and placed a box of frogs before Schmitz, shouting, “A plague on the house of Schmitz!” (Macdonald). That year he announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination for the Senate, with Arafat at his side. However, Schmitz’s political career came to a catastrophic end that year, when it was exposed that he had fathered two children with Carla Stuckle, who had been a student of his when he was teaching political science at Santa Ana College. He refused to support the children. Schmitz had repeatedly stressed family values during his career and had proven a massive hypocrite, and that was just too much for early 1980s Orange County. Never again did he run for office, and by the 1990s he was running a trinkets stand in Washington D.C.

In that decade, his daughter, Mary Kay Letourneau, was charged with statutory rape for having a relationship with a 13-year old student. Although Schmitz tried to defend her with an archaic argument from Blackstone’s dictionary about statutory rape being only a crime that men can commit, she was convicted in 1997. He spent his last years living at a Virginia winery his children had bought him. On January 10, 2001, Schmitz died of prostate cancer at 70. He also may have been a Holocaust denier if his tribute from Mark Weber of The Journal for Historical Review, the publishing arm of the Institute For Historical Review is accurate. Weber stated he was a friend of the group, helped them secure a venue, was a subscriber, and attended two conferences. IHR was founded in 1978 by notorious white supremacist and anti-Semite Willis Carto as a pseudo-academic group to spread Holocaust denial. One can only speculate how Schmitz would have done on Twitter had he lived into the era of social media, but there’s one guarantee: it would be a wild ride!

The Quotable Schmitz, most of these quotes are from Coker (2001):

“I may not be Hispanic, but I’m close. I’m Catholic with a mustache.”

“I would have voted for a three-tier system – have one school that the blacks could go to, one school that all the whites could go to, and those who want to mix go to a third school.”

“A good military coup might be the best we could hope for if President Reagan’s policies are not successful. A lot of people can’t imagine anything like that happening in our country. These same people could never imagine themselves stealing to stay alive.”

“Hello, all you commies. I want to deny the rumors that I have been attending candidates’ school in Chile or Argentina.”

“I ought to get the Right to Life man-of-the-year award for this.” – In response to revelations about fathering illegitimate children.

“Jews are like everybody else, only more so.”

“I wished to identify with the moderate wing of the Republican Party in Orange County.” – On joining the John Birch Society.

“I didn’t know we were supposed to come in uniform” (Cannon). – In response to seeing two conservatives in brown suits at an Orange County conservative meeting.

“I lost the presidency by a mere 44 million votes.”

“Martin Luther King is a notorious liar.”

“Basically, an honest man who just didn’t realize the immensity of what he was up against. In a way, I’m sympathetic to him despite his mistakes because he was so easily caricatured, and I’ve seen myself caricatured. And if I were a more important figure, I’d be caricatured in history books, too.” – On Joseph McCarthy.


Cannon, C.M. (2021, February 19). Great American Stories: John G. Schmitz’s Quote. RealClearPublicAffairs.

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Coker, M. (2001, January 18). John G. Schmitz, In His Own Words. OC Weekly.

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Deutsch, L. (1986, August 22). Feminist Wins Apology From Ex-Legislator Over ‘Butch’ Comment. Associated Press.

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Macdonald, K. (1982, April 9). Schmitz, Plagued by Frogs, Recites Arafat Peace Plan. The Washington Post.

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Weber, M. (2001). John Schmitz, RIP. The Journal of Historical Review, 19(6).

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The Long Road to Abolishing the Poll Tax

poll tax | Definition, History, & Facts | Britannica

Universal ballot access for adult citizens in the United States has for much of its history not been a reality. At the very founding of the nation, you had to own real estate to qualify to vote. Property requirements were repealed over time but after the War of the Rebellion Southern states began looking at ways to restrict black voting. By the early 1900s, all Southern states had poll taxes in place. The poll tax negatively impacted people of lesser means, compromising the ability to vote of blacks, poor whites, women, and the elderly. However, for blacks, the poll tax was one of several legal means used to politically neuter them. However, in 1920, North Carolina became the first Southern state to repeal their poll tax, with Louisiana and Florida following suit in 1934 and 1937 respectively. In 1937, the Supreme Court in Breedlove v. Suttles unanimously upheld Georgia’s poll tax when challenged for granting women an exception and for making age exceptions. In 1941, Representative Lee Geyer (D-Calif.) sponsored a bill to ban the poll tax for federal elections. The bill passed the House on October 13, 1942 254-84 (D 124-80, R 126-4) after Geyer’s 1941 death, but the Senate wouldn’t proceed due to Southern obstruction. Rep. William Colmer (D-Miss.) had denounced the bill as a “force bill” that had as its purpose “to enfranchise the Negro in the South” (Jenkins and Peck, 150). Rep. Arthur Mitchell (D-Ill.), the House’s only black member at the time, wouldn’t accept that criticism of the bill. He responded, “if the Negro is good enough to…shed blood for the country, then he is entitled to vote in peacetime as well as wartime” (Jenkins and Peck, 150).

Given Geyer’s passing, the bill needed a new House sponsor for the 78th Congress, and in stepped Vito Marcantonio, the sole representative from the socialist American Labor Party of New York. He pushed a new version of the anti-poll tax bill previously proposed by Sen. Claude Pepper (D-Fla.) which prohibited the use of the poll tax for federal elections and primaries. This measure passed the House 265-110 (D 92-93, R 169-17) on May 25th, but again met with a Southern filibuster which killed the legislation. In 1945, Marcantonio tried again, the measure passing the House 251-105 (D 118-86, R 131-19) on June 12th but once again Southern senators successfully blocked it. Because Marcantonio, who was pro-communist, was the sponsor of the 1943 and 1945 bills, Southern Democrats used this to tag the bill as something that fulfilled a communist agenda despite far broader support as evidenced by roll call votes. As Rep. John Rankin (D-Miss.) charged, “communism…is responsible for bringing this measure to the floor of the House, when everyone knows it violates the Constitution of the United States” (Jenkins and Peck, 153). Others charged it was nothing more than political opportunism on the part of Northern politicians who had significant black constituencies. Most of the opposition to such measures came from Southern Democrats interested in preserving the Jim Crow system, but there were a few who genuinely thought that a poll tax ban by legislative means was unconstitutional. For instance, Rep. John W. Byrnes (R-Wis.), one of the GOP’s tax experts, opposed legislative efforts to ban the poll tax, but supported most other civil rights legislation in the 1950s and 1960s.  

In the 1946 elections Republicans won control of Congress, and the conservative 80th Congress also passed a poll tax bill in the House, this one being sponsored by Rep. George Bender (R-Ohio), a protégé of Senator Robert Taft. This measure passed on July 21, 1947 on a vote of 290-112 (R 216-14, D 73-98). The bill met the same fate as the others in the Senate.

In 1949, one last legislative try in the House was attempted with Rep. Mary Norton (D-N.J.) being the sponsor instead of Marcantonio, but this didn’t impact how representatives voted, with it passing 273-116 (D 150-92; R 121-24) on July 26th. The bill met the same fate the last four had met in the Senate. However, an alternative proposal was gaining support: a constitutional amendment. In 1944, the Republican platform included support for a constitutional amendment banning the poll tax for federal elections and the proposal gained a significant supporter in Sen. Spessard Holland (D-Fla.). Although a segregationist, he represented a state that had already repealed its poll tax and he didn’t think a constitutional amendment constituted a precedent for passing civil rights legislation.

In the 1950s, the civil rights emphasis became more about voting rights generally in the South, and two watered-down civil rights bills became law, thus progress on the poll tax amendment was delayed. However, in 1962, the proposal came to the floor of the Senate. By this point, only five states, Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Texas, and Virginia, had poll taxes on the books and of those states Alabama and Mississippi were reported by the Civil Rights Commission at the time to have continued providing active barriers to black voting. As Charles Goodell (R-N.Y.), who opposed the measure because he thought it too weak, noted, “It will apparently have no significant effect upon Negro rights anywhere except in Alabama and Mississippi and its effect in those two States is questionable” (Congressional Record, 17664). Although President Kennedy and Congressional liberals would have preferred a legislative repeal of the poll tax, they supported the constitutional amendment and it passed the Senate on March 27th 77-16 (D 47-15, R 30-1). The House followed suit on August 27th 295-86 (D 163-71, R 132-15). The amendment was ratified two years later. Although in 1965 a ban on state poll taxes was debated for inclusion in the Voting Rights Act, it was rejected in favor of it being resolved in the courts. The following year, the Supreme Court in Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections found poll taxes unconstitutional at state level on a 6-3 vote. Justice Hugo Black, the only member of the court who also voted on the Breedlove decision, was one of the three dissenters. With that decision ended the usage of poll taxes for any elections in the United States.


Breedlove v. Suttles, 302 U.S. 277 (1937).

Harper v. Virginia Bd. of Elections, 383 U.S. 663 (1966).

Jenkins, J.A. and Peck, J. (2013, February). Building Toward Major Policy Change: Congressional Action on Civil Rights, 1941-1950. Law and History Review, 31(1).

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HR 7. Making Unlawful the Requirement for the Payment of a Poll Tax as a Prerequisite for Voting in a Primary or Other Election for National Officers. On Passage. Govtrack.

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HR 29. Make Unlawful the Requirements for the Payment of a Poll Tax as a Prerequisite to Voting in a Primary or Other Election for National Officers. Motion to Suspend Rules and Pass. Govtrack.

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HR 3199. Passage. Govtrack.

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To Pass H.R. 7, a Bill to Make Unlawful the Requirement for Payment of a Poll Tax as a Prerequisite for Voting in a Primary or Other Election of National Office-Holders. Govtrack.

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Representative Goodell (NY). “Qualifications of Electors.” Congressional Record 108: 13 (August 27, 1962) p. H17664.

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S.J. Res. 29. Approval of Resolution Banning the Poll Tax as Prerequisite for Voting in Federal Elections. Govtrack.

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S.J. Res. 29. Constitutional Amendment to Ban the Use of Poll Tax as a Requirement for Voting in Federal Elections. Govtrack.

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To Pass H.R. 1024 Which Declares Illegal the Requirement of a Poll Tax as a Prerequisite for Voting or Registering to Vote for President, Vice President, or U.S. Representative. Govtrack.

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Phil Landrum: Architect of Anti-Poverty Law and Conflicted Democrat

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In 1960, John F. Kennedy had his second best performance in the state of Georgia, winning over 62% of the vote, exceeding his support in his home state of Massachusetts. Although Georgia politicians had grown more conservative since the New Deal, this change being best represented by the rightward shift of Senator Walter F. George, they were still strongly wed to the Democratic Party. One of the Democrats that represented Georgia politics’ conundrum between party loyalty and ideology quite well in the 1960s and 1970s was Representative Phil Landrum (1907-1990). Elected to Congress in 1952 representing Jasper, he gained a bit of a conservative reputation, but he could support a surprising number of Democratic initiatives.

Interest rating groups couldn’t seem to agree on what Landrum was ideologically. Americans for Democratic Action didn’t care for him much, with his adjusted scores ranging from 0% to 67%. Americans for Constitutional Action, on the other hand, gave him scores, adjusted for counting for pairs, between 19% and 85%. The 1950s and 1960s had some discrepancies, which can be accounted for in part by ADA’s stronger emphasis on social and foreign policy and ACA’s stronger emphasis on fiscal and agriculture policy. Landrum was quite conservative on the subject of foreign aid and was mostly so on social issues, while he was more amenable to the Democratic platform on fiscal and agriculture issues. Thus, during the Eisenhower years Landrum comes off as solidly conservative by ADA standards but moderate by ACA standards. Likewise, with the Kennedy and Johnson years, Landrum comes off as moderately liberal by ACA standards while he is moderate to moderately conservative by ADA standards. Their ratings seemed more in accord with his record in the 1970s, which was his most conservative period. In 1959, Landrum attracted opposition from labor unions for his collaboration with Rep. Robert Griffin (R-Mich.) in the Landrum-Griffin Act, a measure backed by President Eisenhower which was aimed at combating organized labor corruption and racketeering and was harsher on them than the union-backed reform measure, the Kennedy-Ives Bill.

Perhaps partly as a result of Kennedy’s impressive performance in Georgia, Landrum grew more and more committed to major Democratic programs in the 1960s as did other Democrats in the state including the more hardline John J. Flynt of Griffin, but like most other Georgia politicians, he remained a through-and-through segregationist. He headed the subcommittee on education, which wrote the Library Services Act. Landrum, most importantly, proved key to winning sufficient support for President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “War on Poverty”, contained largely in the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, which he drafted and sponsored. A key provision that Landrum included that helped win sufficient Southern Democratic support was that governors could veto community action projects in their states. Indeed, five other members of the Georgia delegation voted for the bill. There is a strange contrast in the fact that President Johnson relied for one of his signature achievements an intractable opponent of one of his other signature achievements, the Civil Rights Act of 1964. However, that year, the state for the very first time in its history voted for the Republican candidate, Barry Goldwater. The state in four years went from the second best performing state for Democrats to the fifth worst, and this contributed to the pushing of Democrats to the right. In 1964 and 1966, Landrum faced difficult primaries, possibly due to his cooperation with LBJ.

Although Landrum had been the House architect of the anti-poverty law, by the late 1960s he was starting to back budget cuts for it and by the Nixon Administration, he was backing turning the anti-poverty program entirely to the states and voting against its extension. He also voted against the Family Assistance Plan, the Nixon Administration proposal for guaranteed minimum income for families. However, even during this time, he parted with conservatives in some ways. Landrum joined the doves in backing a fixed timetable for pulling out of Vietnam and his vote against a school prayer amendment didn’t please social conservatives.

By his last term in Congress, from 1975 to 1977, he was voting as a solid conservative. His lifetime MC-Index score stands at a 52%, reflecting both his more liberal and more conservative periods.


Cook, J. (1990, November 22). Phil Landrum, 83, Former Lawmaker From Georgia, Dies. The New York Times.

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Phil Landrum, 83, Former Lawmaker From Georgia, Dies – The New York Times (

Landrum, Phillip M. Our Campaigns.

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Our Campaigns – Candidate – Phillip M. Landrum

The Consequences of Northern Republican Opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964

The 1964 election was in many ways a watershed event in American politics. Although it was a landslide win for President Lyndon B. Johnson, 1964 itself was a year of some monumental changes in policy. The Economic Opportunity Act was passed that year, launching the War on Poverty, and the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, setting the United States on the policy of tackling employment discrimination as well as ending segregation. As it might be predicted, the vote was largely regional, with most of the North voting for and most of the South against. There was strong pressure to vote against the bill in the South, but there was strong pressure to vote for the bill in the North. In the House, the Civil Rights Act on final vote passed 289-126. The Republican vote on it was 136-35, with 14 of the “nay” votes coming from the South (the former Confederacy plus Kentucky and Oklahoma). There were also two Northern Republicans who cast a “pair” against.

August E. Johansen - Wikipedia
Rep. August Johansen of Michigan, one of the most consistent Northern Republican foes of civil rights legislation. He was defeated in 1964 after ten years in Congress.

Of the 23 Northern House Republicans who voted or paired against on the final vote, this is what happened to them:

H. Allen Smith, California – Reelected.

Del Clawson, California – Reelected.

Glen Lipscomb, California – Reelected.

James B. Utt, California – Reelected.

Bob Wilson, California – Reelected.

Patrick Martin, California – Defeated.

Charlotte Reid, Illinois – Reelected.

Earl Wilson, Indiana – Defeated.

H.R. Gross, Iowa – Reelected.

Ben F. Jensen, Iowa – Defeated.

George Meader, Michigan – Defeated.

August Johansen, Michigan – Defeated.

Victor Knox, Michigan – Defeated.

Durward G. Hall, Missouri – Reelected.

James F. Battin, Montana – Reelected.

Ralph Beerman, Nebraska – Defeated.

Louis Wyman, New Hampshire – Defeated.

Clarence E. Kilburn, New York – Retired.

Don Short, North Dakota – Defeated.

John Ashbrook, Ohio – Reelected.

E.Y. Berry, South Dakota – Reelected.

William Van Pelt, Wisconsin – Defeated.

William Henry Harrison, Wyoming – Defeated.

Of the 22 who were up for reelection in the North, half were defeated! In the Senate, the only Republican who had voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and was seeking to be elected was Edwin Mechem of New Mexico, who lost. This is, of course, on top of Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona being the Republican nominee, who voted against the Civil Rights Act and only won his home state and the Deep South. Incidentally, nearly everywhere Republicans gained in this election in the House was in the Deep South.

26 Northern Republicans who had voted for the act lost, and three Southern Republicans who had voted against lost. 21% of Northern Republicans who had voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and were up for reelection lost reelection as opposed to 50% of Northern Republicans who had voted against and were up for reelection. I’d say that’s a significant difference.


H.R. 7152. CIVIL RIGHTS ACT OF 1964.

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William S. Mailliard: San Francisco’s Last Republican Congressman

William S. Mailliard.jpg

San Francisco today is known as a hotbed of left-wing politics and it seems to only continue to be moving that direction. The election of Chesa Boudin, a far leftist who once worked for Hugo Chavez as District Attorney as well as the renaming of schools named after Abraham Lincoln and Dianne Feinstein of all people stand as some of the latest far left advancements in the city. However, San Francisco was not always such a lefty place. In the 1950s, their assemblyman was none other than Ronald Reagan’s future Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, and one of their two representatives was William S. Mailliard (1917-1992), who had defeated liberal Democrat Franck Havenner in 1952 through anti-communist campaigning.

Mailliard’s district didn’t entirely consist of San Francisco, rather it consisted of the areas that connected the Golden Gate Bridge. The suburbs of Marin County and the western middle-class areas of San Francisco made up his district, making it the type of district that would elect Republicans back in the day. Despite his anti-communist campaigning, Mailliard was a moderate: his lifetime MC-Index score stands at a 54%, lifetime ACA score is also a 54%, while his adjusted lifetime ADA score stands at 45%. He was socially liberal, fiscally conservative, and a through-and-through internationalist. This translated to him being a strong supporter of civil rights legislation, voting frequently for domestic budget cuts, opposing a school prayer amendment, and voting against the Economic Opportunity Act in 1964. Another apt descriptor of him is “Eisenhower Republican”.

Although Mailliard won reelection easily in 1968, the Nixon Administration was not proving popular in San Francisco. In 1970, for the first time, he won reelection by eight points, the first time in his Congressional career he won by single digits. In 1972, Mailliard won by only four points in a good year for the GOP. His support for Nixon’s approach to the Vietnam War may have contributed to his declining popularity in the district and by 1974, a court-ordered redistricting added black and university neighborhoods, making reelection unlikely for him. He resigned his post to be ambassador to the Organization of American States, before the “smoking gun” evidence was released in the Watergate scandal. Mailliard left the post with the end of the Ford Administration in 1977. He suffered a heart attack on his 75th birthday at Dulles International Airport in 1992 and died at the hospital. Mailliard served in a different time, in which San Francisco had a vibrant middle class who could vote Republican. However, even the areas he represented in San Francisco are now about as liberal as anywhere else in the city and even those voters at that time, like Mailliard, possessed socially liberal sensibilities.


Lydon, C. (1974, June 3). Democrat Favored to Win House Seat in San Francisco Area in Special Election Tuesday. The New York Times.

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William Mailliard Dies. (1992, June 12). The Washington Post.

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Paul Findley: Ideological Changeling and Israel Critic

In 1960, a number of significant freshmen from the Republican side of the aisle were elected to Congress: Bob Dole of Kansas, John Anderson of Illinois, Charles Mathias of Maryland, John Ashbrook of Ohio, William Scranton of Pennsylvania, and Robert Stafford of Vermont. Of these, Mathias, Scranton, and Stafford represented the moderate to liberal wing of the party while Dole, Anderson, and Ashbrook were of the conservative wing. Anderson would shift to the former camp by the Nixon Administration. One of the most interesting ones, however, was Paul Findley (1921-2019) of Illinois.

In his first four years of Congress, Findley was almost indistinguishable from the most conservative of Republicans. In 1962, he managed to put a major dent in the Kennedy program when he successfully killed the administration’s feed grain proposal, which was recommitted by ten votes. In 1963, Findley pushed against the Kennedy Administration giving food for peace funds to Yugoslavia while it was providing food aid to North Vietnam. He opposed the space program on cost grounds, voted against the Peace Corps, and voted against Medicare. Findley even voted against educational television, which got the vote of the notorious penny-pincher H.R. Gross of Iowa. As he noted in 2013 about his record back then, “I believe I voted against everything. My voting record the first two years in the House showed…Well, one of the professors at Illinois College, Joe Patterson Smith, said to his friends that I was a Neanderthal, and I was. I was; there’s no doubt about it” (DePue, 81). Findley’s Americans for Constitutional Action (ACA) score for 1961-1962 was a 100%, the same as John Birch Society members John Rousselot and Edgar Hiestand of California and exceeding that of Orange County’s resident arch-conservative James B. Utt, who scored a 96%. His first vote in which he diverged from conservatism by ACA was his vote for the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Race never seemed to be an issue for Findley, as he noted, “I shared a desk with a black girl in first grade. It didn’t strike me as strange that we had blacks. I accepted them” (DePue, 13). In 1965, he appointed Frank Mitchell, the first black House page, with the cooperation of Minority Leader Gerald Ford and Minority Whip Leslie Arends.

Findley’s support for civil rights extended to fair housing legislation and by the 1970s he was opposing many proposals to curb busing. Although his conservatism persisted throughout the Johnson Administration, his record took a turn for the moderate during the Nixon Administration and there it stayed. Findley backed Nixon’s proposal for guaranteed minimum income for working families and at times he was critical of the Nixon Administration’s approach on Vietnam. In 1973, he was the central author of the War Powers Resolution, which was an attempt by Congress to reassert power over the use of the military. Findley also proved to be pro-choice and regularly voted against abortion restrictions. His position on the minimum wage also underwent a change as he backed a minimum wage increase over President Nixon’s veto in 1973 while he had opposed significant minimum wage increases in 1961 and 1966. Although by the 1970s he was a moderate, he still did push some conservative proposals, such as work requirements for food stamps and limiting Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration coverage. Findley met Yasser Arafat on a trip to Damascus, Syria as a member of the Foreign Relations Committee in 1978 and he walked away so impressed by what he thought was his commitment to peace in the region that he became a critic of Israel on the Israel-Palestine conflict. His criticisms grew with time, including calling for stopping aid to Israel. Findley even called himself “Arafat’s best friend in Congress” (Schnazer).

He was not particularly gung-ho about President Ronald Reagan and he was one of the last Republican representatives to be persuaded to vote for the Reagan tax cuts. Findley’s MC-Index score in the 97th Congress was a 42%, a stark contrast to his first term score of 100%. In 1982, he faced a strong challenger in Democrat Dick Durbin, who hit him on his support for the Palestinian side of the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict, stating “He is totally out of step on the issue. What President Reagan recognizes–what everybody but Paul Findley recognizes–is that the PLO is a force for instability in that region, not a liberation group” (Bohlen). Findley indeed thought differently. He stated before a class of college students that year, “Arafat is, I think, a very practical man who can adjust to reality if it is the only way to get a Palestinian homeland under way” (Bohlen). Redistricting wasn’t helpful for him nor was the recession, and he lost reelection by less than a point. Durbin today serves as Senate Majority Whip. Findley subsequently wrote They Dare to Speak Out (1985), in which he critiqued what he saw as the excessive influence of Israel on U.S. foreign policy and blamed Israel’s lobby for his 1982 defeat. A second edition was published in 1989 and a third in 2003. Much of Findley’s post-Congressional political activities centered on criticism of Israel. In 2002, he came out against the Iraq War and attributed 9/11 to the US’s continued support of Israel in the Israel-Palestine conflict, stating “Nine-eleven would not have occurred if the U.S. government had refused to help Israel humiliate and destroy Palestinian society” (Schnazer). Findley also attributed the invasion of Iraq to Israel’s influence. He died on August 9, 2019 at the age of 98. Findley’s overall MC-Index score was a 69%, with his average score for his first four terms being a 93% and for his subsequent terms the average was a 56%. Former Representative John Napier (R-S.C.) said of him, “We did not always agree. But he was a thoughtful person, and I admired his independence. When we disagreed, we did so agreeably, never in a disagreeable way. That, I believe, is the hallmark of statesmanship. He was a wonderful congressman who represented his constituency in an honorable manner” (Gizzi).


Bohlen, C. (1982, October 31). The 1982 Elections: The Illinois 20th District Race. The Washington Post.

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DePue, M. (2013, January 15). Interview with Paul Findley. Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library.

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Click to access Findley_Pau_4FNL.pdf

Gizzi, J. (2019, August 16). Remembering Ex-GOP Rep. Paul Findley, Friend of Arafat. Newsmax.

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Remembering Ex-GOP Rep. Paul Findley, Friend of Arafat |

Schnazer, J. (2019, September). The Congressman Who Hated Israel. Commentary Magazine.

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The Congressman Who Hated Israel

Seelye, K.Q. (2019, August 14). Paul Findley, Congressman Behind War Powers Act, Dies at 98. The New York Times.

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Walter Baring: Nevada’s Dissident Democrat

See the source image

In 1936, 25-year old Walter Baring (1911-1975) was elected to the Nevada Assembly as a New Deal Democrat. Despite his support for President Franklin D. Roosevelt, he would in the very next year speak out against his “court packing plan” early, which initially landed him in some hot water. Although this would be his first significant dissent from liberal Democrats, it would portend his antagonism towards the ideology of his own party later in life.

Baring’s first election to Congress was in 1948, riding President Truman’s shock election wave and defeating Republican incumbent Charles Russell by 761 votes. He was for the most part a supporter of President Truman and the Fair Deal during this time. However, once again there were some signs of future trouble for his adherence to liberalism. In 1952, Baring began to oppose foreign aid and that year he voted to override President Truman’s veto of the McCarran-Walter Immigration Act. That year, he narrowly lost reelection to Republican Cliff Young as Dwight Eisenhower won the presidency in a landslide. Baring was not one to give up though, in 1954 he tried again only to lose by a greater margin. But after Young decided to give up his House seat to run for the Senate, Baring tried once again and won, and this time he would stay.

Baring remained a staunch anti-communist domestic liberal but had taken to consistently voting against foreign aid. He appealed greatly to rural Nevadans who saw no direct benefits of foreign aid and appreciated his frankness as well as his commitment to constituent service. Although Baring initially supported President Kennedy and his New Frontier programs, by 1962 he was having second thoughts and by the next year he was a full-fledged opponent of him and liberal Democrats generally. Baring’s shift also appeared in his words when he said before the Reno Chamber of Commerce in 1962, “I am seriously concerned over the foreign aid give-away programs and the constant spirit of defeatism which has existed over the last 10 years…The constantly increasing federal controls through centralization of government activities are extremely detrimental to the American way of life” (Evans). Nevada’s delegation was all-Democratic in the 1960s, with Senators Alan Bible and Howard Cannon, while not being rubber stamps for Democratic presidents, backing them on many significant issues, but with Baring his hostility to the national Democratic platform was all too apparent. His shift also came about on civil rights. Baring had previously backed a mandatory Fair Employment Practices Committee during the Truman Administration and had supported the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960, but he became a foe of most such measures, voting against the comprehensive Civil Rights Act of 1964 and opposing other measures to combat racial discrimination in employment and housing. That vote nearly cost him renomination. Baring was not above using racial appeals in his campaigning, and in the 1964 primary, he distributed leaflets of his opponent, Ralph Denton, pictured next to Dr. Charles I. West, a black physician and civil rights activist. His campaign also distributed a flyer in white neighborhoods that read, “The colored people are calling for the defeat of your congressman, Walter Baring, because he has the courage to stand up and vote against the unconstitutional civil rights bill. He warned that if the bill were passed, there would be riots and unrest in this country. Congressman Baring stood up for us, now let’s stand up for him” (Nevada Public Radio). Baring even opposed a measure protecting minorities from violent interference in the exercise of their civil rights in 1967 and hinted his support for George Wallace’s candidacy in 1968 when he stated, “Wallace is the only candidate on the presidential level who is talking Americanism” (Evans). Although he believed that the civil rights movement had been inspired by communism and thought Martin Luther King Jr. was in league with subversives, he made exceptions to this opposition to civil rights in his support for the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Jury Selection and Service Act of 1968. In 1965, Baring voted against the Immigration and Nationality Act, which ended the national origins quota system.

Baring clashed with both the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations as well as Senators Bible and Cannon. In 1962, he fought a proposed establishment of the Great Basin National Park as it would reduce land for grazing for Nevada’s ranchers and seemingly because of an announced increase in grazing fees by Interior Secretary Stewart Udall. Baring supported his own plan which gave much more leeway to ranchers as well as mining interests and would be inconsistent with standards for national parks. According to Gary Elliott (254), as a consequence of Baring’s antagonism as well as the subsequent Sagebrush Rebellion, “In 1985 Nevada was the only state that had failed to pass a wilderness bill as provided for in the national Wilderness Act of 1964. In 1986, more than a decade after Baring’s death and Bible’s retirement, Nevada finally secured the Great Basin National Park. It consists of 72,000 acres with guaranteed mining and grazing rights”. Baring’s antagonism of President Johnson also caused a delay in the southern Nevada water project in 1965 and although Johnson made it seem like he might kill the project the truth was that Senators Bible and Cannon remained his supporters so he signed it. His antagonism wasn’t limited to political figures, calling east coast liberals “egg-headed atheists” and denouncing left-wing anti-war activists, supporting the idea that “beatniks, pacifists, and draft-dodgers be sent to Moscow” (Elliott, 248). However, Baring would keep winning renomination and reelection by appealing to rural areas and gaining significant Republican crossover support. His personal motto was, “Nobody likes Walter Baring but the voters” (Evans). He also backed federal money for Nevada and was a consistent supporter of increased funding for highways.

By 1972, Baring had become increasingly vulnerable. Majorities in Clark (Las Vegas) and Washoe (Reno) County would vote against him in his primary elections and those areas were growing. Worse yet for him, his health problems were growing too. Baring weighed 250 pounds and he was a heavy smoker. Rumors of his ill health sprung from a hospitalization during the campaign and contributed to his primary defeat by James Bilbray, who was considerably more liberal. Baring, however, had the last laugh. He endorsed Bilbray’s Republican opponent, David Towell, who went on to win a single term. He had ideas to run for governor in 1974, but these were dashed with his emphysema diagnosis and his weakening heart. On July 13, 1975, Walter Baring died during an operation for surgery on his hip as his heart and lungs gave out under the stress. His lifetime MC-Index score is 55%, with his score before 1963 being 22%, while 1963 until his renomination loss is 88%.


1964 Election, Part 1. (2015, January 17). Nevada Public Radio.

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Elliott, G.E. (1991). Whose Land Is It? The Battle For the Great Basin National Park, 1957-1967. Nevada Historical Society Quarterly, 34(1).

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Evans, K.J. (1999, February 7). Walter Baring. Las Vegas Review-Journal.

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Walter Baring

The Speech That Delayed Free Trade Between the US and Canada for a Lifetime

Speaker of the House Champ Clark, D-Mo.

The idea of reciprocal trade between the US and Canada was nothing new: the nations had it with the Reciprocity Treaty between 1855 and 1866, when the US Congress voted to cancel it. After the Canadian confederation in 1867, Prime Minister John A. Macdonald tried to resurrect the agreement to no avail, and Canadian politics in turn grew more protectionist.

Although President William Howard Taft was a Republican and Republicans were the protectionist party that had successfully with the Payne-Aldrich Tariff only slightly reduced tariffs, he thought that free trade between America’s neighbor to the north would be good for both nations, thus he and his administration tried to negotiate an agreement with Canada. This proposal was well-received at the time, and in the House the proposal passed by a commanding margin of 268-89 on April 21, 1911. The vote split Republicans and received all but ten Democratic votes. The Senate passed the bill 53-27 on July 22, 1911 again splitting Republicans and all but three Democratic senators voted for. Despite overwhelming Democratic support, it was the speech of the Democratic Speaker of the House, Champ Clark of Missouri, which brought this proposal’s doom. Speaking in support before the House, Clark rejoiced, “I look forward to the time when the American flag will fly over every square foot of British North America up to the North Pole. The people of Canada are of our blood and language” (Allan, 17). Clark proceeded to suggest that this measure was the first step to the eventual annexation of Canada, which met with applause in the House. This didn’t sit well with Canadians, who had no wish to be subject to Manifest Destiny and in the 1911 election voted to oust the government of Liberal Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier, widely regarded as Canada’s greatest, for Conservative Robert Borden, who had used Clark’s speech to great effect during his campaign and pulled Canada out of the agreement. Canada in that day and age had a patriotism that was tied with sticking with Britain rather than independent identity. Clark would remain speaker until 1919, helping President Woodrow Wilson pass his New Freedom policies but opposing American entry into World War I. He would after losing reelection in 1920 die two days before he was to leave office in 1921.

Despite Democratic emphasis on lower tariffs during the Roosevelt and Truman Administrations and Eisenhower’s support of continuing presidential powers under the Reciprocal Trade Act, an agreement between the US and Canada remained dead. However, trade barriers did start to lower between the nations starting in 1935 with a number of bilateral agreements. It would be up to an American born in 1911 to at last fulfill reciprocal trade with Canada: Ronald Reagan.

In 1982, Canada ended the power of British parliament to amend the Constitution, making Canada a sovereign nation. Patriotism was no longer tied to affinity with Britain yet was tied to an independent Canadian identity. This time, both governments were run by conservative politicians: in Canada Brian Mulroney and in America Ronald Reagan. In May 1986, Canada initiated negotiations with the United States and this time it was Liberal politicians who brought up the specter of American domination. Liberal leader John Turner strongly opposed the agreement and New Democratic Party leader Ed Broadbent held that Canada would become in all but name the “51st state” of the US (Blake, 22).
In the US, the debate was far less controversial than in 1911, and on October 4, 1987, the US and Canada reached an agreement and on January 2, 1988 it was signed. In the House the proposal passed 366-40 on August 9, 1988 and in the Senate 83-9 on September 19, 1988, with the votes not breaking along liberal-conservative lines. This agreement would stick until it was replaced with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), negotiated by George Bush, Mulroney, and Carlos Salinas de Gortari of Mexico.


Allan, C. (2009). Bomb Canada: And other unkind remarks in the American media. Athabasca, AB: Athabasca University Press.

Blake, R.B. (2007). Transforming the nation: Canada and Brian Mulroney. Montreal, QC: McGill-Queen’s University Press.