Since I will be on vacation for a week yet want to meet my standard of two cited articles per week, I will post both of them.
Did you know that the second coming of Christ already occurred and that he served a term in Congress? Don’t believe me? Good on you, because this blasphemy is fake news. However, there was a man who believed himself to be the second coming of Christ and served in Congress. Manuel Herrick (1876-1952) lived an odyssey as strange as the man himself. Raised in Kansas and Ohio by simplistic and religious parents who named him Immanuel, they reached the conclusion that their son was literally the second coming of Christ, and treated him so. This gave the young Herrick grand ambitions, such as attempting to rob a train at the age of 16 shortly after a doctor pronounced him “insane”. This episode resulted the first of numerous short stints in asylums throughout his life. After his release, he would preach the gospel and engage in agricultural pursuits in Oklahoma. He also regularly filed bogus lawsuits and ran for office because he liked to see his name in the newspaper.
In 1920, Herrick decided to run for Congress for the 8th Congressional District for the second time, the first time in 1918 he had only received 56 votes. The incumbent was Dick Morgan, a respected and popular Republican. However, fortune smiled on Herrick. Morgan unexpectedly died on the last day of filing for the primary. With no time for Republicans to recruit another candidate, Herrick won the nomination unopposed because he was the only person crazy enough to challenge Morgan. In a saner world, this would have constituted an easy Democratic pickup but there were two factors at play. First, Oklahoma’s 8th was the most Republican district in the state, and second, 1920 was a spectacularly bad year for Democrats. That year Republicans would win a supermajority in the House, a feat they have not pulled off since. The local Republican organization did their best to make Herrick presentable as a candidate. Although the local GOP had hoped that Congress would not seat Herrick, his eccentricities weren’t that out of place there.
Herrick gained the moniker “Okie Jesus Congressman” while in office and was aware of his own reputation, stating “I may be a nut, but I’m a tough nut to crack” (Baird & Goble, 184). While he had a very able secretary in journalist Harry Gilstrap who defended him as best he could and worked diligently on constituent service, his eccentricities and his immense gaps in knowledge of government prevented him from playing an effective role in Congress. However, it was possible for him to be right on target. Herrick saw Japan as a future threat and urged a stronger naval fleet on the Pacific Ocean, citing the Japanese sneak attack on Port Arthur in 1904 that kicked off the Russo-Japanese War. Yet, his loony side was on full display when he organized a beauty pageant, with the winner to win the prize of a wealthy man’s hand in marriage. He claimed this was part of his “research” on legislation he was proposing to ban beauty pageants on the grounds they lured young women from the home. In 1922, he attempted with a pilot to fly a plane as a part of his reelection campaign, but it crashed in Arkansas. Both Herrick and the pilot survived with only minor injuries. However, he didn’t survive renomination, losing to Judge Milton Garber later that year.
The next thirty years would not be kind to Herrick. He was sometimes homeless and in 1925, he was arrested for distilling moonshine but claimed he was an IRS agent on an undercover mission. He moved to California in 1933, where he continued his habits of filing bogus lawsuits and running for office but to no avail. In 1950, Herrick was subjected to a sanity hearing, in which a doctor who examined him testified that he exhibited symptoms of psychosis and senility. He tragically froze to death in a blizzard in the Sierras on January 11, 1952, while trekking to his mining claim outside of Quincy. Herrick is one of numerous examples that prove that anyone can be elected to Congress and that life doesn’t always go according to plan!
Baird, W.D. & Goble, D. (2008). Oklahoma: A History. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press.
Brown, P. (9 October 2007). “‘Insane’ Oklahoman ends up in Congress.” Enid News & Eagle.
Hanneman, C.G. “Herrick, Manuel.” Oklahoma Historical Society.