Who Should Be More Famous? Huey Long or Russell Long?

In politics, among other ways of classifying people, there are work horses and show horses. One can look at the Democratic Long family for examples. While as governor, Huey Long (1893-1935) was both a work horse and a show horse through his building roads and free textbooks for schoolchildren, in the Senate he was far more a show horse.


Although a believer in progressive causes, Long was mercenary in his politics, demonstrating little loyalty to FDR while demanding absolute loyalty from his followers. On the issues of veterans, trade, foreign affairs and the National Industrial Recovery Act, Long bucked Roosevelt. On certain other issues, such as taxes and social insurance, he agitated from Roosevelt’s left with “Share the Wealth” programs, which aimed to redistribute wealth by placing a floor and a ceiling on income and limitations on inheritance. According to biographer T. Harry Williams, his goal was ultimately the presidency, which he sought to win in 1940. He would do this by dividing Democrats in 1936 so a Republican would be elected, and then he would defeat the Republican next election. Long’s machinations were ultimately for naught as he was felled by the bullets of the son-in-law of a political rival in 1935. This was not the end of the Long legacy, for it was…long. Other Longs who would serve included his wife Rose for the remainder of his term, his son Russell in the Senate, his brothers Earl and George as governor and representative, and his cousins Gillis and Speedy as representatives. The most significant of these figures on the national scene was Russell.


Russell Long (1918-2003) served in the Senate from 1949-1987, and in such a time a legislator is bound to have accomplishments, and did he ever. Although a drinking problem hindered him in the 1960s and cost him his position as Assistant Majority Leader in 1969, he regained his effectiveness after quitting drinking. Good legislators have one or two areas of expertise, and Long’s was taxes, which made him a highly suitable for his most prominent role, chair of the Senate Finance Committee from 1966-1981. While Huey Long was fiery, charismatic, and a great orator, Russell Long was an unpolished speaker and highly detail-oriented. Russell Long was responsible for a number of provisions in the tax code, including permitting a taxpayer to earmark $1 of taxes for presidential campaign financing, tax breaks for business that help workers purchase a share of the company, and most notably the Earned Income Tax Credit (The New York Times). The younger Long in truth was a work horse. In a number of ways was different from his father. Huey Long had been a staunch supporter of tax increases on the rich, while Russell supported cutting taxes on individuals and business and voted for the Reagan tax cuts. Huey fought the oil industry while Russell was highly supportive of the oil industry of his home state. Huey Long had championed his “Share the Wealth” programs, while Russell Long opposed the Family Assistance Plan, a central feature being guaranteed minimum income. However, like Huey, Russell supported numerous programs expanding government, including the bulk of the Fair Deal and Great Society. He also wielded considerable power as chair of the Senate Finance Committee.

Although the trend of the 1970s in the House and Senate was for committee chairs to decline in their power, Long’s power grew during this period. He managed to run his committee in a way that gave him personal power over other committee members while giving all members of the committee a role in crafting legislation. Long was also the master of winning battles on major issues while conceding on many smaller ones and calling his victories “compromises”. As his colleague Bob Packwood (R-Ore.) noted, “Russell realizes the best way to pants a guy is when he doesn’t know he’s been pantsed” (CQ Almanac 1977). Although few people had bad things to say about Long given his amiable disposition, his effectiveness could at times frustrate his opponents. Sen. William Proxmire (D-Wis.), known for pushing tax reform, once expressed his frustration after a floor battle in 1964, “If a man murdered a crippled, enfeebled orphan at high noon on the public square in plain view of a thousand people, I am convinced after today’s performance that if the senator from Louisiana represented the guilty murderer, the jury would not only find the murderer innocent, they would award the defendant a million dollars on the ground the victim had provoked him” (CQ Almanac 1977). Although Russell Long lacked presidential aspirations and was more moderate in his demeanor and his proposals, I suggest that he actually had more impact on American government than Huey and deserves more recognition.

While a political legend, Huey Long’s workhorse behavior didn’t really leave his home state. Some historically-minded have found Huey Long in the demagoguery of President Trump, but there’s no evidence that Trump was inspired by him. Huey is regarded more as a cautionary tale for the despotic means he used to consolidate his power in Louisiana, including creating a secret police. For Russell on the other hand, although low income workers who are not on welfare probably don’t know who he was, they see his contribution every time they do their taxes. His time in national politics was 38 years, while his father’s was a mere 3. Russell got things done in the Senate, while Huey had a great public influence in his short time.


(10 May 2003). Former Senator Russell B. Long Dies at 84. The New York Times.

Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2003/05/10/us/former-senator-russell-b-long-dies-at-84.html

Senate Finance: The Fiefdom of Russell Long. CQ Almanac 1977.

Retrieved from


That Time When the Republican Party Supported Guaranteed Minimum Income

The notion of Republicans supporting guaranteed minimum income seems as remote today as it did in 1950, when they were solidly against President Truman’s proposed sequel to the New Deal, the Fair Deal. They had managed with Southern Democrats to kill most of those proposals. However, much changed in twenty years. Although President Richard Nixon had run for office in 1968 on a platform of moderate conservatism and had capitalized on opposition to the Great Society, by 1970 it was clear that he was not following a conservative course. This was highly apparent in his administration’s proposal for guaranteed minimum income in the form of the Family Assistance Plan, announced in 1969. This proposal had been crafted principally by special assistant Daniel P. Moynihan, who would serve in the Senate from New York as a liberal Democrat from 1977-2001. The reasons behind this proposal and Nixon’s acceptance of it derived from the following political realities:

“. The discovery and identification of poverty as a national problem and the commitment by President Johnson to eliminate poverty.

.The riots on the street and the quiet hunger in the countryside – both of which have been attributed in some degree to the malfunctioning of the welfare system.

. The shift of thinking of welfare as a nonenforceable privilege over to thinking of it as a legal right to stated benefits in response to objectively determined needs.

. The revolt by state and local taxpayers who see the escalating costs of welfare as too much for them to bear without at least some new sharing arrangement with Washington.”

(Lampman, 1-2).

This shift in realities stemming from the 1960s combined with a Republican willingness to support Nixon’s initiatives resulted in increased ideological flexibility. Republicans were backing proposals under Nixon that they would have decried under Democratic presidents. The clearest example is the contrast of the House vote between the Brannan Plan and the Family Assistance Plan.

Twenty-one years earlier the GOP had voted down the Brannan Plan in the House by a vote of 160-4, a Fair Deal proposal that if enacted would have provided guaranteed minimum income for farmers in exchange for the free market determining the price of agricultural commodities. The measure’s death came from a combination of rural legislators who were happy with existing price supports and conservatives who opposed the idea of guaranteed minimum income. The Family Assistance Plan on the other hand, achieved a GOP House vote of 102-72. The exchange in this case was a guaranteed federal payment of $1600 a year to an family of four with no income, with poor working families eligible for payments on a decreasing scale based on income in exchange for requiring the head of the household to register for work or training (Welfare Reform, CQ Almanac 1970). The measure also promised to save states 10-30% on welfare costs. Since the bill was passed under a closed rule, liberal Democrats had no chance to amend the bill more to their liking, but most voted for it as the opportunity would arise in the Senate. Something to know about the House is that for better or worse, the House is a more efficient body for legislation. The Senate, being the chamber of debate, would give this measure a far harder time.

While in the House, most of the opposition to the Family Assistance Plan had come from conservative Republicans and Democrats, but in the Senate it attracted criticism from liberal Senators Abraham Ribicoff (D-Conn.) and Fred R. Harris (D-Okla.), who found that the job opportunities and benefits were not enough. This critique split liberal votes, as Ribicoff ultimately voted it out of committee while Harris opposed. Joining the opposition was Sen. Albert Gore Sr. (D-Tenn.), who had led the charge against the Brannan Plan when he was serving in the House. Conservatives, led by John J. Williams (R-Del.), opposed the measure on the grounds of cost, that it would substantially increase the welfare rolls, and would not end the “welfare trap”. Williams doggedly demanded figures and questioned HEW Secretary Elliot L. Richardson on them, and found that for Northern welfare recipients, the “welfare trap” existed in this legislation. As the benefits of welfare declined with rising income, there would be a range of income in which the worker would not be incentivized to make more as they would lose out more money on welfare than gain from the added pay. The measure also gained a powerful foe in Finance Committee chair Russell Long (D-La.), the son of populist demagogue Huey Long, whose suspicion of the measure was summed up in this sentence: “For all the defects of the present system, the mind of man is always capable of devising something worse” (Welsh). Ultimately, the measure proved too divisive for Republicans and Democrats of conservative and liberal stripes, resulting in the proposal’s death. The Nixon Administration would continue trying until dropping the issue during the 1972 election.


“HR 5345. Amend the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938, As Amended. On Gore Amend.” Govtrack.

Retrieved from https://www.govtrack.us/congress/votes/81-1949/h67

Lampman, R.J. (November 1969). Nixon’s Family Assistance Plan. Institute for Research on Poverty.

Retrieved from https://www.irp.wisc.edu/publications/dps/pdfs/dp5769.pdf

“To Pass H.R. 16311.” Govtrack.

Retrieved from https://www.govtrack.us/congress/votes/91-1970/h222

“Welfare Reform: Disappointment for the Administration.” CQ Almanac 1970.

Retrieved from https://library.cqpress.com/cqalmanac/document.php?id=cqal70-1292329

Welsh, J. (7 January 1973). Welfare reform: born Aug. 8, 1969; died, Oct. 4, 1972 – A sad case study of the American political process. The New York Times.

Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/1973/01/07/archives/welfare-reform-born-aug-8-1969-died-oct-4-1972-a-sad-case-study-of.html


The Blind Toms of the Senate: Thomas Gore and Thomas Schall

Thomas Gore


Thomas Schall


Even in the days before measures like the Americans with Disabilities Act, it was possible for the blind to make their way in politics, albeit difficult. Two people who made it were Oklahoma Democrat Thomas Gore (1870-1949) and Minnesota Republican Thomas Schall (1878-1935). In spite of difference in party, both men had many things in common. They both had been blind as the result of accident: Thomas Gore had been blinded as a child as the result of two accidents, and Thomas Schall had been blinded as a young man as the result of getting an electric shock from a cigar lighter. They were both aided significantly by their devoted wives. Gore managed to be elected as one of Oklahoma’s first two Senators in 1907 and Schall managed to get elected to the House in 1914. Both men also started out as progressives.

Thomas Gore first ran for Congress as a Populist from Texas in 1898 and identified with the anti-war left during World War I. He had also been an early supporter of Woodrow Wilson and eagerly supported his domestic agenda, aimed at helping farmers. The married Gore faced a crisis in 1914 when his political opponents attempted to set him up. That year he was running for reelection, and a woman named Minnie Bond asked him to meet her in her hotel room to discuss a job for her husband. After the meeting, she claimed that Gore had “taken advantage of her” (Burke). After prosecutors refused to charge him, she filed a $50,000 suit, but the jury exonerated him. Thomas Schall, on the other hand, had sided with Theodore Roosevelt in the 1912 GOP split and served a term as a member of the Progressive Party before returning to the Republican Party. Fortunately, Schall never had to deal with a such a scurrilous accusation. Neither man, however, seemed fond of going with the flow of their times. Gore’s independence cost him renomination in 1920 and Schall was unafraid to disagree with conservative political orthodoxy in the 1920s nor with liberal political upheaval in the 1930s. He was also, in spite of his condition, a crack shot. Both men also were conservatives by the time FDR was inaugurated. While perhaps not being FDR’s most conservative critic on the New Deal, Schall was one of its harshest, stating that he was “the first Communist president of the United States…acclaimed in the Communists Russian newspapers” (Michaels, 77). Perhaps he thought that being a fellow disabled person, he was free to unleash the most hostile of criticisms. Thomas Gore was likewise an opponent of the New Deal, and was disgusted by the idea of distributing welfare for the sake of gaining votes. He looked negatively upon those who would seek work relief, writing “The dole spoils the soul” (Patterson, 23). He was also one of Gore Vidal’s grandfathers.

Both men’s careers also did not survive FDR’s first term. Schall had narrowly pulled through in his 1930 reelection bid and was likely to face a tough challenge from left-wing Farmer-Labor Governor Floyd Olson. But, tragedy befell both men. Schall and his aide were struck by a hit-and-run driver on December 19, 1935, with him dying three days later. In the same month, Olson was diagnosed with stomach cancer and succumbed to it the following year. Gore’s opposition to the New Deal was unaccompanied by control or influence over the state political machines, resulting in his losing renomination in 1936 given the New Deal’s popularity in Oklahoma. Perhaps Gore’s success in spite of blindness and his inability to literally see the problems of Oklahomans influenced his judgements on the New Deal. Schall was likely influenced by a personal animosity to Roosevelt as well as his ability to overcome obstacles in spite of his condition.


Brown, C. (19 November 2016). Thomas Schall overcame blindness to serve Minnesota in Congress. Star Tribune.

Retrieved from http://www.startribune.com/thomas-schall-overcame-blindness-to-serve-minnesota-in-congress/402059735/

Burke, B. “Gore, Thomas Pryor”. The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture.

Retrieved from http://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=GO013

Michaels, J. (2017). McCarthyism: The realities, delusions, and politics behind the 1950s red scare. New York, NY: Routledge.

Patterson, J.T. (1967). Congressional conservatism and the new deal: The growth of the conservative coalition in Congress, 1933-1939. Lexington, KY: The University of Kentucky Press.


Thomas Schall’s target practice.



Truth is Stranger Than Fiction: Pre-WWII Non-Interventionists More Likely to Support Civil Rights at Home Than Interventionists

One would think that people who harbor prejudice would stick together and vote as a bloc. Thus, Southern Democrats who supported Jim Crow should by natural extension at least give moral support to a foreign leader who also stood for white supremacy…Adolf Hitler. It logically should follow that those who opposed Jim Crow should also naturally fall into supporting action against Hitler. In regards to this question, I examined how representatives voted on two pieces of legislation: the Neutrality Act of 1939, an FDR-backed law which ended the arms embargo that prevented the United States from shipping arms to nations in conflict, and the anti-lynching bill in 1940 that would have prescribed federal penalties for lynching. I chose these two measures because the votes only took place a few months from each other, thus most people who voted on the neutrality proposal would also be voting on the anti-lynching proposal. Among the representatives who voted on or held official positions on these two measures, the breakdown is as follows:

Among interventionists, 56% of them voted against the anti-lynching bill. The single largest voting bloc in support of intervention was the South. This may surprise the casual observer, but Southern Democrats had been supporting Wilsonian internationalism at least since the Versailles Treaty was debated by the Senate. In the region where the KKK was most likely to thrive and had racial laws that influenced Adolf Hitler also stood as the region that most wanted to do something about him.

Among non-interventionists, 95% of them voted for the anti-lynching bill. One of its two prime sponsors was Hamilton Fish III (R-N.Y.), a prominent non-interventionist and opponent of the New Deal who was on deeply unfriendly personal terms with FDR. The people who opposed the U.S. doing something about Adolf Hitler also stood as highly likely to support measures to protect black civil rights at home. This contingent even included bigoted non-interventionists: Congressmen Jacob Thorkelson of Montana, Martin Sweeney of Ohio, and John Schafer of Wisconsin were staunch anti-Semites but voted for this bill. The largest bloc of support for non-interventionist and civil rights proposals at the time was the Republican Party, which had opposed the Versailles Treaty in the form Wilson wanted it and had grown increasingly disinterested in involving the U.S. in foreign affairs.

In our present day, we live in a society that is profoundly racially conscious and it is so to the point that people like to think in those terms about historical policy support and opposition. But there isn’t always a consistency here.


“To Agree to the Conference Report on H.J. Res. 306.” Govtrack.

Retrieved from https://www.govtrack.us/congress/votes/76-2/h93

“To Pass H.R. 801, A Bill to Make Lynching a Federal Crime.” Govtrack.

Retrieved from https://www.govtrack.us/congress/votes/76-3/h96

Constituency Creation Through Federal Benefits: Democrats Use It Most Today, But Republicans Pioneered It

Most domestic spending programs are commonly associated with the Democratic Party and rightly so, particularly entitlement spending. However, they were not the first ones to dispense massive federal benefits and court political favor for it. The first party to do so was the Republican Party in their aggressive pushing of Union veterans benefits.

After the Civil War, the Republican Party became increasingly generous in doling out veterans benefits. At the conclusion of the Civil War, the Pension Bureau had been formed with the purpose of reviewing pension claims. These were initially for soldiers who had been wounded while in service. However, applicants for benefits found that if their claims were rejected they could appeal to Congress, its Northern members, especially Republicans, all too happy to dole out funds with little regard for investigating the legitimacy of claims. The purpose this served was to win the votes of Union veterans. Indeed, a strong lobby had formed on behalf of their interests called the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR). For a time, it was not possible to win the nomination to any major office as a Republican if you weren’t endorsed by the GAR. All Republican presidents from Grant to McKinley were Union veterans, and the only president who challenged pension claims was Democrat Grover Cleveland, who had paid someone to serve in the war in his place (yes, this was allowed back then). Over half of Cleveland’s 584 vetoes were of Civil War pension claims. The scope of these benefits was quite large: from 1866 to 1902 the number of beneficiaries increased from over 100,000 to 1 million, 21% of white males 55 and older were on pension rolls by 1900, and the program’s share of federal spending had increased from 3% to 30% (Costa, 1998). The average benefits for Union veterans were comparable to Social Security today. This constituted a leg of the table keeping the Republican Party dominant, as they ensured veteran loyalty at the polls. In 1879, the Arrears of Pension Act was signed by Rutherford B. Hayes, which permitted all Union veterans to reapply for pension and receive back payments to the date of their discharge, regardless when they last applied. In 1887, Grover Cleveland vetoed the Dependent and Disability Pension Act, which would have provided pensions for all veterans who served at least ninety days in service of the Union, were honorably discharged from service, and unable to perform manual labor. Cleveland thought this action might lose him reelection, and he was right: the GAR mobilized against him, costing him critical swing states of Indiana and New York, resulting in his defeat to Benjamin Harrison. He would sign the pension bill in 1890. The final expansion of these benefits would occur with Theodore Roosevelt’s Executive Order declaring all veterans over age 62 eligible for a pension, making old age classified as a disability.

The politics surrounding these pensions were often characterized by sectional tensions and angers. This trend was bitterly opposed by Southern Democrats, who still harbored ill feelings about the loss of the Civil War and were additionally peeved that Confederate veterans received no federal benefits. No Southern Democrat, for instance, voted for the Dependent and Disability Pension Act. A telling episode of pension politics highlighted the stark differences. In 1884, the House passed a bill providing pensions for veterans of the Mexican American War, with most Democrats and a little over half of Republicans in support. When the measure reached the Senate, however, the Republicans managed to narrowly block a Democratic effort at making Confederate veterans eligible for Mexican-American War benefits, with Senate Democrats overwhelmingly voting against the measure. The House would kill the Senate’s version of the bill for exclusion of Confederate veterans. Southern Democrats managed to score a partial victory when in 1887 they succeeded in getting pensions for veterans of the Mexican-American War, many who also went on to serve in the Confederate Army.

Democrats appear to have learned well from Republicans on this subject: Social Security effectively gave the vast majority of people an old-age pension, and ninety days of war service wasn’t even a prerequisite! The measure also provided unemployment and disability benefits, creating the modern welfare state. Social Security is often heralded as a great achievement in human welfare, but it was also a stroke of political genius: Democrats won working class and poor Americans of all races for several generations. The Social Security Act would be amended in 1965 to create Medicare and Medicaid, investing the elderly in maintaining a large federal government as well as future retirees. By 2016, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid made up 78% of mandatory spending and almost 50% of overall spending (CBO). While the Republican Civil War pensions were for the purposes of rewarding and providing for those who fought to preserve the union but also to secure their votes, the Democratic Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are for the purposes of providing a safety net for the elderly and poor but also to commit these groups into supporting a large federal government. The ideology behind these approaches is different overall as well: while policies surrounding Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid fall under the liberal-conservative spectrum, Civil War pension politics were regional in nature and based on differences in views about the outcome of the Civil War.


Costa, D.L. (January 1998). The Evolution of Retirement: An American Economic History, 1880-1990. National Bureau of Economic Research. University of Chicago Press, 197-212.


The Federal Budget in 2016. Congressional Budget Office.

Retrieved from https://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/115th-congress-2017-2018/graphic/52408-budgetoverall.pdf

“To Amend H.R. 5667, By Repealing Section 4716 of the Revised Statutes, Declaring That No Money Shall be Paid to Any Person, or Their Heirs, who Voluntarily Aided and Abetted the Late Rebellion Against the Authority of the United States.” Govtrack.

Retrieved from https://www.govtrack.us/congress/votes/48-1/s220

“To Suspend the Rules and Pass H.R. 5667, A Bill Granting Pensions to Soldiers and Sailors of the Mexican War. (P. 1569-1).” Govtrack.

Retrieved from https://www.govtrack.us/congress/votes/48-1/h35

“To Pass H.R. 5667. (P. 5529-2).” Govtrack.

Retrieved from https://www.govtrack.us/congress/votes/48-1/s223

Trump Tariff Increases on Allies the Product of Over Eighty Years of Legislative Power Surrenders

From the ratification of the Constitution to the mid-20th Century, one of the center focuses of American politics were tariffs. Although they have gained recently in attention as compared to 10-20 years ago, tariffs divided regions and parties. A neo-Confederate revisionist school of thought on the Civil War even goes as far as to claim that trade disputes were primarily responsible for the conflict. Much of Congressional debate would simply come down to what goods to raise or reduce tariffs. Southerners historically stood against high tariffs (but were not free traders per se) as they harmed cotton and tobacco exports, while Northerners supported high tariffs as they helped shield a growing American industry from foreign competition. When debates on tariff legislation occurred, the Senate would be inundated with votes on amendments to raise or cut tariffs on specific items such as pearl buttons, needles, toys, and various dyes. Regionalism often played a role in support or opposition to specific tariffs, but on final votes the trade issue would be voted on staunchly partisan lines. A pattern would emerge: Republicans get in power and raise tariffs, Democrats would get back in power and cut tariffs, and so on and so on. Finally, a reckoning came for this sort of archaic politics after the Smoot-Hawley Tariff proved that the tariff aspect of the “American System” of economics envisioned by Alexander Hamilton had run out of gas. Enter one of the greatest political game changers in American history: FDR.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt, not wanting to merely enact tariff cuts that could be easily reversed when Republicans returned to power, proposed the Reciprocal Trade Act in 1934. This law vested in the executive tremendous power for negotiating trade agreements. Republicans howled at the surrendering of legislative power, but Congressional Democrats, effectively being a rubber stamp for the President’s agenda under the Speakership of longtime pol Henry Rainey of Illinois, gladly voted for this measure that would give tariff cuts more permanency. Few in the party opposed, but one of the most significant opponents was Sen. Carter Glass (D-Va.), a co-founder of the Federal Reserve. Although normally a proponent of lower tariffs, he was also alarmed at the rate of growth of the power of the executive branch through the New Deal and opposed this measure as another surrender of legislative power. Although many Republicans opposed because they knew the result would be lower tariffs, Glass’s opposition stands as the most lasting in its relevance. This was only the beginning of a trend of Congress opting to surrender its power to the President. Congress surrendered authority in numerous ways, including section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, which permits tariff increases in the name of national security.

In present day, we see a situation in which President Trump can unilaterally raise tariffs on our allies through a bizarre interpretation of section 232, an action practically no other political actor in the country has taken to publicly support. This is a long-run consequence of a Democratic Congress of over eighty years ago deciding to lead the way in surrendering constitutional prerogatives to the executive branch on the subject, with subsequent Democratic Congresses being all too happy to follow this trend. Had this particular proposal been required to go through legislative approval first, it wouldn’t have passed and probably wouldn’t have gotten out of committee. The question now is, will Congress try to take back some power?


Cost, J. (5 March 2018). Congress Handed to the President the Power to Level Tariffs. National Review.

Retrieved from https://www.nationalreview.com/2018/03/tariffs-congress-handed-president-power-to-levy/

Fry, J.A. (2002). Dixie looks abroad: the south and U.S. foreign relations, 1789-1973. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press.

Golshan, T. (8 March 2018). Why Trump can raise steel tariffs without Congress. Vox.

Retrieved from https://www.vox.com/2018/3/8/17097206/trump-tariffs-congress

The Other Senate Manifesto

Perhaps the most famous “manifesto” to come out of the Senate was the Southern Manifesto, which was an expression of opposition to desegregation, Brown v. Board of Education, and proposed federal civil rights legislation. This proposal gained the signatures of most Southern Democrats in both chambers, with two Virginia House Republicans joining in. Although important for the South during the civil rights era, I argue that another manifesto was more influential in the long run. This was drafted in response to the New Deal in 1937, called the Conservative Manifesto.

At the time, the economy was undergoing the “Roosevelt Recession”, the first major downturn since 1933. Additionally, FDR had blundered in promoting his “court packing plan” and sit-down strikes evoked public ire. Conservatives of both parties in the Senate saw these events as their chance to offer alternatives to the New Deal. The Conservative Manifesto was primarily drafted by Senators Josiah Bailey (D-N.C.) and Arthur Vandenberg (R-Mich.), with contributions from Millard Tydings (D-Md.), Harry Byrd (D-Va.), Royal Copeland (D-N.Y.), Edward Burke (D-Neb.), and Warren Austin (R-Vt.). This document consisted of a ten-point program that ran counter to the direction the New Deal was taking:

1. Immediate revision of taxes on capital gains and undistributed profits in order to free investment funds.
2.    Reduced expenditures to achieve a balanced budget, and thus, to still fears deterring business expansion.
3.    An end to coercion and violence in relations between capital and labor.
4.    Opposition to “unnecessary” government competition with private enterprise.
5.    Recognition that private investment and enterprise require a reasonable profit.
6.    Safeguarding the collateral upon which credit rests.
7.    Reduction of taxes, or if this proved impossible at the moment, firm assurance of no further increases.
8.    Maintenance of state rights, home rule, and local self-government, except where proved definitely inadequate.
9.    Economical and non-political relief to unemployed with maximum local responsibility.

10.  Reliance upon the American form of government and the American system of enterprise.

“ (Kickler)

Among the people who had been let in on the document was Minority Leader Charles McNary (R-Ore.). A moderate, he wanted to craft a GOP response to the New Deal and feared that any Republicans who signed on to this document would be labeled a “Liberty Leaguer”. This fear was in reference to the Liberty League, the conservative organization that primarily consisted of businessmen and whose efforts at foiling Roosevelt were unsuccessful to say the least. McNary thus leaked the document to the press, not wanting competition with his proposals (Moore, 32). This leak resulted in many senators distancing themselves from the document as FDR was very popular, but Bailey assumed public responsibility for drafting it. These ideas formed a basis for the modern conservative movement and were influential for the policies promoted by the Conservative Coalition, formed after the 1938 midterms. This alliance of Republicans and conservative Democrats would frequently foil or outright block from consideration liberal domestic legislation from 1939 to 1959 and would retain influence up until conservatism became identified almost entirely with the GOP. The ideas behind the document, although their popularity would ebb and flow, have fully become bedrock ideas of the Republican Party and have gained in public perception. While race has greater salience in the general public consciousness than ideological squabbles, hence the more attention historians give the Southern Manifesto, the Conservative Manifesto had a greater influence on the future trajectory of American politics.


Kickler, T.L. The Conservative Manifesto. North Carolina History Project.

Retrieved from https://northcarolinahistory.org/encyclopedia/the-conservative-manifesto/

Moore, J.R. (1965). Josiah W. Bailey and the “Conservative Manifesto” of 1937. The Journal of Southern History, 31(1), 21-39.

Retrieved from http://cr.middlebury.edu/amlit_civ/allen/2012%20backup/scholarship/review%20notes/new-deal-critics2.pdf


Would Theodore Roosevelt Be a Progressive Democrat Today? His VP Pick’s Political Odyssey Suggests Not.

Theodore Roosevelt was, in his time, a moderate progressive. He supported the use of government in the name of reining in trusts, reining in railroads, protecting forests, and ensuring the people did not consume contaminated foods and beverages. The moderate part of his progressiveness was noted by staunch progressive Sen. Robert La Follette (R-Wis.) in his writings, “[Roosevelt] will always say a lot of good things and half do a good many things—But it all ends rather disappointingly” (Garraty, 1962). While he was restrained from going further by a conservative Republican Congress, he was still able to achieve certain popular reforms. His legacy in the White House and particularly his 1912 run on the Bull Moose ticket suggest to many historians and political observers that were he alive today, Roosevelt would be a progressive. And it stands to reason that because he wouldn’t want to be a politically irrelevant progressive, he would also be a Democrat. Sounds crystal clear, doesn’t it? Sounds like “common sense”, doesn’t it? If only he had lived to opine on FDR’s New Deal, then we would likely know for sure. While we can’t know for sure, we can get an idea based on the political path of one of his staunchest allies, Hiram Johnson. Johnson was Roosevelt’s VP pick in the 1912 election and he lived to see the entirety of FDR’s presidency.


Having gained a reputation as a reformer in California politics who as governor was willing to take on the Pacific Railroad, Johnson was elected to the Senate in 1916. Although he voted for U.S. involvement in what at the time was known as “The Great War”, he came to regret it.  Johnson was concerned about the US becoming too involved in foreign affairs and thus was one of the leaders of the campaign against ratification of the League of Nations, being one of the “irreconcilables” in the Senate who would not be swayed by any version of the treaty.  He took a reformist position on many social issues of his day, voting for the prohibition and women’s suffrage amendments. In 1920, he sought the Republican nomination for president but lost to Warren G. Harding. In 1924, he was a strong supporter of immigration restriction, voting for the Immigration Act, which in addition to severely curtailing immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe, extended the “Asiatic Barred Zone” to Japan. He sought the Republican nomination for president that year, but was easily defeated by the conservative incumbent Calvin Coolidge. Johnson frequently found himself at odds with his party in the 1920s, opposing its limited government direction and its low tax policies. He would have fit well in this day and age, as he was completely and utterly convinced of his own beliefs and viewed the pushing of his policies as akin to a moral crusade. Johnson’s colleague and supporter, Sen. William Borah, observed of him, “When a man opposes Johnson, he hates him. He feels that the opposition is directed personally against him, not against the policy that separates them” (Olin, 97).

In 1932, Johnson, disheartened with the conservative policies of the Republican Party, crossed party lines to endorse Franklin D. Roosevelt and supported most of the early New Deal including the Tennessee Valley Authority, a program most Republicans regarded as “socialist” or “socialistic”. He reversed his prior support for prohibition by voting for the Cullen-Harrison Act, which legalized the sale of alcoholic beverages. However, Johnson wasn’t a rubber stamp for Roosevelt: he opposed invalidating gold clauses in contracts and opposed the Reciprocal Trade Act of 1934, thus remaining a Republican on certain basic policy planks.

In 1936, he endorsed FDR’s bid for reelection but the next year he turned sharply against the New Deal, which was exacerbated by FDR pushing for his “court packing plan”, which would have added six justices to the Supreme Court, all presumably friendly to the New Deal. Johnson developed a strong antipathy towards the federal bureaucracy, and in opposing federal minimum wage legislation, he stated that he “never again would give unlimited powers to an undisclosed board” (Horowitz, 145). He additionally asserted that to leave employment regulation to the federal bureaucracy would give the executive too much power over the economy. Johnson, it could be said, feared both the government and the private sector having too much power. In his mind, FDR had pushed the power too far in the government direction. Johnson was possibly the most extreme representative of the group of political figures in the Senate who were progressive until they started having second thoughts about the New Deal. Johnson was an even stronger opponent of Roosevelt on foreign policy.

Hiram Johnson voted as a staunch non-interventionist, opposing all measures he viewed as bringing the United States closer to war. This was consistent with his earlier opposition to the League of Nations. However, he was proving increasingly ineffective as a legislator, with age in addition to his views becoming out of step with the times. By 1945, he had become the most conservative member of the chamber and was one of only three senators to publicly oppose the ratification of the United Nations treaty. Appropriately enough, he died on the day of the Hiroshima atomic bombing. A “fortress America” position was no longer sustainable, and neither was he.

While Hiram Johnson is primarily known in history as one of the major progressive politicians in the “Progressive Era” who increased direct democracy as California’s governor and took on the Pacific Railroad, his later switch is less known but is consistent with his opposition to “bigness”. As a man suspicious of concentrated power anywhere, it is rather striking and speaks volumes for the unprecedented and expansive nature of the New Deal when he suddenly turned against it and efforts at expanding the government in 1937. As a progressive, Johnson had his limits and he reached them after Roosevelt won a second term. The “court packing plan” probably provided the smoking gun evidence for him that Roosevelt was akin to a modern Caesar and must be resisted. While change came from both within Johnson and the government on domestic policy, his foreign policy was unchanging from views he held in the Progressive Era. Considering that Johnson was not the only person who had once supported the Bull Moose Party but turned right during FDR’s presidency, I think the notion that Teddy Roosevelt would have been a progressive today deserves far less credence than it is given in the popular and historical view. I suggest that it is entirely possible, even probable, that the New Deal would have proven too much for Roosevelt as well had he lived to see it, and he would have shifted right. In addition to Johnson, it was also too much for his former 1912 supporters, Reps. Hamilton Fish III (R-N.Y.) and Clare Hoffman (R-Mich.). The former was a leading opponent of FDR’s domestic and foreign policies from the start of his presidency, and the latter an extreme opponent of all of FDR’s policies, going as far as to vote against Social Security. However, Johnson stands as the most prominent and intriguing example given his political closeness to Roosevelt and status as a leading progressive figure in California and the nation.


Garraty, J.A. (1962). La Follette: The Promise Unfulfilled. American Heritage, 13(3).

Retrieved from https://www.americanheritage.com/content/la-follette-promise-unfulfilled

Horowitz, D.A. (1997). Beyond left & right: Insurgency and the establishment. Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois.

Olin, S.C. (1968). California’s prodigal sons: Hiram Johnson and the progressives, 1911-1917. Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press.

Weatherson, M.A. & Bochin, H.W. (1995). Hiram Johnson: Political revivalist. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.