Fred T. Dubois: Anti-Mormon Crusader and Maverick

I know that John McCain recently passed into history, but I will write a post on him later as I already committed to writing this piece.

On July 3, 1890, Idaho was admitted to the union. Perhaps its most effective advocate for statehood was territorial delegate Fred Dubois (1851-1930), who personally lobbied President Benjamin Harrison for admission. In the process of doing so, he invoked that his grandfather had fought alongside William Henry Harrison at the Battle of Tippecanoe. This was not the only political connection Dubois had: his father had been a neighbor, friend, and supporter of Abraham Lincoln. As a child he was almost certainly a playmate of Lincoln’s children.

Dubois’s connection to the Lincoln family served him well as he managed to get Secretary of War Robert Todd Lincoln to post him as U.S. Marshal to the Idaho Territory. In this capacity, Dubois came to strongly oppose Mormons for their practice of polygamy, regarding the practice as lawless and immoral. He enforced the law with “a blatant ruffianism which in many instances violated constitutional guarantees of due process in law…” (Lowe, 4). Dubois also sided with the efforts of non-Mormons to disenfranchise them. As he wrote, “I became absolutely obsessed with the Mormon problem…The government was determined to stamp out polygamy and I felt I was the agent of the government and the people of the United States, and that the duty devolved upon me to see that the laws of the land were obeyed by the Mormon people in respect to their practices” (Lowe, 3-4). Dubois not only opposed polygamy, but the influence of the Church of Latter Day Saints (LDS) on state politics altogether.

Dubois’ acts were in a larger context of the government trying to end the practice of polygamy. In 1882, Congress passed the Edmunds Act, which prohibited polygamists from voting, holding office, or serving as jurors in cases involving multiple marriages (Schwantes, 161). For a time, he actually succeeded in his aim of disenfranchisement: the Idaho territory passed the Election Test Oath in 1885, which disenfranchised anyone who was a member of an organization that practiced polygamy, even if they didn’t do so themselves. Furthermore, they were deprived of most rights of citizenship. In 1889, the Idaho Constitutional Convention, following Dubois’ lead, wrote the oath into the Idaho Constitution. However, in 1890, LDS President Wilford Woodruff issued a manifesto forbidding further teaching and practice of polygamy, a major concession to the United States. The Test Oath was subsequently repealed in 1893, restoring Mormon suffrage. As Idaho’s delegate Dubois was not only crucial in winning its statehood but also cleverly masterminded his own election to the Senate. Although he was a Republican, Dubois was fiercely independent, taking positions not because they played well politically but because he believed they were right. Some of these went strongly against the direction of his party like his opposition to imperialism and the gold standard. The most notable one, however, was his persistent crusade against Mormons, which he did not drop after Woodruff’s 1890 manifesto. In 1896, Dubois left the Republican Party and became a “Silver Republican” but was defeated in 1897 when a coalition of Democrats and Populists took control of the Idaho state legislature and voted for Populist Henry Heitfeld. In 1900, Dubois defeated his former political ally Republican George Shoup and returned to the Senate as a Democrat, becoming the head of the party in the state (Lowe).

Dubois’ absence from the Senate had not cooled his fiery views on Mormonism. Giving fuel to his anti-Mormon pursuits was the controversy that arose in 1898 when Democrat and polygamist Brigham H. Roberts was elected to Congress from Utah’s At-Large district and not seated. This incident led to suspicions that polygamy had covertly still been in practice by the Church of Latter Day Saints. This was the backdrop for Dubois’ ferocious efforts at preventing Mormon Apostle Republican Reed Smoot, a monogamist, from being seated in the Senate.

Although rightfully elected to the Senate in 1902, Dubois and other senators opposed to Mormonism wanted Reed Smoot, one of the most powerful figures in the Church of Latter Day Saints, to be unseated. This effort expanded into a full-scale investigation of Mormonism, which found that in practice polygamous marriages were still occurring covertly. These covert polygamous marriages would not be fully cracked down on until 1909 and provided justification for anti-Mormon views. However, no evidence was uncovered in this investigation that indicated that Smoot, a man of impeccable character, was unfit for office. The fear behind Smoot’s seating was that he would put his religion before his country, which was similar to the accusations that JFK would serve the Vatican when he ran for president in 1960. Dubois’s efforts failed and the Senate voted for Smoot to be seated in 1907.  In the meantime, he supported conservation, supported William Randolph Hearst’s bid for the presidency, opposed the American occupation of the Philippines (he regarded its inhabitants as racially inferior), and continued to agitate for ending the Gold Standard. However, Dubois’ anti-Mormon stances were predictably playing poorly with the Mormon portion of the Idaho electorate, which turned strongly against the Democrats in the 1906 election. He had some awareness of what his crusade meant for his political future if he failed, writing “I myself have burned all bridges behind me, and will fight this contest out to the end, regardless of who suffers, I know, to begin with, that this ends my political career” (Lowe, 14-15). Indeed it did, as he was defeated for reelection by progressive Republican William Borah.

Dubois never returned to the Senate, but still participated in politics, supporting progressive causes and candidates regardless of party. Thus, he campaigned for Woodrow Wilson and supported the reelection of the man who defeated him, William Borah. Dubois spent his final years serving on a commission that addressed border disputes with Canada, serving from 1924 until his death on February 14, 1930.

Today it is possible for Mormons to hold positions of great power: six currently serving senators are Mormons. Dubois must have rolled over in his grave when Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), a Mormon, became the leader of the Senate Democrats in 2005. He must have done so again when the Republican Party nominated Mitt Romney as their presidential candidate in 2012.


Fred T. Dubois – Biographical Sketch. Idaho State University.

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Lowe, J.R. (1960). Fred T. Dubois, foe of the Mormons: A study of the role of Fred T. Dubois in the Senate investigation of the Hon. Reed Smoot and the Mormon Church, 1903-1907. Brigham Young University.

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Schwantes, C.A. (1996). The Pacific Northwest: An interpretive history. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.


The First Payoff President: Warren G. Harding

The most recent major political news has been on the conviction of Donald Trump’s former campaign chair Paul Manafort and his personal attorney Michael Cohen pleading guilty to making illegal “hush money” payments to Stormy Daniels allegedly at the direction of “the candidate”. Like so much in our political news, payments of hush money to mistresses are not unprecedented for presidents!

In 1920, one-term Senator Warren G. Harding of Ohio had presidential ambitions and was on the cusp of victory in the primary when he met with a group of Republican operatives. He was asked by operative George Harvey, “We think you may be nominated tomorrow. Before acting finally, we think you should tell us, on your conscience and before God, whether there is anything that might be brought up against you that would embarrass the party, any impediment that might disqualify you or make you inexpedient, either as candidate or as President” (Flynt & Eisenbach, 93). After ten minutes of thinking alone, he confidently stated, “Gentlemen, there is no reason in the sight of God why I cannot be president of the United States” (Flynt & Eisenbach, 93). However, Harding had a problem…several in fact: his extramarital affairs. His announcement of his run for president had really put out his main mistress, Carrie Phillips. She had been carrying on an affair with Harding for fifteen years and had hoped that he would serve out his term as senator, divorce his wife, and retire with her. Her hopes dashed with his presidential run, Phillips confessed the affair to her husband Jim, and they concocted a blackmail scheme.

This wasn’t the first time Carrie Phillips had blackmail on the mind: as a German sympathizer (during both World Wars, and was investigated by the feds!) she attempted to do so if he voted for war with Germany in 1917. Despite this threat, he voted for war with all but six of his fellow senators. Harding initially responded to the blackmail by buying her a new Cadillac and offering a $5,000 per year salary, but she wanted more (Boertlein). Since he could offer no more, he had to fess up to a horrified Republican National Committee about his situation. As he was already the nominee, they had no choice but to pay up. The RNC agreed to give Jim and Carrie Phillips a payout of $20,000 to take an all-expenses paid trip to Japan, China, and Korea along with $2,000 per month as long as Harding remained in office. Although this was the major payment that had to made, there were other demands after Harding was elected. Phillips demanded her brother and son-in-law be given federal posts, and the demands were met. Harding was also pressured to nominate Jim Phillips as Ambassador to Japan and briefly considered it, but the proposal was shot down given the complete lack of qualifications of the small-time shop owner from Marion, Ohio. There were other affairs as well, the most notable of these being with Nan Britton, a woman completely enamored with Harding and 31 years younger than him. Not known to the public at the time and unconfirmed until 2015 was the illegitimate child he had with Britton, who published her account in a book, The President’s Daughter.

More sex-related scandals would be revealed after President Harding’s death, including an incident in which a prostitute died after being accidentally knocked unconscious at a party the president attended. The whole incident was covered up and the prostitute was buried in a common grave.

Anthony, C.S. (1998, June 7). A President Of the Peephole. The Washington Post.

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Boertlein, J. (2010). Presidential confidential: Sex, scandal, murder and mayhem in the oval office. Cincinnati, OH: Clerisy Press.

Ferrell, R.H. (2006). Presidential leadership: From Woodrow Wilson to Harry S. Truman. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press.

Flynt, L. & Eisenbach, D. (2011). One nation under sex: How the private lives of presidents, first ladies and their lovers changed the course of American history. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press.

The Roosevelt Revolution Applied to Congress, 1930-1936

The New Deal period was nothing short of another revolution in American history. A non-violent one to be sure, but this era transformed the public’s expectations from their government, raised taxes left and right, and dramatically expanded the federal government’s size. Welfare and Social Security were created during this period and the national minimum wage was established. These developments likely would not have been possible without substantial legislative gains, and boy did the Democrats ever get them during the Great Depression.

I cannot overstate the devastating impact on Republican influence and policy that the elections from 1930 to 1936 had. These were unquestionably the most disastrous set of elections in the history of the party. The following 26 (27% of the Senate at the time!) Republican senators would lose elections to Democrats from 1930 to 1936. Of these, only John Thomas of Idaho and W. Warren Barbour of New Jersey would return to the Senate, while John Robsion of Kentucky would be elected to the House seat he previously held.

Hiram Bingham III, Connecticut – 1932

Frederic Walcott, Connecticut – 1934

Daniel O. Hastings, Delaware – 1936

John Thomas, Idaho – 1932

Otis F. Glenn, Illinois – 1932

Arthur Robinson, Indiana – 1934

James E. Watson, Indiana – 1932

Lester J. Dickinson, Iowa – 1936

Henry J. Allen, Kansas – 1930

John Robsion, Kentucky  – 1930

Roscoe C. Patterson, Missouri – 1934

George Moses, New Hampshire  – 1932

Warren Barbour, New Jersey – 1936

Hamilton F. Kean, New Jersey – 1934

Tasker L. Oddie, Nevada, 1932

Simeon D. Fess, Ohio – 1934

Roscoe McCulloch, Ohio  – 1930

David A. Reed, Pennsylvania – 1934

Jesse H. Metcalf, Rhode Island – 1936

William B. Pine, Oklahoma – 1930

Felix Hebert, Rhode Island – 1934

William H. McMaster, South Dakota – 1930

Reed Smoot, Utah – 1932

Wesley L. Jones, Washington – 1932

Henry D. Hatfield, West Virginia – 1934

Robert D. Carey, Wyoming  – 1936

When the 75th Congress convened at the start of 1937, only 18 Republican senators remained. The political overreaches of the Roosevelt Administration combined with increasing defections on key votes from Southern Democrats would bring conservatives back as an influential force in Washington after the 1938 election. The GOP, however, was still a minority force. Up until 1995, they would only control the Senate for ten years.

The House names are too numerous to type down, but 161 (37% of the House!) Republican incumbents lost to Democrats from 1930 to 1936. As with the Senate, few of these people returned to office. The breakdown for the years:

1930 – 42

1932 – 73

1934 – 23

1936 – 23

When the 75th Congress convened at the start of 1937, only 88 Republicans held seats in the House. While the story in the House was similar to the Senate in terms of influence, until 1995 the Republicans would only control the chamber for four years.

This part of history is why I absolutely never believe doomsday prophecies about the Republicans (or Democrats for that matter). The GOP has sunk to about as low as you can get for a major party and come back.


United States House of Representatives elections, 1930. Wikipedia.

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United States House of Representatives elections, 1932. Wikipedia.

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United States House of Representatives elections, 1934. Wikipedia.

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United States House of Representatives elections, 1936. Wikipedia.

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United States Senate elections, 1930. Wikipedia.

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United States Senate elections, 1932. Wikipedia.

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United States Senate elections, 1934. Wikipedia.

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United States Senate elections, 1936. Wikipedia.

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Constituent Relations Are Important: The Cautionary Tales of Richard Lugar and Phil Crane

Have you ever wondered how a highly eccentric, seemingly stupid, or extremist politician gets reelected time and time again? The answer may lie in the partisan makeup of their constituency, but this doesn’t answer how they can avoid successful primary challenges. Sometimes, the answer lies in good old constituent service.

Two major examples of successful employment of constituent service I have already covered in other posts are H.R. Gross of Iowa and Vito Marcantonio of New York, both who were undoubtedly far more ideologically extreme than their constituencies yet managed to get reelected time and time again. Let us also, however, consider the perils of being out of touch with constituents. Although there are many examples of politicians whose inattentiveness to constituents played a role in their downfall, two presently spring to mind: Richard Lugar and Phil Crane. Both Lugar and Crane were midwestern Republicans, had served over thirty years in office, and had presidential aspirations at some point in their careers.

Before his election to the Senate in 1976, Rhodes scholar Richard Lugar was the nationally renowned mayor of Indianapolis and for a long time maintained a high level of popularity with his constituents that made him invulnerable to Democratic challenges. He was also a highly respected authority on foreign policy and had a squeaky clean record on ethics. Lugar’s greatest achievement in office had been working with Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) on the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, which resulted in the destruction and dismantling of thousands of nuclear weapons in the former USSR states. He was interested in running for president in 1996, but gained little traction. However, although he was never an ultra-conservative, his Republicanism had mellowed in his later years and his personal friendship with President Barack Obama didn’t help his prospects with Republican primary voters. These factors would not have done him in, except Indiana voters hadn’t seen much of him lately.  He ultimately lost the 2012 GOP Senate primary to Richard Mourdock, who infamously cratered in what should have been a winnable Senate race due to a poor choice of words on the subject of rape.

Although Lugar’s defeat can partially be attributed to his cooperative type of politics going out of style, it can more be attributed to him paying insufficient attention to his constituents, his longevity in office, and his age of 80. This was the conclusion reached by Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake of the Washington Post, who wrote, “At its heart, Lugar’s defeat was attributable to the fact that he broke the political golden rule: Never lose touch with the people who elected you” (Cillizza & Blake, 2012). Lugar had a long time in experience and accomplished much, and he seemed to think that this alone would put him over the top. Perhaps the most devastating poll result for him was that when voters were asked whether Lugar or his opponent Richard Mourdock would “get things done”, they tied at 38% (Cillizza & Blake, 2012). While it no doubt matters what a politician does in office, the perception of what they do is not to be ignored.

Phil Crane’s (1930-2014) story is a bit different. After Donald Rumsfeld resigned his congressional seat in the Chicago suburbs in 1969 to chair the Office of Economic Opportunity, the voters elected Crane to succeed him. In his first six terms, Crane was a rising star in the conservative movement, taking the lead early and often on numerous issues in the 1970s including opposition to the Panama Canal Treaty and decriminalization of private ownership of gold (a story for a future post), the latter endeavor in which he succeeded. He also founded the Republican Study Committee, participated in the founding of the Heritage Foundation, and served for some time as chair of the American Conservative Union. However, after his failed bid at the Republican nomination for president as the candidate to the right of Reagan in 1980, he became overshadowed by other conservatives, particularly Newt Gingrich.

Despite having some legislative achievements under his belt including leading the House effort to pass the North American Free Trade Agreement, Crane was a non-entity for his constituents and he was often taking paid trips by lobbyists. In 2000, he admitted that he was suffering from alcoholism and sought treatment. Although he had sobered up, Crane’s bid for chairmanship of the powerful Ways and Means Committee failed, and he was passed over for Bill Thomas of California. He did get the vice chairmanship but seemed no longer motivated as a politician and this was showing more than ever, making him vulnerable. In 2002, Democrat Melissa Bean ran against him on the theme that Crane was out of touch and ineffective. Although Crane won reelection, she tried again in 2004, this time with greater name recognition. Despite outside efforts to help him win reelection, the criticisms of him stuck, and he lost reelection in a district that simultaneously gave President Bush his best victory margin in the state of Illinois. Crane was bitter in defeat and would not acknowledge his successor.


Bush, R. (2004, December 12). Bitter end to 35-year career: Crane has yet to speak to successor. Chicago Tribune.

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Cillizza, C. & Blake, A. (2012, May 9). Why Dick Lugar lost. The Washington Post.

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Halloran, L. (2012, May 8). A Senate Legend, Undone By His Greatest Strength. National Public Radio.

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Skiba, K., Rodriguez, M., & Geiger, K. (2014, November 10). Philip M. Crane, key figure in conservative politics, dies at 84. Los Angeles Times.

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When New Dealers Pursued the Right: The Buchanan Committee

What is primarily remembered in history in terms of ideological Congressional investigations is the post-World War II “red scare”, but what is often forgotten or ignored are similar crusades against the right by New Deal supporters. In the 1948 election, Harry S. Truman won his bid for a full term in office and the Democrats regained their majorities in the House and Senate. Spooked by their brief loss of legislative power after the 1946 midterms and bolstered by President Truman’s condemnation of lobbying, the Democrats and unions were eager to not have a resurgence in conservative power. Their eagerness was manifested through Rep. Frank Buchanan (D-Penn.), who wanted to investigate the funding of opponents of the New Deal.

In 1949, Congress authorized the U.S. Select Committee on Lobbying, also known as the “Buchanan Committee” to investigate three targets, which Buchanan subpoenaed: Edward Rumely’s Committee for Constitutional Government, Merwin K. Hart’s National Economic Council, and Joseph P. Kamp’s Constitutional Educational League. In an effort to ideologically balance out the committee’s activities William L. Patterson of the Civil Rights Congress (an organization identified by the Justice Department as subversive) was called up as well. Buchanan had a special axe to grind against Rumely: he had successfully pushed Congress to kill a public housing bill the year before, a key issue he had supported. Rumely also had gained the ire of New Dealers by coining the term “court packing plan” and had been successful in rallying up public opposition to the plan. The Buchanan Committee wanted to ascertain who the financial backers of these organizations were and what’s more, who bought their books. In the case of Rumely specifically, the committee wanted to know who had purchased John T. Flynn’s The Road Ahead: America’s Creeping Revolution (1949), a book that claimed that left-wing pressure groups were pushing the U.S. to socialism through incremental change (Beito & Witcher, 56). Buchanan justified his committee’s actions as an effort to make the Federal Regulation of Lobbying Act of 1946 “clear and effective” (CQ Almanac 1950).

(Edward Rumely at a Senate hearing, 1938)

Rumely and Patterson refused to provide the lists of their buyers, holding it as a violation of the First Amendment, and Kamp was unsure what the committee wanted from him. Congress subsequently voted to cite the three for contempt. The opponents of the contempt citations were conservatives, yet there were some interesting dynamics occurring in the votes. Vito Marcantonio (ALP-N.Y.), a pro-communist politician I covered in an earlier post, opposed contempt citations for both Rumely and Patterson, citing the First Amendment. In the case of Patterson, only one Democrat, Wingate Lucas of Texas, voted against the contempt citation while most Republicans stayed opposed. The fact that he was a black communist resulted in all but one of the Southern Democrats who had voted against contempt citations for Rumely to support citing him even though both cases were otherwise identical, a clear-cut case of identity politics.

After their contempt citations, Rumely was convicted and given a six-month suspended sentence, which he appealed to the Supreme Court. His conviction was overturned 7-0, with the Supreme Court finding the committee lacked the legal authority to procure the names of his buyers and cited the First Amendment. The court stated, “If the present inquiry were sanctioned a publisher would be compelled to register as a lobbyist with the federal government, would be subjected to harassing inquiries. A requirement that a publisher disclose the identity of those who buy his books, pamphlets or papers is indeed the beginning of surveillance of the press” (Beito, 2011). The case, known as U.S. v. Rumely (1953), is a significant precedent that was employed in the defenses of McCarthy targets Owen Lattimore and Corliss Lamont, as well as by the Alabama NAACP when the state was trying to put them out of business.


Beito, D.T. (2011, 24 February). The Day FEE Was Called Before Congress. Foundation for Economic Education.

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Beito, D.T., & Witcher, M.M. (2016). “New Deal Witch Hunt”: The Buchanan Committee Investigation of the Committee for Constitutional Government. The Independent Review, 21(1).

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“H Res 834. Resolution Certifying the Report of the Select Committee on Lobbying Activities as to the Refusal of Edward Rumely to Answer Questions & Produce Documents Before Said Committee”. Govtrack.

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“H Res 835. Resolution Certifying the Report of the Select Committee on Lobbying Activities as to the Refusal of William Patterson to Answer Questions & Produce Documents Before Said Committee”. Govtrack.

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“H Res 836. Resolution Certifying the Report of the Select Committee on Lobbying Activities as to the Refusal of Joseph Kamp to Answer Questions & Produce Documents Before Said Committee”. Govtrack.

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“Lobby Investigation”. (1951). CQ Almanac 1950. Washington D.C.: Congressional Quarterly.

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The Fathers of Social Security: Robert F. Wagner and David J. Lewis

Franklin D. Roosevelt rightly gets credit for Social Security as he staunchly pushed for the legislation as did his Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins. However, the work of writing laws falls to Congress even if that is not how things always turn out. Although the crafting of Social Security was a cooperative process between the Administration and Congress, the two Democrats who were most responsible for the enactment of Social Security on the legislative level were Senator Robert F. Wagner of New York and Representative David J. Lewis of Maryland.

Robert F. Wagner

Robert F. Wagner (1877-1953) is without doubt one of the most important senators in American history, given that numerous significant pieces of legislation were sponsored by him. This Tammany Hall man had become a reformer after the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911, which had resulted in the deaths of 146 employees, mostly women. As Majority Leader of the State Senate, Wagner had presided over the passage of numerous subsequent labor safety laws. After serving on the New York Supreme Court, he challenged the staunchly conservative Senator James W. Wadsworth Jr. (R-N.Y.) for reelection in 1926, and defeated him due to his votes against women’s suffrage and prohibition.

Although cooperative with a number of President Hoover’s measures to combat the depression, he supported legislation beyond what Hoover was willing to do. After the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt as president, Wagner became a key backer of his agenda. He was extensively involved in drafting the National Industrial Recovery Act, the National Labor Relations Act, the Social Security Act, and the Housing Act of 1937. Wagner frequently spoke for the Roosevelt Administration on the Senate floor and along with Hugo Black (D-Ala.), he served as Roosevelt’s point man in the Senate. He was also no slouch on civil rights, having sponsored anti-lynching legislation.

Wagner was not only Roosevelt’s champion on domestic policy, as he backed his foreign policy unconditionally as well. Although he stayed in the Senate long enough to see backlash against his measures, particularly the National Labor Relations Act, he had one last major legislative triumph. Wagner teamed up with Senators Robert Taft (R-Ohio) and Allen Ellender (D-La.) to pass the Housing Act of 1949, which included public housing and was the only significant component of President Truman’s Fair Deal to be enacted. His heart ailment forced him to retire later that year, but he left office with more lasting achievements than most senators.

David J. Lewis

David John Lewis, Harris-Ewing photo.jpg

Congressman David J. Lewis (1869-1952) was the House’s leading expert on social insurance. First elected to Congress from Maryland’s 6th district in the backlash against President William Howard Taft and the GOP Congress in 1910, he became the father of the parcel post, permitting government to carry mail weighing more than four pounds. Lewis was an avid proponent generally of government activism. His achievement did not aid him enough in the 1916 election, when he lost the Senate election to Republican Joseph I. France. After a fourteen year hiatus from legislative politics, Lewis was elected to his old district in the 1930 election.

Congressman Lewis found himself right at home in the Roosevelt era and he supported most New Deal measures, but most passionately fought for Social Security. Lewis was a key drafter of the legislation, and the bill was submitted to the House by him. Unfortunately for Lewis, his service hadn’t been continuous like that of Robert Doughton (D-N.C.). Doughton had risen up in seniority and was the chair of the Ways and Means Committee. Sensing a political winner and exercising his privilege as chair of that committee, he made a copy and submitted it under his name with a higher number than Lewis’s version. Thus, the bill was officially the “Wagner-Doughton Act”, deeply infuriating Lewis. However, he set to work studying the legislation thoroughly and crafting arguments. When he went to the House floor to argue for the bill, Lewis received a standing ovation by his colleagues, as they knew it was him and not Doughton who had spearheaded the bill.

Unfortunately for Lewis, his triumph again did not aid him when he wanted to be elected to the Senate. He decisively lost the 1938 Senate primary against conservative Democrat Millard Tydings, who had regularly voted against the New Deal. Although Lewis never returned to Congress and is not a household name, his achievements continue to impact the entire country to this day.


John, R.R. (2010). Network nation: Inventing American telecommunication. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

“Robert F. Wagner”. Encyclopedia Britannica.

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“Signing the Social Security Act of 1935”. Social Security Administration.

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H.R. Gross: Parsimonious Penny-Pincher

Our nation is currently in great debt, and few seem willing to consistently back measures that cut back government and reduce debt. There was one man, however, who was a consistent pest for politicians of both parties who wanted to pass spending bills: Iowa’s Harold Royce Gross.

H.R. Gross (1899-1987) was by profession a journalist and began his time in the public eye as a quick-tongued popular radio news announcer, where he worked alongside and befriended Ronald Reagan, who at the time was a New Deal Democrat and covered baseball. In 1940, he decided to challenge Republican incumbent Governor George Wilson for the nomination, criticizing his administration as well as the state GOP for what he regarded as insufficient assistance to farmers. He lost by only six points despite being critiqued for public advocacy for encouraging farmers to fight bovine tuberculosis testing in 1931 and for endorsing a 1933 episode of mob violence against a judge for issuing farm foreclosure notices (Schwieder & Schwieder, 2006). This would be the only time Gross lost an election in his career. His future would not be in Iowa state politics, but in federal politics.

In 1948, Gross was elected to the House from Iowa’s 3rd district after defeating regular Republican incumbent John W. Gwynne in the primary, aided by union anger at Gwynne’s record on labor issues. During his first few terms, he was something of a populist and he was initially met with suspicion by Republican regulars; some state party officials had accused him of being a “radical leftist” during the primary. They had no idea how wrong they would turn out to be.

Gross seemed to find himself often at odds with whatever president he served under, Democrat or Republican. While many Republicans fell in line with the moderate agenda of President Dwight Eisenhower, particularly on foreign policy and farm legislation, Gross was unimpressed by General Eisenhower’s authority. He never voted for foreign aid, objecting to its high cost and viewing it as a give-away. Throughout the 1950s, Gross evolved from a populist into one of the chamber’s most solid conservatives. He was relentlessly critical of taxpayer funded junkets and pork barrel spending. Gross was not only a watchdog of the public treasury, but also of public morality, staunchly opposing any sort of impropriety in governance.

In the early 1960s, Gross was one of the Kennedy Administration’s most prominent critics. He derided the Peace Corps as a “haven for draft dodgers”, denounced the D.C. aquarium proposed by the Kennedy Administration as a “glorified fish pond”, and opposed NASA funding (Kauffman, 125). After the Kennedy assassination, Gross engaged in quite possibly the most heroic act of miserliness in American history. He had already critiqued 24-hour secret service protection of Kennedy’s widow and children, but when Gross argued against the cost of an eternal flame at Kennedy’s grave, he became a Congressional legend if not so already. He made few exceptions to his naysaying, and civil rights was often not among them. Gross voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1957, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and fair housing legislation. However, he voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1960, banning poll taxes for federal elections and primaries, and the Jury Selection and Service Act (prohibiting racial discrimination on federal juries). He was one of the most uncompromising critics of Great Society legislation and voted for no major Johnson Administration measures.

Despite his controversial stances, he was the only Iowa Republican reelected to Congress in the Johnson landslide of 1964. One factor that helped him survive this wave was one that aided the radical Vito Marcantonio in his ability to be reelected: excellent constituent service. According to an area newspaper editor, he “has done so many little favors for so many little people that he would be extremely difficult to defeat in either a primary or a general election” (Schwieder & Schwieder, 352). Unlike many other Republicans, Gross’s conservatism waxed rather than waned during the Nixon era. His commitment to limited spending extended to the Vietnam War; he opposed the expansion of the war to Cambodia on cost grounds. Gross of course also accepted no extensions of the Great Society that Nixon was willing to implement. In the entirety of his career, he had but one regret: not voting against the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in 1964, which authorized the use of conventional military force in Vietnam.

Gross did not run for reelection in 1974, the last of the Republican non-interventionists to leave office. Among his achievements was saving an estimated hundreds of millions of dollars for taxpayers, quite possibly even billions (Schwieder & Schwieder). In 1976, he backed his old friend Ronald Reagan for president over Gerald Ford and lived to see him be elected twice. If this post gives you the impression that I admire Gross for his commitment to limited spending and honest dealing in government, you’re correct!


Kauffman, B. (2008). Ain’t my America: The long, noble history of antiwar conservatism and middle-American anti-imperialism. New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company, LLC.

Schwieder, D.W. & Schwieder, D. (2006). The Power of Prickliness: Iowa’s H.R. Gross in the U.S. House of Representatives. State Historical Society of Iowa, 65(4).

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From Republican Reformer to Radical: Congressman Vito Marcantonio

Vito “Marc” Marcantonio (1902-1954) first attracted political attention while in high school. He delivered a speech advocating for old age insurance in front of Congressman Fiorello La Guardia (R-N.Y.), who was so impressed that he hired him on his campaign and when he graduated law school, employed him in his law office. He saw great potential in this young man and intended that he would be his successor. Although La Guardia lost reelection in 1932, 1933 would see him elected Mayor of New York City and Marc would be elected to Congress the following year from La Guardia’s East Harlem district. He voted much like his mentor, taking some very progressive positions on numerous issues and even voted against Social Security because it was insufficiently generous by his standards. Although Marcantonio’s career was temporarily derailed by losing reelection in 1936 due to the GOP requiring him to not endorse Roosevelt for reelection, he triumphantly returned in the 1938 election as a member of the American Labor Party. The Marcantonio who returned was different from the one who had left: his politics had grown distinctly more radical. He would win reelection four times thanks to his staunch commitment to constituent service; there are numerous stories of how he helped individuals and families who suffered through hard times. Marc would also run in the Republican, Democratic, and American Labor primaries, and multiple times won all their nominations, ensuring his reelection.

Marcantonio of the American Labor Party backed the New Deal without reservation, although he would have preferred much more. On foreign policy, matters were a bit more complicated. While he opposed American involvement in World War II and voted against Lend-Lease, his mind changed later in 1941, after Operation Barbarossa. This change was suspect as that happened to mirror the American Communist Party’s shift on American intervention. Marc defended his change, stating that if the USSR fell, the USA would be in greater peril. Although he was not a member of the CPUSA, he was a sympathizer and considered a friend by them. Marc can safely be regarded as a “fellow traveler”. He also championed the interests of Puerto Ricans, Italians, and blacks; all these groups forming crucial elements of his electorate. It logically follows that Marc actively supported civil rights, having sponsored anti-poll tax bills that passed the House in 1943 and 1945, but met their demise in the Senate. He also advocated Puerto Rico’s independence.

After World War II, he favored friendly relations with the USSR and opposed the Truman Administration’s new focus on anti-communism. Marc voted against the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan, again positions that were favored by the American Communist Party as well as non-interventionists. In 1948, he supported former Vice President Henry Wallace’s Progressive Party presidential run; the campaign had been thoroughly infiltrated by communists. In 1950, awareness of communism was at its peak in America as the US had gone to war in Korea. Marc had been the only member of Congress to vote against military intervention in Korea and voted against the McCarran Internal Security Act (required Communist organizations to register with the Justice Department), which over President Truman’s veto. Given this political environment, Republican and Democratic parties finally got behind fusion candidate Democrat James Donovan, who defeated Marcantonio for reelection that year.

In 1954, Marcantonio sought a rematch against Donovan, but he collapsed on the subway just after finishing printing campaign fliers, dead from a heart attack at 51. Vito Marcantonio was one of the few American legislators who was overtly pro-Communist, a stance that many of his constituents didn’t seem to mind terribly until the year of his defeat. For his supporters, Marcantonio fought for the common man and for them personally while for his detractors, he was a communist all but in name.


Bell, C. (2013). East Harlem remembered: Oral histories of community and diversity. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company, Inc.

Meyer, G. (1989). Vito Marcantonio: Radical politician, 1902-1954. Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press.


Are Demographics Destiny? A Thought.

There is a running dispute among political commentators as to what extent demographics will shape future politics. Until November 8, 2016, Democrats were confident that increasing levels of racial and ethnic diversity in American society would eventually lead to them having a long-term majority. Now, they are less certain about it but still hopeful. This theme is also frequently capitalized on by avid Trump supporters, who believe if immigration is not limited we will have a permanent Democratic majority and no Republican will be elected president again. I have heard and read this fear being espoused. I must contest this notion of “demographics are destiny” as political coalitions rise and fall. After all, in my last posting, I explained how a party with a significant wing that believed in Jim Crow laws won the black vote in 1936 and now, without the existence of its segregationist wing, is the party’s most loyal demographic. The strange truth is that since the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which is often cited as a cause of an increase in racial and ethnic diversity, the country’s electorate has grown more Republican due to an increasing percentage of the white vote going to the Republicans. The best example I can think of for an election that demonstrates how permanency can be lacking is the 1976 election. This election was quite close, but Carter won both the electoral college and popular vote. What is interesting to observe is what states voted the same in 1976 and 2016.

States that Voted Republican in 1976 and 2016: 14










North Dakota


South Dakota



States that Voted Democrat in 1976 and 2016: 7






New York

Rhode Island


  1. 58% of the states voted differently in 2016 than 1976.
  2. With the sole exception of Oklahoma, the entire South voted differently in 2016 than in 1976. Having a southerner at the top of the Democratic ticket won the South, whereas having a southerner on the VP slot in 2016 won his home state.
  3. 1976 was the last time a Republican won California and not Texas.
  4. Ford swept all the western states, perhaps a manifestation of the “sagebrush rebellion”.

Another interesting aspect to examine was where the candidates performed worst, which just goes to show how things can change.

Ford’s 5 worst performance states:

  1. Georgia – 32.96%
  2. Arkansas – 34.93%
  3. Massachusetts – 40.44%
  4. West Virginia – 41.93%
  5. Minnesota – 42.02%

Carter’s 5 worst performance states:

  1. Utah – 33.65%
  2. Alaska – 35.65%
  3. Idaho – 37.12%
  4. Nebraska – 38.46%
  5. Wyoming – 39.81%

Trump’s 5 worst performance states:

  1. Hawaii – 30.03%
  2. Vermont – 30.27%
  3. California – 31.62%
  4. Massachusetts – 32.81%
  5. Maryland – 33.91%

Clinton’s 5 worst performance states:

  1. Wyoming – 21.63%
  2. West Virginia – 26.43%
  3. North Dakota – 27.23%
  4. Utah – 27.46%
  5. Idaho – 27.49%


  1. Democrats have lost big in Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming for a long time now.
  2. West Virginia jumped from the 4th least Republican state to the 2nd most in 40 years.
  3. The state that gave the lowest percentage to any loser in 1976 was Georgia at 32.96%, and this can be attributed to the state voting for its “favorite son” in Carter.
  4. Only 1 of the 10 states listed in 2016 gave a loser a higher percentage than the 10 states in 1976 (Maryland).
  5. 3 of Ford’s 5 worst states voted for Trump, and Minnesota was much closer than expected.
  6. Although Vermont was not in the top 5 worst Carter performances, it was the 7th worst performance, with Colorado coming in 6th. Both voted Clinton in 2016, with Vermont being Trump’s 2nd worst performance.

My general point here is that times can change and that to assume a permanent, never-ending majority is unrealistic. Although a party may have a period of dominance this can be undone by policy screw-ups, wedge issues that split coalitions, and new issues. I may explore this subject further in a future posting.


United States Presidential Election, 1976. Wikipedia.

Retrieved from,_1976

United States Presidential Election, 2016, Wikipedia.

Retrieved from,_2016