Maury Maverick: The Lone Star Liberal Who Lived Up to His Namesake

Senator John McCain, who passed away two months ago, often identified himself as a maverick, and there have been numerous politicians who have similarly embraced this label. The origin of the term “maverick” comes from Texas rancher, San Antonio mayor, and signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence, Samuel Maverick (1803-1870). He stood as unique among ranchers for not branding his cattle, thus they became known as “mavericks”. There was another Maverick who entered politics, and this was his grandson, Maury (1895-1954).

In 1934, the 39-year old Maury Maverick was elected to Congress as a Democrat, representing San Antonio. New Deal support was common in Texas in his time as the state would not start to develop a conservative reputation until World War II. He stood as one of the most left-wing members of the state’s delegation, and wanted to go further than the New Deal. Maverick enthusiastically backed veterans bonuses, cracking down on public utility companies, expanding the powers of the Tennessee Valley Authority, and enacting a strong national minimum wage. The latter stance placed him further left than many Texas politicians were willing to go. Maverick was ahead of his region on civil rights, as he stood alone among the Texas delegation in his support for anti-lynching legislation in 1937. He was also an outspoken non-interventionist, which also ran counter to stances of Texas Democrats, who favored a Wilsonian internationalism. Unfortunately for Maverick, 1938 proved to be a year in which conservatism was starting to make a comeback due to the political fiasco that was FDR’s “court packing plan” as well as the onset of the “Roosevelt Recession”, an economic downturn in the midst of the Great Depression. His foe in the primary was Paul J. Kilday, who ran as an anti-communist and New Deal opponent. Maverick was defeated in the primary, and since at the time Texas was effectively a one-party state, this was tantamount to election for Kilday. Maverick, however, made a political comeback in the following year in which he was elected Mayor of San Antonio. His administration became known for its honesty and efficiency, but a smear campaign that labeled him a “communist” got him defeated for reelection in 1941. Although this was the end of his time in elected office, he also served as the chair of the Smaller War Plants Corporation.

Maverick was not only a politician, but also a man of letters. He wrote two books, A Maverick American (1937) and In Blood and Ink: The Life and Documents of American Democracy (1939). He also made a lasting contribution to the English language. While his grandfather had inspired the coining of the term “maverick”, Maury coined the term “gobbledygook”, his word for unintelligible bureaucratic jargon.

Although Maverick passed away in 1954, in death he would have the last laugh in San Antonio. His 1938 foe, Kilday, resorted to shifting his record leftward in the mid-1950s to accommodate the increasing voting power of Latinos in his district. After accepting a judgeship in 1961, he would be succeeded by Henry B. Gonzalez, a staunch liberal in the ideological mold of Maverick. The district has not had a conservative representative since Kilday as he was during the Roosevelt and Truman Administrations.


Henderson, R.B. Maverick, Fontaine Maury. Handbook of Texas Online.

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