Dewey Short: Hillbilly Intellectualism

In 1928, a young man gave a stunning speech before the Republicans of Springfield, Missouri called “Republicanism and Americanism”, in which he stated: “Republicanism is Americanism. It is part of my religion and if I can convert any democrat, I will have served God as well as my country…(We), with unflinching courage and unswerving loyalty, will march together under the united, inspiring and intrepid banner of Republicanism to victory next November” (Rafferty, 95). This speech was so well-received that he was frequently demanded for speaking engagements. Richard Nixon himself would refer to this man as the finest orator he had ever heard. This man was Dewey Jackson Short (1898-1979).

Short the Congressman

In 1928, Herbert Hoover won the presidential election by a landslide and with him came many Republicans on his coattails. Of the 43 newly elected House  Republicans, only 11 would be in Washington after the 1932 election, Short among them. Although he lost reelection in 1930 in the wake of the stock market crash and the Great Depression, he was not done yet. In the meantime, he traveled through Europe and visited the Soviet Union. In 1934, he was elected to the much safer 7th district and his Congressional career truly got its start. Short quickly gained a reputation as the finest orator in the Republican Party and peppered his speeches with alliteration, insults and wit. One of the finest examples of his speeches was his reaction to the Roosevelt Administration’s request for work relief in 1935, which can be read on a previous post:

Some Shortisms include:

“Mr. Jefferson founded the Democratic Party, President Roosevelt has dumfounded it”.

“He is not exactly like some men I know who care no more for their word than a tomcat cares for a marriage license in a back alley on the blackest night”. – Referring to Postmaster General Jim Farley.

“I have always been old-fashioned enough to believe it is much better to ‘git up and get’ than it is to ‘sit down and set.’ The only animal I know which can sit and still produce dividends is the old hen”.


Short was a frequent critic of New Deal legislation as he thought its use of federal power went too far and was uncompromising in his opposition save for Social Security and flood control legislation. He was also a staunch foe of getting the United States involved in European affairs and in 1940 non-interventionists sought to nominate him Vice President. Instead, the nomination went to the moderate Senate Minority Leader Charles McNary of Oregon. That year, Short was one of the leading opponents of the peacetime draft and after World War II he led the opposition to the concept of universal military training. He would similarly oppose the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan. Short was at times lonely in his state in opposition to the Democrats: from 1935 to 1941 and from 1949 to 1951 he was the only Republican representative from the state.

Short liked to play up his origins, stating in a Chicago speech, “Really, I am just a plain, ordinary country boy, a native hillbilly from the Ozarks in southwest Missouri, where we still cover our houses with bull hides and use their tails for lightning rods” (Wiley). However, this “ordinary country boy” also earned a Bachelor’s in Divinity from Boston College, attended Harvard Law School, and studied at the universities of Heidelberg and Oxford. He thereafter became a Professor of Philosophy and Psychology at Southwestern College in Winfield, Kansas before pursuing his political career.

Short on Other Issues

On civil rights, Short has a mixed record. He voted for anti-lynching bills and early anti-poll tax measures, but after World War II, he mostly voted against as he feared the concentration of federal power, an echo of his opposition to the New Deal. Short also staunchly opposed the Eisenhower Administration’s approach on foreign policy as he continued to oppose foreign aid. Most domestic policy that even smelled slightly of Harry S. Truman’s Fair Deal was out as well. In 1956, he was defeated for reelection in an otherwise Republican district on account of a regional issue. Despite Short’s disagreements on foreign policy with the Eisenhower Administration, he was appointed Assistant Secretary of the Army, a post he served in until 1961.


Rafferty, M.D. (2001). Ozarks: Land and life. Fayetteville, AR: University of Arkansas Press.

Wiley, R.S. Dewey S. Short: The Silver Tongued Orator from Galena. The History of Stone County, Vol. 1, 236-237.

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