After covering Washington D.C. as a correspondent for multiple newspapers over 28 years, Louis Ludlow (1873-1950) decided that Congress needed a change: him. Despite Herbert Hoover both winning the presidential election in 1928 in a landslide and having coattails, the Democrat Ludlow upset Republican Ralph Updike for reelection in an Indiana district that typically voted Republican. Updike, who had KKK support, had himself upset establishment Republican Merrill Moores in the 1924 election. Ludlow’s victory was in part a rebuke of the Klan. He was more prepared for Congress than the usual freshman given his background and his entry was more than welcome by his fellow members.
After the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932 he was often at odds with him and was one of the most skeptical of House Democrats of the time. Although supportive of work relief, Ludlow voted for Republican substitutes that placed work relief on a state level. He also opposed the National Industrial Recovery Act and many of the public works projects backed by FDR on grounds of fiscal conservatism. Ludlow was disturbed by the increasing centralization of government and high spending, but he was only sometimes an opponent of the Roosevelt Administration: he was largely supportive of its agricultural policy, often backed public power, and was always opposed to legislation that weakened organized labor. Additionally, his views on states didn’t extend to civil rights: he backed federal penalties for lynching and the abolition of the poll tax. In 1939, he delivered a speech before Congress titled “Why I am a Jeffersonian Democrat” and he stated, “In my estimation, Jefferson was the greatest humanitarian since Jesus of Nazareth…The beauty of the Jeffersonian philosophy is that it fosters comradeship. It makes brothers of you and me and all of us. It teaches us that we should manifest an interest in people not for the purpose of exploiting them, but to assist them to higher and happier levels of living…” (Davidson). Ludlow’s independence was quite popular in his district and as fellow Indiana Democrats were gradually losing reelection to Republicans, he remained. However, his reelection bids were often close given how Republican his district was and in 1942 he won by less than a point.
If Ludlow’s domestic views could run against Roosevelt sometimes, his foreign policy views did so much more: he was one of the most non-interventionist Democrats in Congress and during the 1930s he proposed what is now known as the Ludlow Amendment. If ratified, this amendment would require a national referendum for war unless the US was invaded or its citizens attacked from within. Ludlow was not the first person to come up with this idea: the idea had first been proposed in 1914 and both the 1924 Democratic and Progressive Party platforms had versions of this proposal. In 1938, the proposal started gaining steam and President Roosevelt was so concerned with it he felt the need to write a letter to Congress, which read,
“I must frankly state that I consider that the proposed amendment would be impracticable in its application and incompatible with our representative form of government.
Our Government is conducted by the people through representatives of their own choosing. It was with singular unanimity that the founders of the Republic agreed upon such free and representative form of government as the only practical means of government by the people.
Such an amendment to the Constitution as that proposed would cripple any President in his conduct of our foreign relations, and it would encourage other nations to believe that they could violate American rights with impunity.
I fully realize that the sponsors of this proposal sincerely believe that it would be helpful in keeping the United States out of war. I am convinced it would have the opposite effect” (U.S. Department of State).
This was enough to prevent the Ludlow Amendment as it fell far short of the votes necessary to discharge it from committee, failing on January 10, 1938 on a vote of 188-209. Although this proposal has been reintroduced from time to time, it has not received a vote of any sort since. Ludlow’s views were motivated by how he viewed World War I as well as the Nye Committee hearings. He would subsequently vote against the Neutrality Act of 1939 (which weakened neutrality), the peacetime draft, Lend-Lease, and the 1941 revision of the Neutrality Act permitting merchant ships to arm themselves, enacted mere months before Pearl Harbor. With wartime, however, brought greater cooperation between Ludlow and the Roosevelt Administration as he started voting in a more liberal direction. By the Truman Administration, his voting was mostly in line with urban Northern Democrats. In the postwar period, Ludlow pushed for the banning of the atomic bomb and proposed the creation of a Department of Peace. He had given up on his signature amendment, but expressed regret that it was not ratified, “Looking backward, I cannot escape the belief that the death of the resolution was one of the tragedies of all time. The leadership of the greatest and most powerful nation on earth might have deflected the thinking of the world into peaceful channels. Instead, we went ahead with tremendous pace in the invention of destruction . . . I cannot help thinking what might have been” (Simins).
Of all members of Congress, voters found him the most interesting as he received by far the most mail of any member in his time, averaging 200 letters a day, for which Ludlow with some staff assistance answered all inquiries. His lifetime MC-Index score is a 41%.
In 1946, Ludlow contracted a nasty case of pneumonia and was unable to attend the remainder of the session nor the first session of the next Congress. Although he returned for the second session, he reached the conclusion that it was best to retire. Accolades and tributes poured in from colleagues from both sides of the aisle after his announcement of retirement, and after leaving Congress he resumed work as a correspondent. Ludlow had served ten terms and never suffered a defeat. He died on November 28, 1950, less than two years after leaving Congress.
Davidson, A.A. (1980). Louis L. Ludlow. Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame.
Simins, J.W. (2020, January 14). “A Solemn, Consecrated Act of the People Themselves:” Rep. Louis Ludlow and the Power to Declare War. Indiana Historical Bureau.
U.S. Department of State. (1943). Peace and war: United States foreign policy, 1931-1941. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 400-402.