The Radical Politics of Albert Einstein

In my last post, I noted that a more in-depth view of the politics of Albert Einstein was necessary, so here it is. In February 1933, Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany, and the brain drain was immediate. Theoretical physicist Albert Einstein and his wife had already left for the United States in December 1932, anticipating his rise to power. He played a key role in persuading other countries to take in German Jewish scientists, including Britain and Turkey. The Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, took him in as a resident scholar. From a young age, he held a belief in pacifism and went as far as to renounce his German citizenship in 1896, which got him out of military service. He would regain his citizenship in the 1910s but with the rise of Hitler to power he for the second and final time renounced it. In 1940, he was admitted as an American citizen.

Although a new citizen, Einstein would not be quiet on his political views. He saw widespread discrimination and mistreatment of American blacks and this disturbed him profoundly. He stated on his motivations for favoring civil rights, “Being a Jew myself, perhaps I can understand and empathize with how black people feel as victims of discrimination” (Francis). Indeed, one instance in which he suffered discrimination in Germany was when Nobel Prize winner Philipp Lenard, a major anti-Semite and future Nazi, lobbied the Nobel Prize committee hard to prevent Einstein from getting the prize in physics for 1921, and so the award was delayed until the next year (Francis). He also repeatedly backed the civil rights campaigns of entertainer Paul Robeson.

Einstein and Communism

FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover had been highly suspicious of Albert Einstein given his politics were of the radical left, and continually looked for any indication that he was a Soviet spy. Einstein was not a spy, but his relationship with communists and communism is complicated. In 1929, he opted to criticize their methods yet praise their goals, stating, “In Lenin I honor a man, who in total sacrifice of his own person has committed his entire energy to realizing social justice. I do not find his methods advisable. One thing is certain, however: men like him are the guardians and renewers of mankind’s conscience” (Rowe & Schulmann, 412-13).

On February 13, 1950, Representative John E. Rankin (D-Miss.) delivered a speech, “Faker Einstein”, in which he lobbed numerous accusations that varied in their accuracy. I already covered his nonsense casting shade on Einstein being a scientist and his numerous prejudices, but the claims that deserve the most investigation are the ones linking him to communist front groups, especially since the CPUSA acted as an arm of the Kremlin. Such groups that he held that Einstein was involved with included the American Committee for Protection of Foreign Born, the Civil Rights Congress, National Council of Arts, Sciences, and Professions, and North American Committee to Aid Spanish Democracy. While I do not doubt that Rankin’s push against Einstein had anti-Semitic motivation, he did have connections that were cause for concern.

The American Committee for Protection of Foreign Born was an organization identified as a Communist front group by Attorney General Tom C. Clark and listed by name as subversive in the Internal Security Act of 1950. The group’s goal was to protect foreign communists from deportation and sponsors of this group included communists, socialists, and other left-wing public figures. Its chairman from 1942 to 1951 was Hugh De Lacy, a one-time member of Congress who would be revealed as a secret communist by the memoirs of CPUSA attorney John Abt.

The Civil Rights Congress was an organization headed by William L. Patterson, a prominent black communist who in 1951 presented a document before the UN with Paul Robeson and W.E.B. DuBois titled “We Charge Genocide”, which accused the US government of complicity in genocide over failure to act against lynching and was used in Soviet propaganda against the United States. In fairness to Einstein, he also associated with non-communist civil rights organizations, such as the NAACP.

The National Council of Arts, Sciences, and Professions was a communist front group that had spawned from the pro-New Deal Independent Citizens Committee of the Arts, Sciences, and Professions, which Einstein sponsored along with dyed-in-the-wool communists such as Lillian Hellman, John Howard Lawson, Ring Lardner, Paul Robeson, Howard Fast, and Dalton Trumbo.

The North American Committee to Aid Spanish Democracy was another Communist front that provided aid through donations to the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War (Swayne, 92). Historian Peter N. Carroll (1994) regarded it as a “Popular Front organization that attracted Communists and Christians alike” (61).

That wasn’t all. As authors Karen C. Fox and Aries Keck (2004) note, “The FBI cites that Einstein was affiliated with thirty-four Communist fronts between 1937 and 1954 and was honorary chairman for three of them. While FBI agents during the Cold War probably had more expansive criteria for what constitutes a Communist front than one might today and the numbers may not have been truly that high, Einstein clearly had affiliations with organizations that in turn had affiliations with the Communist Party. However, it does not seem to have been more so than other similarly political celebrities had at the time” (61). It is also worth noting that Albert Einstein endorsed Henry Wallace of the Progressive Party, the campaign being run by the CPUSA. Given that Wallace himself was not in truth a communist (rather the USA’s #1 dupe) and that the ticket was not exclusively backed by communists, this alone cannot be considered prima facie evidence that someone is a communist. However, his connections were a cause for concern by the U.S. government and precluded any granting of a security clearance. According to an FBI report dated February 28, 1952, using information provided by U.S. Army Intelligence, “Prior to 1933, the Comintern, and other Soviet Apparats, were active in gathering intelligence information the Far East. The agents who gathered this information sent it to agents in other countries in coded telegrams. These agents then recoded the telegrams the telegrams and forwarded them to addresses in Berlin, one of which is the office of Albert Einstein….Einstein’s personal secretary turned the coded telegrams over to a special apparat man, whose duty it was to transmit them to Moscow by various means…

It was common knowledge, especially in Berlin, that Einstein sympathized with the Soviet Union to a great extent. Einstein’s Berlin staff of typists and secretaries was made up of persons who were recommended to him (at his request) by people who were close to the Klub Der Geistesarbeiter (Club of Scientists), which was a Communist cover organization. Einstein was closely associated with this club and was very friendly with several members who later became Soviet agents. Klaus Fuchs, who was associated with the club as a student in the early 1930s, was jailed in England for giving atomic bomb information to the Soviets. Einstein was also very friendly with several members of the Soviet Embassy in Berlin, some of whom were later executed in Moscow in 1935 and 1937” (Romerstein & Breindel, 279). The decision to exclude him from a security clearance in July 1940 and thus the Manhattan Project was probably correct given that his associations made him a security risk.  

Einstein was also good friends with historian, sociologist, and civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois (whose long history of pro-communist attitudes and actions culminated in his joining the CPUSA in 1961) and entertainer Paul Robeson. Robeson was a firm Stalinist and although he publicly denied he was a communist, chairman Gus Hall announced in 1998 that Robeson had been a secret member (Radosh). In January 1953, Einstein publicly appealed for clemency for Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who had been convicted of stealing nuclear secrets for the Soviets. Naturally, he was also a critic of postwar anti-communism, especially the sort practiced by Senator Joseph McCarthy.

Einstein cannot be said to be a spy or even a communist, but his connections with front groups and figures are highly suggestive of fellow travelling. This being said, he was not afraid to take positions that didn’t fit with Soviet dogma and was critical of the USSR’s increasingly anti-Semitic post-war policies. His friend Robeson, by contrast, never criticized the USSR despite knowing of the evils within the regime. Former Soviet agent Louis F. Budenz perhaps got it best on Einstein when he testified that “As a matter of fact, most of the fellow travelers are Communists. There is only a very small group of the type of Albert Einstein and Thomas Mann and people of that kind who, because of their eminent positions, would certainly feel insulted to be under Communist discipline. They are fellow travelers in the sense that they sign many statements under the influence of the people around them” (U.S. Senate, 626). Although many fellow travelers were in fact communists, Einstein was not but was among many such people who influenced him. He also, consistent with his approach of free thought, criticized the USSR in a letter, writing “there seems to be complete suppression of the individual and of freedom of speech” (Isacson, 433).

Einstein additionally stood for world government in the face of atomic weapons, a stance that got pushback both in the US and the USSR. The latter initially was against the idea of siding with groups that called for non-proliferation of arms, but they later sided with such groups to influence and pressure western nations. In May 1949, Einstein’s article, “Why Socialism?” appeared in the socialist publication Monthly Review, in which he argued for a system in which “the means of production are owned by society itself and are utilized in a planned fashion” (Einstein). He believed that an economy could be feasibly scientifically planned yet expressed caution about the potential for a bureaucracy to form that would enslave the public, thus such a system would have to be one in which democracy is assured. The one regret of Einstein’s life surrounded his compromising his pacifism to halt the Nazis. As he reflected in 1954 to Linus Pauling, “I made one great mistake in my life – when I signed the letter to President Roosevelt recommending that atom bombs be made; but there was some justification – the danger that the Germans would make them” (Crockatt, 115). In this ironic sense, Einstein probably wished that Mississippi’s Rankin was entirely correct in that he had nothing to do with the development of the atomic bomb. 


Carroll, P.N. (1994). The odyssey of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade: Americans in the Spanish Civil War. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Crockatt, R. (2016). Einstein and Twentieth-century politics: ‘a salutary moral influence’. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Einstein, A. (1949, May). Why Socialism? Monthly Review.

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Fourth Report of the Senate Fact-Finding Committee On Un-American Activities: Communist Front Organizations. (1948). California Senate.

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Fox, K.C. & Keck, A. (2004). Einstein A to Z. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Francis, M. (2017, March 3). How Albert Einstein Used His Fame to Denounce American Racism. Smithsonian Magazine.

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Isacson, W. (2008). Einstein: His life and universe. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.

Matthews, R. (1992, June 5). Einstein’s ‘red’ links were genuine. New Scientist.

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Radosh, R. (2019, August 27). The Price of Self-Delusion. The American Interest.

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Review of the Scientific and Cultural Conference for World Peace. (1949, April 19). Committee on Un-American Activities, U.S. House of Representatives.

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Romerstein, H. & Breindel, E. (2000). The venona secrets: Exposing Soviet espionage and America’s traitors. Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing, Inc.

Rowe, D.E. & Schulmann, R. (2013). Einstein on politics: His private thoughts and public stands on nationalism, zionism, war, peace, and the bomb. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

State Department Employee Loyalty Investigation: Hearings Before a Subcommittee of the Committee on Foreign Relations, Part 1. U.S. Senate.

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Swayne, S. (2011, February 7). Orpheus in Manhattan: William Schuman and the shaping of America’s musical life. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Waldrop, M. (2017, April 18). Why the FBI Kept a 1,400-Page File on Einstein. National Geographic.

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John E. Rankin: Populist Bigot


One of my great interests has been ideological transition, and one of the foremost examples of a politician whose views were greatly impacted by changing times was Mississippi’s John Elliott Rankin (1882-1960). As a young prosecuting attorney of Lee County, Rankin was known as a populist and a progressive. He, like many Southern Democrats of the time, stood opposed to Yankee capitalism and its excesses. In 1916, Rankin decided it was time to run for political office, and he made his first effort at winning the Democratic nomination in Mississippi’s 1st district but lost to incumbent Ezekiel “Zeke” Candler. Rankin served in the U.S. Army for only three weeks of officer training before armistice but would capitalize immensely on this limited experience for political gain. After his second try in 1918 resulted in failure, he started a newspaper, the New Era, in which he broadcast his beliefs. These included defenses of segregation and lynching, support for stringent immigration restrictions, support for women’s suffrage, support for unions, and support for generous benefits for veterans. Curiously, his paper in 1919 also included without comment a pro-Soviet article by T.J. Brooks, which asserted that the Bolshevik Revolution, whatever its excesses, was a just cause and that this new government should be recognized by the United States (Vickers).  His third try was the charm in 1920, and he ousted Zeke Candler.

Rankin, Roosevelt, and Anti-Semitism

Throughout the 1920s, Rankin often voted against the economic policies of the Republican Party and at the onset of the Great Depression he became a strong supporter of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He sponsored the legislation creating the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), defying critics’ accusations that it was socialist. He, Senator George W. Norris (R-Neb.), and President Roosevelt were the most important people in getting the TVA through. Rankin also backed most of the agricultural programs of the New Deal as well, including the Agricultural Adjustment Act, which aimed to increase the prices of agricultural commodities to raise farm income. He did, however, vote against the Bankhead Cotton Control Act. Although he voted for the National Industrial Recovery Act in 1933, he became a critic of the National Recovery Administration (NRA) and voted against extending the law in 1935.

In 1936, Rankin, like Vice President John Nance Garner, was profoundly disturbed over sit-down strikes and concluded that organized labor had grown too powerful. From 1937 onward, he voted for proposals to curb the power of organized labor, especially the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), which was more left-wing than the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and also had integrated membership. Rankin’s record really began to shift right after Roosevelt was elected to a third term. On prewar defense issues, he had had a mixed record. He voted against ending the arms embargo in 1939 and arming merchant ships in 1941, but voted for the peacetime draft and Lend-Lease. On June 4, 1941, however, Rankin delivered a speech in which he charged that “Wall Street bankers” and “international Jewish brethren” were plotting to bring the United States into World War II (TIME). This provoked a furious response from Rep. M. Michael Edelstein (D-N.Y.), who denounced Rankin’s position to applause on the House floor, and after which he dropped dead minutes later in the House cloakroom. Although Rankin was taken aback by this event, he never apologized for his offending speech and would continue employing anti-Semitic tropes in his speeches. During World War II, he advocated for rounding up all Japanese Americans, declaring, “I’m for catching every Japanese in America, Alaska and Hawaii now and putting them in concentration camps. Damn them. Let’s get rid of them now” (Clark). In 1942, Rankin introduced a bill that would empower the U.S. government to deport all people ethnically Japanese. Although he supported an even greater emergency measure here than was done, he opposed economic emergency measures, such as the enactment of price controls. Rankin voted against price control legislation in 1941 and 1942 and stood as a consistent foe of them, as many of them worked to the disadvantage of farmers. In 1944, he called radio commentator Walter Winchell, who was Jewish, a “slime-mongering kike” on the floor of the House, for which he was banned from speaking for a day (Zwiers). Congressman Emanuel Celler (D-N.Y.) wrote of him in his 1953 memoir, You Never Leave Brooklyn, “Perhaps the loneliest moments I experienced in the House were in the running battle with my former colleague, Mr. John Rankin of Mississippi. Here was a curious mixture. More than any other single member of the House, Rankin had led the fight for Rural Electrification. In the days when TVA legislation needed every ounce of support it could get, Rankin defied all the cries of socialism directed against it and defended it with his great command of parliamentary skill. I believe that had he remained on that track he, perhaps, would have ranked with the late Senator George Norris in the extension of power productivity for the people.

Rankin came to the House the same year I did. The prejudices with which he later became identified he brought with him. He became bolder as the years went by and to his theme of white supremacy he added that of anti-Semitism. To listen to his harangues on the floor became, for me, an agony” (Simkin).

Rankin and the House Committee on Un-American Activities

In 1938, Congress formed the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HCUA), and it initially was opposed by Congressman Rankin until he learned that Rep. Samuel Dickstein (D-N.Y.), who was Jewish, would not be chairing it. Instead, it was Martin Dies (D-Tex.), who would focus on communism and fascism in investigations, but considerably more on the former than the latter. Rankin would from that point forward be an enthusiastic backer of the HCUA.

On January 3, 1945, the House was considering House Resolution 5, establishing the rules for the 79th Congress. Given that the past chair of HCUA, Martin Dies of Texas, had opted not to run for reelection, it was widely expected that the committee would be quietly ended. However, John E. Rankin of Mississippi had other plans. He introduced an amendment to the rules that made the committee permanent, and it passed 208-186. This would be the closest recorded vote on the existence of the committee, and it would exist for thirty years until it was dismantled by swift and adept political maneuvering. However, Rankin wouldn’t prove to be a particularly helpful member of this committee. Only the following month he accused Frank Hook (D-Mich.) of being a “communist”, to which Hook called him a liar. Rankin stormed up to him, grabbed him by the throat and delivered several short punches to his face. Hook apologized for his part in the fracas and offered to resign if Rankin would as well. Rankin didn’t apologize and neither man resigned. He would prove the easiest target for communists who would point to him specifically to claim that the committee was a vehicle to uphold economic and racial privilege given the refusal of he and other Southern Democrats to investigate the KKK in 1946. Rankin himself said on the subject, “After all, it is an old American institution” (Blake, Borus, & Brick, 53). He also came out against the Nuremberg Trials and advocated for giving preference to ethnic Germans over Jews for taking in displaced persons from Europe. Rankin doubted the testimony of former Soviet spy Elizabeth Bentley against Roosevelt Administration economic advisor Lauchlin Currie, stating “Now, the thing that disturbs me is that you take the testimony, the statement of two men, Silverman and Silvermaster, relayed from one to the other, about what this Scotchman in the White House, Mr. Currie, said about Communism” (Romerstein & Breindel, 183). The declassified Venona documents revealed that Currie was indeed an NKVD agent, identified under the codenames “PAGE” and “VIM”. Rankin also noted the Jewish birth surnames of people in the Hollywood Ten when speaking of them, as if this constituted additional evidence of subversion. Indeed, Walter Goodman writes on Rankin’s motivations, “The source of Rankin’s animus against Hollywood – and he made no particular effort to conceal it – with the large number of Jews eminent in the film industry. In Rankin’s mind, to call a Jew a Communist was a tautology. His convictions led him to attribute all the horrors of the Russian revolution to Trotsky and see Stalin as a kind of reformer” (Simkin). In 1948, he backed the Dixiecrat candidate Strom Thurmond over Democrat Harry S. Truman over the latter’s embrace of a civil rights platform. Both Rankin’s defection and his conduct embarrassing the committee resulted in Speaker Sam Rayburn booting him off HCUA in January 1949 through a rules change. The following year, Rankin participated in the campaign against the nomination of Anna M. Rosenberg as assistant secretary of defense, stating, “Anna Rosenberg, a little Yiddish woman from Austria-Hungary, will now become Assistant Secretary of Defense, if confirmed by the Senate, and will have more power over the lives of the American people than was ever exercised by any American President” (Romerstein & Breindel, 182).

The aforementioned hyperbolic and bigoted nonsense hindered his credibility when making more substantive cases against individuals, such as when on February 13, 1950, Rankin denounced Professor Albert Einstein on the floor of the House, opining that he was “one of the greatest fakers the world ever knew”, charging that he “should have been deported for his communistic activities years ago”, and holding that “he had no more to do with the development of the atomic bomb than if there had not been such a thing” (Congressional Record). He even cast shade on the idea that he was a scientist, which is ridiculous. However, it is technically true that Einstein was not part of the Manhattan Project (he was denied security clearance) but his letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1939 expressing concern about Nazi Germany developing the atomic bomb initiated government research on the subject and culminated in the Manhattan Project. Rankin also cited Einstein as a sponsor of several groups identified by HCUA and by Attorney Generals Francis Biddle and Tom Clark as “communist front groups”, including Committee for the Protection of Foreign Born (headed by secret communist Hugh De Lacy from 1942 to 1951) and the Freedom Crusade of the Civil Rights Congress (an organization headed by William L. Patterson, a prominent black communist). He also regarded his active opposition to Franco during the Spanish Civil War as evidence. I will not cover this matter further in this post as I think Einstein’s controversial politics are deserving of a deeper analysis than his association with several communist front groups and Rankin’s clear prejudiced motivations. This will be covered in a separate post, and rest assured it is not so cut-and-dry as Rankin has it.  

Congressman Rankin’s brand of anti-Semitic anticommunist demagoguery earned him a fan in another bigoted demagogue: Nazi sympathizer Reverend Gerald L.K. Smith, who wrote a laudatory pamphlet, “Congressman John E. Rankin: Patriot Christian Statesman”, praising him for his support for segregation and for his anti-Semitic rhetorical attacks on Walter Winchell and Albert Einstein.

Rankin: Champion of (White) Veterans

Congressman John E. Rankin once proclaimed himself as having done more for veterans than any other person, and his proclamation had some backing. He consistently served as a leading backer of veterans bonus bills against the vetoes of Presidents Harding, Coolidge, Hoover, and Roosevelt, he resisted cutting veterans benefits to fund the New Deal, and he sponsored with Edith Nourse Rogers (R-Mass.) the G.I. Bill in 1944. However, as you might expect, not all veterans were equal in Rankin’s eyes. The G.I. Bill was crafted in such a way, on his insistence, that local Veterans Administrations allocated funds. Rankin also fought for two months to dump an unemployment provision in the bill, which he thought would be too much of a benefit for black veterans and that they would use it to live off the government. However, he was politically outgunned and Warren Atherton, head of the American Legion, called him out on his intransigence, “If Mr. Rankin means that he wants to deny unemployment insurance to the men now carrying a bayonet for Uncle Sam, the veterans of the American Legion intend to fight him right down the line and to take the issue to every voter in the country” (Hindley). The unemployment provision was kept but the time was halved from 52 weeks to 26 weeks. As a result of Rankin’s insistence on local Veterans Administrations controlling the distribution of funds, white and black veterans of the North benefited from the G.I. Bill while Southern blacks saw little progress as they were often either pushed into vocational education or denied benefits (Thompson). Another shameful episode in the legacy of Rankin was his reaction to the Port Chicago disaster. On July 17, 1944, a munitions explosion occurred at a Naval depot in Port Chicago, California, which killed 320 sailors and civilians and injured 390 others. Rankin had no objection to giving to giving the families of the victims $5000 until he learned 2/3’s of them were black, then he lobbied for a reduction to $2000, with Congress settling on $3000 (Allen).

Postwar Politics

After World War II, Rankin was well in the Conservative Coalition after World War II, with his support of the Taft-Hartley Act curbing the power of unions, his staunch anti-communist politicking, his continuing opposition to price and rent controls, his opposition to strong minimum wage laws, and his repeated support for cutting foreign aid. He was even one of the few Democrats to vote against the Marshall Plan, but he voted for the Truman Doctrine. Rankin’s record on foreign affairs indicates an opposition to any foreign aid that wasn’t military aid, and he staunchly opposed aid for India because its leader, Jawaharlal Nehru, was implementing a socialist program. Despite initial support for the United Nations, Rankin would later issue a quote that is his most famous and makes its way around the internet on the institution, “The United Nations is the greatest fraud in all History. Its purpose is to destroy the United States” (Dallek, 505).  However, there were some questions that he maintained his old-school populism on, including funding for the Tennessee Valley Authority and his support for strong anti-trust laws. He also was not necessarily immune to changing his mind: in 1949, he voted against the Truman Administration-backed Taft-Ellender-Wagner Housing Act that provided for public housing, but in 1951 and 1952 he would vote against efforts to cut public housing. In 1951, Rankin cast a unique vote in opposition to the Bracero Program, in the sense that he was the only Democrat from a former Confederate state to do so. Additionally, his lifetime MC-Index score was a 44%, and his ideological change from the 67th Congress (1921-23) to the 82nd Congress (1951-53) is illustrated below:

Rankin’s Legislative Scheming

Rankin was something of a schemer, in that he proposed legislation with certain outward appeals that served purposes hostile to the Truman Administration. In 1949, he proposed a veterans pension bill for World War I and World War II veterans that, if enacted, would have made the Truman Administration’s proposed Social Security expansion unfeasible as it would have provided $90 a month ($1,017.96 in 2021 dollars) for veterans of World War I and II starting at age 65. This measure got tremendous support from veterans groups, some progressives (including pro-communist Vito Marcantonio of all people), and numerous conservative Republicans who would likely otherwise oppose such generous expenditures. This measure, however, got opposition by several World War II veterans including the second-most decorated combat veteran, Olin E. “Tiger” Teague (D-Tex.), who would gain a reputation himself as a champion for veterans. The influence of these younger veterans proved decisive: the Rankin’s bill was defeated by one vote. Rankin would also try to get a Veterans Hospital on the birthplace of Booker T. Washington constructed that would presumably be named after him that would also happen to only serve black veterans, a subject I covered in an earlier post.

The Fall of Rankin

Rankin’s blatant bigoted politicking was finding less and less favor in postwar America as many Americans were connecting such politicking to the consequences of Hitler’s bigotry. It was apparent by 1947 that his appeal had become increasingly limited even in Mississippi: he placed fifth in his bid to succeed the late fellow racist demagogue Theodore Bilbo to the Senate with 13% of the vote. Mississippi voters preferred John C. Stennis, who was distinctly not a demagogue. In 1952, Rankin’s district was merged with that of Thomas G. Abernethy, a man not known to engage in anti-Semitic rhetoric, and Rankin’s career came to an end with his defeat. He resumed the practice of law and engaged in the real estate business until his death.


Allen, R.L. (2006). The Port Chicago mutiny. Berkeley, CA: Heyday Books.

Blake, C.N., Borus, D.H., & Brick, H. (2020). At the center: American thought and culture in the mid-twentieth century. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Clark, J. (2016, March 18). John E. Rankin: A loved and hated congressman from Mississippi. The Lee County Courier.

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Dallek, R. (1991). Lone star rising: Lyndon Johnson & his times, 1908-1960. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Hindley, M. (2014). How the GI Bill Became Law in Spite of Some Veterans’ Groups. Humanities 35(4).

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Isacson, W. (2008, September 4). Einstein: His life and universe. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.

John Rankin. Densho Encyclopedia.

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Matthews, R. (1992, June 5). Einstein’s ‘red’ links were genuine. New Scientist.

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Romerstein, H. & Breindel, E. (2000). The venona secrets: Exposing Soviet espionage and America’s traitors. Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing, Inc.

Rep. Rankin Loses Seat in Congress; Was Strongly Anti-jewish. (1952, August 28). Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Representative Rankin (MS). “Faker Einstein.” Congressional Record 96:2 (February 13, 1950), p. A1022.

Simkin, J. (1997, September). John Elliott Rankin. Spartacus Educational.

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The Congress: The Last Gavel. (1941, June 16). TIME.

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The Manhattan Project. American Museum of Natural History.

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Thompson, J. (2019, November 9). The GI Bill should’ve been race neutral, politicos made sure it wasn’t. Military Times.

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Vickers, K.W. (1993). John Rankin: Democrat and demagogue. Mississippi State University.

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Zwiers, M. (2017, July 11). John Elliott Rankin. Mississippi Encyclopedia.

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The Martin Luther King Jr. Day Debate

On June 17, 2021, President Joe Biden signed into law the Juneteenth National Independence Day, a federal holiday to be celebrated on June 19th to mark the freeing of the last slaves in Galveston, Texas. The legislation had a fairly easy passage once Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) dropped his objection to the creation of another federal holiday. The Senate passed unanimously and the House followed 415-14. This marks the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and the debate on that one was considerably greater.

Martin Luther King Jr. - Wikipedia

The first proposal for the Martin Luther King Jr. Day came right after his assassination, when it was introduced by John Conyers (D-Mich.), but King was a bit too immediate of a figure for there to be a quick consensus around this idea, so support grew during the 1970s and several states enacted their own Martin Luther King Jr. days. In January 1979, President Jimmy Carter announced his support for the new holiday and on November 13th, an MLK Day bill failed by five votes, 252-133, as it was under suspension of the rules, which requires 2/3’s vote for passage.  On December 5th, Congress agreed to a substitute amendment from Robin Beard (R-Tenn.) that made the third Sunday of each year as Martin Luther King Jr. Day on a 207-191 vote, but its sponsors pulled the bill in protest of the change as the day would be unpaid.

In 1983, Rep. Katie Hall (D-Ind.) brought the measure forth again in the House, and the debate began. The list of people who spoke in favor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the House is too great to individually cover all of their views in this post, but I will list who they were:

Dan Lungren (R-Calif.), Katie Hall (D-Ind.), Parren J. Mitchell (D-Md.), Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Joseph P. Addabbo (D-N.Y.), Sam Stratton (D-N.Y.), Thomas Downey (D-N.Y.), Robert Garcia (D-N.Y.), Harold Ford (D-Tenn.), Jerry Patterson (D-Calif.), Sala Burton (D-Calif.), Wyche Fowler (D-Ga.), Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), Howard Wolpe (D-Mich.), William Clay (D-Mo.), Cardiss Collins (D-Ill.), Delegate Walter Fauntroy (D-D.C.), Silvio Conte (R-Mass.), Carroll Hubbard (D-Ky.), John Conyers (D-Mich.), Peter Rodino (D-N.J.), Mary Rose Oakar (D-Ohio), Major Owens (D-N.Y.), Jim Moody (D-Wis.), Bruce Morrison (D-Conn.), Robin Tallon (D-S.C.), Ed Bethune (R-Ark.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), George Crockett (D-Mich.), Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.), Bill Alexander (D-Ark.), James Courter (R-N.J.) (although he protested suspension of the rules), Mickey Edwards (R-Okla.), Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), Ron Dellums (D-Calif.), William Ford (D-Mich.), Ben Gilman (R-N.Y.), Thomas Foglietta (D-Penn.), Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.), Hamilton Fish IV (R-N.Y.), George Gekas (R-Penn.), Jim Slattery (D-Kan.), Delegate Ron De Lugo (D-Virgin Islands), Lou Stokes (D-Ohio), Buddy Roemer (D-La.), William Gray (D-Penn.), Jim Wright (D-Tex.), Julian Dixon (D-Calif.), Tip O’Neill (D-Mass.), Raymond McGrath (R-N.Y.), Robert Borski (D-Penn.), Norman Mineta (D-Calif.), William Coyne (D-Penn.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Tom Luken (D-Ohio), Timothy Wirth (D-Colo.), Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.), Sam Gejdenson (D-Conn.), Mario Biaggi (D-N.Y.), Richard Lehman (D-Calif.), William Ratchford (D-Conn.), Richard Ottinger (D-N.Y.), Bob Matsui (D-Calif.), Pat Schroeder (D-Colo.), Barbara Kennelly (D-Conn.), George Brown (D-Calif.), Paul Simon (D-Ill.), and Brian Donnelly (D-Mass.).

Gus Savage (D-Ill.) and Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) simply stated on the floor of the House their support for the legislation.

Notable King support speeches were delivered by:

Parren J. Mitchell (D-Md.) – Brother of NAACP chief lobbyist Clarence Mitchell Jr., talked about his experience as a young man, stating he held older blacks in contempt for being so debased by the Jim Crow system and considered himself a militant who wanted armed warfare. But, he stated that King showed him a better way through nonviolence and the employment of the Judeo-Christian ethic. Mitchell dismissed Rep. William Dannemeyer’s concerns about cost.

Sam Stratton (D-N.Y.) – The original author of the legislation making Martin Luther King Jr. a Monday holiday, commended Rep. Katie Hall (D-Ind.) for her sponsorship.

Robert Garcia (D-N.Y.) – Stated reasons for supporting Martin Luther King Jr. Day as not only his civil rights activism but his activism on behalf of all poor people.

Jerry Patterson (D-Calif.) – Used his speech in support of MLK Day to attack the Reagan Administration for policies he regarded as setbacks to civil rights, which he includes permitting private religious schools to maintain tax-exempt status despite racially discriminatory policies and his policies of cutting taxes and the domestic budget.

William Clay (D-Mo.) – Spoke positively of racial and economic justice that MLK called for and used this speech to condemn the policies of the Reagan Administration, which he called “divisive and oppressive”.

Ed Bethune (R-Ark.) – Former FBI agent, stated his support for MLK Day in response to Larry McDonald’s (D-Ga.) support of the FBI treatment of King, considered this day overdue and that black children, as do children of other racial groups, need public figures to look up to.

Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) – Spoke in support as someone who had changed their mind after voting against the 1979 legislation, regarding the symbolic significance as of greater importance than the cost of an additional public holiday.

Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.) – Spoke as someone who had voted against the 1979 legislation, asserted that the American Revolution would stand incomplete without recognition of the civil rights movement.

Ron Dellums (D-Calif.) – Praised King’s civil rights activism as well as his anti-war platform, for which he stated his belief that if King were still alive he would be opposing the heating up of the Cold War and the Reagan Administration’s policies on civil rights.

Lou Stokes (D-Ohio) – Dismissed attacks on King’s character as how people react when they find out a great man has faults, regarded King as our nation’s Gandhi, and regarded the argument over cost as trivial. 

Opposed to MLK Day: Only ten representatives actually took to the floor to speak against the King Holiday, and most opposition was based on support for the Sunday substitute.

William Dannemeyer (R-Calif.) – Dannemeyer led House opposition to MLK Day and cited Germany celebrating the fourth Sunday in October as the birth of King’s adopted namesake, the great theologian Martin Luther. Thus, he thought it appropriate that Martin Luther King Jr. should get the third Sunday in January instead of a paid public holiday.

Carroll Campbell (R-S.C.)  – Spoke out against creating another paid federal holiday. Stated that Washington’s Birthday had been redesignated as President’s Day, which was not technically true, but in the public’s mind it was after the 1968 law on holidays. Campbell protested against the denial of a vote on the proposal to make MLK Day a Sunday.

Daniel B. Crane (R-Ill.) – Called for a day on Sunday in January for recognition instead.

Larry McDonald (D-Ga.) – Chairman of the John Birch Society, cited MLK’s ties with communists Stanley Levinson, Jack O’Dell, and other radicals. He regarded his associations and activities as “questionable”. McDonald defended J. Edgar Hoover’s pursuit of King and wanted his tapes declassified as were FDR’s and JFK’s. He also cited the Virginia Taxpayer’s Association’s opposition to the measure.

Herbert Bateman (R-Va.) – Came out in “reluctant opposition” to the MLK Day, citing cost and supporting the proposed Sunday substitute. Spoke in support of a federal holiday for Thomas Jefferson for his authorship of the Declaration of Independence.

Bill Frenzel (R-Minn.) – Spoke in favor of King’s civil rights activities, but against adding another federal holiday, which he cited a $235 million cost to the taxpayer and characterized it as a paid day off for bureaucrats. He thought the creation of a bust or statue of Dr. King in the Capitol, which he voted for in 1981, as a fitting memorial.

Jack Fields (R-Tex.) – Cited a $221 million cost to the taxpayer for the new holiday, wanted a Sunday for Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Phil Crane (R-Ill.) – Cited common public celebration of “President’s Day” rather than Washington’s birthday, held that states should decide on this matter.

William Nichols (D-Ala.) – Protested suspension of the rules procedure, cited budget deficit as a reason to not adopt the King holiday.

Andy Ireland (R-Fla.) – Opposed the creation of more federal holidays.

On August 2, 1983, MLK Day was passed 338-90 (D 249-13, R 89-77). Notably, House freshman and future presidential candidate John McCain (R-Ariz.) voted against the holiday but didn’t speak on the House floor on the matter. He later expressed regret for his vote against during his 2008 presidential campaign. The bill moved on to the Senate, which at the time had a Republican majority. The key senators pushing the measure were Senators Baker (R-Tenn.), Byrd (D-W.V.), Dole (R-Kan.), Mathias (R-Md.), Thurmond (R-S.C.), and Biden (D-Del.). However, they encountered difficulties in the form of some recalcitrant senators and a reluctant president.  

Senators who spoke for the MLK Day:

Charles Mathias (R-Md.), Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), Howell Heflin (D-Ala.), Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), Lloyd Bentsen (D-Tex.), Gary Hart (D-Colo.), Dale Bumpers (D-Ark.), Mark Hatfield (R-Ore.), Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.), Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Mack Mattingly (R-Ga.), James Sasser (D-Tenn.), Bill Bradley (D-N.J.), Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), Howard Metzenbaum (D-Ohio), John Danforth (R-Mo.), Thomas Eagleton (D-Mo.), Joe Biden (D-Del.), Lawton Chiles (D-Fla.), Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), Charles Percy (R-Ill.), Bob Dole (R-Kan.), and Jeremiah Denton (R-Ala.).

Notable speeches in favor:

Charles Mathias (R-Md.) – Although he addressed a concern by Pete Wilson (R-Calif.) about growing numbers of public holidays and their cost as valid, he nonetheless regarded King as a worthy recipient of a paid holiday for his importance. Humorously referred to sparing the chamber his rendition of “What a difference a day makes, 24 little hours” and cited the fact that the adoption of the Sunday proposal in 1979 resulted in the killing of the bill.

Mark Hatfield (R-Ore.) – Hatfield expressed his preference for a “Civil Rights Day”, citing “Labor Day” as a precedent. However, he stated that if brought to a vote he would vote for a Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and indeed he did.

Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.) – Spoke in favor of King holiday, regarding his movement and his “I Have a Dream” speech as a foremost expression of democracy.

Mack Mattingly (R-Ga.) – A cosponsor of the Boren amendment establishing Washington’s and King’s days on their actual birthdays and Columbus Day on the day of Columbus’s arrival in the Americas, spoke in favor of adopting the Boren amendment as well as the King holiday. Cited the progress made on racial relations because of King’s work.

Bill Bradley (D-N.J.) – Spoke of Dr. King as teaching that there is no place for hate and that in American institutions existed the capability to right the course on racial discrimination. Shot back at Senators Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) and John Porter East (R-N.C.) in the former’s implication that King was a communist and the latter’s implication that he called American soldiers Nazis during the Vietnam War.

Joe Biden (D-Del.) – Held that to characterize King as only a civil rights activist was to miss the larger picture, that he was the social conscience of America. Cited King as holding America true to the words of the Declaration of Independence, that “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal”.

Bob Dole (R-Kan.) – Spoke in favor of the holiday as commemorating King’s birthday as holding true to American compassion and nonconformity. Considered Dr. King a national healer, and thus worthy of a holiday.

Jeremiah Denton (R-Ala.) – Although Denton acknowledged that King was imperfect, he found that King’s greatness and the change he brought to the South made him worthy of a holiday.

Speeches against:

Gordon J. Humphrey (R-N.H.) – Spoke in support of a Sunday for the King celebration, cited cost of a public holiday in the face of a budget deficit, and cited hidden costs from the inability of certain business to transact on a Monday. Humphrey also spoke of how Lincoln’s birthday is celebrated without a paid day off.

Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) – Spoke in support of a day for Thomas Jefferson instead, and like Larry McDonald of the House, Helms used this opportunity to knock King’s character and regarded his movement as distorted by “subversive” influences. He held that Congress should declassify materials on MLK before embracing this holiday and offered multiple amendments to try and disrupt the process, including a posthumous pardon for Marcus Garvey. Bemoaned that facts were being dismissed as trash, even though Democrats are vigorous in their investigations of Reagan nominees, and cited former President Harry S. Truman’s and Senator Robert Byrd’s (D-W.V.) unflattering past remarks about King.

Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) – Proposed an alternative “National Heroes Day”, an unpaid holiday on the third Sunday of January that would recognize multiple heroes of American history, determined by a commission that would presumably include King. He also cited an $18 million expense directly and $270 million in lost productivity.

Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) – Argued against based on cost to taxpayers and that it would be, aside from George Washington, the only holiday celebrating an individual. Stated his great hesitation in voting “no”.

Unique dissents:

Jennings Randolph (D-W.V.) insisted that MLK day be celebrated on the day of his birth every year, and for this reason he was one of four Senate Democrats to vote no.

Larry Pressler (R-S.D.) harbored no objections to celebrating MLK, but wanted a day of recognition for American Indians if there was to be an MLK Day. His opposition was in protest for a lack of such day being considered.

Several amendments were offered to this legislation. The most notable were:

Senator Dave Boren’s (D-Okla.) proposal to hold the birthdays of King, Washington, and the landing in the Americas by Columbus to be on their actual dates, failed 45-52. This was the closest vote of the King Holiday debate.

Senator Gordon J. Humphrey’s (R-N.H.) proposal to designate the third Sunday in January as Martin Luther King Jr. Day, failed 16-74.

Senator Jesse Helms’s (R-N.C.) proposal to not allow a holiday for Martin Luther King, Jr. to be enacted unless one is enacted for Thomas Jefferson first, failed 10-82.

Senator Warren Rudman’s (R-N.H.) proposal to designate March 16th as “National Civil Rights Day”, failed 22-68.

Senator Jennings Randolph’s (D-W.V.) proposal for MLK Day to be on his actual date of birth, January 15, failed 23-71.

A proposal to recommit and thus kill the bill for a Martin Luther King Jr. Day failed 12-76.

The MLK Day legislation passed 78-22 (R 37-18, D 41-4) on October 19th. Notably, the only senators of former Confederate states to vote against were John Stennis (D-Miss.), Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), John Porter East (R-N.C.), and John Tower (R-Tex.).

President Ronald Reagan was reluctant about adopting this day based on cost, and in response to a question from Sam Donaldson as to whether he thought MLK sympathized with communism as did Jesse Helms, he replied flippantly, “Well, we’ll know in about thirty-five years, won’t we?”, a throwaway answer referring to the eventual declassification of FBI documents on him (Williams). Reagan subsequently apologized to Coretta Scott King over the phone. After Senate passage, he signed the bill into law.

The first day MLK Day was celebrated nationally was January 20, 1986. The most significant subsequent conflict that arose regarding the holiday was the election of Evan Mecham as Governor of Arizona that year, in which one of his platforms was a decertifying Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which Governor Bruce Babbitt had instituted by circumventing the state legislature, a legally questionable act. Arizona under Mecham decertified the day but it was reinstated in 1992 by public referendum. 

I would argue that Juneteenth is a more justified day than MLK Day, as it celebrates an event rather than a single person and that event is one that I would hope no one disputes is good. The only argument I can see against it is that it fulfills a certain dreaded “woke” agenda, indeed that seems to be how the fourteen House Republicans saw it. Although I am not “woke”, I see no harm in this holiday by itself and quite frankly it’s the one that should have been adopted back in 1983.

P.S.: A fascinating tidbit from Senator George Mitchell (D-Me.) that indicates how feelings on Columbus Day were quite a bit different thirty-eight years ago than now, “Columbus Day is a tribute, not to Italian Americans, but to the courage of men who sailed into a horizon of which they knew nothing. It is a tribute to the fact that our national origins are diverse, Columbus Day does not denigrate the bravery or seacaptains of English or Italian or any other extraction. It stands for all early voyagers who had the vision and the courage to sail into the unknown, and for what we have achieved as a result of their bravery”. (Congressional Record, 28368)


“Designation of the Birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., as a Legal Public Holiday.” Congressional Record 129: 16 (August 2, 1983) p. 22208-22243.

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“Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday.” Congressional Record 129: 16 (October 19, 1983) p. 28341-28380.

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To Agree to a Substitute to H.R. 5461. Govtrack.

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To Suspend the Rules and Pass H.R. 5461. Govtrack.

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Williams, J. (1983, October 22). Reagan Calls Mrs. King to Explain. Washington Post.

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The First Recall Election

Introductory Note: The recent adoption of the “Juneteenth” Holiday commemorating the end of slavery is something that caught me a bit by surprise and I had already written about this other topic. The next post of mine will thus be about the far more controversial adoption of the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday in 1983.

There has been a grand total of three governors who underwent recall votes, and of these two lost their recalls and one survived. California Governor Gavin Newsom will be the fourth to face such a vote largely due to his personal hypocrisy on COVID-19 restrictions, but he is expected to prevail. Given that this year is the 100th anniversary of the first recall election and that there is a recall election happening this year, I thought that it would be a good time to write about it. 

The Progressive Era introduced, among other things to American politics, the following laws to more direct democracy: initiative, referendum, and recall. California notably adopted all three in 1911, and in 1919 North Dakota under Governor Lynn J. Frazier (1874-1947) made recall law, which enabled voters to vote out elected officials during their terms. Little did he know that this law would produce unintended consequences for him. Before we proceed, some further background is necessary.

In 1915, former Socialist Party organizer Arthur C. Townley founded the Non-Partisan League (NPL), which stood for state ownership of certain businesses to free North Dakota farmers from the grasps of major businesses headquartered in Minneapolis and Chicago. Rather than fight as a political party, they acted as the progressive wing of the state’s Republican Party, which was dominant in North Dakota. This strategy proved tremendously successful, with the NPL having some immediate success in 1916 with the election of Lynn J. Frazier as governor with 79% of the vote and in 1917 with the special election of John M. Baer to Congress. Frazier was an appealing figure to many North Dakotans because he didn’t look or talk like a politician: he was balding, pudgy, plain-spoken, and didn’t smoke, drink, or dance. Yet, his agenda in some ways was radical. The Republican old guard was alarmed by such developments and they formed their own group, the Independent Voters Association (IVA) in 1918. That year, Frazier won reelection with just under 60% of the vote and the NPL faction gained control of the state legislature and began passing progressive and even some socialist legislation. The progressive legislation included the adoption of a state income tax and an inheritance tax. The socialist legislation was the establishment of the North Dakota Mill and Elevator, the Bank of North Dakota, and a public railroad.

Lynn Joseph Frazier (1874-1947) - Find A Grave Memorial
Lynn J. Frazier

The Recall

In 1920, however, progressivism was on the decline with a depression underway and widespread disillusionment with President Woodrow Wilson. The NPL saw the backlash from this in the form of Frazier winning reelection by only 51% of the vote and Baer losing reelection to the considerably more conservative Republican Olger B. Burtness. Most consequentially for Frazier was that control of the state legislature went to the IVA, which investigated the state-owned companies and uncovered some scandalous material. They discovered shoddy management practices at the Bank of North Dakota, an excessive salary for its head, and that a manager of a small government owned mill had concealed losses through cooking the books. The economy of North Dakota was also hit especially hard by the depression, and Frazier and the NPL were increasingly blamed for continuing economic problems. The state auditor was so critical of Frazier as to call for him to be deported to Russia, “where the anarchists belong” (Wetzel). Accusations also abounded that the public library system was permitting books that promoted free love and downplayed the importance of marriage. One legislator denounced a book that was going through the public library system as “the foulest socialist, anarchistic and free love rot which has ever found a place on a printed page” (Wetzel). That year, the IVA initiated a recall and selected Ragnvald A. Nestos as their nominee and ran on a platform of opposition to the Bank of North Dakota and the State Mill and Elevator. On October 28th, Frazier lost the recall, getting 49% of the vote, losing by about 4,000 votes.

The Winner: Ragnvald A. Nestos

The Aftermath – Success for Nestos, Frazier, and the NPL, Retention of State-Run Businesses

Despite the IVA running a platform against government ownership, the administration of Nestos, instead of ending government ownership, reinvigorated and reformed the operation of these institutions. Nestos was reelected in 1922 with about 57% of the vote.  It was also far from the end for the political career of Lynn J. Frazier, who defeated the more conservative and internationalist incumbent Senator Porter J. McCumber, the only Republican who voted for the Versailles Treaty without amendments, in the 1922 primary and easily won election to the Senate. He would remain in office as a progressive and non-interventionist Republican who supported a national referendum requirement for non-defensive war.

The NPL faction would dominate the state’s Republican Party during the Roosevelt years, with Frazier, Gerald P. Nye, William Langer, William Lemke, and Usher L. Burdick being elected to federal office. In 1940, Frazier would be defeated for renomination by Langer, one of his old rivals in the GOP. In 1956, the NPL, no longer viewing foreign affairs as an irreconcilable difference between them and the Democrats, split from the Republican Party and merged with the Democratic Party. This change was best symbolized with Republican Usher Burdick’s retirement in 1959 and his son, Quentin Burdick, who had led the NPL away from the Republicans, being elected to succeed him as a Democrat. The younger Burdick would have a long career as a senator from 1960 until his death in 1992. To this day, the official name for the Democratic Party in the state is the North Dakota Democratic-Non-Partisan League Party. To this day, despite Republicans holding the governorship since 1992, the North Dakota Mill and Elevator and the Bank of North Dakota remain the only state-run businesses of their kind in the United States. 


Exhibits – North Dakota Governors – Lynn J. Frazier. State Historical Society of North Dakota.

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Frazier, Lynn (1874-1947). Encyclopedia of the Great Plains.

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Hylton, J.G. Who Was Gov. Lynn Joseph Frazier? Marquette University Law School Faculty Blog.

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Wetzel, D. (2003, August 8). North Dakota Recalled Governor 82 Years Ago in 1921, Lynn Frazier’s Popularity Fell with the State’s Economic Fortunes. The Associated Press.

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The Booker T. Washington Veterans Hospital: A Segregation Debate From 70 Years Ago

About seventy years ago, in June 1951, Congress was considering the creation of a $5 million veteran’s hospital in Virginia at Booker T. Washington’s birthplace at Hale’s Ford, Virginia, that would presumably be named after him. This hospital would serve only black patients despite the Veterans Administration prohibiting segregation as a policy for hospitals, and there was only one veterans hospital at the time that was only for black people, down in Tuskegee, Alabama, that had been commissioned for World War I veterans in 1923. This proposal was put forth by none other than John E. Rankin of Mississippi, the chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee. Rankin was notorious as an outspoken racial and anti-Semitic bigot whose bigotry went so far as to be an embarrassment to many Southerners. There’s much more detail about Rankin, but his story is such that it warrants a separate posting.

The Debate

The debate on this measure to construct a segregated hospital despite the Veterans Administration having a non-segregation principle for new hospital construction had more issues than segregation being considered. These included practicality, costs, and the fact that the VA itself opposed the construction of this hospital. The breakdown of support and opposition in the debate is below.

Supported the Hospital:

File:House Veterans' committee leader and ranking republican member. Washington, D.C., Jan. 25. Rep. John E. Rankin, chairman of the House Veterans Committee and Edith Hourse Rogers, LCCN2016874894.jpg
John E. Rankin (D-Miss.) and Edith Nourse Rogers (R-Mass.), pictured in 1939.

Edith Nourse Rogers (R-Mass.) – The ranking Republican on the committee denied it was a matter of segregation. She insisted that black people like their black doctors, but the term she used was “colored”. She stated her lifelong opposition to segregation, but thought the hospital was needed. Rogers was probably the most effective defender of the hospital’s construction given her record of supporting civil rights legislation. 

John E. Rankin (D-Miss.) – Contrasted funding this hospital with funding foreign aid to India under its socialist leader Jawaharal Nehru, defended need for hospital. He held that the measure already passed in the 80th and 81st Congresses and defended hospital distance by talking about the Tuskegee veterans hospital. Rankin also accused the NAACP of being Communist-infested while holding that the Booker T. Washington Foundation, which was calling for this hospital, was not and bristled at criticism of segregation. He declared the desegregation of the Armed Services as Stalin’s greatest victory since Yalta.

Paul W. Shafer (R-Mich.) – Although he stated that a hospital in Michigan had yet to be opened and asked whether black veterans (who he called “colored boys”) could go up there. Ultimately voted against killing the measure.

J. Percy Priest (D-Tenn.) – Although he argued that a hospital would be better near Nashville because of the all-black Meharry Medical College there, he ultimately voted against killing the measure.

James S. Golden (R-Ky.) – He thought that many black veterans in the area wanted the hospital.

Orland K. Armstrong (R-Mo.) – Armstrong voiced that he didn’t support furthering segregation but regarded the hospital as necessary given how many veterans hospitals there were existing that were serving primarily the white population.

John T. Wood (R-Idaho) – Questioned the questioning of distance from medical schools, holding that close proximity was only good for access to medical consultants.

Opposed the Hospital:

Leo Allen (R-Ill.) – Cited cost of the hospital of $5 million as questionable.

James Auchincloss (R-N.J.) – Questioned cost of the hospital.

Edgar Jonas (R-Ill.) – Questioned the distance from medical schools, practicality of the hospital.

Roy Wier (D-Minn.) – Questioned whether this would constitute “pork”.

Abraham Multer (D-N.Y.) – Questioned the segregated nature of the hospital.

H. Carl Andersen (R-Minn.) – Questioned the practicality of having an all-black hospital over 200 miles away from the Meharry Medical College (which taught black medical students) in Nashville, thought that a veterans hospital should be located closer to Nashville.

John Rooney (D-N.Y.) – Stated that Veterans Administration opposed this hospital.

Marguerite Church (R-Ill.) – Voiced opposition because the hospital would serve only blacks and thus further segregation.

Kenneth Keating (R-N.Y.) – Explicitly stated that the adoption of this measure would serve to officially give a federal stamp of approval to segregation.

Jacob Javits (R-N.Y.) – Regarded the measure as turning back the clock to segregation.

James Devereux (R-Md.) – Voiced opposition to this legislation as “class legislation”. His objection and those of Adam Clayton Powell and William Dawson seemed to turn the debate decisively against the hospital. 

William L. Dawson (D-Ill.) – One of only two black members of the House, opposed the legislation as “class legislation”, questioned need and practicality of the hospital.

William L. Dawson.jpg
William L. Dawson, D-Ill.

Adam Clayton Powell (D-N.Y.) – One of only two black members of the House, opposed the legislation for forwarding segregation, cited the opposition of 27 civil rights organizations, and questioned the practicality of the hospital. Motioned to strike the enacting clause.

Adam Clayton Powell, D-N.Y.

Thomas B. Curtis (R-Mo.) – Agreed with the “class legislation” assessment, cited the NAACP’s opposition, and disputed the practicality and cost of the hospital.

Isidore Dollinger (D-N.Y.) – Referred to segregation as a “disease”.

James Fulton (R-Penn.) – Asked if this hospital would serve to discriminate against whites and not be permitted to admit any in the case of emergency.

Arthur Miller (R-Neb.) – Asked rhetorically if there was any difference between illnesses of blacks and whites.

Emanuel Celler (D-N.Y.) – Condemned the segregated nature of the hospital, regarded it as cruel that a segregated hospital would bear Washington’s name, and cited Rankin’s personal racism as a reason to oppose.

Hugh Scott (R-Penn.) – Spoke against cost, practicality, and of its segregated nature. Asked rhetorically if hospitals were needed for people of different nationalities and faiths.

Wayne Hays (D-Ohio) – Questioned the practicality of a hospital so far away from black medical colleges.

James Van Zandt (R-Penn.) – Questioned practicality given the fact that there were veterans hospitals closing down.

Ultimately, Powell motioned to strike the enacting clause and this was passed on a 223-117 (D 89-84; R 133-33; I 1-0) vote on June 6th, killing the proposal for the session. The breakdown of the vote went as follows, accompanied with MC-Index scores for the 82nd session of Congress. Republicans are in bold italics, Democrats in plain text.

Note: Congressional Quarterly and Americans for Democratic Action 1951 voting record indicate that Representative Morano (R-Conn.) was opposed to killing the hospital.

Rankin didn’t get an opportunity to reintroduce it in the next Congress as he was defeated for renomination in 1952. Two years later, Brown v. Board of Education, the culmination of a gradual series of Supreme Court rulings chipping away at segregation, found school segregation unconstitutional.


ADA World Congressional Supplement. (October 1951). Americans for Democratic Action.

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“Commemorative Veterans’ Hospital For Negro Veterans.” Congressional Record 97:5 (June 6, 1951) p. 6191-6203.

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Texas Legends #6: Joseph J. Mansfield

Joseph J. Mansfield - Wikipedia

In 1916, Woodrow Wilson pulled off a narrow reelection against Republican challenger Charles Evans Hughes, and with this victory Joseph J. Mansfield (1861-1947) was elected as well. Mansfield, like many other Texans in his day, was elected as a Wilsonian progressive. He faced adversity when in 1921 he developed a serious illness which left him bedridden for months and as a consequence was rendered paraplegic, forcing him to use a wheelchair for the remainder of his life. However, he soldiered on and was a frequent foe of the economic policies of the Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover Administrations. In 1931, with Democrats elected to a majority in Congress, Mansfield became chair of the Rivers and Harbors Committee.

Congressman Mansfield was one of multiple Texans who found themselves in great positions of power thanks to the seniority system, which as I have written before, benefited no state more than Texas in the 20th century. In this post, he supported increases in funding for river and harbor projects and was a strong supporter of federal flood control legislation, given that Texas has its 862-mile Colorado River. Mansfield was successful in his efforts to dam this river, and this dam is known as the Mansfield Dam. However, he was not exempt from the increasingly rightward drift Texans were undergoing by FDR’s second term. During FDR’s first term, his MC-Index averaged a 4%, second, 28%, and third, 60%. He was a bit more conciliatory to Truman than third-term FDR, but by 1947, Mansfield had lost his committee chairmanship due to the Republicans winning control of Congress in the 1946 midterms, was 86 years old, and his health was in decline. The end came in Bethesda Naval Hospital on July 5th of that year. His lifetime MC-Index score was a 23%.


Flachmeier, W.A. Mansfield, Joseph Jefferson (1861-1947). Texas State Historical Association.

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The Mansfield Family. Nesbitt Memorial Library.

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Miles Poindexter: Washington’s Political Changeling

One subject that has been of great fascination for a long time for me is that of political change. As a new resident of the state of Washington, this state’s politics have come to my attention. One politician on the federal level exhibited the greatest variance in their ideology was Republican Miles Poindexter.

1908 was a good year for the Republican Party. For the third time a Republican had defeated populistic Democrat William Jennings Bryan for president and on the coattails of Taft, Miles Poindexter (1868-1946) won election to the House. Although Poindexter had switched from Democrat to Republican in 1896 over his distaste of populism, he quickly identified with the insurgent wing of the GOP that was fed up with the conservative policies of Congressional leadership as well as President Taft’s acquiescence to them. Poindexter voted to strip Speaker Joe Cannon of much of his powers on March 19, 1910. That year, the Washington state legislature elected him to the Senate. As a senator, he continued his record as a progressive within the GOP and in 1912 he identified with the Bull Moose Progressives and from 1913 to 1915 was a member of the Progressive Party. Poindexter was accommodating to the Wilson Administration, only joining Robert La Follette of Wisconsin among non-Democrats to vote for the Underwood Tariff, was one of seven non-Democrats to vote for the establishment of the Federal Reserve, and voted for Wilson’s anti-trust legislation. He also called for a major public works programs to employ the unemployed, presaging New Deal policies. In 1915, Poindexter voted for a proposal that would exclude all blacks from immigrating to the United States and voted for another one which would exclude all non-whites from immigrating. Poindexter had an upbringing as a Southern Democrat and his father had been a Confederate veteran so it is possible such an upbringing motivated these views. However, Poindexter did not back a proposal to limit women’s suffrage to white women. He was also supportive of women’s suffrage overall and Prohibition.

During World War I, Poindexter was one of the most recognizable and loud of nationalists, calling for deportation of IWW radicals (even though he had sympathized with an IWW strike in 1912) and supporting government crackdowns on people who spoke out against American efforts in World War I. He was hawkish and criticized Wilson for not being strong enough in prosecuting the war effort and was a strong advocate for intervention in Latin American affairs. Poindexter was one of ten Senate Republicans to vote for the Sedition Act of 1918, which was supported by most Democrats and mostly opposed by a combination of conservative and progressive Republicans that restricted free speech. After the 1918 midterms, Poindexter’s overall record went conservative. In the 65th Congress, his MC-Index score was a 24% but in the 66th it was an 88%. He was one of the 15-16 irreconcilables on the Versailles Treaty, not supporting the treaty under any conditions. He gave himself credit for pushing Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer to conduct his raids on radicals in 1919 and 1920 (Prabook). In 1920, Poindexter ran for the Republican nomination for president as a staunch conservative, but was never considered a serious candidate.

During the Harding Administration, Poindexter embraced higher tariffs, lower income taxes, and an overall reduced government agenda. In some ways, curiously, he represented the American public’s shifts on reform: enthusiastic about reform during the Progressive Era, and then turning conservative with World War I’s conclusion. The voters of Washington, having reelected him in 1916 with 55% of the vote, were not pleased with his shift, especially with his resistance to using government to aid agriculture, and in the 1922 midterms he lost a three-way race to former Democratic Congressman Clarence Dill. He subsequently served as Ambassador to Peru under Harding and Coolidge. In 1928, Poindexter attempted a rematch, but lost the Republican primary to Chief Justice of the Washington Supreme Court Kenneth Mackintosh, who lost the election. He subsequently retired to his family estate in Virginia, where he died in 1946 of a heart attack in his sleep. Poindexter’s lifetime MC-Index score was a 44%, with a low in the 62nd Congress, in which he scored a 19%, and a high in the 66th Congress.

Miles Poindexter. Prabook.

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Miles Poindexter papers, 1897-1940. Orbis Cascade Alliance.

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Texas Legends #5: Tom Connally

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Upon the reelection of Woodrow Wilson in 1916, another Texas Legend was elected, Tom Connally (1877-1963), representing a district centered in Waco. He had gotten his start in state politics, in which he was a staunch foe of the trusts. In the House, Connally specialized in foreign policy as a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and served as a major supporter of Wilsonian internationalism, including the Versailles Treaty. He also was a staunch critic of Republican foreign policy in the 1920s, particularly with the interventions south of the border, including in Haiti and Nicaragua, intended to protect Americans and their property. In 1928, Connally ran for the Senate on an anti-KKK platform, facing in the Democratic primary incumbent Earle B. Mayfield, who was a Klansman. By that year, the influence of the Klan had fallen substantially with scandals, public ill will generated by their violence, and revelations of moral hypocrisy among their leaders. Connally won the primary, and by default the election as Democrats dominated Texas at the time. He proved a foe of President Herbert Hoover’s policies and in 1932 was enthusiastic about the Roosevelt-Garner ticket.

Upon the election of FDR, Connally was mostly on board with the first New Deal, especially on agricultural aid, but he did notably vote against the National Industrial Recovery Act. He also sponsored the Connally Hot Oil Act, which prohibited interstate shipment of oil that violated new state oil quotas. During this time, Connally suffered a personal tragedy as his wife Louise died right in his office of a sudden heart attack in 1935. He would remarry to a woman he had known for many years, Lucille Sanderson Sheppard, widow of Senator Morris Sheppard, in 1942. In 1937, he differed from the Roosevelt Administration in his opposition to the court packing plan as well as his vote against the Fair Labor Standards Act, which many Southern Democrats voted against as it undermined a cheap labor competitive advantage. That year, Connally led a filibuster against the Gavagan-Wagner Anti-Lynching bill, and it was defeated.
Although Connally was having increasing differences with the Roosevelt Administration on domestic policy, he was his key Senate ally in foreign policy, pushing forward the repeal of the arms embargo in 1939, and as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1941, the Lend-Lease Act. He continued his leading role in defeating civil rights legislation with his filibuster of the bill banning the poll tax for federal elections in 1942. Texas was one of the states that had a poll tax at the time. During the 1940s, his record became even more antagonistic to the Roosevelt Administration on domestic policy, and in the 78th Congress his MC-Index score shot up to 77%. The highest he had scored in the past was a 41%, the session before. Connally was the Senate sponsor of the Smith-Connally Act that session, which permitted the government to seize and operate industries in which strikes provided a threat to the war effort. This law was passed over President Roosevelt’s veto in 1943, but he didn’t hesitate to use it during the Philadelphia transit strike of 1944, when the Philadelphia Rapid Transit Employees Union engaged in a sick-out in protest against the hiring of black motormen as ordered by the Fair Employment Practices Committee.

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Connally holds a watch to mark the time of the declaration of war against Japan.

In 1945, Connally played a key role in the drafting of the United Nations Charter and was the second American to sign it. He also incorporated in the United Nations bill the “Connally Amendment”, which prevented UN jurisdiction in internal matters in the United States. This helped win it overwhelming ratification in the Senate. Although Connally was easily reelected in 1946, he faced a Republican Congress. He again proved a staunch ally of Truman on foreign policy and was widely seen as his Senate spokesman. Connally worked closely with Senator Arthur Vandenberg (R-Mich.) to pass the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan in a Congress that was diametrically opposed to the president on domestic policy. This didn’t mean Connally always agreed with Truman: after he picked General Mark Clark, a man who wasn’t Catholic, for emissary to the Holy See, Connally and others protested and Clark withdrew his nomination. Consistent with his antagonistic record on organized labor, Connally voted for the Taft-Hartley Act, which passed over President Truman’s veto. However, on other significant domestic issues he often sided with Truman, including on unemployment compensation, anti-trust policy, public power, and the excess profits tax.

In 1949, Democrats regained Congress and Connally was once again chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Lyndon B. Johnson joined him in the Senate that year as well but he ran afoul of him when he was overly ambitious in the committees he wanted. However, it wouldn’t be long for Johnson to supersede Connally in influence: the latter’s greater loyalty to Truman than for third term Roosevelt proved politically damaging in Texas, as he had become deeply unpopular in the state as well as in the nation. The Korean War had dragged out into a stalemate, extensive corruption had been revealed in his administration, and Texas voters had some special beefs with President Truman. These included his policy of pushing federal title to the tidelands and his proposed civil rights program. Texas Attorney General Price Daniel, who had directly battled the Truman Administration on tidelands policy in court, had announced his candidacy. Although Connally too supported state title over the tidelands and opposed civil rights legislation, he saw the writing on the wall and chose to retire in 1952 rather than face a tough primary or even defeat. That year Republican Dwight Eisenhower, who had pledged to return tidelands to state title, and Daniel won their elections. Connally died of pneumonia on October 28, 1963. His lifetime MC-Index score was a 27%.


Green, G.N. Connally, Thomas Terry (1877-1963). Texas State Historical Association.

Hill, R. (2012, November 11). Tom Connally of Texas. The Knoxville Focus.

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Tom Connally of Texas

1941-42 MC-Index

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FDR delivers his “Day of Infamy” speech before Congress, after which it votes to declare war on Japan after the Pearl Harbor attack.

This is the Congress that goes to war, with the first half of the session having measures that serve to undermine American neutrality, especially the Lend-Lease Act. It is also the first full Congress in which the legendary Sam Rayburn of Texas serves as House speaker. Work relief proposals, a proposal to end the Civilian Conservation Corps, price controls, and legislation to limit the power of organized labor are counted as well. It was during this session of Congress that both future President Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders were born. Yes, they are that old! Conservatives in this time stand against the New Deal, against FDR’s foreign policy, and against price control. Conservatism is growing stronger in the Midwest and South and beginning to wane in New England.

Some stats on this Congress:

Highest Scoring Democrat, House:

Coffee, Neb. – 93%

Highest Scoring Democrat, Senate

Byrd, Va. – 78%

Lowest Scoring Republican, House:

Welch, Calif. – 20%

Lowest Scoring Republicans, Senate:

Tie – Langer, N.D., Gurney, S.D. – 52%



Rockwell (R-Colo.), Paddock (R-Ill.), Johnson (R-Ill.), Arends (R-Ill.), Sumner (R-Ill.), Martin (R-Iowa), Winter (R-Kan.), Hoffman (R-Mich.), Bennett (R-Mo.), Ploeser (R-Mo.), Copeland (R-Neb.), Osmers (R-N.J.), Jones (R-Ohio), Clevenger (R-Ohio), Brown (R-Ohio), Wolfenden (R-Penn.), Miller (R-Penn.), Rutherford (R-Penn.), Rich (R-Penn.), Ditter (R-Penn.)


Johnson (R-Calif.), Willis (R-Ind.)



Izac (D-Calif.), Sabath (D-Ill.), Schaefer (D-Ill.), Norton (D-N.J.), Heffernan (D-N.Y.), Delaney (D-N.Y.), Klein (D-N.Y.), Flannery (D-Penn.), Holland (D-Penn.), Leavy (D-Wash.)


Miller (D-Ark.), Murray (D-Mont.), Sheppard (D-Tex.), Murdock (D-Utah)


Republicans are in bold italics.

Democrats are in plain text.

+ = Vote for the conservative position

+ = Pair or announcement for the conservative position.

– = Vote against the conservative position.

= Pair or announcement against the conservative position.

? = No vote, pair, or announcement.

Ratings of Congress: