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%.


References

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

https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/connally-thomas-terry

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

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Tom Connally of Texas

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