The Cornhusker Conversion

When folks say “the parties switched” this is generally meant to mean that they switched liberalism and conservatism. However, as I have written before, this narrative has a lot of problems and largely revolves around race: the shifting of who black voters supported and an expansion of who was considered worthy of representation by Democrats. However, one way you can say “the parties switched” is on region. New England was at one time the most conservative region in the United States and the South was the most progressive. The switch here began in the 1930s as it became increasingly clear that the New Deal would, rather than serve as an emergency program, persist. Another region that shifted ideologically was the Midwest and one of the most notable states to have this shift was Nebraska. Nebraska was from its 1867 statehood to 1891 a solid Republican state, even if some of its elected officials, like Senators Thomas W. Tipton and Charles Van Wyck, might stray a bit from party orthodoxy. The 1890 midterms, however, indicated that there was much dissatisfaction in Nebraska with the status quo. Farmers, as I had covered in my post on Populism, were having a tough time economically. They elected in that midterm William Jennings Bryan to Congress, only the second Democrat to achieve this feat in Nebraska. The Populist Party would from 1891 to 1903 have a presence in Nebraska and in 1892 their nominee James B. Weaver came close to winning the state. Although Bryan lost reelection in the 1894 midterms that were catastrophic for the Democrats, he nonetheless found a receptive audience for his push to bring the Democratic Party away from the Bourbon politics of Grover Cleveland. In 1896, Bryan won Nebraska, the first Democrat to do so.  

Although prosperity brought Nebraska back to the Republican column for the 1900 and 1904 elections, an increasing movement toward progressivism in the state was occurring and some of its elected officials in the GOP were not satisfied with the conservatism of Republican leadership in Congress, the most notable of these being Congressman George W. Norris, who would after a momentous ten years in the House move up to the Senate and had a lifetime MC-Index score of a mere 31%. The election of Norris Brown to the Senate in 1906 was also another sign the state was not exactly getting on with the direction of the Republican Party, and in 1908 Bryan again won the state.

George W. Norris

Nebraska Republicans were not uniformly conservative or progressive, but in the Senate progressives did quite well. From 1906 to 1936 nearly all senators elected from Nebraska were progressives of some sort. Gilbert Hitchcock, the son of Republican Senator Phineas Hitchcock, became the first Democrat to be elected to the Senate from Nebraska in 1911 and was the leading Senate supporter of the Versailles Treaty as the leading Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee. In 1924, Norris had backed Progressive Robert La Follette instead of Coolidge and the following election had backed Democrat Al Smith instead of Hoover. Conservative Republicans wanted to ditch him and even tried to recruit a grocer also named George W. Norris to run in the Republican primary against him in 1930, which had it succeeded, according to Dalstrom (1978), “all votes cast for either Norris would have been invalid since Nebraska law forbade any designation on the ballot as to occupation or background” (231). He would be the most cooperative of the Senate Republicans with FDR, as he sponsored the Tennessee Valley Authority Act, reflecting his belief in publicly-owned power and voted for most New Deal legislation. In 1936, Norris switched to Independent and was reelected but his state was beginning to move in a different direction. Indeed, by this time he was the most liberal person representing Nebraska in Congress, and the state had elected quite a few Democrats. Although Roosevelt won Nebraska in 1936, his performance had declined from 1932. In 1938, the midterms produced the elections of some very conservative Republicans to the House in George Heinke and Carl Curtis. The former met a tragic and premature end in a car accident in 1939, but Curtis would represent Nebraska for forty years. In 1940 the state produced almost the inverse result of the 1936 election in Willkie’s favor and elected Hugh Butler to the Senate. Butler was a staunch foe of the New Deal as well as FDR’s foreign policy, a major departure from the Norris-oriented Republican politics. In 1942, at the age of 81, Norris faced a major challenge in one of his former proteges, Kenneth Wherry.

File:Kenneth Wherry, Repub. Nat'l. Committeeman from Nebraska, April 1940  LCCN2016877363.jpg - Wikimedia Commons
Kenneth Wherry

You wouldn’t have known it from his U.S. Senate record, but he had a progressive reputation while in the state Senate from 1928 to 1930, and Norris said of him in 1931, “Senator Wherry is one of the most promising men in public life to honor Nebraska in a long time. Having served as an outstanding member of two sessions of the Legislature, he has demonstrated himself to be a forceful representative of the people’s interests, a man of outstanding ability, always fighting for what he conscientiously believes to be right” (Dalstrom). However, as early as 1934 it was becoming clear that Wherry was critical of the Roosevelt Administration and would only move in a more conservative direction in the years to come. Norris himself was aging, but he had previously considered retirement in 1936 only to be persuaded to run as an Independent. In 1941, he announced that he felt he shouldn’t seek reelection given that he would be 81 years old at the end of his term and declining health, but once again he was convinced by supporters to run again. Norris had, however, several problems. First, there were doubts as to whether he would survive another term given his age and health. Second, the Democratic organization was not interested in supporting him this time, choosing their own nominee, Foster May, a popular radio commentator. Third, Nebraska had become a much more conservative state since his 1936 reelection. The government had for many Nebraskans become too paternalistic, the New Deal generally had become unpopular in the state, and even the most popular of the programs, the Agricultural Adjustment Act, had caused issues such as the price of corn rising faster than the price of cattle (Simmons, 59). And fourth, the drafting of farm labor for World War II was a major campaign issue and as a supporter of the Roosevelt Administration, this was a liability for him. On Election Day 1942 Norris came in second. He was deeply disappointed to lose, and reflected on the result, “The only compensation I ever expected to receive was the heartfelt thanks of my constituency who I thought believed in my philosophy of government. They have followed me so often in the past. I cannot believe that in this most important fight of my life they would desert me” (Dalstrom). Concerns about Norris’s mortality proved correct, as he died on September 2, 1944, less than two years after losing reelection but not too soon to finish his autobiography, Fighting Liberal, which was published posthumously. Butler and Wherry proved themselves ultra-conservatives in the Senate, with them scoring 94% and 98% respectively on the MC-Index. The latter would be elevated to Minority Whip in 1944 due to his unusually strong ability to effectively attack the Roosevelt Administration and then would be elevated to Minority Leader in 1949, a quick ascension in six years.

The issues of Butler’s and Wherry’s succession were messy affairs as I have covered in an earlier post, but the next two senators who would make a mark were Carl Curtis and Roman Hruska, who were like Butler and Wherry in their political orientation. In fact, it was Curtis and Hruska who prevented George W. Norris from being included in the Kennedy Committee’s determination of the five best senators. The progressive Republican who won a spot was La Follette. Despite the state’s continuing Republican orientation, the game was not over for the Democrats.

A Democratic Comeback, And Return to Republican Form

By the 1970s, Curtis and Hruska were getting to be in their seventies and chose to call it quits. Their retirements opened opportunities for Democrats, and they made effective use of them. Nebraska Democrats had a surprisingly healthy period between 1979 and 1997: for all but two years, both the state’s senators were Democrats. They were Jim Exon, Ed Zorinsky, and Bob Kerrey. However, only Kerrey, who attempted a comeback in 2012, would fit in the modern Democratic Party: Zorinsky was a conservative and had been a Republican up until he ran for the Senate and Exon was overall a moderate but outspoken in his opposition to gay rights. Upon the latter’s retirement, Nebraska would have one Republican and one Democratic senator until after the 2012 election, when Republican Deb Fischer succeeded Democrat Ben Nelson. The state, however, has been staunchly Republican in its presidential politics. Since the state’s voters voted to reelect Roosevelt in 1936, they have only seen fit to vote Democrat one more time for president: LBJ in 1964.


Dalstrom, H.A. (1978). The Defeat of George W. Norris in 1942. Nebraska History 59: 231-258.

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Feinman, R.L. (2018). The Senate’s Incomplete Hall of Fame. History News Network.

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George Norris. U.S. Senate.

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Simmons, J. (1981). Dawson County Responds to the New Deal, 1933-1940. Nebraska History 62: 47-72.

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The Congress: Fundamentalist Republican. (1951, December 10). TIME.

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Texas Legends #12: Olin E. “Tiger” Teague

TEAGUE, Olin Earl | US House of Representatives: History, Art & Archives

World War II produced many heroes on the American side, and the most decorated was Audie Murphy (who starred as himself in a movie about him) and right behind him was Olin Earl “Tiger” Teague (1910-1981). Teague got his nickname not from the war but from his time in high school football. He had “three purple hearts, three silver stars, three bronze stars, the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, the Army Commendation Ribbon, the Croix de Guerre with palm (France) and the Fourragere (France)” (Watkins). His war injuries caused him to walk with a limp for the rest of his life. Teague was able to capitalize on his service for his bid for Congress in 1946 and easily prevailed. His reasoning behind running he expressed, “I saw hundreds of bodies stacked up. I started thinking about what causes hell like that and I decided it was government. I wanted to do something about it” (The Washington Post). He proved, as might be expected, an advocate for the military, soldiers, and veterans. 

As a war hero, Tiger Teague was a leading and powerful voice against Mississippian John Rankin’s pension bill in 1949 for veterans of both world wars, which would have been so costly that it wouldn’t have permitted President Truman’s proposed expansion for Social Security. This seemed like part of the purpose of the proposal, as I noted in my post on Rankin.  He was the one to motion to kill Rankin’s bill for the session, which prevailed by a single vote. Upon his ascension to Veterans Committee chair in 1955, Teague proceeded to draft more legislation for veterans than any other representative had before and was chair until 1972. He was regarded as second to none in the efficiency with which he ran his committee and coupled his efficiency with a winning personality. Like most Texans, Teague didn’t sign the Southern Manifesto. During his time in office, he proposed numerous constitutional amendments, including the abolition of the electoral college, permitting representation for Washington D.C., and the Equal Rights Amendment. He voted against the civil rights legislation of the 1960s and quite a bit of it in the 1970s as well but, oddly enough, he voted against the 1978 Walker (R-Penn.) amendment to prohibit the use of racial quotas in public universities. Teague also was a Vietnam War hawk, but this wasn’t unusual for Southern Democrats. He played a key role in getting funding for the 1969 moon landing as chairman of the Manned Space Flight Subcommittee. Despite the Democratic Party moving in a more liberal direction by 1971, he was elected chair of the House Democratic Caucus, ousting Illinois’ Dan Rostenkowski.

Although Teague championed veterans of World War II and the Korean War, he was accused of falling short on Vietnam veterans because many more were black, which he denied. Indeed, he did at times deny some of the larger requests veterans organizations made of him. In 1975, the insurgent freshmen Democrats were able to topple some prominent committee chairmen, but Teague was so popular as chair of the House Committee on Science and Astronautics that he wasn’t considered for replacement. That year, he hosted American astronauts and Soviet cosmonauts for lunch after their joint Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, in which he served Lone Star beer and Wolf Brand chili. As Teague’s aide and future Congressman Chet Edwards noted, the fact that the Cosmonauts reported the food to be as good as champagne and caviar was a sign of the economic troubles of the USSR (Gately). As chair of the committee Teague was a major supporter of nuclear power, synthetic fuels, and NASA. By this time, however, his health was declining. Teague was a diabetic, suffered a stroke in 1975 that required him to use a wheelchair to enter the House and in 1977 the lower part of his left leg had to be amputated from an infection caused by lack of circulation from war wounds and diabetes. Despite his health setbacks he maintained a vigorous schedule, with one of his supporters commenting out of concern, “In the past year [1975-76] he’s been working himself to death—I mean that literal­ly” (Burka & Smith). However, Teague, reading the writing on the wall, didn’t run for reelection in 1978. Although he endorsed Chet Edwards to succeed him, it was Phil Gramm, a Democrat at the time, who won the nomination and the seat. Teague’s MC-Index lifetime score is a 67%, overall indicating moderate conservatism, with his least conservative period being the Eisenhower Administration and most being after the Johnson Administration. He didn’t live much longer in retirement, dying on January 23, 1981 of a heart attack and kidney failure. Upon his death, Gramm hailed Teague as “the father of the American space program” (The New York Times).


Burka, P. & Smith, G. (1976, May). The Best, the Worst, and the Fair-To-Middlin’. Texas Monthly.

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Ex.-Rep. Olin E. Teague of Texas Dies. (1981, January 24). The Washington Post.

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Gately, P.J. (2019, July 19). Central Texas congressman played key role in sending man to the Moon. KWTX.

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House Kills Veteran Pension. (1949, March 25). The Michigan Daily.

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Olin E. Teague; Texan in House Over 3 Decades. (1981, January 24). The New York Times.

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To Amend H.R. 12929 By Prohibiting Use of Funds to Issue or Enforce Any Ratio, Quota, or Other Admissions or Hiring Formula Related to Race, Creed, Color, National Origin, or Sex. Govtrack.

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Watkins, M. Teague, Olin Earl [Tiger]. Handbook of Texas.

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James G. Fair: The Wealthiest Senator in American History

James Graham Fair - Brady-Handy.jpg

William Sharon, as I noted in a recent post, was a bit of a bust for Nevada. Nevada legislators naturally hoped the next guy would be a bit better, but like Sharon he would be a major figure in mining. Indeed, to get ahead in politics in Nevada it really helped to be a major figure in mining. This was the case with John P. Jones and William M. Stewart as well, the latter who was both a major mining figure and the wealthiest mining attorney in the West. However, the greatest of all the mining figures was Irish immigrant James Graham Fair (1831-1894). Elected in 1881, Fair was the first Democratic Senator from the state and had at peak a value of $61 billion in 2021 dollars from being one of the four “Silver Kings” who discovered the Big Bonanza, a massive deposit of gold and silver ore. This also made him one of the wealthiest Americans in history. You could say that he was the epitome of the Senate being regarded as a “millionaire’s club” and Nevada contributed more than its share to this reputation with him, Sharon, and Stewart.  Fair had a reputation for being “self-serving and egotistical” but was also a masterful mine superintendent, possessed boundless charm, and was shrewd in matters of business and technology (McGrath).

As a senator, Fair was an improvement over Sharon and his record was at most moderately progressive in his day, scoring a 33% on the MC-Index. He, for instance, backed regulation of railroad rates. Had Fair voted more than only 24% of the time, however, perhaps there would be a bit of a better understanding of his ideology. He didn’t participate much in the Senate as he found legislating boring and was far more interested in continuing to pursue his business interests. Indeed, Fair and Sharon were not the only people who liked to have status as an elected official much more than doing any such work: newspaper tycoons William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer were both New York Democrats in the House and both had attendance rates so terrible that I could not produce an MC-Index score for either. Both were too busy with business interests to actively participate, with Hearst trying to use the House as a springboard to higher office. Fair only served a single term, 1881 to 1887.

Although his wealth was great, the same couldn’t be said for his personal life: his wife divorced him for repeated adultery in 1883 and one of his sons, James Jr., committed suicide in 1892. Fair’s health declined after a diagnosis of diabetes in 1890 and he spent his last years frequenting disreputable areas of San Francisco and drinking. He died in San Francisco on December 28, 1894 from diabetes and kidney failure.  


Fair is Gone. (1894, December 29). The Morning Call.

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Hargreaves, S. The richest Americans in history. CNN.

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McGrath, R.D. (2012). The Silver Kings. Irish America.

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Texas Legends #11: O.C. Fisher

O. C. Fisher.jpg

The 1942 midterms were not good for President Roosevelt. The war effort didn’t look like it was going well at the time and as a result gains were made by his opponents. More Republicans were elected, Southern Democrats who were growing more conservative stayed in office, and more conservative Southern Democrats were succeeding more moderate ones. This was the case with San Angelo attorney Ovie Clark (O.C.) Fisher (1903-1994).

Fisher was from his very first session a conservative, scoring an 82% on the MC-Index in the 78th Congress. His lifetime score was about the same at an 83%. Fisher was one of the most accommodating Democrats to the Republican 80th Congress which like with Roosevelt, overrode President Truman’s vetoes on labor and tax legislation. He opposed the New Deal, the Fair Deal, the New Frontier, and the Great Society. Fisher did back some Democratic legislation, such as farm price supports, but this wasn’t out of step with Texas Democrats. He was with John Dowdy, Omar Burleson, and Joe Pool among the most conservative Democrats in the Texas delegation in the 1960s. Although LBJ could count on support for key initiatives from many Texas Democrats including those of more conservative persuasions, Fisher was not among them. His legend status aside from him making the thirty year mark of service more stems from him being a part of Texas politics moving to the right than anything else. Fisher was also one of five Texas Democrats to sign the Southern Manifesto in opposition to Brown v. Board of Education (1954) and school desegregation in 1956. Indeed, he opposed all civil rights legislation during the 1950s and 1960s. Fisher’s major accomplishments involved providing for his own district, notably funding for the San Angelo Dam, which is now named after him.

In 1972, he won reelection but with only about 57% of the vote. Despite Fisher’s conservative reputation, his district was moving more and more to the GOP and this was showing in Congressional elections. In 1973, he had to have heart surgery and subsequently announced his retirement. The Democrats were fortunate in this case to have the Watergate scandal going on as well as a capable candidate in Bob Krueger for 1974. This held off Republican takeover of the district until 1978, when Republican Tom Loeffler won the seat. The district has elected Republicans since; its current representative is Chip Roy, one of the most conservative Republicans in Congress. Fisher continued to be active in conservative causes, and as late as 1980 he was on the board of trustees of Americans for Constitutional Action. He also wrote many books, including Cactus Jack in 1978, a biography of fellow Texas Legend John Nance Garner.  

P.S.: I am on vacation next week and I will be taking that week off from posting. Thus, I will be posting three more entries before Saturday to satisfy self-imposed deadlines.


Craycraft, C. (1980, February 25). Letter to Howard Phillips. Americans for Constitutional Action.


Leatherwood, A. Fisher, Ovie Clark. Handbook of Texas.

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Surgery for Congressman. (1973, June 27). The New York Times.

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William Sharon: The Silver Tycoon Who Conned His Way Into the Senate

William Sharon - Wikipedia

In 1875, Senator William M. Stewart of Nevada chose not to run again. One of the men to step up as a candidate was silver mining baron William Sharon (1821-1885) of Virginia City. Sharon had participated in the Gold Rush in California and subsequently represented the Bank of California’s interests in the Comstock Lode in Nevada. He offered inexpensive loans to mines and mills that were underperforming, and when those that couldn’t succeed crashed, Sharon took them over (Reed). Sharon also got the government to subsidize the construction of his own railroad, the Virginia & Truckee, to carry his ore, thus establishing a transportation monopoly on his product as well. He succeeded in gaining a monopoly over silver mining in the state, thus becoming known as the “King of Comstock”. This gained him many enemies in Nevada, and by 1871 he was facing competition from mine superintendent John P. Jones, who took over the Crown Point Mine with another investor. Even worse for Sharon, in 1873 four Irish miners discovered the Big Bonanza, a massive deposit of gold and silver which produced earnings of the equivalent of over $1 billion in that time’s currency. He had sold them the mine under the belief that it was depleted. That same year, Sharon made a bid for the Senate as a Republican against fellow Republican Jones and claimed without evidence that he had set the Yellow Jacket Fire, which killed at least 35 miners, to gain in the stock market. This false accusation didn’t work; it caused silver stocks to crash and Jones was elected (James, Yellow Jacket Disaster). To make his bid for this Senate campaign, Sharon bought a newspaper that subsequently published stories singing his praises.

Back in 1875, it was not the public who elected senators, but state legislatures. Sharon offered confidential advice to the legislators about buying shares in his Ophir Silver Mining Company, as it was according to him soon going to hit $300 a share. Most of them put their life savings into the company. The truth is, however, that Sharon had been beefing up the prices with his money and as soon as his election was certified, he quietly sold all of his Ophir stock, which he had short sold. The legislators were left with almost nothing and a do almost nothing senator to show for it. As author Irving Stone noted, “No one got the better of William Sharon” (Reed). Sharon stands as Nevada’s worst senator and one of the worst senators in the history of the Senate for the means he got into office as well as the fact that he missed 92% of the Senate’s votes during his term. He was living and doing business in California and seldom visited Washington. Sharon never once visited his constituents and only once spoke on the Senate floor. As history Professor Russell Elliott wrote, “His record of inaction is unbelievable” (Keraghosian). Although nominally a supporter of silver currency as he represented Nevada, he didn’t participate in the currency debates. By contrast, his predecessor, William M. Stewart, had drafted the 15th Amendment. Despite his absenteeism, Sharon was the chairman of the Committee on Mines and Mining. He also became known for his sex scandals, including a lawsuit from his mentally unstable mistress, Sarah Althea Hill, who had preyed on him for his money and claimed that they were married in secret.

In 1881, his seat was pretty much bought by the four Bonanza miners, with one of their own, Democrat James G. Fair, serving for a single term. To this day with the wealth equivalent of about $61.3 billion in 2021 dollars, he is the wealthiest man to ever serve in the Senate (Hargreaves). Fair was a minor improvement over Sharon, as he only missed 76% of the Senate’s votes in his single term. Stewart would return in 1887 and Nevada would once again have two full-time senators. In his final years, Sharon would be dealing with the lawsuit and made sure that his fortune would be protected and handled by his son-in-law and primary beneficiary of his will, future Senator Francis Newlands. Newlands and other family had to move to Nevada as a result to qualify as residents to protect the fortune. Sharon died on November 13, 1885 from heart failure, apparently brought on by the stress of his personal life. His MC-Index score, for what little I could make of it, is a 67%. This isn’t too bad of a measure here, given that his DW-Nominate score is a 0.163.


Hargreaves, S. (2014, June 2). The richest Americans in history. CNN.

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James, R.M. (2009, March 17). William Sharon. Online Nevada Encyclopedia.

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James, R.M. (2009, March 17). Yellow Jacket Disaster. Online Nevada Encyclopedia.

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Keraghosian, G. (2021, May 23). How notorious tycoon William Sharon left SF’s children a still-popular landmark. SFGate.

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Lilley, W. (2019, June 28). The System of the River: Francis Newlands and the Improbable Quest to Irrigate the West, Chapter 6 – “Mr. Sharon and Lady”. Bill Lane Center for the American West.

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Reed, L.W. (2018, August 8). The Man Who Bankrupted a Legislature. Foundation for Economic Education.

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Texas Legends #10: Lyndon Baines Johnson

Lyndon B. Johnson | The White House

The last post I did on Texas Legends was in August, and the reason for this is that I am doing them in chronological order and the next guy was the most famous of them, Lyndon Baines Johnson (1908-1973). I had great difficulty getting around to this because so many biographies have been written on him and have gone into greater depth on him than I could possibly hope to. Robert Caro alone has devoted so much of his long life to writing the ultimate biographical series on him. I sincerely hope he lives to complete his final volume of The Years of Lyndon Johnson. This being said, I asked myself, what can I contribute to this subject? A profile like the others will not do as so much is covered about him in other works. Thus, I have decided to focus largely on his voting record on ideologically salient issues, as this is my specialty. I will be putting most of my focus here into his time as a representative and senator.

When Johnson was first elected to Congress in 1937, he was succeeding another significant figure in Texas politics, James P. Buchanan, who had died in office. He was an enthusiastic New Dealer in his Congressional years and backed key legislation such as the Fair Labor Standards Act and FDR’s reorganization plan that his critics called the “Dictator Bill”. Johnson’s first MC-Index score was a 12%. This placed him among the liberals in the Texas delegation, including Sam Rayburn and Maury Maverick. Already by the time of his entry to Congress Texans were starting to get more hesitant about the New Deal…the average House delegation score for Texas that session was 29% and it would grow in the years to come. Johnson was a master at courting whoever he identified as the most powerful person where he was. In the House, this was Sam Rayburn and in the Senate this was Richard Russell of Georgia. He acted as a bit of a surrogate son to these childless bachelors. Johnson’s record was throughout the 1940s a 100% interventionist on foreign policy and opposed civil rights legislation. Indeed, most Texans were as a matter of course voting against civil rights. The only exceptions in this time were Maury Maverick (thus suiting his name), Albert Thomas, and R. Ewing Thomason. Johnson further solidified his liberal record after his reelection in 1938, scoring a mere 3% on the MC-Index. The only issue he sided with conservatives on by this measure was his vote against Vito Marcantonio’s (ALP-N.Y.) proposal to recommit an anti-subversive bill. No Texan sided with Marcantonio on this one. He was also one of only three Texas representatives to vote against the Hobbs Bill for illegal alien detention, which was dubbed the “concentration camp bill” by its critics. In the 77th Congress, Johnson’s score jumps to a 40%, but he cast only five votes among those counted in this session. This was because he was busy trying to win a Senate election in 1941 (which he lost by a little more than 1000 votes, possibly due to voter fraud) and for much of 1942 he was serving in the navy. His votes for the conservative position were regarding the Vinson Anti-Strike Bill; Albert Thomas alone among Texans voted against this effort at limiting the power of unions. Texas Democrats had at one point been favorable to unions as a way of counterbalancing the power of Northern capitalists, but once unions started to threaten the low-wage system that characterized the old South most Southern politicians lined up against further union power. This served as a major exception to Johnson’s liberalism during the Roosevelt period. He remained an enthusiastic supporter of work relief, alphabet agencies, and public power. In the 78th Congress, Johnson scores a 21%, with his primary dissents from the liberal position involving again labor issues. He also voted to reauthorize the House Committee on Un-American Activities. However, Johnson backed strong price controls, opposed tax relief, and supported the retention of funding for New Deal programs. In the following Congress, Johnson scored a 17%. His primary differences with liberals were exclusively on issues regarding organized labor. Price controls, housing subsidies, and government ownership of means of production in power met with his approval. After the 1946 election, Johnson would face his first Republican Congress.

Johnson’s legislative behavior in the 80th Congress mirrored that in the previous Congress: his score was a 16% and again the issues he dissented with liberals on involved labor given his favorable votes on the Taft-Hartley Act. In 1948, Johnson again tried for the Senate after the man who bested him, Pappy O’Daniel, had become so unpopular that he chose not to run again. His foe was Coke Stevenson, a conservative Democrat who was more in step with Texans than O’Daniel and far more competent. However, Johnson had an ace up his sleeve: election fraud. He barely pulled off a victory in the Democratic primary, by 87 votes. 202 additional late votes had come in from Precinct 13 of Jim Wells County. All were votes for Johnson, all were in alphabetical order, and all had the same handwriting with the same ink. Retired election judge Luis Salas admitted in 1977 that he had certified ballots he knew were fraudulent for Johnson on the orders of political boss George Parr, stating “Johnson did not win the election – it was stolen for him and I know exactly how it was done” (The New York Times). The nickname of “Landslide Lyndon” was initially derisive given the nature of his victory.

The Senate: Johnson’s Prime

The position in which Lyndon B. Johnson functioned best was the Senate. He would after his presidency compare the House and the Senate to George H.W. Bush as “chicken shit” to “chicken salad” (Autry).  Johnson would in four years of being sworn in be elected leader of the minority Democrats. He did some things as senator that infuriated progressives, including his campaign against the renomination of Leland Olds for the Federal Power Commission, deriding him as an anti-capitalist zealot who opposed the oil industry. Olds had in his younger years held radical views and associated for a time with the Technical Alliance under Thorstein Veblen, an influencer of the Technocracy movement. He charged him with having communist sympathies and used writings of his out of context to falsely paint him as such (Caro, 10-12). Although conservatives would likely have voted against Olds without such a smear campaign given his New Dealish politics, he was defeated on a vote of 15-53 and never held a government position again. However, Johnson largely backed President Truman’s Fair Deal agenda. He also was always sure to defend the interests of Texas, and this most showed with his support of legislation to grant title over oil deposits to the states. This would benefit California, Louisiana, and Texas most.

In the 83rd Congress, Johnson would face his second Republican controlled Congress and even there he managed to exercise influence. I have covered his impressive defeat of the Bricker Amendment before, which he pulled off despite voting for the revised version of it. The 1954 election would return the Democrats to the majority in both the House and the Senate. Speaker Sam Rayburn and Majority Leader Johnson would frequently collaborate with President Eisenhower and he often relied on them. Indeed, Eisenhower had appreciated his takedown of the Bricker Amendment. Both of them shared an internationalist philosophy, and Johnson didn’t want something pesky like the Bricker Amendment interfering with his treaty making powers when he would be president.

Southern senators were skillful and coordinated in their support of maintaining Jim Crow and in support of other “Southern” causes, but this came at a cost: no Democrat from a Southern state had been president since Andrew Johnson of Tennessee, and he had been elected vice president on the Union Party ticket. LBJ knew that if he were to have a chance, he couldn’t be a typical Southerner. Other Southern senators understood this and thus he wasn’t even approached to sign the Southern Manifesto in 1956. In 1957, he engineered the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1957, the first time this had happened since 1875 and the first time he had ever backed such a measure. However, this came at a cost: Johnson emasculated the bill. Liberal critics often thought of him as too conservative given his close associations and friendships with Southern legislators, and this was for the Senate portion of his career not wholly unjustified: his MC-Index average score is the highest in this period of his career, with term one being a 33%, which although it doesn’t make him conservative it is more than high enough for liberals to have complaints. His conservative votes often were on defending regional interests, including his support for limiting union power and on oil. He also at times cast votes against liberal alternative proposals in the Senate, such as one regarding unemployment compensation in 1958. However, he was a reliable vote for proposals on agriculture, public housing, public power, food stamps, public works, and voted for Medicare in 1960. Johnson’s Senate record got more liberal in term two, with his MC-Index average being a 14%. He would further prove where his heart was as president.

In 1960, Johnson sought the nomination but he got the ultimate consolation prize: the vice presidency. This was the worst time in his career, as I covered in my post on presidents and vice presidents who didn’t get along. However, President Johnson (6%) proved considerably more liberal than Representative (18%) or Senator (24%) Johnson. His Great Society was the greatest expansion of the federal government’s functions since the New Deal. Indeed, it was the spiritual successor of the New Deal and covered some areas the New Deal (mostly) passed over, like civil rights. He went further on civil rights than could have been imagined only a decade before, not only with his backing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965 but also his support for fair housing. Johnson even backed ending the “right to work” section of the Taft-Hartley Act, a reversal of his previous support in 1947. It was also one of the few parts of the Great Society that didn’t pass in the staunchly liberal 89th Congress. Much liberal appreciation that went into his work was, however, marred as we all know by the escalating American participation in the Vietnam War. Johnson’s lifetime MC-Index score was an 18% overall.


Autry, C. (2012, October 26). Top profanity in POTUS history. NBC12.

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Caro, R.A. (2002). Master of the Senate: the years of Lyndon Johnson. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf.

Ex-Official Says He Stole 1948 Election for Johnson. (1977, July 31). The New York Times.

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Johnson, L.B. (1949). Leland Olds: The Record vs. Propaganda. United States Government Printing Office.

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Some Votes Referenced Specifically or By Issues:


Rolls 125, 145, & 154, 1938.

Rolls 39 & 84, 1939.

Rolls 73 & 74, 1941.

Rolls 4, 6, 44, 52, 53, 54, & 68, 1943.  

Roll 106 (he paired against), 1944.

Rolls 121, 122, 141, 143, 146, 154, 190, & 202, 1946.

Rolls 26, 27, & 51, 1947.


Roll 220, 1949.

Roll 19, 1953.

Roll 109, 1954.

Rolls 34, 59, 131, 132, 175, 1957.

Rolls 7, 198, 208, 1959.

The Searchlight: A Shining Light to Past Politics

Gutzon Borglum 1919.jpg
Gutzon Borglum, Mt. Rushmore sculptor and progressive.

The other night while conducting political research, I encountered a most curious article from almost 100 years ago. This article is from The Searchlight, a progressive magazine and it covers the results of the 1922 midterms and the lame-duck session in which conservative Republicans are said to try to pass as much legislation as possible. One of the featured authors is Mt. Rushmore sculptor Gutzon Borglum, who writes “Harding’s Challenge to Democracy”. He characterizes the GOP as a reactionary party (eat your heart out, party switch narrative proponents!) and writes, “The West is risen again, Father Abraham, and the South will help! These two great producing districts of our country must join hands against the common national enemy and save our common country – as Lincoln feared would come, an enemy a hundred-fold worse than any we ever faced – the enslaving of all the people by a few through money – holding our food, our fuel, our transportation, our legislation” (Borglum, 8). This common enemy he speaks of are Northern capitalists and their Republican friends. Back then as now, the liberals were fretting over the private sector and the GOP as perilous to democracy. The Harding Administration’s loan to Liberia is regarded as “an imperialist, special privilege measure” (Borglum, 8). A major emphasis exists on Senator Truman H. Newberry of Michigan, who faced a Henry Ford-led campaign against him for his campaign spending. The publication goes as far as to speak of “Newberryism”, which seems to be a form of reactionary political corruption.

The Searchlight reported that the 1922 elections were bad for “Old Guard” and identified the following senators as among that class (with MC-Index scores noted for the 67th Congress, lifetime not yet available for all):

George P. McLean (R-Conn.) – 94

Frederick Hale (R-Me.) – 88

Henry Cabot Lodge Sr. (R-Mass.) – 88

David A. Reed (R-Penn.) – 89

George W. Pepper (R-Penn.) – 92

Frank Greene (R-Vt.) – 100

The article goes on to state that, “In no state where the electorate is alert and not enslaved by partisanship was there endorsement of a reactionary Senator who sought reelection. Let us examine this remarkable situation in a little more detail” (4). The following are identified as reactionary, and I accompany these people with their new MC-Index scores for the 67th Congress:

William M. Calder (R-N.Y.) – 94

T. Coleman Du Pont (R-Del.) – 100

Joseph I. France (R-Md.) – 64, whose opponent, William C. Bruce, was regarded as having “reactionary leanings”. Indeed, Bruce was one of the least liberal Democrats in the 1920s.

Frank B. Kellogg (R-Minn.) – 79

Joseph Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) – 89

Porter J. McCumber (R-N.D.) – 83

Miles Poindexter (R-Wash.) – 93

Howard Sutherland (R-W.V.) – 78

Charles Townsend (R-Mich.) – 87

Henry Myers (D-Mont.) is regarded as a “reactionary Democrat”. His MC-Index score is a 44% in the 67th Congress, which is high for a Democrat in that time. Burton K. Wheeler, his successor, is regarded as a “liberal Democrat”. Wheeler would in 1924 be Robert La Follette’s running mate on the Progressive Party ticket, which implies that the understanding of “liberal” wasn’t all that different 100 years ago than now. Indeed, it seems like that if indeed the meaning of liberal did change, it changed before the 1920s, as opposed to the advent of FDR’s New Deal. There is also coverage of the senators who they regard as progressive who won election and reelection, the MC-Index scores are noted for the 67th Congress: “Ashurst [6], Gerry [12], Jones [28], Kendrick [50], King [47], McKellar [6], Pittman [0], and Trammell [13] are all generally found on the progressive side of important issues and situations. Among the new Democratic Senators, Dill, Wheeler, Mayfield, Copeland and George [20] are reported as fighting liberals, with Ferris and Ralston not far behind” (5). The inclusion of William H. King of Utah is a bit curious given his comparative moderation and in some respects John B. Kendrick of Wyoming as well, but the latter’s MC-Index score gets higher in the 67th Congress because of his pro-tariff votes, which is possibly out of the interests of his state. Some of these people would later move in a much more conservative direction, including Copeland, George, Gerry, McKellar, and Wheeler. Given that their records, with the exception of Copeland, were progressive throughout the 1920s, I think I am on the right track with my MC-Index. My system I think is superior to the “parties switched” narratives of modern progressive journalists in accuracy as it is much closer to capturing the ideological politics of the era.

The Searchlight also had an article on Majority Leader Henry Cabot Lodge (R-Mass.), who is characterized as “…of the Old Guard, a hopeless reactionary in both politics and economics, excepting occasionally when a campaign approaches. Then, for election purposes, he may reluctantly support a popular progressive measure, such as the maternity bill” (Haines, 12) I have covered Lodge before, and what this publication tells me about him is consistent of what I have read of him before. The Searchlight seems an interesting view into the past, including what publications they collaborate with for savings on progressive subscriptions. These include, The World Tomorrow (a Christian socialist magazine that is now defunct, not the later broadcast of that religious cult), The Dearborn Independent (Henry Ford’s magazine now known mostly for anti-Semitism, shuttered in 1927), La Follette’s Weekly (exists today as The Progressive), The Nation (has existed since 1865), The Commoner (William Jennings Bryan’s publication, shuttered in 1923), The New Republic (has existed since 1914), and The National Leader (I have found no info on this one yet). Anti-Semitism seems to not have been thought of as a great problem for the folks at The Searchlight, and so far, I have also yet to encounter any talk about race. Indeed, minority identity issues are just not a thing for the progressives of this time.


Borglum, G. (1922, November 30). Harding’s Challenge to Democracy. The Searchlight.

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Haines, L. (1922, August 31). The Official Facts About Senator Lodge. The Searchlight.

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To Old and New Searchlight Subscribers. (1923, May 1). The Searchlight.

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Your Government at Washington. (1922, November 30). The Searchlight.

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Royal Copeland: The Start of New York’s Democratic Shift

Senator Royal Copeland of New York

Royal Samuel Copeland (1868-1938) was a homeopathic doctor who underwent party and ideological shifts in his life. He was at the start of the 20th century Mayor of Ann Arbor, Michigan, and a Republican. However, after moving to New York City in 1908 to serve as dean of the New York Homeopathic Medical College and Flower Hospital, Copeland saw where the power was with Tammany Hall and aligned himself with the organization as a Democrat. Thanks to his connections, he was appointed head of the New York City Board of Health in 1918, and there he would face a great test.

Copeland faced, as we have recently, a pandemic as the head of the New York City Board of Health. Like many do at the start of such events he downplayed early reports, but as influenza spread he made some decisions surrounding the pandemic that were interesting to say the least. Copeland kept schools and theaters open during the pandemic. He justified the former as better than the living conditions many students had at home at the time and the latter given that public transportation was still open. Despite schools being open, many parents kept their children out of school anyway. These decisions were thought of as questionable at the time, but New York City ultimately fared better than many other major cities in deaths per capita, including Boston and Philadelphia. Copeland also benefited from a public health department that had already been functioning effectively.

His handling at the end of the pandemic was viewed positively and this raised his profile. In 1922, New York was a much different state than it is now: it was represented by James W. Wadsworth Jr. and William M. Calder. Both men were conservative Republicans, and the state had a history of electing such people to the Senate. One of its senators, Chauncey Depew, was an ultra-conservative who was one of the subjects of muckraker David Graham Phillips’ expose, The Treason of the Senate, during the first Roosevelt Administration. Fortunately for Copeland, Calder was not an exceptional senator and in 1922, the midterms went as midterms usually go for the president’s party. He lost reelection to Copeland by over 11 points, whose campaign had as its honorary chair none other than Franklin D. Roosevelt. Although his first two years were characterized by progressive voting, he soon shifted to being a moderate and this was a negative portend of how he would address the New Deal. Also, as a physician, Copeland pushed for air conditioning in the Senate and attributed the lack of it as a contributing cause of the deaths of thirty-four senators over a twelve-year period. By 1929, air conditioning was installed in the Senate.

1928 was a difficult year for New York Democrats, as although they won both the gubernatorial and senatorial elections, the margins were narrow and Hoover won the state. Copeland outperformed FDR on the ticket by defeating his challenger, Republican industrialist Alanson B. Houghton, by about a point. However, Hoover had only won the state by two points in part due to Al Smith headlining the ticket. This was also a massive improvement for Democrats over their 1924 performance, in which Coolidge trounced John W. Davis by double-digits.

Although Copeland’s colleague, Robert F. Wagner, was one of the foremost New Dealers, Copeland was supportive but not enthusiastic on the First 100 Days legislation. Despite his close ties to Tammany Hall, he sponsored legislation to criminalize the practice of kickbacks for federal contracts, a practice that occurred in an estimated 25% of all money in federal contracts (Hill). He was a staunch supporter of civil rights legislation, which put him at odds with the Southern wing of his party which until the 1930s was decisively dominant. Senator Tom Heflin of Alabama, reacting to Copeland’s hostile response to his condemnation of New York’s law permitting interracial relationships, stated that if Copeland visited Alabama on a presidential campaign the people would lynch him. In 1937, he attempted twice to add anti-lynching legislation to New Deal measures, but they were voted down since if adopted, such measures would have had a united Southern front of opposition.

After the 1934 midterms, which Copeland handily won against future Congressman E. Harold Cluett, he turned increasingly hostile to the New Deal. In his final term, his MC-Index score averaged a 76%. In 1937, he ran in the Democratic and Republican primaries for New York City mayor as a conservative and lost both. For the Democrats, he was closely tied to Tammany Hall and for the Republicans, they were still on board with progressive Mayor Fiorello La Guardia. That year, Copeland led the charge against the nomination of Senator Hugo Black to the Supreme Court for his prior membership in the KKK, although his status as a staunch New Dealer was certainly another motivator. He also participated in the drafting of the Conservative Manifesto, a conservative alternative to the New Deal, which I discussed in my post of June 5, 2018, which I will link below. On April 6, 1938, he got into a dispute with the famously hot-tempered Senator Kenneth McKellar (D-Tenn.). The debate was about appropriating funds for anti-aircraft guns on the East Coast. Copeland favored and McKellar opposed, and after the latter asserted that a certain army witness “tells the truth”, the former responded, “It may be that some others tell the truth, too” (Hill, 2015). McKellar interpreted this as him implying that he was a liar after he wouldn’t further clarify what he meant, and after a few more words between them, he challenged him to a fight and had to be restrained by Senator Bennett Champ Clark of Missouri. Only two months later, Copeland died of a heart attack in his apartment, apparently a consequence of overwork. Only a week before, he had won passage of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938. The nature of Copeland’s passing was tragically ironic given his emphasis on the health of fellow senators, including warning them against overwork after the death of Majority Leader Joseph Robinson (D-Ark.) the previous year, which had been attributed to stress and overwork. His lifetime score was a 47%.

Senator Copeland’s MC-Index scores overtime. The x-axis is sessions of Congress and the y-axis is MC-Index scores.

Copeland was succeeded by Congressman James M. Mead, who was a liberal like Wagner. To this day, he is the last non-liberal Democrat to represent New York in the Senate but was a figure who helped bringing the state more to the Democratic fold and away from conservatism. Indeed, after Copeland’s defeat of Calder and Wagner’s defeat of Wadsworth in 1926, the only people who can be said in any sense to be conservative who were elected to the Senate from New York since were James L. Buckley (who was ultra) and Al D’Amato (who was moderate).

P.S.: Shout out and thanks to user LT for the suggestion of this topic!


Again, Heflin. (1930, February 17). TIME Magazine.

Fist Fight Averted on Senate Floor; McKellar, in Sharp Exchange on Army Bill, Challenges Copeland to Combat. (1938, April 6). The New York Times.

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Gillis, A.M. (2014). The Devastation of 1918. Humanities, 35(2).

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Hill, R. (2018, February 11). Doctor In the Senate: Royal S. Copeland of New York. The Knoxville Focus.

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Markel, H. (2020, July 13). Analysis: Why some schools stayed open during the 1918 flu pandemic. PBS.

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To Table an Amendment to S. 2475, Offered by Senator Copeland Which Would Have Added the Anti-Lynching Bill as Perfected by the Senate Committee on the Judiciary to the Pending Legislation. Govtrack.

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To Table an Amendment to S. 69, The Interstate Commerce Act. The Amend. Offered by Senator Copeland Which Would Have Added House Bill 1507, The Anti-Lynching Bill, to S. 69, a Bill Limiting the Size of Trains in Interstate Commerce. Govtrack.

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Waldrop, T. (2020, August 19). Here’s what happened when students went to school during the 1918 pandemic. CNN.

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My posting on the “Conservative Manifesto”:

James B. Allen: Master Parliamentarian and Forgotten Conservative Leader

By 1968, Alabama was thoroughly transformed from what it was ten years ago politically. Not only could Republicans compete in the state, the state’s Democrats became much more conservative in the wake of the civil rights movement. This was reflected by the rise of George Wallace to the governorship in the 1962 election and the rightward shift of its two senators, Lister Hill and John J. Sparkman. They had at one time been loyal to Harry S. Truman’s Fair Deal. Hill, who had come close to losing reelection to a Republican in 1962, was not up for another term and in his place came a far more conservative Democrat in James Browning Allen (1912-1978).

Allen had twice served as Alabama’s lieutenant governor: 1951-1955, and under George Wallace from 1963 to 1967. To win the election he first had to contend with Congressman Armistead I. Selden Jr., another conservative Democrat who was endorsed by Hill. Allen was able to effectively paint him as a Washington insider and won. He won the general election with 70% of the vote.

Allen was, like his ally George Wallace, a segregationist as he had urged rejection of federal education funds to avoid desegregation after Brown v. Board of Education but unlike him he was not a demagogue who indulged in white supremacist rhetoric and had a strong legalistic mind. While Wallace was outspoken, Allen was shy. Despite this, he made such a mark on the Senate in his time with his knowledge and mastery of the rules that Senator Sam Ervin said of him that if he had “to stand with one man at Armageddon and battle for the Lord” he would choose Allen (Farber). He often led in opposition to key liberal issues, such as postcard voter registration, campaign finance legislation, and busing. Only four years after first taking office, The New York Times acknowledged his skill in holding up the business that the Senate liberals wanted. Although liberal Democrats, such as Majority Leader Mike Mansfield of Montana, criticized his practices as abusing the rules and obstruction, Allen held that “To debate and discuss can’t do anything but good” (Farber). However, there was also admiration from the liberal side. None other than Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) judged him to be “perhaps the greatest parliamentarian ever to sit in the United States Senate” (Farber). In 1975, he battled as best he could against Senators Walter Mondale (D-Minn.) and James B. Pearson (R-Kan.) in their successful effort to reduce the margin for ending a filibuster from 2/3’s to 3/5’s majority.

Allen continued to lead on issues throughout the 1970s, including against pay increases for legislators while the American people were chafing under inflation and against the New York City bailout. On the latter, he stated opposition to “city slickers from New York calling on their country cousins for help” (Farber). Although Allen often was a block to legislation, sometimes he added constructive amendments, such as in 1973 when he added an amendment permitting the purchase of plants and seeds with food stamps, reasoning that if people got additional means to feed themselves it would reduce dependence on the government, through sale or consumption.

Although Southern support for de jure segregation ended definitively in the 1970s with George Wallace’s dropping of the issue, Allen, as far as I’ve found, never made a clear break from his segregationist past. In 1975, he fought the extension of the Voting Rights Act and in 1977 he was one of four senators to vote against funding the Civil Rights Commission.  His final battle was against the Panama Canal Treaty, but he was unable to persist in his leadership here as he died of a heart attack on June 1, 1978. His death at 65, in retrospect, was far from surprising. A 1973 article in The New York Times on him noted “his love for Southern cooking and his aversion to health foods and exercise fads” as well as his affinity for burgers and ice cream (Delaney). The leadership against the treaty ultimately passed on to the capable Paul Laxalt of Nevada.  Although succeeded by his widow, Maryon, she lost the 1978 primary to the far more liberal Donald W. Stewart.

Allen, who had a lifetime MC-Index score of 85%, is today a forgotten figure despite his S-tier parliamentary skills, largely a product of his 1978 death. Had he lived into the Reagan years, he may be more remembered. However, it turns out Allen had a protege…Jesse Helms of North Carolina. He had taken him under his wing during his first term and he would follow in his stead as the conservative rules master, bedeviling the aims of liberal politicians and of both Republican and Democratic presidents on State Department nominees until his 2003 retirement.


Delaney, P. (1973, December 3). Filibuster’s Leader James Browning Allen. The New York Times.

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Farber, M.A. (1978, June 2). Senator James B. Allen Dies; Alabamian Led Canal Pact Fight. The New York Times.

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History. SNAP Gardens.

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Senator Tells of Bid to Kill Congress Pay Rise Moves. (1973, July 21). The New York Times.

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Watson, E.L. (2010, November 9). James B. Allen. Encyclopedia of Alabama.

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