In 1964, a member of the politically celebrated La Follette family announced her endorsement…for Barry Goldwater. This is strange as the La Follette family has been associated with progressive values given its most famous member, Senator Robert La Follette (R-Wis.), who stood for a great many progressive causes in his day and was without doubt the most left-wing Republican senator in his time. Suzanne La Follette (1893-1983) found no inconsistency with her support for her cousin in 1924 and her support for Goldwater in 1964. She even asserted her belief that “Fighting Bob” would, if alive, also support Goldwater! La Follette held that it was not her who had moved to the right, rather the politics of the United States that had moved to the left in forty years. The latter was undoubtedly true, as the nation reelected Calvin Coolidge in 1924 and elected Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964. However, I question that La Follette would endorse Goldwater, as his son, La Follette Jr., strongly supported the New Deal and this support hardly wavered during his Senate career. Suzanne La Follette was the daughter of Congressman William La Follette (R-Wash.), who sided with the Bull Moose faction and had an overall moderate record. She was an ardent advocate of women’s suffrage and was supported by her family in her ambitions. La Follette stated that the men in her life had all been “good feminists” (Simkin). She regarded the state not as a benefactor of women but rather an entity that limited the freedom of women. La Follette was also from the time of the Bolshevik Revolution a foe of communism.
In 1919, she joined The Nation, at that time run by Oswald Garrison Villard, and the following year she joined up with The Freeman with libertarian Albert Jay Nock, who mentored her. La Follette considered societal taboos on single motherhood and female sexuality to be a form of subjection of women…that they weren’t fulfilling their prescribed duty for society by getting married. She wrote as such in Concerning Women (1926), arguing “The ultimate emancipation of women then will depend not upon the abolition of the restrictions which have subjected her to man – that is but a step, though a necessary one – but upon the abolition of all those restrictions of natural human rights that subject the mass of humanity to a privileged class” (Simkin). La Follette believed that women should be able to have full command of their lives. She also wrote freelance for numerous intellectual publications of the day including H.L. Mencken’s American Mercury and New Republic. In 1930, La Follette founded New Freeman, which was a libertarian paper that critiqued government intervention in domestic and foreign affairs, which lasted until December 1934.
In 1937, La Follette participated as secretary in the Dewey Commission to determine the validity of the Moscow Treason Trials as well as the accusations against Leon Trotsky. The commission found them to be completely false, which they were, and she participated in the writing of the final report Not Guilty. The trials had been prompted by the murder of popular Politburo member Sergei Kirov, who likely was murdered as a result of plotting by Stalin and the NKVD both to get a potential competitor for power out of the way and as a pretext to initiate the Great Terror by alleging a great conspiracy to murder him (Linder). In the 1940s, she worked on behalf of the American Federation of Labor, and worked to keep communists out of the organization, who would instead exercise their influence in chapters of the Congress of Industrial Organizations.
In 1950, La Follette cofounded The Freeman with John Chamberlain and Henry Hazlitt. Within two years, however, disagreements arose among them as Chamberlain and La Follette took positions favorable to Joseph McCarthy and endorsed Robert Taft for president. Hazlitt did not agree, and he commented on the situation, “[I[t quickly turned out that both Suzanne [La Follette] and Forrest [Davis] were bent on making The Freeman a McCarthy and primarily an anti-communist organ rather than an exponent of a positive libertarian philosophy. I regarded McCarthy as a sort of bar room fighter, often reckless and sweeping in his accusations” (Blanchette). Ultimately Hazlitt won the battle as the editorial board sided with him, with Chamberlain, La Follette, and Davis resigning.
In 1955, La Follette was one of the founders of National Review and was managing editor until retiring from the post in 1959. She was among the founders of the Conservative Party of New York and ran for Congress for the 19th district (Manhattan) in 1964, only getting about 1% of the vote. Concerning Women got renewed interest with the women’s rights movement and was republished in 1972.
Bird, D. (1983, April 27). Suzanne La Follette is Dead at 89; Writer, Editor and Early Feminist. The New York Times.
Blanchette, J. (2006, January 1). The Freeman: Through the Years. Foundation for Economic Education.
In 1932, Michigan’s 4th Congressional District elected a Democrat for the first time in a long time. Unfortunately, it turned out that the victor, George Foulkes, was corrupt; he was accused of soliciting and accepting illegal campaign contributions from postmasters in August 1934 and sentenced to 18 months imprisonment in 1935 for it. Because of this district’s typical partisan leanings and Foulkes’ ethical failings, Clare Hoffman (1875-1967) defeated him in 1934. Hoffman was a prominent attorney who was said to have established much of the law in Michigan given the cases he took on, including representing a nudist colony in 1933. He was also a man of unique practices, including having his suits tailored with no pockets to counter a habit of putting his hands in his pockets. Hoffman also had in 1912 backed Theodore Roosevelt over William Howard Taft through running on the Bull Moose ticket for reelection (unsuccessfully) as Allegan County’s prosecutor, but you wouldn’t know it given his record in Congress. Hoffman voted against Social Security, holding that it was an exercise in taking “from thrifty, saving Peter to Pay unfortunate Paul” (Walker, 20). He was also highly critical of the more radical Townsend Plan and stood along with C. Jasper Bell (D-Mo.) and Scott Lucas (D-Ill.) as the plan’s harshest critics. Hoffman considered the plan an “economic impossibility” and questioned the math behind the plan, which indeed didn’t add up (Walker, 22). Perhaps the most liberal he got was in backing the Patman Bonus Bill, which President Roosevelt twice vetoed. After the Flint Sitdown Strike of 1936-1937, outraged by the intrusion on property rights, he became an intractable enemy of organized labor, opposing union initiatives at every turn and pushing numerous efforts to limit their power and influence. In 1937, he offered to the mayor of Monroe, Michigan, given Governor Frank Murphy’s tolerance of sit-down strikes that he thought were illegal and the threat of CIO organizer Van A. Bittner to send his men into the city, a “group of peaceably inclined but armed and well equipped reliable citizens to aid in the defense of your city” (Walker, 49-50). This sounds very familiar to modern readers given the civil disturbances that began in 2020. Hoffman’s proposal was of course highly controversial and opposed by Monroe’s Congressman, Republican Earl Michener. However, he spoke so often on this and other issues that he got appreciation from people who felt cowed by the aggressive CIO. Hoffman himself once joked that a good argument could be made for retiring him to save money on printing pages in the Congressional Record given the frequency of his speeches (Walker, 111). Indeed, he would daily make one minute speeches denouncing Roosevelt and the New Deal. Hoffman both dished it out to his opponents and was able to take it, which made him formidable on the House floor. Although he introduced numerous bills to counter organized labor, none passed. However, Hoffman would participate in the drafting of the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act.
Congressman Hoffman often accused President Roosevelt of trying to become a dictator, and his proposal for court packing and executive reorganization he regarded as evidence in addition to other legislation that increased the powers of the Executive. However, some of his criticisms of his targets were way blown out of proportion and could be petty, such as his attack on Eleanor Roosevelt’s (one of his favorite targets) Office of Civil Defense during World War II, mocking her for employing two Hollywood stars as providing cushy jobs for the wealthy, resulting in the resignation of Roosevelt and the actors (Walker, 130).
Clare Hoffman: Seditionist?
Although Hoffman voted for American participation in World War II and pledged to support the war effort, he remained outspoken in his caustic criticism of FDR. This included delivering two incendiary speeches in January 1942, together titled “Don’t Haul Down the Stars and Stripes”, more commonly known as the “Judas” speech, in which he accused Interior Secretary Harold Ickes and others including author Clarence Streit (who wrote books calling for a world government) of being “Judases” by betraying the nation’s sovereignty in supporting the creation of a United Nations, which was subsequently distributed by American fascists for their propaganda (Walker, 121). Although Hoffman didn’t name Roosevelt, he was known as a supporter of the creation of a UN and thus by implication could be regarded as a “Judas”.
Another issue brought up against him included Congressman Hamilton Fish’s (R-N.Y.) secretary, George Hill, using his frank to distribute propaganda from Nazi propagandist George Sylvester Viereck before American involvement in World War II (Walker, 124). He delivered speeches at rallies for Gerald L.K. Smith’s America First Party, an overtly anti-Semitic party, and he was also highly critical of the Great Sedition Trial of 1944. Hoffman’s characteristically caustic criticisms of the Roosevelt Administration as Pearl Harbor remained fresh in the memories of Americans plus his views on foreign policy from 1939 to 1941 led his detractors to accuse him of being a fascist or pro-fascist. President Roosevelt had been pressing a reluctant Attorney General Francis Biddle for a trial of people FDR saw as fascist and/or subversive, and eventually such a trial did happen with the Great Sedition Trial. However, he had been pushing Biddle for more than just a group of propagandists and activists, he wanted two Congressmen indicted as well. One of them was his hated enemy Hamilton Fish (R-N.Y.) and the other was Hoffman, and The New Republic actively encouraged the Roosevelt Administration to censor conservative critics (Powers, 183). Roosevelt was probably smarting over the latter’s “Judas” speech. Hoffman did indeed have to testify before a grand jury four times regarding this speech before plans to indict him were dropped (Walker, 119). One of the defendants of the Great Sedition Trial, Elizabeth Dilling, was indicted for reprinting one of Hoffman’s speeches in her newsletter. Hoffman condemned the trial, stating that the defendants were no more guilty than he was. The newspaper of the Communist Party of the USA, The Daily Worker, claimed this to be an admission of guilt. As I wrote before on the trial, none of the defendants would be convicted.
Ultimately, regarding accusations of sedition, researcher Donald Edwin Walker (1982) concludes in his dissertation on Hoffman, “That he may have not shown the most astute judgment in choosing the people with whom he associated is true, but it is also apparent that he was to a great extent merely the victim of guilt by association. He agreed with the fascists on various points, mainly on the need to avoid war and the threat of Communism, but he was not as extreme in some of his views as many of the fascists were, nor did he share the rabid anti-Semitism that characterized some. It seems that the connection between the fascists and Hoffman was simply that they used each other as a means to disseminate some of their ideas” (143). Hoffman did indeed never criticize the war effort itself, and his constituents agreed that he was patriotic, returning him to Congress in the 1944 election by a hefty margin. His popularity among his constituents was not just because he was a staunch Republican opposed to the CIO, but also due to the great attention he gave to the needs of his constituents. It is critical to understand the importance of constituent relations when considering why an elected official gets back in office despite perhaps being extreme or making outlandish statements. Hoffman would later be deeply involved in the drafting of the National Security Act of 1947, the government reorganization that established the Central Intelligence Agency.
The Hoffman/Winchell Feud
Radio commentator Walter Winchell, who repeatedly cast doubt on the patriotism of Hoffman and others who had the temerity to criticize the Roosevelt Administration, including him asking “How about the voters going after those other saboteurs who landed in Congress?” met Hoffman’s ire (Walker, 144). He did not take this lying down. Hoffman commented on Winchell that his “imagination is exceeded only by his disregard for the truth and his insane desire to injure. His warped brain is constantly taxed to find new individuals to slanders. His broadcasts bring to mind a moronic child who gains pleasure by impaling flies on pin points or torturing small animals. Apparently, he derives a sadistic pleasure when he thinks he has injured someone by his malicious half-truths or complete falsehoods” (Walker, 144). Hoffman and Winchell, who also engaged in legal action against each other, would trade barbs so much that some members of Congress grew tired of the former talking about the latter.
Hoffman and Anti-Semitism
Unfortunate as it is, Clare Hoffman made some anti-Semitic remarks and was accused of being an anti-Semite. He recommended anti-Semite Elizabeth Dilling’s “The Red Network”, he was a good friend of Rep. John Rankin (D-Miss.), the worst of the House’s race and Jew baiters of the time, and he engaged in some of his own on the latter in 1945 in response to proposals for a Fair Employment Practices Committee. Hoffman denied that anti-Semitic discrimination happened in most alleged cases and stated, “It is a well known fact that many of the most powerful financial institutions in this country are controlled by the Jews” and called for for statistics on ownership of numerous industries owned by Jews (The Sentinel). Such statements did not go unanswered, especially considering we were on the verge of winning the war against Nazi Germany. When accused of Jew-baiting by Rep. Matthew Neely (D-W.V.), he responded thusly, “If I were a member of the Jewish race, I’d be proud of it. Why shouldn’t I be? Don’t Jews hold good jobs in the country? Aren’t they in control of the moving picture industry? Don’t they hold high places in industry? They don’t hold these high places simply because they’re Jews” (The Sentinel). Hoffman maintained an association with Gerald L.K. Smith until 1949, when they broke over the latter’s racism after the former introduced an anti-discrimination measure. Smith attributed Hoffman’s action to “senility”, which was clearly false (Jeansonne, 88). Indeed, he hardly slowed down until the early 1960s.
The Truman Era: No Compromise!
In 1943, Hoffman had voted against the Fulbright Resolution calling for the establishment of a United Nations and in 1945, he was one of only fifteen representatives to vote against American participation in the body. Hoffman led the opposition to the Truman Administration’s Full Employment Bill, which was intended to have been a full execution of Keynesian policy. Congress ultimately adopted a compromise the following year that called for “maximum employment”. Hoffman characteristically voted against that one too. Hoffman also voted against the Greek-Turkish Aid Act as well as the Marshall Plan in the 80th Congress. Despite having his hopes for Truman initially, Hoffman if anything became more opposed to him than Roosevelt.
The Eisenhower Era: No Compromise!
Hoffman didn’t go along with the modern Republicanism of President Eisenhower and opposed him just about any time he went in a liberal direction. He remained a foe of foreign aid and opposed federal aid to education. Hoffman opposed all major expansions of domestic government for reasons both budgetary and Constitutional. He also during this time mentored Rep. H.R. Gross (R-Iowa) in parliamentary procedure so he too could be a formidable presence in the House.
He was also a vigorous investigator, and as a member of the subcommittee investigating organized labor and racketeering in the Detroit area, he set his sights on the Teamsters Union. His investigation was revealing some highly unsavory things about the Teamsters Union and its boss Jimmy Hoffa including misuse of employee pension funds, but it was for the time shelved by Republican leadership allegedly at the behest of Postmaster General Arthur Summerfield over his and committee chairman Wint Smith’s (R-Kan.) protests. Hoffa was a life-long Republican who had given backing to President Eisenhower as well as to Senator Homer Ferguson of Michigan for reelection. In 1958, Hoffman condemned as silly Jimmy Hoffa’s “independent” investigation into racketeering in the Teamsters Union, headed by former Senator George Bender (R-Ohio), which the McClellan Committee ultimately discovered had, despite him being paid $58,000, produced no ousters of organized crime figures in the union (Walker, 311). Hoffman’s investigation was used as evidence in hearings by the McClellan Committee on union corruption and resulted in the Eisenhower-backed Landrum-Griffin Act in 1959 that curbed secondary boycotts and picketing. Much of the Landrum-Griffin Act itself, by the admission of sponsor Robert Griffin (R-Mich.), was influenced by Hoffman (Walker, 320). Evidence from Hoffman’s investigation would also be used to convict Hoffa in 1964 on misuse of pension funds.
Hoffman and Civil Rights
Hoffman was one of the few Republicans to vote against anti-lynching legislation, doing so in 1937 and 1940. He also opposed bans on the poll tax through federal legislation, and the Truman Administration’s Fair Employment Practices Bill. Before the 1948 election he urged Southern Democrats to push to nominate someone palatable to the GOP in exchange for the shelving of Truman’s civil rights program (Walker, 199). In 1949, Hoffman proposed a third way between segregation and desegregation, stating his support for separate facilities for whites and blacks with the latter getting at least equal if not better (as recompense for whites having many more years of opportunities) and facilities for those who wanted to integrate (Walker, 229-230). He didn’t want anyone forcibly integrated or segregated, and like most whites in his time he was at least personally against interracial sexual relationships. Hoffman was, unsurprisingly for someone of this time, staunchly opposed to homosexuality. He called for the firing of all homosexuals from the federal government (Walker, 232). Hoffman also introduced a version of the Equal Rights Amendment in 1946 that included sex, ancestry, and union membership but it was recommitted to the House Labor Committee where it was shelved (Freeman, 177). He also tended to see parallels between civil rights and labor issues. For instance, while condemning the lynching of a black man, Hoffman stated, “Is it a crime to kill a man when he is colored but just a customary union procedure to beat him to death during a strike?” (Walker, 312)
After Brown v. Board of Education (1954), he voted against the 1956 civil rights bill and the Civil Rights Act of 1957. The latter he regarded as undermining right to trial by jury as criminal contempt of court violations would not be ruled on by juries and reasoned that denial of the right to vote should just be made illegal instead of providing four reasons (Walker, 311). However, he voted for Powell Amendments in 1946, 1956, and 1960 and voted for the final version of the Civil Rights Act of 1960 after voting against the House version of the bill. He did not speak on the House floor why he changed his vote from the original House bill to adopting the Senate amendments, but I strongly suspect given his propensity to compare civil rights legislation to other matters, particularly labor, that he voted for because of what Congressman Emanuel Celler (D-N.Y.) noted on changes to the bills, “In title I, obstruction of court orders, the House version was limited to the obstruction of court orders dealing with school desegregation. The other body broadened the scope of this title to include all Federal court orders and increased from 6 months to 1 year the penalty of imprisonment” (Congressional Record, 8498). Hoffman had voted for Richard Poff’s (R-Va.) motion to delete that section, perhaps because it wasn’t expansive, as the Senate ultimately made it. Given that Hoffman had expressed feelings against racial discrimination on several occasions and his strong beliefs on adherence to the law, his Powell Amendment votes do appear to add up as sincere. This is especially so when you consider that he had a reputation for being frank and upfront about his views, which colleagues appreciated even when strongly disagreeing with him.
Clare Hoffman was, as could be expected, a firm opponent of the Kennedy Administration, but his vigor was hampered by a stroke in early 1962 that followed a minor one in late 1961. This prompted the octogenarian to retire, albeit reluctantly. In 1965, at ninety years old, he refused to participate in the newly enacted Medicare (Walker, 333). Hoffman died on November 3, 1967, being born during Reconstruction, and having lived to see the Civil Rights Era and the Summer of Love. I see on the plus side that Hoffman was a staunchly committed conservative, never was accused of profiting off his office, was a highly capable debater, contributed to important labor and national security legislation, and was honest in his views. I see on the downside that he on multiple occasions espoused anti-Semitic sentiments and he was rather behind on civil rights in numerous ways, even if some of those ways were meant as part of his views on organized labor. Hoffman’s MC-Index score was a whopping 99%.
Braden, T. (1977, February). The Birth Of The CIA. American Heritage, 28(2).
After Brown v. Board of Education (1954), civil rights got a renewed focus in the United States, and the first two laws after on the subject, the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960, were rather modest. This compromise legislation garnered no Republican dissenters in the Senate, but both times there were such dissenters in the House. All of these people at some point in their careers voted for something favorable to civil rights and in the case of the longer-serving ones it was for anti-lynching or anti-poll tax legislation. These are the folks who opposed both:
James B. Utt, California – Serving since 1953, Orange County’s Utt had a long-standing negative record on civil rights and at one time spread a rumor through his newsletter that a large group of “barefooted Africans” might be training at a UN camp in Georgia for an invasion of the United States. I covered him in a previous post. Died in office in 1970.
William Cramer, Florida – Serving since 1955, Cramer was known as the father of Florida’s Republican Party and he stuck with opposition to civil rights for the most part until 1965, when he voted for the Voting Rights Act. Opted not to run in 1970 for a Senate bid, which failed.
Hamer Budge, Idaho – Serving since 1951, Budge was known as a guy who stood staunchly for limited government. After his defeat for reelection in 1960, he served on the Securities and Exchange Commission and chaired it under President Nixon from 1969 to 1971 and predictably took a less activist approach.
Noah Mason, Illinois – Serving since 1937, by the 1950s and early 1960s he was probably the most conservative person representing the state in Congress and he routinely took hardline positions. Mason’s opposition to civil rights was based on his strong conception of state’s rights and his skepticism to forcing legislation on an unwilling populace, writing “A law has little chance of being enforced if it does not have the approval and support of the majority of the people affected” (Mason). Retired in 1963.
Ben F. Jensen, Iowa – Serving since 1939, Jensen was notable for his opposition to public ownership of power generation and his support for reducing the size of government and budgets, stating “In Congress I am called the watchdog of the Treasury and I am proud of that title” (The New York Times). In 1954, he had been wounded in the Capitol Hill shooting by Puerto Rican nationalists. Lost reelection in 1964.
Wint Smith, Kansas – Serving since 1947, Smith I recently covered as Bob Dole’s predecessor in Congress. On the many subjects he was conservative on, he was uncompromising. Retired in 1961.
August Johansen, Michigan – Serving since 1955, Johansen was extremely conservative, rivaling the cantankerous octogenarian Clare Hoffman for most conservative Michigan representative at the time. Lost reelection in 1964.
Clarence E. Kilburn, New York – Serving since 1940, Kilburn opposed most civil rights legislation. He was quite conservative on domestic matters but was an internationalist, having voted for Lend-Lease and foreign aid bills. After he retired, he was interviewed in 1970 on his career, and on the question of civil rights, he said, “Well, I thought a lot of it was bunk and a lot of it was for demagogues” and expressed skepticism over the impact of New York’s civil rights law (Langlois & McGowan, 139). Retired in 1965.
John Taber, New York – Serving since 1923, Taber long had a reputation as a figure focused on budget cutting and hadn’t changed much on domestic issues since he first came to Congress. He had voted against all of the New Deal innovations, including Social Security and the minimum wage, and played a central role in the planning and implementation of the 80th Congress’s agenda as chair of the House Budget Committee. Retired in 1963.
Charles Jonas, North Carolina – Like most of the rising Southern Republicans, Jonas opposed civil rights legislation except for the 24th Amendment and the Jury Selection and Service Act of 1968. The Jonas family had been Republican long before the party began to make significant gains in 20th century North Carolina. Retired in 1973.
Bruce Alger, Texas – Serving since 1955, Alger was one of the most extreme conservatives in Congress and seemed to be under the belief that civil rights matters would progress naturally without federal legislation; he did not sign the Southern Manifesto. Alger also led the so-called “mink coat mob” of conservative women who accosted LBJ and Lady Bird Johnson shortly before the 1960 election. For this spectacle, Richard Nixon would subsequently blame Alger for his loss of Texas, as he had been leading in polling before the incident.
Richard Poff, Virginia – The only Southerner to be part of the House Republican leadership, his signing of the Southern Manifesto as well as his voting throughout the 1950s and 1960s on civil rights matters seems to have been motivated by political survival rather than racial prejudice. He was Nixon’s first choice for the Supreme Court spot left vacant by Hugo Black’s death, but withdrew over fear of a bruising confirmation fight. Governor A. Linwood Holton Jr. would appoint him to Virginia’s Supreme Court in 1972.
Joel Broyhill, Virginia. – Serving since 1953, he signed the Southern Manifesto and was more enthusiastic about segregation than Poff. He recommended segregation be reinstated in Washington D.C. public schools in 1956. Lost reelection in 1974.
Ben F. Jensen Is Dead at 77; Ex-Representative From Iowa. (1970, February 6). The New York Times.
Brown, E. (2011, June 29). Richard H. Poff, Virginia congressman, dies at 87. The Washington Post.
In 1952, Congressman Jesse Combs decided to retire. He had run for office initially in 1944 in the name of challenging Martin Dies Jr., the chair of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, but Dies had a health scare and opted to retire. Combs’s progressive reputation would largely continue in his successor, Jack Bascom Brooks (1922-2012). Brooks quickly followed the leadership of Speaker Sam Rayburn and regarded himself as like him politically, “I’m just like old man Rayburn. Just a Democrat, no prefix or suffix” (Politico). Although not as liberal as many of his Northern colleagues, Brooks could prove highly partisan, and this was evidenced in some of his actions and behaviors. He gained a reputation for being tough and mean, chomping his cigar and interrogating bureaucrats for wasting taxpayer money. Brooks’ efforts saved taxpayers a lot of money; former Texas Governor Dolph Briscoe stated, “He literally has saved American taxpayers billions of dollars through his actions in improving government efficiency and eliminating waste” (Politico). Indeed, such measures he sponsored to this effect were the Brooks Act of 1972 and as chairman of the Government Operations Committee from 1975 to 1989, multiple laws including the Paper Reduction Act of 1980. He was also staunchly pro-organized labor unlike many Texas Democrats, and in 1959 he was one of four Texas Democrats to vote against the Eisenhower-backed Landrum-Griffin Act, tightening restrictions on secondary boycotts and picketing (Robertson, 15).
Brooks and Civil Rights
Jack Brooks’ record on civil rights was more forward-thinking than for many Texas politicians. He didn’t sign the Southern Manifesto, although neither did most Texas legislators, and although he voted against the House version of the Civil Rights Act of 1957 as did all other Texas legislators, he voted for the final Senate product and voted for funding the Civil Rights Commission in 1958 and 1959. However, Brooks also voted against Powell Amendments (as did other Texans) and he voted against both the House and final version of the Civil Rights Act of 1960. His greater antagonism on the subject than in the future under Democratic presidents perhaps served as a reflection of his partisanship.
During the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations, Brooks was an enthusiastic backer of civil rights measures, voting for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Brooks, however, wasn’t 100% on board with liberal positions on civil rights. In the 1970s supported measures curbing the practice of busing and opposed affirmative action and racial quotas. As chairman of the Judiciary Committee from 1989 to 1995, Brooks would sponsor the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1991.
Support of LBJ
As a Texas Democrat, Brooks was one of the strongest supporters of President Lyndon B. Johnson, backing almost the entirety of the Great Society, including the unsuccessful effort to roll back the “right to work” section of the Taft-Hartley Act, one of only four Texas representatives to do so. Indeed, the 1960s was Brooks’ most liberal decade. He also backed the Johnson Administration on the Vietnam War, which he extended to support for Nixon’s war policies. Brooks even went as far as to back fair housing legislation and was one of only two Texas Democrats to vote against Rep. Arch Moore’s (R-W.V.) motion to delete the fair housing section of the 1966 civil rights bill.
Opposition to Nixon and Reagan
Jack Brooks despised President Richard Nixon and did not hide this when he exposed through an investigation that he had used taxpayer funds to improve on his San Clemente mansion, and his opposition to revenue sharing was suspected of being motivated by an animus to the Republicans, who had developed the idea (Burka & Smith). He also played a prominent role in pursuing impeachment charges against Nixon over Watergate. Brooks drafted the impeachment articles against President Nixon, stating when asked about the theme of the second article on the misuse of government agencies, “The theme of this article is that we’re gonna get that son of a bitch out of there!” (McNulty & McNulty) Nixon would later call him his “executioner”.
In 1976, Brooks was described in Texas Monthly as a liberal Democrat and that his reputation was polarizing as he was often caustic in his rhetoric, “People either love Jack Brooks or they hate him. No one is neutral. There is little dispute about him politically – he is a fervent Democratic Party loyalist, dependably pro-labor, and a master at dipping into the pork barrel – but virtually no agreement about him personally” (Burka & Smith). His lifetime MC-Index score is a 21%, being on the cusp of solidly liberal, with his most conservative decade being the 1970s.
During the Reagan years, Brooks led the House investigation into the Iran-Contra Affair and opposed Reagan’s economic policies, including income tax reduction and cutting social services. He also opposed Reagan’s ramping up of defense expenditures, particularly the Strategic Defense Initiative, dubbed by its critics as the “Star Wars program”. One position, however, he continually stood for was opposition to gun control. He was a member of the NRA and knew his Beaumont-based district well.
Gun Control Push From Democrats and Fall
The enthusiasm for gun control legislation ramped up in the early 1990s with a solid majority of Democrats in favor and a considerable minority of Republicans for (including former President Ronald Reagan) and Brooks tried to stop such measures. He voted against the Brady Bill in 1993, being all too aware that this was political poison in his district. However, Brooks’ stance on guns didn’t stop him from voting for the omnibus 1994 crime bill that he sponsored and included a ban on semi-automatic firearms, a provision he had fought against. According to President Bill Clinton in his 2004 memoir, Brooks presciently warned on the provision, “the NRA would beat a lot of Democrats by terrifying gun owners” (The Crime Report). This vote for the crime bill resulted in his defeat to the bizarre Republican candidate Steve Stockman; he was the longest-serving incumbent to be defeated for reelection in American history.
Brooks was bitter about his 1994 defeat and that of the Democrats as a whole, calling it “The Hate Wave of ‘94” and stated on the Republicans, “They want to cut education. They want to cut Medicare. If they want more old people to suffer, more children to suffer, more young people to not get a shot at an education – if that’s what they want and the people endorse it, that’s the way it will be. I personally think that people will not like that very much and change it” (Ratcliffe).
Burka, P. & Smith, G. (1976, May). The Best, the Worst, and the Fair-To-Middlin’. Texas Monthly.
I have recently been on a real espionage kick, and one of the controversial cases surrounding World War II was that of a cipher clerk at the American Embassy in London, Tyler Kent (1911-1988). There are many reasons not to like Kent as a person, reasons that I will make abundantly clear, but the question here is given his activities, was he a spy or a whistleblower?
Kent was born to a prestigious family, his father was the consul to Manchuria at the time of his birth and a major supporter of President Theodore Roosevelt. He proved highly intelligent, attending Princeton University, the Sorbonne, the University of Madrid, and George Washington University and speaking seven languages (Simkin, Kent). By the time he graduated, the job market wasn’t terribly open for diplomats, but Kent managed to use family connections to get a position at the American Embassy in the USSR in 1934, with Secretary of State Cordell Hull pressuring Ambassador William C. Bullitt to take him in. Bullitt assigned him as a lowly clerk but he was eventually promoted to cipher. There, Kent was known as a rather unlikable loner who made no bones about acting like the smartest person in the room. As George Kennan, at the time a coworker, recounted about him, “I recall him as a sort of an oddball around the embassy, very much a loner, an unpleasant personality, full of himself, and giving the impression of pursuing aims his own” (Rand). He fell in love with a woman who worked for the NKVD, which led to suspicion that he was giving intelligence to the USSR. In 1939, he injured a pedestrian in a car accident, and was promptly transferred to Britain, where he would work for Ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy.
From almost the very start, Kent was under suspicion by MI5. He was seen in the company of Ludwig Matthias, a Swedish businessman of German origin who was suspected of being a Gestapo agent. While working at the embassy, Kent was noticing a lot of secret correspondence between President Roosevelt and First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill, correspondence not even known to Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. Socially, he frequented Russian tea rooms in London, which were full of Russian emigres who had fled the Bolshevik Revolution. There he found kindred spirits, people who were staunchly anti-Communist and anti-Semitic. Among these people he met Anna Wolkoff, the daughter of former Tsarist Admiral Nikolai Wolkoff, who brought Kent into The Right Club. The Right Club was a group of pro-Fascists headed by Scottish Conservative MP Archibald Ramsay, who wanted the war between Britain and Germany to end. Ramsay stated in his autobiography, “The main object of the Right Club was to oppose and expose the activities of Organized Jewry, in the light of the evidence which came into my possession in 1938. Our first objective was to clear the Conservative Party of Jewish influence, and the character of our membership and meetings were strictly in keeping with this objective” (Simkin, The Right Club). At The Right Club, Kent expressed anti-Communist, pro-Fascist, and anti-Semitic sentiments. He, like his boss Joseph P. Kennedy, believed that Britain was going to lose the war and that the United States should stay out of the conflict. Both Germany and Russia didn’t want the United States in World War II at the time given the Molotov-Ribbentrop agreement, so Kent being against American involvement served both of their interests at the time. He proceeded to steal and make copies of over 1500 documents, including secret correspondence between Roosevelt and Churchill. He did so by pocketing copied documents scheduled to be burned and Ambassador Kennedy had, according to Kent, commissioned the copying of political documents for his private collection, providing the perfect cover for him to copy said documents for his own use. Had this correspondence been publicly released, Roosevelt’s secret violations of the Neutrality Acts would have become known to the American public; polling at the time indicated that most didn’t want to get involved in World War II. Roosevelt had publicly pledged for the election to keep the United States out of the war, so the exposure of these documents could have lost him reelection. Kent showed these documents to Archibald Ramsay and Anna Wolkoff, intending to transmit them to U.S. Senate opponents of FDR’s foreign policies. Ramsay did not make a copy of the Churchill letters but planned to eventually introduce these to the House of Commons in a parliamentary effort to oust Churchill. On April 13, 1940, Wolkoff made copies, which Kent presumed was for Ramsay, but took them to Italian Assistant Naval Attache Don Francisco Maringliano, Duke of Del Monte, who transmitted the documents to Berlin, ending up in the hands of Wilhelm Canaris, the intelligence chief of the German Army. However, MI5 had multiple agents embedded in the Right Club, including Joan Miller, who reported on these activities.
Maxwell Knight of MI5 reported the events to Ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy, who realized that the documents stolen contained secret correspondence, compromised American diplomatic codes globally, and also contained evidence of his pro-German and anti-British views on the conflict (Rand). Kennedy promptly waived Kent’s diplomatic immunity, which allowed him to be arrested by MI5 and prosecuted by the British for violating the Official Secrets Act rather than be taken to the United States for trial. This was a way to prevent Kent from being able to testify in the United States, for otherwise the trial would be public per the Sixth Amendment and Kent would speak of Roosevelt violating the Neutrality Acts. There was no press surrounding the matter at the time and he was convicted of violating the Official Secrets Act in a secret trial and was imprisoned until the end of the war. Anna Wolkoff was also tried and convicted, with Archibald Ramsay being interned. His trial and conviction would not be publicly known until 1944. As I have written previously, there were great efforts by the British and Germans to influence American opinion in the two years preceding the attack on Pearl Harbor, and Kent’s efforts certainly could have been another. It is not conclusive whether Kent was in fact a spy. Professor Igor Lukes (2021) concludes that he was a spy for the Soviets while in Moscow and London, providing documents on the behest of his girlfriend and later Ludwig Matthias. Historian Nigel West found it probable that Kent spied for the Soviets and the FBI suspected as much. However, other sources have held that Kent spied for the Germans with a former Gestapo officer claiming that he was on his payroll and that Matthias was either a Gestapo agent or a suspected Gestapo agent.
Kent After World War II
Kent’s postwar activities do not engender sympathy, to say the least. After marrying a wealthy heiress, suited for the lifestyle had become accustomed to, he stayed out of the limelight for some time and became the publisher of a segregationist newspaper in Florida with ties to the KKK. The FBI remained suspicious of him, investigating him six times between 1952 and 1963. Kent joined Liberty Lobby Board of Policy in the 1950s, an organization founded by Willis Carto that portrayed itself as a patriotic conservative group but as I have written before, it was a front for something much more sinister. Through his newspaper, perhaps in a way of paying back his former boss Joseph P. Kennedy, he accused President Kennedy of being a communist. After his assassination, Kent publicized the conspiracy theory that Kennedy was assassinated by the Soviets because he was turning away from communism.
Kent stayed associated with Carto as it became increasingly known that Liberty Lobby was a front for Carto’s pro-Nazi bigotry. In 1982, Kent was tracked down for an interview by Robert Harris of the BBC, and when asked if being called anti-Jewish was a fair description of him, he admitted, “Yes, that’s a fair description. Because the Jews are basically responsible for the establishment of Soviet Russia”. That year, he attended a conference of Holocaust deniers in Chicago and claimed the Holocaust to be a Jewish hoax (Beschloss, 190). By the 1980s, Kent had blown through his wife’s money through libel suits and failed financial schemes, spending his last years living in poverty in a Texas trailer park.
Kent was undoubtedly a whistleblower who may have changed the course of history had his information reached the American public in 1940. He may have also been a spy for the Soviets or the Nazis, a great irony for a man who would portray himself as a patriot, and was certainly a man who held repulsive views.
Beschloss, M. (2007). Presidential courage: brave leaders and how they changed America. Simon & Schuster: New York, NY.
Lukes, I. (2021, May 11). Truth as an Instrument of Evil: What Could Soviet Spy Tyler Kent Cause? Forum24.
Rand, P. (2013, October). The Secret Sharer. World War II.
Robert Harris Report on Tyler Kent. BBC.
Simkin, J. (2020). The Right Club. Spartacus Educational.
The great Bob Dole died on December 5th, and you can read my piece on him at my new Substack, mikeholme.substack.com. However, today I will tell the story of his predecessor, who was also a war hero, Wint Smith (1892-1976).
1946 was a major comeback year for the GOP after chafing under Roosevelt, and the Congress that resulted was the staunchly conservative 80th, which passed tax reduction, a partial rollback of the Wagner Act, and a partial rollback of anti-trust laws surrounding railroads over President Truman’s veto. Frank Carlson was not running for reelection in Kansas’s 6th district, and he was succeeded by the much more conservative Wint Smith. Smith had served in three military conflicts for the United States: the border war with Mexico under General Pershing, World War I, and World War II. He had been injured thrice in the line of duty and his command of the 635th Tank Destroyer Battalion was effective in combat in the Battle of the Bulge and in preserving the lives of his men; his training was strict about always wearing a helmet. By the end of World War II, he was promoted to Brigadier General. Smith had also been the head attorney of the Kansas Highway Commission, a law enforcement outfit, and had commanded the highway patrol. Under Smith, they were authorized to act as a police force to solve the problem of repeated bank robberies by effectively waging a war on the gangs, including shooting robbers on sight (Congressional Record, 27832).
Wint Smith was a giant of a man, at 6’4″ and 240 pounds, but he contrasted this frame with a soft-spoken demeanor. His record was on most issues uncompromising – he opposed the minimum wage, organized labor, federal funding for sewage treatment plants, public housing, admitting European war refugees, public housing, foreign aid, and public power. Smith thought the censure of Senator Joseph McCarthy unfair and President Eisenhower far too moderate. He stated on the matter, “I recognize my obligation as a Republican, but when you find yourself in disagreement what’s the representative to do? Vote his own convictions, or follow along blindly? In strict analysis, there isn’t any use to electing a Congress if they’re going to follow the leadership…one of the things we campaigned against was usurpation of power by the executive…If I voted against things when Truman was President, I can’t in good conscience change overnight…” (McConaughy, 133). However, Smith could bend for public works projects, particularly reclamation projects, and farm price supports. On civil rights, his record is mostly negative; while he voted to ban the poll tax in 1947 and voted for the 1956 Powell Amendment, Smith voted against fair employment practices legislation in 1950, civil rights legislation in 1956, 1957, and 1960, opposed the creation and extension of the Civil Rights Commission, and voted against the 1960 Powell Amendment. In 1959, he was one of only 24 House Republicans to vote against the admission of Hawaii as the 50th state.
In 1958, Smith faced a difficult bid for renomination and indeed that was an unusually tough year for Republicans in Kansas: two incumbents, Errett Scrivner and Myron George, lost reelection, and he was nearly a third. He had only narrowly won his primary against future Congressman Keith Sebelius with the help of Bob Dole, who he gratefully endorsed as his successor for 1960. Smith’s MC-Index score was a 91%. Although Bob Dole’s was only three points lower on my scale, he differed from Smith in his approach in that as a senator he was actively involved in the crafting of bipartisan compromises while sticking with the GOP line on meat and potatoes issues. Smith was a legislator who stuck with his principles and his district regardless.
Extension of Remarks of Keith G. Sebelius (KS). (1969, September 30). Congressional Record.
McConaughy, J.L. (1954, June 21). While Eisenhower Proposes, The Old Guard Disposes. LIFE.
World War II: 635th Tank Destroyer Battalion. Kansas National Guard Museum.
December 7th, 2021 marks the 80th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Although after the attack, American patriotism skyrocketed and the nation unified to win World War II, after the war ended and the dust had settled questions were being asked about how we got into war. The traditional story, as we know, is that the Japanese were aggressive and that their ambitions would have eventually resulted in conflict with the United States regardless and that Roosevelt was trying to pressure Japan into backing off rather than getting into war. In 1948, President Harry S. Truman declassified all documents surrounding Pearl Harbor, and out came the revisionist works. Roosevelt foe John T. Flynn then wrote The Roosevelt Myth, which accused the late president of getting the United States into war for economic recovery. Revisionist historians such as Charles A. Beard, Charles Callan Tansill, and Harry Elmer Barnes were also promoting rethinking the causes of Pearl Harbor. Tansill alleged in Back Door to War (1953) that crucial intelligence was deliberately withheld from Hawaii and Barnes claimed in Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace (1953) that the Roosevelt Administration had engaged in multiple cover-ups surrounding Pearl Harbor (Johnson, 57-58). A more compelling work was in 1954, in which Rear Admiral Robert Theobald, who was present at Pearl Harbor, wrote The Final Secret of Pearl Harbor: The Washington Contribution to the Japanese Attack, in which he accused FDR of suppressing intelligence in the name of provoking an attack. More recently, author Robert Stinnett caused a stir when in his book, Day of Deceit (1999), he argued that based on declassified documents FDR knew the attack on Pearl Harbor would occur ahead of time and withheld vital intelligence to Hawaii. What his book contributed most was that the story about radio silence from the Japanese in the weeks preceding the attack was false, and that it was possible for Hawaii to have been warned of an impending attack through the deciphering of the Japanese code, which the Americans had cracked by that time (Bernstein). Whether such deciphering was made in a timely manner or had even made its way to Roosevelt is unknown. Since World War II, there have been numerous declassified documents and there are some things we now know based on them.
What We Know Now
FDR and Administration officials expected a Japanese attack on December 6th or 7th, but it has not been proven they knew where it would happen.
There was a naval intelligence report sent to FDR three days before the attack on Pearl Harbor that the Japanese military and spy network was focusing on Hawaii (Bedard). This does not necessarily imply knowledge of a coming attack on Hawaii.
Rear Admiral Robert Theobald wrote on November 25, 1941, “The President at once brought up the relations with the Japanese. Mr. Hull said that the Japanese were poised for the attack – that they might attack at any time. The President said that the Japanese were notorious for making an attack without warning and stated that we might be attacked, say next Monday, for example. One problem troubled us very much. If you know your enemy is going to strike you, it is not usually wise to wait until he gets the jump on you by taking the initiative. In spite of the risk involved, however, in letting the Japanese fire the first shot, we realized that in order to have the full support of the American people it was desirable that the Japanese be the ones to do it so that there should remain no doubt in anyone’s mind as to who were the aggressors” (Hurst, 76-77).
The greatest problem with the Pearl Harbor theory, and in fact one that unless you pretty much accept that Roosevelt is stupid and evil destroys the idea that he knew where the attack would happen, is that so much of the fleet was stationed at Pearl Harbor. If his aim was simply to goad Japan to attack, why take such great damages? Would he not want to be in a better position to win once at war? Roosevelt and military leadership believed that the presence at Pearl Harbor served as a deterrent rather than a target, thinking that American territories closer to Japan (the Philippines and Guam) would be subject to such an attack (Dallek). However, that doesn’t mean there was no intent for war or even no conspiracy.
The Real Conspiracy
President Roosevelt had taken several actions in the months preceding Pearl Harbor that had escalated tensions between Japan and the United States. This included freezing all Japanese assets in the United States on July 26th in response to Japan’s occupation of South Indochina (which had been approved by Vichy France) that had been for the purpose of cutting off oil imports to China, the oil and gas export embargo on August 1st that severely compromised Japan’s oil and gas supply, and finally the November 26th ultimatum. It could be argued that for the former two responses that Roosevelt was either trying to apply economic pressure for Japan to pull back their war machine, or to push the US closer to war. The ultimatum, however, was an uncompromising list of demands in response to a Japanese diplomatic effort to ease tensions between the two nations. FDR had approved this version over a more diplomatic version after he learned of a Japanese expeditionary force heading to Indochina, and the key demands of the final version had been drafted by none other than Soviet agent Harry Dexter White, and it was after this that Japan’s government decided to attack Pearl Harbor (Steil, 55-56). This was a part of a Soviet operation called “Operation Snow”, the purpose of which was to get the US and Japan into war with each other. While FDR’s intentions here are as I noted debatable, the real conspiracy that put the US to war with Japan was on the part of the Soviets eager to avoid the possibility of being attacked by Japan. That’s correct, I mean to say that the immediate cause of the Pearl Harbor attack was the product of a Communist conspiracy. While it is entirely possible that the US and Japan would have ended up going to war anyway, the trigger was, in effect, pulled by the Kremlin.
Bedard, P. (2011, November 29). Declassified Memo Hinted of 1941 Hawaii Attack. US News.
In the aftermath of the War of the Rebellion, a strange situation arose politically: the presence of both freedmen and ex-Confederates in politics. Not all black politicians had been born into slavery, but many were. The approaches of them differed on suffrage for ex-Confederates, with some fearing their freedoms would be compromised should ex-Confederates be restored suffrage too early and others calling for reconciliation by having everyone enfranchised, and many ex-Confederates agitated (to say the least) for the disenfranchisement of black voters. In the 1870s, both the former vice presidents of the United States and of the Confederacy were serving: Senator Hannibal Hamlin of Maine, a Republican who had once been a Democrat, and Representative Alexander Stephens of Georgia, a Democrat who had once been a Whig, like Abraham Lincoln. The first Democrat to be elected to Congress from Mississippi after the war was Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar II (1825-1893) (love that name) in 1872, who had served before the war. He distinguished himself as a reconciliatory figure through his moving tribute in 1874 to the late Senator Charles Sumner, the famous Massachusetts abolitionist. However, Lamar was a believer in white supremacy and opposed black suffrage, at least, during Reconstruction. He had also as a plantation owner once owned 31 slaves.
In 1875, Blanche K. Bruce (1841-1898) was elected to the Senate and was the first black man to serve a full term. Bruce was a man who had escaped slavery and his fellow Mississippi senator, former Confederate General and Republican James Alcorn, refused to escort him per Senate tradition. Senator Roscoe Conkling (R-N.Y.) stepped up to do so instead. This action made Conkling a hero for many blacks, and numerous black boys were subsequently named “Roscoe Conkling”, including Bruce’s son. Bruce would not be troubled by Alcorn’s antagonistic presence for long, as by the next election the Democrats won control over the state legislature, and elected Lamar to the Senate.
Bruce and Lamar served together in the Senate from 1877 to 1881 and despite the latter’s stated belief in white supremacy and opposition to Reconstruction, the two developed a cordial and friendly working relationship in securing legislation and railroad funds for Mississippi. Indeed, Bruce got on better with his white Democratic colleague than he had Alcorn. Bruce won approval from many whites for his moderate Republicanism and support for suffrage for ex-Confederates and on February 14, 1879, he presided over the Senate, the first and only former slave to do so. He stressed that while he was proud to be black, he thought of himself as a senator for both races in Mississippi. Like Lamar, Bruce was a successful plantation owner and would remain so.
The experience of working with Bruce, it turns out, may have had quite an effect on Lamar. In 1879, Lamar participated in a forum in which he supported black suffrage along with James Garfield and James G. Blaine (Crapol, 64). Indeed, race relations seemed to be improving and in 1880 blacks equaled or exceeded whites in turnout in eight Southern states and in all but two Southern states a majority of them voted (Filer, Kenny, & Morton, 371). In fact, while in Grover Cleveland’s cabinet as Interior Secretary he was one of the more open Southerners to black patronage appointments. On January 16, 1888, he was confirmed to the Supreme Court, the first Southern nominee since before the War of the Rebellion. Unfortunately, the times were not moving with Lamar.
Bruce’s successor in 1881 was Democrat James Z. George, the architect of the 1890 Mississippi Constitution that both in practice and intent disenfranchised black men by a poll tax and a literacy test that was administered in a racially discriminatory manner by local election officials. Voter fraud was also ramping up and would be used to gradually push Republicans out of office. One incident in Bolivar County, Mississippi, is described by Dennis J. Mitchell (2014) thusly, “In one instance, when suspicious black election officials hovered too closely over a box so that the Democrats could not substitute their fraudulent one, a Democratic physician among the group went out for food. Coming back with sardines and crackers, he announced that, on this special occasion, blacks and whites could eat together in violation of custom. He had injected croton oil into the black men’s sardines with a hypodermic needle, and when the sick black men rushed from the room, the Democrats switched ballot boxes” (170). In 1890, he spoke out against his state disenfranchising black voters through the adoption of Senator George’s constitution. Alcorn, on the other hand, had participated in drafting the 1890 constitution despite having backed the 14th and 15th Amendments earlier in his career. Lamar had even called for the appointment of a black cabinet member (Wilson). He was eighty years ahead of his time on this one – it wouldn’t happen until 1966 during the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson. A group of Mississippi leaders in politics and society who aimed to improve race relations in the 1970s would reflect on Lamar’s legacy and hold that his conduct in the 1870s was a good model for Southerners in the 1970s (Wilson). If the politics of Bruce and Lamar had been stuck to perhaps freedom for both races would have prevailed in Mississippi and perhaps even social equality would have come sooner. Unfortunately, greater socioeconomic forces were at work.
Bruce, Blanche K. (1841-1898). New York University of Law.
In 1934, conservative Republican Senator Henry Hatfield, normally a popular figure, faced an exceptionally young Democratic opponent in Rush Dew Holt Sr. (1905-1955), a member of the House of Delegates who stood out as a populist and a foe of public utility companies. He ran as a staunch proponent of the New Deal and given its popularity and the shift of West Virginia to the Democrats he was able to oust Hatfield. This was despite not being the Constitutionally required age by the start of the term to which he was elected. Holt would have to wait six months before being sworn in, and to this day he is the youngest person ever elected to the Senate. He initially was thought of as to FDR’s left and his early record reflected this perception, but he soon changed. Despite having been raised by a socialist, Holt dramatically departed from the New Deal line starting in 1936. He had also parted ways with his original political benefactor, Senator Matthew Neely, both ideologically and over patronage; Neely had been getting an overwhelming share of the latter to the consternation of Holt. The parting became so bitter that Neely denounced Holt as a “sewer rat” for his turn (Hill).
By DW-Nominate’s measurements, Holt was the fifth most conservative Democrat to serve in either House of Congress between 1857 and 2021 with a score of 0.283. However, the MC-Index places him at a 60%. This can be attributed to his dramatic swing against the New Deal but even more so his uncompromising non-interventionism, the latter of which DW-Nominate seems to have a heavier weight on in the Senate. This was in step with old progressives, who opposed American military adventures in the early 20th century, including President Calvin Coolidge’s now little-known intervention in Nicaragua in the 1920s. Holt not only voted against any effort weakening the Neutrality Acts and against the peacetime draft, but also voted against both the nominations of Henry Stimson as Secretary of War and Frank Knox as Secretary of the Navy in 1940, both men interventionist Republicans who managed to get significant Republican support. He also supported higher tariffs, especially on glass, as this was a specialty of West Virginia. Holt seemed to relish his role as a great dissenter, and he earned the spoils of dissenting against one of history’s great men. FDR was still quite popular in West Virginia, and so out of step was he with his party that he came in third in his bid for renomination. Out of the Senate, Holt spoke at America First rallies and got some bad press for trying to publish his book, The British Propaganda Network, through Flanders Hall, a publishing firm that was run from behind the scenes by Nazi propagandist George Sylvester Viereck. Even after Pearl Harbor, he remained resolute in his non-interventionism, declaring in 1942, “Our fight is not over. We must stand guard to see that the internationalists…are not allowed to determine the future of our great country. They would commit us to everlasting wars everywhere” (Coffey, 1-14).
Holt won back his seat in the House of Delegates in 1942 as a Democrat, serving from 1943 to 1949. However, his efforts at higher office were in vain, losing a gubernatorial nomination in 1944 and as late as 1948 he trying to win the party’s nomination for the Senate. By 1949, however, he had figured out that he no longer belonged in the Democratic Party and switched. In 1950, he made an unsuccessful bid for Congress as a Republican, came close to winning a gubernatorial election in 1952 (running ahead of Eisenhower), and was again elected to the House of Delegates in 1954. However, Holt had little time to savor this final victory, as he tragically lost his battle with cancer on February 8, 1955, only 49 years old. His widow, Helen, would serve in his place and would serve as the state’s secretary of state from 1957 to 1959, the first woman to hold statewide office in West Virginia. Unlike her short-lived husband, Holt lived to the advanced age of 101, dying 60 years after her husband. His son, Rush Jr., served in Congress as a Democrat from New Jersey from 1999 to 2015.
Holt was a man who possessed a powerful mind (he started attending university at 15) but he compromised a promising political career on principle and perhaps a sense of pleasure in being an iconoclast within the Democratic Party. He peaked and died early, possibly short of his full political potential.
Coffey, W.E. (1992). Isolationism and Pacifism: Senator Rush D. Holt and American Foreign Policy. West Virginia History, 51.
Hill, R. (2013, April 14). The Boy Wonder: Senator Rush Holt of West Virginia. The Knoxville Focus.