Today I wish to honor a man who could best be thought of as both a hardline and constructive conservative. An investment banker by profession, John Wingate Weeks (1860-1926) founded with Henry Hornblower the investment banking firm Hornblower & Weeks in 1888. He was heavily focused on budget efficiency, a trait that would serve him well in the private and public sector. Weeks served an energetic term as the mayor of Newton, Massachusetts from 1902 to 1903, in which he was interested in getting things done to develop the city over adhering to tradition or precedent. Weeks first was elected to Congress in 1904, and he proved a trusted man for the legendary conservative Speaker Joe Cannon with his strong support for tariffs, trusts, and pro-business policies in general. Although Weeks’ specialty was banking, Cannon placed him on the House Agriculture Committee so that a fiscal conservative could have influence over agricultural and conservation legislation. If anyone could write a conservation bill that the famously anti-conservation Speaker would approve of, it was Weeks. As Cannon told him, “If you can frame a forestry bill which you, as a business man, are willing to support, I will do what I can to get an opportunity to get its consideration in the House” (New England Historical Society).
The Weeks Act
Representative Weeks followed through, sharing the wishes of many Americans to conserve the nation’s natural treasures, and on June 24, 1910 the Weeks Act passed the House and the Senate, with the critical support of conservative Republican Jacob Gallinger of New Hampshire, passed the bill on February 15, 1911. This law authorized the Federal government to purchase private lands to preserve them from destruction. This law has protected 20 million acres in the Eastern United States. In 1913, Weeks was elected to the Senate.
The Wilson Years
Although Senator Weeks was opposed to President Wilson’s anti-trust legislation and his administration overall, he lent crucial support to the enacting of the Federal Reserve, adding a multitude of amendments to the bill. He was one of the few “pro-bank” Republican senators to support the law. Weeks, like many other politicians on the Eastern seaboard, supported former President Roosevelt’s push for military training and expanding the size of the navy to prepare for war with Germany. In 1916, he was held in sufficiently high regard to come in second for the Republican nomination for president, losing out to the more moderate Charles Evans Hughes, a candidate the conservative and progressive wings could agree on.
Defeat By Suffragists
Senator Weeks, like his colleague Henry Cabot Lodge, was an opponent of many social reform pushes of his day. One of them was Prohibition, and another was women’s suffrage. Many men in Massachusetts had shared his views on suffrage; in an October 1915 referendum, almost 65% of the voters went against, and some women in the state also opposed suffrage. However, attitudes were changing by the year and what a difference three years made! Democrat David I. Walsh was able to fully capitalize on rising approval for women’s suffrage, and made history by being the first Democrat to defeat a Republican in a Senate election in Massachusetts in 1918. His MC-Index score was a 97%. However, Weeks was not out of the game yet!
Harding and Coolidge Administrations
Weeks had been an early supporter of Senator Warren G. Harding’s (R-Ohio) candidacy for president, and after his election, he tapped him to be Secretary of War. The Harding Administration was famously troubled with corruption in Interior Secretary Albert B. Fall, Attorney General Harry M. Daughtery, and Veterans Bureau Chief Charles Forbes. However, Weeks was among the honest and competent of Harding’s picks and worked hard to transition the military to peacetime levels of personnel and expenditures through his emphasis on fiscal efficiency. President Coolidge kept Weeks on after Harding’s death and he continued his hard work. Unfortunately, it turns out he worked too hard.
Weeks worked strenuously for long hours, and this taxed him beyond what he could handle at his age. In April 1925, he suffered a stroke and by October he retired due to his failing health. Weeks’ health continued to deteriorate as he developed a brain tumor and died of heart failure on July 12, 1926. His biographer and dear friend, Charles Walsh, wrote on his passing, “His earnest wish had been gratified. He died in the spot dearer to him than any other. The towering peaks of the majestic Presidential Range, stood, almost like sentinels, at his bedside. He fell asleep in the land of his fathers” (Baird, 102). Weeks’ son, Sinclair, would also serve as mayor of Newton and would for most of 1944 serve in the Senate as a placeholder. He would then serve as head of the American Enterprise Association (today known as the American Enterprise Institute) from 1946 to 1950. His most significant role was as President Eisenhower’s Secretary of Commerce from 1953 to 1958, where he proved to be one of the most conservative members of his cabinet. I plan on giving Sinclair Weeks his own entry for he too has a great accomplishment under his belt…one that all of America benefits from today.
Baird, I.D. (2011). Biographical Portrait – John W. Weeks. Forest History Today.
The War of the Rebellion produced numerous veterans who went into politics, and they were both from the North and the South. All of the Republican presidents from 1869 to 1901 served in the War of the Rebellion, and all of them relied on endorsements from the Grand Army of the Republic. However, as time passed by, their numbers dwindled as the numbers have for World War II veterans, and by the 1920s there were two left: Senator Francis E. Warren (1844-1929) of Wyoming and Representative Charles M. Stedman (1841-1930) of North Carolina.
Francis E. Warren
During the War of the Rebellion, Warren joined up with the 49th Massachusetts Infantry. At the age of 19 he won the Medal of Honor for disabling Confederate artillery after most of his unit had been killed, he himself having suffered a serious scalp wound in the process. Warren would rise to the rank of captain by the war’s end. Although a Bay Stater by birth and upbringing, he found himself attracted to the West, making significant investments in real estate and livestock and establishing the Wyoming Territory’s electrical grid, which made him quite wealthy. In 1885, Warren was appointed Governor of the Wyoming Territory and in this capacity had to respond to the Rock Springs Massacre, the single worst incident of anti-Chinese violence in American history. His decisive and courageous actions, including requesting the sending of federal troops, prevented more killings, but also employed trickery to ensure that the Union Pacific would continue to have Chinese laborers. Warren denounced the massacre as “the most damnable and brutal outrage that ever occurred in any country”, but a grand jury refused to indict any accused perpetrators (Drake).
In 1890, the state legislature of the newly admitted Wyoming elected Warren as one of its first two senators. The other senator elected was Joseph M. Carey. Although the two men were both Republicans and had cooperated in getting Wyoming admitted as a state, the men were arch-rivals and deeply personally disliked each other. During the currency debates, Warren during the Cleveland Administration sided with the cause of bimetallism, while Carey stuck to supporting gold. This cost the latter reelection.
Warren would proceed to build a political machine that guaranteed him to remain in the Senate as long as he wished. He relentlessly pushed for the construction of federal buildings in Wyoming, and many buildings in Cheyenne, constructed publicly or privately, can be attributed to Warren’s direction or influence. Carey, after losing the Republican nomination for the governorship in 1910, ran an independent campaign and won the Democratic nomination, then won the election.
Progressive Republican Senator Robert La Follette (R-Wis.) identified Warren clearly as a member of the conservative wing of the party, writing “He is the boss of Wyoming, with a powerfully entrenched political machine of the ‘pork barrel’ and ‘patronage’ type. He is one of the high moguls of the Old Guard” (Drake). He was a big supporter of high tariffs, particularly on cattle and wool, and was a fiscal conservative. Warren also supported women’s suffrage and opposed Prohibition. Indeed, on the subject of women Warren had hired Leona Wells for his staff in 1900, the first time a woman was ever employed on a senator’s staff. In 1921, he was one of the few senators to vote against the Sheppard-Towner Maternity Act, a bit of an unusual vote for a politician who voted for suffrage, as opposition to that act and suffrage often went together. Warren had a critical connection, or should I say, General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing had a critical connection to Warren as he had married his daughter, and the senator had a major role in funding the war effort during World War I. served throughout the Harding and Coolidge Administrations, backing their conservative agendas. In early November 1929, Warren developed bronchitis and pneumonia and deteriorated until his death on November 24th. At the time of his death, he had served in the Senate for 37 years, which at the time was a record for service. Warren’s MC-Index score was an 87%.
Charles M. Stedman
At the start of the War of the Rebellion, Stedman enlisted in the Fayetteville Independent Light Infantry Company of the Confederate Army, and by the war’s end would rise to the rank of major. He would subsequently practice law and later take some time to get involved in politics, doing so in 1880 as a delegate for the Democratic National Convention. In 1884, he was elected lieutenant governor of North Carolina, serving for four years. Stedman ran for the Democratic nomination for governor in 1888 but lost. He proceeded to resume practicing law and served as the president of the North Carolina Bar Association from 1900 to 1901. After this, Stedman again ran in the Democratic primary for governor in 1904, but once again lost the nomination.
An opportunity arose for Stedman to return to elected office in 1910 when North Carolina’s 5th district had a vacancy, and he was elected to Congress in the Democratic wave. He proved a staunch supporter of President Woodrow Wilson and voted as a rural-minded progressive, supporting lower tariffs and anti-trust legislation. He was far from the most influential members of Congress but was known for the courtly manners that were regarded as characteristic of the Southern aristocracy and was popular among his colleagues. Among younger members of Congress, Stedman was a subject of great fascination as a historical link to the War of the Rebellion.
In 1923, Stedman proposed a “Mammy Memorial” in Washington D.C. to commemorate black slave women who remained loyal to their masters during the War of the Rebellion. Although this passed the Senate, it was defeated in the House after opposition from civil rights groups and the Grand Army of the Republic. In 1926, Congress celebrated Stedman’s 85th birthday, presenting him with a cake with 85 candles. In 1928, the Republicans made substantial inroads in the South, defeating two incumbents in North Carolina and Stedman was almost a third, winning only by 0.2%. Like Warren, Stedman died in office on September 23, 1930. His lifetime MC-Index score was a 10%.
Drake, K. (2014, November 8). Francis E. Warren: A Massachusetts Farm Boy Who Changed Wyoming.
Since the conclusion of my Texas Legends series, I have been thinking about the next step. I was thinking about a series called American Radicals, and I still plan on writing it with the first entry being W.E.B. Du Bois. However, what has come quicker to my mind is the series I start today, Great Conservatives of American History. This is about legislators who honored their offices, had conservative records, and fought for what they saw as the right thing. Not all of these people would have necessarily got on personally with each other, as this series will include both segregationists and black people. Some can retroactively be called great conservatives, as I have already written about them. These include Henry Cabot Lodge Sr., John J. Williams, Joe Cannon, Hamilton Fish, John Rousselot, H.R. Gross, Thomas Brackett Reed, Durward G. Hall, Thomas B. Curtis, George Tinkham, James Wadsworth, James B. Allen, James M. Beck, William McCulloch, Oscar De Priest, and Fisher Ames. This list is necessarily a bit of a subjective one, as I am coming at this subject as a conservative, and certain ones who engaged in behavior I find embarrassing or discrediting for their time don’t make the list, such as John G. Schmitz and Earl Landgrebe. After all, that does rather take away greatness from them. The first entry in this series is about one of the foremost conservatives of the 1920s, a man who fought relentlessly for American sovereignty and for the sovereignty of its people. This would be New Hampshire’s George Higgins Moses (1869-1944).
Moses started his career young in politics and journalism. At the age of 20, he started working as private secretary to the governor of New Hampshire, a post he would serve in for two years. Moses would then get into journalism, reporting for the Concord Evening Monitor, and would rise to chief editor, a position he held for twenty years. He served as a partner in this endeavor with Senator William E. Chandler and his son. Moses would begin to make his presence known in Washington during the first Roosevelt Administration, and this would result in him holding his first office.
In 1909, President William Howard Taft nominated Moses US Minister to Greece and Montenegro, despite Moses not having originally supported his nomination, a post he served in until 1912. During this time, he wrote several articles for National Geographic on the racial tensions of the region. During this time, he attracted the positive attention of veteran Senator Jacob Gallinger, who he helped win reelection in 1914. Gallinger gave his blessing for him to join him in the Senate by running against Democratic incumbent Henry Hollis in 1918. However, the 81-year-old Gallinger died on August 17th, so Moses ran to replace him instead and narrowly won.
Moses was a staunch opponent of President Wilson’s New Freedom domestic agenda and in 1919, he was one of the leaders in the fight against the League of Nations and he identified with the irreconcilables on the question, who would accept no version of the Versailles Treaty. Moses delivered a compelling speech that swayed several colleagues against the League, and it became the first peace treaty in American history to fail to be ratified. He backed the Esch-Cummins Act, which returned railroads to the private sector with favorable conditions, and backed an anti-strike provision in the measure, earning the staunch opposition of the AFL’s Samuel Gompers. Moses also cast his vote against the 19th Amendment (women’s suffrage). In 1920, he backed General Leonard Wood for the Republican nomination for president before settling on supporting Ohio Senator Warren G. Harding.
During the 1920s, Moses served as a major conservative leader and had at times an independent voting record from what the Republican Party at the time wanted. Despite most conservative Republican senators backing the Sheppard-Towner Maternity Act in 1921 and the Child Labor Amendment in 1924, he voted against. Moses also sided with the Harding and Coolidge Administrations against the veterans’ bonus bill as straining the budget. He also curiously voted against the Mellon tax cuts in 1921, likely not viewing them as sufficient given his ultra-conservatism elsewhere. From 1925 to 1933, Senator Moses served as the president pro tem. He was a strong supporter of the Coolidge Administration and frequently voted to uphold President Coolidge’s vetoes. Moses was known for his sharp wit, and this made him an effective, trusted, and credible figure on the Senate floor, if not always the most liked among the targets of his wit. He would also in this role mentor a future conservative senator in Norris H. Cotton. Cotton would in later years remark on his boss’s nature, “The world never saw, nor does history record, the human, compassionate side of George Moses. This was his fault. To the world he gave the impression of a cynical, sarcastic, brilliant individual with a biting tongue. In later years, when I was more mature, I came to realize that he enjoyed that role – indeed, that he almost reveled in it. His wit was sharp as a rapier and he could not resist uttering a witticism, no matter how cutting” (GovInfo, 89).
In 1929, Senator Moses referred to a group of progressive Republican senators troubling the GOP leadership on tariff legislation as the “sons of the wild jackass” (U.S. Senate). Although he tried to play it off as an admiration for their stubbornness, this contributed to the tensions between the wings of the party. During the Great Depression, Moses, similar to Herbert Hoover opposed just giving states relief money, rather opting for the money to be loaned. Unlike Hoover, however, he supported ending Prohibition. Being a Republican was politically costly in this time, especially a conservative Republican, and he was among the casualties as in 1932 he lost reelection by a point to Democrat Fred Brown, running behind President Herbert Hoover, who narrowly won the state. Moses’ MC-Index score was a 97% while his DW-Nominate score was a 0.709, making him one of the most conservative senators in the history of the Republican Party.
The Final Years
Although out of office, Moses maintained hopes of a Republican resurgence and even him possibly returning to the Senate, attempting to do so twice. In 1936, he backed Frank Knox for the Republican nomination, fully believing that if nominated he would win. Instead, Knox was placed as the vice-presidential candidate and the ticket was crushed, only winning Maine and Vermont. The following year, he wrote to Senator Carter Glass (D-Va.), by this time an avowed foe of the New Deal, proposing a conservative alliance between Republicans and Southern Democrats, holding that because the black vote no longer went Republican, the issue of the “color line” was no longer present (Schickler, 247). This presaged the Conservative Coalition that arose after the 1938 midterms and the South’s long-term eventual shift to the GOP. Moses ultimately never got to come back, with his old seat being won back to the GOP by Congressman Charles W. Tobey, a guy who would by World War II’s end be on the moderate to liberal wing of the party. Moses didn’t live to see his party’s resurgence, dying on December 20, 1944. Even if he had lived to see the Republicans win control both the White House and Congress again from 1953 to 1955, his arch-conservatism, his status as an irreconcilable on the Versailles Treaty, and his thoughts about President Hoover as being too liberal would certainly have had him finding Eisenhower wanting on a domestic and foreign policy basis. Norris Cotton recalled about him in his 1978 memoir, “My own boss, George Moses, a man of many contradictory traits, was in many respects the most brilliant man who ever represented New Hampshire, and he merits more than passing attention…Moses was truly a master of words” (GovInfo, 89).
Dartmouth College Public Service Legacy: George Higgins Moses, Class of 1890. The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences.
Although as a group I think the Founding Fathers would be more conservative than the average politician today, I also think it is a myth to think of the Founding Fathers as an overall conservative group. However, there were certainly many prominent conservatives among them. Among the most notable of them were John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, and arguably George Washington given that the Federalist Party formed out of the Pro-Administration faction of Congress. One of the most Federalist of Federalists was Massachusetts Congressman Fisher Ames (1758-1808), of the political Ames family.
Ames was a major figure in pushing for the adoption of the Constitution, seeing that the old government under the Articles of Confederation was too weak to function. He wanted, like Alexander Hamilton, a centralized government with enough power to tax and a national bank. In 1788, Ames was elected to the first Congress, defeating none other than Sam Adams. He agreed to the adoption of the Bill of Rights and was even a coauthor of the First Amendment, contributing the following language, “Congress shall make no law establishing religion, or to prevent the free exercise thereof…” (Arkin).
Ames was a leader of the Federalists in the House and a strong supporter of George Washington, with his mastery of oratory being of great help to the party. He believed his policy of neutrality on European affairs to be fundamentally correct and was aghast at the horrors of the French Revolution, fearing that the French Revolution could spread to America. In 1796, the hot-button issue was the Jay Treaty, which contained provisions both favorable and unfavorable to a young America, but President Washington believed that its enactment would prevent the United States from going to a war with Britain they could ill-afford. Although Ames was unable to play a role in the debate on the Jay Treaty itself the previous year due to his worsening health, he was able to deliver a highly persuasive speech for Congress to fund the implementation of the treaty. That year, he chose not to run for reelection, leaving Congress due to poor health at the age of 38. Despite no longer holding public office, Ames still contributed to the political scene in opinion. He supported going to war with France as well as the Sedition Act of 1798 in the name of stopping the politics of Revolutionary France from coming to America. It was also a way for the Adams Administration to combat any lies that came from the Democratic-Republican press, which was notoriously acidic and scurrilous in its criticisms of the Adams Administration and the Federalists. This act, however, was part of the undoing of the Federalists and popular opposition to it helped propel Thomas Jefferson to the presidency in 1800.
In 1803, Ames opted to retire from politics for good, as he became increasingly gloomy over both his health and the increasingly popular Jefferson and his Democratic-Republican Party. It was increasingly clear that the days of the Federalists were slowly being numbered as they were no longer able to attract national appeal. In 1805, he was offered the presidency of Harvard University, but declined on account of his health. After over twelve years of deteriorating health, Ames succumbed to tuberculosis on July 4, 1808. It is in truth my bad that I forgot to include Ames in my July 4th posting. The funeral brought out many Federalists who wished to celebrate the memory of one of their most eloquent spokesmen. Ames was without doubt one of the staunchest conservatives among the Founding Fathers.
Why do I say Ames was a staunch conservative? His quick opposition to the French Revolution, his opposition to economic controls on the economy, his deep-seated skepticism of democracy as a vehicle for liberty, and his unqualified defense of property rights. On the latter he held that, “The essence, and almost the quintessence, of a good government is, to protect property and its rights” (Yankowitz). Ames feared Jeffersonian democracy, believing that it would eventually become a majoritarian despotism, popular rule becoming mob rule. He opposed redistribution schemes, warning against “schemes of an abolition of debts and an equal distribution of property” to be “pursued with unremitting industry” (Tippins). Ames believed that the focus on equality would serve to destroy liberty, as it had in revolutionary France. Reality fell short of his fears about the Democratic-Republicans, however, as President Jefferson’s governance was far more moderate than he thought it would be. As the conservative political philosopher Russell Kirk wrote, “Ames was wrong, so far as the immediate future was concerned; for already a counterbalance to American radicalism was making its weight felt. That saving influence was in part the product of an innate moderation in the planter society Jefferson represented” (Tippins).
Arkin, M. (1999). Regionalism and the Religion Clauses: The Contribution of Fisher Ames. Buffalo Law Review, 47.
The 1796 and 1800 elections exposed a significant problem with the early Constitution. The candidate in second place getting to be vice president resulted in a disharmonious presidency, an executive fundamentally divided as the Adams presidency had proved. The Federalists had not been able to organize their second ballots around a vice president, while Jefferson’s supporters unified behind him. Electors could cast two electoral votes but could not indicate whether these were for president or vice president. Although George Washington and other founders warned of parties, the truth is that they were naturally forming based on common divisions. Even in the very first Congress, people identified as “Pro” or “Anti” Administration. By the 1794 and 1795 midterm elections, however, these factions became parties. Pro-Administration became the Federalist Party, with its major figures being John Adams and Alexander Hamilton. They stood for a centralized government, a national bank, and internal improvements for the purposes of growing American commerce. The Democratic-Republicans stood for agrarianism, state’s rights, political equality, and expanding the nation.
By 1796, it was Federalist Party and Democratic-Republicans, and the election was close, with Adams winning the North and Jefferson winning the South plus Pennsylvania. The total electoral vote was 71 to 68, with Adams winning by about seven percent. The two men would have bitter disagreements over the issues, particularly foreign policy, with Adams being pro-British and Jefferson being pro-French. In 1800, Jefferson won by over 20 points, although the electoral college vote was much closer, with Jefferson winning 73-65. The Federalists cast their two electoral votes in a way so that Adams got 65 electoral votes and running mate Charles C. Pinckney got 64, but the Democratic-Republicans granted both Jefferson and running mate Aaron Burr 73 votes. This resulted in the House having to hold 36 votes to break the tie, with Congress ultimately agreeing that Jefferson was president, and Burr was vice president. Another problem is that each state’s vote counted equally in this process, thus Federalist James A. Bayard of Delaware held the same amount of power over the result of the election as the 19-member House delegation of Virginia. Another problem was that this vote was held during the “lame duck” session of Congress that lasted until March that included members who had either lost reelection or were retiring (. This presented a danger that Federalists could maneuver in a way to upset the outcome.
The desire to change the Constitution over this is understandable, as the public will was strongly with Jefferson. This was reflected in the legislative results too, with Democratic-Republicans winning 22 seats from the Federalists thereby winning the House, and they gained three seats in the Senate, which although it meant the Federalists kept a Senate majority, they lost it in the middle of the session with special elections due to vacancies. Thus, Jefferson’s Democratic-Republicans, wanting to enact their agenda and presumably the will of the people, were keen on preventing the possibility of a Federalist ending up in the Jefferson Administration and crafted the 12th Amendment, which held that electors would vote separately for president and vice president. However, because their majority in the Senate was not great enough to secure ratification, they waited until after the midterms to attempt to pass the amendment. In the 1802 and 1803 elections, Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans won big gains, winning 35 of the 36 newly added House seats after the 1802 census and gained a Senate majority of 22-9, above the supermajority required to enact Constitutional amendments. The House on December 9, 1803, passed the amendment 84-42. The vote was highly partisan, with no Federalists voting for it and only six Democratic-Republicans crossing the aisle against. The Senate, which had passed the amendment on December 2nd, had been much the same, the vote being 22-10 with all Federalists opposed and only one Democratic-Republican defection. One of the opponents was future President John Quincy Adams, and some Federalists argued against it as not promoting men of quality for the vice president role. Other Federalists believed that this was a blatant effort to favor Jefferson’s reelection, and the election results the following year undoubtedly boosted this view.
The 1804 Election
The 1804 election isn’t remotely close, as Thomas Jefferson dispatches Federalist Charles C. Pinckney of South Carolina with ease, winning 15 of 17 states (Connecticut and Delaware stayed Federalist), 162 of 176 Electoral votes, and 72.8% of the vote. The Federalists also lost eleven seats in Congress. They were now mostly confined to the New England region. The midterms are no boost for the unpopular Federalists, with two more losses for them in the House. Jefferson was popular for a number of reasons at the time, and one of them was the Louisiana Purchase.
Although James Madison prevails in 1808 with 64.8% of the vote and an Electoral College vote of 122-47, the Federalists make modest legislative gains but are still badly behind the dominant Democratic-Republicans and these gains were primarily a backlash to Thomas Jefferson’s unpopular Embargo Act of 1807, which had injured shipping and manufacturing areas primarily in the New England region, rather than any upswell in support for what the Federalist Party stood for.
Below is a breakdown of Democratic-Republican and Federalist elections, the popular vote being expressed in percentages. The House and Senate election numbers show membership breakdown after the elections. The italics for 1812 Federalist presidential nominee indicate Federalists lining up behind Democratic-Republican DeWitt Clinton as their best hope to exercise influence.
The Federalists would continue to lose afterwards, with their last real shot at the presidency being the 1812 election, in which Federalists tacitly support DeWitt Clinton, a Democratic-Republican who shared their opposition to the War of 1812 (which they called “Mr. Madison’s War”). Clinton came within three points of victory, Federalists gained 32 seats in the House while Democratic-Republicans gained 7 due to population growth, and the former won two seats in the Senate. However, after the conclusion of the war and the PR nightmare that was the Hartford Convention (which I have covered before), the Federalists were doomed to irrelevancy. After Madison’s presidency was James Monroe in 1816 facing up against the last Federalist candidate, New York Senator Rufus King, and Monroe won with a whopping 68.2% of the vote, the worst showing for Federalists since 1804. King only won the states of Connecticut, Delaware, and Massachusetts.
Monroe’s presidency is described as the “Era of Good Feelings” as the nation was, for the most part, in political accord and he ran without opposition for reelection in 1820 with 80.6% of the vote. However, on the horizon there was a war hero who was gaining great popularity among many working-class Americans, who represented the people more in background than the previous presidents…Andrew Jackson.
The Man Who Changed Everything: Andrew Jackson
In 1824, with James Monroe not running again, the Federalist Party collapsed while the Democratic-Republican Party had a party-destroying split over the rising populist figure and war hero Andrew Jackson. Most of the former Federalists sided with the anti-Jacksons, but there were a few notable exceptions, including future President James Buchanan and future Chief Justice Roger B. Taney. The American political system was now divided into Pro and Anti-Jackson factions. Anti-Jacksons included more conservative elements of the old Democratic-Republicans, such as former Speaker Henry Clay of Kentucky, and former Federalists. The political system had thus reverted to the old Pro and Anti-Administration divisions, with the parties arising out of this becoming the Democratic and Whig parties.
Levinson, S. The Twelfth Amendment. Constitution Center.
On January 3, 1969, an old man hangs up his hat on his career in Washington and in politics. Carl Trumbull Hayden (1877-1972), now a man of 91 years old, is publicly a silent man and was never one for great speeches on the floor of the Senate, but what he represents and his achievements for his state of Arizona are truly incredible, for to that point his career in Washington has spanned to 1912, the entirety of Arizona’s statehood. His time in politics…even longer, as he was active in Democratic Party politics as far back as 1900, including attending the Democratic National Convention in 1904. Thus, his political career spanned from the presidencies of William McKinley to Lyndon B. Johnson.
Sheriff Carl Hayden
In 1906, Hayden was elected sheriff of Maricopa County. During his tenure, the county went from being a bit of a wild west territory to an agricultural community. During his time as sheriff, he had to address issues surrounding local Indians. In one instance, women of Phoenix complained that Indians who came to town to sell their woven baskets wore no pants, only loincloth, so Sheriff Hayden got men to chip in their spare pants and hung them up on what was called the “pants tree” on the outskirts of town, which the merchants would put on when they got into town and then leave hung up for others to use (Trimble). Sheriff Hayden also attempted to address another issue that the locals were concerned about. Namely, that the local Pima chief, Antonio Azul, had multiple wives. Hayden said to him, “Under the white man’s law, you can only have one wife” to which the chief after some thought responded, “You tell ’em” (Trimble). Sheriff Hayden promptly gave up and left.
Hayden never once had to fire his gun as sheriff yet was able to in 1910 apprehend two bandits known as the Woodson brothers. In apprehending them he chased them down by rail, horseback, and finally in an Apperson-Jackrabbit car that he drove on the rails for speed, and he did point his unloaded gun at one who initially refused to surrender. Hayden also refused to engage in public hangings, with the practice being abolished under his tenure. His tenure as sheriff would lead to higher office.
Congressman Hayden: Reformer
Sheriff Hayden, initially an underdog in the Democratic primary, was nominated and elected as Arizona’s first representative, taking office on February 19, 1912. In March, he delivered his first speech in support increasing funding for the Forest Service. J. Fred Talbott, a Maryland Democrat who had once fought for the Confederacy, didn’t think this was wise. After the speech, he walked over to Hayden and said, “You just couldn’t hold it in, could you? You had to make a speech. Everything you said was taken down by the clerk. It will go into the Congressional Record, and you can’t ever take it out. If you want to get ahead here, you have to be a work horse and not a show horse” (U.S. Senate). Hayden took his advice, and it served him well. Throughout his career, Carl Hayden made it a practice on campaigns to never mention his opponent, and as representative succeeded in securing vital water and transportation projects for Arizona’s development as well as getting the Grand Canyon made a national park. He backed President Wilson’s New Freedom agenda, entering World War I, and press censorship during World War I. Hayden has the distinction of voting on World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. He also backed Prohibition and consistently supported women’s suffrage, even when the majority of his party had voted against it in 1915. Hayden, a loyal Democrat, largely opposed the agendas of Presidents Harding and Coolidge.
Defeating Cameron and a Tough Renomination
In 1920, Republican Ralph H. Cameron, a former delegate to the House in Arizona’s territory days, had managed to defeat one of Arizona’s first two senators, Marcus A. Smith, for reelection by almost ten points. Smith had faced a difficult primary and an even tougher national environment. However, 1926 was a much more favorable environment for Democrats. It tends to be the case that the midterms are not good for the president’s party, and 1926 wasn’t an exception. The Senate Republicans lost seven seats, and Arizona reverted back to its Democratic form when Hayden trounced Cameron by 17 points. Although Hayden didn’t speak much during his career, there was a notable exception. In 1928, Senator Hiram Johnson (R-Calif.) and Rep. Phil Swing (R-Calif.) had managed to secure enough support for the Boulder Dam Project, one that he had managed to block for years as unfavorable to Arizona’s interests. Thus, in an effort to buy time and concessions, he spoke for nine hours and his fellow Arizona Senator Henry F. Ashurst spoke for twelve hours (August). Although the Boulder Dam was signed into law, there were some water concessions for Arizona. In 1932, Hayden faced his toughest challenge within the Democratic Party. He was faced with multiple opponents who cited his support for Prohibition and his stance against veterans bonus legislation as reasons to send him home. Although he won renomination, Hayden believed he would have lost had the opposition been united (Rice, 234-235).
Hayden: New Dealer
Senator Carl Hayden was a loyal liberal Democrat, and he supported most of the New Deal, including the first 100 days legislation. He also backed Roosevelt in his vetoes of veterans’ bonus legislation. However, Hayden did buck him on the “death sentence” clause of the Public Utilities Holding Company Act as well as on the “court packing plan”. With more projects being up for authorization, Hayden ended his opposition to the Boulder Dam and proceeded to back other projects, including the Grand Coulee Dam in Washington. His role in securing projects would make him under-the-surface one of the most powerful men in Washington.
Carl Hayden’s career spanned from when the Democratic Party was a “white man’s party” to when it became the party of civil rights. The contrast between the early record of Carl Hayden and his later record is nothing short of historically remarkable. In 1915, he voted for an anti-miscegenation law for Washington D.C. and in 1922 he voted against the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill. However, Hayden also voted against a proposal banning all black immigration. By the 1960s, however, he was backing most civil rights measures, including voting for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Civil Rights Act of 1968. He did, however, vote for the Gore Amendment which would have weakened the school desegregation section of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had it passed.
The 1950s presented new challenges for Senator Hayden as Republicans were starting to make headway in the state. Ralph Cameron had been a fluke, but the elections of Barry Goldwater to the Senate and John Rhodes to the House in 1952 was not. Goldwater’s win was particularly alarming as his colleague, Ernest W. McFarland, had been the Senate Majority Leader. Hayden had to be a bit more mindful this time for reelection and publicize his achievements, but still won by over twenty points and won all counties against former Arizona Attorney General Ross F. Jones. During this time, he also faced rumors about growing senile, which were not substantiated.
Hayden also faced another challenge, although this was a more positive one, and that was in the creation of the Interstate Highway System. As chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, he was critical in securing funding and support for this monumental project. By this point, Hayden had been crucial in securing funding for projects for many senators, and for that, they were most grateful. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy said of him in a speech honoring him, “Every Federal program which has contributed to the development of the West-irrigation, power, reclamation–bears his mark, and the great Federal highway program which binds this country, together, which permits this State to be competitive east and west, north and south, this in large measure is his creation. But as I said at the beginning, his great contribution has been to our country” (Kennedy).
Starting in 1947, Senator Hayden with his Arizona colleague Ernest McFarland began pushing for the Central Arizona Project, a diversion canal for water from the Colorado River to Maricopa, Pinal, and Pima counties. However, securing support for this was difficult as it faced intense opposition from the California delegation, which was bigger and more powerful. California’s resistance delayed the project being authorized.
His final reelection was in 1962, and although he won, it was an ominous sign for the Democratic Party in the state. Auto dealer, John Bircher, and future disastrous governor Evan Mecham came within 10 points of him in the election. This was despite the GOP not being enthusiastic in its backing of Mecham given a common recognition that Hayden was, especially under a Democratic Administration, vital for securing the Central Arizona Project. In 1963, the Supreme Court sided with Arizona in Arizona v. California, establishing that the state could secure a certain portion of water from the Colorado River. On May 6, 1968, Hayden announced his retirement, stating “Among other things that fifty-six years in Congress have taught me is that contemporary events need contemporary men. Time actually makes specialists of us all. When a house is built there is a moment for the foundation, another for the walls, the roof and so on. Arizona’s foundation includes fast highways, adequate electric power, and abundant water, and these foundations have been laid. It is time for a new building crew to report, so I have decided to retire from office at the close of my term this year” (August, 201). Later that year, President Johnson signed the project into law under the Colorado River Basin Project Act. This final accomplishment was Hayden’s proudest, and he retired knowing his state’s future was secure. His MC-Index score was a 16%, reflecting a solid liberalism. Hayden died on January 25, 1972, and the Central Arizona Project would begin the year after. It took twenty years to construct and came at the cost of $4 billion but has been an economic boon for Arizona.
August, J.L. (1999). Vision in the desert: Carl Hayden and hydropolitics in the American Southwest. Fort Worth, TX: Christian University Press.
In 1912, New Mexico is admitted to the union and its first two senators are Republicans Thomas B. Catron and Albert Bacon Fall (1861-1944). Both men had been staunch advocates of statehood, with Catron advocating early for it and Fall playing a major role in drafting New Mexico’s first constitution. Although Catron was quite the figure in New Mexico’s history, Fall made a greater mark nationally.
The Early Years
Fall started his political career as a Democrat, and in 1888 he ran for the New Mexico Territorial Legislature, losing by less than fifty votes. The following year, he had his first success, winning the race for Irrigation Commissioner of Dona Ana County, and in 1891 he won a seat in the legislature in a rematch. Two years later, he was appointed Associate Judge of the Third District Court of New Mexico Territory. However, his time there was cut short. In a possible early indication of future behavior, he was accused of deliberately miscounting election returns to favor the Democratic candidate.
Fall, either out of opportunism or finding that he agreed more with the Republican Party, switched in 1904. He aligned himself with Thomas B. Catron, a powerful leader in the Santa Fe Ring of land speculators, who used means fair and foul to acquire and profit off valuable land in the territory. Catron and Fall were strong supporters of the private sector developing land. Fall was, however, also considerably less conservative than the ultra-conservative Catron. In 1916, Catron lost renomination to Frank A. Hubbell, who lost the election to Democrat Andrieus Jones. That year, Fall supported the American invasion of Mexico in retaliation for Pancho Villa’s raid of Columbus, New Mexico, which had resulted in the killing of eight soldiers and ten civilians. He would also support wartime restrictions on speech, voting against the France Amendment to the Sedition Act protecting telling the truth with good motives and intentions. In 1918, he faced a strong challenge from Democratic Congressman William Walton, and he ran a lackluster campaign, not even delivering a single campaign speech, but was able to narrowly win reelection in part due to sympathy as the influenza pandemic took two of his children. Fall despised President Wilson, but after his stroke, he visited him, during which he said to him, “I hope you will consider me sincere – I have been praying for you sir”, to which Wilson reportedly responded, “Which way, Senator?” (Stratton, 172)
After his reelection, Fall became one of the sixteen members of the Senate to oppose the Versailles Treaty in any form. This intransigent group succeeded in sinking both President Wilson’s version with no reservations and Senator Lodge’s version with strong reservations. Fall supported both the 18th (Prohibition) and 19th (women’s suffrage) Amendments. On the MC-Index, he scores a 72%, indicating moderate conservatism. Fall also was popular among his fellow senators, including Warren G. Harding of Ohio.
As Interior Secretary, it was Fall’s policy to subject public lands for private use for resource extraction, and this would be the source of his fall. He attempted to gain control of the Forest Service from the Department of Agriculture, but Secretary Henry C. Wallace thwarted him. In May 1921, Fall persuaded Navy Secretary Edwin Denby to transfer the Teapot Dome oil reserve and the Elk Hills and Buena Vista oil fields in Kern County, California, to the Interior Department, and President Harding agreed, signing Executive Order 3474 to that effect (Levin Center). After this, Fall’s standard of living went up markedly, purchasing $120,000 more in land on a $12,000 government salary. He had also suddenly paid all the taxes on his run-down ranch that had been overdue for ten years (Rapp). In 1922, Fall leased the oil field in Elk Hills, California to Edward L. Doheny’s Pan American Petroleum & Transport Company and the Teapot Dome Field in Wyoming to Harry F. Sinclair’s Sinclair Consolidated Oil Corporation. This sudden change and the timing of these oil leases did not escape notice.
The Investigation Begins
In April 1922, Wyoming’s Democratic Senator John B. Kendrick received a letter protesting the uncompetitive bidding from a Wyoming oilman, and he responded by introducing a resolution for an investigation on April 13th. This investigation was set up the legendary progressive Republican Senator Robert La Follette (R-Wis.), who at first thought that Fall was not guilty. His mind changed after his Senate office was ransacked, but the Republican leadership assigned the task to Senator Thomas J. Walsh (D-Mont.), the lowest ranking member of the committee, in the belief this investigation would not bear fruit.
Indeed, Walsh initially had difficulty finding proof of wrongdoing on Fall’s part. President Harding died on August 2, 1923 believing that this investigation would turn up nothing. The first witness called to hearings was Fall himself on October 24th, and he defended the transfers, holding that they were necessary to prepare the United States for the possibility of war with Japan (Levin Center). Then Edwin Denby testified, reaffirming Fall’s account. Next up was Edward McLean, owner of the Washington Post, who stated that he had loaned Fall $100,000 but this check had been returned, with Fall confirming the account (Levin Center). The next witness, however, was oilman Edward L. Doheny, and his testimony would blow up the whole matter.
It turned out that in November 1921, Fall was given a $100,000 (approximately $1.52 million today) no interest loan from Doheny, to which the latter claimed was completely unrelated to the Elk Hills lease. On January 26, 1924, Walsh proposed a resolution to request President Coolidge to cancel the leases. Coolidge responded with forming a special counsel to investigate, and for these purposes he selected prominent Republican attorney Owen Roberts of Philadelphia and former Democratic Senator Atlee Pomerene of Ohio.
These investigations revealed that not only was Doheny’s loan a bribe, it turns out that Sinclair had gifted Fall $304,000 worth of valuables in the forms of government bonds, cash, and livestock, totaling the equivalent of over $6 million in today’s currency. In return, Doheny and Sinclair got the leases at a discount and with no competitive bidding. The granting of the lease without competitive bidding itself was legal but the bribes, of course, were not.
In 1927, the Supreme Court unanimously ordered the leases voided for fraud and corruption, costing Doheny and Sinclair millions in 1927 dollars. On October 25, 1929, Fall was convicted of accepting bribes from Doheny and Sinclair. He would be sentenced to one year in prison and a fine of $100,000, which he never paid. Oddly enough, Doheny would be twice acquitted while Sinclair would be convicted not of bribery, rather of jury tampering, for which he would be sentenced to six months imprisonment. Fall, who had the dishonorable distinction of being the first cabinet officer convicted of a felony, would continue to insist on his innocence right up to his death in 1944.
Yesterday we celebrated Independence Day, and this day also happened to be the birthday and date of death for some political figures in the United States.
Calvin Coolidge – 1872
Calvin Coolidge (1872-1933) is our only president to have been born on July 4th, and this fact certainly coincidentally fits into conservative ideas about him, that he was a true constitutional conservative. Calvin Coolidge will be covered more in the future.
George Murphy – 1902
When it comes to people from California who made their way from Hollywood to politics, everyone remembers Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger, but forgotten is Reagan’s friend George Murphy (1902-1992). Murphy was a triple threat as he could act, sing, and dance. He also served as president of the Screen Actors Guild from 1944 to 1946 and was a vice president of Desilu Productions and the Technicolor Corporation. Reagan urged him to run for the Senate in 1964. In an upset, he defeated interim Senator Pierre Salinger. Reagan himself referred to Murphy as his “John the Baptist” and the senator voted as a conservative. He suffered a major setback to his political career when he developed throat cancer that was cured by the removal of part of his larynx in 1966. This rendered him unable to speak above a whisper for the rest of his life, a cruel blow for a great singer and orator. Murphy lost reelection to boxer Gene Tunney’s son, Jack Tunney, in 1970. Although his voice was part of the issue, his pro-Vietnam War stance and reports that he still got paid by the Technicolor Corporation contributed to this defeat. Murphy is to this day the only senator to have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
John Adams and Thomas Jefferson – 1826
A lot has been made of the coincidence of the passing of both Founding Fathers, ideological rivals and friends, on July 4th, 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of the release of the Declaration of Independence. Most people with an interest in U.S. history seem to know this one. And indeed, legend has it that Adams’ last words were “Thomas Jefferson still survives” when in fact Jefferson had died hours earlier. While Adams did utter these words on July 4th after Jefferson’s passing, whether it was his actual last words are disputed.
James Monroe – 1831
Yet another Founding Father president, James Monroe (1758-1831), has the distinction of dying on July 4th. The creator of the Monroe Doctrine and one of the most popular presidents in American history, Monroe had suffered from declining health for years, including a near-fatal seizure in 1825, the year he left the presidency. He contracted tuberculosis in 1830 and succumbed the following year to a combination of that and heart failure at 73.
William L. Marcy – 1857
Secretary of War under James K. Polk and Secretary of State under Franklin Pierce and briefly a senator from New York, William L. Marcy (1786-1857) negotiated the Gadsden Purchase as Secretary of State, adding to the USA what would become Arizona and New Mexico.
Hannibal Hamlin – 1891
Abraham Lincoln’s first vice president and senator from Maine, Hannibal Hamlin (1809-1891), died on Independence Day. Although not personally close with President Lincoln, he had a good working relationship with him. Hamlin would be dropped from the ticket in 1864 in favor of Andrew Johnson to emphasize national unity. He would be appointed collector for the Port of Boston but resigned in protest of Johnson’s Reconstruction policies and would later return to the Senate. There will be a full post on him in the future.
Melville Fuller – 1910
Melville Fuller (1833-1910) was chief justice of the Supreme Court from 1888 until his death, and during his over twenty-year tenure, he was a strong supporter of President Grover Cleveland’s brand of conservatism and exercised these beliefs on how he voted in Supreme Court decisions. It was under his tenure that the income tax was unpopularly struck down in Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan & Trust Co. (1895), the Sherman Anti-Trust law was limited to interstate transportation in United States v. E.C. Knight Co. (1895), segregation as long as separate facilities were equal was upheld in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), and a limitation on the hours of bakers was found to be an unconstitutional violation of freedom of contract in Lochner v. New York (1905). Fuller voted in the majority in all of these decisions and wrote the majority opinion in the first two. Although he was a defender of the constitutional perspective of freedom of contract, his court more often ruled for police power than against. Fuller was an effective leader of the court and despite the controversy of his stances, he was popular among his colleagues. In his previous political career, Fuller had managed Senator Stephen A. Douglas’s (D-Ill.) presidential campaign in 1860 and been loyal to the Union. Although Fuller opposed slavery, he believed in the rights of states to determine the question themselves, thus he opposed abolitionists. He also didn’t believe that blacks should have rights on an equal basis to whites, having supported prohibiting blacks from voting or settling in Illinois. Indeed, opposition to Fuller by the Senate when he was first nominated was based on his views on Lincoln and civil rights and accusations that he was a “Copperhead” (anti-war Democrat) rather than his broader views on the Constitution. However, Illinois’ two Republican senators, Shelby Cullom and Charles Farwell, defended his reputation.
Jesse Helms – 2008
Senator Jesse Helms (1921-2008) of North Carolina made a name for himself from 1973 to 2003 as a proponent of an uncompromising conservatism, fighting to the bitter end for lost causes, including opposition to the Martin Luther King Holiday and the Americans with Disabilities Act. He had some accomplishments in office, including saving Ronald Reagan’s career in 1976 by endorsing him for president, the relegalization of gold clauses in contracts, and the Helms-Burton Act in 1996, which strengthened the embargo on communist Cuba. He died on Independence Day 2008 after several years of Alzheimer’s disease at 86. It surely tickles movement conservatives pink that he became one of the few American politicians to die on this day.
Mississippi’s history on race has been, to put it lightly, unfortunate. It has long had the reputation as the most racist state, and numerous figures who have come from this state have reinforced this reputation: Jefferson Davis, Theodore Bilbo, James Eastland, and John Rankin come to my mind. It was a Mississippi senator, James Z. George, who pioneered the model for the Jim Crow constitution in 1890, the sort that would be adopted by other Southern states. Not too long after this constitution was adopted, the Progressive Era began, and it didn’t skip Mississippi. In fact, Mississippi was the first to adopt two measures championed by progressives: the party primary in 1902 and Prohibition in 1908. The Progressive Era’s most notorious race baiter in Mississippi was James Kimble Vardaman (1861-1930).
After the 1890 Jim Crow constitution was adopted, the political division in Mississippi was between the Delta planters and the Hill people. Both groups supported Jim Crow, but for different reasons. The Delta planters wanted a steady supply of cheap labor, thus laws that maintained a permanent second class were to their benefit but the racial violence that came in socially maintaining this second class was not. Although blacks had lost many freedoms gained after the War of the Rebellion by the 1890 constitution, one they retained was the freedom to leave, and leave many did for the North to escape the terror that existed should a white person perceive a black person as stepping out of line. Thus, wealthy plantation owners were willing to give certain enticements to blacks to stay and work. In Washington County, for instance, there were black policemen, black judges, and the best schools for blacks in the state (PBS, Percy). The Hill people, who were poor to working class, saw blacks as economic competition and were more likely to employ violence, especially in areas where they were a minority, making the racial situation seem more “desperate” to them. They found a champion in Vardaman, who they affectionately called “The Great White Chief”. He opposed corporations, railroads, tariffs, banks, and blacks. Vardaman stated on the 1890 Mississippi Constitution, “There is no use to equivocate or lie about the matter…Mississippi’s constitutional convention of 1890 was held for no other purpose than to eliminate the nigger from politics. Not the ‘ignorant and vicious’, as some of the apologists would have you believe, but the nigger…Let the world know it just as it is…. In Mississippi we have in our constitution legislated against the racial peculiarities of the Negro…. When that device fails, we will resort to something else” (McMillen, 42). Yet, he would claim himself to be their best friend in the sense that he thought himself as being honest about what was expected of them in society.
In 1903, he ran for governor on an explicitly white supremacist platform and won. During his time as governor, he pushed for restrictions on child labor, ended the convict leasing system, and advocated for segregated street cars. Contrary to his rhetoric on lynching, Vardaman in practice used his authority to prevent lynchings. He could be largely thought of as a practitioner of what historian C. Vann Woodward called, “Progressivism – for whites only” (Lerda, 72). He was one of the worst racists on his rhetoric. This included suggesting genocide should Jim Crow fail by stating, “If it is necessary, every Negro in the state will be lynched” (PBS, Vardaman). Vardaman also opposed education for blacks beyond basic moral instruction and menial labor, and denounced President Theodore Roosevelt for hosting Booker T. Washington for dinner. He stated on Washington, “I am opposed to the nigger’s voting, it matters not what his advertised moral and mental qualifications may be. I am just as much opposed to Booker Washington, with all his Anglo-Saxon reenforcement, voting, as I am to voting by the cocoanut-headed, chocolate-colored typical little coon, Andy Dotson, who blacks my shoes every morning. Neither one is fit to perform the supreme functions of citizenship” (TIME, 2). His rhetoric contributed to an environment in which Mississippi ranked #1 in the nation for lynchings between 1877 and 1950. Vardaman also supported repealing the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution and vetoed a bill funding for the Mississippi Normal Institute, which educated black teachers (Sansing).
In 1911, Vardaman ran against House Minority Leader John Sharp Williams for the Senate, but the latter narrowly prevailed. However, after Senator Anselm McLaurin died, he tried again but was defeated for the interim election by LeRoy Percy, a lawyer who had represented railroads and banks and regarded as a representative of the wealthy planter class in the Delta. Although a hit with his Senate colleagues, he was not so with working class whites, and accusations of bribery employed by the Percy forces marred the election, with State Senator Theodore Bilbo admitting to taking a bribe from the Percy forces, claiming he took the money to prove the corruption of the Percy forces (Hill). Vardaman got another shot at it in 1913 was exactly the sort of person that Vardaman was good at running against. He thought of himself as representing working class whites against both the wealthy planter class and against black competition, and they were highly receptive to his message. He was elected to the Senate in 1912 and was in his first four years a strong supporter of President Woodrow Wilson. Vardaman was a strong supporter of a whites only immigration policy and repeatedly voted against permitting other racial groups to enter.
Bark Worse Than Bite
On one hand, Vardaman engaged in vile racist rhetoric and supported a system that rendered blacks second class citizens in every conceivable way. On the other hand, he was responsible for the abolition of the convict leasing system as governor and worked to prevent lynchings by traveling to areas where lynchings were threatened accompanied by the National Guard. The former, in which prisoners were leased to businesses and farms, had dreadful conditions that could be worse than slavery. Vardaman also as a senator cast some votes that history has vindicated. He was the only federally elected official from Mississippi to support women’s suffrage (although he also backed exempting black women from it). He would write in his newspaper on the subject, “Women’s Suffrage is right. The influence of women at the ballot box is the only thing which will save this world from Hell. It is coming” (Vardaman). Vardaman had supported freedom of the press during wartime when calls for censorship were strong and opposed the Sedition Act of 1918, which was the most severe restriction on freedom of speech in the nation’s history. However, his undoubtedly politically fatal vote was when he was one of six senators, and the only elected official from Mississippi, to vote against American participation in World War I. In 1918, he lost renomination to former supporter and Wilson loyalist Congressman Pat Harrison. His MC-Index score was an 18%.
Attempted Comeback and End
By 1922, the war and the fervor behind it was over, and Vardaman came close to a comeback despite opting to have surrogates make speeches for him instead of going at it himself and seemed much subdued (he may have been developing early onset Alzheimer’s disease) and had his followers, such as Theodore Bilbo, delivering speeches for him (Hill). However, the state’s establishment worked overtime to ensure that the fairly boring Congressman Hubert Stephens clinched the nomination. His spiritual successor was Bilbo, who proved his equal in the viciousness of his racial rhetoric and grossly inferior on principles and ethics as unlike Vardaman, he was corrupt, which contributed to his later downfall. Vardaman and his wife then moved in with one of their children in Birmingham, Alabama, and he spent his last years in a state of senility, dying in 1930. Vardaman’s son, Vardaman Jr., would serve in various government positions, including as a member of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors from 1946 to 1958.
What is to make of Vardaman? Although Vardaman probably wouldn’t have thought this himself, he is something of a contradiction. Despite his extremely racist rhetoric calculated to win votes and his reenforcing of Jim Crow, in some ways he demonstrated tremendous courage and was ahead of his time. There were certain key issues in which he stood alone among federally elected Mississippians. Vardaman was alone in his opposition to World War I and in his support for women’s suffrage. He was the greatest advocate for free speech during wartime from his state and fought for children to be educated instead of having to work. Vardaman ultimately is demonstrative of how complicated historical figures can be.
Cresswell, S. (2004, June). Was Mississippi a Part of Progressivism? Mississippi History Now.