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.
Fuller, Melville Weston. CQ Press Supreme Court Collection.
James Monroe. Doctor Zebra.
Reich, K. (1992, May 5). George Murphy, 89; Actor-Dancer Who Served 1 Term in U.S. Senate. Los Angeles Times.