Carl Hayden: A Legend for Arizona

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.

Civil Rights

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.

New Challenges

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).

Later Years

Hayden at the age of 85.

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.

Carl Hayden Retires. United States Senate.

Retrieved from

Carl T. Hayden Is Dead at 94; Arizonan in Congress 56 Years. (1972, January 26). The New York Times.

Retrieved from

Kennedy, J.F. (1961, November 17). Remarks in Phoenix at the 50th Anniversary Dinner Honoring Senator Hayden. The American Presidency Project.

Retrieved from

Rice, R.R. (1994). Carl Hayden: builder of the American West. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.

Trimble, M. (2018, May 18). Carl Hayden: A New Breed of Frontier Lawman. True West Magazine.

Retrieved from

Witcher, T.R. (2022, March 1). The storied history of the Central Arizona Project. American Society of Civil Engineers.

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