Fiorello La Guardia: America’s Mayor Before America’s Mayor

New York City occupies a strange place in American politics. If you are looking for the most national visibility as a mayor, New York City is the place. Although it has been viewed as a stepping stone to presidential visibility, no New York City mayors have ever served as president. A number of fascinating people have been elected to this position, one of who I’ve written about before (John Lindsay) and they range from highly effective to incompetent and/or corrupt. Fiorello La Guardia, the namesake of the airport, is in the former.

La Guardia is ethnically Jewish and Italian but is raised an Episcopalian in Arizona, giving him the ethnic traits of a New York City politician but also the regional upbringing of a western progressive. He is only 5’2″ and a rather stocky figure, but has boundless energy and becomes known as “the little flower” (a direct English translation of “Fiorello”). During the Theodore Roosevelt Administration, he serves as a clerk in the consulate in Budapest and then is in gets his start in politics in Manhattan with a background in law and given his mixed background he knows both Italian and Yiddish. Although his progressive politics more often match that of the Democratic than Republican Party, the Democratic Party is out of the question as the New York City Democratic Party was dominated by Tammany Hall, an organization he could not bear. As journalist Karl Schriftgiesser (1938) wrote, “He first became [a Republican] because there was nowhere else he could go, except to Tammany Hall. He is a member of that party by expediency, and he joined it years ago, before the phrase ‘economic royalists’ had been used, and before the Democratic Party had been told about the New Freedom by Mr. Wilson”. He runs for Congress in 1914 in a district that covers Greenwich Village, a staunchly Democratic area. Republicans are fine with him having the nomination because they think he doesn’t stand a chance of winning, and indeed he loses to Democrat Michael Farley. However, Farley does not win a majority, but a plurality…in a district that never elected a Republican before. Although Tammany Hall has far more money to bribe and provide benefits to voters than LaGuardia ever could, he as a lawyer helps constituents by giving them free legal advice, which they deeply appreciate. In 1916, he tries again, and this time he wins by two points, but it is also a plurality; a member of the Socialist Party gets 15% of the vote. La Guardia is also only able to win because his campaign closely monitors polling places for cheating, a frequent practice with Tammany Hall.

His first term in Congress is complicated by World War I, so while he participates in the first part of the session, he is fighting in the war in the second part, becoming a war hero. La Guardia votes to declare war on Germany, to protect freedom of the press, and to raise income taxes to fund the war. He is so popular by 1918 that he is reelected with nearly 70% of the vote and even gains the endorsement of Tammany Hall, with only a Socialist running against him. His second term doesn’t last long, as he sees an opportunity with an election for the presidency of the New York City Board of Aldermen. Thanks to splits in the Democratic Party and the presence of a member of the Socialist Party, La Guardia narrowly wins the race.

La Guardia’s ambitions go ever higher, in 1921 making his first run for New York City’s mayor. He loses in the Republican primary and the nominee is easily trounced, but that doesn’t stop him from running for Congress in the next year. This time, La Guardia is running to represent East Harlem, at the time a strongly Italian neighborhood, and wins. He proves aggressively independent, much more so than his predecessor Isaac Siegel. Although on some matters, La Guardia can be thought of as fiscally conservative (he voted against veterans bonus legislation in 1932, for instance), he is also strongly in support of higher income taxes on the rich and is willing to experiment with socialism (as were some western progressives) although he is far from doctrinaire. He is an outspoken opponent of racial bigotry in an era in which such bigotry is often tolerated when not outright practiced. La Guardia goes against the tide of his times in voting against the Immigration Act of 1924, although this is not against the tide of New York City. La Guardia is also the first New York City politician to vote for a version of the McNary-Haugen Farm Bill. The politics surrounding this measure, incidentally, are often only partly understood…it can be regarded as both a left/right and a rural/urban issue, as essentially involved the equivalent of tariffs that benefited agriculture.

Although he played ball with the party in 1920 in supporting Harding, he has different ideas for 1924. That year, La Guardia endorses Robert La Follette’s run for president. This peeves his fellow Republicans to the extent that they are able to deny him renomination, with them nominating Siegel instead. However, La Guardia runs for reelection anyway, running as a Progressive and he wins the Socialist Party nomination as well. In 1926, he wins the Republican nomination again when running for reelection and serves again as a Republican. La Guardia continues to push numerous progressive causes in a time in which Congress wasn’t terribly receptive, such as a federal minimum wage and rent controls. He also is, like other New York City representatives, a staunch opponent of Prohibition. La Guardia was, throughout his political career, a publicity hound, and as he noted about himself, “I am an inconsiderate, arbitrary, authoritative, difficult, complicated, intolerant and somewhat theatrical person” (CUNY, 3-4).

In 1929, La Guardia tries again for Mayor of New York, but is easily beat out by Democrat Jimmy Walker, a corrupt but at the time popular incumbent, who claimed he was a Red. Although for the Great Depression destroys the careers of many Republicans, including some major names, it is only a temporary setback for him. In 1932, La Guardia makes his greatest legislative achievement in the Norris-La Guardia Act, which prohibits “yellow dog contracts”, or employment contracts that have as a prerequisite for employment a prohibition on union membership. La Guardia loses reelection to Democrat James J. Lanzetta, but the following year the full extent of the corruption of Walker and his cronies has been uncovered by Judge Samuel Seabury, resulting in Walker’s resignation.

Third Time’s a Charm: The 1933 Mayoral Election

Given the many scandals of Walker and his cronies, La Guardia has an ample opportunity to make his comeback and he and FDR share an enemy in the organization that backed Walker: Tammany Hall. La Guardia wins with a coalition of Italian, Jewish, and conservative good-government voters, and pledges a non-partisan government, declaring, “there is no Democratic or Republican way of cleaning the streets” (CUNY, 2). He even gets unofficial although unsolicited support from the city’s Communist Party. Taking office on January 1, 1934, he is a supporter of the New Deal and is able to secure 20% of contracts for Works Progress Administration projects by quickly balancing the city’s budget through increasing taxes on businesses and imposing a sales tax (a policy he had previously opposed as inequitable); many projects are indeed what we might call “shovel ready”. La Guardia is friendly with FDR; he had known him in his stint as New York’s governor. Roosevelt funnels New York City patronage through him rather than Tammany Hall, rendering the machine severely compromised during the Roosevelt Administration. Working with Roosevelt to secure funds as well as Robert Moses in the building of a modern New York City, La Guardia transforms the city with numerous parks, bridges, public housing, hospitals, and so on (CUNY, 3). He also works with a young, energetic District Attorney named Thomas E. Dewey in combatting the mafia. La Guardia despised the mafia both for criminality and for harming the image of Italian Americans. Indeed, he despised corruption of any form, as corruption had led to the death of his father from eating rotten beef sold to the Army by crooked merchants during the Spanish-American War in 1898 (Schriftgiesser). His and Dewey’s efforts help put Lucky Luciano behind bars. La Guardia also would not likely have been a friend to modern SJWs on social policy given that he was an old-school moralist; he shut down gay bars and banned drag queens from performing at Times Square (CUNY, 3).
Unlike many old-school progressive Republicans, La Guardia is not non-interventionist and comes out early and often against the Nazis, and does so visibly and to such an extent that he is viciously condemned in the Nazi press. However, he does tread lightly around the subject of Benito Mussolini, as Mussolini was for some time quite popular with many Italian (as well as other) Americans. LaGuardia also proves more supportive of civil rights than any previous mayor, and after a 1935 race riot he forms a commission to investigate the underlying causes and there are devastating reports of police brutality. Although he does not release the results publicly, LaGuardia does provide more infrastructure and assistance to black areas of the city. He also supports New York’s Quinn-Ives Act in 1945, which bans employment discrimination based on race.

La Guardia’s Methods

Fiorello La Guardia was very much a take-charge individual, and truth be told, only someone like him could have done all of what he did. As journalist Karl Schriftgiesser (1938) wrote about him, “Because of his impatience with stupidity and his hatred of cupidity he has earned the reputation of an irascible man, a dictatorial individual, and the terrible-tempered Mr. Bang of politics. That he has a temper even his best friends will not deny. They could not, for they have often felt the fire of his scorn”. La Guardia is not hesitant to use his power, and at times uses it in ways that were, one could argue, dictatorial. He on two occasions intervened in strikes on the side of strikers, the first preventing the police from stopping violence by striking taxicab drivers and the second by turning off the water to laundromats to aid striking laundry workers (CUNY, 3). La Guardia would also berate subordinates and dress down and fire incompetent employees. In some ways, you could compare him to Trump, albeit a more left-wing version who lacked the petty corruptions.

La Guardia During World War II

In December 1941, La Guardia started a radio program called “Talk to the People”, in which he directly addressed the public on the issues of the day, and made him a national figure, in a sense, America’s Mayor before Rudy Giuliani. This would continue until the end of his time as mayor. He also enthusiastically supported Japanese-American Internment, calling them “enemy aliens”. La Guardia didn’t say or act similarly regarding Americans of German or Italian extraction (his wife was German). However, during World War II, federal funding was being devoted to the war and with federal money no longer flowing into New York City, debt accumulated and the voters tired of him. By 1945, his popularity collapsed. La Guardia, reading the writing on the wall, didn’t run for reelection, his final day in office being December 31st.

Post-War and the End

In 1946, La Guardia was appointed envoy to Brazil, but he quickly proved that he lacked the necessary diplomacy, so he was instead made head of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. In this post, he proved willing to spread aid far and wide given what he saw of postwar Europe, including most controversially to the USSR, despite being warned that such money was being used to build up its army. In 1947, LaGuardia condemned the Truman Doctrine to stop the spread of communism and aligned himself with Henry A. Wallace, who called for friendly relations with the USSR (Kessner). This was similar to his protege, Vito Marcantonio, who had gone even further by being openly pro-communist. That year, he is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer (almost always fatal) which kills him on September 20th.

Former Speaker of the House Joe Martin (R-Mass.) had this to say of him in his autobiography, My First Fifty Years in Politics, “Although we were poles apart politically, I liked and admired La Guardia. Many people complained that he was a radical; perhaps he was. That does not alter the
fact that he did a great deal of good” (Martin & Donovan, 50). La Guardia to this day is known as one of America’s great mayors if not the greatest…a 1993 poll of historians and social scientists placed him at #1.


Fiorello H. La Guardia, A Model Mayor? (2017). CUNY.

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Kessner, T. (1989). Fiorello H. La Guardia and the making of modern New York. New York, NY: McGraw Hill.

Martin, J.W. & Donovan, R.J. (1960). My first fifty years in politics. New York, NY: McGraw Hill.

Schriftgeisser, K. (1938). Portrait of a Mayor: Fiorello La Guardia. The Atlantic.

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On Charles Lindbergh…Sr.

Lindbergh Jr. and Sr., 1910

One of the heroes of American aviation was Charles Lindbergh for his non-stop flight across the Atlantic, which he performed with merely a sandwich and a cup of coffee for sustenance for the long flight. He was additionally famous for the tragic kidnapping and murder of his baby as well as his turn to politics in the years preceding America’s role in World War II. Lindbergh’s turn to politics and the way he went about it, if one knew of his family’s background, was not surprising. His father, Lindbergh Sr. (1859-1924), had served in Congress from Minnesota from 1907 to 1917.

Lindbergh was first elected to Congress from Minnesota’s 6th district in 1906 as a Republican. However, he was an insurgent progressive in a conservative party. Lindbergh was strongly opposed to the influence of big business, supporting investigations and dissolutions of trusts and wanted the United States to steer clear of foreign wars. He would vote against the Aldrich-Payne Tariff and vote with Nebraska’s George Norris in his successful bid to reduce the House Speaker’s powers in 1910. Lindbergh, however, would side with all Republicans in support of the Commerce Court Bill, which established a special court for reviewing orders from the Interstate Commerce Commission, which would be scrapped by the Wilson Administration. He would be friendlier than many Republicans to President Wilson’s New Freedom legislation. However, although he initially voted for the Federal Reserve Act in 1913, he sided with Senator Robert La Follette in voting against the final bill, warning “This [Federal Reserve Act] establishes the most gigantic trust on earth. When the President signs this bill, the invisible government of the monetary power will be legalized….the worst legislative crime of the ages is perpetrated by this banking and currency bill” (Russ). He would later file articles of impeachment against Federal Reserve Governors Paul Warburg and William P.G. Harding, claiming that they were conspiring to violate the Constitution and the law (Lindbergh). Lindbergh also, as did most Republicans, opposed the Underwood Tariff legislation in 1913 which lowered tariffs and instituted an income tax to make up for lost revenue. He still believed in the Republican tariff system.

Lindbergh on War

Congressman Lindbergh looked on with trepidation at the war brewing in Europe and once again broke from his party. Theodore Roosevelt and the dominant conservatives wanted a buildup of the navy, preparation of citizens for war, and ultimately intervention on the side of the Allies. On March 7, 1916, Lindbergh voted against tabling the Gore-McLemore Resolution, which would have been an official Congressional warning against Americans traveling on belligerent ships with armaments. That year, he chose to vacate his House seat to run for the Senate, which he lost to future Secretary of State Frank Kellogg. In 1918, Lindbergh made a run for governor, but again without success. Lindbergh’s successor, Harold Knutson, would follow in his footsteps by voting against U.S. entry into World War I. Lindbergh would blame the ultra-wealthy in his book Why Is Your Country At War for bringing the U.S. into war, which would be censored during the war.

Comeback Attempts

Charles Lindbergh continued to make runs for public office, eventually opting to leave the GOP and join with the Farmer-Labor Party, a progressive Republican breakaway. In 1923, Lindbergh lost the Farmer-Labor nomination for senator to Magnus Johnson, who would win the election to finish the term of the late Knute Nelson. While campaigning in the gubernatorial primary of the Farmer-Labor Party for governor in 1924, he was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor and died on May 24th. Three years later, his son would make his famous flight.


Congressional Record of Charles Lindbergh Sr., 1917, pp. 3126-3130.

Russ, B. Total Eclipse of Freedom.

Gaut, G. (2018, June 8). Lindbergh, Charles A., Sr. MNopedia.

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Parents and Sisters – Charles August (C.A.) Lindbergh. Minnesota Historical Society.

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Hoover’s Court Fights

I have covered Cleveland’s and Nixon’s battles on Supreme Court nominations, but a bit less known is that progressives gave President Herbert Hoover a hell of a time with two nominations: Charles Evans Hughes and John J. Parker.

Although Herbert Hoover was elected with an overwhelming vote in 1928 with support from some areas that were staunchly historically Democratic, his election didn’t resolve divides within his own party nor the Democratic opposition. Perhaps most troublesome for him was the Senate progressive wing of the Republican Party, which was keen to fight him on tariffs, veterans, and other issues. This extended to the court first when Chief Justice William Howard Taft resigned on February 3, 1930, as his health was in severe decline (he died a month later). For his replacement, Hoover picked what he surely thought was a safe and logical choice and approved by Taft…a man who had been on the court before, Charles Evans Hughes.


Charles Evans Hughes was already quite an accomplished figure by 1930, having been New York’s governor, a Supreme Court justice, and Secretary of State. However, with this level of accomplishment came age; at 67 he was the oldest man to be nominated chief justice in American history. Additionally, progressives in the Senate raised concerns about him continuing the judicial record of the Taft court, which had been striking down statutes on the grounds of “substantive due process” and it was still the Lochner Era in which the court was striking down numerous economic regulations on the grounds of “liberty of contract”, including ones that Congress had voted for overwhelmingly (the Keating-Owen Act of 1916, for instance). Hughes had also been a corporate lawyer, and this raised concerns among progressives that he would consistently rule in favor of business over labor. His opposition consisted primarily of Progressive Republicans and Southern Democrats, but it wasn’t enough. Hughes was confirmed on a vote of 52-26 on February 13th.


Three weeks after he had nominated Hughes, Hoover nominated John J. Parker after the death of Edward Terry Sanford. Parker was Chief Justice of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals and a prominent North Carolina Republican. North Carolina was one of the states that Hoover had won in 1928, and picking him was a way to maintain and even consolidate his Southern gains. Unlike Hughes, Parker was relatively young at 45 years old. However, he had controversies associated with being a Southern conservative. Parker had sought elected office in the state, running for Congress multiple times and for governor in 1920. The year he ran for governor against future Senator Cameron Morrison, and his Democratic opposition claimed that he would encourage black participation in politics. In response, he stated, “The participation of the Negro in politics is a source of evil and danger to both races and is not desired by the wise men in either race or by the Republican Party of North Carolina” (U.S. Senate). This line became the basis of the opposition of the NAACP to him after he didn’t respond to the organization’s inquiry on this quote. Parker would defend his remark stating, “I at no time advocated denying them (black voters) the right to participate in the election in cases where they were qualified to do so, nor did I advocate denying them any other of their rights under the constitution and laws of the United States” (Hill). Compounding his problems was a 1926 ruling in which he didn’t only uphold a yellow-dog contract, an arrangement in which as a precondition of employment a worker agrees not to join a union, he also encouraged them.

The Senators Speak Out

Senator Robert F. Wagner (D-N.Y.), who had voted for Hughes, delivered a speech in which he condemned Parker’s statement on black participation in politics as “insufferable”, which arguably gained him some Southern support. The future New Deal brain-truster also stated, “Judged by the available record, he is obviously incapable of viewing with sympathy the aspirations of those who are aiming for a higher and better place in the world. His sympathies are with those who are already on top, and he has used the authority of his office and the influence of his opinion to keep them on top and restrain the strivings of others, whether they be an exploited economic group or a minority racial group” (Hill). Senator Kenneth McKellar (D-Tenn.) also delivered a speech against him which made use of a letter former Montana Governor Joseph Dixon wrote to Hoover’s secretary Walter Newton, which praised the nomination as a political masterstroke that would help open the South to Republicans. In response to these speeches conservative Republicans were apopletic, with Simeon Fess of Ohio declaring campaigns against Hughes and Parker to be the product of a “socialistic movement” but then clarified after backlash that he meant that “recent opposition has had socialistic interests at heart” rather than all opponents were socialists (Hill). Senator Daniel Hastings of Delaware alleged that there was a movement afloat to only confirm liberals and not conservatives on the court. He also stated, “I resent the effort of the laboring man to come here and undertake control the only independent body of this country. It will bring chaos. I am in favor of giving him legislation but I am not in favor of giving him legislation contrary to the Constitution” (Hill).

This was a far more contentious nomination as there were some key defections. Numerous Republican Senators who had voted for Hughes moved to opposition to Parker. Most notable were Senators Charles Deneen of Illinois, Arthur Vandenberg of Michigan, and Charles McNary of Oregon. Deneen and Vandenberg both represented states with growing black populations who made their opinions heard on Parker, and McNary would in the future be the leader of the Senate Republicans. Parker did win over a some Southerners who had voted against Hughes, such as Carter Glass of Virginia and the four senators from the Carolinas, but this wasn’t enough. Parker lost by a single vote, his nomination being defeated 39-41 on May 7th. Had one more senator voted for him, Vice President Charles Curtis could have cast the tie-breaking vote. There wasn’t any one reason that Parker lost, rather a combination of NAACP and organized labor opposition as well as senatorial dissatisfaction with how Hoover had handled the Hughes nomination. This would be the first time a justice would be defeated in a confirmation vote since President Cleveland’s double defeat of William B. Hornblower and Wheeler Hazard Peckham in 1894 and a confirmation vote would not be lost again until President Nixon’s double defeat of Clement Haynsworth in 1969 and G. Harrold Carswell in 1970.



Chief Justice Hughes would during Roosevelt Administration be a swing vote. While he did not approve of the extensive expansion of executive power Roosevelt undertook, he was also not rigid in support of “liberty of contract”, in fact, he wanted this to be phased out. Hughes ably defended the court in 1937 against Roosevelt’s efforts to pack it after the 1936 election and that year authored the opinion in West Coast Hotel v. Parrish, upholding Washington State’s minimum wage law and overruling Adkins v. Children’s Hospital (1923). Hughes would retire in 1941.


After Parker’s defeat, Hoover instead nominated Owen Roberts, one of the two men President Coolidge had put in charge of the Teapot Dome Scandal investigation, who was easily confirmed. Parker would continue a distinguished judicial career and would serve as an alternate judge for the Nuremberg Trials. His judicial record would be noted to have not shown evidence of racial bias in reasoning, indeed in several cases he struck down laws including zoning plans on grounds of discrimination. Parker also embraced post-war internationalism and went as far as to regard the Bricker Amendment as the most dangerous development since FDR’s “court-packing plan” (Fish).


Fish, P.G. (1994). Parker, John Johnston. NCPedia.

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Senate Rejects Judge John J. Parker of North Carolina. U.S. Senate.

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Hill, R. The Nomination of Judge John J. Parker to the Supreme Court, IV. The Knoxville Focus.

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Great Conservatives of American History #3: Sinclair Weeks

During World War II, numerous younger legislators wanted to both serve their country in war and politically. However, President Roosevelt by 1942 wasn’t having it any more and in July orders that legislators either choose to be a soldier or a legislator. Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. of Massachusetts, the grandson of the late Henry Cabot Lodge, chooses to remain in the Senate. However, he changes his mind and resigns on February 3, 1944, and proves a war hero. Lodge is the first senator to resign to serve since the War of the Rebellion. While he is away, Massachusetts Republican Governor Leverett Saltonstall nominates another man from a major Republican family in Massachusetts: Charles Sinclair Weeks (1893-1972). Weeks followed in the footsteps of his father, John, in serving as mayor of Newton, Massachusetts from 1930 to 1935. From 1940 to 1944 he had been the treasurer of the Republican Party. In the Senate, he proves more conservative than the increasingly moderate Lodge. Weeks’ son, Sinclair Jr., reflected on his father, “My father was a life-long Republican, as was his father, and he believed the least government is the best government” (Garrelick). He is merely a placeholder, being succeeded by the man who nominated him at the end of the year. Weeks would be the last solidly conservative senator from the state. He then serves as chairman of the American Enterprise Association (now known as the American Enterprise Institute) from 1946 to 1950. His brief stint in the Senate was the initial proof of his conservatism, but his greatness came with the election of President Eisenhower in 1952.

Weeks gained consideration because he was one of the first Taft supporters to switch to Eisenhower in the name of party unity and the latter isn’t initially impressed with Weeks. He wrote in his dairy, “[He] seems so completely conservative in his views that at times he seems to be illogical. I hope . . . that he will soon become a little bit more aware of the world as it is today” (Federal Highway Administration). Weeks gets the post of Secretary of Commerce anyway. Among Eisenhower’s cabinet members, he, along with Treasury Secretary George Humphrey and Agriculture Secretary Ezra Taft Benson are the most conservative members, and Weeks would greatly exceed the president’s expectations. Weeks calls for deregulation of railroads, including eliminating the Interstate Commerce Commission’s ability to set railroad rates. He also convinces Eisenhower to drop price and wage controls as well as supports retention of features of the Taft-Hartley Act, in conflict with Secretary of Labor Martin Durkin, the latter who would resign after Nixon took Weeks’ side (Miller Center).

In 1956, Eisenhower tasks him with lobbying for the Interstate Highway Act through Congress, and he has to overcome some initial conservative concerns about funding, particularly from Senator Harry F. Byrd (D-Va.). Byrd, based on personal experience and that of his state, despised debt and succeeded in getting the legislation to be funded on a “pay as you go” basis rather than deficit financing and then supported the measure. The Byrd Test provision included held that shortfalls in the Highway Trust Fund would result in automatically less spending (Thorndike). The sources of revenue are, appropriately enough, taxes on gas, diesel, automobiles, and tires, the funding which goes to the Highway Trust Fund. Weeks figures out the allocation, and he does so masterfully based on the plan he crafted and presented before Congress. President Eisenhower praises him in Mandate for Change, 1953-1956, writing, “This great highway system will stand in part as a monument to the man in my Cabinet who headed the department responsible for it, and who himself spent long hours mapping out the program and battling it through the Congress–Secretary of Commerce Sinclair Weeks” (Federal Highway Administration).

In 1958, Weeks opted to resign to return to the private sector. Unlike his father, he didn’t destroy his health through overwork and died on February 7, 1972.


Garrelick, R. (1996, November 7). Sinclair Weeks, Jr., 196 Elm Street. Concord Oral History Program.

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Secretary of Commerce Sinclair Weeks. (2017, June 27). Federal Highway Administration.

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Sinclair Weeks (1953-1958). Miller Center.

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Thorndike, J.J. (2016, November 7). Tax History: Should We Borrow or Tax to Pay for Infrastructure? Taxnotes.

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Elizabeth II and the Faux Pas of Presidents

Queen Elizabeth’s reign, the longest in British history, ended on September 8, 2022. She had succeeded her father, George VI, upon his death on February 6, 1952. Elizabeth II’s reign extended from Presidents Truman to Biden. Of the presidents, she met fourteen. Elizabeth II did not meet LBJ, rather former President Herbert Hoover during her 1957 visit. Some of these visits were important diplomatic gestures and there were numerous presidential faux pas.

Jimmy Carter

When the Queen visited the United States in May 1977, President Carter massively diverged from protocol by kissing the accompanying Queen Mother on the mouth! She would later remark that she hadn’t received such a kiss since her late husband, George VI, was alive and that she had not backed up far enough from him.

George H.W. Bush

The Queen’s visit with Bush in May 1991 was noted for a humorous incident in which the considerably taller Bush forgot to adjust the stand he was speaking from for the Queen, resulting in her face being obscured by the microphones. To viewers, this looked like a “Royal Talking Hat”. She would make light of this in her speech before Congress, saying that she hoped that people could see her this time. The visit otherwise went well, with her attending for a baseball game for the first time.

George W. Bush

Like with his father, Elizabeth II’s visit had a humorous incident. Bush initially misspoke “1776” rather than “1976” when speaking of when she visited the United States for its bicentennial. Bush, attempting to recover, gave the Queen a wink and said to the audience, “She gave me a look that only a mother could give a child” (Carden). As she had done with the royal talking hat incident, she made light of the matter. She later began a toast saying, “I wondered whether I should start this toast by saying, ‘When I was here in 1776…” (Carden).

Barack Obama

Michelle Obama committed a major breach of protocol by touching the Queen on the back and she graciously reciprocated. The choice of Obama’s giving the Queen an iPod as a gift, although not a protocol breach, I recall received some criticism.

Donald Trump
President Trump committed a significant breach of protocol when he walked in front of the Queen several times. One is not supposed to walk in front of the Queen and one is also not supposed to turn their back on her.

Of all these, frankly, I must say Carter engaged in the worst faux pas here. Maybe its the time I live in vs. the 1970s, but I can’t imagine that crossing my mind.


Carden, M. (2022, September 9). The Adorable Faux Pas George W. Bush Once Made In Front Of The Queen. The List.

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Headlee, P. (2022, September 9). Queen Elizabeth met more than a dozen U.S. presidents, President Truman was the first. KMBC News.

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Heffer, S. (2022, September 9). Queen Elizabeth II: For Country and Commonwealth. The Interpreter.

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Starbuck, L. (2018, December 1). George H.W. Bush and the Royal Talking Hat. Royal Central.

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The Murder of a Journalist by a Politician…in 1903

In the news lately along with Queen Elizabeth’s death is the story of a Nevada investigative journalist, Jeff German, being stabbed to death after writing a series of investigative exposes of misconduct by Clark County Public Administrator Robert Telles, an elected Democrat who has since been arrested as DNA matching his was found underneath German’s fingernails. As I have written before, there were instances in which murderers won elections AFTER they had done so! The case I am writing about today bears some similarities to this one, except that the journalist in question was also in politics, doling out patronage under the second Cleveland Administration, and the murderer wasn’t just a state legislator who lost reelection, he was South Carolina’s lieutenant governor.

James H. Tillman

In the Progressive Era a new brand of South Carolina populist was rising from the influence of Senator “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman. This faction was even more populist, more aggressively racist, and more violent in rhetoric (and at times in action). Among these figures was Tillman’s nephew, Jim Tillman (1869-1911). The younger Tillman, the son of Congressman George Tillman, had a reputation as being arrogant, exaggerated in rhetoric, loose on ethics, a heavy drinker, and a gambler. Nonetheless, he appealed to many poor white South Carolinans and his service in the Spanish American War helped his career enough so that he won the 1900 election for lieutenant governor. However, there was a consistent thorn in his side and his name was Narciso G. Gonzales. Gonzales was both a journalist and a political actor, having directed patronage through South Carolina from the Cleveland Administration. He was also a man opposed to Tillmanism and the trends that came along with it, including the use of violence to uphold white supremacy. Although Gonzales had his prejudices against blacks, he opposed lynching as a means of enforcing social control. His prominent newspaper, The State, published articles blasting the young Tillman and accusing him of being “a proven liar, defaulter, gambler, and drunkard” as well as fabricating the state Senate record and having a dishonorable war record (Helsley).

N.G. Gonzales

In 1902, the ambitious Tillman wanted to win the South Carolina gubernatorial race, but the damaging articles from Gonzales’ newspaper continued. Also damaging was his calling for President Roosevelt not to be hosted by the governor because Roosevelt banned his uncle from the White House for his fistfight with fellow South Carolina Senator John McLaurin. The reporting against him was accurate, and Tillman came in fourth in the Democratic primary, getting a paltry 17.2% of the vote. After his primary loss he accused Gonzales of lying about him, claiming that his defeat was caused by “the brutal, false and malicious newspaper attacks headed by N. G. Gonzales” (Helsley). On January 15, 1903, the two men crossed each other’s paths while walking down the sidewalk in Columbia, and Tillman turned around and shot the unarmed Gonzales in the abdomen in broad daylight. Gonzales died four days later. He claimed at his trial that Gonzales had moved in a menacing way with his hands in his pockets so he thought he was armed. He was acquitted, but not over this defense; the greatest victory his legal team scored was moving the venue of the trial from Columbia to Lexington County. Lexington County was full of his supporters, and the jury consisted of men who thought that what Tillman had done was acceptable to satisfy honor given the inflammatory nature of certain articles written against him (Kantrowitz). Although dueling had mostly faded away by this time, there was still a lingering honor culture that could result in men killing each other for actual or perceived slights and insults.

The Aftermath

The trial was condemned as a “farce” in the statewide press, and although Tillman was acquitted, his story doesn’t have a happy ending. He ran for Congress in the 2nd district in 1904 to replace the late George W. Croft, but was defeated by Croft’s son, Theodore. The following year, an obelisk in Columbia was constructed in honor of Gonzales that stands to this day with the inscription, “A martyr to free speech in South Carolina” (Wis News 10). Tillman’s lifestyle resulted in poor health, and he died on April 1, 1911 at the age of 41. In the wake of Tillman’s political and actual demise, Coleman L. Blease picked up where he left off.


Helsley, A.J. (2016, June 28). Tillman, James Hammond. South Carolina Encyclopedia.

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January 1903: Lt. Gov. shoots newspaper owner in front of State House. (2014, August 4). Wis News 10.

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J.H. Tillman for Congress; Man Acquitted of Killing Editor Gonzales Announces Candidacy. (1904, March 16). The New York Times.

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Kantrowitz, S. (2015). Ben Tillman and the reconstruction of white supremacy. Chapel Hill, NC: UNC Press Books.

The Driest of the Drys: William Upshaw

Prohibition was for a time a popular cause and had grown more so with a combination of war fervor, a brilliant and tireless lobbyist in Wayne Wheeler, the rise of the income tax, and the increasing involvement of women in politics. Although Congressman Andrew Volstead (R-Minn.) is most associated with Prohibition law and Representative Charles Carlin (D-Va.) and Senator Morris Sheppard (D-Tex.) sponsored the Prohibition Amendment, the most intense champion of Prohibition was Democratic Representative William Upshaw (1866-1952) of Georgia.

Publicity photo in which Upshaw is keeping Washington D.C. “dry”.

Upshaw’s background has some cause to elicit sympathy…in 1895 at the age of 29 he fell from a wagon and injured his back, resulting in him having to use a wheelchair for years before recovering enough to walk with crutches. His story of recovery and his rise certainly are inspirational, but by 1918 when he ran for office, its possible that he was feeling better than he portrayed himself: despite walking with crutches in public appearances he was on one occasion caught running without the use of them. Upshaw was elected to the Atlanta district and had two central issues as its representative: support of Prohibition and the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan’s rebirth in 1915 had occurred atop Stone Mountain in Georgia, and the consumption of alcohol was among the numerous offenses for which the Klan exacted their own brand of vigilante justice. Upshaw himself was almost certainly a member of the KKK…internal Klan correspondence indicates so. He also supported the creation of the Department of Education as a means to stop the spread of Bolshevism. Upshaw was notably the only member of the Georgia Congressional delegation to support the 19th Amendment. It should, however, be no surprise given his state and his support for the Klan that he strongly opposed the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill on racial terms. He was a Southern progressive, supporting organized labor and veterans’ bonuses, opposing income tax cuts, and successfully working to defeat the anti-strike clause in the Railroad Labor Act. Upshaw saw himself as a supporter of the common man as opposed to the rich. Collier’s Magazine wrote of him in 1924, “In a materialistic age, given over to thought and discussion of gross profits, net income, public debts, and taxation, Upshaw is an incurable romantic. He is a sentimentalist, an idealist, a dreamer, an exhorter, an evangelist, but with all these impractical qualities and attributes, he has, and this is our final test, the ability to put his stuff across; to do things. Upshaw would be intolerable if he were not so absolutely sincere and genuine. He has had an amazing career, because he believes in all the copy book maxims. He is one of the old Sunday school storybooks come to life” (Prohibitionists).

Upshaw’s political fortunes rose with the Klan and they fell with them. 1926 was a bit of a year of requiem for the second Klan as the rape and murder scandal regarding Indiana Klan leader D.C. Stephenson in Indiana broke as well as numerous instances of Klan brutality and moral hypocrisy. Democrat Leslie Steele saw his chance to challenge Upshaw in the Democratic primary and did so, defeating him. The 1928 nomination of Catholic and wet Al Smith horrified him, and he was relieved when Hoover won.

In 1932, the dwindling Prohibition Party, which had only ever elected one person to Congress, nominated Upshaw for president, and he won nearly 82,000 votes and no states. He later moved to California and became ordained a minister. Upshaw would work with Klansman Roy Davis, a man with a lengthy criminal record, to establish an orphanage in San Bernardino County, but it fell apart after the latter was exposed for swindling donors. Davis would later become the National Grand Wizard of the Klan from 1959 to 1964.

In 1952, Upshaw announced that he was able to walk without the use of crutches after attending a revival meeting with Reverend William Branham (Harrell). Branham had been baptized by Davis and interestingly enough, also helped the rise of Jim Jones in the 1950s. However, Upshaw would admit that he had for a bit longer than this been able to walk for a distance without the use of crutches. While he didn’t say how early, it gives credence to the idea that his crutches served at least as much as a political prop as a need while he was in Congress. Nonetheless, he claimed that the revival meeting had helped his healing. Upshaw, by this time an octogenarian, died months later shortly after returning from an international speaking tour on November 21st.


Harrell, D. (1978). All things are possible: the healing and charismatic revivals in modern America. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

William Upshaw Bio. Prohibitionists.

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The Leaky Cases of the Dry Drunks

Prohibition brought about many developments in the United States, one of which was hypocrisy on a grand scale. It was an all-too common story that legislators who toed the dry line were themselves drinking. Senator John Sharp Williams of Mississippi, who struggled throughout his life with alcoholism, voted for Prohibition despite personal opposition to it because his people wanted it. President Warren G. Harding, who as a senator from Ohio had voted for the Prohibition Amendment, was stocking liquor and drinking it at parties. The men who were perhaps best representative of this sheer hypocrisy were Congressmen M. Alfred Michaelson and Edward Denison of Illinois, John Langley of Kentucky, and William Morgan of Ohio.

M. Alfred Michaelson

Republican Magne Alfred Michaelson (1878-1949) was elected to Congress in 1920 after defeating wet Niels Juul for renomination, making him the only representative from Chicago who supported Prohibition. He was also a bit of a populist, being one of only eleven House Republicans to vote against the Mellon tax cuts and he condemned the American Legion as being bought and paid for by Wall Street. Michaelson also was a strong backer of Mayor William Hale Thompson and the veterans bonus bill.
In January 1928, Michaelson was arrested under the Volstead Act for bringing back six trunks full of whiskey, brandy, and rum from Cuba and Panama. A bottle in one of his trunks had broken, causing the trunk to leak, and he had evaded arrest for three days. Although acquitted by the jury as his brother-in-law took the fall and was fined $1000, the Republican voters of his district didn’t acquit him. The Great Depression combined with his hypocrisy brought his defeat for renomination in 1930. Michaelson never returned to politics and died in 1949.

Edward Denison

Republican Edward Denison (1873-1953) of Illinois served from 1915 to 1931 and had a moderately conservative record, was a supporter of organized labor and veterans’ bonuses, and a 100% dry record. However, in December 1928 he returned from a junket to Panama and a few weeks later, U.S. Marshals found a trunk identified as the property of a “B.B. Dawson” in his quarters of the House Office Building. This trunk contained 18 bottles of Royal Sprey Whiskey and six bottles of Gibley’s dry gin (Time, Real Sentiments). This was an act that he had voted to make a felony! This incident resulted in an indictment under the Volstead Act and his loss of reelection in 1930 to Democrat Kent Keller, a wet. Denison was acquitted after Senator Otis Glenn (R-Ill.) and four representatives vouched for his character and the jury bought his story that his trunk was mixed up with his nephew’s while on the steamship back to the United States.

John Langley

John Langley (1868-1932) was a moderate conservative who became known for bringing home the bacon as a representative to the degree that he was known as “Pork Barrel John”. His constituents greatly appreciated this and regularly reelected him. They also supported his position in favor of Prohibition, which was staunchly dry. In 1924, however, Langley attempted to sell 1400 bottles of whiskey and buy a Prohibition officer’s silence. He was indicted for violations of the Volstead Act and convicted. His appeal to the Supreme Court failed in January 1926. Langley was succeeded by his wife Katherine, who claimed that he had been the victim of a political conspiracy.

Despite his time in jail, many of his constituents continued to think of him fondly; failure to sufficiently defend Langley contributed to a reduced enthusiasm for reelecting Senator Richard Ernst in 1926, who was defeated by Congressman and future Vice President Alben W. Barkley. Langley was the worst case of the group, as he had attempted to engage in trafficking liquor in the United States whereas others appeared to be smuggling for personal consumption. On December 20, 1928, at the urging of Congresswoman Langley, President Coolidge pardoned him on the condition that he not run for office again. John Langley nonetheless sent out a letter claiming that he was going to be running for office again, but his wife nixed this plan when she announced that she would step down from office for no one. He maintained his innocence until his death from pneumonia in January 1932.

William Morgan

Republican William Morgan (1870-1935) of Ohio served from 1921 to 1931 and was moderately conservative, pro-organized labor, a supporter of veterans’ bonuses, and 100% dry…in voting, that is. In March 1929, he managed to use his authority as a member of Congress to get four quarts of whiskey past customs, an act that he had voted to make a felony! Morgan claimed to be so blunt about it to cover for the wife of an unnamed member of Congress and was arrested. Although he didn’t end up serving any time, his constituents were not amused, and he lost reelection in 1930 to wet Democrat Charles West.

Broader Phenomenon

This phenomenon of course extended considerably beyond these four. Senator Frederick Gillett (R-Mass.), who had served as House Speaker from 1919 to 1925, said in 1929 that he had witnessed many instances of members legislating under the influence and went on to state that if all members who drank in the Capitol were censured that it would take up most of the legislature’s time. He stated, “It was obvious to those who were there, but to the great American public…it was secret” (U.S. House, Liquor). Representatives Emanuel Celler (D-N.Y.) and Manuel Herrick (R-Okla.) also reported extensive alcohol consumption among fellow legislators.

In 1931, freelance journalist William H. Crawford polled a random assortment of 200 senators and representatives. Of these he found 157 identified as dry and 43 identified as wet. Of these, he found that if released from political considerations, 61 would still vote dry, 70 would vote to loosen the Volstead Act, and 69 would vote for repealing the 18th Amendment. Crawford extrapolated this figure to the whole of Congress and determined that there over 150 members who voted dry but thought or acted otherwise (Prohibition: Real Sentiments). Hypocrisy among legislators was one of the numerous factors that built up support for repealing Prohibition.


Langley, Katherine Gudger. U.S. House of Representatives.

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Legislating the Liquor Law – Prohibition and the House. U.S. House of Representatives.

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M. Alfred Michaelson (U.S. Government Printing Office. 1922. Congressional Directory, Volume 67. Page 23)

Prohibition: A Dear Friend. (1929, May 20). Time Magazine.

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Prohibition: Drinks For Drys. (1929, April 8). Time Magazine.

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Prohibition: Real Sentiments (1931, March 23). Time Magazine.

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