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.
Secretary of Commerce Sinclair Weeks. (2017, June 27). Federal Highway Administration.
Sinclair Weeks (1953-1958). Miller Center.
Thorndike, J.J. (2016, November 7). Tax History: Should We Borrow or Tax to Pay for Infrastructure? Taxnotes.