When you hear the name “Al Gore”, you think of the environmentally motivated vice president who lost one of the most controversial elections of American history. However, like so many people in politics, he wasn’t the only politician in the family. The first Gore was Albert Gore Sr. (1907-1998).
Gore’s rise began locally when he ran for superintendent of the Smith County School Board. Although the incumbent won, Gore had run a strong campaign and won the respect of the incumbent. After the incumbent was diagnosed with a terminal illness, he requested that Gore succeed him, and he did (Hill). His wife, Pauline, played a critical role in his campaigns and was a key advisor to him on issues including civil rights and the Vietnam War.
Gore in the House
Gore was first elected in 1938, a backlash election to President Roosevelt, and he proved in his first two terms to be highly independent, often voting against liberals on domestic issues. For instance, he voted to cut WPA funding, investigate the National Labor Relations Board, and against increasing bond powers of the US Housing Authority in 1939. However, he was loyal to the party on foreign policy and he was strongly supportive of the TVA (and by extension, public power development) and New Deal agricultural legislation. His record on domestic issues would shift more to the party liberals during the 78th Congress. Gore would, especially later in his career, be widely regarded as a liberal, albeit maintaining his independence to a degree. He briefly served in the military from December 1944 to March 1945.
During the Republican 80th Congress, he voted against most of their domestic agenda, making exceptions for the Taft-Hartley Act and the Nixon-Mundt communist registration bill. Gore would be largely loyal to the Truman Administration in his support of public housing, strong minimum wage legislation, foreign policy, and controls on prices and rents, but still maintained some independence in his leading the charge against the Brannan Plan. Named after President Truman’s Secretary of Agriculture, Charles F. Brannan, the Brannan Plan would have, for a two-year trial run, scrapped the intricate system of price supports for farmers, replacing it with guaranteed minimum income. With Gore at the helm, the Brannan Plan was sunk in the 81st Congress with a substitute that made minor changes to the existing system, getting seventy-nine Democrats and all but four Republicans on his side.
1952: A Year of Change
Senator Kenneth McKellar was an institution in the state of Tennessee. He had first been elected to the House in 1910 and was then elected to the Senate in 1916. Although a progressive for his time, he had grown less so later in his career. Although a key backer of the Tennessee Valley Authority, he also feuded with its chief, David Lilienthal. McKellar would come to oppose his nomination to chair the Atomic Energy Commission in 1947. He was still thought of as a senatorial powerhouse in 1952, but he was 83 years old and visibly in decline. Gore, by contrast, was 44 years old and traveled around the state to campaign. McKellar’s campaign slogan was “Thinking Feller? Vote McKellar!” to which the Gore campaign, on advice of his wife Pauline, ably responded with, “Think Some More – Vote For Gore!” (Our Campaigns) 1952 was a year of change for Tennessee, and the state’s Democrats pulled for Gore by 15 points. It was also in this year that the Crump political machine, based in Memphis, became restricted to that city. At the time, although Dwight Eisenhower won the state, on the state level Republicanism remained limited to East Tennessee and Gore trounced his Republican opponent by over 53 points.
Gore and the Interstate Highway System
Although I previously wrote that President Eisenhower’s Secretary of Commerce, Sinclair Weeks, deserves a huge amount of credit for the planning and implementation of the Interstate Highway System, Gore co-authored and sponsored the legislation with Representative George Fallon (D-Md.) and likewise deserves a lot of credit for America’s greatest public works project. Such sponsorship certainly helped his prospects for the vice presidential nomination that year, but his colleague, Estes Kefauver, got the nod instead.
Gore on Civil Rights
Albert Gore Sr. was, for his time and place, quite pro-civil rights. Although he voted against the Gavagan-Fish Anti-Lynching Bill in 1940 as did all other Tennessee Democrats, Gore, with fellow Representative Estes Kefauver, proved consistent in voting to ban the poll tax. They were in truth among the first Tennessee Democrats to vote for civil rights legislation.
As a senator, Gore voted for the Civil Rights Acts of 1957, 1960, and 1968 (despite his opposition to the fair housing portion) as well as the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the 24th Amendment. His votes regarding the Civil Rights Act of 1964 are rather odd. Although he voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, he wasn’t opposed to it in its entirety. Gore supported the public accommodations title of the law, but opposed the employment discrimination title as well as the title depriving funds for segregated schools. It was the latter part that motivated his vote against, and he had motioned to recommit the bill right before the final vote to only have funds cut off if a school district defied court orders to desegregate (Metcalf). Gore was also one of three Southern Democrats in the Senate to not sign the Southern Manifesto. The others were Lyndon B. Johnson (who probably wasn’t asked to sign as party leader, Southerners recognized he had more national ambitions) and Estes Kefauver.
Gore and the 1960s
Gore was a supporter of both the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations. He strongly supported the creation of Medicare, sponsoring the measure with Senators Clinton Anderson (D-N.M.) and Jacob Javits (R-N.Y.) in 1964. He was likewise a supporter of LBJ’s flagship legislation for the War on Poverty, the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964. On foreign aid, Gore was becoming a bit more of a skeptic, siding with Senators Wayne Morse (D-Ore.) and Bill Proxmire (D-Wis.) on certain proposals to cut foreign aid. He also opposed two Constitutional amendments pushed by Minority Leader Everett Dirksen (R-Ill.) to counter Warren Court decisions on legislative apportionment and school prayer. Gore would also join J. William Fulbright (D-Ark.) in critiquing the Vietnam War.
Increasing Election Difficulties
Tennessee was slowly but surely becoming more and more Republican. The state’s two votes for Eisenhower proved more than flukes given the popularity of the general…its electorate also voted for Nixon in 1960. In 1962, Tennessee’s 3rd district, based in Chattanooga, elected its first Republican representative since 1920 in Bill Brock. Unlike the last Republican to represent the district, he would win reelection. In 1964, Gore faced a strong challenge from future Congressman Dan Kuykendall. Although Senator Barry Goldwater got thrashed in the election and it brought down some Republican candidates, Kuykendall did get 46% of the vote, running ahead of him. Absent Goldwater’s frankness on his belief that the Tennessee Valley Authority should be sold, Kuykendall may have won. By contrast, in 1958, also a bad year for the GOP, Gore had won reelection against sacrificial lamb Hobart Atkins by 60 points.
Gore and Occidental Petroleum
Albert Gore Sr. maintained a strong connection with the CEO of Occidental Petroleum, Armand Hammer. Hammer, who had major connections with the USSR that have been alleged to have gone as far as spying for them, was himself quite a character who deserves an entry of his own and I plan on giving him one. Gore first met Hammer in the 1940s and he became a major bankroller for not only his political campaigns, but also those of his son up until his death in 1990. FBI director J. Edgar Hoover had long suspected Hammer of being a Soviet agent, but left him alone so he could continue monitoring him until accusing him of being one in 1962, and Gore leapt to his defense on the Senate floor (Karon).
This connection to Occidental Petroleum, which would also get most of the naval oil reserves on Elk Hills during the Clinton Administration, would be an inconvenient subject of discussion in 2000 given Gore Jr.’s environmental advocacy and charges that Bush was a candidate of oil. After his Senate career, Gore Sr. would be on the board of directors of Occidental and would head up one of its subsidiary companies.
Despite this connection, however, Gore himself cast a number of votes that were unfavorable to oil interests. He multiple times voted to reduce the 27.5% oil depletion allowance and voted against removing the power of the Federal Power Commission to regulate oil prices in 1956.
Reelection in the Age of Nixon
In 1970, Gore would be less fortunate in his opposition and in the direction of the state. In 1966, Republican Howard Baker Jr. had won Tennessee’s other Senate seat and in 1968, Nixon won the state with national Democrat Hubert Humphrey coming in third. Goldwater, now back in the Senate, was not running for president and Nixon held the office. Nixon was determined to fight out this midterm, even going as far as to hope for a Senate majority. Although he was hands off in the reelections of many Southern Democrats, as they agreed with him on many major issues, Gore was different. He was one of the more liberal ones and had a record of opposition to Nixon’s Vietnam War policies. Gore had also voted against his Southern Supreme Court nominees, Clement Haynsworth and G. Harrold Carswell. The Republicans scored a top recruit in three-term Congressman Bill Brock of Chattanooga, who capitalized on these issues as well as his vote against Dirksen’s school prayer amendment and lambasted him for what he called a “radical-liberal” record (the “radical” part was undoubtedly an exaggeration) and accused him of representing liberal coastal elites rather than the people of Tennessee, and Gore would assert that Brock’s conservative record in Congress was against the interests of Tennesseans. On Election Day, he would beat Gore by about four points.
Although his political career was now over, Gore lived a long life, long enough to see some satisfying victories. For one, Brock would be defeated in 1976 by a Democrat close to his philosophy in Jim Sasser, who would serve three terms. But better yet for him was seeing his son’s rise from representative of his old district to the Senate and finally, to the White House as Bill Clinton’s VP. Tennessee would move largely into the Republican column by his final years but would twice vote for Clinton/Gore.
Al Gore’s Father Dead at 90. (1998, December 5). CBS News.
Hill, R. Tennessee’s Old Gray Fox: Albert Gore. The Knoxville Focus.
Karon, T. (2000, September 25). Gore’s Big Oil Connection: An ‘Occident’ of Birth? TIME.
McKellar, Kenneth D. Our Campaigns.
Metcalf, J. (1964, June 20). The Civil Rights Act is approved after an 83-day filibuster. New York Daily News.
Weil, M. (1998, December 6). Vice President Al Gore’s Father Dies. The Washington Post.
Weingroff, R.F. (1996, Summer). Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956: Creating the Interstate System (Sidebars), No. 60, Vol. 1. Federal Highway Administration.