A recent news story is the Tennessee Legislature’s expulsion of two black Democrats, for their participation in the occupation of the Tennessee Legislature by protestors for gun control and using a bullhorn in disrupting the business of the legislature, in violation of the rules. This incident reminded me of an incident regarding one Texas Democrat in Congress, Thomas Lindsay Blanton (1872-1957).
With President Wilson’s reelection in 1916 came the election of Blanton. He was something of a populist and was supportive of some social reform movements, such as Prohibition and women’s suffrage. Blanton was also a bit of a pain in the bottom for many of his fellow representatives as he had no problem accusing his foes of being liars, no problem going after items he saw as wasteful spending even if it went against the wishes of the other Texas representatives, no problem condemning all junkets and fringe benefits for his colleagues, and no problem butting heads with organized labor. He did so in an irascible manner, and put off many of his colleagues, yet his constituents saw him positively, as striking out against the powers that be. Blanton was something of a spiritual successor to Rep. William Holman (D-Ind.), a figure I have covered before. He was willing to hold lengthy roll calls, and one Massachusetts representative complained that on one occasion he was “…filching from me and every other Member 10 days of life” (Fishbein). Although a Democrat, his stances on labor put him at odds with many of his fellow Democrats. Blanton, for instance, vocally supported a proposal that would draft people who went on strike during World War I and on March 6, 1918 he was one of only 38 representatives to vote against the Lunn (D-N.Y.) amendment to the anti-sabotage bill, making it lawful to strike for better wages or conditions of employment during wartime. He also made clear his opposition to the railroad strike in 1921, and his vocal opposition made him the target of death threats and one occasion his car was fired upon. It was his opposition to organized labor that would cause the most famous incident surrounding him.
In 1921, Blanton inserted into the Congressional Record a letter from Millard French, a non-union printer, who recounted a heated conversation between him and union printer Levi Huber, that read on Huber’s part with censoring, “G_d D__n your black heart, you ought to have it torn out of you, you u___ s__ of a b____. You and the Public Printer has no sense. You k____ his a___ and he is a d____d fool for letting you do it” (Fishbein). Putting this exchange in the Congressional Record was an outrage for legislators in 1921. House Republican Majority Leader Frank Mondell of Wyoming declared that the remarks were “unspeakable, vile, foul, filthy, profane, blasphemous, and obscene” (Fishbein). Blanton was apparently trying to highlight conflicts between non-union and union workers with this insertion.
Thomas Blanton avoided expulsion by only eight votes as enough Republicans were wary of making a martyr out of him, but after the expulsion vote failed, he was unanimously censured. He fainted upon the censure vote passing, hitting his head on the marble floor. Blanton then made his way to his office where he cried alone. In the longer run of things, this was simply a bump in the road for him as he was reelected in 1922. He would serve in Congress with one brief interruption until he was defeated for renomination by Clyde Garrett in 1936. Despite his difficult reputation, Blanton would do some good in Congress by exposing instances of corruption: he exposed and forced the resignation of a District of Columbia commissioner for overcharging veterans in guardian fees and another investigation of his resulted in the declaration of 45 inmates of St. Elizabeth’s Hospital to be sane and released (Miller). Blanton also sponsored legislation for stringent immigration restrictions. Opinions of him in his time and after naturally varied. Rebecca Fishbein (2018) of Vice writes that “Other members of Congress described him as boorish, ill-tempered, loud, and prone to get into shouting matches and, on occasion, literal fistfights with his fellow representatives on the House floor”. I should also note that Blanton was, like his other Texas colleagues, a segregationist. However, the Texas Historical Association gives him a bit more credit. It notes that the Washington Post reported that Blanton had saved the federal government millions and that the Dallas Morning News observed that every state delegation needed one of him (Miller). After his retirement, he proved no less acidic; he went as far as to advocate during World War II that the death penalty be put in place for people who strike during wartime. Although Blanton was planning on a Congressional comeback in 1954 by challenging incumbent Omar Burleson, his wife nixed the plan, probably on account that by this time he was an octogenarian. He died on August 11, 1957.
Although Blanton has been regarded as “conservative” by Vice, and on certain issues (particularly labor unions) he was, but he was quite far from uniformly so and supported a good deal of the New Deal (for instance, work relief, abrogating gold clauses, the Agricultural Adjustment Act, and the National Industrial Recovery Act) and opposed the 1922 income tax reduction and tariff increases. The Dallas Morning News was probably right in saying that every delegation needs someone like Blanton…in the sense that folks in Congress need some people to keep them on their toes.
Fishbein, R. (2018, July 19). The Time the Word ‘Damn’ Almost Got a Man Kicked Out of Congress. Vice.
Miller, T.L. Blanton, Thomas Lindsay (1872-1957). Texas State Historical Association.
Milligan, S. (2021, November 19). Partisan Wars of Words Escalate as Lawmakers See Rewards for Bad Behavior. U.S. News & World Report.
To Amend S. 383, By Making It Lawful Under the Act for Employees to Agree Together to Stop Work with a Bonafide Purpose of Securing Better Wages or Conditions of Employment. (P.3125). Govtrack.
One thought on “The Democrat Republicans Tried to Expel from Congress for Bad Language”
Excellent Story. Think Blanton Was Something Of A Precursor For Bob Gross On Wasteful Spending, Charles Bennett On Ethics, And Paul Jones As A Curmudgeon! Thanks From Dave IN TEXAS