Miles Poindexter: Washington’s Political Changeling

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/ed/MilesPoindexter.jpg

One subject that has been of great fascination for a long time for me is that of political change. As a new resident of the state of Washington, this state’s politics have come to my attention. One politician on the federal level exhibited the greatest variance in their ideology was Republican Miles Poindexter.

1908 was a good year for the Republican Party. For the third time a Republican had defeated populistic Democrat William Jennings Bryan for president and on the coattails of Taft, Miles Poindexter (1868-1946) won election to the House. Although Poindexter had switched from Democrat to Republican in 1896 over his distaste of populism, he quickly identified with the insurgent wing of the GOP that was fed up with the conservative policies of Congressional leadership as well as President Taft’s acquiescence to them. Poindexter voted to strip Speaker Joe Cannon of much of his powers on March 19, 1910. That year, the Washington state legislature elected him to the Senate. As a senator, he continued his record as a progressive within the GOP and in 1912 he identified with the Bull Moose Progressives and from 1913 to 1915 was a member of the Progressive Party. Poindexter was accommodating to the Wilson Administration, only joining Robert La Follette of Wisconsin among non-Democrats to vote for the Underwood Tariff, was one of seven non-Democrats to vote for the establishment of the Federal Reserve, and voted for Wilson’s anti-trust legislation. He also called for a major public works programs to employ the unemployed, presaging New Deal policies. In 1915, Poindexter voted for a proposal that would exclude all blacks from immigrating to the United States and voted for another one which would exclude all non-whites from immigrating. Poindexter had an upbringing as a Southern Democrat and his father had been a Confederate veteran so it is possible such an upbringing motivated these views. However, Poindexter did not back a proposal to limit women’s suffrage to white women. He was also supportive of women’s suffrage overall and Prohibition.

During World War I, Poindexter was one of the most recognizable and loud of nationalists, calling for deportation of IWW radicals (even though he had sympathized with an IWW strike in 1912) and supporting government crackdowns on people who spoke out against American efforts in World War I. He was hawkish and criticized Wilson for not being strong enough in prosecuting the war effort and was a strong advocate for intervention in Latin American affairs. Poindexter was one of ten Senate Republicans to vote for the Sedition Act of 1918, which was supported by most Democrats and mostly opposed by a combination of conservative and progressive Republicans that restricted free speech. After the 1918 midterms, Poindexter’s overall record went conservative. In the 65th Congress, his MC-Index score was a 24% but in the 66th it was an 88%. He was one of the 15-16 irreconcilables on the Versailles Treaty, not supporting the treaty under any conditions. He gave himself credit for pushing Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer to conduct his raids on radicals in 1919 and 1920 (Prabook). In 1920, Poindexter ran for the Republican nomination for president as a staunch conservative, but was never considered a serious candidate.

During the Harding Administration, Poindexter embraced higher tariffs, lower income taxes, and an overall reduced government agenda. In some ways, curiously, he represented the American public’s shifts on reform: enthusiastic about reform during the Progressive Era, and then turning conservative with World War I’s conclusion. The voters of Washington, having reelected him in 1916 with 55% of the vote, were not pleased with his shift, especially with his resistance to using government to aid agriculture, and in the 1922 midterms he lost a three-way race to former Democratic Congressman Clarence Dill. He subsequently served as Ambassador to Peru under Harding and Coolidge. In 1928, Poindexter attempted a rematch, but lost the Republican primary to Chief Justice of the Washington Supreme Court Kenneth Mackintosh, who lost the election. He subsequently retired to his family estate in Virginia, where he died in 1946 of a heart attack in his sleep. Poindexter’s lifetime MC-Index score was a 44%, with a low in the 62nd Congress, in which he scored a 19%, and a high in the 66th Congress.

Miles Poindexter. Prabook.

Retrieved from

https://prabook.com/web/miles.poindexter/1074151

Miles Poindexter papers, 1897-1940. Orbis Cascade Alliance.

Retrieved from

http://archiveswest.orbiscascade.org/ark:/80444/xv57473

Texas Legends #5: Tom Connally

See the source image

Upon the reelection of Woodrow Wilson in 1916, another Texas Legend was elected, Tom Connally (1877-1963), representing a district centered in Waco. He had gotten his start in state politics, in which he was a staunch foe of the trusts. In the House, Connally specialized in foreign policy as a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and served as a major supporter of Wilsonian internationalism, including the Versailles Treaty. He also was a staunch critic of Republican foreign policy in the 1920s, particularly with the interventions south of the border, including in Haiti and Nicaragua, intended to protect Americans and their property. In 1928, Connally ran for the Senate on an anti-KKK platform, facing in the Democratic primary incumbent Earle B. Mayfield, who was a Klansman. By that year, the influence of the Klan had fallen substantially with scandals, public ill will generated by their violence, and revelations of moral hypocrisy among their leaders. Connally won the primary, and by default the election as Democrats dominated Texas at the time. He proved a foe of President Herbert Hoover’s policies and in 1932 was enthusiastic about the Roosevelt-Garner ticket.


Upon the election of FDR, Connally was mostly on board with the first New Deal, especially on agricultural aid, but he did notably vote against the National Industrial Recovery Act. He also sponsored the Connally Hot Oil Act, which prohibited interstate shipment of oil that violated new state oil quotas. During this time, Connally suffered a personal tragedy as his wife Louise died right in his office of a sudden heart attack in 1935. He would remarry to a woman he had known for many years, Lucille Sanderson Sheppard, widow of Senator Morris Sheppard, in 1942. In 1937, he differed from the Roosevelt Administration in his opposition to the court packing plan as well as his vote against the Fair Labor Standards Act, which many Southern Democrats voted against as it undermined a cheap labor competitive advantage. That year, Connally led a filibuster against the Gavagan-Wagner Anti-Lynching bill, and it was defeated.
Although Connally was having increasing differences with the Roosevelt Administration on domestic policy, he was his key Senate ally in foreign policy, pushing forward the repeal of the arms embargo in 1939, and as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1941, the Lend-Lease Act. He continued his leading role in defeating civil rights legislation with his filibuster of the bill banning the poll tax for federal elections in 1942. Texas was one of the states that had a poll tax at the time. During the 1940s, his record became even more antagonistic to the Roosevelt Administration on domestic policy, and in the 78th Congress his MC-Index score shot up to 77%. The highest he had scored in the past was a 41%, the session before. Connally was the Senate sponsor of the Smith-Connally Act that session, which permitted the government to seize and operate industries in which strikes provided a threat to the war effort. This law was passed over President Roosevelt’s veto in 1943, but he didn’t hesitate to use it during the Philadelphia transit strike of 1944, when the Philadelphia Rapid Transit Employees Union engaged in a sick-out in protest against the hiring of black motormen as ordered by the Fair Employment Practices Committee.

See the source image

Connally holds a watch to mark the time of the declaration of war against Japan.


In 1945, Connally played a key role in the drafting of the United Nations Charter and was the second American to sign it. He also incorporated in the United Nations bill the “Connally Amendment”, which prevented UN jurisdiction in internal matters in the United States. This helped win it overwhelming ratification in the Senate. Although Connally was easily reelected in 1946, he faced a Republican Congress. He again proved a staunch ally of Truman on foreign policy and was widely seen as his Senate spokesman. Connally worked closely with Senator Arthur Vandenberg (R-Mich.) to pass the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan in a Congress that was diametrically opposed to the president on domestic policy. This didn’t mean Connally always agreed with Truman: after he picked General Mark Clark, a man who wasn’t Catholic, for emissary to the Holy See, Connally and others protested and Clark withdrew his nomination. Consistent with his antagonistic record on organized labor, Connally voted for the Taft-Hartley Act, which passed over President Truman’s veto. However, on other significant domestic issues he often sided with Truman, including on unemployment compensation, anti-trust policy, public power, and the excess profits tax.


In 1949, Democrats regained Congress and Connally was once again chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Lyndon B. Johnson joined him in the Senate that year as well but he ran afoul of him when he was overly ambitious in the committees he wanted. However, it wouldn’t be long for Johnson to supersede Connally in influence: the latter’s greater loyalty to Truman than for third term Roosevelt proved politically damaging in Texas, as he had become deeply unpopular in the state as well as in the nation. The Korean War had dragged out into a stalemate, extensive corruption had been revealed in his administration, and Texas voters had some special beefs with President Truman. These included his policy of pushing federal title to the tidelands and his proposed civil rights program. Texas Attorney General Price Daniel, who had directly battled the Truman Administration on tidelands policy in court, had announced his candidacy. Although Connally too supported state title over the tidelands and opposed civil rights legislation, he saw the writing on the wall and chose to retire in 1952 rather than face a tough primary or even defeat. That year Republican Dwight Eisenhower, who had pledged to return tidelands to state title, and Daniel won their elections. Connally died of pneumonia on October 28, 1963. His lifetime MC-Index score was a 27%.


References

Green, G.N. Connally, Thomas Terry (1877-1963). Texas State Historical Association.

https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/connally-thomas-terry

Hill, R. (2012, November 11). Tom Connally of Texas. The Knoxville Focus.

Retrieved from

Tom Connally of Texas

1941-42 MC-Index

See the source image
FDR delivers his “Day of Infamy” speech before Congress, after which it votes to declare war on Japan after the Pearl Harbor attack.

This is the Congress that goes to war, with the first half of the session having measures that serve to undermine American neutrality, especially the Lend-Lease Act. It is also the first full Congress in which the legendary Sam Rayburn of Texas serves as House speaker. Work relief proposals, a proposal to end the Civilian Conservation Corps, price controls, and legislation to limit the power of organized labor are counted as well. It was during this session of Congress that both future President Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders were born. Yes, they are that old! Conservatives in this time stand against the New Deal, against FDR’s foreign policy, and against price control. Conservatism is growing stronger in the Midwest and South and beginning to wane in New England.

Some stats on this Congress:

Highest Scoring Democrat, House:

Coffee, Neb. – 93%

Highest Scoring Democrat, Senate

Byrd, Va. – 78%

Lowest Scoring Republican, House:

Welch, Calif. – 20%

Lowest Scoring Republicans, Senate:

Tie – Langer, N.D., Gurney, S.D. – 52%

100%

House

Rockwell (R-Colo.), Paddock (R-Ill.), Johnson (R-Ill.), Arends (R-Ill.), Sumner (R-Ill.), Martin (R-Iowa), Winter (R-Kan.), Hoffman (R-Mich.), Bennett (R-Mo.), Ploeser (R-Mo.), Copeland (R-Neb.), Osmers (R-N.J.), Jones (R-Ohio), Clevenger (R-Ohio), Brown (R-Ohio), Wolfenden (R-Penn.), Miller (R-Penn.), Rutherford (R-Penn.), Rich (R-Penn.), Ditter (R-Penn.)

Senate

Johnson (R-Calif.), Willis (R-Ind.)

0%


House

Izac (D-Calif.), Sabath (D-Ill.), Schaefer (D-Ill.), Norton (D-N.J.), Heffernan (D-N.Y.), Delaney (D-N.Y.), Klein (D-N.Y.), Flannery (D-Penn.), Holland (D-Penn.), Leavy (D-Wash.)

Senate

Miller (D-Ark.), Murray (D-Mont.), Sheppard (D-Tex.), Murdock (D-Utah)

Key:

Republicans are in bold italics.

Democrats are in plain text.

+ = Vote for the conservative position

+ = Pair or announcement for the conservative position.

– = Vote against the conservative position.

= Pair or announcement against the conservative position.

? = No vote, pair, or announcement.

Ratings of Congress:

Texas Legends #4: Hatton W. Sumners

The Sumners Foundation Legacy

The year 1912 was one of profound success for progressives and for Southern Democrats. Both groups found one of their own in spirit elected to the presidency, and among the adherents to Wilson elected for the first time that year from Texas were Sam Rayburn as well as Hatton William Sumners (1875-1962) of Dallas. An attorney by profession, he was a solid fit for the House Judiciary Committee, which he served on in his long career. Among the freshmen of the 63rd Congress (1913-15) he was the first to get a bill passed, which made Dallas a port of entry for customs.
In 1922, Sumners was the foremost figure in the House to speak out against the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill, and he employed both racial and constitutional arguments against it. He invoked the fear of black men violating white women when he proclaimed, “Only a short time ago… their ancestors roamed the jungles of Africa in absolute savagery…[Y]ou do not know where the beast is among them. Somewhere in that black mass of people is the man who would outrage your wife or your child, and every man who lives in the country knows it” (Dray). Although the measure passed solidly in the House, it met defeat in the Senate as the will of its opponents was far stronger than that of its proponents. Sumners saw himself as a defender of states’ rights, but was far from a purist: while he opposed civil rights legislation time and again given such concerns as well as the 1924 Child Labor Amendment, he voted for the Prohibition Amendment, women’s suffrage, and most of the first New Deal. Sumners’ support for Prohibition may have had to do with his home district of Dallas, which was at the heart of Klan activity in Texas, with it having the highest membership of any major city, being the most brazen, and being known for reveling in its vigilante activity.


Sumners was, like Sam Rayburn, committed to work in his life. While Rayburn was married for less than three months, Sumners never married. With the Democrats taking over the House in 1930, he became chair of the House Judiciary Committee, and in this capacity he played a significant role in the passage of New Deal legislation as well as impeachments of several federal judges, but voted against Social Security. He would later serve as an even greater annoyance to President Roosevelt when he played a key role in defeating a prized initiative. In 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt presented his “court packing” plan and Sumners was having none of it. He reportedly said to his colleagues, “Boys, here’s where I cash my chips” (Monroe). On July 13th, he announced that he would keep the plan bottled in the committee. This plus the death of Senate Majority Leader Robinson the following day doomed the plan. Sumners’ record would increasingly move to the right.


After the 1938 midterms, Sumners’ record grew considerably more conservative as his Dallas district grew more so as well. Before 1939, Sumners’ MC-Index score averaged a 20%, but for his final four terms it averaged 63%, indicating a clear turn away from FDR’s policies. Although Sumners had soured on FDR expanding executive power in peacetime, in 1941, he sponsored the War Powers Act, granting FDR further executive powers to fight World War II. In his later years in Congress, Sumners seemed more distinctly concerned about racial violence, including lynchings. On multiple occasions he spoke out against the lax reactions of local sheriffs and states to lynchings. He regarded the failure of the sheriff of Madison, Florida to protect Jesse James Payne, a black prisoner in his custody from a lynching in 1945, as an admission of unfitness for duty. He wrote to Governor Millard Caldwell, “If these facts are true, or approximately true, this sheriff is not only guilty of a violation of official duty, of a cowardly act, but he is guilty of a direct assault upon the sovereignty of the state” (Dallas Historical Society). Sumners was both motivated out of a sense of justice as well as concerns over federal intervention in the South should racially motivated lynchings persist. Sumners opted to retire in 1946, but not before securing the passage of the Administrative Procedure Act, which governed how new federal regulations would be adopted. His successor would be the more conservative Democrat Joseph F. Wilson, and Wilson’s successor would be arch-conservative Republican Bruce Alger, one of the most vocal antagonists of President John F. Kennedy.


References


Dray, P. (2007, December 18). At the hands of persons unknown: The lynching of black America. London, UK: Random House Publishing Group.


Hatton Sumners papers, Inclusive: 1883-1963, undated, Bulk: 1911-1963. (2017, June 16). Baylor University.


Retrieved from


https://baylorarchives.cuadra.com/cgi-bin/starfetch.exe?QgID14lsjbYp8zWJvsu0Wt8HlfdX6ps3oLYSzUh9HPLokzGHPuBb3ixgF6QcwJkjAaMaKFHQXxMOGIWJlR48sGx@nuLe@m1XnRv@p1uDMN4/0007e3.xml


Monroe, M.C. Sumners, Hatton William (1875-1962). Texas State Historical Association.


Retrieved from


https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/sumners-hatton-william#:~:text=Sumners%20served%20as%20chairman%20of%20the%20House%20Committee,administration%20to%20fight%20the%20battle%20in%20the%20Senate.


Personal letter to then Florida Governor Millard Caldwell. (1945, October 17). Dallas Historical Society, HWS Collection, D-116.

Texas Legends #3: Sam Rayburn

In 1912, Congressman Choice B. Randell chose to run for the Democratic nomination for the Senate rather than for reelection. 30-year old Sam Rayburn (1882-1961), Speaker of the Texas House, ran for the seat instead. His platform was that of a Jeffersonian Democrat and in his speeches supported “free trade, representative government, special privilege for none, an income tax, state rights, a federal inheritance tax, the direct election of senators, the right of labor to organized, and the abolition of the electoral college” (Shanks, 64). Rayburn’s career was already promising given that he had chosen to use the vast powers of the position of speaker rather than abdicate his authority to party bosses, and used said powers to pass progressive legislation, including restrictions on working hours for women and child labor laws. Upon his victory, Majority Whip John Nance Garner saw Rayburn’s potential and used his influence to get him placed on the House Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee, where he was involved in the passage of anti-trust legislation.


Rayburn’s Rise to Leadership

Congressman Rayburn strongly supported the Underwood Tariff, which both lowered the average tariff rate and imposed an income tax and in 1914 he sponsored the Railway Stock and Bond Bill, a key part of President Wilson’s anti-trust agenda. His measure got a strong vote for in the House, being passed 325-12 on June 5, 1914. Rayburn asserted that the Democratic Party was not opposed to business or capital, stating, “We know that there must be large aggregations of capital to carry on the great and growing business of the country; hence we would be more foolish to do anything that would hinder or retard the growth of the country. We intend to do simple justice, and on the other hand, we are determined that business shall deal justly with the people” (Shanks, 67). However, Rayburn didn’t always agree with the Wilson Administration. Despite being a supporter of child labor laws on the state level, he voted against the Keating-Owen child labor bill on state’s rights grounds. He also went against the progressives in his support for ending emergency government control of the railroads after the end of World War I, stating, “I want to see all of these war powers repealed and the Government get out of these expensive and socialistic businesses. I want to get back to normal” (Shanks, 72). He was also a firm backer of Wilson’s internationalist outlook and this would inform his stances on foreign affairs during the Roosevelt and Truman years. Interestingly enough, Rayburn overtime would grow more progressive. Unlike his mentor Garner, he voted for the Prohibition Amendment, but eventually came to support its repeal. In 1927, Rayburn was briefly married to Metze Jones but it fell apart after less than three months over disagreements on his whiskey drinking and poker playing as well as the Washington lifestyle he lived. After the 1930 election, Rayburn became chair of the House Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee and in 1932 he managed the campaign of John Nance Garner for president and negotiated FDR’s pick of Garner as vice president. He was a key actor in the passage of the New Deal and supported most of FDR’s proposals. In 1935, Rayburn sponsored the Public Utilities Holding Company Act, which ultimately served to abolish holding companies. His efforts were recognized by fellow Democrats and in 1937 he was elected majority leader. Rayburn stuck with the New Deal by and large despite many of his Southern colleagues beginning to turn away from it, including his mentor and Vice President John Nance Garner.

The Speakership

On September 15, 1940, Speaker of the House William B. Bankhead of Alabama died of a stomach hemorrhage after years of declining health, and the Democrats elected Rayburn to succeed him the next day. Rayburn would serve, with only two interruptions, as House speaker until his death, a record length of time. He had as his deputy John W. McCormack of Massachusetts and they worked in tandem to appeal to both the increasingly different Southern and Northern wings of the Democratic Party. Both men were committed to preserving the New Deal while keeping the advance of civil rights slow. Although Rayburn’s and McCormack’s records were opposite on the question, neither spoke out on such issues. As speaker and before he was the epitome of legislative ethics. As historian Robert A. Caro wrote of him, “Lobbyists could not buy him so much as a meal. Not even the taxpayer could buy him a meal. Spurning the conventional congressional junket, Rayburn would during his 48 years in Congress take exactly one overseas trip . . . and on that trip he insisted on paying his own way. He refused not only fees but travel expenses for out-of-town speeches; hosts who . . . attempted to press checks upon him quickly realized they had made a mistake. . . . Rayburn would say, ‘I’m not for sale’ – and then he would walk away without a backward glance” (Eddington). His honesty was such that once he was asked “How do you remember all the things you promised people?”, he responded, “If you always tell the truth, you don’t need memos to remember what you said” (Caro). Rayburn adeptly handled the committee chairmen system as indeed many of the chairmen were fellow Southern Democrats who held only the highest respect for “Mr. Sam”, as he was known by colleagues. He used humor and persuasion as his tools but was not afraid to use power to keep order if need be. Rayburn was also a mentor for future President Lyndon B. Johnson, who would act as the son he never had and treat the lonely bachelor as family. In 1947, Rayburn became Minority Leader as the Republicans had won back control of Congress, but he still played a critical role in the passage of the Marshall Plan and the Truman Doctrine, which won bipartisan support. Unlike many of his Southern colleagues, he resisted efforts to roll back the power of organized labor and voted against the Taft-Hartley Act, which ultimately became law over President Truman’s veto. Upon becoming speaker again after the 1948 election, Rayburn committed himself to backing most aspects of Truman’s Fair Deal, but the Conservative Coalition was too powerful for most of them to pass. However, he stopped on a few junctures, including when Texas interests were directly involved: like all other Texas politicians, he supported the Tidelands Bill, eventually signed by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1953, that granted title of continental shelf resources to the states.

During the Eisenhower Administration, both Rayburn and Lyndon B. Johnson played interesting roles in framing themselves as “saving” Eisenhower’s agenda from the conservative wing of the Republican Party. This included the passage of extensive foreign aid packages and support for expanded government in some areas. The two Texans also brokered compromises with the Eisenhower Administration and Republican leaders. In 1956 and 1960, Rayburn backed Johnson’s efforts to secure the Democratic nomination for president.

Mr. Sam and Civil Rights

Rayburn’s record on civil rights was a complicated one marked by a distinct change from backing crudely racist stances to active support for an incremental approach. He played a key role in the admitting of Alaska and Hawaii as states, which added four pro-civil rights senators and also softened from his previously segregationist record, helping shepherd the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960 through the House. Earlier on his career, however, Rayburn had voted to criminalize interracial relations in Washington D.C., repeatedly against women’s suffrage, to prohibit blacks from immigrating to the U.S., and repeatedly against anti-lynching legislation. However, by 1954 he privately thought the Brown v. Board of Education decision was the right thing to do and in 1956 he didn’t sign the Southern Manifesto.

Rayburn’s Final Battle: The Rules Committee

On January 20, 1961, John F. Kennedy was inaugurated the 35th president of the United States, and although the Democrats had convincing majorities in the House and Senate, the Democratic Party was different sixty years ago than today, as a significant conservative wing existed among the Southern Democrats. Sam Rayburn had gotten his start all the way back in 1913, when Southern Democrats adhered to a Wilsonian progressivism, and this spirit had never left Rayburn, in truth he had gotten more progressive with age. The most troublesome figure for the liberal Democrats among the Southerners was Rules Committee chair Howard W. Smith of Virginia, who was one of the earliest Southern Democrats to oppose New Deal programs. He had used his perch as chair since 1955 to collaborate with Republicans to obstruct many of the planks of the Democratic Party. Rayburn was determined to give President Kennedy’s New Frontier programs a chance against the Conservative Coalition, so he proposed to expand the Rules Committee by three members, two Democrats and one Republican. Chairman Smith and Minority Leader Charles Halleck (R-Ind.) staunchly opposed this move, and Southern Democrats were divided on whether to side with Rayburn or Smith, both men for who they had tremendous respect. Rayburn got the public support of President Kennedy for this move and also got support from another Bay Stater he had a friendship with: former Speaker of the House Joe Martin. Despite having opposed previous measures to liberalize the Rules Committee to help Truman’s legislative proposals pass, Martin was of the belief that his fellow Bay Stater’s programs should be given a chance, and lent support to Rayburn’s move to expand, which won 22 Republican votes for the proposal, which passed narrowly 217-212 on January 31st. Most Texans had sided with Rayburn while all but one Virginia Democrat sided with Smith. This Rules Committee change helped some New Frontier legislation pass. Throughout the year, however, Rayburn seemed to slow down, with his friends observing that he was tired, ill, losing weight rapidly given a loss of appetite, and on two occasions in the summer he collapsed while presiding over the House (Martinez). He dismissed this as his lumbago acting up, but on September 27, 1961, Rayburn was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer that by this point had spread all over his body. He was dead in less than two months at 79 years old. Rayburn had by the time of his death beat the record for length of service and that of continuous service among his other achievements. His penchant for integrity was again revealed by the state of his finances after his death – he didn’t profit from his service at all as he had only $35,000 in the bank and owed $18,000. Rayburn’s lifetime MC-Index score was a 20%, with his progressivism being stronger in New Deal years than during the Wilson years.

References

Caro, R. Books: LBJ Had a Bright Side and a Dark Side. History News Network.

Retrieved from

https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/685

Champagne, A. & Ewing, F.F. Rayburn, Samuel Taliaferro (1882-1961). Texas State Historical Association.

Retrieved from

https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/rayburn-samuel-taliaferro

Eddington, M. (2006, February 25). Bennett backs off on ethics remarks. The Salt Lake Tribune.

Retrieved from

https://archive.sltrib.com/article.php?id=3545640&itype=NGPSID

Hill, R. (2014, November 16). ‘Mr. Speaker:’ Sam Rayburn of Texas. Knoxville Focus.

Retrieved from

https://knoxfocus.com/archives/mr-speaker-sam-rayburn-texas/

Rayburn Is Dead; Served 17 Years As House Speaker. (1961, November 17). The New York Times.

Retrieved from

https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/learning/general/onthisday/bday/0106.html

Shanks, A.G. (1968, March). Sam Rayburn in the Wilson Administrations, 1913-1921. East Texas Historical Journal, 6(1).

Retrieved from

https://scholarworks.sfasu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=&httpsredir=1&article=1147&context=ethj

Simkin, J. (1997). Sam Rayburn. Spartacus Educational.

Retrieved from

https://spartacus-educational.com/JFKrayburn.htm

Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn of Texas. U.S. House of Representatives.

Retrieved from

https://history.house.gov/Historical-Highlights/1851-1900/Speaker-of-the-House-Sam-Rayburn-of-Texas/

Incumbency Rates: A Correlation

I remember from long ago that Michael Moore offered up a critique of the American political system, with him criticizing the rate of retention of legislators. Thinking back to that, I was curious to see what incumbency rates were, and indeed overwhelmingly incumbents are renominated or reelected. I examined the House elections from 1918 to 2020 as these are the years easily available on the Wikipedia pages on these elections. It must be noted that these do not account for instances in which legislators were compelled to retire due to scandal, known unpopularity, or unfavorable redistricting. After viewing these pages and adding up loss of renomination and loss of reelection, I found that from 1918 to 1970, an average of 51 House incumbents lost renomination or reelection. From 1972 to present an average of 24 House incumbents have lost in an election year. Why have I made a distinction between 1918 to 1970 and 1972 to present? 1972 was the first election year the Federal Election Campaign Act was effective, the first modern law regulating campaign finance. The last law of any significance passed on this subject was the 1910 Federal Corrupt Practices Act, which was amended in 1911 and 1925. However, it was a weak law and the 1970 law replaced it.
Critics of campaign finance laws, including conservatives, libertarians, and most notably Minority Leader Mitch McConnell hold that not only do campaign finance laws run afoul of free speech but also serve to protect incumbents. Indeed, incumbency comes with numerous advantages on the Congressional level, including the franking privilege (sending free mail to constituents) and most of the time higher name recognition to start.

YearLost ElectionLost PrimaryTotal Losses
1918431659
1920531770
1922671380
1924291544
1926171330
192835944
1930451358
19328037117
1934412263
1936321850
1938701484
1940361046
1942462167
1944361248
1946501969
1948681482
195033538
195225934
195422628
195615621
195834539
196025529
1962211233
196445853
196641849
19689413
197013720
1972131326
197440848
197612315
197819524
198031536
1982291039
198416319
1986639
1988617
199015116
1992241640
199434438
199621122
1998617
2000729
20028715
2004718
200623225
200819322
201053457
2012271340
201413417
20168311
201830434
202014822
1918-70381351
1972-202019524
1972-200818522
2010-2024630

This data certainly provides strong correlative backing to this claim. Additionally, if we look at the aftermath of the decision Citizens United, the rate of incumbents who lost rose from an average of 22 from 1972 to 2008 to an average of 30 from 2010 to 2020. While others may offer up explanations as to why some of these years were more turbulent than others (The Great Depression, for instance), the fact stands that even with the huge outlier of 1932 removed from the pre-1972 calculations, the total average is still quite high at 48. Also, in the comparatively calmer post-1970 election years, after the often vilified Citizens United decision incumbents lost an average of 36% higher. The question thus stands to the reader, what do you think makes for better government, one in which more or less incumbents are sent packing?

Texas Legends #2: John Nance Garner

See the source image

Texas was admitted to the union in 1845, but the role of Texans in presidential administrations was compromised by their aligning with the Confederacy as well as the Republican dominance of the presidency from 1869 to 1933. Although Joseph Weldon Bailey led the House Democrats from 1897 to 1899, the first Texan to be Speaker of the House was John Nance “Cactus Jack” Garner (1868-1967). In 1893, Garner ran for county judge and was opposed by a young woman named Mariette Rheiner. He both won the race and her heart and they married in 1895, with her working as his secretary for the next 53 years. In 1898, Garner was elected to the State House and there he proved a such a strong supporter of the prickly pear cactus being the state flower that he from then on became known as “Cactus Jack”. In 1901, he voted to institute the state’s poll tax. The following year, he was elected to Congress representing the state’s 15th district. While there, Garner gained a progressive reputation and stood out as an opponent of Prohibition. However, he also voted for banning interracial relations in Washington D.C., prohibiting blacks from immigrating, and repeatedly voted against women’s suffrage. Although Garner often stayed quiet, he befriended practically everyone in Congress behind the scenes and gained knowledge of how both the House and Senate functioned, allowing his power to grow and by 1909 he had become Minority Whip. Garner was a foe of Prohibition and voted against the constitutional amendment. He and his friend House Speaker Nicholas Longworth (R-Ohio), also a foe of Prohibition, would set up a private office called the “Board of Education” where legislators who liked whiskey went to imbibe and discuss politics, which Garner thought of as his way to “strike a blow for liberty” (U.S. House). During his time in Congress, he mentored another Texan he saw great potential in, Sam Rayburn, who would become the longest-serving House speaker in American history.


During the 1920s, Garner regularly attacked Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon’s tax policies, regarding them as too favorable to the rich. He would be known during the Republican administrations as “a Jefferson/Jackson Democrat – egalitarian, rural, states’ rights oriented, and populist” (U.S. Senate). His combativeness with the Harding and Coolidge Administrations as well as all the friendships he’d accumulated resulted in his election as Minority Leader in 1929. Garner, however, wouldn’t be in the minority long. In 1930, Democrats took back Congress and Garner was elected Speaker, the first Texan in American history to hold the post. His reign was characterized initially by cooperation with President Hoover but then by battles with him for allocating even more power to the federal government to fight the Great Depression and simultaneously for more economy. Garner even accused the Hoover Administration of “socialism” during the 1932 campaign. Although he ran for the Democratic nomination and had locked up the California and Texas delegations, he gave them to Roosevelt and in exchange he offered him the vice presidency, which he accepted, to his later regret.

FDR and Garner initially had a cooperative relationship that worked rather well: Roosevelt made him his liaison to Congress, where he was critical in getting many Democrats behind the New Deal. Although a supporter of the First New Deal including measures addressing agriculture, banking and finance, and the Tennessee Valley, he still had reservations about the increased power of organized labor and the National Industrial Recovery Act. He also had condemned the 1936 sit-down strikes and the following year he backed Congressional resolutions condemning the strikes. Garner saw them as intrusions on property rights. In 1937, he broke with Roosevelt over his proposal for the “court-packing plan” and started to turn against New Deal expansions. Garner didn’t place the blame for what he saw as the Roosevelt Administration’s problems and increasing turn to the left on Roosevelt himself, rather his cadre of “brain trusters”, of whom he was deeply suspicious. Organized labor didn’t care for him, with CIO head John L. Lewis calling him a “labor-baiting, poker-playing, whisky-drinking, evil old man”, but Garner didn’t mind as he thought “the majority of the people will feel that anyone Lewis can’t control is all right” (TIME). On December 17, 1938, Garner met with Roosevelt to try to reconcile, but it was unsuccessful. By 1940, neither Roosevelt nor Garner were keen to work with each other anymore. When it was still in doubt that Roosevelt would run for a third term, he attempted to gain the nomination for president. Garner even that year floated the idea of passing an anti-lynching bill, which was odd as he had voted against the 1922 Dyer Anti-Lynching bill, but this was apparently little more than an effort to attract support for a presidential nomination among black voters. This didn’t work of course, especially not after Roosevelt announced he was running for reelection, and picked Secretary of Agriculture Henry A. Wallace Jr. as his replacement. After his term was over, he left Washington, vowing never to return, and indeed he never did. For the next 26 years he would live in his home town of Ulvade, Texas, with politicians visiting and calling him as an “elder statesman”. Garner in retrospect wished he had stayed Speaker of the House so he could check FDR in the way that Speaker Joe Cannon had checked Teddy Roosevelt. He was famously reported as having characterized the position of VP as not worth a “warm bucket of spit”, but Congressman O. Clark Fisher (D-Tex.), his biographer, stated that Garner told him that he had actually said “warm bucket of piss” and remarked that “those pantywaist writers wouldn’t print it the way I said it” (Holley).In 1948, he suffered the loss of his wife, who had succumbed after a six-year struggle with Parkinson’s disease. On November 22, 1963, President Kennedy called Garner to wish him a happy 95th birthday only hours before his assassination.


Garner died on November 7, 1967, mere weeks before his 99th birthday, despite his habitual cigar smoking and his regular consumption of whiskey. As he said, “I’m living a good Christian life. I don’t get drunk but once a day” (Dingus). His lifespan was such that he literally grew up in a log cabin and lived to see the rise of the hippie movement. Garner ultimately was a major power player in Washington who had a dual role in the Roosevelt Administration as a key backer and a key detractor. It is safe to say that without him, much of the first New Deal would not have likely made it through. FDR’s Postmaster General James Farley stated his belief that the vice president was “more responsible than anyone” for the New Deal’s implementation (Patenaude). Garner’s lifetime MC-Index score is an 18%, which is indicative of progressivism from 1903 to 1931, but it doesn’t reflect his positions as vice president.

References

Becoming the Board of Education. U.S. House of Representatives.

Retrieved from

https://history.house.gov/Blog/2018/June/6-18-boardofeducation/

Briscoe-Garner Museum – Biography. Briscoe Center for American History.

Retrieved from

https://www.cah.utexas.edu/museums/garner_bio.php

Dingus, A. (1996). John Nance Garner. Texas Monthly.

Retrieved from

https://www.texasmonthly.com/news-politics/john-nance-garner/

Historical Notes: Of Men & Cats. (1948, March 8). TIME Magazine.

Retrieved from

http://content.time.com/time/subscriber/article/0,33009,853243,00.html

Holley, J. (2014, July 26). “Cactus Jack” Garner was as prickly as his nickname. Houston Chronicle.

Retrieved from

https://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/columnists/native-texan/article/Cactus-Jack-Garner-was-as-prickly-as-his-5647879.php

John Nance Garner, 32nd Vice President (1933-1941). United States Senate.

Retrieved from

https://www.senate.gov/about/officers-staff/vice-president/VP_John_Garner.htm

Patenaude, L.V. Garner, John Nance (1868-1967). Texas State Historical Association.

Retrieved from

https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/garner-john-nance

Clarence Cannon: Master Parliamentarian and Budget Hawk

Clarence Cannon - Wikipedia

The state of Missouri has produced some interesting characters as a state, but its most lasting was Clarence Cannon (1879-1964), whose parliamentary knowledge of Congress was second to none and who served from 1923 to 1964.

Cannon started work in Washington for Speaker of the House Champ Clark, where he familiarized himself with legislative rules and procedure and in 1917 he became House parliamentarian. Although the Republicans won Congress in 1918, Cannon was so good at his job they retained him. By 1919 he had written a book on the subject, A Synopsis of the Procedure of the House. Cannon subsequently wrote Procedure in the House of Representatives (1920) and Cannon’s Precedents of the House of Representatives (1936).  So knowledgeable he was that he was the designated parliamentarian of every Democratic National Convention from 1920 to 1960. Clark lost reelection in 1920 and died only two days before his term was to end. Such a departure left the door open for Cannon to begin his political career. In 1922, he won back his old boss’s seat, ousting Republican Theodore Hukriede by 13 points. Cannon was a loyal Democrat and exceedingly popular with his constituents, but one who would not refrain from exercising independence when he felt it right, especially on matters of one of his specialties: the budget.

Although he supported a lot of the New Deal and actively defended public ownership of power generating facilities, Cannon was averse to high spending (at least outside of agriculture) and frequently backed budget cuts, whether presidents of either party wanted them or not. He secured his place of power in Washington when in 1941 he became the chair of the House Appropriations Committee, a post he would hold for all but four years of the rest of his life. In this post, Cannon even initially even blocked funding for the Manhattan Project as overly costly, until he was briefed on its merits, after which he approved. Cannon could also be pugnacious and got into conflicts with some members. In 1933, fellow Missouri Democrat Milton Romjue slapped Cannon in the face during an argument and he responded by slugging him, giving him a black eye. In 1945, he socked his Republican counterpart, John Taber of New York, during an argument in the bathroom. He didn’t fall short on rhetorical conflict either, in 1947 he lampooned Rep. Frank B. Keefe (R-Wis.) in a debate on the floor of the House, “Of all the ‘piddlin’ politicians that ever piddled ‘piddlin’ politics on this floor, my esteemed friend, the gentleman from Wisconsin, is the greatest piddler that ever piddled” (Masonry Today). In the early 1960s Cannon also got into a bitter feud with elderly Senator Carl Hayden (D-Ariz.) on matters of parliamentary procedure. He even applied his nature when writing to the former First Lady Jackie Kennedy, who in response to her 1964 letter thanking him for his work for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, stating that “I know the fight was not easy”, wrote “You say the fight was not easy, but on the contrary, we had cooperation from everyone. It was done practically by acclamation” (Masonry Today).  

On civil rights, Cannon had a mostly positive record. Although he voted against anti-lynching legislation in 1937 and 1940, he backed nearly all subsequent civil rights measures, including the Civil Rights Acts of 1957, 1960, and the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. Cannon also voted for Powell Amendments that would have cut off education funding for segregated schools, even though he was from a state that until Brown v. Board of Education (1954) had de jure segregated schools.

Cannon proved a thorn in the side of the Eisenhower Administration with his aversion to increased foreign aid spending and having as his right-hand on the matter Otto Passman, a Louisiana Democrat who was a known foe of most foreign aid measures and had even opposed the Marshall Plan. Despite his increasingly frequent dissents in later years and many sources labeling him a “conservative”, he still proved a strong supporter of certain New Deal fundamentals, including a strong minimum wage and public power.  Also, his MC-Index life score is a 27%, with his highest score being achieved in the 86th Congress, when he scored a 55%. In 1962, although Cannon had supported much of President Kennedy’s New Frontier legislation, he denounced the 87th Congress as the first hundred-billion-dollar Congress to the consternation of the Democratic leadership. He also proved a staunch opponent of funding NASA, denouncing it as a “moondoggle” (Masonry Today). Although Cannon had planned to run for reelection in 1964, his health couldn’t hold out and on May 11th he suffered nausea and was diagnosed in the hospital with heart failure. He died the next day at the age of 85. Such an institution Cannon was at the end of his career, that President Lyndon B. Johnson and former President Harry S. Truman attended his funeral.

References

Clarence Andrew Cannon Passes Away. Masonry Today.

Retrieved from

http://www.masonrytoday.com/index.php?new_month=5&new_day=12&new_year=2020

Henry, C. The Man Who Brought Two Presidents to Town. Elsberry Historical.

Retrieved from

http://elsberryhistorical.org/items/show/163

THE ECONOMY: Cut that BUDGET! (1957, March 4). TIME Magazine.

Retrieved from

http://content.time.com/time/subscriber/article/0,33009,862441-1,00.html

The Father of Mother’s Day was a Bigoted Demagogue

James Thomas Heflin - Wikipedia

James Thomas “Cotton Tom” Heflin (1869-1951) had two things he would say he was proud of during his political career: founding Mother’s Day and shooting a black man in an altercation. This is the story of the man who made Mother’s Day possible but also rose and fell in politics through his practice of bigotry.

The son of a slaveowner, he was commonly known as “Cotton Tom”, as one of his priorities was keeping the price of cotton high. Another was white supremacy. Such staunch feelings were not necessarily endemic to members of the Heflin family: his uncle, Robert Stell Heflin, had been a Radical Republican and his nephew, Howell Heflin, had a history of supporting civil rights before and during his career in the Senate.

Heflin’s rise to prominence began in 1901 when as a state legislator he participated in the Alabama constitutional convention. He successfully argued for excluding blacks from voting, stating, “…God almighty intended the negro to be the servant of the white man” (Feldman, 77). Heflin, a man who regarded himself as a staunch advocate for poor whites, and others at the constitutional convention also explicitly endorsed the idea that no individual black person could be equal or better than any individual white person. He simultaneously thought of himself as a friend of black people who accepted the place he wanted them to occupy in Southern society. As Secretary of State of Alabama, Heflin had endorsed the convict leasing system, which sold black prisoners (who were sometimes falsely convicted) to farmers and industrialists for the duration of their sentence and in some cases suffered worse working conditions than American slavery. In 1904, he was elected to the House, where he stood for expanding rural mail routes and stronger railroad regulation. In 1908, Heflin tried to introduce segregation to streetcars in Washington D.C., a proposal which was defeated. He received death threats over his proposal and was authorized to carry a gun for self-protection. In the wake of this controversy he got into a scuffle with Lewis Lundy, a black man who had confronted him on a streetcar. Accounts differ as to circumstances, but apparently Heflin, who was with Rep. Edwin Ellerbe (D-S.C.), saw Lundy cursing and drinking whiskey and asked him to stop. After Lundy shouted insults at him, the scuffle broke out, with Heflin throwing him out onto the platform of the St. James Hotel stop and shooting at him after he saw Lundy reach into his pocket for what he thought was a razor. He received a head wound, the cause which may have been a bullet wound, Heflin pistol-whipping him, or the impact from being thrown out of the streetcar. Heflin also managed to accidentally shoot a white bystander, Thomas McCreary, when the bullet ricocheted into his leg. Although he was indicted for assault with a deadly weapon, Heflin got the charges dropped after he paid McCreary’s hospital expenses and Lundy didn’t show up to testify against him. A lawsuit filed by Lundy appeared to go nowhere. Heflin thought himself justified, stating “Under the circumstances there was nothing more for me to do, I am glad to say I have not yet reached the point where I will see a Negro, or a white man either, take a drink in the presence of a lady without saying something to him. I did only what any other gentleman placed in similar circumstances would have done” (Langeveld). Others, including editorial writers from Southern newspapers, thought he had through his conduct unnecessarily escalated the situation.

On May 10, 1913, Heflin introduced his most lasting achievement in House Resolution 103, which requested the donning of white carnations by federal and elected officials to honor mothers. He stated that mothers are “the greatest source of our country’s strength and inspiration” (U.S. House). The following year, in response to the resolution’s popularity, he introduced as a law with Senator Morris Sheppard (D-Tex.) that the second Sunday of May be observed as Mother’s Day and requesting American flags be displayed in government buildings, homes, and offices “as a public expression of our love and reverence for the mothers of our country” (U.S. House). After the legislation quickly passed, President Wilson signed the law. This is Heflin’s, and Senator Morris Sheppard’s, mark on every year in the United States. Despite Heflin’s successful advocacy for Mother’s Day, he voted against women’s suffrage, since he, as did many other Southern whites, had no interest in the U.S. officially granting suffrage to black women and believed the woman’s place was in the home. He was outright contemptuous of his Alabama colleague, Richmond Hobson, for endorsing women’s suffrage, mockingly suggesting he don a bonnet and a dress (Watson). Heflin was also a supporter of Prohibition, but voted against the Prohibition Amendment, since, perhaps thinking about the specter of federal intervention on the South’s Jim Crow policies, he chose to take a state’s rights position. He regularly indulged in conspiracy theories and wild accusations, including one in September 1914 that 13-14 members of the House were influenced in their votes by a German slush fund, an accusation an investigation in October 1917 determined to be false (Langeveld). In 1920, Alabama’s voters saw fit to elect him to the Senate to replace the late John H. Bankhead.

As a senator, he was an economic progressive, opposing the tax policies of the Harding and Coolidge Administrations and supporting federal intervention for relief of farmers. Heflin also continued his reputation as one of the staunchest racists on Capitol Hill, publicly protesting New York’s legalization of interracial marriage. When New York Senator Royal Copeland reacted angrily to Heflin, Heflin responded that if he ever traveled to Alabama for a presidential campaign that the people would lynch him. He also had a history of engaging in anti-Catholic rhetoric and in 1928, he refused to back the candidacy of Democrat Al Smith, stating “Alabama isn’t going for Al Smith. Neither is any other southern state, except possibly Louisiana. He is a Tammanyite, wringing wet and a Roman Catholic. I would vote against him for all three reasons” (Langeveld). Heflin endorsed Republican Herbert Hoover for supporting Prohibition and not being a Catholic, and indeed Alabama voters seemed to have a difficult time balancing their historic loyalty to the Democratic Party and their feelings on Catholics, and Smith only won the state by less than three points. By contrast, in 1924, Democratic nominee John W. Davis had won the state by over 40 points. As it turned out, Heflin’s electoral career did come to an end over prejudice, that is, his anti-Catholic prejudice. As he went on a speaking tour speaking against Smith during the 1928 campaign he was pelted with eggs, stones, and a quart bottle. Heflin railed against the Smith campaign that it was a Catholic conspiracy, “Wake up, Americans! Gird your loins for political battle, the like of which you here not seen in all the tide of time in this country. Get ready for this battle. The Roman Catholics of every country on the earth are backing his campaign. Already they are spending money in the South buying up newspapers, seeking to control the vehicles that carry the news to the people. They are sending writers down there from New York and other places to misrepresent and slander our State, all this to build a foundation on which to work for Al Smith for President. The Roman Catholic edict has gone forth in secret articles, ‘Al Smith is to be made President.’ ” (Bailey). He was punished by Democratic primary voters for his disloyalty in 1930 by turning him out in favor of John H. Bankhead II by about 50,000 votes. Heflin ran as an Independent and blustered about a Papal conspiracy within the Democratic Party to defeat him and the press as well as many political figures in Alabama denounced his antics. Grover Cleveland Hall wrote in the Montgomery Advertiser that he was a “bully by nature, a mountebank by instinct, a Senator by choice…Thus this preposterous blob excites our pity if not our respect, and we leave him to his conscience in order that he may be entirely alone and meditate over the life of a charlatan whose personal instinct and personal vanity are always of paramount concern to him” (Langeveld). Heflin tried to appeal his loss to the Senate in 1932, claiming massive voter fraud and delivering a five hour speech in which he again capitalized on racial prejudice, but the Senate easily dismissed his claim. His lifetime MC-Index score stands at a 9%. That year, he actively campaigned for Franklin D. Roosevelt and proved a supporter of the New Deal. As a reward for his support, Heflin was appointed special representative for the Federal Housing Administration. He unsuccessfully ran for his old House seat in 1934 and in 1937, he tried again to be elected to the Senate, but lost to Congressman Lister Hill. That same year, KKK Grand Wizard Hiram Wesley Evans publicly revealed that Heflin had joined the organization in the late 1920s. His time in electoral politics had come to an end.

In 1948, Heflin opted to stick with the Democratic Party rather than endorse the Dixiecrat candidate Strom Thurmond. Apparently a candidate being Catholic was more offensive to the staunch bigot than a candidate who supported civil rights! Then again, Republican Thomas Dewey was also a supporter of civil rights, having signed an anti-discrimination bill as New York’s governor, so Heflin may have been thinking that Jim Crow might have a better chance with Southern Democrats continuing to have a say even with a pro-civil rights Democratic president. He suffered dementia in his final years, which most notably manifested in a public incident when he tried to board a bus for Washington D.C. wearing a bathrobe. Heflin died on April 22, 1951.

“Cotton Tom” Heflin represented a different age in politics, but even in that age he stood out as particularly egregious in his bigoted demagoguery, and even Alabama voters who strongly backed Jim Crow tired of his antics. Yet, few people know that he more than any other politician is credited for the creation of Mother’s Day.

References

Again, Heflin. (1930, February 17). TIME Magazine.

Bailey, G. (2017, November 28). Worse than Roy Moore? History News Network.

Retrieved from

https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/167572

Feldman, G. (2004). The disenfranchisement myth: poor whites and suffrage restriction in Alabama. Athens, GA: The University of Georgia Press.

Langeveld, D. (2013, August 9). Thomas Heflin: even bad men love their mommas. The Downfall Dictionary.

Retrieved from

https://downfalldictionary.blogspot.com/2013/08/thomas-heflin-even-bad-men-love-their.html

Rice, A.S. (2014). The Ku Klux Klan in American politics. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. 

The Election Case of J. Thomas Heflin v. John H. Bankhead II of Alabama (1932). U.S. Senate.

Retrieved from

https://www.senate.gov/about/origins-foundations/electing-appointing-senators/contested-senate-elections/114Heflin_Bankhead.htm

The First National Celebration of Mother’s Day. U.S. House of Representatives.

Retrieved from

https://history.house.gov/Historical-Highlights/1901-1950/The-first-national-celebration-of-Mother-s-Day/

Watson, E.L. James Thomas Heflin. Encyclopedia of Alabama.

Retrieved from

http://www.encyclopediaofalabama.org/article/h-2952

Americans for Constitutional Action: The Forgotten Conservative Interest Group

ADM Ben Moreell
Admiral Ben Moreell, First chairman of Americans for Constitutional Action.

Although the 1950s often get looked back on with some reverence by conservatives for being a relatively calmer and more “family friendly” time than the decades that followed, it was a time of some disappointment for them. President Eisenhower was a moderate, the GOP was not nearly as gung-ho against New Deal measures as they were when Truman was president, and Southern Democrats too were proving less conservative than during the Truman years as well. On June 27, 1958, at the behest of a group of conservative senators, a new organization, Americans for Constitutional Action (ACA), was born to elect more constitutional conservatives. This was the conservative answer to Americans for Democratic Action, a liberal group founded in 1946 dedicated to preserving and expanding the New Deal. As I have written about before, the 1958 election proved calamitous for Republicans, with them losing thirteen seats, all to liberal Democrats. Democrats also gained two Senate seats with the admission of Alaska that year and in two cases retiring Republicans were replaced with more liberal ones. This set the stage for the politics of the 1960s.

ACA’s Mission

The ACA issued seven guidelines for which it based its index to judge members of Congress. These were, “For safeguarding the God-given dignity of the individual and promoting sound economic growth by strengthening constitutional government; for sound money and against inflation; for the private competitive market and against government interference; for local self-government and against central government intervention; for private ownership and against Government ownership; for individual liberty and against coercion; for National sovereignty” (Congressional Record). They also aimed to strengthen the Conservative Coalition, made up of Republicans and Southern Democrats. 

The ACA’s Start

Under the leadership of retired Admiral Ben Moreell, founder and former head of the Seabees construction battalions and chair of Jones & Laughlin Steel Co., this organization lobbied for these principles and for electing legislators of both parties who would do so. People who were on the organization’s Board of Trustees included former President Herbert Hoover, former Secretary of the Navy Charles Edison (yes, a son of Thomas!), Dwight Eisenhower’s older brother Edgar, John Wayne, and former Congressman Howard Buffett (Warren’s father). In 1960, they published their first ACA-Index, which covered for the Senate 77 votes from 1955-1959 and for the House 40 votes from 1957-1959. These were intended to influence conservatives for the 1960 election. This publication got some publicity when General Edwin A. Walker, under his mandatory “Pro-Blue” anti-communist program, got in trouble for calling former President Truman, Eleanor Roosevelt, and former Secretary of State Dean Acheson “definitely pink” in print, promoting conservative literature and the ACA-Index to troops under his command and telling them and their families to consult it before voting, a violation of the Hatch Act. He would resign the army after being admonished, being the only general to do so in the 20th century. The ACA was fearless in its selection of votes: there were years in which no senator would get a 100% because their standards were so high and they didn’t seem to care who voted for or against their position. They broadly opposed the New Frontier, the Great Society, foreign aid, farm subsidies, raising the debt limit, and major civil rights legislation. However, chair Moreell made it clear that they didn’t expect perfection: when the organization honored Congressman Bob Dole of Kansas with their Distinguished Service Award on May 25, 1965, Moreell stated, “The acceptance of this award does not mean you are in complete agreement with all of the measures advocated by ACA nor does it imply any commitment to support those measures in the future. ACA will never impugn the motives or question the probity of those who do not agree with our views” (Americans for Constitutional Action).

Issues They Considered And Didn’t

Americans for Constitutional Action had some interesting inclusions and exclusions for what they graded. During the 1950s they counted zero votes on final passage for mutual security bills while ADA consistently counted them. ACA counted some specific measures involving foreign aid and amendments increasing foreign aid though. They also didn’t count federal aid for education during the Eisenhower years, possibly because the issue of desegregation often got tied to them, resulting in a Southern Democrat voting bloc against. Yet, other measures regarding education they did count. For the Senate, they almost never counted the invoking of cloture to end debate and even declined to do so when they were the only Senate votes on the proposal to end the “right to work” provisions of the Taft-Hartley Act during the Great Society Congress. One of the most notable exclusions I’ve seen was the entire issue of abortion. ADA and ACU both counted abortion as an issue, but ACA repeatedly declined to do so. Maybe this was seen as a Catholic issue for them (as it is often seen abroad) or they failed to reach a consensus on whether they thought abortion ought to be seen as a matter government should be involved in. They were also late on covering proposals to limit the reach of the Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration, not opting to count it until 1975, whereas ACU started counting in 1972. The ACA system I think in many ways was a better one than both ADA and ACU. They counted each issue as a point (as opposed to double-counting most important ones), didn’t count absences against people, often were more comprehensive in their vote selection than either ACU or ADA, sometimes they counted some lower profile economic issues, and they were most insistent on coming out against subsidies and bailouts. They also far more regularly counted matters such as budget cuts than ADA did and were less heavy on social issues. Chairman Moreell ultimately hoped through its endorsements and active support for conservative candidates as well as these ratings to make the two parties ideologically responsible: Republicans being the solidly conservative party and the Democrats being the solidly liberal party.

The Slow Decline of ACA

The beginning of the fall of Americans for Constitutional Action came with the landslide victory of President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964. After that election, another conservative organization was founded, the American Conservative Union. This group had the backing of National Review founder William F. Buckley Jr. and several former and current representatives. However, the ACU’s first year of rating Congress was 1971, so the ACA had the conservative monopoly so to speak on this matter until then. In time the ACU would get more attention and more prominence and crowd out the ACA, particularly with people like Buckley at the helm. In 1973, Moreell, now a man of eighty-one and in increasingly poor health, retired from the ACA. However, as late as 1980 it still attracted former members of Congress to its Board of Trustees, including H.R. Gross (R-Iowa), Gordon Scherer (R-Ohio), Al Cederberg (R-Mich.), Ed Lee Gossett (D-Tex.), Alton Lennon (D-N.C.), and O. Clark Fisher (D-Tex.). They continued to exist during the 1980s but sometime in the decade went defunct: the American Conservative Union had won the battle of influence. The ACA was also, unlike ACU, uncomfortably close to segregationists during its time. While the organization did have some people who voted for civil rights legislation on its Board of Trustees such as Charles B. Hoeven of Iowa and Katharine St. George and John Pillion of New York, it also had dyed-in-the-wool segregationists, the worst among them being a man who wasn’t even a member of Congress: ACA Assistant Director John J. Synon. Synon was one of the major lobbyists against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, called for closing all public schools and reverting to private schools in response to desegregation, and actively campaigned for George Wallace in 1968. Author William P. Hustwit wrote of him, “Calling someone like Synon a segregationist would be kind. He distributed works of scientific racism through the Patrick Henry Press and always took the most radical stances against civil rights” (125). The ACA seemed to ease up a bit on civil rights by the 1970s, but still counted issues such as busing and affirmative action. Critics also tried to tie the organization with the conspiratorial John Birch Society (JBS), and while ACA denied being supportive of the JBS, they had at least two members of the Board of Trustees who were also members of the John Birch Society: Howard Buffett and retired General Bonner Fellers. The ACU seems to have constituted as an organization a decisive break with the John Birch Society as well as the segregationist elements of the Conservative Coalition, although Southern Democrats did score rather high during the 1970s by their standards as well. The American Conservative Union today is the most significant and oldest conservative organization that issues ratings of members of Congress, but Americans for Constitutional Action was the first.

Sadly, their ratings are not readily available like Americans for Democratic Action’s or American Conservative Union’s are as no organization maintains a website with the ACA-Index. Indeed, one must go to specific university libraries to get access to their publications. It is an ongoing project of mine to reveal ACA-Indexes and discover in as full of detail as possible what the ACA used to judge senators and representatives. I have at my disposal information on what the ACA scores were and even how many votes were counted, and on this basis I try to ascertain what collection of votes produce these scores. I have had far greater success with the House and the Senate: I have the full record on what votes ACA counted to judge representatives from 1957 to 1978. For the Senate, I only have 1961, 1962, 1966, 1968, 1969, 1970, and 1974. Hopefully I will be able, in time, to bring this to completion.

References

Adm. Ben Moreell Dies. (1978, August 1). The Washington Post.

Retrieved from

https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/local/1978/08/01/adm-ben-moreel-dies/4372b390-c042-40ad-b23c-56eef4f78f07/

Charnock, E.J. (2020). The rise of political action committees: Interest group electioneering and the transformation of American politics. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Extension of Remarks of Hon. Bruce Alger of Texas. (1963, June 3). Congressional Record.

Retrieved from

Hustwit, W.P. (2013). James J. Kilpatrick: Salesman for segregation. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press.

Peppard, A. (2018, November 19). Before gunning for JFK, Oswald targeted ex-Gen. Edwin A. Walker and missed. Dallas News.

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News Release. (1965, May 26). Americans for Constitutional Action.

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