William E. Mason: The Senate’s “First Insurgent”

A rather odd and yet compelling figure in the history of Illinois politics was in Republican William Ernest Mason (1850-1921), who sporadically from 1887 to 1921 was a presence in Congress and made his biggest splash in the Senate.

Elected to Congress in the 1886 midterms, Mason was at this time a conservative Republican. He did deliver in 1890 a speech in favor of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, holding that, “trusts have made products cheaper, have reduced prices; but if the price of oil, for instance, were reduced to one cent a barrel, it would not right the wrong done to people of this country by the trusts which have destroyed legitimate competition and driven honest men from legitimate business enterprise” (Congressional Record). Funny enough, due to his mustache and rotund build, he was on one occasion mistaken for two presidents. Mason was mistaken for President Cleveland on one occasion by a crowd who cheered him, and people would also mistake him for William Howard Taft during his presidency (The Lyceum News).

Senator Mason: A Surprise

With the election of William McKinley president, Illinois had voted Republican, and the Senate Republicans voted to elect one of their own in Mason; he had delivered some impressive speeches in the 1896 campaign against Democratic and Populist candidate William Jennings Bryan, and he stood independent of the Chicago Lorimer machine. However, it was in the Senate that he would become known as “the first insurgent”.

Mason’s voting record in his first two years in the Senate proved a substantial drop-off in conservatism from his four years in the House, and this was especially apparent on foreign policy. He supported the Cuban revolt against Spain and pushed for US intervention despite the McKinley Administration’s efforts to prevent war. Although Mason under public pressure voted for the Treaty of Paris in 1898 in which the US annexed the Philippines, he supported the people being able to choose their own government, thus US control would be, per Mason’s preference, quite light. This was reflected in his proposing a resolution in 1899 stating, “that the Government of the United States of America will not attempt to govern the people of any other country in the world without the consent of the people themselves, or subject them by force to our dominion against their will” (Prabook). That year, Mason delivered a speech before Congress advocating self-governance for the Philippines. He held, “You cannot govern the Philippine Islands without taxing them. You have not yet their consent to tax them. You propose again to tax them without representation. Look out for tea parties. Those semisocial functions are liable to occur, for Yankee Doodle and the Star-Spangled Banner have been heard in the Archipelago” (Mason). He also voted against the proposed Olney-Pauncefote Treaty on arbitration, negotiated by the Cleveland Administration and supported by President McKinley, which was opposed by many Irish Americans over Britain’s treatment of Ireland, and Mason was sympathetic. After all, Chicago was home to many Irish immigrants. His record on foreign policy would be consistently in opposition to the British; another time in which he clashed with them was in his support on May 29, 1900, of a resolution calling for diplomatic intervention by the US over the Second Boer War. Although Mason favored party doctrine with certain questions such as currency and tariffs, he voted on June 11, 1902, to advance a constitutional amendment for direct election of senators and voted to consider legislation strengthening anti-trust laws on February 28, 1903.

Mason’s butting heads with the McKinley and Roosevelt Administrations on foreign policy came at a tremendous cost. By 1901, his odds for reelection were long as he was highly unpopular in the Republican Party given his “insurgent” views on US foreign policy, and he chose not to run for reelection in 1903. In the meantime, Mason practiced law in Chicago and in 1910 published John, the Unafraid, a religious novel expressing his personal convictions (Prabook).

Mason’s Return

Although President Woodrow Wilson won reelection in 1916, one state he lost was Illinois, and did so by almost ten points. Republicans won four seats in the House from the state, including the election of Mason as one of its at-large representatives. He was a critic of Wilson and once again out of his opposition to Britain was one of the fifty representatives to vote against American entry into World War I. Mason’s opposition to American entry plus his opposition to the draft prompted Senator Tom Heflin (D-Ala.), a staunch Wilson supporter and bigoted blowhard, to propose an investigation into him (Prabook). Mason also cast some conservative votes, namely against an income tax bill regarding Washington D.C., in support of bonuses for navy workers for performance, against increasing funds for seed distribution, and raising the tariff on tungsten. Although the Versailles Treaty didn’t get a vote in the House, Mason was outspoken against it. However, he was also against the use of stopwatches for performance and opposed the Esch-Cummins Act, returning the railroads to private control, as he and other critics saw the legislation as overly favorable to business as opposed to labor. He also, consistent with his critical approach to the British, made an appeal for Irish independence. Mason didn’t live long through the Harding Administration, dying on June 16, 1921. His daughter, Winnifred Huck, was elected to serve the remainder of his term as the first woman to ever represent Illinois in the House.


Congressional Record, 51st Congress, 1st session, House, June 20, 1890, p. 4100.

Mason, W.E. (1899, January 10). Speech of Hon. Wm. E. Mason, of Illinois, in the Senate of the United States. Hathi Trust Digital Library.

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Resembles Taft – Senator Wm. E. Mason Often Mistaken for President. (1911, November). The Lyceum News, 1(10), p. 3.

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William Ernest Mason. Prabook.

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Great Conservatives from American History #9: W. Chapman Revercomb

From 1895 to 1933, Republicans were the dominant party in West Virginia politics. The shift had come about from the economic depression during the Cleveland Administration. It would take another depression to swing things back to the Democrats, and in 1932 H. Guy Kump was elected governor while Matthew Neely, who had been elected once again to the Senate in 1930. Both men created their own machines to dominate West Virginia politics, with Kump’s state machine being more conservative while Neely’s federal patronage machine was populist and liberal. This resulted in a conflict in the Democratic Party of the time and there was a figure who could come in and capitalize on party divisions: William Chapman Revercomb (1895-1979).

Revercomb had unsuccessfully run for governor in 1936, but 1942 provided a unique opportunity for him. Neely had resigned his Senate seat after being elected governor of West Virginia. He had sought the post with the intention of destroying Kump’s machine and was successful. However, Neely liked being a senator and given his stature thought that returning would be an easy matter. Revercomb’s strong candidacy, plus an unfavorable midterm environment for Democrats given that World War II wasn’t going well for the United States at that point, resulted in him defeating Neely by over ten points.

First Term

Chapman Revercomb contrasted vastly from Neely in his first term. He was solidly conservative on domestic issues and extreme on foreign policy. On November 4, 1943, Revercomb proposed an amendment to the resolution calling for the establishment of a United Nations that any participation by the United States in an international organization should be by treaty only, which was rejected. In 1945, he was one of seven senators to vote against the UN Participation Act. He would reflect on this vote thirty years later and regard himself as justified as the UN could commit troops without consulting nations at the time, a provision that was changed (Gwin).

During the Republican 80th Congress he was a poster child for the American left about what was terrible about the Congress. Revercomb antagonized organized labor by voting for the Taft-Hartley Act and he voted against both Greek-Turkish Aid and the Marshall Plan, hallmark legislation of Truman’s postwar anti-communist approach. He was one of only three senators, with Hugh Butler (R-Neb.) and Pappy O’Daniel (D-Tex.) being the others, who ADA scored zero in both 1947 and 1948. What Revercomb probably caught the most flak for was his approach to displaced persons.

Revercomb and the Displaced Persons Controversy

World War II produced many refugees who were without a home or wouldn’t or couldn’t go back, and the United States was one of numerous nations looking to take said refugees in. During the 80th Congress two more expansive plans were proposed, including by the Truman Administration, the Stratton (R-Ill.) bill, and the Fellows (R-Me.) bill. All were more expansive than what Revercomb had in mind. He clashed not only with President Truman on this matter, but also Republican presidential nominee Thomas E. Dewey, who requested a more liberalized bill. His bill called for the admissions of 100,000 (a halving of the original number) displaced persons, and restricting access to those who had registered in camps by December 22, 1945 (Friman, 9). This served to considerably impact downwards the number of Jews who be admitted. Revercomb suspected that a lot of the new refugees would subscribe to subversive left-wing doctrines. He wrote in his report that he submitted to the Republican Steering Committee in December 1946, “Many of those who seek entrance into this country have little concept of our form of government. Many of them come from lands where Communism had its first growth and dominates the political thought and philosophy of the people. Certainly it would be a tragic blunder to bring into our midst those imbued with a communistic line of thought when one of the most important tasks of this government today is to combat and eradicate Communism from this country” (Yad Vashem, 1-2). This approach was condemned as an insult to the people who had suffered the worst of World War II. The final legislation in 1948 was the Revercomb bill with an alteration to expand it back to 200,000 but the additional numbers counted against future national origins quotas. However, President Truman’s commissioners for displaced persons were so loose in their interpretation of the law it was as if the Revercomb legislation didn’t exist (Yad Vashem, 3). Although Senator Pat McCarran (D-Nev.) cracked down on this loose interpretation, legislation passed in June 1950 to liberalize the displaced persons legislation, ending the controversy.

Dewey Proves No Help

As the Republican nominee, Thomas E. Dewey was distinctly a representative of the moderate wing of the party and didn’t care for Revercomb or people like him in the GOP. When Dewey campaigned in West Virginia, he pointedly did not endorse Revercomb, who faced Neely again for reelection, and snubbed him, thinking that he had the commanding lead to do such things. Both Dewey and Revercomb lost that year. Although both men lost reelection by double digits, Revercomb ironically ran slightly ahead of Dewey.

Attempted Comeback: 1952

West Virginia was a tough cookie for Republicans in the 1950s…its entire delegation was Democratic after the 1948 midterms as was the state’s governor. Revercomb embraced an anti-Communist campaign to take on incumbent Senator Harley Kilgore. He condemned his support for sharing nuclear information with the USSR right after the dropping of the atomic bomb and accused him of opposing the Internal Security Act of 1950 (communist registration) (Smith). On the latter, Kilgore had voted for the initial legislation only to vote against the conference report and then vote against overriding President Truman’s veto. Kilgore struck back that unlike Revercomb, he had voted for Greek-Turkish Aid and the Marshall Plan to combat communism internationally. Kilgore’s argument swayed the voters of West Virginia, and this was a state that even Dwight Eisenhower lost. Ironically, Revercomb’s campaigning appears to have backfired (Smith). However, this was not the end for him.

Revercomb’s Comeback

In 1956, Senator Kilgore, who had been in decline for some time, died of a cerebral hemorrhage. The Democrats messed up in their primary and picked the unpopular outgoing Governor William Marland. Unlike Dewey had in 1948, President Eisenhower endorsed Revercomb for a comeback. That year was excellent for the Republican Party in the state, and not only did Eisenhower win the state, but Republican Cecil Underwood was also elected governor, Republicans Arch Moore and Will E. Neal were elected to House, and Revercomb was elected to the Senate.

In his second term, he proved considerably less conservative than in his first. Although Revercomb remained an opponent of public housing, supportive of anti-subversive legislation, and an opponent of foreign aid, he supported increasing benefits for the elderly and disabled under the Social Security Act, federal aid to education, and the Area Redevelopment Act. He also had an interesting record on civil rights. Although he opposed the Anderson-Aiken Amendment which eliminated 14th Amendment implementation in the Civil Rights Act of 1957, he supported the O’Mahoney-Kefauver-Church Amendment, which was an expansive jury trial amendment for contempt cases to the act that served to weaken the bill. Revercomb’s justification for backing this provision was that organized labor contempt cases would also be subjected to jury trial. His ADA scores in 1957 and 1958 respectively were 25 and 45, a substantive departure from his arch-conservative reputation in his first term. He was joined in 1958 by John D. Hoblitzell, an appointment of Governor Underwood after Matthew Neely died of cancer.

Despite Revercomb’s recent moderation, an economic recession hit the United States in 1958 and West Virginia got it particularly hard. To compound matters, Democrats picked two top tier candidates to run for the Senate: Congressman Robert Byrd and former Congressman Jennings Randolph, who campaigned as a team. Byrd was Revercomb’s opponent, and he was a former KKK organizer who was considerably less favorable to civil rights. Although Revercomb capitalized on Byrd’s past in the KKK, he ignored the issue and the economy proved the overriding factor, with both Revercomb and Hoblitzell being trounced. This began an over fifty-year draught of Republican representation for the state in the Senate. Although Arch Moore, a Republican success story who had by this time served as governor, came within striking distance of defeating Jennings Randolph in 1978, the state’s Democratic voting habits kept up. The Democrats being the dominant party in the state would not start to decline until the 2000 election, when George W. Bush won the state and Moore’s daughter, Shelley Moore Capito, was elected to Congress.

Revercomb tried one more time for public office, running for the gubernatorial nomination in 1960 on a platform of eliminating the sales tax, but Governor Underwood’s endorsement of Harold Neely, a younger man who had served in a minor role in his administration, was decisive. Neely lost and Underwood, who had been 34 when first elected governor, would not get elected to the post again until 1996. Revercomb continued the practice of law but a stroke that compromised his sight and hearing forced his retirement in 1968. Despite no longer practicing law, Revercomb continued to go down to his office to keep up correspondence, a practice he would maintain until his death.

In 1975, the Charleston Daily Mail asked him about the issues of the day, and he called for people to clamp down on personal spending to combat inflation. He also commented on the Kanawha County textbook controversy which involved introducing the concepts of multiculturalism and egalitarianism as well as including material that some parents found blasphemous. The KKK also decided to insert itself into the controversy, and Revercomb stated, “Now on this business of the Kanawha County books, and the KKK coming into the area – there are things in some of those books that I wouldn’t have put in them, but I think they’ve gone about it in the wrong way. I don’t think a thing of the KKK, never had anything to do with it in any way, shape or form. And it is not a step in the right direction” (Gwin). The following year, he suffered another stroke, further compromising his health. Revercomb died of pneumonia on October 6, 1979.

Revercomb makes the list because of his commitment to preserving American sovereignty, his anti-communism, and his generally conservative domestic record.


American Immigration Policy 1945-1950. Yad Vashem.

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Friman, H.R. (2019, October). An “Untrammeled Right”? The McCarran Immigration Subcommittee and the Origins of Presidential Authority to Suspend and Restrict Alien Entry Under §1182(f). Political Science Faculty Research and Publications, 76.

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Gwin, A. (1975, February 5). Ex-Senator Chapman Revercomb: We’re Living Too High. Charleston Daily Mail.

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Hill, R. Chapman Revercomb of West Virginia. The Knoxville Focus.

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Little, H. (1979, October 7). Ex-Senator Revercomb Dead at 84. The Associated Press.

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Smith, J.H. (2007). Red-Baiting Senator Harley Kilgore in the Election of 1952: The Limits of McCarthyism during the Second Red Scare. West Virginia History: A Journal of Regional Studies New Series, 1(1).

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The Congress: Surprising Defeat. (1957, August 12). Time Magazine.

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Boss Crump: “The Man” in Memphis…and Tennessee

When the voters of Memphis elected Police and Fire Commissioner Edward Hull Crump (1874-1954) mayor in 1909, they probably didn’t realize that they were in for him being the dominant force in the city for the rest of his life and a dominant force in Tennessee for much of that time. Crump had been highly effective in his previous role, especially in making the city’s fire department efficient. As a Memphis work song went, “The cotton’s up and the river’s down, and Mr. Ed Crump – he runs this town” (Crandlemere, 11).

Crump as mayor, circa 1915.

Crump’s interests in Memphis politics had apparently begun from when he could vote, and in 1905 he ran for his first elective office for a post on the Lower Legislative Council of the Board of Public Works. He was at the start of his career a reformer, and after his election to the Upper Legislative Council as Police and Fire Commissioner, he used his post to lead a raid on illegal gambling. This was an act that Crump wouldn’t repeat, as he did it for publicity and he would come to make arrangements with criminal establishments in his next role: mayor. In 1909, Crump was elected mayor and had illicit establishments pay his machine protection money. His enforcement of Prohibition, which was adopted in the state in 1909, was non-existent. The following year, his friend and partner in politics, Kenneth McKellar, was elected to the House. In 1911, Crump initially sought to consolidate power by integrating the mayor’s and sheriff’s offices, but this was not legal, so he got his friend, John Reichman, to run. However, Reichman had declared his candidacy past the time he was eligible for inclusion on the ballot, thus he had to be written in. The Crump machine proceeded to initiate an intensive voter education campaign, getting the black vote to turn out for Reichman. However, many blacks in Memphis at the time were illiterate due to the poor state of education that existed for them. Thus, Crump had numerous agents deployed to teach masses of black voters to write in Reichman. Reichman won the election by 8,996 votes, and in 1953 it was said that “even today in Memphis there are Negroes who can spell only one word – Reichman – even though they cannot spell their own names” (Crandlemere, 13).

Refusal to Enforce Prohibition Leads to Temporary Setback

By 1915, Republican Governor Ben Hooper had had enough of Crump’s refusal to enforce Prohibition, and managed to get an ouster law passed by a sympathetic Democratic legislature, which was majority Prohibitionist, to permit the removal by judicial procedure of public officials who refuse to comply with the law. Crump resigned in 1916 to avoid court action, and alleged that he was forced out because of the malign influence of private power companies as they didn’t want a supporter of public power in office. Although no evidence was provided to back his narrative, the voters of Memphis bought it and ultimately the city would buy out all private power providers in 1939. In 1916, Crump had a double victory as he got Memphis Congressman and political junior partner Kenneth McKellar a victory over incumbent Senator Luke Lea in the Democratic primary and got him elected to the Senate. In the process, he bested Ben Hooper by nearly ten points. Crump was then elected treasurer of Shelby County, serving from 1917 to 1923. During this time, he also pursued private ventures, including owning a Coca-Cola plant in New York that made him a millionaire and in 1920 he established E.H. Crump and Company, an insurance agency that grew to be the largest underwriter in the South. From this company, he exacted a great deal of influence over Memphis and Tennessee as a whole. Indeed, Crump pretty much picked his successors as mayor.

From 1890 to 1953, Tennessee had a poll tax in place, and this tax was imposed with the purpose of keeping the black vote down. However, Boss Crump worked around this and it ultimately meant that the poll tax bolstered his regime; his Shelby County machine would pay the poll taxes of voters who otherwise couldn’t (or wouldn’t, the poll tax was not cumulative) and thus the voter-dense county would determine statewide elections. You can talk about poll taxes from a history of racism perspective, but the policy also enabled machine control as political machines can marshal the funds to pay poll taxes for their voters. Crump made ample use of two groups that lacked statewide power: blacks and Republicans. The former he allowed and encouraged to vote as his machine paid their poll taxes; most of them voted for Crump and Crump-backed candidates. It was in truth the best deal blacks could get politically outside of East Tennessee, which also allowed blacks to vote both in theory and practice. The Crump machine even trucked in blacks from Northern Mississippi and Arkansas to vote, provided them with poll tax receipts, and were instructed on how to vote. In exchange, they’d get after casting their ballots a “silver dollar, a barbecue sandwich, a coke, a watermelon, and a bottle of local whiskey” (Crandlemere, 12). Racism in Tennessee, it can be said, bolstered Crump’s power as he used black voters while other areas (outside of Republican-controlled East Tennessee) didn’t want them to vote.

Although blacks were a critical part of Crump’s machine, his views on them were a paternalistic racism. Author Alfred Steinberg reported that “To Crump, Negroes were childish, useful for hard, physical labor under strict guidance, and easily given to tragedy and murder” (Crandlemere, 12). Memphis itself was as segregated as anywhere in the South, but he did grant blacks certain benefits that they would have had trouble enjoying in other places. For instance, Memphis was the first Southern city to hire a black police officer, they did have access to the ballot (most voted for Crump and his chosen candidates) and the Ku Klux Klan was kept out as a threat to Crump’s power (Crandlemere, 12). They also enjoyed the same level of police protection as whites. However, any blacks who dared exhibit leadership independent of the Crump machine were cracked down on or chased out. For Republicans, who only had power in East Tennessee at the time, they had to work with Crump to get anything they wanted done statewide.

In 1930, Crump was elected to Congress. While there, he voted as a liberal and was the strongest supporter in the Tennessee delegation of FDR’s New Deal. This got Roosevelt on his side and a lot of money was funneled into Memphis for public works projects. It was said when someone from Tennessee met him he would ask, “Do you know my friend Mr. Crump?” (Candlemere, 13) Crump, however, didn’t care much for being in Congress. He was far from in charge there and he enjoyed being in charge. He didn’t make much of an impact while in Congress aside from his staunch Roosevelt support and chose not to run again in 1934. However, Crump had something better than a Congressional seat, he had the state of Tennessee, and with the election of his picked candidate Henry Horton as governor in 1932, he was without doubt the foremost politician in the state. Crump’s success as a boss, in Memphis and statewide, was tremendous; from 1928 to 1948 his machine didn’t lose a single election. In 1939, Crump ran again for mayor and won, but did so in truth to have his man in Congress, Clift Chandler, be mayor. He wanted Chandler to do his job in Congress rather than campaign.

Honest Graft

When it came to corruption, Crump’s corruption was not in the form of theft…he was wealthy on his own and didn’t steal a cent. However, his machine did steal elections, took opportunities based on access, and was paid protection money from illegal establishments. Businesses in Memphis had to play by the machine’s rules…new businesses had to purchase their insurance policies from E.H. Crump and Company to get licenses. Public employees were also compelled to buy at least one of their insurance policies from Crump. Crump’s power in Memphis was unrivaled. He controlled every government position, and he could lean on city workers and their families to vote for his candidates (Candlemere, 13).

The Benefits of Crumpism

Although Crump was a political boss, it is likely that even if he didn’t steal elections he’d probably win as he was a popular figure, and in his terms as mayor as well as that of his successors, taxes were kept low and city government was kept efficient. Indeed, Crump saw to it that no cent was taken from the treasury, by him or anyone else. City vehicles were painted a bright yellow so it would be clear if they were being used for non-work purposes. Memphis was a relatively safe, clean, and quiet at night city under Crump’s reign and the fire department became known for its efficacy.

A Censorious Regime

Although Memphis residents benefited from a good deal of what the Crump machine did, the residents paid a price in individual freedom. Crump’s rule was a dictatorship (although for many a benevolent one) and free speech and expression were limited. The man Memphis’ mayor, Watkins Overton, a Crump man, picked for chairman of the Memphis Board of Censors in 1927 was Lloyd T. Binford. Binford would lead the board for 28 years and had little hesitation in imposing film bans; he would ban movies from being shown in Memphis over any scenes in which whites and blacks appeared together and if he disapproved of the morality of the actors or actresses in their private lives. For instance, he banned films with Charlie Chaplin given his communist leanings. Binford also banned all films with Ingrid Bergman given her affair with Roberto Rossellini and banned all films that depicted train robberies as he had witnessed one as a child (Nickas). Starting during World War II, Binford banned any films that depicted what he thought of as “unrealistic” portrayals of blacks, such as them having any sense of social equality with whites. This resulted in places in Tennessee outside of Memphis advertising the showing of numerous films as “Banned in Memphis!” Censorship, however, went beyond film with Crump’s reign… a journalist was beaten for investigating vote fraud, a chemist was fired for complaining in the newspaper, and J.B. Martin, a black druggist and baseball executive who attempted to serve as a black leader independent of Crump, was driven out of town (Tucker).

1948: The Year of Change

No man and no machine can continue forever, and Crump and his machine were no exceptions. In 1948, Crump opted to back Strom Thurmond for president rather than Harry S. Truman over his civil rights platform. He also thought he could pick another senator than the incumbent Tom Stewart. Stewart was never particularly secure in his Senate seat, and Crump picked Judge John A. Mitchell as his candidate for the next senator. Chattanooga Congressman Estes Kefauver, however, decided to throw his hat in the ring for the Senate, and he was even worse in Crump’s eyes than Stewart. Kefauver was a crusading liberal populist and distinctly not a Crump man. Crump and his associates campaigned against him, with them claiming that he was sympathetic to communism and that he was pursuing such ends “with the stealth of a raccoon”, which prompted Kefauver to deliver a winning response, in which he donned a coonskin cap and said, “I may be a pet coon, but I’m not Boss Crump’s pet coon!” (Summers) Kefauver’s growing popularity, it turns out, was too much for even the Crump machine to beat, and Kefauver won the Democratic nomination, which was tantamount to election in Tennessee at the time. Worse yet, Crump’s candidate for reelection as governor, Jim McCord, was defeated for renomination by Crump machine foe Gordon Browning.

After Kefauver and Browning defeated the Crump machine, his power became restricted to Memphis. From that time forward, his health declined as he developed heart disease and diabetes. Worse yet for him, in 1952, his close ally in the Senate, McKellar, lost renomination to another populistic liberal in Al Gore Sr. However, this was tempered by his man, Frank Clement, winning the gubernatorial primary over Browning. Crump died two weeks after his 80th birthday on October 16, 1954.


There are some legacies of Crump’s rule that persist to this day. One is a strong noise ordinance, another is a robust fire department, and yet another is Memphis as a Democratic stronghold. The city had but a brief flirtation with Republicans when it voted in Dan Kuykendall to Congress in 1966, but after he lost reelection to Harold Ford in 1974 (a son of N.F. Ford, one of Crump’s black political operators), the district has been the most solidly Democratic one in Tennessee.


Crandlemere, C. (1987). Edward Hull Crump: A Political History. Bridgewater Review, 5(2)

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Hill, R. (2012, March 26). Edward Hull Crump. The Knoxville Focus.

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Neill, K. (1979). Mr. Crump: The Making of a Boss. Memphis: The City Magazine.

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Nickas, L. (2017, October 8). Lloyd T. Binford and the Memphis Board of Censors. Tennessee Encyclopedia.

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Summers, J. (2015, June 21). Summers: Chattanooga’s Kefauver had maverick reputation. Chattanooga Times Free Press.

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Tucker, D. (2017, October 8). Edward Hull “Boss” Crump. Tennessee Encyclopedia.

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Crump, Edward Hull "Boss"

Great Conservatives from American History #8: Kenneth Wherry

Legends rise and fall in politics, and Senator George W. Norris of Nebraska was one of them. He had been in federal politics since 1903, first as representative and then as senator, and in the process had successfully reduced the powers of the Speaker of the House in response to the rule of Illinois’ Joe Cannon, authored the 20th Amendment, and sponsored the Tennessee Valley Authority. However, his maverick nature and his strong support of President Roosevelt was rubbing his increasingly conservative constituents the wrong way. In 1940, in a bad omen for Norris, Roosevelt lost Nebraska by almost 15 points. Norris also stuck out like a sore thumb for his support for FDR’s foreign policy (although he couldn’t support the peacetime draft). The political change of Nebraska and his advanced age left him open for a challenge. Enter Kenneth Wherry (1892-1951).

Wherry had a bit of a political odyssey himself, since as a state senator from 1929 to 1932 he was generally thought of as a progressive, including by none other than Norris himself, who wrote positively of him, “Senator Wherry is one of the most promising men in public life to honor Nebraska in a long time. Having served as an outstanding member of two sessions of the Legislature, he has demonstrated himself to be a forceful representative of the people’s interests, a man of outstanding ability, always fighting for what he conscientiously believes to be right” (Dalstrom). Wherry had in the past made two unsuccessful efforts at higher political office in 1932 and 1934, for the Republican nomination for governor and for Senate respectively. Norris’ chances of reelection in 1942, already difficult, were doomed after Democrats decided to back their own candidate and Wherry won handily.

In the Senate, Wherry made his presence known as a staunch conservative. He would call himself a “political fundamentalist” and often put issues in stark dichotomies, such as between “free enterprise and socialism” or “economy and waste” (Time, December 10, 1951). He was a staunch foe of price controls, high spending, New Deal laws, socialism (he made an exception for funding a TVA steam plant in 1948), and internationalism. Such a foe of the latter he was that on December 4, 1945, he was one of only seven senators to vote against the United Nations Participation Act. An experienced salesman who had sold furniture, coffins, cars, and real estate, Wherry was a talented spokesman and debater. However, he could engage in what became known as “Wherryisms”, in which he spoke so fast that he would jumble his words. These included telling a senator he would have “opple amportunity” to speak, calling Wayne Morse of Oregon “the distinguished Senator from Junior”, “Chief Joints of Staff”, referring to Indochina (Vietnam) as “Indigo China”, calling Spessard Holland of Florida “the Senator from Holland”, and “bell door ringer” (Time, Time). Wherry’s rise was rapid, and in 1944, he was elected majority whip. In 1945, he was among members of a Congressional delegation to visit Buchenwald to see the aftermath of the horrors of the Holocaust.

Assuming Leadership

The official leading Senate Republican for the 80th Congress was Majority Leader Wallace White of Maine, but he was a figurehead for Robert Taft of Ohio and given his increasingly poor health, Majority Whip Wherry would often serve effectively as acting majority leader. Wherry himself was to the right of the average of his party, and unlike party leadership and the majority of Republicans, he was one of 23 senators to vote against Greek-Turkish aid in 1947, one of 17 senators to vote against the Marshall Plan in 1948, and one of 13 senators to vote against the NATO Treaty in 1949. His Americans for Democratic Action score was a mere 6% and his DW-Nominate score was a 0.544, making him one of the most conservative senators in his time. As a prime backer of conservative policy and doctrines, he even took Senator Robert Taft to task for sponsoring the Taft-Ellender-Wagner Housing Bill, which provided for public housing. Despite Wherry’s role as an arch-foe of the Truman Administration, he earned the respect of President Truman, who wrote him, “While you and I are as far apart as the poles on policy, I can admire an honest opponent” (Lewiston Morning Tribune). With the retirement of White, Republicans elected Wherry minority leader in 1949.

As minority leader, Wherry successfully pushed for an amendment to the Senate rules in 1949 that made cloture apply to all business except rules changes by a 2/3’s vote of the entire Senate. In April 1951, he led the charge against sending troops to Europe under the North Atlantic Treaty. Although Wherry and his non-interventionist allies were not able to prevent granting Truman authority to send troops to Europe without Congressional authorization, he with John McClellan (D-Ark.) succeeded on passing an amendment 49-46 limiting Truman to four divisions, with Congressional authorization required for more (ADA World). Americans for Democratic Action scored him negatively on every key vote except civil rights during Truman’s second term.

Wherry and Civil Rights

Although there were efforts by Southern Democrats to appeal to the anti-New Deal Republicans for votes against civil rights legislation as New Deal-like, this was not so for Wherry. He was a supporter of civil rights legislation, opposing a Southern effort to weaken desegregation of the army and supporting ending debate on a Fair Employment Practices bill in 1950. He was also a supporter of a federal poll tax ban and in 1943 backed Senator William Langer’s (R-N.D.) anti-discrimination rider to an education bill. On July 19, 1946, Wherry voted for the Equal Rights Amendment, which had a curious mix of conservatives and liberals for and against, opponents including Senators Robert Wagner (D-N.Y.) and Robert Taft (R-Ohio), the latter who expressed concern that the amendment would nullify sex-specific labor protections (De Wolf). However, Wherry also, with Senator Lister Hill (D-Ala.), led a subcommittee to investigate homosexuality in the Federal government based on the widespread belief that this would make them susceptible to blackmail by Soviet agents.

The End

Wherry was in 1951 thought of as a rising star in the Republican Party and possibly a nominee for vice president. However, fate had a different idea; that year he was diagnosed with liver cancer and in October he had an operation. While recovering from surgery, Wherry contracted pneumonia and died on November 29th. He was one of the great conservatives for his strong advocacy of conservative positions as well as his role as a conservative leader in the 1940s and early 1950s against the tide of New Dealism and internationalism.


ADA World: Congressional Supplement. (1951, October). Americans for Democratic Action.

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Dalstrom, H.A. (1978). The Defeat of George W. Norris in 1942. Nebraska History 59: 231-258.

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De Wolf, R. (2021, May 2). The 1940s Fight Against the Equal Rights Amendment Was Bipartisan and Crossed Ideological Lines. History News Network.

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GOP ‘Wheel,’ Senator Wherry Succumbs at 59. (1951, November 30). Lewiston Morning Tribune.

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Kenneth S. Wherry: A Featured Biography. United States Senate.

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People, Jun. 25, 1951 (1951, June 25). Time Magazine.

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SJ Res 61… (1946, July 19). Govtrack.

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The Congress: Fundamentalist Republican. (1951, December 10). Time Magazine.

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To Amend S.637… (1943, October 20). Govtrack.

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How They Voted: The Child Labor Amendment

In 1924, Congress proposed the Child Labor Amendment in response to Hammer v. Dagenhart (1918) and Bailey v. Drexel Furniture (1922), two Supreme Court decisions ruling that Congress didn’t have the power to abolish or regulate child labor on the federal level. Thus, with President Coolidge’s support, Congress voted for an amendment to this effect.

The House vote was as follows:

Passed 297-69: R 168-13; D 127-56; FL 1-0; S 1-0, 4/26/24.


Passed 61-23: R 40-6; D 19-17; FL 2-0, 6/2/24.

The push for this amendment disappeared with the adoption of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which interestingly enough had a number of Republicans who voted for this amendment, such as conservatives Robert Luce (R-Mass.), John Taber (R-N.Y.), and Dan Reed (R-N.Y.) vote against, while some figures who voted against the Child Labor Amendment, most notably Sam Rayburn (D-Tex.), voted for the Fair Labor Standards Act. There is a distinctly Southern bent to dissent from this amendment, although there was some considerable support even there, including from figures who would distinctly move to the right in the Roosevelt years, such as Senator Carter Glass (D-Va.) and Representative John Rankin (D-Miss.).


Y – “Yea”

N – “Nay”

✓ – Paired or announced for.

X – Paired or announced against.

? – No known opinion.

Child Labor Amendment, House and Senate

Gorman’s Crusade: A Cautionary Tale for Culture Warriors

The acrimony that characterizes modern politics is in part attributable to the “culture wars”. This is characterized by increasing vigor and radicalism on certain social issues surrounding racial and sexual identity as well as stronger support for socialism. As the left becomes more and more aggressive in pushing such issues the right becomes more truculent in their opposition as well as pushing of strong abortion restrictions in some states. Changes in language, writing (such as capitalizing “black” in journalism and academia and sometimes capitalizing “white”), and educational curriculum characterize this conflict. I have some relatively recent experience in higher education, having earned my MPA in 2017, and I can tell you that the teaching of neo-Marxism in higher education is quite real. There was a considerable emphasis on the Frankfurt School, critical theory (of which CRT is part), some on Antonio Gramsci, and one of the books covered was Capitalist Schooling in America (1976), an unabashedly neo-Marxist work. I give this background to tell you where I am coming from on the subject I am writing of today. Today’s subject is an episode of malfeasance in educational curriculum investigation prompted by one of the most corrupt big city mayors in American history.

William Hale “Big Bill” Thompson was Chicago’s Republican mayor from 1915 to 1923 and again from 1927 to 1931. His time in office was characterized by non-enforcement of Prohibition which extended to an overall disregard for the law, gangland bombings including at polling places going unprosecuted, support for Al Capone, and identity-based appeals. For the latter, he campaigned as an arch-foe of Great Britain, much to the delight of ethnic German and Irish voters. Thompson’s anti-British stance and his refusal to do anything about anti-conscription groups and anti-war protests was enough for him to be called “Kaiser Bill” (Hill). He continued pressing against Britain after World War I and while campaigning to return to office in 1927, he promised to ethnic Irish audiences if King George V ever visited Chicago that he’d “crack King George one in the snoot” (Grossman). Another example of “Big Bill” Thompson’s campaigning is the following 1927 flyer, which also employs the slogan “America First”:

Source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/99/%22America_First%22_ad_from_Chicago_mayoral_election%2C_1927.jpg

His anti-British push went beyond silly promises, however, as after he won, he led a campaign to crack down on subversive books in the Chicago Public Library and in schools. And if you read the fine print on this flyer, one of his promises was to oust Chicago School Superintendent William McAndrew. For cracking down on subversive books in the Chicago Public Library, he appointed Urbine J. Herrmann, who the Chicago Tribune reported, “And if he finds a pro-British book, he declares, he will take it out to the lake front and have it burned by the public hangman” (Grossman). Thompson also appointed former two-time Congressman John J. Gorman (R-Ill., 1921-23, 1925-27) as special assistant corporate counsel, his job being to investigate school curriculum for lies and distortions and to oust McAndrew. Gorman had as a representative headed up the Citizens’ Commission on School Histories, which in 1926 denounced three textbooks as being pro-British and excluding the achievements of people of other nationalities (Herrick, 167).

John J. Gorman

To fulfill Thompson’s promise, Gorman launched a crusade against school curriculum and Superintendent McAndrew, claiming that he had “poisoned” school curriculum at the behest of the British to turn students against America. He most notably accused him of putting in school curriculum a textbook An American History by Dr. David Muzzey. This resulted in hearings before the Chicago Board of Education in which Gorman testified as a witness regarding the “pro-British” content of Muzzey’s work. He was asked the following questions and gave the following answers based on his testimony:

Q: “Now, I ask you whether or not you found in this — found this in the book: ‘The capital of Massachusetts was a center of vulgar sedition, strewn with brickbats and broken glass, where his enemies went about clothed in homespun and his friends in tar and feathers?”

Gorman: “Yes, sir.”

Q: “Did you find there that Muzzey characterized the Continental Congress as ‘a collection of quarrelsome, pettifogging lawyers and mechanics?”

Gorman: “Yes, sir.”

Q: “Did you find language in there to the effect that ‘Washington was a tyrant, a dictator, a despot,’ and he was called a step-father of his country?”

Gorman: “Yes, sir.”

Q: “Before you go into details, Congressman, what was the effect produced on your mind as to the attitude of Muzzey in the treatment of the story of the colonists and the revolution?”

Gorman: “Well, I was amazed to find that the American Revolution was treated in the manner that Muzzey treats it — giving the pro-British view of it. His text books contain numerous distortions, and where it would state facts it would frequently minimize their importance, and the text is filled with deletions. I would rather say from the text that there are omissions of many vital events and vital characters pertaining to the Revolutionary War that were always taught, for a period of over a hundred years, in the schools of our country by the patriotic text writers of previous times.”

(People v. Gorman)

After this testimony, McAndrew was suspended and then found guilty of several charges. Dr. Muzzey filed suit against Gorman for defamation. On October 11, 1929, he retreated with his tail tucked between his legs on these claims, writing an apology letter that his sworn statements against the book were written by someone else, that he was misled, and found upon on his own examination nothing wrong with Muzzey’s textbook (Herrick, 170). Although the lawsuit was withdrawn, the proceedings against Gorman began for perjury and McAndrew was cleared on appeal to the Superior Court of Cook County. I actually took to investigating whether these quotes were in Muzzey’s book, and this is what I found from the 1911 edition of An American History, with the claimed quotes in bold:

“To George III’s eyes the capital of Massachusetts was a center of vulgar sedition, strewn with brickbats and broken glass, where his enemies went about clothed in homespun and his friends in tar and feathers” (Muzzey, 121).

“The more ardent of these Loyalists denounced the Congress in unmeasured terms as a collection of quarrelsome, pettifogging lawyers and mechanics; and when the Declaration of Independence put them in the position of traitors, thousands of them entered the British armies” (Muzzey, 152-153).

“The Republicans opposed the administration at every step. The press on both sides became coarse and abusive. Washington was reviled in language fit to characterize a Nero. “Tyrant,” “dictator,” and “despot” were some of the epithets hurled at him. He was called the “stepfather of his country”, and the day was hailed with joy by the Republican press when this impostor should be “hurled from this throne”” (Muzzey, 199-200).

It is clear that Gorman’s “pro-British” charges against the book were based on quotes that were distorted out of context in service to the anti-British campaign of Mayor Thompson. On December 17, 1931, the Supreme Court of Illinois disbarred Gorman for perjury. Thompson himself I’m sure in the future will have his own post, as he was quite an outrageous character. The message here for culture warriors seeking to challenge curriculum in public schools, assuming you are doing so in good faith, is this: do your homework!


Grossman, R. (2016, February 5). ‘Big Bill’ Thompson: Chicago’s unfiltered mayor. Chicago Tribune.

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Herrick, M.J. (1971). The Chicago schools: a social and political history. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications.

Hill, R. ‘Big Bill’ Thompson of Chicago. The Knoxville Focus.

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Muzzey, D.S. (1911). An American History. Boston, MA: Ginn and Company.

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Sawyers, J. (1989, February 5). Campaigning for Mayor with King George as Enemy. Chicago Tribune.

The People v. Gorman. 178 N.E. 880 (Ill. 1931). CaseText.

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The Democrat Republicans Tried to Expel from Congress for Bad Language

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.

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Miller, T.L. Blanton, Thomas Lindsay (1872-1957). Texas State Historical Association.

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Milligan, S. (2021, November 19). Partisan Wars of Words Escalate as Lawmakers See Rewards for Bad Behavior. U.S. News & World Report.

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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.

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The School Prayer Controversy, Part I: Origins, 1639-1925

Reverend Richard Mather, Founder of the Mather School

I have recently been reading about a group of Christians that have been given the label of “Christian Nationalist”. This seems to be a bit of a catch-all for conservative Christians in its applications. Some articles have regarded those they have labeled as “Christian Nationalists” as a great threat, even the greatest threat to democracy in America (see Blake, Graves-Simmons & Siddiqi, and Reynolds in references). I personally would be interested to know what declaring the US a “Christian nation” would mean to those who actually label themselves as “Christian Nationalist”. Does it mean someone who believes in destroying the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, embracing white identity politics, and oppressing women? For those who subscribe to what I just described, I’d say you are engaging in an atrocious reaction to the increasing secularization of society. Does it, however, mean a narrow interpretation of the Establishment Clause of the 1st Amendment, a belief that religious symbols can be allowed to be displayed on public lands, a belief that abortion is wrong and should be banned except in cases of the mother’s life being endangered, and a belief that school-led voluntary non-denominational school prayer can be allowed? If so, then you could retroactively label many, many figures in American history as “Christian Nationalists” as well as a majority of contemporary politically conservative Christians. You could even, by this definition, label a majority of Americans as “Christian Nationalists” if you go back far enough. I have a strong suspicion there is an overuse in this term and that some will use it on anyone who wants to bat back the tide of secularization over the last sixty years. My focus, however, is on a history of prayer in schools, how it fell, and what came of the backlash to its fall. To understand the history of prayer in schools, it is necessary to give some coverage to the history of public schooling.

Beginnings in Religion

The first taxpayer supported public school in what would be the United States was the Mather School established in Lexington, Massachusetts, in 1639. This was founded by Reverend Richard Mather, the grandfather of the famed theologian Reverend Cotton Mather. Then the first compulsory public education law what would become the United States was passed by the Massachusetts Colony in 1647 called the “Old Deluder Satan Law”. The purpose of this law was to ensure that children would become educated enough to read and interpret the Bible for themselves.

In 1789, nearly all American citizens of the thirteen states were some sort of Christian. Catholics numbered fairly few and were the focal point of religious prejudice, a prejudice that had continued from the conflicts between Protestants and Catholics in Britain. Although their rights were federally protected by the Constitution, there were states that took it upon themselves to adopt a “state religion”. Massachusetts, for instance, had an official state religion, the Congregational Church (Puritans) until 1833, being the last state to drop the concept of state religion. Under the leadership of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, Virginia disestablished its church in 1786 with the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which would serve as a basis of the First Amendment. Schooling in that time was mostly a private affair, with schools being available to families that could afford to pay for them. These schools often taught the Bible as well. However, this state of affairs would not last, and advocates for public education knew that for the nation and its economy to grow that this step would be necessary. Before the War of the Rebellion, the states all adopted public school systems of some sort, but not all were comprehensive in coverage. After the war, all children would be eligible for public schooling in Southern states.

Protestant vs. Catholic Influence in Schooling

Towards the mid-19th century, as more states adopted public education, Bible reading became a great controversy as the majority Protestants pushed King James Bible reading, and in Pennsylvania it even got violent; in 1843 the Philadelphia Board of Controllers permitted children to read from Bibles in school supplied by their parents, which was regarded by many Protestants as an effort to eliminate Bible reading altogether in public school (Ariens). The tensions resulted in anti-Irish Catholic riots on May 6-8th and July 6-7th 1844, which killed over 20 people and two Catholic churches burned. However, these disputes were not as frequent as one might think. As Bruce Dierenfield (2007) writes, “In New York State, for example, half of all district schools conducted some form of opening religious exercises, usually simple Bible reading, but rarely did such exercises provoke major disputes. Between 1865 and 1905, the state superintendent received no complaints about religious instruction from 80 percent of the school districts. Of the remaining 20 percent, only 1 out of 1,000 complaints involved religion. Why were devotions less controversial – at least in New York – after the Civil War than before? Religious minorities in New York increasingly tolerated what they regarded as an unpleasant beginning of the school day. This was so long as the devotions did not go too far” (33). Religious minorities, in other words, were considerably less activist than they would become. In many, but not all public schools, prayer was a given and teaching from Protestant Bibles was commonplace. Since Catholics at this time could not prevail on Bible policy with Protestants, they formed parochial school systems starting in 1870. However, the ruling Protestants would make sure that Catholic influence was limited.

In 1875, President Ulysses S. Grant delivered a speech to a meeting of Union veterans and called for adopting a Constitutional amendment mandating free public schools and blocking public funds for religious sect schools, wanting public education to be “unmixed with sectarian, pagan or atheistical dogmas” (Deforrest). King James Bible reading, since multiple Protestant sects used it, was not considered sectarian by Grant or by his Protestant Republican supporters. Rep. James G. Blaine (R-Me.) championed this amendment in Congress, but the Senate declined to ratify. Most states, however, acted and ratified “Blaine Amendments”, prohibiting funding of these schools. They were ultimately ratified in 39 states.

The United States was, although not officially a “Christian nation”, was deeply so in tradition, customs, values, and education. Supreme Court Justice David J. Brewer even affirmed that the United States was a “Christian nation” in the Supreme Court decision Church of the Holy Trinity v. United States (1892), writing, “These, and many other matters which might be noticed, add a volume of unofficial declarations to the mass of organic utterances that this is a Christian nation” (143 U.S. 457). He even wrote a treatise on the subject in 1905, The United States: A Christian Nation. However, the 20th century would be a time of tremendous change, in the United States and the world. Courts in the 19th century upheld King James Bible reading, but there was one state, however, that gave a glimpse as to what would happen in the 20th century. The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled in State ex rel. Weiss v. District Board (1890) that King James Bible reading “without restriction” was sectarian and thereby unconstitutional (Ariens).

Efforts at Compulsory Schooling and Religious Indoctrination

Although the controversy surrounding religion in schools seemed temporarily, if imperfectly, resolved by 1900, further efforts would begin during the Progressive Era. In response to socioeconomic changes and immigration as well as inspired by the release of the film Birth of a Nation (1915), the second incarnation of the Ku Klux Klan was established. The organization was in addition to being bigoted on the lines of race and religion, avowedly Protestant. As part of the anti-Catholicism of the organization, they would go considerably beyond mere prayer and Bible reading at the beginning of the school day and actively sought to destroy private Catholic schooling.

Such a policy manifested in Oregon when a proposal for mandatory public schooling won 53% of the vote in 1922, the law which required children between ages 8 and 16 to attend public school with exceptions based on “age, health and access to a parent or private teacher” (Bunting). This would serve to shut down private Catholic schools in the state and force Catholic students into education with Protestant Bible reading and prayer. This policy went directly against education reformer Horace Mann’s view on public schools, “[T]he education of the whole people, in a republican government, can never be attained without the consent of the whole people. Compulsion, even though it were a desirable, is not an available instrument. Enlightenment, not coercion, is our resource” (Murphy). Fortunately, the law was thwarted before its start date by the Supreme Court in Pierce v. Society of Sisters (1925), in which mandatory public school attendance was unanimously ruled unconstitutional. Justice James McReynolds, the majority opinion author, wrote, “The fundamental theory of liberty upon which all governments in this Union repose excludes any general power of the state to standardize its children by forcing them to accept instruction from public teachers only” (Bunting). The decision remains good law to this day, and the second Klan saw a major decline starting that year, with The Knights of the Ku Klux Klan shuttering in 1944.

Ultimately, public schooling was seen both as a way of advancing industrial growth and development but also for the spreading of Protestant morality. This can explain why conservatives used to be the big supporters of public schooling. However, schools would start to move away from a Protestant underpinning and conservative troubles with public schooling grew.


143 U.S. 457.

Ariens, M.S. (2012, August 23). Religion in Nineteenth-Century Public Education. Civil liberties in the United States.

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Blake, J. (2022, July 24). An ‘imposter Christianity’ is threatening American democracy. CNN.

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Bunting, R. Pierce v. Society of Sisters (1925). Oregon Encyclopedia.

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Deforrest, M.E. (2003). An Overview and Evaluation of State Blaine Amendments: Origins, Scope, and First Amendment Concerns. Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, Vol. 26.

Dierenfield, B.J. (2007). The battle over school prayer: how Engel v. Vitale changed America. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas.

Graves-Fitzsimmons, G. & Siddiqi, M. (2022, April 13). Christian Nationalism Is ‘Single Biggest Threat’ to America’s Religious Freedom’. Center for American Progress.

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Christian Nationalism Is ‘Single Biggest Threat’ to America’s Religious Freedom

Murphy, R.P. (1998, July 1). The Origins of the Public School. Foundation for Economic Education.

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Reynolds, N. (2023, February 9). A Powerful Minority, Christian Nationalism is Democracy’s ‘Greatest Threat’. Newsweek.

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Vile, J.R. (2009). Established Churches in Early America. The First Amendment Encyclopedia.

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“J. Ham” – Eccentric Democratic Leader and Mentor to a Future President

If you were to observe the Senate during the first six years of the Wilson Administration, a figure you may hear speak, debate, and push his party colleagues to vote for important bills backed by the president is a man who dresses like a dandy, wears spats, makes no effort to hide that he wears a toupee (although he is never photographed without it!), and even has some pink in his Van Dyke whiskers! This is Illinois’ J. Hamilton Lewis (or “J. Ham”) (1863-1939).

Although Lewis represented the “Land of Lincoln” in the Senate, he was the son of an invalid Confederate veteran and his mother had died in childbirth. Thus, he was raised by relatives and after earning his law degree at Augusta University, he in 1885 made his way to the Washington territory, where he practiced law and got into politics. In 1887, Lewis was elected for a single term to the state legislature as a Democrat and after the state’s admission he was on a commission to determine boundaries with Canada. Although his gubernatorial bid in 1892 was unsuccessful, he attracted a lot of support from state Democrats for the 1896 election, namely for the vice-presidential nomination, receiving 11 votes at the Democratic National Convention on the first ballot for vice president, despite not being minimum age. He benefited, however, from the presidential election in 1896, as William Jennings Bryan won the state by double digits, and Lewis in turn won an at-Large Congressional seat. Although Lewis faced a Republican Congress and president, he made his mark even in his first term. He proved a highly capable debater to the degree that even Speaker Thomas Brackett Reed of Maine, a giant both intellectually and physically, preferred not to tangle with the young lawyer from Seattle. However, in 1898 he lost reelection to Republican Francis W. Cushman. He then served in the Spanish-American War, rising to the rank of colonel. In 1900, he ran for the vice-presidential nomination, but it went to Adlai Stevenson instead. In 1903, Lewis got a compelling offer to join a law firm in Chicago and moved, and this is where he would stay. In 1908, he ran for governor, but just like in Washington before, he was unsuccessful.

The Senate

In 1913, the situation for Illinois and the Senate was in tumult. The state’s senior senator, Shelby Cullom, was an octogenarian who had been in the House when President Lincoln was assassinated. The state’s other senator, William Lorimer, was a Chicago political boss who got expelled for corruption. Cullom had stuck by Lorimer and was defeated in the “advisory” primary by Lawrence Y. Sherman, a Lorimer critic. Given the divided powers of the state legislature, a compromise was crafted in which they elected Lewis and Sherman. Lewis would be elected Majority Whip, second to Majority Leader John W. Kern of Indiana.

Senator Lewis was critical in pushing Democratic senators to back “New Freedom” legislation such as the Clayton Anti-Trust Act and the creation of the Federal Reserve and was mostly loyal in his record to the administration. His appearance, as noted earlier, was the talk of the town. He didn’t dress down for audiences either; once he was advised to do so when attending a political gathering with working class voters, but instead he came with coattails and a top hat and said to them that he had come to pay them his respects and that this warranted him wearing the best clothes he had, and they were won over, cheering him as he left the hall (Hill).

Lewis, consistent with his support for Wilson, backed American entry into World War I as well as wartime restrictions on civil liberties. He also supported women’s suffrage and opposed Prohibition. However, Lewis’ time in the Senate would be cut off by dissatisfaction with Wilson in the 1918 midterms. He was defeated by Republican Congressman Medill McCormick, who was known for his dislike of the British government and brother of Colonel Robert R. McCormick, owner of the staunchly Republican Chicago Tribune. Now instead of a highly capable debater in Lewis who almost certainly would have supported the Versailles Treaty, Wilson had to contend with an irreconcilable; McCormick would not back the treaty under any circumstances. In 1920, Lewis was trounced in his run for governor by Republican Len Small, who would become one of the state’s numerous corrupt governors.

Second Act

Although Lewis was in the electoral wilderness in the Republican twenties, he made a good deal of money practicing international law. His chance came around again in 1930. McCormick’s widow (he had committed suicide in 1925), Ruth Hanna, was running for the Senate. However, questionable levels of campaign expenditures haunted her campaign and this with the backdrop of the onset of the Great Depression contributed to J. Ham’s landslide win: he defeated McCormick by almost 34 points. Although in 1932 he was the “favorite son” candidate from Illinois for president with the backing of Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak, he soon came around to supporting FDR. After the election of Roosevelt to the White House, “J. Ham”, remembered fondly for his efforts for Wilson by fellow Democrats, was again elected the Senate Majority Whip, this time serving under Majority Leader Joe Robinson of Arkansas. Like he had done for Wilson’s New Freedom, he used his position to whip up votes for FDR’s New Deal programs.

Helping a Young Senator

The 1934 midterms were good for Democrats, and in Missouri, incumbent Republican Roscoe Patterson was defeated for reelection. The new senator was a favorite of the Kansas City based Pendergast Machine, and its leader Tom Pendergast was not liked by Roosevelt and his people in the Administration, who had a strong distaste for political bosses. This man initially had a difficult time getting people to talk to him given the reputation of the machine he had come from, and Roosevelt wouldn’t meet with him for five months. However, Lewis decided to befriend and mentor him. He would tell the senator, “Harry, don’t start out with an inferiority complex. For the first six months you’ll wonder how the hell you got here. After that you’ll wonder how the hell rest of us got here” (Hill). Senator Truman, who was regarded as the honest public face of the Pendergast machine, would eventually be preferred by the Administration to his colleague J. Clark Bennett, who was too independent-minded and non-interventionist. He would make his mark during World War II, heading up a committee investigating waste and corruption in the government, which would save the US billions in military spending and ultimately result in his rise to the presidency. Lewis would continue to dress in his way, by this time being out of date, wearing spats and he would also wear wavy pink toupees.

Roosevelt’s Second Term

Unlike 1918, Lewis won reelection in 1936 by over 15 points against his former colleague, Otis F. Glenn, who remained a supporter of the at the time deeply unpopular former President Hoover. Although a Roosevelt Administration loyalist, he did cast a few adverse votes as far as Roosevelt was concerned: he supported deleting the “death sentence clause” of the Public Utilities Holding Company Act in 1935, which was the core of the law, and voted to kill his “court packing plan” in 1937. As a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, Lewis opined on September 12, 1938, regarding the Sudeten Crisis, “Czechoslovakia isn’t the real object at all. That is a small matter that could be settled at any time. These gestures of Germany toward Czechoslovakia are to test how far France and England will go in combatting Germany’s larger aims” (The Associated Press). Two days later, England caved and three days after France did so. The Munich Agreement was formalized on September 29-30, 1938, and Nazi Germany occupied the Sudetenland in the following days. They would also invade Bohemia and Moravia in March 1939. On the afternoon of April 9, 1939, Lewis suffered a heart attack and although rushed to the hospital, he died five hours later (The New York Times). The New York Times incorrectly reported his age as 72, when he was in fact 75. The last vote Lewis had cast was to confirm William O. Douglas to the Supreme Court. Lewis stands out as the first official Majority Whip in Senate history (and a highly effective one at that) as well as being one of the few politicians to have represented two states in Congress.


Hill, R. The Senate’s Dandy: James Hamilton Lewis of Illinois. The Knoxville Focus.

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Hitler’s Speech Relieves America of War Fears. (1938, September 13). The Associated Press.

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Senator Lewis, 72, Stricken Fatally; Congress Veteran Is Rushed to Capital Hospital When He Suffers Heart Attack. (1939, April 10). The New York Times.

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Spiro Agnew: The Rise and Fall of the Improbable “Vice” President

If it is true amid speculation that former President Trump will be indicted over the Stormy Daniels affair, a matter of which attracts more questions than strong opinion from me, we will be in uncharted waters. While Richard Nixon was rescued from such waters by Gerald Ford’s pardon and indeed no president or former president has been criminally prosecuted as of March 28, 2023, there has been a vice president who faced legal consequences for crimes. This would be Richard Nixon’s first vice president, Spiro Theodore Agnew (1918-1996), whose rise was improbable and meteoric, and his fall was similarly astonishing.

The Rise of Agnew

After service in World War II, Agnew settled down, got married, and earned a law degree. This led to his start in politics in Maryland, which although historically Democratic, had something of a conservative surge in the 1950s. Agnew had switched from Democrat to Republican in 1946 and served as an aide to Congressman James Devereux and got an appointment to the Baltimore Board of Zoning Appeals. In 1962, he saw his opportunity for elected office as Baltimore County Executive because of a split in the Democratic Party organization and won the election. Agnew proved a moderate Republican who supported civil rights.
Agnew’s election victory in staunchly Democratic Baltimore was without doubt a fluke caused by party divisions, but it provided him with a sufficiently high profile to run for governor in 1966. He would again benefit from Democratic infighting as the Democratic primary had three candidates: Carlton R. Sickles, a liberal Congressman, Maryland Attorney General Thomas B. Finan, and George P. Mahoney. The conservatives in the Democratic Party went for Mahoney, and he won as the liberal vote was divided between Sickles and Finan. Mahoney was a perennial office-seeker who had repeatedly lost close contests in general elections, and he focused his campaign in opposition to open housing and residential desegregation. As a result, Agnew won with 49.5% of the vote, including 70% of the black vote. An independent candidate, Hyman Pressman, had also siphoned some of the liberal vote away.

Agnew continued to govern as a moderate as governor and had a good working relationship with the Democratic legislature. He succeeded in enacting tax reform, banning racial discrimination in housing covenants in new housing, and ending anti-miscegenation laws (Holden & Messitte, 3). However, in the wake of riots, including a deadly one in Baltimore, after the assassination of civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr., Agnew read a group of Maryland civil rights leaders the “riot act” so to speak over their response to the rioting, which he saw as inadequate in quelling mob violence. This act put him on the national map, including for Richard Nixon. Nixon, to everyone’s surprise, picked him for vice president despite Agnew having backed Nelson Rockefeller’s candidacy. This pick, according to The Washington Post at the time, “may be the most eccentric political appointment since the Roman Emperor named his horse a consul” (Holden & Messitte, 3). The pick of Agnew was met for some time by the Humphrey campaign with “Spiro Who?”, but he didn’t remain a national unknown for long. He didn’t exactly relish his role given the political attacks he was now facing, and complained, “I was governor of Maryland, the brightest governor in the East. Then Richard Nixon picked me as his running mate and the next morning I’m the dumbest son of a bitch ever born” (Howe). However, Nixon saw an edge in picking Agnew. Agnew was from a border state and had a moderate record, and Nixon sought to appeal to moderates across the nation. As he wrote in his memoirs, “From a strictly political standpoint, Agnew fit perfectly with the strategy we had devised for the November election. With George Wallace in the race, I could not hope to sweep the South. It was absolutely necessary, therefore, to win the entire rimland of the South – the border states – as well as the states of the Midwest and West. Agnew fit the bill geographically, and as a political moderate he fit it philosophically” (Holden & Messitte, 3).

Vice President

As vice president, Nixon didn’t give him much responsibility beyond that constitutionally mandated and he was out of the loop of major administration decisions. As Agnew himself noted in 1980, “I was never allowed to come close enough to participate directly with [Nixon] in any decision. Every time I want to see him and raised a subject for discussion, he would begin a rambling, time-consuming monologue. Then finally the phone would ring or [White House Chief of Staff H.R.] Haldeman would come in, and there would be no time left for what I had really come to talk about…He preferred keeping his decision making within a very small group” (Holden & Messitte, 4). However, he gave Agnew an outsized role on the messaging front, having him be the “attack dog” of the Administration so to speak.

Agnew was publicly politically incorrect, and once referred to Polish American voters as “Polacks” and called a Japanese American newspaper reporter a “fat Jap” (Howe). He was also blessed with talented speechwriters in William Safire and Pat Buchanan, and he delivered a punch when he spoke at his intended targets. Conservative groups loved him for his rhetorical attacks on the media, on anti-war protestors, and others of the left. On November 13, 1969, he delivered a powerful speech written by Pat Buchanan regarding the power of the news media and media bias before a Republican audience in Des Moines, Iowa. In another speech written by Safire in which he castigated the media, he famously called them “nattering nabobs of negativism” and that “they have formed their own 4-H club – the hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history” (Remnick). He had words for opponents of American involvement in Vietnam too. They were “an effete corps of impudent snobs”, “ideological eunuchs”, “professional anarchists”, and “vultures who sit in trees” (Remnick). There was even some thought of Agnew running for president in 1976. However, by 1972 he was thinking of stepping down; Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon both claimed that Agnew was considering stepping down, and Nixon himself was seriously considering replacing him with Treasury Secretary John B. Connally (Holden & Messitte, 5).

The Kickback Kid

The politics of Baltimore and Maryland as a whole were frequently corrupt, and Agnew was far from the exception. It had become known in Baltimore County that any firm that wanted to land major contracts with the county had to pay kickbacks to Agnew, this would be to the tune of 3-5% of the contract (Howe). This scheme would continue with state contracts as governor and as vice president he steered contracts to businessmen who would pay him kickbacks. For those unfamiliar with the concept of a kickback, a kickback is classic form of corruption: a bribery and tax evasion scheme in which the recipient compels who they are paying to return a portion of money they get paid to supplement their income without that additional money being reported to the IRS. This practice was astonishingly common in Baltimore County, although not astonishing to those living in the county. Indeed, corruption in Agnew’s time in Maryland was unfortunately common: convicted of corruption during that time were the following Democrats: Senator Daniel J. Brewster, Agnew’s successor as Baltimore County Executive Dale Anderson, Speaker of the House A. Gordon Boone, and Baltimore County State’s Attorney Samuel Green Jr. As a border state, Maryland was said to have “combined the worst of the Northern big-city machine with the worst of the Southern courthouse tradition” (Holden & Messitte, 2).

The U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland began an investigation into Agnew in 1973, and was prepared to charge him with failing to report $29,500 of income gained in 1967. Despite denying that he would resign if he was indicted to an audience of Republican women in Los Angeles less than two weeks before, he resigned on October 10, 1973, being the second vice president to do so (the first was John C. Calhoun, over disagreements on tariffs with President Jackson). The case against him was so damning that Agnew had agreed to resign and accepted a plea of nolo contendere (“no contest”) to a felony to get a fine of $10,000 and three years of probation. As journalist Richard Cohen noted, “This was a thoroughly corrupt man. He shook down everybody. He got a nickel a pack from the cigarette machines…He was shameless. Even to the point where he kept taking money as the vice-president” (Holden & Messitte, 7).

Aftermath – Trading on His Name and Anti-Semitism

Agnew’s record after office mainly consisted of business consulting, trading off whatever people thought his name could get them in influence. He also palled around with his friend Frank Sinatra and “spent his money on mistresses, sports cars, expensive gifts, jewelry and traveled with 21 secret service agents costing the taxpayer $5,000 a month” (Howe). Agnew also had a turn to literature, writing a novel titled “The Canfield Decision” in 1976, a story, funny enough, about a duplicitous vice president. His history after office really doesn’t paint him in any more of a favorable light than before. Agnew came to blame Jews for his downfall and in 1980 offered his services to Prince Fah’d of Saudi Arabia as a propagandist against American Jews, wanting $200,000 a year for three years for this purpose. His push to him was, “Since 1974, the Zionists have orchestrated a well-organized attack on me to use lawsuits to bleed me of my resources to continue my effort to inform the American people of their control of the media and other influential sectors of American society…I’ve taken every opportunity to speak out against the catastrophic US policies regarding Israel. This has spurred my Zionist enemies on to greater efforts. I need desperately your financial support so that I can continue to fight” (Krausz). Agnew had apparently not always been an anti-Semite. According to his former speechwriter William Safire (1976), “…his anti-Semitic cracks first began when the Jewish businessmen he had known in Baltimore County sought immunity by turning state’s evidence against him. He became embittered at a handful of Jews, which might well have turned him against Jews in general”.

Agnew also regretted the plea of “nolo contendere” and claimed his innocence in his memoirs. He also claimed without evidence that he bought a gun after learning that Nixon planned to have the CIA arrange his suicide. In 1981, Agnew was ordered to pay restitution for the bribes he received while governor, and in 1989 had the nerve to seek a tax deduction from the state of California, where he was living, on the $142,500 he had been ordered to pay (Ellis). Although Agnew and Nixon had not talked since his resignation, he attended his funeral. He stated, “I decided after 20 years of resentment to put it all aside” (Schmich). Agnew died on September 19, 1996, of undiagnosed acute leukemia.

Although I cannot judge Spiro T. Agnew anything but negatively overall, he had some positives in his career. He proved an able (albeit a bribe-taking) governor. His career was downright improbable, and he is a first and only for some groups, perhaps to their consternation should they be reading this. Agnew is the only person of Greek extraction and is the only Marylander to serve as vice president (no Marylander has been president). Honestly, although he was responsible for his own behavior and conduct in the taking of bribes, I get the feeling that this was how he understood the game to be played in a corrupt environment, and did so, not believing that consequences would fall on him for doing something seemingly commonplace. Hence, Agnew’s blaming of Jewish businessmen for turning to the Feds for arrangements that were seen by him and others as business as usual.


Ellis, V. (1989, April 4). $24,197 California Refund Sought: Agnew Wants Tax Break on Bribes He Returned. Los Angeles Times.

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Holden, C.J. & Messitte, Z. (2006). Spiro Agnew and the Golden Age of Corruption in Maryland Politics: An Interview with Ben Bradlee and Richard Cohen of the Washington Post. The Occasional Papers of The Center for the Study of Democracy, 2(1).

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Howe, C. (2020, December 8). Exclusive: How Nixon’s VP Spiro Agnew ran America’s most brazen political scandal of bribery and extortion out of the White House – but it went unnoticed in the shadow of Watergate, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow reveals in new book. The Daily Mail.

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Krausz, Y. (2019, February 27). A High-Placed Anti-Semite and Saudi Money – What does the Spiro Agnew story mean? Ami Magazine.

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Remnick, D. (2006, July 2). Nattering Nabobs. The New Yorker.

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Safire, W. (1976, May 24). Spiro Agnew and the Jews. The New York Times.

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Schmich, M. (1996, September 19). Making Up is Hard to do — Especially At a Funeral. Chicago Tribune.

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Spiro Theodore Agnew: Television News Coverage. American Rhetoric.

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