Karl Prussion and Inside a Communist Cell: Are They Credible?


I was wondering over the weekend what to write for my next post, and although there are at least a few topics in the back of my mind, I found the answer when I came across an oddity on YouTube: Inside a Communist Cell (1961), a record released through the John Birch Society record label Key Records. This is the account of Karl Prussion, a man who was born into a communist family and named after Karl Marx. He was recruited into the CPUSA in his senior year of college in 1933. He apparently started having doubts as early as two years after and in 1938 the Dies Committee identified him as a communist (Kienholz). Prussion stated that from 1947 to 1959 he served as an informant for the FBI when he resigned to go public, as he believed that the United States was losing the battle. When people would write to the FBI about whether his story was true, all Hoover and the FBI would do was verify that he was a paid informant from November 1949 to July 1958, but would not comment on his opinions or ventures. He testified as a friendly witness before the House Committee on Un-American Activities in San Francisco on May 13, 1960 in the midst of the City Hall student “riots” in which students attempted to storm the hearings but were sprayed with fire hoses. Prussion was often invited to speak before conservative groups and his speeches were used as evidence for communist conspiracy in numerous facets of American life by conservatives. In my curiosity I listened to the whole record, and I found that at least some of what he said is at least plausible, but his recounting of a Communist cell meeting is suspect in accuracy especially considering some of his other statements outside the record.

In Inside a Communist Cell, Prussion claimed that he was arranged to be married to a communist he didn’t know beforehand. That he was married to a communist is at least verified, as according to Susan Gosman, whose parents were communist, “My mother was married to a man named Karl Prussion” and that he was a “vicious anti-Communist” (Gosman). Prussion also claimed that the communists initially planned for him to be a Methodist minister before he convinced them that he should instead be part of the labor movement given his history of violence. He singles out the influential Reverend Harry F. Ward. a co-founder of the ACLU, as a communist, and this actually checks out. That he was in the leadership of not one but two communist front groups is no accident: from 1934 to 1940 he chaired the League Against War and Fascism and was the honorary chair of the Civil Rights Congress. In 1953, the House Committee on Un-American Activites identified him as one of three communist ministers, which he disputed. Prussion’s charge that Ward was the contact man for him getting into the seminary is at least plausible if not probable. People involved with CPUSA and its fronts got to know fairly quickly where the true allegiance was: speaking out against the USSR or its leader was grounds for explusion while the same couldn’t be said for the USA or its president. The notion that communists infiltrated the churches is interesting (albeit highly disputed) and I now know of at least two cases: Ward and Jim Jones, the latter whom strayed from his original intent to form an infamous death cult known as The People’s Temple.

As an added bonus, Prussion sings American Communist anthems in response to a question as to what communists sang. But the questions about him begin with his recounting of a Communist cell meeting.

Prussion’s recounting of a Communist cell meeting reveals communist infiltration of the missile industry through a ball bearing salesman who claims to know as a result of his work when and where missiles are fired, academia, trade unions, and the Santa Clara PTA, in the latter a speaker states that they are pushing for a resolution to ban atomic testing at the national PTA Association and expect it to be passed almost unanimously. According to Prussion, it was passed almost unanimously. Also, the notion of “peaceful coexistence” with communism and pushes to end atomic testing are revealed as communist plots, the former to get Americans off their guard. One of the speakers of the cell meeting regards as a successful propaganda campaign getting the press to refer to the House Committee on Un-American Activites as the House Un-American Activities Committee. This part of it actually makes sense, as the former sounds a lot more favorable than the latter. There is also a joke cracked about Sunnyvale’s City Hall banquet room that they call the Smolny Institute, and Prussion testified to this joke in the 1960 HCUA hearing. I find at least some of this story suspicious in how closely it resembles the conspiratorial right’s views, such as a speaking Communist stating that among their goals they must keep the US in the UN and that they must push for the fluoridation of water. Crusades against US membership in the UN and fluoridation of water were chief indicators of conspiratorial right philosophy. According to one of the speakers in Prussion’s recollection, the communists in California were trying and making strides in taking over the state’s Democratic Party, which again, was an idea the conspiratorial right was pushing. The questions begin with his recounting of a Communist cell meeting and they continue based on what I read about him outside this record.

From what I have been able to read up on Prussion, there are some things that bring his credibility into question. First, he swore under oath in a September 28, 1963 affidavit that Martin Luther King Jr. was a member of a whopping sixty communist front groups. On March 30, 1965, Rep. William Dickinson (R-Ala.) produced the sworn affadavit before Congress to allege that King was a communist. Prussion also at one point in a speech, “Insurrection at Watts”, before Young Americans for Freedom, claimed that President Lyndon B. Johnson was a communist (Prussion, 314). As I have written in a previous post about Dr. King, he was not discerning in where he sought aid for his cause. Another figure he sought aid for his cause was Vice President Richard Nixon. Second, Prussion joined the Board of Policy of Liberty Lobby, a cryptic organization that posed as conservative but had white supremacy and fascism as its under-the-surface aim, as that was the wish of its founder, leader, and Treasurer, Willis Carto. The organization’s Board of Policy ranged from very staunch anti-Communists to outright racists and anti-Semites. The common factor between all of them was the belief in conspiracy.

I have tried to discover what ultimately became of Prussion, but all I have found is that he attempted suicide in Oroville, California, with sleeping pills on December 11, 1965, apparently out of the belief that he was a target for assassination from communists (Prussion, 326). He was subsequently diagnosed with mental illness and paranoia. In January 1966, Prussion claimed there was a secret communist in Congress but didn’t name the person. Additionally, Prussion apparently didn’t resign from the FBI, he was terminated after revealing his status to a reporter and in January 1964 a California appeals court found in a case “that ‘the witness Karl Prussion is an unreliable witness and that his testimony be eliminated from consideration by the court in deciding this case.’ ” (Prussion) The FBI information on him ends there.

Prussion may have been telling the truth in at least some aspects of his background story and the information he acquired about communists. It is also confirmed that he was an informant for the FBI, but his recounting of the meeting is suspect, his wilder claims seem to have been efforts to command more attention and money for himself, and his diagnosis of mental illness and paranoia doesn’t help the case for his credibility. Prussion is certainly dead now and hasn’t had any influence for over fifty years but it was interesting to see if anything he said checked out.


Gosman, S. (2019, August 14). Memories of a Jewish American red diaper baby. People’s World.

Retrieved from


Kienholz, M.L. (2012). The canwell files: Murder, arson, and intrigue in the evergreen state. Bloomington, IN: iUniverse.

Prussion, Karl K.

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Link to Inside a Communist Cell:

About Bill Murray…No, the Other One!

Want to Be a Fed Governor? Better Pretend to Be From Somewhere ...

In 1907, Theodore Roosevelt admitted Oklahoma as a state, and one of the foremost proponents of its admission was William H. “Alfalfa Bill” Murray (1869-1956). He was nicknamed this as he tended to talk while on the campaign trail about his patch of alfalfa he farmed and advocated for it as a crop. After admission, the people of the state elected Charles Haskell governor and Murray became Speaker of the Assembly. Both were progressive Democrats and worked together to institute this agenda for the state. Haskell and Murray instituted regulations on corporations, banks, mines, and factories. They also enacted health and sanitary laws, child labor laws, and the construction of the state’s first prison. Important on their minds was the institution of Jim Crow: interracial marriages and interracial relations were made felonies and schools were segregated. As Murray himself put it, “We should adopt a provision prohibiting the mixed marriages of negroes with other races in this State, and provide for separate schools and give the Legislature power to separate them in waiting rooms and on passenger coaches, and all other institutions in the State” and went on to state that as a rule they “are failures as lawyers, doctors and in other professions. He must be taught in the line of his own sphere, as porters, bootblacks and barbers and many lines of agriculture, horticulture and mechanics” (Naylor, 196). He dismissed entirely any notion that they could be equals to whites, as did many white Oklahomans at the time. Although Murray declined to run for reelection in 1908, the Oklahoma State Legislature would eventually segregate everything in his absence, and in 1915 it became the first state to segregate telephone booths.

Murray’s political career would be mixed in success. In 1910, his bid to succeed Governor Haskell fell short, but he managed to get elected to Congress in 1912 and would serve two terms, accumulating a progressive record. However, in 1916 he lost renomination. In 1918, Murray tried again for governor but failed. In 1924, he led a group of Oklahomans, seeking a better life, in forming an American colony in Bolivia. Murray and his followers tried farming there for five years before returning to Oklahoma, finding the life there too difficult. By this time, however, political opportunity arose for Murray. By 1930 the country was in dire economic straits with the start of the Great Depression and Oklahoma was particularly hard-hit by the Dust Bowl and a severe drought, so he ran for governor and condemned what he called “The Three C’s – Corporations, Carpetbaggers, and Coons” (Hill). Voters liked Murray’s outspokenness as well as his rough-hewn style…when he dressed in any way resembling formality it was a rumpled suit that had ash from his ever-present cigar and food and tobacco juice stains. One author describes him as “disheveled, crude, vulgar, eccentric. No one accused him of bathing too often” (Levy, 163). These were not considered negatives for Oklahoma voters of the time, as this was thought of as authentic. He easily prevailed and went straight to work in trying to relieve the Great Depression by feeding the poor and cracking down on tax evasion. Like Huey Long in Louisiana and Eugene Talmadge in Georgia, Murray proved freewheeling and abusive with his power. He used the National Guard as his personal army and employed it a total of forty-seven times and frequently invoked martial law, despite threats from the Oklahoma Senate to impeach him. His attitude of his way or the highway would contribute to one of the most notable interstate conflicts.

The Red River Bridge Controversy

In 1931, Governor Murray and Governor Ross Sterling of Texas fought out over a bridge that connected the two states. Texas was in the midst of a court case in which the Red River Bridge Company, which owned and operated a toll bridge next to the state-constructed free bridge crossing into Oklahoma, asked for an injunction to close the free bridge as there was an agreement that the state would buy the old bridge, and Texas hadn’t provided the full sum yet due to a budget shortfall. Governor Sterling closed the bridge, but Murray demanded it open and asserted that both sides of the bridge were in the state of Oklahoma per the Louisiana Purchase Treaty and proceeded to have the barriers to the new bridge torn down while the Oklahoma road leading to the toll bridge was torn down. He then sent the National Guard to open the toll bridge and let anyone through. Murray even showed up in person with an antique revolver. The controversy ultimately resolved in Murray’s favor.

Run for President and Feud with Roosevelt

In 1932, Governor Murray decided to run for the Democratic nomination for president, running on the campaign slogan “Bread, Butter, Bacon, and Beans” but he was no match for FDR. Although he initially endorsed Roosevelt and his New Deal, he began fighting with FDR over control of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration. He wanted to treat the agency as exclusively under his personal authority in Oklahoma, and FDR thus removed all control of it from him. Murray thus became a staunch critic of the New Deal.

In 1935, Murray, unable to run for reelection, left office. Although he made other attempts at office, including governor again as an Independent and for the Democratic nomination for the Senate in 1942, his political career was over.

Deterioration in Old Age

Murray’s involvement in politics didn’t necessarily end, though: he wrote his extensive memoirs that included “…historical inaccuracies, religious digressions, fancied occurrences, prescriptions for home remedies, phrenological nonsense, and bizarre ideas about diet. But many of his stories and recollections are clear and concise and can be supported by other sources” (Bryant, 271).  He also included his ideas about race and Jews, which were venomous. Although he was viciously racist against blacks, he considered them to possess some virtues, but had no such consideration for Jews. Murray regarded them as Communists and believed in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. In his memoirs, he expressed his belief that FDR was Jewish and that Bernard Baruch, who was Jewish, had created the New Deal. Some of Murray’s writings can be attributed to his declining mental faculties, which had begun after the death of his wife in 1938. Murray had previously stood as a staunch opponent of religious persecution and proposed a measure exempting religious minorities fleeing from persecution from a literacy test for immigration while serving in Congress. In addition to his memoirs, he wrote anti-Semitic and racist tracts and used Gerald L.K. Smith’s the Cross and the Flag as well as Gerald Winrod’s Defender Magazine as sources for his views. Both men were Nazi sympathizers with whom Murray maintained correspondence despite his sons pleading with him not to associate with them.

In 1948, he showed up at the Dixiecrat Convention, and bragged that he “introduced Jim Crow in Oklahoma” (Rothman). Although financially reliant upon others in his old age as he hadn’t saved for retirement, he lived to see one last victory. In 1951, Murray administered the oath of office to his son, Governor Johnston Murray, and got to live in the Governor’s mansion for four years. In his last years, Murray was in poor health, being mostly blind and deaf and needing assistance for just about everything. In 1956, he suffered a major stroke and in October he contracted double pneumonia, which put him in a coma. He died on October 15, 1956. “Alfalfa Bill” Murray was a foundational and unique figure in the state of Oklahoma and in that time reflected the views of many white citizens of the state, who were by political inclination Southern progressives.


Bryant, K.L. (1968). Alfalfa Bill Murray. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press.

Hill, R. (2016, September 18). ‘Alfalfa Bill’ Governor William H. Murray of Oklahoma. The Knoxville Focus.

Retrieved from


Levy, D.W. (2015). The University of Oklahoma: A history, volume II: 1917-1950. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press.

Naylor, C.E. (2008). African Cherokees in Indian territory: From chattel to citizens. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press.


Rothman, L. (2014, September 5). Here’s Bill Murray on the Cover of TIME. TIME.

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Taylor, L.W. Red River Bridge Controversy. Texas State Historical Association.

Retrieved from



An Examination of Popular Historical Defenses for Rioting

In the wake of the protests to the morally and legally unjustifiable police killing of George Floyd, there have been a number of sentiments expressed that are troubling for being pro-rioting and looting. Before I start here, I must state that I think it is a false dilemma to say that you either must be pro-riot or pro-police brutality and racism and that I don’t object to the non-violent protesting that has occurred…it is legitimate. The vast majority of protestors have been peaceful, but there has been a riotous contingent, at least some of which is the work of Antifa, whose actions must not be endorsed and must be dealt with by law enforcement. Some, nonetheless, have taken it upon themselves to justify or condone rioting. I will present some of the things I have seen in the past few days and my problems with them. I start with ones regarding Martin Luther King, Jr., starting with these two images:

Image may contain: 4 people, text that says 'Never burned one building Never robbed one store Never destroyed one town they still killed him. hamodtheworid BH'


So James Earl Ray totally wasn’t an individual…he was a representative of intentions and will of white people past and present…that is if you believe the racial demagogues and the sufferers of white guilt. What makes James Earl Ray more representative of whites than other whites? What about MLK’s lieutenants, who believed and acted his principles and were not assassinated? What’s more, what about the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965? Were these not achievements spurred on by MLK’s nonviolent protests and activism? Weren’t these examples of how nonviolent protest can result in the achievement of goals? This is a fundamental difference of perspective…a difference between seeing actions and guilt as individual or group based. The people who post this clearly see it as the latter, not the former. I am against the concept of collective guilt because that assumes people have a great deal of control over the actions of others.

Some have also argued for a selective reading of Martin Luther King Jr.’s words in a 1966 Mike Wallace interview to make it look like he thought rioting legitimate with the following quote, “I contend that the cry of “black power” is, at bottom, a reaction to the reluctance of white power to make the kind of changes necessary to make justice a reality for the Negro. I think that we’ve got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard” (CBS News). Here is the quote in a much fuller context, the quote itself is underlined by me:

REV. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. (speech): Now what I’m saying is this: I would like for all of us to believe in non-violence, but I’m here to say tonight that if every Negro in the United States turns against non-violence, I’m going to stand up as a lone voice and say, “This is the wrong way!”

KING (interview): I will never change in my basic idea that non-violence is the most potent weapon available to the Negro in his struggle for freedom and justice. I think for the Negro to turn to violence would be both impractical and immoral.

MIKE WALLACE: There’s an increasingly vocal minority who disagree totally with your tactics, Dr. King.

KING: There’s no doubt about that. I will agree that there is a group in the Negro community advocating violence now. I happen to feel that this group represents a numerical minority. Surveys have revealed this. The vast majority of Negroes still feel that the best way to deal with the dilemma that we face in this country is through non-violent resistance, and I don’t think this vocal group will be able to make a real dent in the Negro community in terms of swaying 22 million Negroes to this particular point of view. And I contend that the cry of “black power” is, at bottom, a reaction to the reluctance of white power to make the kind of changes necessary to make justice a reality for the Negro. I think that we’ve got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard. And, what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the economic plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years.

WALLACE: How many summers like this do you imagine that we can expect?

KING: Well, I would say this: we don’t have long. The mood of the Negro community now is one of urgency, one of saying that we aren’t going to wait. That we’ve got to have our freedom. We’ve waited too long. So that I would say that every summer we’re going to have this kind of vigorous protest. My hope is that it will be non-violent. I would hope that we can avoid riots because riots are self-defeating and socially destructive. I would hope that we can avoid riots, but that we would be as militant and as determined next summer and through the winter as we have been this summer. And I think the answer about how long it will take will depend on the federal government, on the city halls of our various cities, and on White America to a large extent. This is where we are at this point, and I think White America will determine how long it will be and which way we go in the future. (CBS News)

To sum up, King did not endorse rioting, morally or as a tactic, but was communicating why a minority of blacks would be motivated to do so. There is a world of difference between understanding why someone does something and supporting. He did not change his mind on this issue either as he expressed the same sentiment in his speech at Grosse Pointe High School a mere three weeks before his assassination: “And I would still be the first to say that I am still committed to militant, powerful, massive, nonviolence as the most potent weapon in grappling with the problem from a direct action point of view. I’m absolutely convinced that a riot merely intensifies the fears of the white community while relieving the guilt. And I feel that we must always work with an effective, powerful weapon and method that brings about tangible results. But it is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible of me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the negro poor has worsened over the last twelve to fifteen years” (Smith, 2020).

The “Double Standard” Argument




In a similar vein, Kellie Carter Jackson, a professor of Africana Studies, wrote an article titled “The Double Standard of the American Riot”, asserting that riots are only fine for Americans if white people commit them. I will link the article at the end of the post.

First, the Boston Tea Party was not a riot. If  people who think this want examples of violence in the lead up to the American Revolution, they would be better off citing the Stamp Act riots, attacks on tax collectors, and tarring and feathering. All are actions which patriot leaders firmly opposed and we in truth shouldn’t justify today. Second, the colonists who participated in the Boston Tea Party on December 16, 1773, didn’t indiscriminately loot and burn local businesses nor did they attack anyone. They had one target and one target alone: the tea of the East India Company, which had been granted a monopoly over the tea trade in the colonies as a way to rescue the business from bankruptcy. The dumping of the tea was an act of civil disobedience and destruction of property, but very targeted…the participating colonists even cleaned up after dumping the tea and replaced a broken padlock! Many of the people who would become known as the Founding Fathers opposed: George Washington of Virginia and Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania condemned the incident, believing it hurt the cause of the colonists. Franklin even proposed to John Hancock and Samuel Adams that they reimburse the company for the tea, writing “I am truly concern’d, as I believe all considerate Men are with you, that there should seem to any a Necessity for carrying Matters to such Extremity, as, in a Dispute about Publick Rights, to destroy private Property” (Latson).  John Adams of Massachusetts, however, usually averse to such actions, was more enthusiastic in a letter to his friend James Warren: “The Dye is cast: The People have passed the River and cutt away the Bridge: last Night Three Cargoes of Tea, were emptied into the Harbour. This is the grandest, Event, which has ever yet happened Since, the Controversy, with Britain, opened! The Sublimity of it, charms me!” (Norton) In his diary, he affirmed that he believed the dumping of the tea was justified. The Boston Tea Party is far closer to the sit-ins of the 1960s: both were the non-violent breaking of unjust laws. In the case of the sit-ins, it was Jim Crow laws, and in the colonies, it was taxation without representation, the Townshend Acts, and the Tea Act. The Boston harbor was closed as a punishment as no individual perpetrators could be identified. Are the laws against looting, burning, assault, battery, manslaughter, and murder (at least eleven have been killed in the riots so far) similarly unjust?

Violent incidents as well as civil disobedience heated relations between the colonies and Britain, and the people who would become the Founding Fathers hoped to reach a resolution so that they would be accorded the same political rights as other Englishmen before resorting to revolution. When this failed and the British began imposing punitive acts on Massachusetts, the colonies formed the Continental Congress and began arming  for defense. When the British troops came to disarm the colonists, the first battle of the Revolutionary War, the Battle of Lexington and Concord, occurred on April 19, 1775. The colonists acted in their own defense against a military force. After the establishment of the United States as an independent nation, the first three presidents were certainly not supportive of rioting: President George Washington deployed the military to quash the Whiskey Rebellion. President John Adams signed the Sedition Act into law out of fear that the mob violence that characterized the French Revolution could make its way to the United States. President Thomas Jefferson signed into law the Insurrection Act of 1807, which permits the president to use the military to suppress violent civil disorders. The American founders at heart were not radicals…they simply wanted the British government to remain true to its principles. Likewise, those who want more police accountability in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and protest through non-violent means wish the police to be true to the law.


Latson, J. (2014, December 16). Then as Now, the Tea Party Proved Divisive. Time.

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MLK: A Riot is the Language of the Unheard. (2013, August 25). CBS News.

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Norton, A. (2019, May 8). “The Sublimity of it, charms me!”: John Adams and the Boston Tea Party. Massachusetts Historical Society.

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Smith, K. (2020, June 1). No, Martin Luther King Was Not Pro-Riot. National Review.

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The Boston Tea Party – Introduction. Massachusetts Historical Society.

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Jackson’s article:



The Philadelphia Plan – A Conflict of Working Classes



In 1967, the Johnson Administration attempted to institute racial quotas for racially restrictive building trade unions, but ran into an issue when Comptroller Elmer Staats declared the plan violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Johnson Administration opted not to challenge, as the president was facing greater political difficulties and chose to focus on fair housing for civil rights policy. The Philadelphia Plan would be up to the next administration.

In 1969, with the support of President Nixon, Secretary of Labor George Shultz and Assistant Secretary of Wage and Labor Standards Arthur Fletcher revived an altered Philadelphia Plan, which required federal contractors to set plans for hiring a certain percent of black workers in Philadelphia through good faith efforts, but failure to meet percentages would not be penalized. This plan attracted immense opposition from construction unions that wanted to retain control over hiring and continue their largely family-based hiring practices (which made it all white) as well as opposition from the white working class. In this case, the Nixon Administration sided with the black working class. The plan also attracted the opposition of Minority Leader Everett Dirksen (R-Ill.), who had been critical in supporting the Civil Rights Act of 1964, agreeing with a color-blind perspective. However, he died of lung cancer on September 7th, and the new Minority Leader, moderate Hugh Scott of Pennsylvania, was supportive. Attorney General John Mitchell declared the plan legal, while Staats continued to assert its illegality and challenged the Attorney General’s authority on the subject. Initially the Senate disapproved of the plan, but on December 22, 1969, Rep. George Mahon (D-Texas) proposed to defeat the Philadelphia Plan, which failed on a 156-208 (R 41-124, D 115-84) vote. The Senate followed up this action on the same day to retain the plan on a 39-29 (R 16-13, D 23-16) vote.

A few notable details in the votes:

Reelection did not appear to weigh heavily on the minds of senators who were running for reelection in 1970, nor did it play a significant role in the 1970 midterms.

The three Alabama Republican representatives voted to KEEP the Philadelphia Plan! All three had voted against the Voting Rights Act only four years earlier.

James B. Utt of California, an ultra-conservative Orange County Republican, voted to KEEP the Philadelphia Plan! He had the single most negative record on civil rights from California – Utt was the only Californian to vote against all four of the following measures: the Civil Rights Act of 1957, the Civil Rights Act of 1960, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Southern Democrats were the most opposed group, as expected.

Northern Democrats faced something of a dilemma here…choose civil rights or unions. There is a distinct white working-class element to opposition to this plan…

All voting black representatives voted to keep the Philadelphia Plan.

Democrats from California and New York overwhelmingly voted to keep the Philadelphia Plan.

In Connecticut, three of the state’s four Democratic representatives opposed…only Emilio Daddario of Hartford voted to keep.

Cook County (Chicago), Illinois Democrats split evenly.

All of the white representatives from Wayne County (Detroit), Michigan, who voted opposed.

One of Maine’s two Democratic representatives opposed.

Four of seven voting Massachusetts Democrats opposed.

All of the white representatives from Missouri who cast votes opposed.

Eight of thirteen of Pennsylvania’s voting Democratic representatives opposed, of the three Republicans who opposed, two represented Pittsburgh. Only one Democrat outside of Philadelphia voted to keep the Philadelphia Plan.

Both of Rhode Island’s Democratic representatives opposed.

Three of West Virginia’s five Democratic representatives opposed, as did both the state’s senators.

Midwestern Republican voting on this subject seemed to be based more on strength of conservatism than anything else.

Senate Democrats from western states and the Northeast proved more supportive than in the House…they had larger constituencies to contend with. Conservative Republicans in the Senate more clearly aligned against the Philadelphia Plan than in the House.

Ultimately, this precursor to affirmative action was adopted by many other major cities and resulted in moderate increases in hiring of black workers on major construction projects. By the 1990s, George Shultz was against affirmative action, citing how the times had changed, while Arthur Fletcher supported.

I have provided the link to the vote below with MC-Index scores for the 91st Congress.


Republicans are in italics.

Democrats are in plain font.

Y – “Yea”

N – “Nay”

✓ – Paired for.

X – Paired against.

# – Announced for.

– – Announced against.

Philadelphia Plan


“Big Tim” Sullivan –  The Corrupt Reformer


Timothy Sullivan (1862-1913) had a rough life, but this made him tough and prepared him for business and politics in New York City. He was one among ten children and lost his father at the age of five. His mother subsequently married an alcoholic who abandoned the family. Starting at the age of eight Sullivan worked as a shoe shiner and newspaper seller. By his mid-twenties, “Big Tim” (he was a large man) Sullivan owned multiple saloons and was well on his way up the Democratic Tammany Hall totem pole of power, as boss Richard Croker recognized his organizational abilities. Although married, he slept around with showgirls and had at minimum six illegitimate children. Sullivan’s one child with his wife, a daughter, died as an infant.

“Big Tim” Sullivan ran both legitimate businesses and rackets in Manhattan and served in the New York State Assembly from 1887 to 1893 and in the State Senate from 1894 to 1902. Due to New York’s status as a swing state in the late 19th century, his and Tammany Hall’s efforts were important for electing presidents. In 1902, Sullivan both became the head of the Tammany Hall machine and was elected to Congress, but he didn’t do much in his time there: he was a member of a minority party and had greater business in New York City than Washington. He stated his dissatisfaction with his role: “There’s nothing in this Congressman business. They know ‘em in Washington. The people down there use ‘em as hitchin’-posts. Every time they see a Congressman on the streets they tie their horses to him” (MacNeil, 120). He resigned in 1906 to devote his attention to state politics, returning to the state Senate.

In addition to his business and entertainment interests (building of theaters with William Fox…yes THAT Fox), Sullivan became quite wealthy off of graft, making roughly $100,000 a year off it as well as being part of a bipartisan group in the state Senate that could be bribed to kill legislation. He also received kickbacks and payments from illegal operations for permission to work in the city. Sullivan mentored Arnold Rothstein, the mobster mastermind of the rigging of the 1919 World Series, who ran the second floor of Sullivan’s casino. Sullivan’s forces were known for engaging in practically every dirty trick in the book. He had a way of turning one voter into four with voters he called “repeaters”: “When they vote with their whiskers on, you take ’em to a barber and scrape off the chin fringe. Then you vote ’em again with side lilacs and moustache, then to the barber again, off comes the sides and you vote ‘em a third time with just a moustache. If that ain’t enough, and the box can stand a few more ballots, clean off the moustache and vote ‘em plain face. That makes every one of them good for four votes” (Carlson). Sullivan also did not shy away from employing violence. He “employed street-level, physical intimidation at the ballot box both to control and to expand the suffrage” and was accused of “interfering with patrolmen assigned to maintain order at polling places and of physically beating Republican poll watchers who challenged voters’ credentials” (Mohl, 137-138). Sullivan also used gangsters to bully Republicans out of the polls. However, neither party was inclined to push the matter as both were involved in election chicanery. Sullivan was also closely affiliated with organized crime, being sure to get his cut for activity allowed in his area. With this corruption came benefits for his constituents: they were given jobs, coal in the winter, Christmas turkey dinners, and shoes. All Sullivan wanted in exchange was votes, and he got ‘em. He also at times embraced reform. Sullivan mentored social activist and later Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins, supported limitations on hours for women in factories, supported women’s suffrage, and pushed the first gun control measure in New York called the Sullivan Law, “making it a felony to carry a concealed weapon and requiring the licensing and registration of small firearms” (Mohl, 145) . However, he was not above using the latter against his foes and to the benefit of himself and his lackeys.

In 1912, tragedy struck in Sullivan’s life again. In July, he began suffering serious mental illness, including paranoid delusions, hallucinations, and manic depression, the product of advanced syphilis he had caught from his years of sleeping around. Sullivan was under constant fear that his food was being poisoned and in September, his estranged wife died, which pushed him over the edge. He was institutionalized and although he won election to Congress, in January 1913 a jury declared him “a lunatic and incapable of managing himself or his affairs” and he was never sworn in (Mohl, 146). In April 1913, he moved in with his brother Patrick and was under the care of male nurses. On August 31st, he ran away and was run over by a train, his body being discovered two weeks later. In death, “Big Tim” Sullivan was still popular: 75,000 people attended his funeral procession.


Carlson, P. (October 2018). American Schemers: ‘Big Tim’ Sullivan, ‘King of the Bowery.’ Historynet.

Retrieved from


MacNeil, N. (1963). Forge of democracy: The House of Representatives. Philadelphia, PA: David McKay Company.

Mohl, R.A. (1997). The making of urban America. Lanham, MD: SR Books.

Ezra Pound: Poetry and Politics

Ezra Pound - Wikipedia

Today my subject matter is going to be a bit unusual…but that’s kinda usual fare for this blog, now isn’t it? It’s just that this is the first time I’ve covered a poet…Ezra Pound (1885-1972) was one of the greatest American poets in history who was the foremost force in the modernist movement. He also carried with him a dark side, which came out in politics.

Although Ezra Pound hailed from the rural town of Hailey, Idaho, he traveled extensively as an adult and spent much of his life outside the United States. In college, he studied philosophy along with language and resolved to gain the greatest knowledge of poetry by age 30. In 1907, he began his teaching at Wabash University in Crawfordsville, Indiana, a town he despised for its socially conservative ways. After a year, he departed for London. In 1912, he began his career as a critic when he worked as London correspondent for the Chicago-based magazine Poetry. He befriended W.B. Yeats and was one of the first to recognize and promote Robert Frost, D.H. Lawrence, and Marianne Moore. Pound also assisted James Joyce and got his novels Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses published. He was, as Joyce put it, “A miracle of ebulliency, gusto, and help” (Menand).

Ezra Pound during this time was publishing his poetry. Some of his most notable works include Ripostes (1912), Lustra (1916), Homage to Sextus Propertius (1919), and Hugh Selwyn Mauberley (1920). One of his best known poems, “In a Station of the Metro” (1913), reads:

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;

Petals on a wet, black bough. (Menand)

However, his most famous work would be the ongoing and ultimately unfinished The Cantos, a long poem (about 800 pages) which he worked on between 1915 and 1962. This work would have a profound influence on subsequent poets, including the beat generation. He also befriended and aided such figures as Ernest Hemingway and William Carlos Williams. Pound developed his own unique style of writing with unique choices for abbreviations and sometimes employed alternate spellings for words, thus making reading his writing a bit difficult. So far, I have only gone over his career as a man of letters, but this blog is called Fascinating Politics…so on with the politics!

Pound on Politics

Pound was profoundly affected by World War I…he saw its damage and devastation and wished for it never to be repeated again. He became a critic of the British, a major fan of Mussolini, was profoundly suspicious of big banks, and came to view interest as a great evil responsible for the world’s problems. In 1933, Pound got a personal audience with Mussolini, and gave him a copy of “A Draft of XXX Cantos”, which he accepted graciously, stating, “Ma questo è divertente” (“How amusing”)” (Menand).  He also viewed Alexander Hamilton as a historical villain for his ties with and advocacy for established business and banks, regarded Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri as a hero for his opposition to the Second Bank of the United States, and was a staunch opponent of the Federal Reserve. He saw the evils of the world to have been caused by financial manipulation. Pound also maintained correspondence with many people in government, but the people he wrote to the most were Senators William E. Borah of Idaho and Bronson Cutting of New Mexico as well as Representative George Tinkham of Boston. His correspondence with the latter is by far the lengthiest, having been from 1933 to 1941. Pound despised both the League of Nations and FDR, the latter he viewed as engaging in unconstitutional uses of executive power, a charge that is ironic considering what he would do during World War II.

I mentioned at the start of this post that his politics were his dark side, and this came in the form of his admiration for and support of dictators. Pound continued to support Mussolini during World War II and extended the same support to Adolf Hitler. He also wrote articles for publications owned by Sir Oswald Moseley, the leader of the British Union of Fascists. As you might have concluded at this point, he was also a staunch anti-Semite. From 1941 to 1943, Pound went on Italian radio to propagandize for Mussolini and condemn the United States and Britain and accuse Britain of being an Anglo-Jewish Empire. He also frequently employed the use of the slur “kike” in his broadcasts. These broadcasts were characterized by bizarre rambling and ultimately placed Pound in mortal danger after his arrest by U.S. forces. Other treasonous propagandists faced death sentences, notably William Joyce (“Lord Haw-Haw”), who was executed by the British government for his propaganda broadcasts for Nazi Germany. However, he appeared to suffer a mental breakdown after being kept outside in a 6 x 6 cage in isolation for three weeks and his friends in the literary world pushed for him to be institutionalized. A board of physicians agreed, and instead of facing a trial for his life Pound became a resident of St. Elizabeths psychiatric hospital in Washington D.C.

He had not renounced his ways while in confinement, as he stated that “Hitler was a Joan of Arc, a martyr” (Blamires, 532). While in captivity, Pound wrote the Pisan Cantos, which was both critically acclaimed and unapologetically fascist and caused a controversy when he was awarded the Bollingen-Library of Congress Prize for poetry in 1948. Also troubling were some of the people he befriended while in confinement. In 1952, a young man named Eustace Mullins, who had come to admire Pound’s poetry and had engaged in correspondence with him, started visiting him. He, like Pound, was an anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist and under the guidance of Pound wrote The Secrets of the Federal Reserve (1952), in which he claimed that a group of elite bankers wrote the Federal Reserve Act for their own profit. I have covered why this narrative is incorrect in my October 2019 post, “The Politics Behind the Federal Reserve”. Mullins, the only man to write an authorized biography of Pound, This Difficult Individual Ezra Pound (1961), also believed in such nonsense as the Jewish blood libel, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and 9/11 Trutherism. He was identified as a “neo-Fascist” by the House Un-American Activities Committee for his article that compared Hitler to Jesus in the sense that they were both, in Mullins’ view, victims of Jews.

Pound also befriended and mentored John Kasper, a KKK activist who was often in trouble with the law for said activism and shared Pound’s view that desegregation was a Jewish plot. He established a bookstore to sell works with viewpoints supported by Pound. Pound’s associations with both Mullins and Kasper proved troublesome for figures in the literary world who wanted to secure his release, which eventually happened in 1958. Although Pound in later years expressed public regret for his anti-Semitism, he never really dropped his views and this has been difficult for those who admire his impressive work to reconcile this with his politics. He lived the remainder of his life in Venice, Italy.

Whether Pound was mentally ill or not is a subject of great speculation, but it is likely that at worst he had Narcissistic Personality Disorder but was otherwise sane.


Blamires, C.P. (2006). World Fascism: A-K. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.

Menand, L. (2008, June 2). The Pound Error. The New Yorker.

Retrieved from



For some of his poetry:


For some of his radio speeches…you can judge whether he was crazy or not:



“Fighting Bob” La Follette: The Ultimate Progressive Republican


In 1884, Robert Marion La Follette (1855-1925) was elected to Congress from Wisconsin and although he wasn’t a conservative, he was not yet a man of the left either and was friendly with the GOP leadership. He closely collaborated with Representative William McKinley on the 1890 McKinley Tariff, which cost both men reelection. Both made their comebacks, with McKinley’s being the most famous, but La Follette’s was more lasting.

Over the next decade, Robert La Follette would change in his politics as well as rise in power, starting with his accusation in 1891 that GOP Senator Philetus Sawyer offered him a bribe. He became increasingly interested in reform politics and came to regard railroads as the ultimate malignant force in his state’s politics but still supported William McKinley for president in 1896 and opposed William Jennings Bryan as a radical. La Follette ran for the GOP nomination for governor that year, calling for more direct democracy, such as primaries instead of caucuses and conventions and claiming that the Republican Party had been taken over by corporations. After two defeats in the Republican primary for governor, he made a compromise with party conservatives in 1900, securing the nomination and the election. During his time as governor, La Follette grew more and more progressive as conservatives turned away from his proposals on primaries and an income tax. Governor La Follette vetoed as insufficient a modest bill that would permit primaries only in local elections and signed into law a bill that taxed railroads based on land owned rather than profits. He also managed to create a commission to regulate railroads, but was unable to get a bill passed to regulate railroad rates. Despite intensifying conservative and business opposition to La Follette, he managed to beat back challenges to his governorship and in 1906 with the aid of his ally Irvine Lenroot secured his election to the Senate, resigning the governorship.

Many of his colleagues disapproved of him as a senator, with Senator Nelson Aldrich (R-R.I.) finding him a dangerous demagogue and thus did his best to limit La Follette’s effectiveness in pushing for progressive causes. However, La Follette was not deterred and continued to call for measures such as the income tax, railroad regulation (he thought the Hepburn Act didn’t go far enough), and direct election of senators. For his relentless and at times pugnacious advocacy of progressive positions he became known as “Fighting Bob”. He even grew dissatisfied with President Roosevelt as he thought him insufficiently progressive, with Roosevelt himself finding La Follette too radical. Senator La Follette’s power was in his masterful oratory, in which if you listen to this speech of his below, you will surely find that he speaks every word with great conviction.


In 1912, he angered Bull Moose Republicans with his refusal to back Roosevelt, which his supporters argue harmed the ticket. La Follette backed much of Woodrow Wilson’s New Freedom, voting for the Clayton Act and being the only Republican senator to support the Underwood Tariff, which lowered tariffs and placed into law the first permanent national income tax. He opposed the Federal Reserve Act as he found it too supportive of big banks. La Follette didn’t lose all of his previous Republicanism…he continued to oppose pork barrel projects, believing them to be wasteful uses of taxpayer money. This opposition was shared by many of his fellow Wisconsin progressives.  In 1915, he won a great victory with Wilson signing his Seamen’s Act, which provided legal rights for sailors, including permitting them to quit at any port. He also opposed the push to war and in 1917 he was one of only six senators to vote against entering World War I. During the war, La Follette took a strong stance for civil liberties, opposing both the Espionage Act and the Sedition Act. President Wilson and many senators at this time wanted him expelled from the Senate for a speech he delivered in St. Paul, Minnesota, against the war. They thought he was pro-German, but it turns out a hostile press had distorted the reporting of the speech, including falsely claiming that he had defended the sinking of the Lusitania. La Follette delivered an impassioned speech in his defense to the Senate defending free speech in wartime, and his legal counsel submitted a brief that detailed other wars in which major American political figures of unquestioned patriotism spoke against, and concluded, “Whether. . . right or wrong in opposing the declaration of war . . is immaterial. He had a right to his views, and he had a right to express them” (U.S. Senate). As the war drew to a close and his critics proved unable to provide witnesses against him ultimately killed the effort. The Senate voted down his expulsion 50 to 21 on January 16, 1919, with mostly only Wilson loyalists in the Democratic Party continuing to back the effort. During this time, he also supported the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia and opposed the Red Scare. La Follette also backed both the Prohibition amendment and the women’s suffrage amendment, but came to regret supporting the former. In 1919, he was one of the Irreconcilables on the Versailles Treaty debate, as he believed it would serve the interests of big business and imperialists. After the 1922 midterms, all federally elected Wisconsin officials save for fellow Senator Irvine Lenroot (who had moderated by this time) and Socialist Representative Victor Berger were progressive Republicans. In 1923, La Follette visited the USSR and was repulsed by the state of human rights and political freedom, thus changing his mind on the Bolsheviks. In 1924, he was highly dissatisfied with the Coolidge Administration and helped found the Conference for Progressive Political Action to push progressive issues. The Democrats didn’t look good to him either in this election as they had selected corporate attorney John W. Davis. Thus, La Follette ran for president under the Progressive Party banner, with Montana Democrat Senator Burton K. Wheeler as Vice President.

La Follette campaigned vigorously across the country, calling for nationalization of railroads and electric power, more labor protections, aid to farmers, a Constitutional amendment to end child labor (Coolidge was supportive of this one), an end to American imperialism south of the border, and a national referendum for war. This campaign attracted the support of labor groups, civil rights activist W.E.B. DuBois, birth control activist Margaret Sanger, and Socialist Party leader Eugene V. Debs. Although he only won his home state, he won 16% of the vote and performed strongly in a number of Midwestern and Western states, coming in second in California, Idaho, Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota (which he came close to winning), Oregon, South Dakota, Washington, and Wyoming. The vigors of campaigning took a toll on La Follette’s health, and the next year he died of heart failure at the age of 70. Thousands of Americans paid their respects to the senator as his funeral train carried him home to Wisconsin. This tremendous boat rocker’s lifetime MC-Index score was 29%. In 1957, the Senate Kennedy Committee named him as one of the five greatest senators, listing him with Henry Clay of Kentucky, Daniel Webster of Massachusetts, John Calhoun of South Carolina, and Robert Taft of Ohio.


Robert M. La Follette Expulsion Case. U.S. Senate.

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George Holden Tinkham: Boston’s Unabashed Eccentric


The 1914 midterms were good for the GOP in the House: they won back 62 seats as the economy was doing well and voters attributed this to conservative policies of the previous administration. One of the more surprising gains was in Boston, in which George Holden Tinkham (1870-1956) won a seat held by Democrats for ten years. Although the voters of his district were largely Irish Democrats, he became so popular that during most campaign seasons he could go on safaris and bag big game instead of campaign: from 1918 until his retirement his share of the vote never fell below 56%. During the Wilson Administration, he backed the preparedness movement and was eager to counter the Central Powers. Tinkham was so eager, in fact, that he fired the first American shot in World War I: when he was visiting the Italian front, the commander invited him to fire a 149-millimeter gun, issuing forth a 110-lb shell that exploded in Austrian lines. He stated afterwards, “I did not go there with that particular idea in mind, but I could not resist the temptation” (U.S. House of Representatives, 2014).

Tinkham was a conservative (MC-Index life score: 90%) who regarded himself as being true to the foundational principles of the United States and opposed three constitutional amendments his party supported: Prohibition, women’s suffrage, and child labor abolition. For the former, Tinkham was beloved by his constituents and day after day he would ridicule Wayne Wheeler and the Anti-Saloon League on the floor of the House. He regarded Prohibition as “unconstitutional, oppressive, and tyrannical” (U.S. House of Representatives, 2014). Tinkham also thought of himself as an individualist and non-conformist, and believed that others should be free to live so as well. According to Will Lang of Life, “Opposition is Tinkham’s favorite attitude. He is against internationalism, feminism, pacifism, and the New Deal. He abominates reform” (Lang, 71). In the 1920s, however, he stood, along with Hamilton Fish of New York, Leonidas C. Dyer of Missouri, and Fiorello LaGuardia of New York, as one of the few legislators who would frequently speak for civil rights. Tinkham declared Southern voting laws to be “the most colossal election fraud the world has ever known” and repeatedly pushed for investigations of Southern states for violations of the 14th and 15th Amendments (U.S. House of Representatives). In addition to voting for anti-lynching bills, he attempted to reduce representation from the South as a penalty for their disenfranchisement of black voters, per enforcement of the 14th Amendment. Leaders from both parties, eager to keep the peace, rejected this idea.

Aside from his political advocacy, Tinkham became known for his eccentricity, his bald head and bushy beard, his lifelong bachelorhood (to which he credited his accomplishments in life), and his massive collection of stuffed head trophies from his safaris in Kenya. His Congressional office was filled with these trophies, which he named after political opponents. Tinkham was admired by the Congressional pages, who wanted to run errands for him whenever possible so they could behold his office. He also collected works of fine art in his worldwide travels and had a special apartment for storing them as well as other trophies from his safaris. He would give tours to visitors with the only source of light being Tinkham’s flashlight, as he believed the pieces to be best observed individually. Tinkham’s appearance and mannerisms could be a bit off, however, according to Ezra Pound’s daughter Mary, “How his dirty fingernails and his smacking the waitress’s young fanny were compatible with being a great man and a friend of Babbo’s [Ezra Pound] I could not quite figure out” (Wilhelm, 112).

Although the district easily voted for FDR three times, they continued to elect Tinkham as well, despite his staunch opposition to the New Deal…the only New Deal law of significance he ever voted for was Social Security. In 1936, he won a greater majority than FDR! Tinkham also became a notable foe of FDR’s foreign policy and to the delight of his Irish constituents he would rail against the British on the floor of the House and voted against all of FDR’s bills to dismantle the Neutrality Acts. He also maintained a friendly correspondence with poet and literary critic Ezra Pound from 1933 to 1941, with both men sharing antipathy to the League of Nations and admiration for Benito Mussolini. Tinkham stated about him, “Mussolini certainly has had a great triumph and is a great man. Any man who can successfully defy England and the League of Nations is a man of strength and he has my admiration” (Wilhelm, 112). During World War II, Pound would go much further than admiration…he would later be imprisoned for propagandizing over the radio for Mussolini.

Unfortunately for Tinkham, in 1942 the Massachusetts GOP leadership tired of his non-interventionist politics and changed the composition of his district significantly, moving out Irish neighborhoods that voted for him and moving in suburban districts. At that point, he decided to retire, being succeeded by Christian Herter, a far more moderate internationalist Republican who would serve as Secretary of State under Eisenhower. In retirement, he moved to North Carolina to live with his sister, and died in her home in 1956.


Black Americans in Congress, 1870-2007. (2008). Office of History and Preservation, Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives.

George H. Tinkham: The Subtitles Write Themselves. (2014, March 24). U.S. House of Representatives.

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Lang, W. (1940, December 16). Tinkham The Mighty Hunter: Boston’s Congressman Bags Votes Like Tigers But Never Campaigns. Life.

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Wilhelm, J.J. (2010). Ezra Pound: The tragic years, 1925-1972. University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press.

For a photo of Tinkham with his trophies:



Legislators In Name Only

Although the term RINO (“Republican In Name Only”) is well known in American political lingo, I want to bring today another concept to mind….the Legislator in Name Only (LINO)! Although candidates for higher office get criticized for missing votes in their current station, especially those for president, the hard truth is that not by not doing so they guarantee loss. The case of the highly principled Representative Thomas B. Curtis of Missouri is demonstrative, as he lost his race for the Senate by two points in 1968 and may have pulled through had he not insisted on continuing to work full-time as a Congressman during campaign season. However, candidates for higher office aren’t legislators in name only as they get right back to work after the contest and it wouldn’t be fair to knock those absent on account of illness. We haven’t seen the like of the true LINO in many years but some of them were in fact highly influential! For these guys, Representative was merely another title. Rep. Adam Clayton Powell Jr. (D-N.Y.) was criticized for absenteeism for missing 28% of votes throughout his time in Congress, but that’s nothing compared to these guys:

William Randolph Hearst


Although William Randolph Hearst served two terms in Congress from New York City as a Democrat, he barely voted. Serving from 1903 to 1907, he didn’t vote enough to achieve an ideological score either from DW-Nominate or the MC-Index. By default, his absenteeism makes him one of the worst Congressmen in history. Hearst was too busy running his New York Journal and plotting a run for president to consider doing the job he was elected and paid to do. Hearst pretty much only proposed legislation to the left of the Square Deal with the full knowledge it didn’t stand a chance in Joe Cannon’s Congress. Hearst missed 196 of 223 votes, 88%.

Joseph Pulitzer


That’s right! Hearst’s primary press rival was also an absentee Congressman. Joseph Pulitzer, who ran New York World, served for a total of one term as a Democrat from 1885 to 1886. Hearst and Pulitzer not only competed in the press, but also competed for spots on the worst list for members of Congress. He missed 51 of 57 votes, making his absentee rate a whopping 89%. He ultimately resigned mid-term to spend more time running the newspaper. In his short time in the House, Pulitzer was known as a critic of big business. In the contest of which of the great press magnates was worse in Congress, Pulitzer wins the prize!

Timothy Sullivan

Timothy “Big Tim” Sullivan may seem like an insignificant member at first glance, but he was in fact the boss of Tammany Hall! After the departure of Richard Croker in 1902, Sullivan headed the organization until his death. Serving from 1903 to 1906 as well as 1913 in the House, he was both corrupt and a backer of social reform. I could write much more about Sullivan, but given the material on him he warrants his own post, which I will write in the future. He missed 195 of 212 votes, 92%.

Others With Substantial Absentee Records:

Claude L’Engle (D-Fla., 1913-15) – 273 of 281 votes missed, 97%. Lost renomination.

Richmond Hobson (D-Ala., 1907-15) – 671 of 1054 votes missed, 64%.

James F. Burke (R-Penn., 1905-15) – 721 of 1190 votes missed, 61%.

William Ainey (R-Penn., 1911-15) – 313 of 517 votes missed, 61%.

Eben W. Martin (R-S.D., 1901-07, 1908-15) – 511 of 1192 votes missed, 43%..

Stephen Hoxworth (D-Ill., 1913-15) – 250 of 281 votes missed, 89%. Didn’t run for reelection in 1914.

The Townsend Plan and Its Failures of Math


Although the “Green New Deal” is rather old news now, I’ve intended for some time to make a post about another impractical plan that caught the attention of many Americans when the nation was at its most economically troubled.

At the onset of the Great Depression, physician Francis Townsend (1867-1960) of Long Beach, California, was facing great financial burden: he had lost his job as a public health officer in June 1933 and was reliant on his wife’s work as a nurse for income. As historian William E. Leuchtenburg wrote, he “…had less than a hundred dollars in savings. Disturbed not only by his own plight but by that of others like him – elderly people from Iowa and Kansas who had gone west in the 1920’s and now faced the void of unemployment with slim resources” (Spartacus Educational). Shortly after losing his job, he crafted with real estate promoter Robert Earl Clements a plan that seemed to be a miracle cure for the poverty of the elderly and the Great Depression: impose a 2% national sales tax to fund a guaranteed $150 (later revised to $200) a month to every citizen 60 and older who didn’t have a criminal record (the average monthly wage in 1935 was $100 a month). This 2% tax would be applied to every transaction, thus it acted like a Value Added Tax. To receive the money, recipients would be subject to a few conditions: first, they would have to quit their jobs so younger workers could take their place, and second, they would have to spend all the money they received within the U.S. in a month. Beneficiaries didn’t have to pay into this system and there was no means testing for it, so anyone regardless of wealth could receive the payments provided the conditions were met. This would theoretically serve to not only solve the poverty problem among the elderly but also to stimulate the economy by requiring the benefits be spent. Advocacy for this plan skyrocketed with Townsend clubs sprouting up across the nation, within two years “there were over 7,000 “Townsend Clubs” with over 2.2 million members actively working to make the Townsend Plan the nation’s old-age pension system” (DeWitt). These clubs were complete with meetings with elaborate rituals and fans could be found of the plan from both the political left and right, despite nearly all mainstream economists dismissing the plan as a crackpot scheme. Its appeal to the right largely stemmed from the plan being an alternative to communism and Dr. Townsend himself pushing a socially conservative agenda, stating himself the movement was for people “who believe in the Bible, believe in God, cheer when the flag passes by, the Bible Belt solid Americans” (Spartacus Educational). Dr. Townsend gained an ardent supporter in the influential and demagogic Huey Long of Louisiana. By 1935, President Roosevelt was growing concerned with the growth of advocacy in the Townsend Plan as well as Huey Long’s obvious desires for his office: 56% of the public at the time supported the Townsend Plan. Roosevelt thus pushed Social Security, which paid between $10 and $85 a month. Notably, a significant number of House foes of Social Security were California Democrats, who preferred the more generous Townsend Plan.

Although many Americans were satisfied with Social Security as the substitute, advocacy for the Townsend Plan continued and many of FDR’s allies were keen on countering advocacy for this plan. Economists estimated that the plan would require federal expenditures one and a half times the size of all local, state, and federal spending in 1932. Future Senator Paul Howard Douglas determined that retail prices would have to increase by 75% and worker wages could be cut by up to 50% for the plan to be implemented. 40% of national income would ultimately be diverted to 9% of the population under the Townsend Plan. In 1936, Democratic Representative C. Jasper Bell of Missouri chaired hearings into the Townsend Plan that exposed that the plan was outrageously poorly thought out. Dr. Townsend performed poorly in the hearings, with his own economist admitting that the plan couldn’t be funded with a 2% transactions tax, with the total revenue under the most ideal conditions being between $4-9.6 billion, covering a mere third of what would be required for $200 monthly in benefits payments. Thus, the real transaction tax rate would be between 6-14%. Townsend walked out of the hearing despite threat for arrest for contempt. Although he was sentenced to thirty days in jail, President Roosevelt commuted the sentence to counter political opposition to him.

That year, Townsend turned against Roosevelt and the New Deal and asked his supporters to back either the Union Party candidate William Lemke (a progressive North Dakota Republican) or Republican candidate Alf Landon of Kansas. Like his plan, Townsend’s advocacy here failed. Townsend had a minor success in California in 1938 when Senator and former Secretary of the Treasury William G. McAdoo was defeated for renomination by Townsend Plan champion Sheridan Downey, who would serve two terms. In 1939, the House voted on his plan, but it failed miserably on a 97-302 (D 40-194; R 55-107) vote. Support for the plan proved strongest in the west, with representatives from these states voting 32-11 in favor. In 1940, Townsend endorsed Republican Wendell Willkie and in 1948 he backed Henry Wallace of the Progressive Party. Despite these setbacks and the existence of Social Security, Townsend clubs continued to exist until 1978, eighteen years after Dr. Townsend’s death.

Although the Townsend Plan was a conceptual failure, it did push public support for the establishment of national old-age insurance, resulting in Social Security. The same may prove true of the Green New Deal and climate legislation in the years to come.


DeWitt, L.W. (December 2001). The Townsend Plan’s Pension Scheme. Social Welfare History Project.

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Francis Townsend. Spartacus Educational.

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Townsend Plan. Encyclopedia.com.

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“To Pass H.R. 6466, “The Townsend Plan.”. Govtrack.

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