The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Sunday, December 19, 2004
 

The Senate roll call on Taft-Hartley


In internet terms, 1947 is 10,000 BC: available only in the form of archaeology, an eclectic selection of fragments [1].

One unexpected nugget comes from Alexander Cockburn in a piece from September How Many Democrats Voted for Taft-Hartley?

As an hors-d'oeuvre, he quotes from The Third Party, a 1948 pamphlet by Adam Lapin [2] which inveighs against
the Republocratic cabal which ruled [the 80th] Congress

This cabal needed a two-thirds majority in both houses to overturn Truman's veto [3]; since the nominal state of the parties in the Senate was 51:45, several net Dems would have to vote for the override.

In the event, Cockburn tells us, 24 Dem senators did so [in fact, that number must be 20, as per his list, in order to avoid making the total come to more than 96!]. Of the 22 from the Confederacy, his list gives the names of 17 as voting to override (including Arkansas' Jim Crow liberal William Fulbright and Texan figure of fun Pappy O'Daniel). Both Maryland senators [4] and Carl Hatch of New Mexico joined them.

In support of the veto were 22 Dems - mercifully, Cockburn lists 22 names here. From the Confederacy, both Lister Hill and John Sparkman of Alabama; Olin Johnston - Olin the Solon - of South Carolina and noted liberal Claude Pepper of Florida (earlier Plawg pieces). By my count, one rebel is therefore MIA.

On the GOP side, the name of Wayne Morse of Oregon stands out: one of the last - I'm thinking - of the Western insurgents of the LaFollette stripe, he eventually switched sides, only to be an early and vociferous opponent of Lyndon Johnson's escalation in Vietnam [5].

The vote, so far as one can tell, went as follows:

For the over-ride: 20 Dems and 48 GOP

Against the over-ride: 22 Dems and 3 GOP

Not voting: 2 Dems

Guess who the missing senator is? Theodore Gilmore Bilbo, that's who. A name of such notoriety that you'd have thought a political journalist might have seen fit to mention it. (Except a hack with the snafu record evident in the Cockburn's piece, perhaps...)

Bilbo, according to the bio,
did not take the oath of office in 1947 at the beginning of the Eightieth Congress
and died on August 21 of that year - so never had the chance to give (and here I channel the great man!) the Commie faggot Jew Deal nigger-lovers a kick where their balls never where [6].

Bilbo's seat was eventually won later in 1947 by John Stennis - whose rather more nuanced approach to preserving the Jim Crow South I discussed on December 9 and December 10.

  1. I read somewhere that the Library of Congress' holdings - around 27 million volumes - could be digitised for ten bucks a pop. A worthy piece of pork for some VA or MD Congressman...

  2. The surname is Jewish, apparently - nothing to do with rabbits; at least one family spells it LaPin though pin (pine-tree in French) is masculine.

    The Third Party is the Progressive Party of Henry Wallace, of course. (Earlier Plawg pieces on Wallace.)

  3. The veto of Taft-Hartley (aka HR 3020, the Labor Management Relations Act, 1947) is available on the essential American Presidency Project site - which has the Public Papers of the President going back to Herbert Hoover. (I'm happy to salute progress in digitising the past.)

  4. Millard Tydings, survivor of FDR's 1938 primary purge and shortly - and fatally - to be a bitter enemy of Joseph McCarthy, and the fantastically named Herbert Romulus O'Conor - who stood down after serving a single term. (Cockburn misspells him O'Connor - as well as making John McClellan senator from Alaska; and replacing Tom Connally of Texas with his son Governor John. And he makes Donnell (MO) from Maine! Can I trust any of this list, I'm wondering? Well, as the man said, I've started, so I'll finish.)

  5. He and Ernest Gruening of Alaska were the only two senators to vote against the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution (so many John Kerrys on the Dem side of the aisle that day!). Known by then as the Typhoid Mary of Capitol Hill, apparently.

  6. Unfortunately, THOMAS doesn't quite go back far enough to capture any of Bilbo on the Senate floor. An oral history interview with George Tames, former New York Times photog, has some testimony:
    I recall one time being in the gallery when Bilbo took on the whole Senate on Civil Rights. This was about 1946 I think. All I remember was that I was impressed by the fact that he took on the whole Senate, and right during the debate, a New York senator took on Bilbo. Bilbo refused to yield to him, and finally he said, "I yield to the nigger-loving senator from the State of New York." Well, needless to say, the whole Senate erupted. The senators were jumping up, demanding the floor and denouncing the language and views of "the distinguished senator from Mississippi." I've never forgotten that! They kept referring to him as the distinguished senator from Mississippi. And this was also about the time that Bilbo was in trouble for some financial shenanigans, and he was being censured by the Senate. Bilbo's personal habits were rather repulsive to me. He chewed tobacco on the floor, and later it came out that he died of cancer of the mouth. But he would dribble tobacco juice down his front, and the stains were there. It kind of repulsed a young, eager, Democratic liberal to see this happening by a person flying the Democratic standard.
    I bet it did!

MORE

A 2000 TomPaine piece Antisemitism in American Politics.

The Bilbo anecdotage is considerable:

The story of his absence from the Senate in 1947 is explained thus:
In late July 1947, the Senate adjourned for the year without resolving a serious complaint against one of its members. Seven months earlier, facing charges of personal corruption and civil rights violations, Mississippi Democrat Theodore Bilbo presented his credentials for a new Senate term. Idaho Democrat Glen Taylor immediately demanded that the Senate delay Bilbo's swearing in until it could review the recently received findings of two special investigating committees. Angry at Taylor's action, several of Bilbo's southern colleagues launched a filibuster, which threatened to block the Senate's efforts to organize for the new Congress. They argued that the Mississippi senator should be allowed to take his seat while the Senate looked into the matter. A day later, on January 4, Senate Democratic Leader Alben Barkley temporarily broke the impasse by announcing that Bilbo was returning to Mississippi for cancer surgery and would not insist on being sworn in until he had recovered and returned to Washington.

What this account doesn't explain is the role of Senate Secretary Leslie Biffle. Senate Rule I (which appears to be the same now as then) says that
In the absence of the Vice President, and pending the election of a President pro tempore, the Acting President pro tempore or the Secretary of the Senate, or in his absence the Assistant Secretary, shall perform the duties of the Chair.

However, according to an oral history interview (PDF) with Dorothy Scott, this was the first time (p26) that a Senate Secretary had taken the chair - and it would have to be for a rumpus over seating Bilbo!

(The post is (was?) a patronage one, and Biffle resigned shortly after the senators were seated.)

An oral history interview with Leonard Ballard of the Capitol Police reveals (p3) that Bilbo was the reason why there were no Negro policemen in the Senate detail in his time (there were some in the House detail, John Rankin notwithstanding!) And the first Negro joined the detail only in 1961 - thanks to erstwhile Klansman Robert Byrd!

Away from the Capitol, a piece on the Mississippi Historical Society site asks Was Mississippi a Part of Progressivism? Governor Bilbo is credited with, inter alia, improving Mississippi's roads and starting a charity hospital.

And there's a name-twinning one wouldn't expect to see: Bilbo and Medgar Evers. Apparently,
When [brother Charles] Evers was young, Senator Theodore Bilbo, at the Newton County Courthouse, saw Charles and Medgar Evers in the audience. The senator warned the crowd, saying, "You see them two little niggers sittin' down there? If you don't stop 'em, one of 'em will be up here on these steps one day trying to go to Congress." Medgar looked at Charles and said, "That's not a bad idea." In 1969, Charles Evers became the mayor of Fayette, Mississippi, making him the first black mayor of a biracial town since Reconstruction.

He was winkled out after a while, it says.

Sundry Bilbo stuff here and here.

Earlier Plawg pieces on Bilbo.


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