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, February 20, 2005

The Strange Career of Claude Pepper - Part II

Pepper, as a Southern senator of the Jim Crow era, was a Grade A weirdo: starting as a conformist, then coming out of the racial equality closet, before being shot down in flames. (The Cliff Notes version: the reality is much more interesting.)

One question arising [1] is, when exactly did he nail his colours to the mast? On the Costigan-Wagner (February 12) and Gavagan antilynching bills, he clove to the Southern Caucus line.

But, by 1942, he was bold enough to sponsor amendments to HR 1024, an anti-poll tax bill sponsored by Rep Lee Geyer, which, with Pepper's amendments, was reported out by the Senate Judiciary Committee [2]. And he promised to introduce a change in Rule XXII reducing the majority needed for cloture from two-thirds to a simple majority [3].

Needless to say, his stock in the Caucus wasn't of the highest. Bilbo is supposed to have said
I am so thoroughly disgusted with Claude Pepper . . . until I think we ought to ostracize him politically.

That smacks of the work of Dr Bowdler: I'm pretty sure the ipsissima verba would have included several variations on nigger-lover!

The poser is this: Pepper, elected first in a special election in 1936, re-elected in 1938, was facing re-election once more in 1944. And he made it. Having declared his hand on the poll-tax, how could he have managed it?

The Senate vote on November 23 1942 mentioned earlier today effectively killed the bill.

A further anti-poll tax bill, HR 7 (sponsored by Vito Marcantonio) was passed by the House in 1944 and debated by the Senate, with cloture failing again - though, once more, Pepper supported the cloture motion [4].

When was the 1944 Florida primary for Pepper's seat? There is a Nation article (only a snippet outside the pay-wall) dated April 29 1944 under hed Five Against Pepper, which discusses the ongoing primary. It puts voting day as May 2. However, the reason for so many candidates being run against him, it seems, was to trigger a run-off.

In the January 6 piece, I mentioned the case of Willie James Howard, apparently lynched in January 1944; Pepper supposedly refused to have anything to do with the matter. That was pre-primary. The piece also mentions a vote cast by Pepper on June 20 1944 against a reduction in the budget of the FEPC. Post-primary.

But Pepper going off the reservation on HR 1024 in 1942 surely wouldn't have been forgotten in a mere eighteen months, would it?

  1. I've most recently looked at Pepper's career on January 6.

  2. Then chaired by Frederick Van Nuys: surprisingly, the SJC chairmanship was only secured for the South with the election of James Eastland in 1956.

  3. Keith Finley thesis, Chapter 2 p17a.

  4. RC 177 on May 15 1944.

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