This is a hodge-podge category of states that aren’t Solid South, but are on the periphery in some way. Generally, these states jumped on the Southern affiliation with the Democratic Party during the Age of Jackson, and carrying this well into the 20th century. None of these states joined the Confederate bandwagon immediately. Two, Maryland and Missouri, stayed out entirely, while the other three were relatively close calls when compared to the Deep South. However, each of these states was susceptible to Nixon’s “Silent Majority” language, trending Republican in the late 1960s, yet each was won by Barack Obama in 2008 (with the exception of the narrow loss in Missouri.) Between the times, that means, I fear, that there aren’t very many Republicans from this group’s pickings. Consisting of Maryland, Virginia, Missouri, North Carolina, and Florida, it is also the only non-contiguous grouping of states for my All-Star Senate list.
Maryland started out as a Catholic-heavy colony, and became a bulwark of Chesapeake culture. More than any other state I can think of, it remained stalwartly Democratic throughout much of its history—both as a state loosely, but not fully, aligned with the South, it later adapted to New Deal and 1960s liberalism, and has very much stayed in that sphere.
21. Reverdy Johnson (Whig, Unionist, Democrat, 1845-1849, 1863-1869)
Reverdy Johnson captures very well the dilemma faced by many statesmen. He was what some would call a “Doughface”, seeking to avoid conflict, even at the expense of appeasing the slaveholding class. Most ignobly, Johnson defended the slave-owner in the infamous Dred Scott Supreme Court case, because he believed the legal sanctity of property. Yet, Johnson vehemently hated the institution of slavery, despite reluctantly accepting its foundation in law. He was also a devoted unionist, using his leverage to keep Maryland out of the Confederacy, and in his last years, was proud that he never called the secessionists anything other than “traitors, rebels and insurrectionists.” He stalwartly supported the Thirteenth Amendment, prohibiting slavery within the United States. It is less well known that he opposed some of the very first segregation ordinances, which would have prohibited blacks from white-only streetcars in the capital. He reminds me a bit of my old college roommate, Ben H.– a Marylander who finds himself navigating the tricky waters between reverence for the law and devotion to justice. I’m not sure Johnson made the right choices all the time (that is, with respect to defending the legality of slavery in 1857), but his exemplary service during a tumultuous time suggests a learned and conscientious man.
22. Paul Sarbanes (Democrat, 1977-2007)
Paul Sarbanes was a quiet worker in the Senate for thirty years, rarely making headlines for brazen speeches or controversial gaffes. Instead, he found a sweet spot between working on local projects (he is particularly well known as an advocate for light rail systems) and legislation of national importance. The most significant of these is the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. This was a major piece of legislation enacted in the wake of Enron and other corporate meltdowns that wreaked havoc on employees, leading to greater oversight and accountability for public company boards.
Sarbanes also understood the role of patience and friendship in getting things done in the Senate. His friendship with Richard Lugar was an important one during the 30 years they shared together in the Senate, and their association began even earlier as young Rhodes Scholars. Sarbanes was a devoted liberal, while Lugar was a reliable conservative. The two men thus disagreed with one another on many broad issues but hearing one another out, giving the other room to speak, and eventually establishing a workable compromise. The Senate rarely works in such an idealized, textbook fashion, but it is a reassuring thing when it does.
Virginia is often considered the home of presidents—George Washington, James Madison, James Monroe, Thomas Jefferson, John Tyler, Woodrow Wilson, and William Henry Harrison were all born there. Yet, Virginia’s senatorial roster hasn’t always measured up to these lofty standards. While I think it has produced two strong senators worthy of inclusion here, this list doesn’t quite reflect how brilliant the presidents, congressmen, and governors produced by Virginia were, exactly.
23. James Barbour (Democratic-Republican, 1815-1825)
James Barbour was a contemporary of Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe- the three successive Virginia presidents who served in office for a combined 24 years. Of the three, Barbour most resembled Monroe, having started out as a small-government strict-constitutionalist man, when events immediately following the War of 1812 caused him to calibrate his view. Most notably, the lack of military preparedness and the dreadful state of the nation’s infrastructure led Barbour to reconsider his minimalist Jeffersonian instincts. Madison and Monroe both relied on him to shepherd through legislation for a new National Bank after the original, sponsored by Hamilton a generation earlier, to stave off national bankruptcy. Barbour also devised a provision allowing for bonuses from the national bank to be funneled toward internal improvements such as roads and canals, which all citizens might benefit from. Barbour also served as president pro tempore during the Compromise of 1820, and overrode President Monroe’s advice, and merged together the bills admitting Missouri and Maine into the union, thus staving off a potential union-breaking crisis. On the whole, Barbour represents a nation in transition, moving from the Jeffersonian dogma of state’s rights and limited government toward a more nationalist view.
24. Carter Glass (Democrat, 1920-1946)
Glass was very much party to the ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ nature of early 20th century progressivism. The same forces that led him to organize society with better housing, pure food laws, systematized and secure banking, were the same forces that bolstered his belief in a natural hierarchy among the races. “Discrimination! Why that is exactly what we propose,” he responded to an inquiring journalist after advocating a poll tax. “To remove every negro voter who can be gotten rid of, legally, without materially impairing the numerical strength of the white electorate.”
Nevertheless, Glass is most well remembered for the Glass-Steagall Act in the wake of the Great Depression. This far-reaching law sought to reform the freewheeling banking practices and stock-market abuses that had contributed to the Great Depression. Investment banking and commercial banking were henceforth separated, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation was established to safeguard money that had been entrusted to the banks. Glass-Steagall remained intact until 1999, where it was signed out of law by Bill Clinton and a Republican Congress. It is widely thought that this repeal was almost certainly a factor in the financial meltdown that has unfolded in the last 5 years; in multiple cases, Wall Street investment bankers were found to have gambled with money that had been deposited in commercial banks. So, thank you Carter Glass. You were a silly racist SOB, but you did keep America’s banking system intact and functional for a few generations.
XIII. North Carolina
Alexander Hamilton and Zebulon Vance are both credited with defining North Carolina as “an island of humility between two oceans of conceit”—a dig at the preening self-importance prominent in Virginians to the north and South Carolinians to the south. North Carolina has a fascinating history of border wars and frontier insurrections—during the American Revolution, frontiersmen were just as often at war with their countrymen in the state capitol as they were with the British. Eventually, North Carolina would settle into the rhythm of the ‘moonlight and magnolia’ South, and remained solidly Democratic from the end of the Civil War until the rise of Nixonian culture wars in the late 1960s.
25. Nathaniel Macon (Democratic-Republican, 1815-1828)
Macon began a long career in North Carolina politics during the American Founding. He was, at first, opposed to the Constitution itself as a usurpation of rights from states, and spent his career making the national government as weak as possible. He consistently voted “nay” on nearly every internal improvement, tariff, trade bill, and Henry Clay-engineered compromise that came before him in the Senate. The long-term wisdom of some of these votes is suspect, but it cannot be doubted that Macon was the kind of person the founders had in mind as an ideal senator: long-tenured, civic-minded, well versed in the Classics, and eager to emulate political and moral lessons from Rome. Keeping America a republic—not a democracy, mind you, but a republic—was the cause celebre of Macon’s career. Yet, like the Romans he so admired, Macon’s worldview of hierarchy promoted his position as a prominent voice for the slaveholder.
Mangum made and broke alliances like a cad on a dance floor during the Age of Jackson. Over the course of his life, he was Federalist, a Jeffersonian, a Democratic-Republican, a Jackson supporter, a Whig, and a Know-Nothing. Part of this stems from raw opportunism, and part from the fluctuating nature of parties in the antebellum era, especially in the South. Yet this was also due to political skill. Mangum was, briefly, the president pro tempore of the Senate, and attracted some attention as a one of four Whig presidential candidates 1836. He was one of the granddaddies of the Southern Whigs, a group that we often forget. These men feared greatly the expansion of presidential power under Andrew Jackson, and hoped that their region and their interests would fare better under the congress-driven Whig Party. Mangum was generally a supporter of Henry Clay, favoring bank interests and internal improvements. Most political careers cannot survive one party change- Mangum survived half a dozen, and as such, deserves a place on the list.
Runners-up: It was very tempting to include Jesse Helms. Elected in 1972, he was the Evolutionary Strom Thurmond, and used a more sophisticated form of stirring up fears of the American negro, criticizing school busing and affirmative action in such as a way as to make the Southern white, of all people, feel aggrieved. While Thurmond was openly racist, Helms was more subtle and a better fit for his times.
Virtually every Southerner I have met has challenged Florida’s bona fides as a Southern state. Once the most underpopulated Confederate State, a combination of Sunbirds, Sun Belt development, and an influx of immigration have made Florida poised to overtake New York as the third most populous state. Historically, Florida was less of a solid-South Democratic state—under the right circumstances, Republicans could do very well here. Herbert Hoover, Dwight Eisenhower, and Richard Nixon (’60—when it was still impressive) all won the state handily. With sprawling urban centers like Jacksonville, rednecky northern areas, and suburban wonderlands like Orlando and the surrounding area, let’s explore Florida’s contributions to the Senate.
27. Duncan Fletcher (Democrat, 1909-1936)
Little known today, Fletcher was “Dixie’s Reluctant Progressive” in the words of his biographer. To wit, his career did span the Progressive era and into the New Deal. In the wake of the Great Depression, several Wall Street bankers, corporate heads, creditors, and stockjobbers were hauled before Congress to testify before the Banking and Currency Committee, which Fletcher chaired. The findings were devastating. One of the richest men in America legally paid no income tax for three straight years, while others were found to brazenly manipulate stock prices for the benefit of family members. What is remarkable is how Fletcher did not resort to demagoguery, loaded questions, or posturing. Instead, he calmly led two exhausting years of rigorous, but fair, investigations that led to the legislation that kept America’s fiscal house in order for the next seventy years. Out of these hearings came the systematic reform of the Glass-Steagall Act (see #24) and the Securities Exchange Act.
Pepper cut against the grain of the Southern senator from the 1930s and 1940s. Most, while sharing Pepper’s formal affiliation with the Democratic Party, were nonetheless part of the Senate’s “conservative coalition” that limited the success of the New Deal, and similarly minded programs. Pepper was, to the contrary, an out-and-out liberal. Minimum wage legislation, maximum-hour legislation, and the equally important Lend-Lease Act were all introduced by him. So too was the National Cancer Institute. Eventually, he ratcheted up civil rights legislation- proposing his own version of the Equal Rights Amendment, an anti-poll-tax law for the South, and a national health insurance program. None of this passed—not in Pepper’s time in the Senate, anyway—but his career of two full terms plus a little extra in the Senate should compel us to think twice when we write off this region as sending thoughtless reactionaries to represent them in Congress. Pepper wasn’t perfect—he was probably too slow to understand the danger posed by the Soviet Union. His continued activism for world peace was philanthropic and noble-minded, but deeply unrealistic. In the end, though, Pepper was a contemplative man eager to use an active government to improve the lives of his constituents, regardless of color, age, gender, or influence. At least before a famous defeat in the 1950 Democratic primary to George Smathers that is probably better left footnoted…
Admitted to the Union as part of a contentious compromise measure in 1820, Missouri has been half-southern and half-midwestern for much of its history. Home to a couple prominent cities in its region, Kansas City and St. Louis, it has nonetheless built a reputation for being ‘middle American’ and down-home in the extreme, as best exemplified by Mark Twain’s novels, and the scrappy childhood of its most famous son, Harry Truman. For years, it claimed to be the true ‘bellwether state’ voting with the winner of every presidential election from 1960 to 2004, until choosing John McCain over Barack Obama in 2008.
29. Thomas Hart Benton (Democrat, 1821-1851)
We talk about the Great Triumvirate of the 1830s and 1840s- Clay, Calhoun, and Webster. I think we should instead acknowledge a Great Quadrilateral, with Thomas Hart Benton as its final member. Benton had, in his youth, both studied under and fought in a duel against, Andrew Jackson. And lived to tell the tale. (Benton later old astonished constituents, “Andrew Jackson is a great man. I shot him.”) In an age of short Senate tenures, Benton was one of the first senators to be continually sent back to the body by his state’s legislature (helped out, of course, by the Democrats’ strength in the Show Me State.) He was, actually, the first senator in U.S. history to serve five full terms.
His career was bookended by compromise; Missouri being admitted to the Union as a result of a compromise in 1820 (Benton being one of its first two senators), and concluded by the Compromise of 1850 that barely kept a fragile union together as sectional conflict escalated. While a slaveowner, Benton privately admitted the evil of the practice, and opposed nullification and tampering with the boundaries of slavery set by the Missouri Compromise. The signature issue of Benton’s career, though, was the expansion of the American West. You would be hard-pressed to find a more zealous apostle of Manifest Destiny that this Missourian. He fiercely advocated Indian removal (partly to open up land for white settlers, although Benton made the claim that it would save Indians from the corrupting influence of whites, a cynical justification at best.) At the same time, he put forward land reform, squatter’s rights, low cost loans to help poor settlers, and surveying expeditions to the lesser-known corners of the West. If you look at how quickly and steadfastly white American settlers populated the Americas, Benton was a vital catalyst in this process.
His memoirs of his time in the Senate, titled Thirty Year’s View, are an invaluable resource from that era. To quote Benton himself, “nobody opposes Benton sir, nobody but a few blackjack prairie lawyers. These are the only opponents of Benton. Benton and the people, Benton and democracy, are one and the same sir. Synonymous terms, sir, synonymous terms.” Missouri, it seems, loves company.
30. Stuart Symington (Democrat, 1953-1976)
In the midst of the Cold War, Symington became one of the most respected military experts in the Senate. In fact, he served as the very first Secretary of the Air Force under Harry Truman. In his time as a senator, he famously challenged Joe McCarthy hearings, and brought military waste under public scrutiny. Accordingly, Symington was considered an early front-runner as JFK’s running mate in 1960 (and Kennedy’s personal preference), a position that he eventually lost to Lyndon Johnson. He also catered to local interests; most famously, he threatened to revoke professional baseball’s exemption from antitrust laws after the Kansas City Athletics moved to Oakland. Kansas City was immediately granted an expansion team, the Royals, which began playing in 1969.
 As part of an unprecedented ‘divide and conquer’ strategy, Martin Van Buren’s opponents ran several different candidates in different regions in 1836. Hoping to deprive MVB a majority in the electoral college, they ran Mangum in the Carolinas, Hugh White elsewhere in the South, Daniel Webster in Massachusetts, William Henry Harrison in the West. It didn’t work; Van Buren still won the election handily.
 This exchange is known for a number of apocryphal allegations made by the Smathers campaign against the Pepper campaign. This included charges that Pepper’s sister was a thespian, his brother matriculated while in college, and that the senator himself was a shameless extrovert.