Posts Tagged ‘all star senate’

In the absence of any recent posts, let me instead make an announcement about future posts. I have been working on my most ambitious timeline of alternate American history yet. It’s called “Each Alike in Dignity.” Its point of departure begins during the War of 1812. The Massacre of New Orleans and the destruction of the new makeshift capital of Harrisburg leads the United States to sue for peace, ceding much of the Louisiana Purchase to Great Britain. As humiliating as this is, it exacerbates an event that did happen in our timeline, the Hartford Convention. New England, with its vulnerable shipping and reliance on international trade, was hit hardest during the war, and was the least invested in “protecting the frontier,” as one of the war’s justifications went. So, a number of leaders of the moribund Federalist Party gathered to consider New England departing from the union.

In real life (IRL), the convention’s demands had the bad fortune of reaching Washington at virtually the same time as news of Andrew Jackson’s resounding victory of in New Orleans. Our Yankee secessionists were thus laughed out of town, and the Federalists were a dead party within five years. But suppose that the privations of war were more severe, and New England severed their ties and formed their own country? And suppose that the Midwest and the Southwest followed suit many years later? That’s four different countries, and four distinct houses. Will they each be alike in dignity?

I’m going to make presidential trading cards for all four countries, in the order of their founding. You’ll see the same events covered from different perspectives and one man’s traitor become another’s freedom fighter.

All told that’s going one 125 different president cards. I won’t spoil too much yet, but I can tell you that this will include:

  • 12 IRL unsuccessful major-party presidential candidates
  • 10 IRL unsuccessful major-party vice-presidential candidates
  • 10 IRL secretaries of state
  • 10 persons in my All-Star Senate project from seven years ago on this blog
  • 8 IRL generals
  • 7 IRL professional actors
  • 6 IRL vice-presidents
  • 4 IRL Supreme Court justices
  • 4 IRL Canadians
  • 3 IRL current presidential candidates

Any guesses who might show up? Remember- some folks fall into more than one category and no IRL presidents or presidents in my previous timelines are eligible.

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Finally, the All-Star Senate write-ups I began around New Year’s are over after two months.  But I think the list has larger implications behind just giving biographical data on my 100 choices, so I’m going to post two more appendices to my list.  This is the first of them, a list of interesting facts and trends that I either discovered or had reaffirmed during my research and writing for this project.

#1:  The late 1960s and early 1970s Senate was almost eerily strong, thoughtful, generous of spirit, and skillful.  The 93rd Senate (’73 to ’75), for example, had 28 All-Stars– more than a quarter of my all-time top 100.  Screw the age of John Calhoun and Daniel Webster, the Age of Aquarius was the actual golden era of statesmanship.

#2:  Unintentionally, this list ended up being quite racially diverse.  Two Asian-Americans were on the list (Daniel Inouye and Hiram Fong), two men with heavily Native-American ancestry (Ben Nighthorse-Campbell and Charles Curtis), and one Hispanic (Dennis Chavez) made the cut.  It falls well under the actual percentage of minorities in the country, but given the unspoken white-guys-only rule that prevailed for much of U.S. history, that’s not too bad.  Only two women made the list– Margaret Chase Smith and Barbara Boxer, and a few more got honorable mentions, including Barbara Mikulski and Nancy Kassebaum.  If I were to revisit this list 50 years from now, when I am a retiree with entirely too much leisure time, I am certain this list will have a great deal many more women.  The Senate only had 2 women serving in 1992 (incidentally, also Mikulski and Kassebaum), when the number tripled after the elections held that year.  Within the current Senate, Susan Collins, Kirsten Gillibrand, Lisa Murkowski, Kelly Ayotte, Amy Klobuchar and Maria Cantwell are relatively young, popular in their home states, and not going anywhere for a while.

#3:  The Senate was rather unimpressive, at least in the personalities it attracted, during its first 30 years or so.  This was partly a product of the Senate being indirectly elected, via state legislators.  Popular heroes were therefore eschewed in favor of obedient flunkies, who were sometimes mailed their voting instructions, and regularly replaced every six years before they could accrue experience and independence.  But more than this, the Senate was simply a place where careers went to die– there was little allure to the office.  Not surprisingly, most of the All-Stars come from the era (1913 and after) when they were elected by the popular vote.  Only a small handful of senators from the Early Republic got on here.  This is particularly strange given how we idealize the early period in our nation’s history and make demi-gods out of those who were present at the creation and worked in the government during those first years.  We should be critical of this kind of ancestor worship anyway, but the bad, undistinguished senates from this era help to nudge the Founders off their pedestal.

#4:  Up until recently, securing federal dollars for your home state seemed like the most sure-fire way to get elected.  It trumped ideology, party affiliation, every other consideration that you can name.  While there are several offenders, some of the worst have included Robert Byrd, Ted Stevens, Daniel Inouye, and especially Warren Magnuson.  This is, to say the least, problematic, and shows how incredibly valuable and coveted a seat on the Appropriations Committee could be.

#5:  Civility ebbs and flows– not out of some mythic, quasi-Hindu cyclical nature of history.  No, the members of the Senate themselves have to work hard to cultivate an atmosphere where graciousness, trust, and comity can flourish.  To these ends, the Washington Nationals baseball stadium, the Senate cloakroom, the Congressional cafeteria are all places that are just as significant as the Senate floor for getting the business of the people accomplished.  I have commented this blog in the past how the Senate has lost its civility, but it is not an inevitable narrative of declension. With a concerted effort on the part of its members, it can be revived.

#6:  We no longer trust young people to do great things.  Lots of All-Stars were young men in their early 30s when they first started serving:  Henry Clay, most notably, but also Joe Biden, Ted Kennedy, Birch Bayh, and Richard Russell.  Right now, the youngest guy in the Senate as of this writing is a 40-year-old, Utah’s Mike Lee.  And I hate to say it, but he ain’t exactly top-100 timber.

#7:  Only two U.S. presidents made the cut, pro-union Southerner Andrew Johnson, and legendary Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson.  Lots of other presidents served in the body:  James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, William McKinley, Warren Harding, Harry Truman, John Kennedy, Richard Nixon, and Barack Obama– but each of them either wasn’t in there long enough to have an impact, or wasn’t especially distinguished.  Significantly, the only two on this list were not initially elected for the job, they inherited it through an assassination.  We just don’t choose first-class senators as our presidents.  This is another post entirely, but we tend to choose “Washington outsiders” to do the job.

#8:  Lots of vice-presidents DID make it in, though.  Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale, Joe Biden, Hannibal Hamlin, and John Calhoun (and, of course, Andrew Johnson and Lyndon Johnson too.)   This makes a bit more sense, since you’d want to balance a ticket with a consummate insider, and someone who is nationally known.  Senators can do that for you.

#9:  Yet, the All-Star Senate boasts a number of unsuccessful presidential candidates.  These include Willie Mangum, Daniel Webster, Stephen Douglas, Henry Clay, Strom Thurmond, Robert LaFollette, Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale, George McGovern, Barry Goldwater, and Bob Dole.  Unsuccessful vice-presidential candidates among the All-Stars are Joseph Robinson, Theodore Frelinghuysen, Hiram Johnson,  Henry Davis, and Bob Dole again.

#10:  Those who think government is bad will almost certainly govern badly.

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At last, at long, long last, we have reached the final installment of the All-Star Senate, looking at our last ten inductees.  Our geographical focus this time is on the states bordering the Pacific Ocean, logically including Washington, Oregon, California, Alaska, and Hawaii.  If we are looking for common themes here, the first of them is the more recent flavor to my picks.  None of these states entered the union prior to 1850, and every last senator chosen served in the 20th or 21st centuries.  Despite being home to plenty of defense industries and air force bases, there is a curious mix of the hawkish (Scoop Jackson, Fong) with the dovish (Boxer, Morse, Hatfield).  Having accomplished our Manifest Destiny to reach the Pacific Ocean, let us explore our All-Star Senators from this singular region.

XLVI.  California

California has always had something of a progressive streak in its character.  One of only a handful of states to support Theodore Roosevelt’s 1912 candidacy, California had a modest record of progressive politics.  Yet, California was also the birthplace of modern conservatism, which as Lisa McGirr argues in her stellar monograph Suburban Warriors, the defense industries and service sectors in Orange County gave the impetus to conservative political stances.  Lowering property taxes, cracking down on immigration, joining the John Birch Society, stymieing United Nations, driving homosexual teachers out of public schools…these were the bread-and-butter issues for the upper-middle-class denizens of this state.  While the urban areas today lend themselves to easy Democratic victories, California has so far given America 3 Republican presidents– Herbert Hoover, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.

91.  Hiram Johnson (Republican, 1917-1945)

Hiram Johnson is an early progressive, but we should be cautious of using that term.  Believing that business interests had too much control over political discourse, he made a name for himself by limiting the overreaching influence of the Southern Pacific Railroad as governor.  By the time he made it to the Senate, he crossed party lines to support New Deal initiatives, yet he was a profound isolationist, eager to keep America out of world affairs so that it might better cultivate its own garden at home.  Yet, there was a darker and more xenophobic side to his character; he was a known opponent of the state’s considerable Chinese and Japanese populations.

Moreover, Johnson earned a reputation for being something less than a team player.  He grouchily agreed to be Teddy Roosevelt’s running mate in 1912 when he ran on the Bull Moose ticket, thus fracturing the party between its old-guard and progressive wings.  Four years later, he famously snubbed Charles Evan Hughes, when Hughes was the Republicans’ presidential candidate, when they were staying at the same hotel.  Refusing to get behind Hughes, the GOP lost California, and with it the election.  In fact, I cannot think of anybody else in America who was single-handedly responsible for losing his party two presidential elections.

92.  Barbara Boxer (Democrat, 1993-present)

In 2004, George W. Bush got the highest vote total in the nation, with John Kerry coming in a fairly close second.  The third highest vote-getter was…Barbara Boxer, earning an easy re-election to the Senate in the nation’s most populous state, eclipsing even third-party candidates running for the presidency nationwide.  Hated by conservatives and loved by liberals, she was one of the Senate’s most vocal critics of George W. Bush during his presidency, and has taken up a myriad of causes that reliably fall left of center.

She has been a staunch opponent of drilling in the arctic, and one of the Senate’s foremost environmentalists.  She has defended women’s rights consistently, becoming visibly irate when all-male committees took up women’s issues during her early years as a senator.  Through this– speaking out, challenging convention, drawing attention to issues, has been Boxer’s calling card, rather than senatorial courtesy or cloakroom intrigue.  As befits her last name, Boxer has been a stalwart fighter for the causes dear to her heart.  If you ask a diehard conservative to describe a liberal, they might use words like “shrill”, “peacenik”, “women’s libber”, “bleeding heart.”  There’s lots of left-leaning people on this list, but none of them fit their opponents’ stereotypes as Boxer does.  And she has never apologized for it.

Runners-up:  There have been quite a few interesting California senators, including William Knowland, Alan Cranston, and William McAdoo.

XLVII.  Oregon

The gem of the Pacific Northwest, Oregon’s rainy environs may induce depression, but for whatever reason, it also produces uncommonly fine politicians.  Truly– I cannot think of a single Oregonian office-holder who I find disagreeable.  Home of sensible workhorse liberals and thoughtful, articulate conservatives, I present here two of Oregon’s finest.

93.  Wayne Morse (Republican, Independent, Democrat, 1945-1969)

Morse, as a young man, idolized Robert LaFollette, and became a progressive Republican like his boyhood hero.   As one political scientist determined a while back, Morse racked up the most consistently liberal voting record in the Senate in the postwar era.  In this era of political flux, this meant that he often felt politically homeless, calling himself “the loneliest man in Washington.”  As progressive  Republicans died off, he became an unhappy independent, and finally caucused with the Democrats midway through the Eisenhower administration.

A champion of labor, Morse was horrified by the Taft-Hartley Act, which stymied the expansion of labor unions.  Civil rights and environmental legislation also caught his attention, once conducting a 22-hour filibuster on his own to prevent an expansion of oil drilling in Oregon.  But Morse’s single greatest act of courage was joining Alaska’s Ernest Gruening as one of only two votes against the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which more or less gave LBJ a blank check in Vietnam without a formal declaration of war.  Even future war opponents– George McGovern, Eugene McCarthy, and so on, voted for the resolution– Morse’s act was one of profound foresight and wisdom.

94.  Mark O. Hatfield (Republican, 1967-1997)

I don’t want to reinvent the wheel, so if you would like to know my take on Hatfield’s career, let me refer to the memorial I wrote for him when he died last summer.  I’ll limit my own summary here to this:  Hatfield was a conscientious and thoughtful evangelical Christian in American politics, who carefully carved out his own path, rather than tethering himself to the Moral Majority, the National Council of Churches, or any other organization anywhere on the political spectrum.  Following his own conscience, he opposed abortion, spoke out against the Vietnam War, and single-handedly prevented a balanced budget amendment that looked good on paper, but would have wrecked havoc with a thousand unintended consequences if put through.

Runner-up:  One of the Senate’s agricultural gurus for decades, Charles McNary was also important, but I could not think of a single interesting thing to say about him.  While a loathsome sexual predator, Robert Packwood was one of the first pro-choice advocates in the Senate, and a proponent of women’s athletics and Title IX.

XLVIII.  Washington

Washington started out populist, then progressive, then radical, boasting one of the nations highest rates of Wobblies, or members of the Industrial Workers of the World.  In time, Washington solidified into a reliable blue state, but one with a unique twist.  To wit, Washington is extremely hawkish, due partly to the defense-related industries that are headquartered there.

95.  Warren Magnuson (Democrat, 1944-1981)

Magnuson was admired and well-liked by many of his peers in Washington.  Eugene McCarthy called him the “most loved man in the Senate.”  Like others on this list, though, his state returned him to the Senate over and over again because he brought home the proverbial bacon.   He was chair of the very powerful Senate Appropriations Committee for a large chunk of the 1970s, giving him the ability to steer massive amounts of money to projects in Washington state. Walter Mondale once jibbed, “he was scrupulously fair with federal funds, one half for Washington state, the other half for the rest of the country.”  His contributions in the field of law include legislation on consumer warranties and repealing the god-awful Chinese Exclusion Acts still on record from their 1920s revival.  He also ushered through laws providing for the National Institute of Health and the National Cancer Institute.  Magnuson did not hold grudges, worked well with his colleagues, and never sought headlines or cabinet posts or the vice-presidency.  He was glad to be a senator, and never aspired to anything else.

96.  Henry ‘Scoop’ Jackson (Democrat,1953-1983)

Henry Jackson was, in some respects, the consummate 1960s Cold Warrior.  Jackson was an ardent supporter of civil rights, and he was one of the first key environmentalists in the Senate, sharing that distinction with Gaylord Nelson and Ed Muskie, both whom of narrowly missed the cut for the All-Star Senate.   To this effect, John Kennedy almost chose him as a running mate.  (Incidentally, this probably would have worked– Jackson could have helped him carry Washington and probably California, compensating for the loss of Texas without LBJ.)   Scoop Jackson, though, is most well-known for his hawkishness, his desire to win the Cold War, not play it out to a draw.  He was rightly criticized as the “Senator from Boeing,” but Jackson also had a blue-collar belligerence that informed his views beyond his state’s immediate financial stake in producing planes, weapons, and computering gizmos.  To that effect, Jackson had a legendary Senate staff that influenced his views on this issue.  Not surprisingly, many of these figures were the forebears of the modern neo-conservative movement, wishing to project American power and democracy abroad, while bearing a degree of social liberality.  Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Jeane Kirkpatrick, and Dorothy Fosdick were all, to some extent or other, Scoop Jackson’s staffers or allies.  In a way, Jackson is the godfather of the Iraq War, despite dropping dead of a heart attack 20 years before it began.  For those more familiar with today’s politics, think of him as the Joe Lieberman of his day– at odds with the liberal wing of his party, socially progressive, and incurably addicted to war.

XLIX.  Alaska

Ironically, when Alaska and Hawaii entered the union, Congress agreed to it out of a misplaced sense of balance.  Everyone thought that one state would be Republican, the other Democratic, but they got it the wrong way around.  Alaska, a Democratic stronghold as a territory, quickly turned Republican as the oil industry gained clout in the state, while Hawaii’s heavily-Japanese population forgave the Democrats the whole “FDR put us into prison camps” misunderstanding.  Alaskan politics is peerless in its corrupt and sweetheart deals; when my parents vacationed there, they brought me a set of playing cards documenting 52 Alaskan outlaws and criminals– a great many of which held public office.

97.  Ted Stevens (Republican, 1968-2009)

Stevens became one of the longest serving senators ever, racking up over 40 years in office.   One of the last 1960s senators to leave, he held fast to the old senatorial courtesies and decencies of days past, even while he could be irascible and ornery when the mood struck him.  Most famously, he wore an Incredible Hulk tie when speaking on an issue particularly close to his heart.  Like many senators on this list, he singlemindedly went after federal dollars to his state, and he held a crucial seat on the Appropriations Committee which led to pipelines, infrastructure aid, and puzzling vanity pieces like the infamous Bridge to Nowhere.  Although blogs and tumbler accounts pilloried Stevens for his puzzling claim that the internet was “a series of tubes,” it doesn’t quite get to the heart of the matter for his career.

Ted Stevens was, to be frank, corrupt.  I have avoided using that word to describe very many senators on this list, but its hard to overlook the insider trading, kickbacks and company-bought houses that placed Stevens in disrepute in his home state.  His desire to enrich himself through his voting choices became excessive even by the lax standards of the Last Frontier.  He lost his 2008 bid for re-election to Anchorage mayor Mark Begich in a year where 4 different guys named Mark entered the Senate.  It was a close race, but it would have been a blowout had not Alaskan turnout been bolstered by a certain governor of theirs on the presidential ticket.  Stevens did not live to enjoy retirement very long; a weather-related plane crash took his life within a couple years of his leaving office.

98.  Mike Gravel  (Democrat, 1969-1981)

When an interviewer asked Barack Obama what was the most surreal element of running for president, the young senator pondered the question for a moment, and finally responded that it was looking over his shoulder and seeing Mike Gravel at the debates.  Gravel was barely elected to the Senate in 1968, beating out antiwar old-timer Ernest Gruening, and winning an easy re-election in the post-Watergate landslide of 1974.  In his twelve years, Gravel was never taken entirely seriously as a senator.  Slightly cracked and messed up in the head, Gravel nonetheless committed one of the greatest acts of courage in the Senate’s history.  He published the Pentagon Papers, a series of controversial and classified documents which damningly recorded how the public had been lied to by the Johnson administration, and outlining how the war had been illegally expanded into Laos and Cambodia.  This ensured that the public would be made aware of these sundry criminal activities, and would be enshrined for all time in the Congressional Record.  While Gravel may be remembered as the cranky old guy spouting incoherencies throughout the 2008 Democratic debates, we should remember him instead for this singular act.

L.  Hawaii

Don’t make the mistake of writing off Hawaii as a set of small, sparsely inhabited islands.  This small state has enough people packed into it to amply cover two congressional districts, and it has a bustling metropolis in Honolulu.  Yet, it tends to have long-tenured senators; only 5 or 6 different guys, total, have represented the state since it entered the union.

99.  Hiram Fong (Republican, 1959-1977)

One of the first two men Hawaii sent to the Senate, Fong also earned a place in history as the first Asian-American senator.  While in the Senate, he supported civil rights and immigration reform.  As they stood prior to 1965, the law kept a strict quota on Asian immigration, which Fong worked hard to overturn.  In this capacity, he also sought the presidency, being a favorite son of his some state in the 1964 and 1968 presidential primaries.  A loyal Republican, Fong remained supportive of Nixon’s actions during the war, long after most congressmen had voiced opposition.  Even during Watergate, Fong stood by his president.


100.  Daniel Inouye (Democrat, 1963-present)

One thing that never ceases to amaze me is that Daniel Inouye is not a household name.  Every man, woman and child in the country should know who this man is.  While his immediate family faced the wanton civil liberties violations many Japanese-Americans endured, Inouye volunteered to serve in the European theatre of the war.  He lost part of an arm in that conflict, and his platoon insists that he literally single-handedly killed 25 Germans in combat.  If you google “Daniel Inouye badass”, 35,000 search results come in.  I’m not kidding.   Inouye went on to a fabulous career in Hawaii politics, and has represented the state, either in the House or in the Senate, since it entered the union, a period of time spanning over 50 years now.  This makes him the second-longest serving senator of all time.  He is one of only 16 U.S. senators from the 1960s still alive, and the only one still serving in the Senate, its last office-holding link to a nobler time.

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The second-to-last edition of the All-Star Senate,  this will cover five states I categorize as the American southwest: Oklahoma, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada.  All are characterized by expansive territory, massive mineral wealth and natural resources, and a legacy that mixes populism and big-oil conservatism in strange and often contradictory ways.  All these states were Democratic New Deal strongholds earlier in the century, but became reliably Republican in the Nixon years.  Today, this is (with the exception of Oklahoma and Texas) one of the greatest swing-regions in the country, and as the Hispanic population, especially, expands, it will become even more swing-y, and even more crucial a component of a winning party’s electoral map.

Oh, and if you are new to the blog, let me send you to an earlier post where I explain what all this fuss is about.

XLI.  Oklahoma:

You might not guess it, but Oklahoma’s early years as a state were marked by a staggering populism, as exemplified by #81, Thomas Gore.  It is only a more recent phenomena, and chiefly the product of the state’s burgeoning oil industry, that Oklahoma took a sharp turn toward more economically conservative candidates.  Oil does that.

81.  Thomas Gore (Democrat, 1907-1921, 1931-1937)

Gore is an ancestor not of Al Gore, as one might suspect, but the famous novelist Gore Vidal.  Legally blind, Gore overcame his disability to become a beloved senator famous for his maverick status in the Senate.  A crusader for more active involvement in politics from the everyman, Gore ardently opposed a military draft on the grounds that it took away the nobility of an all-volunteer army.  At other times, he spoke in favor of a Federal Reserve and women’s suffrage.  He also proposed making any declaration of war by Congress subject to popular referendum, a stance that cost him the support of Woodrow Wilson.  Yet, despite this populist streak, he stood opposed to dole measures and social safety nets; he cast the only vote in the Senate against the Works Progress Administration during the New Deal.

82.  Robert Kerr (Democrat, 1949-1963)

When one senator asked Jim Stennis, the longtime senator from Mississippi, who was the most effective senator he had seen firsthand, Stennis reflexively answered “Kerr” in his distinct southern drawl.  Despite not really having any traditional seats of authority in the Senate, Kerr was great at accumulating power, by chairing significant money-dispensing subcommittees like Rivers and Harbors, responsible for internal improvements.  But Kerr is most well-known for his advocacy for the oil industry– something of a conflict of interest, given his leadership of the Oklahoma-based Kerr-McGee Oil operations.

Runner-up:  Nobody remembers him, but Fred Harris was one of my favorite senators from one of my favorite eras, a populist advocate of “the little guy.”  He was Hubert Humphrey’s second choice, after Ed Muskie, for a running mate in 1968.  When he lost the Democratic presidential primaries in 1976, he joked that the little guys couldn’t reach the lever in the voting booth.

XLII.  Texas:

Praise Jesus, this is the last Confederate state I have to deal with in this ridiculous exercise.  Insufferably independent and saturated with braggadocio, Texas has been a thorn in the American side for the past 160 years.  An independent nation for a short period of time (which they never let us forget), Texas has been sent a wide number of Speakers of the House to Washington, but also a number of surprisingly diverse senators.  Here are two of the best.

83.  Morris Sheppard (Democrat, 1913-1941)

As senator, Sheppard affixed his name to an act, and eventually a constitutional amendment, that prohibited the sale of alcohol within the United States.  We can all agree this was, of course, a bad idea.  But at the time, it had a degree of merit– it would cut down on spousal abuse, engender more productive citizens, promote thrift, etc.  It didn’t work out that way, not by a long-shot, but Sheppard’s advocacy was the product of a unique, though rather odd, coalition of high-minded urban progressives with provincial fundamentalist yokels.

Outside of keeping Americans out of the sauce, Sheppard sponsored the Maternity and Infant Protection Act, making midwife training, and the spread of hygiene and health literature more widespread, in order to curb maternal and infant mortality– one of the few progressive pieces of legislation to make it out of the 1920s.  Another of his pet projects was fostering federally-guaranteed credit unions, an idea that looks better and better over time, as Americans try and keep their money away from the large banks that precipitated the recent financial crisis.

84.  Lyndon B. Johnson (Democrat, 1949-1961)

You know you are dealing with a rather influential senator when one of their biographies is titled Master of the SenateLyndon Johnson lived and breathed politics like few others in American history.   He relished campaigning (and in his first Senate run even had a helicopter take him from town to town with dramatic staged landings, where he threw his hat out of the chopper).  An ardent supporter of the New Deal in his youth, Johnson was driven to provide for many of the nation’s neediest constituencies, reinforced by his own exposure to poverty as a schoolteacher for largely poor Hispanic students.  When catapulted to Senate Majority Leader in 1953, Johnson hit his stride.  There, he perfected the wrangling, threatening, cajoling, manipulating, and bargaining which made him one of the most effective senators of all time.  His most storied technique was using his massive 6’3″ frame to lean in on someone, remembered by posterity as “the Johnson treatment.”  With Eisenhower, a Republican, in the White House, LBJ ratcheted up an impressive series of bipartisan domestic accomplishments, and his overpowering effectiveness is still discussed in hushed tones on Capital Hill.

Runner-up:  Sam Houston should have been on this list.  For most other states, he would have easily made the cut for a state’s two best senators.  My argument for leaving him off, I guess, is that even though Houston has higher name recognition, the others were ultimately more effective and had a deeper long-term impact.  Houston’s contributions to American politics, in other words, were most prominent outside of the Senate’s chambers.

XLIII.  New Mexico:

One of the final states to enter the Union, New Mexico is one of the first majority-minority states in the country.  It is no surprise, then, that it has contributed some of the most important Hispanic political leaders to our country– from (#85) Dennis Chavez in the 1930s to Bill Richardson in the 1990s, to its current governor, Susan Martinez, who might well end up as the vice-presidential pick.  It is also one of the most heavily-contested swing states in the nation.

85.  Dennis Chavez (Democrat, 1935-1962)

Senator during much of the New Deal, Chavez directed resources to the electrification of the region.   Mindful of his Hispanic heritage, he promoted the Good Neighbor policy with Latin America, in hopes of reversing decades of poisoned relationships between that region and his home country.  In a similar vein, he was Puerto Rico’s strongest advocate in the Senate, lacking its own voting representatives in Congress.   Before the civil rights movement caught national fire, Chavez lobbied for stricter laws regarding employment discrimination.  Sadly, he died only a few years before the landmark legislation in this vein during the 1960s.

86.  Pete Domenici (Republican, 1973-2009)

The longest-serving senator in New Mexico’s history, Domenici was known as a financial hawk.  The only two balanced budgets created in the last 50 years took place under his chairmanship of the Budget Committee.  He also devised plans, which were ultimately thwarted, for a clean energy bank, a consortium that would have promoted the innovation of clean energy sources.   As his daughter suffered from schizophrenia, Domenici’s last major act as senator was the Mental Health Parity bill, which required insurance companies to cover and treat mental illnesses in the same way as physical maladies.  Accordingly, the companies could not charge higher co-pays or limit how long one could stay in a hospital.

XLIV.  Arizona:

Home of the Grand Canyon, Arizona has taken more pride in its Western qualities than any other state I can think of.   Dry and hot, its politicians tend to be prickly, cantankerous shoot-from-the-hip types.

87.  Carl Hayden (Democrat, 1927-1969)

Hayden was a pioneer of Arizona politics, representing the state in the House when it entered the union, and serving in the Senate almost long enough to see Richard Nixon inaugurated.  In this capacity, Hayden was probably the single greatest advocate for using the Federal government to improve the infrastructure and economic development of the West. (As I’ve said elsewhere in my All Star Senate write-ups, this somewhat belies the West’s mythic self-reliance.)  Water treaties, highways, the Grand Coulee Dam…you name it, and chances are, Carl Hayden was behind it.

More than this, Carl Hayden, one of the longest-serving members of all time, took it upon himself to be a guardian of Senate tradition, even when it contradicted his own political preferences.  Although personally in favor of civil rights, he refused to vote for cloture against the Southern filibusterers, feeling that senators ought to be able to speak and debate without being cut off.

88.  Barry Goldwater (Republican, 1953-1965, 1969-1987)

I briefly considered leaving Goldwater off the list on the grounds that his actual legislative record is a little thin when juxtaposed to his fame and high name recognition.  Ultimately, though, Goldwater is one of the most important senators of the last century.   If we view the Senate as a place where great ideas are debated and different ideologies are given voice, as opposed to simply a legislature voting on laws, then Goldwater’s place is assured. And at any rate, Goldwater’s motive was to prevent most legislation anyway.

As many of you probably know, Barry Goldwater and his boosters inaugurated the modern conservative movement.  It changed its geographic epicenter from the Midwest (consider how Robert Taft was the paradigmatic conservative in the 1940s) to the southwest and the Sun Belt.  Goldwater’s genius was in moving conservatism out of the country clubs and into the streets, making it a grassroots movement drawing on ordinary citizens whose interest in maintaining a status quo was bolstered by the postwar prosperity and the flight to homogeneous suburbs.  (It is no mistake that when he ran for president in 1964, his base of support was Orange County, CA.)   In short, before Goldwater, there was widespread bipartisan agreement on keeping the New Deal reforms, maintaining a strong presence in the United Nations, keeping a robust progressive income tax structure, and containing communism to its present borders rather than actively challenging it where it already stood.  After Goldwater, none of these were certain any longer.  Wishing to cut, rather than simply stall, the size of government, wishing to extend American power and interests abroad, and stressing personal liberty over social responsibility, elements of both the Republicans and Libertarians today can trace a clear lineage through Barry.

Surprisingly, many on the Left hold a certain soft spot in their hearts for Goldwater.  In his later years, he vociferously opposed the Christian Right as an affront to personal liberty, once saying that “every good Christian should kick Jerry Falwell’s ass,” and even supported gays serving openly in the military (“they don’t have to be straight, they just have to shoot straight.”)  I see their point, but these same libertarian instincts led Goldwater to oppose the Civil Rights Act on the ground that it infringed on one’s constitutional right to associate or sell or buy from or offer education to whomever one wishes.   Personally upright, egalitarian, and even charitable, Goldwater’s leave-well-enough-alone approach failed to understand the darker elements of human nature encapsulated in the old Latin proverb homo hominus lupus, man is wolf to man.

For those of you interested in Goldwater’s career, I highly recommend Rick Perlstein’s tome, Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the Liberal Consensus.

Runner-up:  They say that college is about three choices– sleep, studying, and your social life, and you can only pick two.  Similarly, Arizona was a maddening choice between Hayden, Goldwater, and John McCain, and I could only pick two.  I wrestled with every permutation before settling on Hayden and AuH2O– I mean, you have the father of the modern West, and the father of modern conservatism to contend with.  But McCain is a significant senator who neatly fit the archetype of the southwestern maverick, even if he did cultivate this reputation to gain media favor and increase his presidential stock.  Originally a conscientious critic of pork barrel spending and a great champion of campaign finance reform, McCain grew crustier and followed the party line more often after losing his last shot at the presidency in 2008.  Ernest McFarland, who at one time was Senate Majority Leader, was a distant fourth on the list.

XLV.  Nevada:

Admitted to the union during Lincoln’s administration, Nevada was, for decades on end, an insignificant and underpopulated state, dominated by silver mining interests and suffering from woefully poor infrastructure.  It’s character changed rapidly in the 1950s and 1960s as the city of Las Vegas changed the state’s nature overnight to one of tourism and service industries (some services more, shall we say, pleasurable than others.)  It boomed in population in the last 15 years, but now faces some of the highest foreclosure and unemployment rates in the country.  Whither the Silver State?

89.  William M. Stewart (Republican/Silver Republican, 1864-1875, 1887-1905)

Stewart enjoyed a long career in Nevada politics; he was one of the first two senators chosen to represent the state, entering office during Lincoln’s presidency and leaving his final term during Theodore Roosevelt’s.  Like many Republicans of the 1860s, a racially egalitarian character defined Stewart and he is given the lion’s share of credit for the 15th amendment to the constitution, which prevented the states from having overt bans to voting rights on the basis of color or race.  Given Nevada’s lucrative silver mines, Stewart worked hard to open up more land for mining and lobbied to re-monitize silver in the 1880s.  This was just, as luck would have it, during the period where populist candidates like James Weaver and William Jennings Bryan took up the issue in hopes of triggering inflation.  Yet, Stewart was also part-scoundrel, and was accused at various points in his career of bribing judges, being paid by the Central Pacific Railroad to support their interests, and selling a worthless mine to a set of English investors.

90.  Pat McCarrann (Democrat, 1933-1954)

McCarrann had two significant long-term contributions that elevate him to all-star status.  The first is his single-minded pursuit of Nevada’s interests in the Senate.  He fought relentlessly to keep Nevada’s silver in American coinage.  He attracted industry and military bases to Nevada.  Yet, he seized a virtual monopoly on his state’s federal appointments, due to the tradition of senatorial courtesy, whereby a president is required to run his choices by the state’s senators.  McCarrann used these appointees and all but compelled them to campaign for him when he was up for re-election.

The second aspect of his career that keeps McCarrann well-known to posterity is his equally single-minded anticommunism.  His McCarrann Internal Security act required registration of Communist Party members, although it was never enacted due to legal challenges.  Its sister, the McCarrann-Walter Act restricted entry of aliens into the U.S. who were potential subversives.  Essentially Joe McCarthy’s waterboy, this has rightly damaged McCarrann’s historical reputation.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that McCarrann is more responsible than anyone, even McCarthy, for the national security state that governed our approach to the world, and our approach to ourselves, during the early Cold War.

Runners-up:  Harry Reid is at times comically ineffective, yet he did push through a health care mandate and sweeping reform of the industry, something even legends like Mike Mansfield and LBJ couldn’t pull off.  Paul Laxalt, meanwhile, is a key 1980s conservative and an important Reagan ally.

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Having finished the farm states, we turn our gaze to the Mountain West, Big Sky country, defined here as Colorado, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, and Utah.  These were all sites of Populism and the free coinage of Silver, but are today Republican-leaning but diverse.  You have more or less libertarian states of Idaho and Wyoming, a fledgling Vermont-in-the-Rockies in Colorado, and a sometimes-disturbing virtual theocracy in the state of Utah.  They are also, more than anything else, very sparsely populated– at a whopping 7 congressional districts, Colorado is the largest concentration of people in the lot.

XXXVI.  Idaho

While today Idaho is one of the most conservative states in the union, it was not always so– in fact, my two choices are among the most progressive voices from their respective eras.  These two figures have, in the words of a very different Idaho senator, a “wide stance” indeed.

71.  William E. Borah (Republican, 1907-1940):

Borah spent over 30 years in the Senate being an aggravating, individualistic, contrarian thorn in the side of seven different presidents.  Michael Sandel wrote in Democracy’s Discontent that by the 1930s, the prevailing philosophy in the U.S. went from civic republicanism to Keynesian liberalism  (I owe this insight, by the way, to Kevin Murphy’s fantastic history and movie blog, Ghost in the Machine.)  In other words, it went from a world of citizen-as-producer (think of the Jeffersonian yeoman farmer) to citizen-as-consumer (think of the make-work programs and public spending that characterized the New Deal.)

Borah was a key figure in this transition.  He spoke out against the Wilsonian sedition acts and civil liberties crackdowns during World War I, but by the same token, he saw in many New Deal measures a threat to local self-government at the hands of a federal leviathan.  He is often characterized as an isolationist.  Recently, Bush administration officials cited Borah’s quote, “if only I had been able to talk to Hitler…” as an example of foreign policy naivety, although this quote comes secondhand and is almost certainly apocryphal.  If Borah seems like a libertarian, that is only a half truth.  He remained committed to civic virtue, of binding oneself in loyalty to one’s nation, in ways that are at odds with the triumphalist individualism of Ron Paul supporters today.

As an aside, Borah had a longstanding extramarital affair with Alice Roosevelt Longworth– Teddy’s daughter.  Let me reiterate that– the man risked having an irate Teddy Roosevelt come after him for violating his eldest daughter.  That, my friends, takes chutzpah.

72.  Frank F. Church (Democrat, 1957-1981):

Church began his career as a reluctant environmentalist.  He sponsored the 1964 Wilderness Act, a cornerstone of Great Society which set aside 9 million acres as pristine wilderness.  It declared that these were areas where mankind did not tread, and where mankind must not dwell permanently.  Towards the end of his career, he put his efforts behind the River of No Return Wilderness Area, the largest national wilderness area in the country outside of Alaska.

Later in his career, Church was key in another kind of conservation, the conservation of national character. He privately wrangled with LBJ over Vietnam behind the scenes, and eventually became an outspoken opponent.  His Church-Cooper Amendment served to cut off Nixon’s extension of the Vietnam War, ending funding for incursions into Cambodia, Laos, and North Vietnam.  The Case-Church Amendment in 1973 went even further, ending U.S. involvement in Vietnam outright.  These were critical laws, and while McGovern and Gene McCarthy were key early voices of opposition to Vietnam, Church did the maneuvering and legislating that actually ended the conflict.  In the aftermath of J. Edgar Hoover’s tyrannical 50-year rule of domestic surveillance, the eponymous Church Committee was a necessary audit into the FBI and CIA’s activities, and never again were these organizations allowed the tremendous carte blanche that they enjoyed in the early Cold War.

Unfortunately, Church’s national ambitions were left unfulfilled– he entered the 1976 Democratic primaries too late and too underfunded to make waves, and while he made McGovern and Carter’s short lists for the running-mate spot, he ultimately was not asked.  Regrettably, Church lost his Senate seat, as did so many other Democrats, in the 1980 elections, and died four years later.

Runner-up:  Glen Taylor, a singing cowboy-cum-senator, courageously joined Henry Wallace’s 1948 presidential ticket, espousing an unalloyed progressive platform, including desegregation and civil rights.  They even touted these views in the South, where Taylor was routinely attacked by irate mobs.

XXXVII.  Montana

“Big Sky,” Montana is the fourth largest state in the country, a massive region that nonetheless only has enough people to send one guy to the House of Representatives.  Barely a swing state, it generally votes Republican in presidential elections and sends Democrats to the Senate.

73.  Burton K. Wheeler (Democrat, 1923-1947)

Burton Wheeler made  a name for himself as a young district attorney and then governor of Montana, succeeded despite a torrent of opposition from the state’s company-owned newspapers.  Burton and a few others like him, particularly LaFollette, kept the flame of progressivism alive in the Coolidge-dominated 1920s, and indeed, he ran as LaFollette’s running mate in his 1924 third-party candidacy.  He was committed to busting monopolies, securing a more equitable distribution of wealth within the bounds of the constitution, and ending imperialist gestures in the Caribbean and Asia.

Wheeler was deeply skeptical of U.S. entry into World War II, seeing foreign actors, directors and producers in Hollywood as infiltrating American opinion, and getting the public itching for a fight.  He eagerly joined the isolationist America First group, and spoke out against the Lend Lease Act as a step toward war.  Subsequent events made this all look rather silly in hindsight, but after Wilson’s transparent attempts to create a war state in the 1910s, such opposition made far more sense in the context of the 1930s.

74.  Mike Mansfield (Democrat, 1953-1977)

When Lyndon Johnson acceded to the vice-presidency, he left the task of Senate Majority Leader to Mike Mansfield.  This job was both a position of profound power as well as a thanklessly difficult task.  The Democrats were an unsustainable mix of Southern Dixiecrats, dyed-in-the-wool liberals, and every shade in between the two.  Mansfield had to balance the party’s factions, get Republican votes, and secure passage during the tumultuous 1960s and early 1970s.  This he did fantastically.  Everything from the Civil Rights Act to the vast Great Society legislation happened in part because of his floor management skills.

James Grady, an aide to Mansfield’s Montana colleague Lee Metcalf, noted how Mansfield used the mantra “tap ‘er light.”  He learned the phrase in the Montana mines where he worked in his youth, and applied it to politics.  If you mine too hard, you risk collapsing the entire mine.  If you mine half-heartedly, you fail to get the precious ore you seek.  Tap light but firmly; in corralling senators’ votes, in managing 100 different egos, Mansfield brought about some of the greatest legislative achievements of his century.  Medicare, Medicaid, the end of de jure segregation, fair housing laws, the early environmental legislation…none of these would have been possible without his light touch.

XXXVIII.  Wyoming

Dreadfully underpopulated, Wyoming has been sparse, desolate, and wide open since its admission to the union.  The first state to allow acknowledge women’s right to vote, Wyoming has vacillated between somewhat progressive to quite conservative throughout its history.

75.  Francis Warren (Republican, 1890-1893, 1895-1929)

One of the first two senators to represent Wyoming, Warren’s two nonconsecutive tenures total almost forty years.  Like Hansen (#76), he had deep ties to Wyoming’s cow and sheep-ranching industries, and used his seniority to bolster their fortunes.  Most notably, he lobbied aggressively for high tariffs on beef, wool, and hides.  He also favored Western development, and a series of irrigation initiatives.

76.  Clifford Hansen (Republican, 1967-1978)

Hansen was remembered, even decades later, for being forthright, but also gentle and kind to every last staff member and Capitol Hill worker he encountered.  One young Hansen staffer recalled, “if the Senate cafeteria workers found out you worked for Cliff Hansen, you got special treatment.”   He was also, however, a continual opponent of federal legislation setting wilderness areas aside, seeing this as a land-grab against Wyoming’s natural resources.  So, in a way, despite his warm-hearted character, he also paved the way for the sagebrush rebels, fighting tooth and claw against federal oversight of so much Western land.  Yet, Hansen highlights the borderline-hypocrisy of the Mountain West’s “leave us alone” mentality on conservation.  Warren, Hansen and a host of other senators from this region aggressively lobbied for federal tariffs and Western development laws, but bristled at the thought of conservation and environmental laws that kept much of their land pristine but under Federal jurisdiction.  In other words, they were ideologically opposed to big government, except when they needed massive amounts of government assistance.

XXXIX.  Utah

An American theocracy, the Church of Jesus Christ and the Latter-Day Saints dominates political life in Utah; indeed, one struggles to find “gentiles” as non-Mormons are called, holding statewide office here.  The most monolithically Republican state in the union, Utah was also home to a fair number of Democrats at earlier stages in its history.  With a high birth rate, high level of income, and a growing number of electoral votes, there’s every indication that Utah will loom ever larger in the foreseeable future.

77.  Reed Smoot (Republican, 1903-1933)

Reed Smoot was an influential banker, businessman, and religious leader, belonging to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.  With such influence, he easily secured election to the Senate.  But Smoot’s first victory as United States senator was simply taking his seat.  His election on the heels of Utah’s statehood sparked a contentious four-year battle over whether to admit him to the body.  A number of senators led a movement to deny him his seat, on the grounds of persistent rumors that Mormon leaders continued to practice polygamy and as such, he belonged to the leadership of an organization that flouted United States law.  After a series of investigations into the church, Smoot finally took his seat in 1907.  Smoot’s effortless blend of his entrepreneurial efforts, political officeholding, and religious authority is, to say the least, unsettling.   Unflinchingly pro-business, especially his own, he co-sponsored the Hawley-Smoot tariff that almost certainly deepened the impact of the Great Depression and instigated a number of senseless trade wars that prolonged its effects.

78.  Orrin Hatch (Republican, 1977-present)

In 1976, a year generally favorable to Democrats, Hatch was elected to the U.S. Senate, unseating incumbent Frank Moss.  In a legal sense, Hatch became a kind of Federalist Society guy, obsessed with preserving the Constitution as originally envisioned by the Founders.  This has generally led him to a small-government ethos, but occasionally he will break Republican consensus, most notably when he defended the right to build an Islamic-affiliated interfaith center several blocks away from the former World Trade Center site.  (Notice how I did not call it the Ground Zero Mosque, as it is neither a mosque nor is it at Ground Zero….)  At other times, this leads him to plutocratic conclusions, most notably when he told the press that the very poor weren’t doing enough to eliminate the national debt.

Because of these philosophies, Orrin Hatch became an expert on judicial affairs, so much so that Ronald Reagan appears to have given him serious consideration for the Supreme Court.  Now under fire and facing a tough tea party primary challenge, it is easy to forget that Hatch was a dependable and loyal Reaganite conservative throughout virtually all of his career.  Yet,  courteous to a fault, he rarely resorted to demagoguery, and wracked up a number of friendships across party lines, including Ted Kennedy.  As of now, he is one of the Senate’s only remaining links to a more civil and functional time.

LX.  Colorado

At first, I thought that New Jersey and North Carolina had the longest run of weak senators in American history.  That ended up not being true, for Colorado soundly beat both for producing vapid, insignificant politicians and sending them to Washington.  I mean, for pity’s sake, I almost put Gary Hart on this list, that’s how bad it was.  Perhaps my insistence on exactly 2 people per state was flawed, if I have to forgo Henry Cabot Lodge, Charles Sumner, Robert Hayne, Sam Houston, etc., to make room for these turkeys.

79.  Henry Teller (Republican, 1876-1882, 1885-1909)

Teller, a good friend of Ulysses S. Grant, was one of the first two senators that Colorado selected, and to this day remains the longest-serving senator from the Centennial State.  In those days, silver mining was Colorado’s lifeblood, and Teller was deeply tied to the state’s silver-mining and business interests, in the manner of most politicians of the day.  So, when he supported William Jennings Bryan in 1896, crossing party lines, he did not do so out of any populist leanings in his character.  Rather, Bryan’s platform of free coinage of silver would have been a financial boon to Teller and his cronies.  He is most well known for the Teller Amendment that bears his name, a repudiation of imperial interest in Cuba following the Spanish-American War.  This was ultimately subsumed by the Platt Amendment, making Teller’s contribution a laudable, but ultimately ineffectual, check against America’s expansion into the Caribbean.

80.  Ben Nighthorse Campbell (Democrat, Republican, 1993-2005)

Campbell seemed a counter-cultural figure at first.  Part Native American Indian, he was known for his Harley-loving, hippie-ish ways.  At other points in his life, he represented the U.S. on its Olympic judo team, and designed jewelry.  He is, to the best of my knowledge, the only U.S. senator inducted into the American Motorcycle Hall of Fame.  That’s all I can say about him; his record is that thin.

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Welcome to our All Star Senate edition of the prairie states– Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, Kansas, and Nebraska.

America’s breadbasket, we arrive at states most well known for their flatness, their fertility, and their farming.  These are states where you can, in my father’s words, “stand on a six-pack and see the next county.”   Agrarian radicalism has a long history in all of these states, and there are subterranean iconoclastic impulses if you know where to look.  Sometimes it shows up in the farm holidays, large scale strikes attempted by farmers during the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression.  Sometimes it shows up institutionally, with the founding of semi-radical third parties like the Non-Partisan League.  Sometimes it made itself known in “penny auctions”, where bands of farmers would buy a neighbor’s mortgaged home for a penny, give it back to the neighbor, and beat to a bloody pulp anyone who tried to make a higher bid.  Sometimes it manifests in the almost absurd, even homicidal, lengths to which Kansans will go to prevent abortions.

Yet, there is a plain-speaking character at work here.  There is little stellar oratory, few biographical eccentricities, and relatively little scandal.  That’s the farm belt for you.  Even the radicals are boring.

XXXI.  Iowa:

Iowa has been, and perhaps always will be, a quintessential farm state.  Unlike many of  its neighbors, it was loyal to the region’s Republicanism during the Populist uprisings in the 1880s and 1890s.  As for today– don’t let the divisive Iowa caucuses fool you– it will faithfully give its vote to whichever party promises the highest farm subsidies.

61.  William B. Allison (Republican, 1873-1908)

Elected an astounding seven times to the U.S. Senate, Allison preceded over much of that shady time period lasting between Reconstruction and the Progressive age.  Allison was one of the most important committeemen in Senatorial history- serving at various times on the Appropriations Committee, the Indian Affairs Committee, and the Finance Committee.  His Bland-Allison Act reintroduced the coinage of silver, a boon to Western silver mines, and debt-ridden farmers craving inflation.

62.  Albert Cummins (Republican, 1908-1926)

A moderate progressive, Cummins was…ah, you know, I just can’t do this any more.  The Iowa guys are just so deathly dull that I can’t even try and make a case for their significance.  Believe it or not, North Dakota is actually much more interesting…

XXXII.  North Dakota:

Back in the 1920s, North Dakotan farmers decided, forty years after the Populists, to join together against those bankers in Minneapolis and St. Paul who were getting a little too big for their britches.  Hence, the Non-Partisan League, which lobbied for such radical ideas as government-funded granaries to place excess wheat, and mine safety legislation.  Eventually, the Non-Partisan League made their name a moot point by first joining forces with the Republicans, then the Democrats.  To this day, when you see a North Dakotan Democrat like Kent Conrad’s political affiliation, it is listed as Democrat/NPL.

63.  Gerald Nye (Republican, 1925-1945)

Looking startlingly like Rowan Atkinson during the first season of Blackadder, Nye was the dean of the isolationists from the 1920s, when the idea had a great deal of credence, until WWII, when it did not.  His Nye Committee was charged with determining the causes of U.S. entry into the First World War.  Although addressing this task dutifully and as objectively as he could, Nye found strong, tangible connections between banking industries, munitions industries, and policymakers.  So much for “making the world safe for democracy”– the auspices of the First World War were used to line corporate pockets.   After dealing with this scandal from the Wilson administration, Nye was also charged with leading the investigation into Teapot Dome, which would disgrace the Harding administration in the years following the death of Harding himself.

Nye ultimately led an organization known as “America First” dedicated to encouraging a strictly neutral foreign policy– this attracted many Midwestern Americans, including a very young Gerald Ford.  Like Vandenberg,his ideas may look bad in hindsight, but the disillusionment felt by many Americans after the First World War was utterly sensible.  We would do well to emulate Nye, and be skeptical when we are told that we fight abroad for lofty ideals.  It is always wise, after all, to follow the money.

64.  William Langer (Republican/NPL, 1941-1959)

Langer is a fine example of the agrarian discontent that hit the farm states during the 1920s and endured for a good long while after.  Langer is probably more famous as a governor of North Dakota, where he barricaded the state capital, announced an independent republic of North Dakota, and declared martial law when the federal government investigated him for various charges of fraud.  As a senator, Langer cooled down considerably, but still advocated American neutrality, artificially raising wheat prices to keep farmers afloat, and universal health care.

Runner-up:  For his consumer advocacy and work against large corporate conglomerates, I fully intended to put Byron Dorgan on this list before reading up a bit about William Langer.

XXXIII.  South Dakota:

Ah, South Dakota, where the flowers are floral and the corn is plural.  Home of Mount Rushmore and Wounded Knee, there’s plenty of history at work here, and it has put forth two first-rate senators.

65.  Peter Norbeck (Republican, 1921-1936)

Norbeck demonstrates how oftentimes in American history, social movements are co-opted and watered down by one of the major parties, in the same way that the Democrats absorbed some elements of Huey Long’s program, or the current GOP ate up and dulled the fervor of the Tea Party more recently.  Norbeck, a towering figure in his day within South Dakota, suggested very moderate reforms that were nonetheless sufficient to limit true agrarian populism in the 1920s– South Dakota never developed a Non-Partisan League like its neighbor North Dakota, nor a Farmer-Labor Party like its other neighbor, Minnesota.  He put forth a series of rural credits and mortgage loans for farmers, and tried to position himself as a Theodore Roosevelt Republican.

66.  George McGovern (Democrat, 1963-1981)

You all knew this was coming, right?  My admiration for Senator McGovern is well known, so let me limit myself to a few parenthetical comments.  While dedicated to constituent services, McGovern believed, perhaps more than any other senator on this list, that the Senate could also be a bully pulpit from which to confront large questions of national character. While most well known for his stance on Vietnam, McGovern was also crucial in the modern-day free and reduced school lunch program, and introducing breakfasts into our school cafeterias, ensuring nearly every American schoolchild access to an affordable meal while in school.  He similarly advocated for Food for Peace, through which we gave nations facing food shortages our excess grain as a Cold-War gesture of good will.  These were both humanitarian impulses of the highest order, while also providing markets for South Dakota’s foodstuffs.

My favorite address of his is the one he gave on the Senate floor in the midst of the McGovern-Hatfield Amendment, which would have cut off funding for an indefinite, inconclusive war in Indochina.  Showing unusual anger, he thundered:

“Every Senator in this chamber is partly responsible for sending 50,000 young Americans to an early grave… This chamber reeks of blood… it does not take any courage at all for a Congressman or a Senator or a President to wrap himself in the flag and say we are staying in Viet Nam, because it is not our blood that is being shed.”

Though often dismissed as a radical, McGovern had a very traditionalist understanding of the U.S. and its place in the world.  Having earned a Ph.D. in history, he knew our history, warts and all, but held it to the standard of its ideals.

XXXIV.  Nebraska

Nebraska has traces of an odd populist character in its makeup.  It has the only unicameral legislature among the 50 states, and it divides its presidential electoral vote by congressional district, with 2 extra votes going to whomever gets the plurality.  For a state that is a Republican lock for its overall presidential vote, it has a habit of sending Democrats to the Senate, as Ben Nelson, Bob Kerrey, and James Exon can all attest.

67.  William V. Allen (Populist, 1893-1899, 1899-1901)

For several years in the Depression-wracked 1890s, the People’s Party was a genuine alternative to the third-party system.  In numerous farm states, it outpaced both Republicans and Democrats for a short period, sent congressmen and senators to Washington, and even voted for third-party presidential candidates.  As every schoolchild knows, many of their stances for increasing rule of the people– referendums, direct election of senators, public ownership of major utilities, were picked up by the Progressives.  Their belief that corporate abuse must be checked remains a bulwark of dissident thought today.

By 1896, populist fervor was appropriated, and ultimately watered down, by the Democratic Party, who nominated free-silver man William Jennings Bryan.  William V. Allen was one of the Populist true-believers during this process.  Allen was party to the sentiment, which lives on today, that the farm states had been hard done by, victim of self-serving policies of industrialists and stock-jobbers in the East.  He once opined,

“The East is wedded to an abnormally high tariff for a distinctly protective purpose; that is, for the purpose of enabling one class of citizens, through the means of high-priced articles… to transfer much of the earnings of all other classes to their own pockets.”

As one of the strongest voices to challenge the tariffs and gold-standard which dominated the politics of his day, and as one of the most effective third-party senators in American history, William V. Allen earns a place here.

68.  George Norris (Republican and Independent, 1913-1943)

George Norris is like Chuck Norris, only better and with more sensible political views.  A member of the progressive wing of the Republic Party, Norris endorsed a number of measures in the 1930s that would aid his constituents.  Norris had, long before the New Deal, championed a program similar to the Tennessee Valley Authority, channeling the nation’s natural resources for electricity in some of the most rural sectors in the country.  His Rural Electrification Act ultimately did a similar thing.  Norris had also, earlier in his career, opposed U.S. intervention in the First World War, seeing American involvement as little more than war profiteering.

George Norris may not be able to roundhouse kick you to the moon, but he has lobbied for the average American much more devotedly than his possible distant relative, Chuck.  Norris is a crucial, geographical link between the Populism a generation before his career, to the Progressivism at the beginning of his career, to New Deal liberalism at its close.

XXXV.  Kansas:

In the 1880s, one respectable magazine, aghast at the agrarian uprisings in the state, asked in evident frustration on its front cover, “What’s the Matter with Kansas?”  In 2004, journalist Thomas Frank published a best-selling book with the same title.  In Frank’s case, he marveled at how Kansan voters repeatedly undercut their livelihoods and economic best interests, taking up social crusades and sending anti-abortion, but nevertheless plutocratic, zealots to represent them in Washington.  The distance between the Kansans of the 1880s and the Kansans of the 21st century is not as great as you might think.  Agrarian radicalism lies at the heart of the state, whether in the Bleeding Kansans violence that preceded its entry into the union, or the scorched earth culture wars of today.  Yet, my two choices for the state’s best senators are two calm, masterful politicians with national reputations, and both Majority Leaders in the Senate.

69.  Charles Curtis (Republican, 1907-1913. 1915-1929)

The United States had a vice-president who was mostly Amerindian (specifically, Kaw) in the 1920s, and I’ll bet you never knew.  Curtis quickly ascended the ranks in Congress, and his reputation as a cloakroom wheeler-and-dealer and a first-rate poker player made him a one of the most persuasive men in the Senate during the Wilson, Harding, and Coolidge administrations.  As Majority Leader, he could have had any seat in the Senate that  he chose, and he selected one in the very back row, allowing access between the cloakroom and the floor, and between the Republicans and the Democrats, allowing him to almost literally be everywhere at once.  While generally amenable to the pro-business and deregulationist policies of the New Era, Curtis showed glimmers of progressivism every now and then, most notably in taking up an Equal Rights Amendment in the 1920s that was thwarted by the Southern bloc in Congress.  He also supported anti-child labor legislation, and women’s suffrage.  Because of his evident success in cajoling Congress, Curtis was named Herbert Hoover’s running mate in 1928, and went down with him in his 1932 landslide defeat at the hands of FDR.

70.  Robert J. Dole (Republican, 1969-1996)

“Bob Dole…,” George McGovern wistfully reminisced during our interview three years ago.  “Now there was a compassionate conservative.”  His longtime colleague was right; Dole’s record on hunger is as strong as McGovern’s, and he was a longtime advocate of Food for Peace, food stamps, and increasing nutritional access in the United States.  Dole’s philanthropy mixed with a fierce partisanship.  He was loyal to, and proud of, his Republicanism.  He remained hawkish for his entire career, and helped kill the move for universal health care in the 1990s, leading the GOP opposition to Clinton’s plan.  Dole even had the unenviable task of being the Republican National Chair as Watergate went down.  Even still, Dole’s old-fashioned conservatism ran headlong into the suburban government-dismantling Contract with America; he would often butt heads with its leader, Newt Gingrich, in the 1990s.  Ultimately, Bob Dole was a man of the Senate.  His barbed humor, his lack of populist fire, and his party loyalty worked well in that chamber, and did not translate successfully elsewhere.   His two attempts at higher office, as Gerald Ford’s running mate in 1976 and as the Republican standard-bearer in 1996, were two of the party’s only defeats in that era.

Runner-up:  Nancy Kassebaum was, for years, the only woman in the Senate.  A moderate Republican, her politics were very similar to her dad, Alf Landon, who challenged FDR for the presidency in 1936.

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If you are new, welcome!  We are in the midst of a project I call the All Star Senate, where I argue my case for the 100 greatest senators in U.S. history.  My rules and criteria can be found here.   We’ve made it through the East, the South, and the lower Mississippi River states.  So that leaves….the industrial Midwest, defined here as Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan.

Bonded together by the Great Lakes, these states share a similar history with massive manufacturing cities and sprawling agricultural areas.  They also share a common bond of being a magnet for both international and internal migration.   Waves of Polish immigrants descended on Milwaukee and Cleveland, while plenty of Scandinavians made it to Minnesota, and Germans to the remotest corners of Wisconsin.  In time, Detroit, Gary, Flint, and Milwaukee all saw a large influx of African-Americans during the long exodus out of the South.  As a great fan of the 1960s and 1970s Senate, some of my personal favorites- Bayh, Humphrey, Dirksen, Mondale– make appearances here. 

XXVI.  Michigan

While the labor force in Michigan became a vital part of the New Deal coalition, and a component of any Democrat victory today, I have selected two Republicans to represent Michigan.

51.  Zachariah Chandler (Republican, 1857-1875)

Lincoln’s secretary John Hay called Chandler a member of the “Jacobin Club,” the most radical of the fledgling new Republican Party.  While many early Republicans joined out of self-interest– a desire to work in the West without competition from slaves- Chandler joined out of ideological opposition to slavery, and never wavered in that belief.  Over the course of his congressional career, he vocally denounced the Dred Scott decision, got into fistfights with antiwar Democrats in hotels, and exerted every effort to impeach Andrew Johnson.  Pugnacious and frequently drunk, Chandler was even frustrated with President Lincoln, thinking him too slow to extinguish the South, and too forgiving of incompetent generals.  Part uncouth rich kid, part unremitting idealist, Chandler left an indelible mark on the Senate, and made volatile times even more volatile.

52.  Arthur Vandenberg (Republican, 1928-1951)

After the Second World War, which some still call “the last good war,” it is easy to look at some of the isolationists of the interwar period with a degree of derision and marvel at their short-sightedness.  This misconstrues both the men and the movement.  Despite initial Wilsonian sympathies, Vandenberg concluded that American participation in World War I had been ruinous, and took a hard-line stance, limiting foreign aid, and insisting that the U.S. engage in any trade and diplomacy purely on its own terms.  By 1945, a world war again triggered a change of mind, as Vandenberg agreed to NATO, the Truman Doctrine, and the Marshall Plan in the early stages of the Cold War.  Domestically, Vandenberg feared the expansion of presidential power, but voted for a number of key New Deal measures, including the Social Security Act. 

Runners-up: The father of popular sovereignty, Lewis Cass came close to making the list.   So did Phil Hart, an almost universally loved senator who was a strong champion of organized labor.

XXVII.  Indiana

Indiana has a strangely reactionary history.  In the 1920s, it was the epicenter of the Ku Klux Klan resurgence, and the following decade saw it host the fascist-sympathizing Silver Shirts.  In the 1950s and 1960s, it served as headquarters to the American Legion and the John Birch Society.  Yet, at different points, it was also home to myopic edens in the Midwestern wilderness.  The utopian New Harmony community began there, and even Jim Jones first set up shop in the Hoosier State.

53.  Albert Beveridge (Republican, 1899-1911)

Kind of like Carter Glass and William E. Borah, Beveridge shows the moral complexity of the Progressive moment.  If Glass demonstrated its racial baggage, for Beveridge the question is one of paternalism.  Beveridge was an imperialist to the core, once saying in his defense of U.S. control over the Philippines:

Self government is no base or common thing to be bestowed on the merely audacious.  It is the degree which crowns the graduate of liberty, not the name of liberty’s infant class, who have not yet mastered the alphabet of freedom.  Savage blood, oriental blood, Malay blood, Spanish blood- are these the elements of self-government?

Yikes– the implications here of child races and Anglo-Saxon burdens are chilling to look at today!  But for reasons not entirely dissimilar, that is to say, protecting the weak, Beveridge spearheaded a number of reforms that look much better to posterity than his earlier endorsement of racial hierarchy.  Laudably, he gave his support to laws severely curtailing child labor, and championed the Federal Meat Inspection Act.  Eventually, Beveridge locked arms with another progressive with imperialist tendencies, Theodore Roosevelt, bolting to his Progressive “Bull Moose” Party in 1912, two years after he was defeated in his Senate race.  My colleagues might appreciate that Beveridge was a member of the American Historical Association, and wrote some of the first professional treatments of the careers of Abraham Lincoln and John Marshall.

54.  Birch E. Bayh Sr. (Democrat, 1963-1981)

Chances are, your life has been impacted in some way by Birch Bayh, and you do not even know it.  If you voted between the ages of 18 and 21, thank Birch Bayh.  He championed the constitutional amendment that lowered the voting age by 3 years.  If you, or your sister, or your girlfriend, was able to play on a fully funded high school  or college sports team, again, you have Birch Bayh to thank.  He made sure that Title IX was affixed in 1972, making sure that both sexes benefited equally and enjoyed similar resources from institutions receiving federal aid.  This was a singularly important moment in the history of women’s athletics, so much so that it is the topic of one of my colleague’s dissertation.   His other great contribution was the 25th amendment, which made provisions for appointing a vice-president when the office is empty, a contingency that caused a lot of alarm when John Kennedy died and Lyndon Johnson became president.  Finally, Bayh wrote, and strongly championed, the Equal Rights Amendment during the 1970s, which came within a few states and some vicious lies from Phyllis Schlafly from becoming the law of the land.   He deserved a better fate than to lose his 1980 re-election bid to Dan Quayle, but Bayh got the last laugh when his son (albeit his much more moderate son) Evan took over that Senate seat in 1997.  Oh, and he rescued Ted Kennedy from a burning plane in 1964– that’s pretty cool, no?

Runner-up:  I really, really wanted to include sitting senator Richard Lugar.  It is common among political commentators to point to an old politician like Charles Percy or Mark Hatfield, and say, “that man was a statesman, who really knew what it meant to be bipartisan,” when what they really mean is “that guy was a moderate.”  (I have been known to fall into this trap on occasion.)  Lugar was not a moderate; he was a conservative who dutifully listened to constituents and created bonds of trust with other senators to make sure the legislative body functioned smoothly.  And he is one of the wisest people alive on foreign policy, even if I do not always agree with him.

XXVIII.  Illinois

The long, stovepipe-hatted visage of Abraham Lincoln continues to dominate political discourse in Illinois.  Torn between a massive city, an Iowa-ish rural sector, depressing small cities like Rockford, and sprawling Orange County-esque Chicagoland suburbs, the state is a number of different houses divided upon themselves.

55.  Stephen Douglas (Democrat, 1847-1861)

Douglas is significant for a number of reasons, and we ought to be wary when textbooks simply use him as a dandified doughface, an unlikeable character employed as a foil for his frequent opponent, Abraham Lincoln.  Instead, I would argue that Douglas has a significance in the development of the entire Midwest region.  His influence as a senator was crucial to making Chicago an ex officio railway terminus– in essence the national hub between the east and the wild hinterland in the west.  This successful act of lobbying boosted the fortunes of his state, turned Chicago into America’s “Second City” for much of its history, and forever changed the political economy of his state.  Lots of senators, like Robert Byrd, Ted Stevens, and Daniel Inouye dutifully brought home the pork barrel dollars, but nobody ever scored such a long-term structural coup like Stephen Douglas.

This need to populate the West, and thus provide more markets for Chicago, led him to a number of situations similar to Kansas-Nebraska, which showed that Douglas favored hasty settlement, with or without slavery.  Hence the troubling argument of popular sovereignty, and hence the framing of the Douglas-Lincoln debates that would define the reputation of both men to posterity. One could argue, I suppose, that Douglas wasn’t more or less self-interested than other politicians from different eras, but his particular place and time meant that Douglas played a very high stakes game.  He died in 1861, at the cusp of the event that showed just how calamitous that game was.

56.  Everett Dirksen (Republican, 1951-1969)

Hubert Humphrey (#59) was the catalyst of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, but he could not have made very much progress on it without help from this man, the leader of the Republican minority in the Senate.  Dirksen had to preside over a time of ideological confusion in the Republican Party, torn between factions of liberals in the Northeast, conservative firebrands in the Southwest, down-home traditionalists in the farm states.  It was a tall order, but Dirksen pulled it off with consummate skill.  Ultimately, Dirksen got all but 6 of the most curmudgeonly Republicans in the Senate to vote for the Civil Rights Act.  At the cusp of its passage, he proclaimed on the Senate floor, “stronger than all armies in history is an idea whose time has come.”   Stentorian, dignified, and pragmatic, Dirksen embodied many of the best qualities that the Midwest has brought to American politics.

Runners-up:  Lots of potential here.  Lyman Trumbull was an key Reconstruction figure who checked the Radical Republicans, Paul Douglas is an almost textbook example of 1950s liberalism, and Charles Percy was a significant moderate Republican from the 60s and 70s.

XXIX.  Wisconsin

Wisconsin is a state of extremes.  The birthplace of the Republican Party in the small town of Ripon, Wisconsin was a hotbed of free-labor sentiment, checking slave power and allowing the honest yeoman to populate the West.   It maintained that initial radicalism in the early 20th century, as progressive reforms made the state more accountable to its people– recalls, referendums, state primary elections, direct election of senators– all these started in Wisconsin.  Fifty years later, it sent Joseph McCarthy to the Senate, who began a systematic attack on civil liberties.  He remains America’s greatest cautionary tale, despite the attempts of a number of neo-cons like Ronald Radosh to whitewash his toxic reputation since then.  It is a singularly divided state– out of all 50 states, Wisconsin, not Ohio, was the closest in the 2004 election.  Currently the site of mass protest and a recall election against a very pro-business governor, it is possible that Wisconsin’s history of challenging established power is renewing itself once more.

57.  Robert M. LaFollette, Sr. (Republican, 1906-1925)

As Sen. Beveridge shows, progressivism has many different meanings over time.  What most of us would consider the most benevolent features of progressivism, that is to say, more direct say by ordinary people in their governance and choosing of their leaders, begins with Robert LaFollette.   As a senator, LaFollette worked to translate what had heretofore been a “Wisconsin experiment” to the national level.  Like progressive-school historians, LaFollette viewed American politics as an unending dialectic between “the people” and “the interests”, and he believed with all his heart that virtue was instilled in the former.

In his time, LaFollette campaigned vigorously for child labor laws, women’s suffrage, government control of major utilities, civil liberties, and consumer’s rights.  Some of these happened during his watch– notably the child labor laws, many did not come to fruition until the New Deal, still others remain unfulfilled.  Yet, the spirit of this is what is fascinating– LaFollette believed, at the end of the day, of accountability of statesmen to their constituents.  For this reason, he wanted direct election of senators in an age of profound corporate influence in government (crickets chirping…), and would even go on whistlestop tours reading the names of senators whom he felt sold the people back home down the river.  Fightin’ Bob was also a pronounced critic of Wilsonian foreign policy, speaking out against U.S. involvement in World War I, seeing it as a giveaway to war profiteers, and an enterprise that in no way threatened American security.  (It also didn’t hurt him amid the heavily Germanic population of Wisconsin.)

More than this, LaFollette envisioned a political coalition of women, African-Americans, labor unionists, and farmers which, if united, would be unbeatable– essentially taking the Socialist platform and using populism to make it palatable, even desirable, to the average American voter.  Although LaFollette won only one state in his 1924 third-party run for the presidency, a whole generation of Midwestern progressives and liberals rightly look to LaFollette as their ideological grandfather.  Even for moderates and conservatives, the view of the proper province of government has changed in the last 100 years, and LaFollette instigated many of these changes.

58.  Russ Feingold (Democrat, 1993-2011)

When Paul Wellstone perished in a plane crash on the eve of the 2002 elections, the baton fell to Russ Feingold to be the most prominent voice against needless war in the Senate, the evolutionary descendant of the McGovern’s, McCarthy’s, and Hatfield’s from thirty-five years earlier.  Feingold’s most famous acts include his lone vote against the PATRIOT Act, his vote against the Iraq War, and campaign finance reform work with John McCain.  If someone decides to write an update to John Kennedy’s senatorial Profile in Courage, Feingold will surely warrant a chapter.  Beyond this, Feingold represented more clearly than anyone I can think of the ideal of the left libertarian.  Economically liberal, socially libertarian, and dovish on foreign policy, he saw government infringements on civil liberties, rather than on the market, as the worst example of overreach. Beyond that, he argued, it was corporate dollars in the political process– SuperPACs, lobbyists, and so on, that constituted the real threat to liberty, in effect saying that the market is far more likely to ruin government than the other way around.   The most prominent Senate Democrat to lose in the 2010 elections, Feingold has since devoted himself to the Scott Walker recall in Wisconsin, and challenging the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision.

XXX.  Minnesota

Large, expansive, and filled with Norwegian and Swedish immigrants, Minnesota’s fortunes have centered around its twin cities and its border along the Mississippi River.   Initially a Republican stronghold, a series of young insurgents merged the state’s moribund Democratic Party with the vibrant Farmer-Labor Party to make an almost unstoppable coalition that has dominated the state since then.  (There were a few exceptions, of course, such as when Minnesota made professional wrestler Jesse Ventura its governor…)   Like Prairie Home Companion’s Lake Wobegon, in Minnesota, all of the senators are above average.  Here are the two best….

59.  Hubert H. Humphrey (Democrat, 1949-1964, 1971-1978)

A few months before his election to the Senate in 1948, Hubert Humphrey took  the podium at the Democrats’ convention and gave one of the most remarkable speeches in American  history.  “Walk out of the shadow of state’s rights,” he told the delegates, “and into the warm sunshine of human rights.”  With these words, Humphrey caused a deep rift in his own party, but made  civil rights legislation his dearest dream as long as he held federal office.   Although LBJ chided Humphrey and others like him as “bomb-throwers,” nothing could be further from the truth.  Hubert Humphrey believed that change happened best through established systems of power, through reasoned debate, and through the force of personality of good men and women.  Ultimately, this approach became derided as “limousine liberalism”, and to be sure, as much as Humphrey worked on behalf of marginalized groups, he rarely governed in conversation with them.

Nowhere did Humphrey’s idealism and his persuasiveness collude more strongly than in marshaling votes for the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, probably the most significant piece of legislation of the 20th century.  Humphrey had to corral moderates, coordinate committee chairs, get enough votes for cloture, and get enough Republicans to commit to the legislation.  Given how the Senate operated on seniority, and how many Dixie senators enjoyed that seniority, this was an almost impossible task, but through raw discipline and persuasion, Humphrey managed it.

Unfortunately, hipsterish distaste for establishment liberalism, and Hunter S. Thompson’s outright hatred of the man, has made it all but certain that even leftists of subsequent generations will not hold Humphrey in high regard.  Working within the system, making compromises with deplorable people, none of these things are valued today, but they were essential in destroying institutional segregation in this country.  Today’s activists view their activism in an existential light– that is, it becomes an extension of their own identity, and tied more to their self-image than the cause.  HHH never fell for this particular trap, but as such, the generational dissonance between his generation and mine is, in its own way, insurmountable.

At one point in the mid-1970s, an informal poll of U.S. senators named Humphrey the best senator.  Not the best sitting senator, mind you, but the best senator of all time.   That is how highly his colleagues regarded him.  Although stomach cancer took this man from us far too soon (and how we could have used his idealism in the materialistic 1980s…), Hubert Humphrey belongs with the all-time greats in any senatorial pantheon.

60.  Walter F. Mondale (Democrat, 1964-1977)

When nominee-presumptive Jimmy Carter selected Senator Walter Mondale as his running mate in 1976, his mentor in Minnesota politics, Mr. Humphrey, could not have been more delighted.  “If it isn’t being too sacrilegious,” Humphrey told reporters, “I don’t mind being John the Baptist to Walter Mondale.”  Walter Mondale never became president as Humphrey intimated, nor was he Jesus Christ.  Instead, Mondale was a low-key Senate workhorse for two full terms, before going on to be, in my judgment, the most effective vice-president of the modern era.

Mondale’s chief contribution as a senator was the Civil Rights Act of 1968– less significant than Humphrey’s 1964 law, but still important for establishing the principle of open housing– that is, you cannot refuse to sell or rent property to someone because of their race (or gender or national origin.)  Segregation took its most insidious form through the housing market and the practice of redlining, subtly keeping minority races out of desirable residences, so the importance of this legislation is difficult to overstate.

Runners-up:  Eugene McCarthy (as opposed to Joe) is well loved by peace activists even today, but McCarthy was a gadfly.  He was much more useful as an ideal, as a hopeless presidential candidate, than as a senator.  I’ve personally met with dozens of people who knew him, and almost to a man, and without my even asking, they offer a consensus on McCarthy:  he was intelligent, witty, and thoughtful, but completely uninterested in politics.   Paul Wellstone probably would have made this list over Mondale if his life had not been cut short.

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The biggest outlier in this grouping is, of course, Ohio, which has (or had) a vibrant Great Lakes manufacturing district and large cities like Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Columbus.   But several factors guide these states:  large expanses of some of the most rural areas in this country, an emphasis on mining, country music, a high Wal-Mart to Starbucks ratio, and high percentages of ‘American’ ancestry.  Pound for pound, this group might have the strongest batch of senators out of any, with many of the all-time heavyweights coming from this region.  As the United States’ first frontier, let us explore a bit…

XXI.  Ohio

Ohio has a unique place in American history– what began as a frontier state maintained its western characteristics– as late as 1896, McKinley was still being billed as ‘the western candidate.’  Yet, it was also home to many of the nation’s biggest cities– Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus, Toledo, Dayton, Youngstown, and so on.  During these years, Ohio just spat out mediocre presidents like it was its job– Rutherford Hayes, James Garfield, the aforementioned McKinley, William H. Taft, and Warren Harding can all call Ohio home.  Since then, Ohio’s fortunes have crumbled and it has become the buckle of the Rust Belt.  But what cannot be denied is that Ohio has become the ultimate swing state.  No president since Kennedy in 1960 won without winning Ohio, and no Republican candidate since the party’s beginning has ever won the presidency without winning the Buckeye State.

41.  Benjamin Wade (Whig, Republican, 1851-1869)

Perhaps I reveal my Yankee prejudices when I say this, but I view Radical Reconstruction as a brief, but glorious epoch in the history of the American South.  Alas, it was cut short by a number of frustrating contingencies.  Abraham Lincoln was bent on leniency and rehabilitation and at any rate, was killed before he could guide Reconstruction.  His successor, Andrew Johnson was a strict constructionist tool, and far too accommodating to the vanquished Bourbons from the southland.  Grant was sympathetic to the plight of the freedman, but he was too politically maladroit, and his administration too corrupt, to make very much headway.

A south where former Confederates were barred from holding office, where economic justice for freedmen could be achieved, and where black Americans would enjoy the right to vote in perpetuity, was actually within reach, and it could have happened if Benjamin Wade became president in 1868.  As president pro tempore, he would have become president if Andrew Johnson had been found guilty during his impeachment trial.

Wade was present at the creation of the Republican Party, and saw in this fledgling organization an alternative moral force to oppose slave power and open the West to free labor.  It is easy to forget, but Abraham Lincoln had immense difficulties with Congress, and Wade was a perpetual thorn in his side, always advocating the tearing down on Southern institutions and bases of power. When Lincoln pocket-vetoed the Wade-Davis Bill, a harsh and exacting vision for bringing the South back into the Union, Wade famously sent a lengthy harangue to the New York Times.   In short, Wade was the sort of unalloyed radical that makes studying this period of American history so fun.  Additionally, as an advocate of women’s suffrage, trade union rights, and soft money, he is the sort of man who sounds very appealing in 2012.

42.  Robert A. Taft (Republican, 1939-1953)

If I have learned one thing from teaching political history in a foreign country, it is that the meanings of “conservative” and “liberal” are extremely fluid, and change drastically over time and in different political systems.  Taft was one of the most prominent conservatives in senatorial history, but he is of a distinct breed of this philosophy that is sometimes called “paleo-conservative.” He was opposed to most of the New Deal, with a few exceptions such as Social Security and public housing.  In foreign policy, Taft opposed intervention, speaking out against the draft as an affront to religious liberty.  He was steadfastly against U.S. involvement in WWII until Pearl Harbor.  My own personal beef with Taft, though, is his staunch anti-labor stance.  Ideologically in league with, and politically indebted to, Ohioan businessmen, Taft engineered the Taft-Hartley Act that kneecapped labor at the zenith of its influence, and since then, has had its hand continually weakened as the hand of owners and CEOs grew stronger.  Never a cultural warrior, Taft was more or less a libertarian without the racist newsletters, fanboy crushes on Ayn Rand, fealty to Austrian economists, or adherence to bizarre conspiracy theories.

Because of these stances, Taft is often mis-characterized as an “isolationist.”  That’s not exactly true.  Taft saw Europe as a train wreck of a continent, that had plunged the U.S. into two wars and two rebuildings that cost his country much in human and financial treasure.   He was suspicious of NATO, and at the same time, thought that Cold Warriors rhetoric about the Soviet Union exaggerated the threat.  Most famously of all, the opposed the Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals for crimes against humanity.   This was not because he thought them innocent of wrongdoing, but because he considered the trials ex post facto law– convicting someone of crimes that were not illegal when the crime took place.  Turning his gaze from a troubled Europe, he advocated that the U.S. turn its attention to the East– to China, Japan, and Oceania.  The parallels to President Obama’s recent “strategic pivot” to the Pacific are not superficial.

Taft tried to emulate his father, and take his ideology to the White House.  From 1940 to 1952, Taft made a credible bid for his party’s nomination with substantial support from Midwestern Republicans.  And every single time, he was defeated by the Republicans’ more moderate, Eastern Establishment wing– whether to Thomas Dewey, Wendell Willkie, or to Dwight Eisenhower.   Perhaps it is just as well.  A poor orator whose devotion to avoiding entangling alliances was obsolete by his time, Taft was better left as one man who expressed a particular point of view very well in a body of 100.

Runners-up:  Oh, goodness me.  John Sherman certainly deserves a place in the top 100; its a shame that I was limited to just two Ohioans.  George Pendleton, Stephen Young, and Howard Metzenbaum were also given consideration.

XXII.  West Virginia

Almost heaven, Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River, country roads.  Since its backwater residents split off from the gentile aristocracy that dominated coastal Virginia, West Virginia has succeeded at crafting its own identity, reveling in its Appalachian charm.   (Think about this one for a moment– during the first 80 years of our nation’s history, before the split, Virginia and Pennsylvania shared a border!)  Still rural, poor, and home to a great many coal miners, West Virginia rewards politicians who bring home the bacon– federal largess for make-work projects and sorely needed infrastructure– while punishing representatives who push for environmental legislation.

43.  Henry G. Davis (Democrat, 1871-1883)

Davis was a land speculator and minor official on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad before realizing the connectivity between politics and business success, and ran for office.   As a senator, Davis used his influence to get himself a railroad charter to dominate northern West Virginia and exploit its natural resources.  An opponent of Reconstruction and a fierce critic of the Grant administration, Davis moved the new state away from its Republican, anti-Southern roots, and it slowly became more Dixie than not.  In terms of constituent services, he lobbied for a Department of Agriculture that was realized shortly after he left office.  For these efforts, Davis was placed on a presidential ticket twenty years after leaving the Senate.  Consisting of an obscure New York judge named Alton Parker and a then-80-year-old Davis, it might very well have been the weakest presidential ticket ever put up by any major party.

44.  Robert C. Byrd (Democrat, 1953-2010)

One of the great tragedies in Senate history is that we in the 21st century don’t get a chance to see just how great the men in the 1800s  and early 1900s were.  We lack a recording of Daniel Webster’s oratory, we can’t watch William Seward on the C-SPAN archives.  This won’t be a problem for Robert Byrd, whose career spanned from the dawn of television to the youtube era.   There’s Byrd chiding his colleagues for not following procedure, reminding them to refer to each other in the third person.  There’s the famous “fie on this Congress” speech for authorizing the war in Iraq.  And, of course, there is his heartbreaking reaction to Ted Kennedy’s terminal illness.  Collectively, these clips show just how much Byrd revered the Senate, and held it to a high standard.  Famously, he gave a small copy of the constitution to every new senator, and his mastery of Senate rules, regulations, and unofficial customs was legendary.

As far as constituent services go, you would be hard pressed to find a senator who did more than Robert C. Byrd for his state.  He shamelessly used his place on the Senate Appropriations Committee to fund projects in West Virginia.  Highways, dams, bridges, schools, all these were diverted to West Virginia (to be fair, the state needs all the help it can get, right?)  While it made Byrd legendary, and secured his continual re-election, it also led Citizens Against Taxpayer Waste to name him the “Emperor Palpatine of Pork.”  While Byrd’s respect for Senate institutions rightly garners praise, he also justified, to some extent, cynicism toward the federal government.

Notoriously, Byrd started out in the staunch segregationist wing of his party.  He aided attempts to block the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Act,  arguing from a state’s rights perspective that made little sense when juxtaposed to his relentless pursuit of federal dollars for his home state.  But Byrd evolved, as both a legislator, and a human being, during his almost half-century in the Senate.  From this, he built a second career, as the Democratic Majority Leader during a period that one upcoming history book considers to be the last competent Senate during the late 1970s.  He recanted his earlier racism and his votes against civil rights.  Rather than an abstract admission of remorse, his voting record actually reflected these changes in his outlook.  There were still hiccups along the way– most notoriously when he used the phrase “white niggers” to describe young whites enamored of ghetto culture.  But to paraphrase MLK Jr., the moral arc of Robert Byrd’s career was long, but it bent toward justice.

XXIII.  Kentucky

Kentucky was the 15th state to join the Union, the second after Vermont to join the original 13.  More than most states in the region, Kentucky vacillated politically.  It wavered over whether to join the Confederacy, and it very well might have, pending a few crucial Confederate victories.  Abraham Lincoln was spot-on when he said, “I would hope that God is on my side, but I must have Kentucky on my side.”  Since then, Kentucky generally votes for whichever candidate in national elections in the most Southern.  Its votes went to Bush and Reagan, but also Carter and Clinton.  Although you’d never guess it by Obama’s poor performance in the state in 2008 and Rand Paul’s election to the Senate in 2010, Kentucky also has the fourth highest percentage of registered Democrats in the nation.

45.  Henry Clay (Democratic-Republican, National Republican, Whig, 1806-1807, 1810-1811, 1831-1842, 1849-1852)

Here he is, ladies and gentlemen– the man you’ve all been waiting for.  Many historians’ pick for the greatest senator of all time (and probably mine as well), we have the Great Compromiser, Harry of the West, the Young Commoner.  If you haven’t stopped reading this blog, then you probably know enough about American history to be aware of Clay’s great contributions to American polity.  He engineered the Missouri Compromise that set guidelines and limits to the expansion of slavery in the West.  He was a founder of the Whig Party to crystallize the amorphous and badly disorganized anti-Jacksonian sentiment in Congress.  This coalition capitalized on banking and commercial interests, drew from fear of presidential tyranny, and benefited from evangelical enthusiasm.  As a swansong, Clay cobbled together a problematic 1850 Compromise that kept the Union intact, but ultimately retrenched both Southern Planters and Northern abolitionist forces, none of whom were happy with it.

Henry Clay was not a saint, and he represents a very different typology of senator than a dignified Brahman like Nelson Aldrich or Henry Cabot Lodge.  He owned slaves, even if his compromises checked the spread of slavery writ large.   His views on Native Americans were inhumane by even 19th century standards.  He gambled.  He drank.  He dueled.  He wooed beautiful women (again, beautiful by 19th century standards.)  A nimble scoundrel, one of his colleagues said of him, “like a mackerel in the moonlight, he shines and stinks at the same time.”

In Clay’s long string of successes and flops, he never stopped believing that compromise was possible (even if he sometimes took a grandstanding role in making compromise, and even if his handling of issues led to a crisis point in the first place.)  His vision of the United States– one nation of many parts, connected with internal improvements, self-sustaining through trade and industry,– known to history as The American System, ultimately prevailed.  I would argue, and many would join me here, that he was the most significant politician in American history who never got to be president.

46.  John Sherman Cooper (Republican, 1946-1949, 1952-1955, 1956-1973)

Cooper is the sort of man who just isn’t well remembered today, and that is a great shame.  You might have noticed how odd his dates as a senator are– three different periods of service in a three decade time span.  There is actually a good reason for this.  These interregnums were caused by his ambassadorial appointments– to East Germany and to India.  When not serving in these posts, Cooper was a respected voice on foreign policy in the Senate.  When compared to his contemporary, Mr. Taft, Cooper championed an engaged U.S. as an active force in world affairs.  Cooper was, significantly, one of the first Republican voices to oppose the war in Vietnam.  With Frank Church, he successfully castrated Nixon’s incursions into Cambodia by cutting off their funding.  He also strongly advocated for civil rights, an act of courage for a quasi-southern senator.  Whether at home or abroad, John Sherman Cooper was truly, as one of his biographers named him, The Global Kentuckian.

Runners-up:  Richard Mentor Johnson, John Crittenden, Alban Barkley, and Mitch McConnell were all, in their own way, strong runners-up.  Barkley was one of the great New Deal senators, Crittenden made a noble attempt to prevent civil war at the last second, McConnell showed persistence in directing opposition to the Obama program, and Richard Mentor Johnson killed Tecumseh.  Kentucky’s bench is pretty deep.

XXIV.  Tennessee

Home to the Grand Ole’ Opry, the TVA, and Graceland, Tennessee is down home to the extreme.  Both Southern and Appalachian with a heavy mix of significant cities, its two best senators reflect its character well.

47.  Andrew Johnson (Democrat, 1857-1862, 1875)

There aren’t very many presidents on this list of great senators; only the two Johnsons, Andrew and Lyndon, made the cut.  Johnson was a terrible president; if I still engaged in the troubling activity of ranking presidents, I would likely put him third from last, with only Coolidge and Nixon doing worse.   But I will give Johnson credit for a singular act as a young senator during the crucible of Civil War.  When the Confederate States seceded, every single senators representing said states, even those with grave reservations,  went home, and were ultimately loyal to the Richmond for the duration of the war.  Except one.  Andrew Johnson remained in the Senate and dutifully attended its sessions, even if he was no longer able to vote.  For the symbolism of this act, Johnson was rewarded with the vice-presidential nomination on the Republicans’ brief 1864 re-branding as the “Union Party.”  The rest, as they say, is history.

It was fitting, therefore, that Johnson was elected to the Senate once more in retirement, holding the office for a handful of months before shedding this mortal coil.  This doesn’t excuse the other elements of Johnson’s career– he was an ignorant and barely literate tailor, coarse, prejudicial in the extreme against blacks, and often lost his struggle with alcohol.  In many respects, he was the anti-Natty Bumpo, embodying the worst elements of the frontier character.  But for his paramount loyalty to his country, and his courage in carrying out that loyalty, Andy Johnson deserves a spot on this list.

48.  Howard Baker (Republican, 1967-1985)

Some senators can be encapsulated in just one word.  Joe McCarthy = anti-communism, John McCain = maverick, Henry Clay = compromise.  If I could sum up Baker in one word, I would choose “civility.”   In an early show of the South’s shifting political loyalties, Baker, a Republican, was elected from Tennessee in 1966.  Baker was a moderate conservative, but like many other members of the Senate in his day, he wanted to be effective and useful to his constituents, rather than ideologically pure.  No milquetoast, Baker was effective at corralling votes, and persuading wayward senators, and these factors led to his becoming the Senate Minority Leader (1977-1981) and Senate Majority Leader (1981-1985) after the Republicans took the Senate in 1980.

I am probably being presentist in putting Baker forward as such an exemplar, but I cannot help but be moved by his words: “And if we cannot be civil to one another, and if we stop dealing with those with whom we disagree, or that we don’t like, we would soon stop functioning altogether.”

Runner-up:  Al Gore Sr., I think, deserved mad props for being one of only 3 Southern senators to refuse to sign the segregationist Southern Manifesto.  Hugh White and the colorful Estes Kefauver were also favorites of mine.

XXV.  Arkansas

49.  Joseph Robinson (Democrat, 1913-1937)

Robinson began his time in the Senate as a loyal Wilsonian Democrat, and ended it as a loyal New Deal Democrat.  During Wilson’s presidency, Robinson took part in passing some of the key legislation from that era: the child labor laws, the war declaration against Germany, and arming merchant ships during the period of submarine warfare.  By the time Roosevelt became president, Robinson was a senate fixture, and used his seniority and favorable reputation to push for essential relief efforts, including the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Federal Emergency Relief Act, and the Home Owners Loan Act.  While he could overplay his hand at times– he sponsored U.S. participation in the World Court, and acceded to FDR’s court-packing plan– he was one of the most efficient and successful senators of his day.

Equally significantly, Robinson helped rehabilitate the South, long condemned to a kind of marginal place in national politics since Reconstruction.  As the Catholic New Yorker Alfred E. Smith’s running mate in the 1928 election, he was the first Southerner on a major party ticket since the Civil War, and the first Arkansan on a ticket ever.   This was helped by Robinson’s religious tolerance.  In 1928 he famously stood up to the KKK and anti-Catholic Alabama senator Tom Heflin, an important act of conscience in the nativist 1920s.

50.  J. William Fulbright (Democrat, 1945-1974)

Like many of the Southern statesmen of his day, Fulbright lent his considerable parliamentary acumen to preventing a civil rights bill; he signed the Southern Manifesto eagerly, and did not vote for a single civil rights bill until 1970, near the twilight of his career.  Yet, there is much that is praiseworthy in Fulbright’s three decades in the Senate.   The Fulbright Scholars program allowed for international exchange and the promotion of peace; hundreds of thousands of young men and women have now taken part in it.  Later in his career, he led the charge against Nixon Supreme Court nominee G. Harold Carswell, mindful of Carswell’s retrenched defense of segregation.  He defended the Truman Doctrine to check Soviet expansion, while later promoting the detente policy that improved relations between the two superpowers.

Fulbright is also, of course, famous for serving as the Foreign Relations chair during the height of the long Vietnam War.  If we look at the Vietnam War, Fulbright’s views on the matter represented a kind of fulcrum.  As long as he wanted to continue LBJ’s policies, the war would continue unabated and only a shrill group of senators– the McGoverns, the McCarthys, the Morses, the Gruenings, would voice their opposition.  When Fulbright finally perceived the futility of American engagement in Indochina, it was only a matter of time before the war would be scaled down.  To prevent the overreach both Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon demonstrated in conducting the war, Fulbright spearheaded the War Powers Act, which stymied the president’s ability to deploy troops indefinitely without a declaration of war or congressional approval.

Runner-up: Dale Bumpers was a strong senator, and emblematic of the post-racial Southern moderates that came to the fore in 1970– similar to Jimmy Carter in Georgia, Terry Sanford in North Carolina, and Reuben Askew in Florida.

Conclusion:  Stay tuned, because my favorite group of senators is coming up next– the industrial Midwest, which includes Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.

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Now, we have entered deep-fried Dixie, the land of slow drawls, sweet tea, and the Dukes of Hazard.  While the definition of the Deep South is somewhat fluid, I have construed it here to include the five states most commonly placed within that region: South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Georgia.  These were the states that the cotton gin affected most profoundly, turning what was once a diverse set of farms into one-crop cotton plantation (with significant exceptions, such as South Carolina’s indigo).  They were also the first states to secede when Fort Sumter was reinforced by the Union.  Believing the Republicans to have been the party of racial egalitarianism, Lincoln, and the humiliating Reconstruction, this region was indelibly Democratic for nearly a hundred years after Appomattox, halted only by a brief initial rule by freedmen and carpetbagging Republicans from the North.  Indeed, there was no viable Republican Party in these states for decades.  These five states were also forerunners in the tide toward conservatism.  All voted for Barry Goldwater in 1964, all but South Carolina went for George Wallace four years later.  More than any other grouping I’ve devised for the All-Star Senate, these five states cohere the most strongly as a region.

But here’s the big problem with this.  I am bound, by my own criteria, to pick a number of senators who were long-tenured, skilled parliamentarians, and masterful politicians.  This, unfortunately, means that many unforgivably racist men make the list here.  I don’t like doing it, but I see no alternative.  Thurmond, Russell, Stennis and the rest were masterful men of the Senate who revered its laws and customs, but channeled them toward grossly unjust outcomes– preventing civil rights acts, anti-lynching laws, social relief programs aimed largely at blacks.  They were empowered partly by their persistent use of the filibuster, but also by their control of committee chairs.  In the absence of a viable Republican Party opposition, many were able to accrue seniority and earn committee chairs whenever the Democrats were in power.  Ultimately, our Deep South ten belong on this list, if only as a grim reminder of the less savory elements in American history, where the reigns of law and order were skillfully misused by a small cabal of Dixie senators.  In spite of their glaring historical blemishes, many of the most ardent segregationists demonstrated the qualities necessary for senatorial success: parliamentary knowledge, patience, longevity, constituent services, and good committee work.

So, when I talk about the ‘best’ or ‘great’ senators for some of these states, it is in recognition of legislative skill, but abhorrence toward the ends in which it was employed.  To quote the Simpsons, “by great, we mean ‘large’ or ‘immense’/we used it in the pejorative sense.”

XVI.  South Carolina

Too small to be its own country, too large to be an insane asylum.  In these words, judge James Petigrue captured the character of the Palmetto State.  South Carolina has long been the most consciously Southern of the Southern states.  At first the home to bustling ports like Charleston, plantation interests soon dominated the state.  Its intellectual life was strongly premised on nullification and defiance; it tried to secede the Union twice before any other state made a serious attempt.  It was its second try, after the reinforcement of Fort Sumter, that led her neighbor states to leaving the Union.

31. John C. Calhoun (Democrat, 1832-1843, 1845-1850)

One of the Great Triumvirate, John Calhoun wore many hats: an icon of Southern intransigence, a political theorist, a perpetual office-holder (including tenures as vice-president, Secretary of War and Secretary of State), and a startling orator.  It seems crazy when you look back at his career, but Calhoun was one of the first great nationalists.  You would be hard pressed to find a man who more ardently argued for national roads, canals, and stronger armed forces.  Yet, he found himself changing his mind with the advent of the strong presidency of Andrew Jackson, and the rise of the Tariff of Abominations.  Much, though surely not all, of this change was economic in nature.  Through these experiences, Calhoun became a profound counter-revolutionary.

As a theorist, Calhoun’s understanding of “concurrent majorities” and minority rights still hold a surprising amount of sway.  Minority rights referring to a political, rather than racial minority, of course.  For a law to pass, a number of interlocking groups must assent, so that no single group is taken advantage of.  Calhoun saw democracy as a potential threat; he was republican to the core. Dreading what he saw as the moblike qualities of Jacksonian democracy, he played a role in South Carolina’s retrenchment; even as late as 1860, its state senate, rather than its citizens, determined who its electors would vote for in a presidential race.  Fearing the overwhelming numbers of the North, he fervently argued for nullification, the ability of a state to cancel out a federal law within its jurisdiction.    In a roundabout way, the means in which 40 senators can upset the will of 60, even today, bears an unacknowledged debt to Calhoun.

Yet, for all of his genius, self-interest ruled the day for Calhoun.  As a defender of state’s rights and nullification, he advanced the causes of his own region.  I suppose abstractly, there is little that is wrong with this– a senator is supposed to represent his constituency.  But for all of his genius, all of his famed oratorical skill, Calhoun should still trouble us.  His belief in a racial hierarchy cannot be wholly excused as ‘what people believed at the time’; there were plenty of Quakers, ministers, missionaries, etc. who did not believe in an inferior black race as early as the 1830s and 1840s.  Neither, too, can his Southern loyalty be seen as an inevitable byproduct of the region; his early career belies that.  But much of senatorial history and discourse is based on the idea that the South is different from the rest of the country, and that its interests and beliefs do not line up with the rest, and that it must stand united against grievances real and imagined.  This was not always so, as a study of the Early Republic will suggest.  Nobody contributed more to the distinctiveness of the South, and its culture of remembrance, regional identity, and victimization, than John Calhoun.  For good or ill, that is perhaps his greatest legacy.

32.  Strom Thurmond (Democrat, Republican, 1956-2003)

One of the most surreal moments during the entire George W. Bush presidency was seeing him walk into the House chamber to deliver the State of the Union address, and embrace Strom Thurmond on his way to the rostrum.  At the time, Thurmond was president pro tempore of the Senate, and therefore fourth in line to the presidency.  This was, mind you a man who had challenged Harry Truman as a third-or-fourth party candidate back in 1948.  Thurmond is remembered chiefly for two things: his longevity and his staunch opposition to civil rights.   As a legislator, he revived the filibuster as a tool of the South, a practice in keeping with his predecessor, Mr. Calhoun’s belief in concurrent majorities.  In this manner, he effectively led the movement to prevent anti-lynching laws, civil rights legislation (even meaningless, toothless civil rights legislation- see the Acts of 1957 and 1960.  He once filibustered the 1957 Act by himself for over 24 hours).  With less success, he tried to prevent the magisterial Civil Rights Act of 1964, and only the sustained and united opposition of liberal and moderate Democrats and Republicans was enough to invoke cloture.  And even then, it was a very tough call.   I find it significant that a dam in southern South Carolina is named after him; Thurmond’s skill was largely in holding progress up, and preventing things from happening.

Thurmond also famously bolted the Democratic Party when it started getting serious about civil rights.  One of the first Republicans in the 20th century to represent the South in the Senate, he was the first in a slow, but near-complete transition of the South’s political affiliations.  From then on, he became a kind of kingmaker in the Southern primaries, supporting both Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan during their respective presidential campaigns.  Those who believe that the conservative ascendency in America has little to do with race would do well to closely examine the scope of Thurmond’s career and influence.

Strom Thurmond remains a synonymous with racism during the entire last half of the 20th century.  Most of the worst Dixiecrats from the 1960s who lived into the 1980s or 1990s eventually recanted.  John Stennis did.  George Wallace did.  Strom did not.

Runners-up:  Ernest “Fritz” Hollings was not as distinguished as Thurmond, nor as notorious, but he did rack up more than 40 years of service in the body.  Robert Hayne, the Robin to Calhoun’s Batman, was given consideration, as was ‘Pitchfork Ben’ Tillman, a populist firebrand from the early 20th century.

XVII.  Georgia

It is with irony that I note that Georgia started out as an Enlightenment experiment– a place where debtors and the poor could work as yeoman farmers without competition from the large slave plantations that dominated other colonies.  Yet, in time, Georgia became almost identical in character to its neighbors, rife with cotton plantations, prominent families who monopolized its political life, and .  Devastated in the Civil War, Georgia changed profoundly in the decades after Reconstruction; its cities became emblems of Henry Grady’s “New South,” focused on industry, productivity, and at least in rhetoric, minimizing racial animosity.  Atlanta rebuilt itself as a bustling metropolis with the tongue-in-cheek motto “too busy to hate.”  Since then, Georgia’s record has been mixed; it has elected some of the most brazen racists in the country to its governorship (Lester Maddox), while four years later electing one of the first post-racial politicians in the South (Jimmy Carter).  In 2004, the last conservative Democrat in the Senate, Georgia’s Zell Miller, retired.  Statewide offices have been dominated by Republicans ever since.

33.  Walter George (Democrat, 1922-1957)

Another long-tenured Democrat from this region, George transitioned from the isolationism and unilateralism that dominated much Southern thought at the beginning of his career, to the internationalism that defined the 1940s.  As a key member of the Finance Committee, he successfully steered funding for the Lend Lease program through the Senate, saving Britain’s bacon, and eventually supported the U.N.  Yet, like Pat Harrison, his relationship with the New Deal was halting and complex.  While eager for legislation that lent aid to his farmer constituents, George among other senators, worked for legislation that effectively kept ‘black’ occupations, such as maids, off of social security, in effect creating a kind of affirmative action that only favored whites.  He also kowtowed to Georgia’s nascent industrial sector, using his Finance Committee leadership to bolster the prospects of Atlanta-based Coca Cola and the Georgia Power Company.  George’s career ended on a disgraceful note; one of his last actions as a senator was reading the Southern Manifesto on the Senate floor (although a number of Southerners composed the document), intoning a defiant riposte against Brown vs. Board, civil rights legislation and the prospect of an integrated society.

34.  Richard Russell (Democrat, 1933-1971)

It is almost axiomatic that Richard Russell was one of the most skillful senators to ever hold office.  Russell is most  commonly remembered for two filibusters designed to halt civil rights laws: the watered-down 1956 Civil Rights Act, and the more well-known 1964 Civil Rights Act.  But if Strom Thurmond was a symbolic demagogue, it was Russell who actually had the legislative skill and the capacity to marshal forces that ultimately made him a more effective senator in the long run, even as they worked for similar purposes and operated on similar philosophies and assumptions.   Thurmond was a mascot, albeit an effective and long-tenured mascot. Russell was the field marshal, or the quarterback.  He was the one who arranged the delays, filibusters, and the use of parliamentary precedents that forestalled civil rights legislation for decades. Though less demagogic than his colleagues from neighboring states, Russell was nonetheless committed to a segregated society, believing that it fulfilled Jeffersonian notions of personal freedoms  which the government could not intrude upon  by compelling integration.

How did he do this?  A good part of the answer lies in committee assignments.  This held a dual purpose; as Armed Services chair, military budgets and plans had to get through him.  In this capacity, he helped establish an independent CIA, and the Atomic Energy Commission.  But he also held a career-long spot on the Appropriations Committee, allowing him to funnel pork barrel projects to Georgia.  Initially a New Deal Liberal, he secured passage and funding for the Rural Electrification Act, Farm Security Administration, and the Agricultural Adjustment Act, each of which strengthened the rural Georgian farmer.

XVIII.  Alabama

Like Georgia, Alabama’s postbellum history mixes strong farming communities with heavy industry.  Birmingham and Montgomery both became prominent centers of manufacture within the South.

35.  John Tyler Morgan (Democrat, 1877-1907)

When the Confederacy crumbled at the end of the Civil War, many of its leaders and generals famously made a beeline for Brazil and the Caribbean, where the plantation ethos survived and where slavery, in Brazil at least, continued as a way of life.  John Tyler Morgan brought these sentiments to the Senate, and more than any other figure from his region, argued in favor of imperial expansion in the Caribbean and the Pacific.    He pushed for annexation of Cuba, of the Philippines, of Hawaii, and in each case considered a mass deportation of black Americans to these locales.  He is also regarded as the ideological father of the Panama Canal, eager to build along the longer, but less mountainous, Nicaraguan route.  To these ends, Morgan was a prolific and insatiable debater; it was said that he could speak for nearly three working days straight for or against a given issue, and he is testament to an age where a debate or stump speech was high public entertainment in the South.

A skilled legislator, he was behind a series of ingenious contrivances to skirt around the 15th Amendment and deny black Americans a place at the ballot box, and turned public opinion against a federal elections bill in 1890 that would have put federal troops at polling stations where noncompliance with the 15th Amendment’s provisions was suspected.  Both his attempts to disenfranchisement black Americans and his naked imperialism are testament to Morgan’s unending belief in racial hierarchy.  More of a paternalist than a demagogue, he saw white oversight of the Pacific and Caribbean spheres as an act of beneficence.  But there was method, too, in his imperialism.  By yoking the Caribbean to the U.S., the region would gravitate to the South, buy its consumer goods, and thus challenge the economic dominance of the North.

One of my professors ran a postwar U.S. reading seminar on the belief that America’s race policy and its foreign relations were deeply intertwined.  Morgan’s career suggests that this extends throughout the duration of American history.

36.  Oscar Underwood (Democrat, 1915-1927)

Underwood is like a breath of fresh air, as well as evidence to the several layers of nuance in Southern politics.   He was   an early opponent of Prohibition, an astounding stance in the South, where temperance exerted an immense political pressure.  Yet, he also stood against women’s suffrage and popular election of senators and the presidency, arguing that each would water down the effectiveness of the South’s bloc in Congress.  Underwood, though, is best known for two things.  The first is his policy on tariffs.  While tariffs make students’ eyes roll in the back of their head, there were few issues in American congressional history that had so deep an effect on the typical American.  They could stimulate home industries by raising the costs of foreign competitors if high.  And they could raise internationalist sentiment and give American goods superior foreign markets if lowered.  Underwood argued for lower tariffs– both as a measure for the Alabama farmer and to support foreign markets for the burgeoning industrial sector in Birmingham.  Secondly, Underwood famously opposed the KKK– no small task for an Alabama senator working in the 1920s, when the Klan was enjoying a second wind that extended throughout the nation.  He worked adamantly, but futilely, to get an anti-Klan plank into the Democratic platform in 1924, and even attempted his own run at the presidency.  Both efforts fell short, and Underwood retired in 1926 rather than face almost certain defeat in his party’s primary.  For his bravery in opposing the Klan, JFK gave Underwood a chapter in his celebrated Profiles in Courage.

XIX.  Mississippi

Mississippi has been the scene of some of the most heated racial tension in America.  The site of the ‘Black Belt’ and the delta of the eponymous river, this is a state with deep poverty, poor education, and limited infrastructure throughout much of its history.  (To wit, as the old joke goes, New Mexico’s state motto is ‘thank God for Mississippi’, lest they be last in every category.)  Home of the Freedom Summer, and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, this was also ground zero for much of the grassroots civil rights action conducted by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the 1960s.

37.  Pat Harrison (Democrat, 1919-1941)

The Faustian bargain the New Deal presented Southerners in Congress is perhaps best seen in Harrison’s career.  Most Southerners were eager to provide their constituents the electricity, farm aid, poor relief, and banking restrictions they clamoured for.  But the New Deal also presented a quandary– what if the same overarching federal government tried to get involved in say, anti-lynching laws, or enforcing the 15th Amendment, or cutting down on poll taxes, or enacting civil rights legislation?  This resulted in Southern senators trying to have it both ways– endorsing New Deal programs in general, but limiting their ability to aid black residents; securing pork barrel spending for their districts, while loudly proclaiming state’s rights.

Harrison’s role in all of this was singular.  As chair of the Finance Committee, he was responsible for bringing up and handling the floor debate on several life-altering programs– the National Industrial Recovery Act, ending Prohibition (think of where Milwaukee and Denver would be without that!),  and the Revenue Act of 1935, which dramatically raised the tax scale among the very wealthy.   Loyal to the core, he pushed through these programs even though he had reservations- especially with the Revenue Act and ending Prohibition.  When Roosevelt’s critics charged that he had a “rubber-stamp Congress” at his disposal, these charges were made with men like Harrison in mind.  The loyalty wasn’t rewarded; FDR endorsed a rival for the position of Senate Majority Leader, and Harrison retaliated by watering down late 1930s measures, such as capital gains taxes.  Eventually, the two reconciled, and worked together on Lend Lease to Britain, which FDR wanted funneled through the Finance Committee, rightly confident in Harrison’s ability to pass it through.

38.  John Stennis (Democrat, 1947-1989)

Stennis is a complicated man. A Mississippian who loved the Senate and its institutions, he was also part of the Dixiecrat coterie that thwarted justice for black Americans for most of his tenure.  Not a fire-breather, and quick to condemn the violence of the KKK, Stennis was nevertheless participis criminalis to much of the obstruction committed in the name of state’s rights.

This is rendered more nuanced by John Stennis’s evident love and reverence for the Senate and its institutions, as well as his commitment to putting personal ethics first.  He wrote the first Senate Ethics Code, and was the first chair of the Senate Ethics Committee  Eventually ethics won out, belatedly.  When he stepped down from the Senate in 1989, he gave his prize office space to Joe Biden.  According to Biden, Stennis confided to him his regret.   “The civil rights movement ultimately did more for the white man than the black man.  It freed my soul,” he told the astonished senator from Delaware.  Stennis  could, in a fashion, be generous, bipartisan, and gracious.  And he showed courage by being the first Democrat to stand up to McCarthy on the Senate floor, believing that the Wisconsinite’s actions disgraced congress.  Does this make up for the social legislation that he opposed when it really mattered?

Runners-up:  Oh, heaven help us.  Theodore Bilbo came very close to making the list.  Don’t let the Hobbity surname fool you; Bilbo was probably the most prominent race-baiter in the country, who used racial tension to win primary elections in Mississippi’s back country.  Jefferson Davis is significant as well; his time as a senator was used to solidify opinion in the South among different parties and interests.  And it is difficult to include John Stennis in this list and exclude his longtime colleague, James Eastland.

XX.  Louisiana

The piece on Louisiana is coming soon….

39.  William Pitt Kellogg (Republican, 1868-1872, 1877-1883)

The only carpet-bagging Reconstruction Republican on this list (I think), Vermont-born, Illinois-raised Kellogg stands out like a sore thumb on this Deep South list.  Part of the radical faction, Kellogg was easily elected to the Senate in 1868, served until 1872 to run for governor, and went to the Senate again after a tempestuous turn as Louisiana’s governor.  Sent to Washington for the second time just as Reconstruction was ending, Kellogg faced daily threats on his life, his home, and his family.  Indeed, he endured potential danger more often as senator than probably anybody else on this list.  Devoted to keeping black suffrage intact, and keeping ex-Confederates out of power (both out of principal, and because this was the only way in Hell he would represent Louisiana on a statewide level), Kellogg became an icon of an uphill, and ultimately futile, battle.

40.  Huey Long (Democrat, 1932-1935)

Long is quite probably the shortest-tenured senator to make the All-Stars, but it is difficult to deny his significance.  When people consider today’s Democratic Party to be radical and socialist, I sigh, shake my head, and try to bring out actual examples of populist radicalism as embodied by such figures as Huey Long.   His controversial plan, Share Our Wealth, became his platform as a senator, extending a Louisiana experiment to the rest of the nation.  Long argued that economic recovery from the Depression was not feasible when the nation faced such grave maldistribution of wealth, claiming that only 15% of the nation’s wealth was controlled by the lower 95% of its people, and 12 people owned as much as the poorest 120 million.  His plan involved capping personal fortunes at $50 million, and using the rest for education funding, internal improvements, vocational training, and stipends for working families earning less than one third of the national income.  His plan caught on, with thousands joining his Share Our Wealth clubs, and receiving 60,000 letters a week.  Long demonstrates that the New Deal wasn’t exactly revolutionary reform; it was a series of stopgap measures to prevent a full-throated revolution from taking place during the middle of the Depression.  Long challenged FDR from the left, and indeed, the president had to adopt watered-down versions of some of his proposals in order to curtail his influence.  It is possible that Social Security and the Works Progress Administration, both acts of limited reform,  owe a degree of debt to Long’s advocacy, prior to his assassination in 1935.

Runners-up:  Russell Long, Huey’s son, served longer in the Senate than he, and was a significant Senate fixture.

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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.

XI.  Maryland

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.

XII.  Virginia

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.

26.  Willie Mangum (Democrat, Whig, 1831-1836, 1840-1853)

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.[1]  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.

XIV.  Florida

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.

28.  Claude Pepper (Democrat, 1936-1951) 

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…[2]

XV. Missouri

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.

[1] 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.

[2] 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.

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