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The Man Who Said No

ISSUE:  Spring 1988

Awhile back a friend of mine sent me a New York Times article discussing the Coolidge Administration’s intervention in Nicaragua in 1927. Coolidge had sent in U.S. Marines for what turned out to be a six-year undeclared war that ended with the dictator Anastasio Somoza in charge. The author, Peter R. Kornbluh, said that Ronald Reagan’s approach to “the crisis in Central America is strikingly close to that of Calvin Coolidge.” Both, he said, use “bellicose rhetoric,” prefer a “military solution,” and “raise the specter of international communism.”

The article was particularly interesting to me because it quoted from a speech my father made on the floor of the House of Representatives, objecting to the Coolidge policy. I located the quotation in a collection of my father’s speeches, delivered over 22 years in the House. In it, he said the Administration intervened in Nicaragua not to protect American lives, as the president had claimed, but

for the purpose of establishing the particular government that happens to be satisfactory to him and to those behind him. . . . Great Britain in her most arrogant days never dreamed of an imperialism to that extent; imperial Rome never asserted over other powers any comparable authority.

In another speech on Nicaragua he said,

The Administration is responsible for the death of every American marine who may fall, and for the sacrifice of American honor and of principle which is involved in the fact that they are in Nicaragua.”

My friend had written across the article, “I thought your old man was a conservative.” Yes. No. Maybe. When he was first elected to Congress in 1914, he was called a radical, a rabble-rouser, even a Red. When he was defeated in 1936, he was called a reactionary, a sycophant of the rich and powerful. He did not think he had changed at all. But he prided himself on not going along just to get along.

By the standards of today, and maybe any day, my father made an odd politician. He was small and rather shy and introverted. There was nothing hail fellow about him. He seldom complimented, never flattered. He did not particularly like to please people, not even voters.

He had been born in Tennessee a few years after the Civil War, and his family had lost everything in Reconstruction. He went only to the third grade of a country school and then became a butcher boy on a train, hawking sandwiches and candy. In his twenties he started law school, and when he graduated he moved to Birmingham, Alabama. He rented a desk in another lawyer’s office and slept on top of the desk. According to an account book we found after his death, he made 37 dollars his first year and 118 the second.

He began to concentrate on bankruptcy law during the hard times of the 1890’s and soon developed a thriving practice. Within a few years, however, he came to believe his clients were mostly crooks, hiding assets from their creditors and the courts and him. He was in his early forties and a bachelor, and he had enough savings to live modestly, and so he quit the law. After a year in Europe looking at pictures and cathedrals, he came back to Birmingham and was elected alderman.

Though raw and young, Birmingham was rapidly becoming the industrial center of the South, aided by a tremendous influx of Eastern capital. It had all the natural ingredients necessary to manufacture steel—limestone, iron ore, coal, and cheap labor, white and black. An enormous steel plant owned by the United States Steel Corporation, now USX, dominated the economic and political life of the city. Effective labor unions were 20 years in the future, and the workers had little power.

As a lawyer, my father had hobnobbed with the e’stablished people of Birmingham, but he soon lost their support. He helped to change the form of the city government to stop domination by the powerful few. He called for control of the smoke nuisance of the U.S. Steel coke ovens and the piling of waste slag in poor neighborhoods. He criticized the absentee owners of Birmingham’s industries and banks and claimed that Eastern big finance and big business had deliberately kept the South in poverty and dependence. And at a time when most Southerners were rabid racists, he made a speech to the Alabama Legislature saying that the franchise must inevitably be extended to blacks.

When he ran for Congress, what in Birmingham were called the “got rocks” quite naturally opposed him. But the steel workers, the coal miners, and the farmers elected him. He went to Washington in 1915. Woodrow Wilson was president, and the First World War had started. My father was appointed to the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House. (He seems to have had a knack for placing himself at the center of the storm: he later shifted his focus to the Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee in time for the domestic battles of the New Deal.)

He continued his attack on the evils of Eastern financial and business interests and blamed them for what he said was growing American imperialism. Although he had been a volunteer in the Spanish-American War, he had come to believe that Admiral Dewey steamed into Manilla Bay so that big business might seize “the Phillipines as a base for expansion in China and the Orient.” And though the Panama Canal was widely hailed as an immense American achievement, he criticized what the United States had done to achieve it, saying that “we raped Colombia [once the legal government of the isthmus of Panama] so that we might extend our operations throughout South America.” In speech after speech he spoke scathingly of the Union League Club in New York, of such men as Cornelius Vanderbilt, Elihu Root, and Joseph H. Choate. He called these men “the natural enemies of democracy.”

As a newcomer, my father would probably have gone unnoticed in Washington except for his oratorical gift. Restrained and quiet in person, he was aggressive in a public speech. He seemed to compensate for his small size by a bass voice and for his reticence by the carefully turned, high-flown phrase. His speeches show he could be both humorous and self-righteous. Though he seldom won a following on an issue, he seems to have had an appreciative audience.

Along with a handful of other representatives, he soon came to believe that the country was racing toward war. Many influential people, including some in the administration, favored conscription even in peacetime, arguing that preparedness was the only intelligent posture for the country. My father believed that conscription was a giant step toward war and toward tyranny. In one speech, he asked, “Where does the support for this odious system come from?” and of course answered his own question:

The military system, with its manifold gradations, with its iron discipline which has as its ideal the making of a senseless human machine with which the superior can work his absolute will. . . .

The great financiers. Owners of railroads and ships; captains of industry . . .who would send the American flag into remote corners of the world so that rich profits may be brought home to their coffers.

War traffickers, munitions makers, builders of ships for the Navy and contractors of Army supplies. Those who coin their profits out of human blood and suffering. . . .

The parasite press. The corrupt newspapers preaching the doctrine of reaction; subsidized by selfish interests; echoers of all the undemocratic voices in our country. . . .

When the German government declared that it would begin unrestricted submarine warfare and began to sink American vessels, United States involvement became inevitable, and my father, albeit with grave reservations, supported the declaration of war in April 1917. Yet he would not go along with Wilson’s call for conscription. He still believed that forced service was tyrannical and that only the poor would serve. Perhaps not quite ingenuously, he said that conscription was “an imputation against the courage and patriotism of our people” and that since “property is not so sacred in its nature as life and liberty,” the country ought first to conscript wealth. After conscription became the law, he proposed that officers and conscripted enlisted men receive the exact same pay and the same pension.

As it had drifted toward war, America had become more and more xenophobic. There was a great outcry against German-American citizens, and anyone who opposed the war was called a traitor. At Wilson’s behest, the Congress passed the Espionage Act in 1917 and made it even more stringent in 1918, broadening the definition of espionage to include any obstruction of the war effort, including speech. My father opposed both, saying they were “a more drastic restriction on liberty than any measure ever before passed by Congress even in time of war.”

And he continued to assail big business and to call for increased taxation of war profits. He claimed that the war profiteers, among whom he classed his congressional district’s largest employer, U.S. Steel, were parasites:

Swollen with insolence and egotism, [the war profiteer] seeks to dominate the life of the community. He gives of his spoils to war charities enough to make himself respectable to his own dull conscience and to that of others of his class and then seizes if possible, some conspicuous position in connection with war work and assumes to be an authority on public duty. He hectors labor, bullies the timid and “strong arms” such modest citizens as he can intimidate, and woe be to all those who may expose him or seek to tax the proceeds of his extortion. . . . He stands with his right hand in the public pocket and with his left hand flings mud at anybody interfering with his game.

These and like words hardly endeared him to the got rocks

back home. More important, by the time of the election of 1918, he had alienated President Wilson.


The publisher of Birmingham’s major newspaper, a longtime opponent of my father’s, had been a classmate of Wilson’s at Princeton. He apparently persuaded Wilson to break the unwritten law of politics that the leader of the party does not campaign in the primaries against a member of his own party. However arranged, Wilson telegraphed the newspaper claiming that “Mr. Huddleston’s record proves him in every way an opponent to the administration.”

The newspaper published the telegram on the front page and the other newspapers picked it up. The next day a caricature of my father appeared in the morning paper. It showed him with a big head, and a little body encased in jodphurs and leather boots. A hammer and sickle were emblazoned across his chest. The caption read “The Little Bolshevik.”

For several days after that, caricatures appeared in all the Birmingham dailies. He was depicted as the protector of a German anarchist, as a pygmy trying to hold back a giant Wilson, as an anarchist overturning the Statue of Liberty.

He was not then or ever had been a member of the Communist Party or an anarchist or even a left-leaning socialist. He was an old-fashioned liberal, with beliefs he called Jefiersonian. Individual liberty was the supreme good. The Bill of Rights must be strictly interpreted, including the Tenth, or States Rights, Amendment. Centralized federal authority was a great threat to democracy. Bigness itself was evil. These were his most cherished beliefs.

The night after the cartoon appeared, his supporters organized a rally in the city park near the center of downtown. My father and mother, who had married a year earlier, were coming into Birmingham on a train. According to a sworn affidavit, albeit from a supporter of my father, the railroad tracks had been soaped in order to delay their arrival until after the rally. But the word that the got rocks were after him had apparently spread among the farmers and coal miners and steel workers in the outlying districts, and though the train was three hours late, more than 15,000 supporters bearing lighted torches jammed into the park and spilled onto the downtown streets.

After he won the election, more easily than he had expected with such potent opposition, my father decided to sue the newspaper for libel. He brought the suit in a rural county in his district because he thought he could get a fairer trial from a jury of farmers than from people who might be under the sway of the got rocks. He won the suit and was awarded $30,000, a fairly large judgment for those days. The newspaper appealed and the case went to the Alabama Supreme Court, where the newspaper had more influence than it did in Oneonta, Alabama. The decision was overturned on the grounds that the suit should have been brought in Birmingham because that was the primary site of publication of the libel.

(Forty-five years later this decision became part of Sullivan vs. The New York Times. During the civil rights upheaval, a Montgomery, Alabama, city commissioner named Sullivan objected to the way the New York Times reported his part in events and sued for libel. Not surprisingly the Alabama courts found for him, and the Alabama Supreme Court upheld the decision. On appeal to the federal court, the New York Times lawyers referred to Huddleston vs The Age Herald and suggested that perhaps the Alabama court hadn’t read its own law, for obviously the primary site of publication of the New York Times was not Montgomery, Alabama. The Times won that case, though not because of this facetious reference.)

My father did not sue again, perhaps because he didn’t think he could win in Birmingham. He settled for a front page retraction and apology. After that apology the newspaper always referred to him as “the incumbent,” “the congressman,” or “Birmingham’s representative.” It did not mention the name George Huddleston again for 15 years.

After the war, the country took a sharp turn to the right. The war had led to even greater concentrations of wealth and power and more conservative, even reactionary, politics. Republicans took over the presidency and the Congress. The corporations were riding high.

Although he apparently had little support from his fellow Democrats, my father continued to speak as a “radical” throughout the 1920’s. He claimed that the federal government had intervened in a miner’s strike not to keep the peace but “to intimidate the miners and drive them back to work.” He tied this event to a federal raid on a meeting of the Communist Labor Party in New York. He said the real purpose of the raid was

to intimidate workers as a class. It was to strike terror in the heart of every foreigner in this country and to make him feel . . . that he dare not take part in a strike for fear he would be sent back to some bloody land where his life would be forfeited.”

When Republican congressmen accused him of creating unrest by this speech, he responded, “Communists are not made by words; socialists are not made by words. They are made by the overpowering eloquence of situations, of injustice, and of persecution.”


During the twenties, United States business rapidly expanded into foreign markets, particularly in South America. As business expanded, so did the “national interest” of the United States. My father opposed this new imperialism as he had the earlier version. He suggested that business interests were fostering war with Mexico “for the profits they hope to derive from the new “conquest of Mexico,”” and that these interests had controlled the State Department completely when “Mr. Charles Evans Hughes, attorney for the Standard Oil interests, was Secretary of State.” In a speech in 1928 my father called Coolidge’s continued intervention in Nicaragua without the consent of Congress “usurpation which if persisted in will result in ruin to us in the end.” After a Republican congressman pointed out that Wilson had coerced Mexico in similar circumstances, my father responded that he had condemned Wilson for it, and added, “I will not withhold my condemnation from the immeasurably smaller and weaker man who now happens to occupy the presidential chair.”

When the Great Depression struck, my father was the second ranking Democrat on the Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee, after Sam Rayburn who had beat him to the House by one month back in 1915.

Within a year of the stock market crash, unemployment was running as high as 40 percent in some areas. My father blamed not capitalism itself, but a corruption brought on by “combinations, trusts, monopolies, and conspiracies in restraint of trade.” He said the country was “reaping the harvest of the collectivism sown by the Republicans.” With their favors to special interest groups, they had encouraged extortionate profits that brought on inflation and depression.

When the Hoover Administration introduced a public works bill, my father scoffed that it was intended to help those least in need of help. He said 40 percent would go to business for overhead, profits, and salaries, and the remaining 60 percent would go to the most “intelligent, strong, and able-bodied” laboring people, likely to have savings accounts and other means to endure the depression. None, he said, would find its way to “the decrepit, the infirm, and the crippled, and none to those who have no skill and no training.” The people most in need would be left to starve.

And so he introduced the first bill calling for direct government relief. He said that such a proposal was not inconsistent with individualism, that all governments, including the United States since 1804, had attempted to relieve the suffering of the people. When the Hoover Administration objected to direct relief, my father said, “We have a man in charge who is more interested in the pocketbooks of the rich than he is in the bellies of the poor.”

During the twenties and early thirties, he was often reelected without opposition. Though Southern and conservative, laboring and farming people supported him enthusiastically. They were proud that a man who had means, position, and learning, and could have counted among the got rocks, was on their side.

He was not always on their side, however. Although the voters of Birmingham, almost all of English descent, were hostile toward Jews and other new immigrants, he opposed laws that would curb immigration. He defended Tom Mooney, a wartime labor agitator convicted of murder, and other men he thought persecuted because of their politics. During the Ku Klux Klan resurgence in the twenties, he was almost alone among Alabama politicians in opposition. When his constituents overwhelmingly supported a federal prohibition amendment, he voted against it because he said it violated the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution, the States Rights Amendment. And later when they wanted to repeal prohibition, he voted against repeal, because he said the method proposed was itself a violation of states rights. It never bothered him that some called this apparent contradiction perversity.

The voters did not expect him to think exactly as they did or to follow them. They allowed him a freedom of thought and expression that would infuriate voters today. They did not consider a congressman a clearing house of popular opinion but a leader. When his life was threatened by Klan leaders, steel workers and coal miners—including many who were themselves Klansmen—volunteered to serve as his bodyguards at political rallies. They were proud of his independence, even from them.

Once Congress adjourned for the summer, our family always went to Birmingham. This was the time of my father’s most effective politicking. We rented a house, and there he had his office. Each weekday, a flood of people came asking for help. The widow of a veteran might need help in getting a pension. A citizen might have a cousin in Ireland or Germany he wanted to bring over. One might seek a job as postmaster in one of the hamlets—the only patronage my father had. Another might simply want advice on some marital or business problem.

On Saturdays he often took us to reunions of families not our own. Even when I was only six or eight years old, I could tell how proud the people were to have him there. Men would crowd around him and slap their thighs over every joke he made. Women would shyly bring up a son or a daughter to shake his hand. Often there were contests at these reunions, potato races and hog callings and prettiest cake. And my father was the judge.

On Sundays we often attended the little churches in the outlying towns and villages. And he would preach the sermon. He did not pretend to be a believing man, but he put his oratorical gifts to work on the rights of labor and the glories of farming, and he got his share of Amen, brother, amen. After church, our family would take Sunday dinner with a parishioner, and in the afternoons the people of the neighborhood would drop by to pay respects.

We Huddleston children often objected to these outings. We preferred to hang around with our fancy country club friends. We found hog calling an embarrassment. We liked milk from bottles, not milk from cows. We thought the children talked funny, and on the way home we sometimes imitated their “nahce brot lot” for “nice bright light,” their “ain’t” and “we come.”

My father would say, “Quit posturing.” And then he would intone a favorite poem of his:

Princes and lords may flourish, or may fade;
A breath can make them, as a breath has made;
But a bold peasantry, their country’s pride,
When once destroyed, can never be supplied.

Despite the obvious element of paternalism in his attitude, he deeply respected his constituents. He admired the hard-muscled miners with the lines of their faces never quite shed of coal dust and the farmers whose gait was always slightly tilted from working the hill country. He thought they represented the virtues on which America had been founded, resoluteness, fairness, hard work. But he also thought he knew what was best for them and for the country. For 20 years they, too, believed he knew best.

And then with the New Deal and great economic changes and shifts of political power, there came a parting of the ways.

When Franklin D. Roosevelt took office in 1933, my father thought that at last he would have a leader he could follow, and he was an avid supporter. He thought Roosevelt believed in pretty much the same ideas he believed in, that Roosevelt was a Jeffersonian liberal. Such, it turned out, was not the case.

One of Roosevelt’s first proposals was the National Industrial Recovery Act. As Richard Hofstadter says in The American Political Tradition, “in essence the NRA embodied the conception of many business men that recovery was to be sought through systematic monopolization, high prices, and low production.” The NRA promoted an economics of scarcity and central control. In 1935, the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional. But it was symptomatic of the New Deal: the administration would create a new economic order. The government would help to control the economy in order to limit the ravages of free enterprise.

My father opposed the NRA and most of the subsequent Roosevelt economic measures. He blamed the country’s economic ills not on the free enterprise system itself but on a corruption of it: protective tariffs and trade barriers that inhibited foreign trade and increased prices, trusts and monopolies encouraged by government privilege, excessive profits caused by the decline of competition and the concentration of wealth, deficit spending, and, at the heart of it all, federal infringement on states rights. He thought that a government-planned economy, and restriction of free enterprise, would hinder recovery, and that centralized control presented a grave threat to individual liberty. As the ranking Democrat on the Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee, of which Sam Rayburn was the chairman, my father tried to stop what he thought was unwarranted government intervention in the economic life of the people and the states.

There was another factor in his opposition, a psychological one. He was what in those days was called an “aginer.” He had entered the Congress opposing one popular Democratic president, and here he was opposing another. He had obviously become accustomed to being an “aginer,” and he enjoyed the role. He began a speech on a bill that he thought would allow a monopoly of bus transportation with

I rise in my accustomed role as objector. . . . Some of my friends tease me and say, “Oh yes, you are against everything.” Of course it is useless to deny and so I plead by way of avoidance, “Yes I am; and the trouble about it is I am always right.” I have sometimes thought that a Member might come into the Chamber and without knowing what was going on vote “no,” “no,” “no,” on every proposal and his batting average would be about 900.

He said a “no” vote was apt to be right because when committees were writing legislation the “interests” were always there lobbying, but the people were never represented.


Perhaps he had a David complex, if such exists. A Southerner, an autodidact, an undersized man, he loved to go forth to do verbal battle and to sling his words at the Goliaths of business and politics. And since often no one even bothered to run against him, the voters must have loved it too.

Things were different back home this time, however. The labor leaders, grown stronger with Roosevelt, fully supported the New Deal. When my father opposed the NRA, they turned against him. In 1934, they put up a candidate who would go along with Roosevelt. It was a very close election, but my father won. He thought, however, that he would probably not win the next—he had offended too many people. He said he didn’t want to run, but he thought it was important for someone to say the things he said.

The newspaper he had sued had become part of the Scripps-Howard chain and vigorously supported the New Deal. The paper now mentioned my father’s name, but again disparagingly. Its Washington columnists claimed that “George Huddleston . . .despite loud protestations of devotion to the cause of liberalism, has waged bitter war, usually behind the scenes, on some of the President’s key reforms.” Though the complaint was the same—Huddleston did not support the Administration—the expression was different My father was no longer “The Little Bolshevik”—he had become the darling of Wall Street.

He did not believe he had changed. He thought the nation had whirled past him on a crazy, destructive course. He could not accept that the 19th-century principles were no longer applicable. He did not believe that the terms in which he viewed politics and economics—states rights, individual liberty, competition—were obsolete. He held to his Jeffersonian beliefs while, he thought, the country was becoming dangerously centralized and the government authoritarian.

In the summer of 1935, his opposition to the New Deal came to a head with the Holding Company bill. The ostensible purpose of the bill was to regulate the utilities, but the effect of one of its clauses, called “The Death Sentence,” would be to abolish utilities holding companies. My father had for a long time favored regulating them as he had always believed in vigorously restricting all trusts and monopolies. He objected, however, to destruction, claiming that it would punish innocent stockholders and interfere with free enterprise. If the Congress wanted to punish the real perpetrators of the holding company misdeeds committed during the “economic orgy” of the twenties, he said, “you would have to pursue them into the Great Beyond, and I would suggest you clothe yourselves with asbestos.” He claimed that the Death Sentence put too much power into the federal government and violated the spirit of the constitution.

When his good friend Sam Rayburn deserted the House version, which did not contain the Death Sentence, in favor of the Administration/Senate version, my father said, “He abandoned his new-born child and walked off with the Senate jade.” To no one’s surprise, least of all my father’s, the Senate version passed.

The columnist Arthur Krock reports in his Memoirs that soon after the passage of this bill he was at Joseph Kennedy’s and heard Roosevelt and some of his assistants singing, “Old George Huddleston ain’t what he uster be, aint what he uster be.”

He was defeated in 1936, in a blaze of notoriety. He had gone back to Birmingham to politic for the May Democratic primary—the only election that counted there in those days. In the past, he had only campaigned for two weeks and spent no more than 25 or 50 dollars on cards and broadsides. But this time he knew he was in for a tough election, and so he spent a month in Alabama and two or three hundred dollars for radio time.

School was still in session in Washington, and since all his five children were of school age, he left the family there. One morning about a week before the election, my mother sent me to the front porch to get the Washington Post. When I opened the newspaper, searching for the comics, our name flew up at me: “Ketchup Bottle Duel is Victory for Huddleston.”

I ran to show my mother. When she saw the headline and then read the article, her face paled. “Something terrible must be wrong with him,” she whispered. Violence and impulse were so foreign to my father’s nature that she was sure he had had a nervous breakdown.

She telephoned him at the hotel where he stayed when he was alone in Birmingham. “I haven’t lost my mind,” he said, “only my temper. The fool’s not hurt. In fact he’s pleased as punch.” He said he had not telephoned us because he didn’t think the event would be reported outside Birmingham. In fact, it was reported in every newspaper in the country.

He said he had been eating dinner in his usual restaurant when his opponent accosted him, stuck a finger in his face, and in a loud voice accused him of lying in a radio speech. My father had picked up the ketchup bottle on the table and cracked it down on the man’s straw boater. Simple as that.

When I got to school that day, my sixth-grade classmates clustered around me, some to comfort, some to jeer. I didn’t much care which. I felt downright famous, and I strutted around the schoolyard all day. Those were the days of Joe Louis, another Alabamian, and I remember thinking, George Huddleston, the White Bomber.

By that evening, my mother had calmed down. When she noticed how I swaggered, she took me aside to set me straight. She said the episode was hardly anything to be proud of. She said my father was terribly ashamed of losing his temper. She said it probably meant his seat in Congress.

I said, “He didn’t want to run anyway.”

“That’s right,” she said, “but nobody wants to be defeated.”

Even without the ketchup bottle incident, he probably would have been defeated. His opponent in the election was a lawyer turned radio announcer. He gave advice to his listeners and read homely quotations and corny poems. Though my father said he was just a buffoon, the man had quite a following among radio listeners. More important, he had the active support of the Roosevelt people in Birmingham, the mayor, the postmaster, the Alabama head of the mine workers, and Senator Hugo Black. He also had the support of all the enemies my father had picked up over 22 years in office.

The only other time my father acted violently that we ever heard about was 40 years earlier when he had been similarly insulted by the opposing lawyer after a heated trial. The two had exchanged threats in the courthouse and then deliberately misaimed pistol shots at each other as they passed on the dirt streets of the bristling wild young town of Birmingham, no harm done. He may have believed he was again defending his honor.

But perhaps he was raging against his imminent defeat. He knew it was coming—if he squeaked by this time, he would lose the next. Nobody wants to be defeated, my mother had said. She might have added, politicians least of all. Judging by the reaction of politicians I have known, defeat in an election must feel like a personal rebuff. Although the voters may think they are merely expressing difference of opinion on the issues, politicians seem to think their very being is the issue—their personality, their character. Anger and humiliation seem to be the occupational hazards of politics.

We moved back to Birmingham in 1937. My father thought he was too old, 68, and rusty to practice law again. The utilities companies did not come forth with a juicy job, though during the election his opponents had implied they surely would. Birmingham did get the new federal building that several newspaper columnists claimed was the reward the administration offered.

My father became a semirecluse. He seemed to view his career as a failure, despite the 22 years in Congress and all those overwhelming elections, despite the exultation and pride he felt in battling the rich and powerful and popular, despite standing firm against the strong winds of change, despite the fact that if he wasn’t “what he uster be,” he at least once had been. Though vigorously urged to run again because of the growing anti-Roosevelt mood following the Court-packing attempt and Roosevelt’s decision to run for a third term, he refused. He refused to make speeches or go to meetings or even express his opinion on the issues. Now he wanted nothing to do with the people of Birmingham who had elected in his stead an administration rubber stamp and buffoon. He was finished with politics.

Once an acquaintance stopped him on a downtown Birmingham street and said, “Well, I had to vote against you this time because you’d just gotten out of touch with the world.”

My father said, “That’s your right.”

Perhaps trying to be friendly, the man said, “How does it feel to be out of office after so long?”

My father said, “It feels good to be able to tell people like you to go to hell,” and walked off.

He turned his mind to the country property he owned near Birmingham. He drove out to the property and walked alone through the woods, whacking at the underbrush with a cane he carried. When he finally hired a man to put in a few roads, he happily rode along in the cabin of the bulldozer. Once a week he went downtown to the bank, the broker, the real estate agent, and lunch with a few old friends. And he read and he played solitaire. That was the life of this man who had been at the center of so many great debates.

When in 1954 my brother was elected to my father’s old seat my father, then in his middle eighties, gave him just one piece of advice. He said, “Don’t fight the powers. If you want to get along, go along.” But when Alabama’s cotton industry was suffering from foreign competition and a move was afoot to increase the tariff on cotton, my father wrote to my brother telling him his duty was to vote against the evils of protectionism, though it would make his constituents angry. My brother was not by nature an “aginer,” but I’m happy to say that on this issue he voted No.

My father died in 1960, in his 91st year. In its obituary, the Post Herald, the newspaper he had sued in 1918, commented that “his records defy all efforts to catalogue him.”


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