Everett McKinley Dirksen was born in Pekin, Illinois, and represented his home state as both a U.S. representative and senator. After studying law in Minnesota, Dirksen enlisted in the U.S. Army and served in World War I. He returned to Pekin in 1919, entered local politics, and won a seat on the city council in 1926. Six years later, he was elected as a Republican to the U.S. House of Representatives, bucking the Democratic landslide of 1932 that was fueled by Franklin Roosevelt's first presidential campaign.
In Washington, D.C., Dirksen completed law school at night and was admitted to the bar in 1936. He served in the House for 16 years, where he was known for his independence and moderate political views. An eye disease kept him from running for reelection in 1948. Two years later, after recovering from the serious ailment, Dirksen ran for a U.S. Senate seat and defeated Senate Democratic leader Scott Lucas, thereby beginning a second career in politics. In 1959, Dirksen was elected Republican leader of the Senate, and during the ensuing decade he helped shepherd through the Senate such legislation as the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1963 and the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
During the 1960s, Dirksen's strong, effective leadership made him among the most powerful and respected Republicans in Washington. Dirksen was quick-witted and an artful persuader, but his greatest asset as a statesman was his ability to compromise and change his position on an issue while never compromising his convictions. He remained the Senate Republican leader until his death in 1969. Speaking at his memorial service, his son-in-law, Senator Howard Baker, Jr., of Tennessee, compared Dirksen to Abraham Lincoln: "Both men understood with singular clarity that a great and diverse people do not speak with a single voice and that adherence to rigid ideology leaves little room for compromise and response to change." 
1. Robert C. Byrd, The Senate, 1789-1989, vol. 1 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1988), 670.