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Senate Deadlocked


1878-1920

May 11, 1911
Senate Deadlocked

Photo of Senator Augustus Bacon

Soon after the Senate convened in April 1911, its members sensed they were witnessing the end of an era. Just a few years earlier, four senior Republicans had virtually ruled the Senate with the help of their party's two-to-one majority over the Democrats. Now, all four were gone. As a result of the recent 1910 midterm elections, 10 new Democratic members bolstered the ranks of the minority. On the Republican side, a small but determined band of eight progressive insurgents worked to undermine their party's old-guard leadership much as their counterparts had done in the House of Representatives the year before in a successful revolt against the autocratic rule of Speaker Joseph Cannon.

Early in the session, illness forced the resignation of president pro tempore William Frye of Maine, another old-guard Republican. Frye had held that office for 15 of his 30 years in the Senate—a record that still stands. To replace him, the Senate Republican caucus nominated New Hampshire's Jacob Gallinger without dissenting votes. The insurgents, however, considered Gallinger to be one of the Senate's most reactionary members and were particularly angry because, as chairman of the party's Committee on Committees, he had denied them choice assignments. They concealed their opposition to his election until the full Senate took up the nomination on May 11, 1911.

When the clerk announced the results of the vote, the majority party candidate Gallinger shockingly trailed Democratic caucus nominee Augustus Bacon of Georgia. With several other senators receiving smaller numbers of votes, neither caucus candidate gained an absolute majority. After conducting six additional and equally fruitless ballots that day, the Senate—in an acrimonious mood—recessed without making a selection.

They tried again the following week, the following month, and the month after that. Each time the deadlock continued, as the Democrats held firm behind Bacon, and the eight insurgents voted for other candidates. Finally, on August 12, as pressure mounted for a decision on statehood for Arizona and New Mexico, and members agitated to escape Washington's wilting heat, party leaders brokered a compromise. Under that plan, Democrat Bacon would alternate as president pro tempore for brief periods during the remainder of the Congress with Gallinger and three other Republicans. Over the previous 15 years, one man had held the largely honorary post; over the next 15 months, five would. A new era seemed at hand.