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U.S. Marines in the Senate


November 10, 1775

Photo of Senator George Smathers

On 10 November 1775, a naval officer recruited two companies of Continental Marines at Tuns Tavern in Philadelphia for service as naval infantry during the American Revolution. The U.S. Marine Corps therefore predates the U.S. Senate, but it took more than a century and a half for a marine to become a U.S. senator. The first was Arthur Walsh, a sergeant in the marines during the First World War who was appointed as a Democrat from New Jersey in 1943. World War II swelled the ranks of military veterans elected to Congress, and before long there were enough marines serving as members and staff in the House and the Senate to organize a Congressional Marines Group in 1953. They began holding regular breakfast meetings with the commandant and other high-ranking officers, and still do. Those meetings attracted a remarkable cross section of senators, from Wisconsin's Joe McCarthy to Montana's Mike Mansfield and Illinois's Paul Douglas. One of the most liberal senators, Paul Douglas enlisted as a private in the marines at the age of 50—on the day after he was defeated for Congress. He lost the use of his left arm while fighting on Okinawa and returned to win election to the Senate. In 1948, when the army drew up a plan that would have virtually eliminated the Marine Corps as a combat organization, Senator Douglas drafted a bill that preserved the Corps with a minimum of four divisions and signed up a majority of senators as co-sponsors.

Florida Democrat George Smathers had been a marine in the Pacific before he was elected to the Senate. In his oral history, Senator Smathers explained that "the Marine Corps being smaller, they stick together very well. I got to know Mansfield, I loved Mike Mansfield, and one of the reasons I loved him was he was in the Marines. I think that's the reason we got along so well. Danny Brewster [of Maryland] was the same way." Recognizing that these senators were "proud to claim the title of United States Marine," the Marine Corps made sure that those who stayed in the reserves regularly got promoted. When Senator Smathers received yet another elevation in rank, he commented, "Gee, that's great, but you know I was in the damn Marine Corps for three and a half years, overseas two years, and I couldn't get a promotion while I was there…Here I am [in the Senate], I haven't done anything, and I'm getting promoted."

Thirty-two marines have served in the Senate. Their ranks peaked in 1976 when seven marines served together as senators, among them Adlai Stevenson of Illinois, John Chafee of Rhode Island, and John Glenn of Ohio. The state that has produced the most marine senators is Virginia, with John Warner, Chuck Robb, and Jim Webb.

To all the past and present marines in the Senate, Semper fidelis.

Marines in the Senate
SenatorSenate Service
Walsh, Arthur (D-NJ) 1943-1944
McCarthy, Joseph (R-WI) 1947-1957
Douglas, Paul (D-IL) 1949-1967
Graham, Frank (D-NC) 1949-1950
Smathers, George (D-FL) 1951-1969
Case, Francis (R-SD) 1951-1962
Mansfield, Mike (D-MT) 1953-1977
Brewster, Daniel (D-MD) 1963-1969
Bellmon, Henry (R-OK) 1969-1981
Stevenson, Adlai (D-IL) 1970-1981
Bartlett, Dewey (R-OK) 1973-1979
Glenn, John (D-OH) 1974-1999
Bumpers, Dale (D-AR) 1975-1999
Chafee, John (R-RI) 1976-1999
Culver, John (D-IA) 1975-1981
Sasser, James (D-TN) 1977-1995
Warner, John (R-VA) 1979-2009
Heflin, Howell (D-AL) 1979-1997
Symms, Steve (R-ID) 1981-1993
East, John (R-NC) 1981-1986
Wilson, Pete (R-CA) 1983-1991
Burns, Conrad (R-MT) 1989-2007
Robb, Chuck (D-VA) 1989-2001
Seymour, John (R-CA) 1991-1992
Thomas, Craig (R-WY) 1995-2007
Roberts, Pat (R-KS) 1997-Present
Miller, Zell (D-GA) 2000-2005
Corzine, Jon (D-NJ) 2001-2006
Webb, Jim (D-VA) 2007-2013
Blumenthal, Richard (D-CT) 2011-Present
Sullivan, Dan (R-AK) 2015-Present
Young, Todd (R-IN) 2017-Present