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Wayne Morse


1964-present

July 22, 1974
Wayne Morse

Photo of Senator Wayne Morse

Former Oregon Senator Wayne Morse died on July 22,1974. His admirers knew him as "The Tiger in the Senate." His many enemies, including five presidents, called him a lot worse. Today he is remembered as a gifted lawmaker and principled maverick who thrived on controversy.

Born in Wisconsin in 1900, Morse soon fell under the influence of that state's fiery progressive senator, Robert M. La Follette. In the 1930s, Morse became the nation's youngest law school dean and a skilled labor arbitrator. In 1944, despite his New Deal sympathies, he won election as a Republican to an Oregon U.S. Senate seat.

During the 1952 presidential campaign, Morse broke ranks with Republican leaders over the party's platform and Dwight Eisenhower's choice of Richard Nixon as his running mate. Claiming the Republican Party had left him, Morse announced his switch to Independent status.

In January 1953, Morse arrived at the opening session of the 83rd Congress with a folding chair. "Since I haven't been given any seat in the new Senate," he announced, "I decided to bring my own." Although he continued to caucus with the Republicans, who held a razor-thin majority, that caucus repaid his defection by stripping him of his seniority, and his prized Armed Services and Labor committee assignments.

Against this backdrop, Wayne Morse rose on the Senate floor on April 24, 1953. Described as "a lean trim man, with a clipped mustache, sharp nose, and bushy black eyebrows," he began a filibuster against Tidelands Oil legislation. When he concluded after more than 22 hours, he had broken the 18-hour record set 45 years earlier by his mentor Robert La Follette. Morse kept that distinction until 1957, when Strom Thurmond exceeded his record by two hours.

At the convening of the 84th Congress in 1955, Morse gave up his Independent status to become a Democrat. This act gave Senate Democrats the one-vote margin that returned them to the majority. Party leader Lyndon Johnson restored Morse's seniority and offered him his choice of committee assignments. He readily took Banking and Foreign Relations.

In 1968, Morse, a resolute critic of the war in Vietnam—one of only two senators to oppose the Tonkin Gulf Resolution—narrowly lost his Senate seat to Robert Packwood. He died six years later, in July 1974, while campaigning as Democratic nominee to regain that seat.

This blunt-spoken, iconoclastic populist is remembered today by some Senate veterans as the "Five-o'clock-Shadow" for his habit of taking the Senate floor late in the afternoon to begin extended remarks, to the dismay of those with dinner plans. Others recall his classic run-in with Clare Boothe Luce. In 1959, she snidely told a journalist that her troubles with Morse over her newly confirmed ambassadorship to Brazil went back to the time of an accident on his ranch when he had been "kicked in the head by a horse." The resulting uproar forced her immediate resignation—a great victory for Wayne Morse