This collection of brief essays describes important events and personalities in Senate history, and highlights recurring themes in the Senate's institutional development during the years 1941 to 1963, when the U.S. fought a second world war and Congress reorganized (click on title for full story).
June 2, 1941
Andrew Jackson Houston made history on June 2, 1941, when he became the oldest man ever to become a freshman United States senator. When Andrew was born, eighty-six years earlier, his father—Sam Houston—held the Texas U.S. Senate seat that his son would later occupy.
December 26, 1941
Just weeks after the fateful Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill addressed a joint session of Congress. Flashing his trademark "V" for victory sign, Churchill warned of dark days ahead.
November 14, 1942
In November 1942, a full-scale civil rights filibuster threatened to keep the Senate in session until Christmas. Frustrated, Democratic Majority Leader Alben Barkley decided the time had come to end the filibuster. He ordered Sergeant at Arms Chelsey Jurney to round up the absent senators needed to provide a quorum.
July 25, 1943
In the midst of World War II, a five-member Senate team began a controversial and potentially dangerous mission—to inspect U.S. military installations around the world for proper use of war materiel. The 65-day trip took Senator Richard Russell and his team to England, North Africa, the Persian Gulf, India, China, and Australia.
October 19, 1943
By 1943 Senator Hattie Caraway of Arkansas had become accustomed to breaking new ground in the Senate. In 1932 she became the first woman elected to the Senate, and a year later the first women to chair a standing committee. On October 19, 1943, Caraway formally took up the Senate gavel—the first woman to officially preside over the Senate as acting president pro tempore.
February 24, 1944
Senate Majority Leader Alben Barkley had been a loyal supporter of President Franklin Roosevelt's war-time agenda, but the two men disagreed on a $10 billion tax increase to fund the war effort. When Roosevelt vetoed a compromise bill, Barkley resigned his leadership position in protest.
September 2, 1944
President Franklin Roosevelt referred to him as "the very perfect gentle knight of American progressive ideals." George Norris, known as the "father of the Tennessee Valley Authority," was an independent-minded lawmaker who championed a progressive agenda that included farm relief and the conservation of natural resources.
May 28, 1945
Allen Drury's Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel, Advise and Consent, is one of the best-known and well-loved political novels of the 20th century. Less known but even more valuable to students of Senate history is Drury's A Senate Journal, a correspondent's diary of Senate action from 1943 to 1945.
September 18, 1945
In the summer of 1945, Justice Owen Roberts retired from the high court. This vacancy presented a political challenge to Harry Truman, who had been president for only three months. The seven remaining associate justices had gained their seats as Democratic appointees of President Franklin Roosevelt. In a gesture designed to improve relations with Republican congressional leaders, the new Democratic president decided to appoint a Republican.
April 2, 1946
On April 2, 1946, Montana Democrat James Murray convened his Committee on Education and Labor for the first hearing on comprehensive national health insurance. The committee's second-ranking Republican, Ohio senator Robert Taft, who immediately labeled the proposed legislation "socialistic." Opposition and Republican gains in the Senate delayed major health care legislation for another 18 years.
August 2, 1946
On August 2, 1946, President Harry Truman signed the Legislative Reorganization Act into law. Though the bill received little fanfare, it brought about a sea change: transforming Congress from an old-fashioned institution ill-equipped, many believed, to confront the challenges of the 20th century, to a branch of government fit to legislate in a nuclear age.
August 8, 1946
How would the Senate progress in the post-World War II era? With the war-time policy agenda gone, policymaking in both houses of Congress seemed unorganized and ill-defined. When the Joint Committee on the Organization of Congress recommended creating policy committees to shape legislation and provide leadership, the Senate took note and established the Democratic and Republican Policy Committees.
July 18, 1947
On July 18, 1947, President Harry Truman signed the Presidential Succession Act. The original act of 1792 had placed the Senate president pro tempore and Speaker of the House in the line of succession, but in 1886 Congress had removed them. The 1947 law reinserted those officials, but placed the Speaker ahead of the president pro tempore.
August 21, 1947
Senator Theodore Bilbo had dominated politics in his home state of Mississippi for 40 years, but he gained national attention in the post-war years when his long-held views of white supremacy clashed with growing concerns over civil rights for African Americans. His racist attitude and bigotted comments dominated his 1946 reelection campaign. A subsequent petition of protest and investigation left the Senate with a dilemma—what to do about Bilbo?
July 26, 1948
President Harry Truman hoped to be reelected in November of 1948, but his opponent, New York governor Thomas Dewey, seemed to be gaining more ground every day. Desperate times called for desperate measures. Speaking at the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia, Truman exercised his constitutional prerogative, much to the dismay of Senate Republicans, and called already adjourned Congress back into session. The resulting "turnip session" helped reelect Harry Truman.
September 13, 1948
With her 1948 election to the U.S. Senate, Margaret Chase Smith of Maine became the first woman elected to both houses of Congress. She served four successful terms in the Senate, breaking barriers and setting precedents along the way.
October 1, 1949
Today, Sherman Minton is remembered as the last member of the Senate, former or incumbent, to be appointed to the Supreme Court. The Senate approved his 1949 court appointment, despite the fact that Minton had refused to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee—which tells us more about the Senate in the late 1940s than it does about Minton.
February 9, 1950
The junior senator from Wisconsin delivered a routine Lincoln's birthday speech to the Women's Republican Club in Wheeling, West Virginia. The result, however, was anything but routine. Claiming to have a list of 205 Communists who had infiltrated the State Department, Joseph McCarthy launched a four-year crusade with that speech, a crusade that tarnished the Senate, ruined careers, and ended in a Senate censure.
June 1, 1950
Just four months after Senator Joseph McCarthy delivered a speech that launched the career of "McCarthyism," Republican Senator Margaret Chase Smith of Maine voiced her opposition in a "Declaration of Conscience."
August 19, 1950
"The Senate is beginning to show signs of overwork," observed newspaper columnist Jack Anderson as the Senate continued working past its targeted adjournment date in 1950. "Sessions are growing longer," he wrote, "and tempers shorter." Tempers were so short, in fact, that a "gavel-bashing, name-calling clash" between 81-year-old Senator Kenneth McKellar and 71-year-old Representative Clarence Cannon "was broken up…just short of physical violence."
September 22, 1950
On the eve of World War II, a structural engineer determined the Senate Chamber to be unsafe, its 80-year-old ceiling over-stressed and poorly supported. The war-time emergency forced Congress to delay reconstruction, but renovation of the chamber began in 1949. With a new design in place, one item—the historic walnut desk used by the presiding officer since 1859—did not fit the remodeled chamber's neoclassical scheme.
February 3, 1951
Dr. George Calver, a navy physician, tended to the health of congressional members for 35 years, developing his "nine commandments of health" to keep his patients healthy and unstressed.
April 18, 1951
A Senate giant, Arthur Vandenberg died on April 18, 1951, ending an illustrious career that spanned three decades. Rejecting his earlier isolationist views, in 1945 Vandenberg announced his support for an internationalist foreign policy built upon nonpartisan statesmanship. As chair of the Committee on Foreign Relations, he championed this philosophy through his support of the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan.
May 3, 1951
When President Harry Truman fired General Douglas MacArthur after months of growing tension, a majority of the American people were furious. Immensely popular, the general had a huge public following, while Truman's own popularity was on the skids. A series of Senate hearings cooled things down, however, allowing the public to see the wisdom of Truman's decision.
January 13, 1953
When Oregon senator Wayne Morse left the Republican Party to become an independent, he thought his eight years of seniority would maintain his place on prized Senate committees. Senate leadership had something else in mind.
April 24-25, 1953
Known as the "Tiger of the Senate," Independent Wayne Morse spoke continuously for 22 hours and 26 minutes against a Tidelands oil bill, setting a new filibuster record.
June 8, 1954
In the early 1950s, Senator Joseph McCarthy's politics of fear victimized many people. Chief among them was Wyoming Senator Lester Hunt.
June 9, 1954
Joseph McCarthy's crusade against communist infiltrators finally ended in a Senate censure in 1954. For four years, the junior senator from Wisconsin terrorized witnesses and silenced colleagues. When he took on the army in a spectacle known to history as the Army-McCarthy hearings, however, he met his match in Boston lawyer Joseph Welch.
Margaret Chase Smith, pioneering senator from Maine, enjoyed a 30-year congressional career that showed her to be a woman of intelligence with unflappable courage. In 1954 Smith embarked on an extensive world tour at her own expense, wanting to become better informed and, in the midst of the Cold War, to assess the extent of the Communist threat. Her travel plans quickly caught the attention of CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow. Sensing strong interest in this lady from Maine, Murrow asked permission to send along a camera crew.
November 2, 1954
On November 2, 1954, Strom Thurmond became the first person ever elected to the Senate on a write-in ballot, winning with 63 percent of the vote. Senator Burnet Maybank, who had already won his party's nomination for a full third term, died in September 1954, and the party chose not to hold a special primary for his replacement, designating a replacement candidate instead. At that point, 51-year-old former Governor Strom Thurmond announced his intention to run as a write-in candidate.
November 17, 1954
It is one of the Senate's most precious artifacts: the historic Senate gavel. It fell to pieces during a heated late-night debate in 1954, when Vice President Richard Nixon repeatedly tapped it on the presiding officer's desk. With the old gavel in ruins, the Senate was forced to find a new instrument to maintain order and decorum in the Senate Chamber.
April 30, 1956
Seventy-eight-year-old Alben Barkley, former majority leader and vice president, now a junior senator once again, delivered a rousing speech. As the crowd roared its approval, the elder statesman collapsed to the floor.
June 26, 1956
On June 26, 1956, the Senate and House both approved a conference report on the Federal-Aid Highway Act (also known as the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act). President Eisenhower usually gets the credit for building the interstate highway system, which has been named in his honor, but that version of the story omits the critical role played by Congress.
July 13, 1956
In 1909 the Senate's first permanent office building opened, later named for Senator Richard Russell of Georgia. By the 1940s, it became clear that even the first Senate office building would not provide enough space to accommodate the growing Congress and its staff. At the beginning of World War II, plans were put in place for a second building—later named the Everett Dirksen Senate Office Building.
July 27, 1956
"No good legislation ever comes out of Washington after June," commented John Nance Garner. No doubt Vice President Garner referred to the effect of the intense summer heat in the nation's capital. For many years, senators hoped to adjourn before August to avoid the "dog days" of summer. In 1956, they succeeded.
November 4, 1956
Which presidential campaign produced the first nationally televised debate? The typical answer to that question is 1960, Kennedy v. Nixon. In fact, the first televised debate occurred four years earlier, when Democratic candidate Adlai Stevenson challenged incumbent Republican president Dwight Eisenhower—but those two men did not appear in the debate. Instead, on November 4, 1956, two surrogates debated the issues on network television.
In January 1957, the chief congressional correspondent of the New York Times, William S. White, published a book entitled "Citadel: The Story of the U.S. Senate." An immediate best-seller, Citadel soon became one of the most influential books ever written about the Senate.
August 27, 1957
On August 27, 1957, Democrat William Proxmire won a landslide victory to fill the Senate seat recently vacated by the death of Republican senator Joseph McCarthy. Wisconsin had not elected a Democrat to the Senate in 25 years.
October 4, 1957
On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union shocked the people of the United States by successfully launching the first earth-orbiting satellite, Sputnik. During the Cold War, Americans until that moment had felt protected by their technological superiority. Suddenly the nation found itself lagging behind the Russians in the Space Race, and Americans worried that their educational system was not producing enough scientists and engineers. Sometimes, however, a shock to the system can open political opportunities.
December 3, 1957
On December 3, 1957, following a day of special training, the 60-year-old Margaret Chase Smith of Maine suited up in flight gear, donned a parachute and oxygen mask, and climbed into an F-100 Super Sabre Jet piloted by Air Force Major Clyde Good. Reaching speeds of nearly 1,000 miles per hour, Smith became the first women in Congress to break the sound barrier.
September 8, 1958
"As Maine goes, so goes the nation." This old slogan, based on Maine's practice of holding its elections in September, two months before the rest of the nation, applied for the last time in 1958. That state's 1958 midterm congressional election proved to be a dramatically foreshadowing event.
March 12, 1959
An enthusiastic crowd gathered in the Senate Reception Room, an ornate meeting room just outside the Senate Chamber, to see five former senators inducted into a Senate "hall of fame." As Senator John F. Kennedy explained, selecting those five illustrious senators had been quite a task.
April 14, 1959
Republican Leader Robert A. Taft, who had served in the Senate since 1939, died in office on July 31, 1953. Six years later, a simple but elegant memorial—the Taft Bell Tower—was dedicated to honor the former leader.
June 19, 1959
When Republican President Eisenhower nominated Lewis Strauss to be secretary of commerce in October of 1958, neither the president nor his supporters in Congress expected any serious opposition. Then came the November 4, 1958, election and new Democratic strength in the Senate.
November 8, 1959
North Dakota Republican William Langer was one of the 20th century's most colorful United States senators. In 1959 he was described as "tempestuous," "swashbuckling," and "thoroughly unpredictable in his actions and attitudes."
October 1, 1960
Following World War II, scholars and journalists took a searching new look at the U.S. Senate. They saw the Senate as a counterbalance to a presidency whose powers had been sharply inflated under the guise of wartime emergency. Of the resulting books, one of the most influential was entitled U.S. Senators and Their World.
In November 1960 two incumbent senators resigned to take on new responsibilities as president and vice president of the United States. Senators John F. Kennedy and Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson won the presidential election of 1960 with 49.7 percent of the popular vote against 49.6 percent for Vice President Richard Nixon and Henry Cabot Lodge—both former senators.
November 8, 1960
In 1960, Democrat Lucia Cormier challenged Maine's popular senior senator, Margaret Chase Smith, for her Senate seat. It was the first time in Senate history that both major party candidates were women.
January 3, 1961
The 1960 presidential elections made Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson president—of the Senate. As vice president-elect, Johnson experienced decidedly mixed feelings about giving up a post in which he had thrived during the mid-1950s. Having fallen short in his quest for the White House, he set out to refashion the vice presidency into his own image.
Perennial tensions between the Senate and House of Representatives exploded with unusual force late in 1961. The conflagration continued throughout 1962, blocking all major appropriations bills. Fueling this explosion was deep-seated House resentment of Senate prerogatives. At the start of the 1962 session, this institutional confrontation involved fundamental questions—unresolved after 170 years of congressional operations.
April 2, 1962
Room S-207 in the U.S. Capitol, better known as the Mike Mansfield Room, has been the site of many a festive occasion since its creation in 1962. The very first reception held in the elegant paneled room attracted Washington's elite, from Capitol Hill and the White House.
August 14, 1962
During the summer of 1962, the Senate stayed in session all summer long. The COMSAT bill provided the subject for debate, and cloture became the topic of the summer. The successful cloture vote on August 14, 1962, heralded new changes to the custom of filibustering and ending debate.
January 1, 1963
On January 1, 1963, illness unexpectedly claimed the life of Oklahoma senator Robert S. Kerr. Kerr was known as "The Uncrowned King of the Senate."
September 24, 1963
Senate Rule IV prohibits the taking of photographs in the Senate Chamber. Every Congress, however, the entire membership of the Senate poses for an official portrait.