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A portriat of George W. Norris

Summary of George Norris (Chapter VIII) from Profiles in Courage by John F. Kennedy

George Norris, a Republican from Nebraska, first came to national attention in 1910 as a young representative. He introduced a reform resolution that would strip Speaker Joe Cannon of much of his power by taking away his authority to appoint committee members and their chairmen and by removing the Speaker from the Rules Committee. To everyone's surprise, Norris was able to get enough votes to pass his resolution for a rule change, and the power of "Czar" Cannon began to wane. This move made him extremely unpopular with Cannon, as well as with some other members of the Nebraska delegation, and showed early on that Norris was not afraid to stand up to powerful individuals. In January 1917, President Woodrow Wilson asked Congress to authorize him to arm American merchant ships, many of which had been searched and sunk despite the fact that the United States was still officially neutral in the war at that time. Although Wilson's request was immediately popular with the American public, Norris and Wisconsin senator Robert La Follette fought against the measure. Norris was an isolationist and a pacifist who felt that Wilson's bill was a ruse by big business to get the United States into the war in Europe, and believed Wilson was trying to stampede the public into pressuring the Senate to pass his bill and enter the war. La Follette and Norris filibustered the bill and kept it from passing, but their victory was short-lived: Wilson stated that executive power already included the right to arm ships without congressional approval. Norris was the only member of the Nebraska delegation to vote against passage of the bill and he was excoriated on every side. He wrote the governor of Nebraska and offered to resign from the Senate, saying that if the people of Nebraska no longer felt that he was representing them adequately, he should step down. Norris traveled throughout Nebraska to explain his views to his constituents, and in the end, the governor declared that he would not ask for a special election. Norris touched off a firestorm of criticism in 1928 when he, a "dry" Republican, backed Al Smith, a Catholic Democrat who was anti-Prohibition, for president rather than Herbert Hoover, the Republican candidate. Smith's liberal views touched a chord in Norris, who felt that the only place for progressive Republicans like him was in the Smith camp, rather than with Hoover, whom Norris felt was owned by monopolistic power companies. Norris went on to serve in the Senate until his defeat for re-election in 1942.

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