United State Senate Hall of Fame Adds Two More

The United States Senate added two people to its Hall of Fame, bringing the number to seven. Prior to the Civil War, the Senate honored Daniel Webster, John C. Calhoun, and Henry Clay. Knowledge of these three legislators will give anyone an idea of the issues in this country prior to the Civil War. In the 20th Century, they added two people, both Republicans and Midwesterners, yet with different political ideas.

Robert LaFollette was the Progressive Republican from Wisconsin who served from 1906 to 1925. He generally voted to the left of most Democrats and never hesitated to support that party if he felt they had the better ideas and programs. Robert A. Taft was “Mr. Republican.” The Right Wing today often cites him as a reference but he was an authentic Conservative strictly in line with the constitution. Senator Taft also was not dogmatic or doctrinaire, as we will see in just a minute.

Now here this, with the two latest.

Senator Robert Wagner, a Democrat from New York, served in the Senate from 1926 to 1949. He had input on virtually all New Deal legislation under Franklin Roosevelt. His legislative achievements include the National Industrial Recovery Act in 1933 and the Wagner-Steagall Housing Act of 1937. After the Supreme Court ruled the National Industrial Recovery Act and the National Recovery Administration unconstitutional, Wagner helped pass the National Labor Relations Act , known as the Wagner Act, in 1935. The National Labor Relations Act was a seminal event in the history of organized labor in the United States. It created the National Labor Relations Board, which mediated disputes between unions and corporations, and greatly expanded the rights of workers by banning many “unfair labor practices” and guaranteeing all workers the right to form a union. Wagner was instrumental in writing the Social Security Act, and originally introduced it in the United States Senate.

However, I feel his greatest achievement, and a high point in Senate History, was the Taft-Ellender-Wagner Housing Act of 1949. Here we had Mr. Republican, Taft; a New Deal Democrat, Wagner; and a Southern Democrat, Allen Ellender of Louisiana, working together for better housing compensating for neglect during World War II. This act, with an unlikely trio as sponsors, was a forward leap in national housing policy. Better housing for its own sake at last become a nationwide commitment.

After serving a few months as an appointed Senator, Arthur Vandenberg easily won his first full term in 1928. Vandenburg was a Republican from Michigan. As Senator, he was the prime mover for the Reapportionment Act of 1929. This law mandated the automatic redistricting of the House of Representatives after each national census. He was an ardent supporter of President Herbert Hoover. After the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932, Vandenberg went along with most of the early New Deal measures, except for the NIRA and AAA. With the exception of his amendment to the 1933 Glass–Steagall Banking Act, which created the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Vandenberg failed to secure enactment of any significant legislative proposals. In 1934, the voters of Michigan elected him again. This was at a time when the Republican Party, at least at the federal level, had almost ceased to exist.

When the new Congress convened in 1935, there were only 25 Republican Senators, and Vandenberg was one of the most effective opponents of the second New Deal. He voted against most Roosevelt-sponsored measures, notable exceptions being the Banking Act of 1935 and the Social Security Act. He pursued a policy of what he called fiscal responsibility, a balanced budget, states’ rights, and reduced taxation. He felt that Roosevelt had usurped the powers of Congress and feared for its concentration in the Executive Branch. At the 1936 Republican National Convention, Vandenberg refused to permit the party to nominate him for Vice President, anticipating Roosevelt’s victory that year.

As part of the conservative coalition of Republicans and Democrats in the Senate, Vandenberg helped defeat Roosevelt’s plan to pack the Supreme Court. He helped defeat the Passamaquoddy Bay and Florida Canal projects, voted against the National Labor Relations Act, various New Deal tax measures, and the Hours and Wages Act. Vandenberg had become a member of the Foreign Relations Committee in 1929. He voted in favor of United States membership on the World Court, but the situation in Europe moved him towards isolationism. Also his experiences during the Nye Committee hearings on the munitions industry, of which he was the Senate co-sponsor, convinced him that entry into World War I had been a disastrous error.

Senator Vandenburg supported the isolationist Neutrality Acts of the 1930s but sponsored more severe bills which were designed to renounce all traditional neutral “rights” and restrict and prevent any Presidential action that might cause the United States to go to war. He was one of the most effective of the die-hard isolationists in the Senate. Except for advocating aid to Finland after the Soviet invasion of that country and urging a quid pro quo in the Far East to prevent a war with Japan over the Manchuria-China question, his position was consistently isolationist. In mid-1939 he introduced legislation nullifying the 1911 Treaty of Navigation and Commerce with Japan and urged that the administration to negotiate a new treaty with Japan recognizing the status quo with regard to Japan’s occupation of Chinese territory. Instead, Roosevelt and Secretary of State Cordell Hull used the resolution as a pretext for giving Japan the required six months’ notice of intent to cancel the treaty, thus beginning the policy of putting pressure on Japan that led to the Attack on Pearl Harbor.

After the Japanese attack there, Vandenberg’s position on American foreign policy changed radically. He recognized that our world had changed. Although continuing to vote with the conservatives against Roosevelt’s domestic proposals, Vandenberg abandoned his isolationism to become an architect of a bipartisan foreign policy. This meant to him as a consensus developed by consultation between the President, the State Department, and leaders in the Senate. On January 10, 1945, he delivered a celebrated “speech heard round the world” in the Senate Chamber, publicly announcing his conversion from “isolationism” to “internationalism.” In 1947, at the start of the Cold War, Vandenberg became chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In that position, he cooperated with the Truman administration in forging bipartisan support for the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, and NATO, including presenting the critical Vandenberg resolution. As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he asserted that “politics stops at the water’s edge,” and cooperated with the Truman administration in forging bipartisan support.

After these, many people considered Senator Vandenburg a possible nominee for President in 1952. However, he died from cancer the previous year. Now there are seven members in the Senate Wall. Another, Senator George Norris from Nebraska should also be there. Let’s talk about him later.


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