Earlier I mentioned that the Senate added two men, Robert Wagner and Arthur Vandenburg, to its Hall of Fame. Now numbering seven but one man is missing-Senator George Norris of Nebraska. Norris not only was a Senate Giant but also one of the great figures in the 20th century. George Norris was a Progressive Republican who often took positions to the left of the Democratic Party; and never hesitated to support Democrats if he felt that party had the better man. Norris was a lawyer and judge all across the Nebraska prairie. He became a Republican with a sense of idealism. It was the party of Abraham Lincoln. Republicans to him symbolized the honest and often romanticized frontier virtues. The Democratic Party represented corrupt city government in the North East and a segregationist south. Norris would ultimately reject both parties in a favor of independent politics.
In 1902, he won election to the House of Representatives. After five terms in the lower house, he won election to the Senate, where he also served five terms or 30 years. George Norris constantly supported measures to help all Americans rather than just corporations, the rich and comfortable, or those who confused militarism with patriotism. The depth and variety of his interests were remarkable. George Norris was not afraid to buck public opinion or defend unpopular causes. Though often quite stubborn, he was not self righteous. Norris never invoked faith based arguments to justify his positions.
I will talk about some of the laws which bear his imprint or causes later. For now, the titles of books about him show the type of man he was.
Fighting Liberal (autobiography)
The Gentle Knight of American Democracy
Democracy’s Norris, the Lonely Crusader
The Progressive (a three volume work )
In his Pulitzer Prize winning work, Profiles in Courage, John Kennedy devotes a chapter to Senator Norris.