William A. Blakley

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William A. Blakley
United States Senator
from Texas
In office
January 3, 1961 – June 14, 1961
Appointed by Price Daniel
Preceded by Lyndon B. Johnson
Succeeded by John Tower
In office
January 15, 1957 – April 28, 1957
Appointed by Allan Shivers
Preceded by Price Daniel
Succeeded by Ralph Yarborough
Personal details
Born William Arvis Blakley
November 17, 1898
Miami Station, Missouri, USA
Died January 5, 1976(1976-01-05) (aged 77)
Dallas, Texas
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Villa Darnell Blakley
Profession Lawyer, businessman

William Arvis "Dollar Bill" Blakley (November 17, 1898 – January 5, 1976) was an American senator and businessman from the State of Texas. He served two incomplete terms as Senator, the first in 1957, the second in 1961. He was part of the conservative wing of the Texas Democratic Party and is remembered for running against liberal Democrat Ralph Yarborough in the 1958 election and losing to Republican John Tower in the 1961 special election, yielding the first Republican senator from Texas since Reconstruction.

Early years and careers

Blakley was born in Miami Station, Missouri, but moved shortly thereafter with his parents to Arapaho, Oklahoma. He worked a ranch hand as a young man, earning the nickname "Cowboy Bill." Blakley served with the United States Army in the First World War; he was admitted to the bar in 1933 and joined a law firm in Dallas, Texas. In following years, his interests expanded into real estate, ranch land, banking and insurance; by 1957, he was estimated to be worth $300 million.

Entrance into politics

In 1957, Allan Shivers opted not to run for a fourth term as Governor of Texas; Senator Price Daniel moved from his Senate seat into the governorship. Like Shivers and Daniel, Blakley was an "Eisenhower Democrat" who had supported Dwight Eisenhower over the national Democratic Party candidate Adlai Stevenson in 1952 and 1956. Blakley, who had gained prominence in Texas politics for his business successes, was at the time building a $125 million shopping center and a 1,000-room hotel in Dallas. Governor Shivers, who had been considering appointing a Republican candidate to the Senate seat, instead named Blakley to the United States Senate pending a special election for the seat. Pressured by the Democratic Party in the interests of cooling tensions from the gubernatorial election, Blakley did not seek the remaining term as senator. He hence served for fewer than four months from January 15 to April 28. Ralph Yarborough succeeded him in the special election, winning with a plurality of the vote when the conservatives divided three ways, with Republican Thad Hutcheson of Houston and Democratic U.S. Representative Martin Dies, Jr., collectively holding 53 percent of the vote. Thereafter, Texas law was changed to require a runoff between the two leading candidates in a special election if no one had a majority in the first round). Blakley left the Senate saying "I shall go back to my boots and saddle and ride toward the Western sunset."[1]

When the seat came up again the following year in the ordinary election cycle, Blakley ran in the primary against Yarborough as the conservative "Shivercrat" candidate. Blakley ran with the backing of Price Daniel, Yarborough's colleague in the Senate, Lyndon Johnson, and the southern bloc of senators who disagreed with Yarborough's progressive, anti-segregation platform. The Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Sam Rayburn (a fellow Texan), backed Yarborough in the election though he had supported naming Blakley to the temporary Senate seat in 1957. Rayburn's support proved critical. Blakely was defeated in the primary, and Yarborough kept his Senate seat by a margin of 680,000 to Blakley's 486,000.

Senate appointment and subsequent loss

In 1961, upon Lyndon Johnson becoming Vice President of the United States, Blakley was appointed to fill Johnson's vacated Senate seat. Contention again appeared between the liberal and conservative wings of the Democratic Party for the nomination in the special election that would follow; Blakely maintained that he had vigorously resisted John F. Kennedy's "New Frontier" legislation, which was unpopular with Texas conservatives. Ralph Yarborough, consequently, did not endorse Blakley among the array of 71 candidates who ran without party designation. Blakley ran a weak second with 191,818 (18.1 percent) votes to Republican John Tower's 327,308 (30.9 percent), with the remaining votes divided among five other major Democratic candidates, including future U.S. House Speaker Jim Wright of Fort Worth, with 171,328 (16.2 percent). In the special election runoff, some Texas liberals refused to vote for a Democratic candidate who seemed as conservative as the Republican nominee,[2] and some Texas conservatives viewed Blakley's conservatism as lukewarm. Blakley, at 62, was older than his Republican opponent, John Tower, 35. Tower won the seat in the special election runoff with 448,217 votes (50.6 percent) to Blakley's 437,872 (49.4 percent), a margin of 10,343. Blakley was the first Democratic senator to lose to a Republican in Texas in more than eighty years.

After Blakely's death, it was reported in an interview that Blakely considered Lyndon Johnson to have been "devious and arrogant ... He would say something nice to your face and when you left the room , he would remark, 'that crazy s.o.b. I could talk easier with John F. Kennedy."[3]

Blakely also claimed that former Governor Allan Shivers, a Conservative Democrat, had urged Blakely not to run against Tower because he favored the Republican candidate in the race.[3]

Final years and death

After losing the Senate election, Blakley left politics and returned to his business interests. He died in Dallas and is buried there in Restland Memorial Park, alongside his wife, the former Villa W. Darnell (May 28, 1900 – December 24, 1989), a native of Washita County, Oklahoma, who also died in Dallas. The couple had no children.[4]

Blakley Braniff Foundation

A library at the University of Dallas is named after him as a result of his and Braniff founder and President Thomas Elmer Braniff's support of the school through endowments from their Blakley Braniff Foundation. Blakley had contributed 100 million USD to the foundation. Prior to 1961, Blakley was the largest single shareholder of Braniff International Airways.[5]


  1. http://www.time.com/time/archive/preview/0,10987,913915,00.html
  2. These Texas liberals either sat out the election or even voted for Tower to protest Texas' conservative Democratic hegemony. In effect, they were laying the groundwork for a two-party system.
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Johnson called 'devious, arrogant'", Minden Press-Herald, Minden, Louisiana, January 6, 1976, p. 3
  4. "Villa W. Darnell Blakely". findagrave.com. Retrieved June 14, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Guttery, Ben R. (2007). Representing Texas: A Comprehensive History of US and Confederate Senators and Representatives From Texas. Texas: Ben R. Guttery. pp. 26–27. ISBN 978-1-4196-7884-4.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

United States Senate
Preceded by
Price Daniel
U.S. Senator (Class 1) from Texas
January 15, 1957 – April 28, 1957
Served alongside: Lyndon B. Johnson
Succeeded by
Ralph Yarborough
Preceded by
Lyndon B. Johnson
U.S. Senator (Class 2) from Texas
January 3, 1961 – June 14, 1961
Served alongside: Ralph Yarborough
Succeeded by
John Tower