Everett Dirksen

From Infogalactic: the planetary knowledge core
Jump to: navigation, search
The Honorable
Everett Dirksen
United States Senator
from Illinois
In office
January 3, 1951 – September 7, 1969
Preceded by Scott W. Lucas
Succeeded by Ralph Tyler Smith
Senate Minority Leader
In office
January 3, 1959 – September 7, 1969
Deputy Thomas Kuchel
Hugh D. Scott, Jr. (whips)
Preceded by William F. Knowland
Succeeded by Hugh D. Scott, Jr.
Senate Minority Whip
In office
January 3, 1957 – January 3, 1959
Leader William F. Knowland
Preceded by Leverett Saltonstall
Succeeded by Thomas Kuchel
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Illinois's 16th district
In office
March 4, 1933 – January 3, 1949
Preceded by William E. Hull
Succeeded by Leo E. Allen
Personal details
Born Everett McKinley Dirksen
(1896-01-04)January 4, 1896
Pekin, Illinois, U.S.
Died September 7, 1969(1969-09-07) (aged 73)
Walter Reed General Hospital
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Nationality American
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Louella Carver Dirksen
Alma mater University of Minnesota Law School
Religion Christian Reformed
Military service
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch United States Army
Years of service 1918-1919
Rank Second lieutenant
Battles/wars World War I

Everett McKinley Dirksen (January 4, 1896 – September 7, 1969) was an American politician of the Republican Party. He represented Illinois in the U.S. House of Representatives (1933–1949) and U.S. Senate (1951–1969).

As Senate Minority Leader for a decade, he played a highly visible and key role in the politics of the 1960s, including helping to write and pass the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968, both landmarks of civil rights legislation. He was one of the Senate's strongest supporters of the Vietnam War and was known as "The Wizard of Ooze" for his oratorical style.

Early life

Dirksen was born in Pekin, Illinois, a small city near Peoria. He was the son of German immigrants Johann Friedrich Dirksen and his wife Antje Conrady. Everett had a fraternal twin, Thomas Dirksen, and a brother named Benjamin Harrison, a nod to the Republican leanings of his father. The boys' father died when the twins were nine years old.

Dirksen grew up on a farm on Pekin's outskirts, in a section called "Beantown" because immigrants grew beans instead of flowers. After attending the local schools, he entered the University of Minnesota Law School, but dropped out during World War I to enlist in the U.S. Army. He served as a second lieutenant in a field artillery battery.[1] He was a member of the Reformed Church in America, founded in the 18th century by Dutch immigrants.[2]

After the war, Dirksen invested money in an electric washing machine business, but that enterprise failed. He joined his brothers in running a bakery. He expressed his artistic side by writing a number of unpublished short stories, as well as plays with former classmate Hubert Ropp. His political career began in 1927, when he was elected to the Pekin City Council as the city's finance commissioner.[3]

Dirksen was a Freemason, and was a member of Pekin Lodge #29 in Pekin. In 1954 he was Grand Orator of the Grand Lodge of Illinois. He was honored with the 33rd degree in 1954.[4]

Congressman, 16th Illinois District, 1933–1949

After losing in the 1930 Republican primary, Dirksen won the nomination and the congressional seat in 1932, and was re-elected seven times. His support for many New Deal programs marked him as a moderate, pragmatic Republican. During World War II, he lobbied successfully for an expansion of congressional staff resources to eliminate the practice under which House and Senate committees borrowed executive branch personnel to accomplish legislative work. Dirksen was able to secure the passage of an amendment to the Lend-Lease bill by introducing a resolution while 65 of the House's Democrats were at a luncheon. The amendment provided that the Senate and the House could, by a simple majority in a concurrent resolution, revoke the powers granted to the President.[5]

Dirksen's penchant for changing his mind during his days as a congressman was noted by the Chicago Sun-Times, which once noted that he had changed his mind 62 times on foreign policy matters, 31 times on military affairs, and 70 times on agricultural policies.[3]

In December 1943, Congressman Dirksen announced that he would be a candidate for the Republican Presidential nomination in 1944. He stated that a coalition of midwestern Republican Congressmen had urged him to run and that his campaign was serious. However, press pundits had assumed that the candidacy was a vehicle to siphon support away from the campaign of Wendell Willkie, whose reputation as a maverick and staunch internationalist had earned him the hatred of many Republican Party regulars, especially in the midwest.[6] Dirksen's presidential campaign was apparently still alive on the eve of the 1944 convention, since Time Magazine speculated that he was running for Vice President.[7] Dirksen received no votes for either office from delegates at the 1944 Republican Convention.

Dirksen continued to be re-elected to the House of Representatives. In 1947, he began to experience trouble in his right eye, which was diagnosed as chorioretinitis. Despite a number of physicians (including one from Johns Hopkins University) recommending that the eye be removed, Dirksen chose treatment and rest; he recovered most of his sight in the eye. In 1948, he declined to run for re-election because of the ailment. He returned to politics two years later and was popularly elected to the United States Senate from Illinois.[3]

U.S. Senator, 1950–1969

Senators Mike Mansfield (left) and Dirksen conversing in 1967.

Dirksen was elected to the Senate in 1950 when he unseated Senate Majority Leader Scott Lucas. In the campaign, the support of Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy helped Dirksen to gain a narrow victory. As an ally of McCarthy, Dirksen tried but failed to get him to apologize for his misdeeds in order to stave off censure in 1954. Dirksen voted against censure. Dirksen's canny political skill, rumpled appearance, and convincing, if sometimes flowery, overblown oratory (he was hence dubbed by his critics "the Wizard of Ooze") earned him a prominent national reputation.

In 1952, Dirksen supported the presidential candidacy of fellow Senator Robert A. Taft of Ohio, the longtime leader of the Republican party's conservative wing. At the national party convention, Dirksen gave a speech attacking New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey, a liberal Republican and the leading supporter of General Dwight Eisenhower, commander of the Allied forces in Europe in World War II and Taft's opponent for the Republican presidential nomination. During his speech, Dirksen pointed at Dewey on the convention floor and shouted, "Don't take us down the path to defeat again,"[this quote needs a citation] a reference to Dewey's presidential defeats in 1944 and 1948. His speech was met by cheers from conservative delegates and loud boos from pro-Eisenhower delegates. After Eisenhower defeated Taft for the nomination, Dirksen supported his candidacy.

In 1959, he was elected Minority Leader of the Senate, defeating Kentucky's more liberal Senator, John Sherman Cooper, by a vote of 20 to 14. Dirksen successfully united the various factions of the Republican Party by granting younger Republicans more representation in the Senate leadership and better committee appointments. He held the position of Senate Minority Leader until his death in Washington in 1969.

Along with Charles Halleck and later Gerald Ford (the Republican Minority Leaders of the House), Dirksen was the official voice of the Republican Party during most of the 1960s. He discussed politics on television news programs. On several occasions, political cartoonist Herblock depicted Dirksen and Halleck as vaudeville song-and-dance men, wearing identical elaborate costumes and performing an act called "The Ev and Charlie Show."

Dirksen's voting record was consistently conservative on economic issues. He developed a good rapport with the Senate's majority leaders, Lyndon B. Johnson and Mike Mansfield. On foreign policy he reversed his early isolationism to support the internationalism of Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Democratic President John F. Kennedy. He was a leading "hawk" on the issue of the Vietnam War—a position he held well before Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson decided to escalate the war.

Dirksen said in February 1964:

First I agree that obviously we cannot retreat from our position in Vietnam. I have been out there three times, once as something of an emissary for then President Eisenhower. I took a good look at it. It is a difficult situation, to say the least. But we are in to the tune of some $350 million. I think the last figure I have seen indicates that we have over 15,500 military out there, ostensibly as advisers and that sort of thing. We are not supposed to have combatant troops, even though we were not signatories to the treaty that was signed at Geneva when finally they got that whole business out of the fire. But we are going to have to muddle through for a while and see what we do. Even though it costs us $1.5 million a day.[8]:59

As President Johnson followed the senator's recommendations and escalated the war, Dirksen gave him strong public support, as well as strong support inside the Republican caucus. Some Republicans advised him that it would be to the party's advantage to oppose Johnson. Ford commented, "I strongly felt that although I agreed with the goals of the Johnson administration in Vietnam, I vigorously criticized their prosecution of the war. Now, Dirksen never took that same hard-line position that I took."[8]:149

Dirksen played a key role in passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

In 1964, as Southern Democratic Senators staged a filibuster that ran 54 days to block passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Senators Dirksen, Thomas Kuchel (R-CA), Hubert Humphrey (D-MN), and Mike Mansfield (D-MT) introduced a substitute bill that they hoped would attract enough swing votes to end the filibuster. The compromise bill was weaker than the House version regarding government power to regulate the conduct of private business, but it was not so weak as to cause the House to reconsider the legislation. Plus, the Department of Justice said the Mansfield-Dirksen amendment would not prevent effective enforcement. However, Senator Richard Russell, Jr. (D-GA) refused to allow a vote on the amendment. Finally, Senator Thruston Morton (R-KY, ironically known for his opposition to the Vietnam War) proposed an amendment that guaranteed jury trials in all criminal contempt cases except voting rights. It was approved on June 9, and Senator Humphrey made a deal with three Republicans to substitute it for the Mansfield-Dirksen jury trial amendment in exchange for their supporting cloture on the filibuster. Thus, after 57 days of filibuster, the substitute bill passed in the Senate, and the House-Senate conference committee agreed to adopt the Senate version of the bill.[9]

At that cloture vote, Dirksen said,

"Victor Hugo wrote in his diary substantially this sentiment: 'Stronger than all the armies is an idea whose time has come.' The time has come for equality of opportunity in sharing of government, in education, and in employment. It must not be stayed or denied."[10]

On March 22, 1966, Dirksen introduced a constitutional amendment that would permit public school administrators to provide for organized prayer by students. Considered by opponents to violate the principle of separation of church and state, the amendment was defeated in the Senate by gaining only 49 affirmative votes, falling short of the 67 votes required for passage of a constitutional amendment.

Dirksen is noted as saying: "A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon, you're talking real money." Although there is no direct record of the remark, he is believed to have made it during an appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.[11] Dirksen is also quoted as having said, "The mind is no match with the heart in persuasion; constitutionality is no match with compassion." (See wikiquotes of Everett Dirksen.)

Statue of Senator Dirksen on the grounds of the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield, Illinois.

Dirksen was also known for his fondness for the common marigold. When political discussions became tense, he would lighten the atmosphere by taking up his perennial campaign to have the marigold named the national flower. That national campaign never succeeded, in 1972 his hometown of Pekin started holding an annual Marigold Festival in his memory. It now identifies as the "Marigold Capital of the World."

Recordings and TV appearances

Dirksen recorded four spoken-word albums. Collaborating with Charles Osgood and composer John Cacavas, he produced a single, Gallant Men (1967), released by Capitol Records, speaking his own poem. The same-named album reached #16 on the U.S. Billboard charts and won a Grammy Award for Best Documentary Recording in 1968. On January 7, 1967, Dirksen at age 71 became the oldest person to reach the Hot 100's top 40 when the single reached #33; two weeks later he reached #29.[12] That distinction passed to Moms Mabley with her recording of "Abraham, Martin and John" peaking at #35 on 19 July 1969 when she was 75 years 4 months old.

Dirksen made TV guest appearances on game and variety shows, such as What's My Line, The Hollywood Palace and The Red Skelton Show. Dirksen made a cameo appearance in the 1969 film The Monitors, a low-budget science-fiction movie in which invading extraterrestrials assert political dominion over the human race. He also appeared in several other movies.


President Richard Nixon paying his last tributes to Sen. Dirksen in 1969.

In August 1969, chest x-rays disclosed an asymptomatic peripherally located mass in the upper lobe of the right lung. Dirksen entered Walter Reed Army Hospital for surgery, which was undertaken on September 2. A right upper lobectomy removed what proved to be lung cancer (adenocarcinoma). Mr. Dirksen initially did well, but progressive complications developed into bronchopneumonia. He suffered a cardiopulmonary arrest and died on September 7, 1969, at age 73.

His remains were returned to Pekin, and interred at Glendale Memorial Gardens, joined by those of his wife a decade later.[13]

Legacy and honors


Dirksen's widow, Louella, died of cancer on July 16, 1979. Their daughter Joy, the first wife of Senator Howard Baker of Tennessee, died of cancer on April 24, 1993.


  1. "DIRKSEN, Everett McKinley, (1896 - 1969)". Biographical Directory (1974 - Present). United States Congress. Retrieved 15 May 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Donald J. Bruggink and Kim N. Baker, By Grace Alone: Stories of the Reformed Church in America (2004) p. 162
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 "Nation: The Leader: Everett Dirksen". Time. 14 September 1962.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "Famous Masons". MWGLNY. January 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "Everett Dirksen", Current Biography 1941, p.227; "260 to 165", TIME Magazine, February 17, 1941
  6. Time Magazine, December 13, 1943
  7. Time Magazine, June 26, 1944
  8. 8.0 8.1 Dietz, Terry (1986). Republicans and Vietnam, 1961-1968. Greenwood Press. ISBN 978-0-313-24892-4.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Library of Congress exhibition, The Civil Rights Act of 1964
  10. "Everett McKinley Dirksen's Finest Hour: June 10, 1964". Dirksen Congressional Center. Retrieved 11 May 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. "A Billion Here, A Billion There...", The Dirksen Center.
  12. American Top 40, 18 November 1972
  13. http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=2566
  14. http://www.ilsos.gov/facilityfinder/facilityfinder?command=getFacilityDetails&facilityId=137

Further reading

Primary sources

  • Dirksen, Everett McKinley. The Education of a Senator. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1998.
  • Dirksen, Louella Carver, with Norma Lee Browning. The Honorable Mr. Marigold: My Life With Everett Dirksen. Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, 1972.

Secondary sources

  • Hulsey, Byron C. Everett Dirksen and His Presidents: How a Senate Giant Shaped American Politics. University Press of Kansas, 2000.
  • MacNeil, Neil. Dirksen: Portrait of a Public Man. New York: World Publishing Company, 1970.
  • Rodriguez; Daniel B. and Barry R. Weingast. "The Positive Political Theory of Legislative History: New Perspectives on the 1964 Civil Rights Act and Its Interpretation," University of Pennsylvania Law Review. Volume: 151. Issue: 4. 2003. pp 1417+.
  • Schapsmeier Edward L., and Frederick H. Schapsmeier. Dirksen of Illinois. University of Illinois Press, 1985, the standard biography

External links

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
William E. Hull
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Illinois's 16th congressional district

Succeeded by
Leo E. Allen
United States Senate
Preceded by
Scott W. Lucas
U.S. Senator (Class 3) from Illinois
Served alongside: Paul Douglas, Charles H. Percy
Succeeded by
Ralph Tyler Smith
Party political offices
Preceded by
Ralph Brewster
Chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee
Succeeded by
Barry Goldwater
Preceded by
Barry Goldwater
Chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee
Succeeded by
Andrew F. Schoeppel
Preceded by
Leverett Saltonstall
Senate Republican Whip
Succeeded by
Thomas Kuchel
Preceded by
William F. Knowland
Senate Republican Leader
Succeeded by
Hugh Scott
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Persons who have lain in state or honor
in the United States Capitol rotunda

September 9, 1969 – September 10, 1969
Succeeded by
J. Edgar Hoover
Preceded by
Thanat Khoman
Grand Marshals of the Tournament of Roses Parade
Succeeded by
Bob Hope