John Jacob Rhodes

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John J. Rhodes
House Minority Leader
In office
December 7, 1973 – January 3, 1981
Deputy Leslie C. Arends (1973-1974)
Robert H. Michel (1975-1981)
Preceded by Gerald Ford
Succeeded by Robert H. Michel
Chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee
In office
January 3, 1965 – December 7, 1973
Leader Gerald Ford
Preceded by John W. Byrnes
Succeeded by Barber Conable
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Arizona's 1st district
In office
January 3, 1953 – January 3, 1983
Preceded by John R. Murdock
Succeeded by John McCain
Personal details
Born September 18, 1916 (1916-09-18)
Council Grove, Kansas
Died August 24, 2003 (2003-08-25) (aged 86)
Mesa, Arizona
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Elizabeth Harvey Rhodes
Profession Lawyer
Religion Methodist

John Jacob Rhodes, Jr. (September 18, 1916 – August 24, 2003) was an American lawyer and politician. A member of the Republican Party, Rhodes was elected as a U.S. Representative from the state of Arizona. He was the Minority Leader in the House 1973-81, where he pressed a conservative agenda.

Life and career

Rhodes was born in Council Grove, Kansas. He met Calvin Coolidge when he was eleven years old, and after shaking hands with the President, reportedly refused to wash his hand for a week. He attended public schools, and in 1938 graduated from Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas, where he also earned his Army Reserve commission in the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC).[1] In 1941, he graduated from Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and was called to active duty with the United States Army Air Corps and United States Army Air Forces.[2] He served at Williams Field, Arizona from 1941 – 1946. After the war, he chose to settle in Arizona with his wife, Elizabeth Harvey, whom he had married in 1942.[3] From 1947 to 1952 he was the staff judge advocate of the Arizona National Guard, and from 1951 to 1952 he served as vice chairman of the Arizona Board of Public Welfare.

In 1950, Rhodes ran for Attorney General of Arizona as a Republican. His friend, Barry Goldwater, correctly predicted that Rhodes would lose; at that time, Arizona was over seventy-five percent Democratic. In 1952 Rhodes ran again, this time for the U.S. House of Representatives. Despite limited campaign funds and facing the powerful incumbent, Democrat John Murdock, Rhodes prevailed by eight percent of the vote and was elected to the Eighty-third United States Congress. He was the first Republican ever elected to represent Arizona in the House. Additionally, he served as a member of the Arizona delegation to several Republican National Conventions; was Barry Goldwater's personal representative on the Platform Committee in 1964;[4] was chairman of the Platform Committee in 1972; and was Permanent Chairman of the Convention in 1976 and 1980.

Rhodes remained in office for thirty consecutive years (January 3, 1953 to January 3, 1983), serving in the 83rd to 97th Congresses. His committee assignments included the following: Education and Labor (1953 – 1959); Interior and Insular Affairs (1953 – 1959); Appropriations, on which he became ranking minority member of the Public Works and Defense Subcommittees (1959 – 1973); Budget (1974 – 1975); Rules (1981 – 1983); and was chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee (1965 – 1973).[5] Rhodes was elected, by acclamation, to be House Minority Leader on December 7, 1973,[6] succeeding Gerald Ford when Ford became Vice President. But House Republicans were unhappy with his leadership and in 1979 he announced he would not seek reelection as leader. Minority Whip Bob Michel replaced him in 1981, though Rhodes remained in the House for that Congress- a fact which he later termed a mistake.

Rhodes will be best remembered for two things while in office: first, as the driving force behind congressional authorization of the Central Arizona Project, which provides water from the Colorado River to Arizona; and, second, his presence at the August 7, 1974 meeting with President Richard Nixon at which he, Goldwater, and Senator Hugh Scott informed Nixon that he no longer had enough support in Congress to prevent his impeachment and removal from office. (The President announced his resignation the next day.)

In 1976, Rhodes wrote a book titled The Futile System: How to Unchain Congress and Make the System Work Again, which argued that effective Congressional reforms "cannot be accomplished by the majority party.... The ins have little incentive to change. It is the outs -- the powerless minority -- who have the only real motivation to take a critical look at the system and determine a better way to run things."

Rhodes retired from Congress at age sixty-six. Though still popular in his home district, Rhodes reasoned that "if [he were] ever going to do something else, [he] should get started doing it." His retirement opened the door to a hotly contested Republican primary and a general election that resulted in the victory of John McCain in 1982.

After leaving Congress, Rhodes maintained an apartment in Bethesda, Maryland, to which he commuted from his home in Mesa, Arizona. He practiced law in the Washington office of the Richmond, Virginia-based firm of Hunton & Williams. He also traveled extensively, worldwide; was a board member of the Taft Institute for Government and the Hoover Institution for War, Revolution, and Peace; and served on the board of and was elected president of the United States Association of Former Members of Congress.[7]

On August 14, 2003, Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert awarded Rhodes the Congressional Distinguished Service Medal, one of only a handful awarded. Rhodes remarked to Hastert that he (Hastert) had the only job Rhodes had ever really wanted. He died at his home, among family, on August 24, 2003, from complications related to cancer. He was survived by his wife of sixty-one years, Elizabeth ("Betty") Harvey Rhodes; children John Jacob ("Jay") III, Thomas, Elizabeth, and James Scott ("Scott"); at the time of his death, twelve grandchildren; and several great-grandchildren. Over 100 newspapers carried his obituary, and President George W. Bush delivered a statement via the White House's website.

Rhodes Junior High School in Mesa, Arizona is named in his honor.


  • Rhodes, John J. I Was There. Salt Lake City, UT: Northwest Publishing, 1995.
  1. Rhodes, 1995, 9.
  2. Rhodes, 1995, 9.
  3. Rhodes, 1995, 10.
  4. Rhodes, 1995, 80.
  5. Nelson, 1994, 740 – 741.
  6. Rhodes, 1995, 127; Nelson, 1974, 741.
  7. Rhodes, 1995, 242.


External links

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
John Robert Murdock
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Arizona's 1st congressional district

Succeeded by
John McCain
Party political offices
Preceded by
Gerald R. Ford
House Minority Leader
House Republican Leader

Succeeded by
Robert H. Michel