Little Bits of History

April 30

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 30, 2017

1956: Alben William Barkley dies. Born in 1877, the politician had served in both houses of Congress and was the Vice President under Harry S Truman. He, like another American politician, was born in a log cabin in Kentucky. He was the oldest of eight children born to his tenant farmer parents. They grew tobacco on the farm but the family was quite religious and opposed card playing and alcohol. Although his birth name was Willie Alben, as soon as he could, he changed it to Alben (his grandfather’s name) William. Barkley’s education was often interrupted by having to work the farm, first with tobacco and then when the family moved, to farming wheat. He managed to secure an adequate education despite having to miss school for farm work. He even acquired a college education.

He worked as a law clerk for an attorney and state congressman even though their political leanings were polar opposites. In 1904, Barkley first threw his hat into the ring, running for county attorney and managed to win his first election. He was on his way to a life in politics. He next ran for the vacated seat of Ollie James who was leaving the US House of Representatives to seek a Senate seat. The lifelong Democrat served in the House from 1913 through 1927.  He ran for governor of Kentucky in 1923 unsuccessfully. He was elected to the US Senate in 1927 and held that post until 1949. Between 1937 and 1947 he served as Senate Majority Leader and during the last two years of his tenure he was the Senate Minority Leader.

As a liberal Democrat, Barkley supported President Woodrow Wilson’s New Freedom policies. The stated agenda was to reform tariffs (which in 1913 allowed for tariffs to be lowered for the first time since 1857), business (and the Federal Trade Commission was established as well an anti-trust laws enacted), and banking (creation of the Federal Reserve System and the passage of the Federal Farm Loan Act). Barkley was a supporter of Prohibition, a natural outgrowth of his upbringing and denounced parimutuel betting, a system of betting on horse races, greyhound racing, jai alai, and other sporting events. He helped see through the New Deal approach to the Great Depression.

He resigned his Senate seat in order to become Truman’s Vice President and held that position for four years. Truman’s loss to Dwight D. Eisenhower meant Barkley, too was out of a job. Barkley had cataract surgery after leaving Washington, D.C. and contracted with NBC to create 26 fifteen-minute shows but low rating kept the series from being continued. He once again ran for a Senate seat from Kentucky and campaigned in his old Iron Man way, up to sixteen hours a day. He countered his “too old” reputation which cost him the presidential nomination. He won and again took his seat in 1955. On this day, he was giving a speech and as he took the stage and began his speech, he had a heart attack and collapsed dead on the stage.

I’m glad to sit on the back row, for I would rather be a servant in the House of the Lord than to sit in the seats of the mighty. (an allusion to Psalm 84:10 and Alben W. Barkley’s last words

The best audience is intelligent, well-educated and a little drunk. – Alben W. Barkley

A politician needs the ability to foretell what is going to happen tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year. And to have the ability afterwards to explain why it didn’t happen. – Winston Churchill

One of the reasons people hate politics is that truth is rarely a politician’s objective. Election and power are. – Cal Thomas

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