Helms, Jesse 1921–

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HELMS, Jesse 1921–

(Jesse Alexander Helms, Jr.)


Born October 18, 1921, in Monroe, NC; son of Jesse Alexander and Ethel Mae Helms; married Dorothy Jane Coble, October 31, 1942; children: Jane, Nancy, Charles. Education: Attended Wingate Junior College and Wake Forest College. Politics: Republican. Religion: Baptist.


Author, journalist, administrator, and U.S. senator. Raleigh Times, Raleigh, NC, city editor, 1941-42; WRAL-Radio, Raleigh, news and program director, 1948-51; administrative assistant to U.S. Senator Willis Smith, 1951-53, and U.S. Senator Alton Lennon, 1953; executive director of North Carolina Bankers Association, 1953-60; Capital Broadcasting Co., Raleigh, executive vice president, 1960-72; U.S. Senate, Washington, DC, senator representing North Carolina, 1972-2003. Member of Raleigh City Council and chair of law and finance committee, 1957-61; chair of board of Specialized Agricultural Publications, 1964-72; member of boards of directors for North Carolina Cerebral Palsy Hospital and Camp Willow Run. Military service: U.S. Navy, 1942-45.


Masonic Order, Rotary Club, Raleigh Executives.


Freedom Foundation award, 1962, for best television editorial, and 1973, for newspaper article; National Award for service to mankind, Southern Baptists, 1972; Conservative Congressional Award, 1976; Liberty Award, American Economic Council, 1978; Distinguished Public Service Award, Public Service Research Council, 1978; Man-of-the-Year Award, Women for a Constitutional Government, 1978; Legislator-of-the-Year Award, National Rifle Association, 1978; Watchdog of Treasury Award; Guardian of Small Business Award; Gold Medal, Veterans of Foreign Wars; Outstanding Service Award, Council against Communist Aggression; Richard Henry Lee Award; Freedom Award, Order of Lafayette.


Where Free Men Shall Stand: A Sobering Look at the Supertaxing, Superspending, Superbureaucracy in Washington, Zondervan (Grand Rapids, MI), 1976.

"A Lot of Human Beings Have Been Born Bums": Twenty Years of the Words of Senator No, edited by Grace Nordhoff, illustrations by Michael Kuczynski, North Carolina Independent Publications (Durham, NC), 1984.

The King Holiday and Its Meaning: Speech, Council of Conservative Citizens (St. Louis, MO), 1998.

Empire for Liberty: A Sovereign America and Her Moral Mission, foreword by Margaret Thatcher, edited by Marc Thiessen, Regnery Publishing (Washington, DC), 2001.

Here's Where I Stand (memoir), Random House (New York, NY) 2005.

Contributor to The Defense of America: From Assured Destruction to Assured Survival, edited by Albion Knight and David S. Sullivan, Texas Policy Institute, 1983.


A retired U.S. Senator who was a Republican representative for the state of North Carolina for over thirty years, Jesse Helms is still a prominent conservative figure in American politics. A World War II Navy veteran with experience in broadcasting and banking, Helms began drawing public attention as executive vice president of the Capital Broadcasting Company. At Capital, Helms developed a reputation as an outspoken, conservative critic of what he perceived as unfair coverage of the South, particularly with regard to civil rights activities. In addition, he asserted his position on a range of national and international issues, including military maintenance, which he considered essential as a deterrent to the communist threat. Helms also became an outspoken critic of various federal policies, notably the welfare program, which he decried as a burden to working Americans. He denounced some judicial decisions as well, especially those in which he considered the punishment less grave than the crime.

Using Capital Broadcasting's television and radio stations as a forum from which to launch his various criticisms, Helms managed to reach a great deal of the North Carolina citizenry, and he developed a sizeable following. Buoyed by this public support, he ran for the U.S. Senate in 1972 and won handily. A Republican, he quickly established himself among the party's more extreme conservatives. Among his positions were support of the death penalty, military spending, and prayer in the schools, and opposition to federally funded abortions and various social programs.

In the ensuing decades, Helms's actions served to strengthen his conservative status, and he maintained both his support of conservative causes, such as military spending, and his opposition to some legislation, such as federally funded education that might appear to favor the socially disadvantaged. Indeed, Peter Applebome reported in a 1990 New York Times Magazine profile: "[Helms's] voting record on education is such that the National Education Association gave him a 0 rating for the last three Congressional sessions."

Over the course of his political career, Helms failed to find widespread support, at least among his Senate colleagues, for some of his conservative proposals. He proved adept, however, at maintaining opposition to those programs of which he disapproved. In this capacity, as Applebome noted, Helms became "the most feared infighter in the Senate. His mastery of parliamentary rules … made him the Senate's leading expert at bottling up legislation—the liberal legislation he opposes." Helms's earlier experience in radio also served him well in the Senate, for he showed considerable skill in publicizing his causes. In the New York Times Magazine, Richard Viguerie, Helms' fundraising strategist, described Helms to Applebome as "one of the few people on the conservative side who can take an issue that is not nationally known and make it a national issue."

On occasion, Helms managed to overstep the boundaries of what some observers considered to be acceptable conduct from a senator. In 1994, for example, he proclaimed President Bill Clinton an incompetent commander of America's armed forces. Contending that the public, too, was dissatisfied with Clinton, Helms disclosed that the president might even require a bodyguard if he ventured among the allegedly disgruntled masses in Helms's native North Carolina. Helms's comment drew criticism from both liberals and conservatives. As Newsweek writer Mark Hosenball observed: "The indignation was nearly universal." Noting that the conservatives had assumed increasing power in the Senate during the Clinton administration, Hosenball added: "Will [Helms] disrespect the president, cut off foreign aid, frighten America's allies? Maybe. But more likely, he will continue to posture without much effect."

Helms has articulated his conservative perspective in various books. In 1976, for example, he wrote Where Free Men Shall Stand: A Sobering Look at the Supertaxing, Superspending, Superbureaucracy in Washington, and in 1983 he contributed to the volume The Defense of America: From Assured Destruction to Assured Survival. Some of his more provocative proclamations have been collected in "A Lot of Human Beings Have Been Born Bums": Twenty Years of the Words of Senator No.

Empire for Liberty: A Sovereign America and Her Moral Mission contains a collection of Helms's writings and speeches on topics relating to U.S. foreign policy. He articulates a politically conservative approach to foreign policy and interactions with powers and economies beyond the borders of the United States. Helms also offers scorn for the United Nations and supports the notion that people everywhere are entitled to seek liberty, freedom, and basic human rights without, or in spite of, approval or support of the United Nations. The book "leaves no doubt that Helms—the paradigmatic conservative—believes passionately in America's global role," observed Michael Potemra in the National Review.

Here's Where I Stand is Helms's memoir of his life, his ideological positions, and his political career. Helms relates in detail his childhood and upbringing in a small town, and he recalls his early career in newspapers, radio, and television before moving into politics. He tells about his experiences as a navy recruiter during World War II, and explains how his time as a television commentator in North Carolina helped secure his first senate win. Helms devotes most of the book to an in-depth discussion of his moral and political principles, his friendships with prominent presidents and international political leaders, and his unwavering opposition to liberalism. Even as he comments on his political foes, however, readers "just might be surprised at how cordial he is, even toward opponents," observed Michael O. Eshleman in Library Journal. Helms also touches upon a number of the more controversial aspects of his personality and political career, including his stance on race, but without conciliation or apology. A Publishers Weekly contributor called Here's Where I Stand a "confident, if rarely surprising, memoir."



Helms, Jesse, Here's Where I Stand, Random House (New York, NY), 2005.


Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 2005, review of Here's Where I Stand, p. 776.

Library Journal, August 1, 2005, Michael O. Eshleman, review of Here's Where I Stand, p. 96.

National Review, November 19, 2001, Michael Potemra, review of Empire for Liberty: A Sovereign America and Her Moral Mission, p. 60.

Newsweek, December 5, 1994, Mark Hosenball, "Jesse's World," profile of Jesse Helms, p. 24.

New York Times Magazine, October 28, 1990, Peter Applebome, "Pit Bull Politician," profile of Jesse Helms, p. 34.

Publishers Weekly, July 18, 2005, review of Here's Where I Stand, p. 200.


Biographical Directory of the United States Congress,http://bioguide.congress.gov/ (May 29, 2006), biography of Jesse Helms.*