Harrison, Byron "Pat"

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Byron Patton ("Pat") Harrison (August 29, 1881–June 22,1941) was a United States senator and strategist for major New Deal legislation. He was born in Crystal Springs, Mississippi, to Robert A. Harrison, a Civil War veteran, and Anna Patton Harrison. He was educated in the public schools of Crystal Springs and attended Louisiana State University on a baseball scholarship for two years. Later, while a high school teacher and principal, he studied law in the evenings. After admission to the bar in 1902 he moved rapidly into political office through election for two terms as a state district attorney and then U.S. congressman from 1911 to 1919.

Harrison was an ardent supporter of President Woodrow Wilson, but his reservations about significant aspects of New Freedom legislation suggested that Harrison was not truly committed to progressivism. In 1918, as a strong advocate of Wilson's preparedness program, however, Harrison defeated the obstructionist James K. Vardaman in a campaign for the U.S. Senate. He was reelected three times. During the 1920s, as one of the leaders of the Democratic minority, he was known as an effective and zestful "gadfly."

The ascension of the Democrats to majority control in 1933 placed Harrison as chair of the Finance Committee, where he wielded enormous influence based on congressional longevity and a happy combination of personal qualities that made him perhaps the most popular man in the Senate. He was a consummate legislative broker who succeeded in steering to passage major components of the New Deal: fourteen revenue bills, including the Wealth Tax Act (1935) and the undistributed profits tax (1936); the 1935 Social Security Act and the 1939 amendments; the National Industrial Recovery Act; and the Reciprocal Trade Agreements Acts of 1934 and 1940. Harrison's support of the early New Deal was based upon his devotion to the Democratic Party and the exigencies of the Great Depression. He differed with President Franklin D. Roosevelt over revenue measures that redistributed wealth and New Deal reform that veered toward social engineering. The president's support for the election of Alben W. Barkley as Senate majority leader in 1937, a contest Harrison lost by one vote, led to an open break. The breach was not healed until Roosevelt turned to Harrison in 1940 to win passage of the Lend-Lease Act. He was voted in 1939 by Washington correspondents as the most influential of all senators. In January 1941, six months before his death due to colon cancer, Harrison became Senate president pro tempore.



Harrison Papers, Williams Library, University of Mississippi. Oxford.

Patterson, James T. Congressional Conservatism and the New Deal Coalition. 1967.

Swain, Martha. "The Lion and the Fox: Senator Pat Harrison and President Franklin D. Roosevelt." Journal of Mississippi History 38 (1976): 333–359.

Swain, Martha. Pat Harrison: The New Deal Years. 1978.

Martha H. Swain

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Harrison, Byron "Pat"