Claude Denson Pepper (September 8, 1900–May 30, 1989) was a loyal and outspoken supporter of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Depression-era program of reform and relief. Raised in rural Alabama in near poverty, Pepper matured in a legacy of populism that became for him a lifetime political commitment to that strain of liberalism that was the underpinning of New Deal political philosophy.
After graduating from the University of Alabama, Pepper went to Harvard Law School with the help of government aid he was awarded as a result of an army training accident. Following a short period teaching law, Pepper entered law practice in rural north Florida and was elected to the state legislature in 1928. Defeated after one term, he nevertheless established himself as a Democratic Party stalwart. He moved to Tallahassee, Florida, and developed a statewide network of professional and political relationships. In 1934 he ran for the U.S. Senate, losing an exceptionally close race. In the process, he established himself as a rising star in the state's Democratic Party structure. Two years later, both of Florida's U.S. senators died within a month of each other, and Pepper was nominated without opposition in the Democratic primary for one of the vacated seats, a feat tantamount to election in the South's one-party system of the period.
The new Florida senator was quickly confronted with Roosevelt's "court packing" plan to enlarge the Supreme Court in order to obtain favorable judicial review of New Deal legislation. After some hesitation over the radical proposal, Pepper strongly supported the plan. This gained presidential favor and established him as a New Dealer. Thereafter, he never wavered in his support of administration measures. In the face of widespread southern opposition in 1938, Pepper made his support of the Fair Labor Standards Act, a controversial New Deal labor proposal, a principal issue in his reelection campaign. His overwhelming primary victory re-ignited congressional support for the nearly lost measure, further strengthening his position as an administration insider.
In the face of rising isolationism in 1939, Pepper advocated intervention in the early stages of World War II on the side of Britain and France against Germany, a politically courageous course of action that aided Roosevelt's efforts to prepare the nation for war. In 1950, at the height of the Cold War, Pepper was defeated for reelection largely because of his earlier conciliatory posture toward the Soviet Union. In 1963, he was elected from a Miami district to the U.S. House of Representatives and served continuously until his death in 1989. Pepper rose to be chairman of the House Select Committee on Aging, and was later chairman of the powerful House Rules Committee. As a self-styled "last of the New Dealers," he made himself the political guardian of the nation's social security program, which is today the principal legacy of the New Deal.
Danese, Tracy E. Claude Pepper and Ed Ball: Politics, Purpose, and Power. 2000.
Kabat, Ric A. "From New Deal to Red Scare: The Political Odyssey of Senator Claude D. Pepper." Ph.D. diss., Florida State University, 1995.
Kennedy, David. M. Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War. 1999.
Pepper, Claude Denson. Pepper: Eyewitness to a Century. 1987.
Tracy E. Danese
"Pepper, Claude." Encyclopedia of the Great Depression. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 19, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/economics/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/pepper-claude
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