Kefauver, Estes

views updated May 21 2018

Kefauver, Estes 1903-1963


Carey Estes Kefauver was born to Phredonia Estes and Cooke Kefauver July 26, 1903 on a farm near Madisonville, Tennessee. His older brother, Robert, and younger sisters, Nancy and Leonora, rounded out his family. Following a career in law and service in the U.S. House of Representatives (19391949) and the U.S. Senate (19491963), Kefauver died in Washington, D.C. August 10, 1963. Kefauver attended local public schools, and then entered the University of Tennessee, where he participated in various extracurricular activities. He earned a BA in 1924 but had already begun to study law. After brief service as a teacher and coach in Arkansas, Kefauver entered Yale Law School and was granted an LLB cum laude in 1927. He had previously passed the Tennessee bar examination, so Kefauver moved to Chattanooga and joined first a practice set up by his cousins and later another firm, where he became a junior partner in 1930. Civic affairs, work with the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), and representation of a local newspaper promoting government reform led Kefauver into political activism, and in 1936 he was narrowly defeated in a state senate bid.

In 1939 Kefauver was appointed state finance and taxation commissioner, served briefly, returned to his law practice, then entered a special election for Tennessees third congressional district (Chattanooga) seat upon the incumbents death. Kefauver won, and was reelected four times; in 1948 he sought a U.S. Senate seat and won a plurality victory in the Democratic primary over the incumbent and a third candidate sponsored by Tennessees Boss Crump. He was reelected in 1954 and 1960, and in intervening years pursued the Democratic presidential nomination. In 1952 President Harry S. Truman and other party leaders offset Kefauvers surprising string of primary victories and delivered the nomination to Illinois governor Adlai Stevenson; the 1956 rematch also produced a Stevenson nomination, but Kefauvers withdrawal in favor of Stevenson late in the campaign encouraged Stevenson to allow convention delegates to select his running mate. Kefauver was nominated, but the Democratic ticket was again defeated in the election, by Dwight Eisenhower.

Kefauvers presidential efforts grew out of his work chairing the Senates Special Committee to Investigate Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce during the Eighty-first and Eighty-second Congresses. While a congressman, Kefauver had supported Presidents Roosevelt and Truman, the TVA, and government reform and antitrust policy; he sponsored the modern presidential succession statute and supported abolition of the poll tax. Kefauvers involvement in a House investigation of judicial corruption, as well as his personal ambition, underscored by encouragement of some newspaper executives, caused him to see opportunity in a Senate study of organized crime. Events overcame the Democratic Senate leaderships reluctance, and internal Senate politics led to Kefauvers selection as chair when the committee was authorized in May 1950.

The committee held hearings in several cities and began to attract attention as witnesses helped to build a case that criminal elements had developed a national organization substantially rooted in illegal gambling and protected from law-enforcement efforts through bribery and the efforts of friends in useful offices. Public interest in the investigation grew with the publicizing of the connections between racketeers and various public officials, as well as several prominent political organizations; it flourished as hearings first in New Orleans and subsequently in other cities were televised. Committee proceedings were less popular, however, in the White House and in Democratic Senate Majority Leader Scott Lucass office, as they suggested ties between the Kansas City Democratic organization (President Trumans home base) and gangsters and between Cook County, Illinois, Democrats (Lucass base) and criminal elements. Kefauver refused to defer study of them, which probably led to Lucass defeat in his 1950 reelection bid and Trumans opposition to Kefauvers 1952 Democratic presidential nomination quest. The committees work bore legislative fruit only after the Kennedy administration took office, but several states defeated legalized gambling, and a number of cities established crime commissions in the immediate wake of its reports.

Kefauver had married Nancy Paterson Pigott, Scottish-born daughter of American expatriates and an aspiring artist, in 1935. Daughter Eleanor was born to the couple in 1941, and when other children did not quickly follow, they adopted six-week-old David in 1946. Diane was then born in 1947, and Gail completed the family upon her birth in 1950.

Kefauver fell ill during the summer of 1963 and was diagnosed as having an aortal aneurism; it burst before remedial measures could be taken, and he died at Bethesda Naval Hospital. He was buried in the family cemetery in Madisonville, Tennessee.

SEE ALSO Congress, U.S.; Crime and Criminology; Mafia, The


Fontenay, Charles L. 1980. Estes Kefauver: A Biography. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press.

Gorman, Joseph Bruce. 1971. Kefauver: A Political Biography. New York: Oxford University Press.

Moore, William Howard. 1974. The Kefauver Committee and the Politics of Crime, 19501952. Columbia: University of Missouri Press.

James F. Sheffield Jr.

Kefauver, Estes

views updated Jun 11 2018

Estes Kefauver

Born July 26, 1903 (Madisonville, Tennessee)

Died August 10, 1963 (Bethesda, Maryland)

U.S. senator

Estes Kefauver was a senator from Tennessee who gained national attention as chairman of the Special Committee on Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce. Conducted by the Eighty-first and Eighty-second Congresses in 1950 and 1951, the committee was more commonly known as the "Kefauver Committee." Using the relatively new medium of television, the hearings drew public attention to the revelation that a nationwide organized crime syndicate actually existed. They also made the phrase "taking the Fifth" a part of American conversation, as many witnesses invoked their constitutional Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

The five-man committee headed by Kefauver exposed a powerful underworld made up of mobsters and corrupt politicians. The hearings began in May 1950 and lasted for fifteen months. Sessions in fourteen cities heard testimony from hundreds of witnesses about violence, corruption, and the criminal control of illegal markets. The hearings resulted in Treasury Department indictments of hundreds of lawbreakers.

"In the United States today, [many] . . . believe that if this country is to be kept great, the little man must be given an adequate opportunity and a reasonable standard of living. I'm on the side of the [these] . . . people."

The Kefauver Committee submitted four reports indicating that organized crime syndicates existed through the support
or tolerance of public officials. It was not until 1970, however, that Congress passed the Organized Crime Control Act to coordinate the investigation and prosecution of organized crime in America.

A love of the law

Carey Estes Kefauver was born on a farm in Monroe County, near Madisonville, Tennessee. His mother was Phredonia Bradford Estes and his father, a hardware merchant, was Robert Cooke Kefauver. Estes attended public schools in the area and graduated from high school in 1922. He then went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville in 1924. Kefauver left Tennessee to join the staff of a Hot Springs, Arkansas, high school where he taught mathematics and coached football for a year.

Kefauver then moved to New Haven, Connecticut, to attend law school at Yale University. He was admitted to the bar (the legal profession) in 1926, received a law degree with honors from Yale in 1927, and then returned to Tennessee to establish a law practice. Kefauver settled down in Chattanooga where he met Nancy Pigott of Glasgow, Scotland, while she was visiting relatives. The young couple married in 1935; they would become the parents of four children, one of them adopted.

Political persuasions

One of Estes Kefauver's clients was a local newspaper called the Chattanooga News. While serving as the paper's attorney over the years he developed an interest in politics. He sought election to the Tennessee senate in 1938. Though the campaign was unsuccessful, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1939.

Kefauver spent the next nine years in the House where he was a consistent supporter of organized labor and other movements considered liberal (radical) in the South at the time (the South was more traditional and less open to progress and change). He focused most of his legislative efforts on congressional reform and antimonopoly measures (measures restricting businesses from controlling market prices for their goods). Kefauver established himself as one who did things on his own and who dedicated a great deal of energy and study into each area requiring his attention.

In 1948 Kefauver ran for the U.S. Senate as a Democrat. His campaign began with little public awareness or interest, while his opponent was well known and experienced. Kefauver began a new style of personal campaign by going town-to-town, meeting voters, and shaking their hands. Kefauver's sharp wit and sense of humor while interacting with people turned the tide of public support his way and was a dramatic high point of the campaign regarding the candidate's celebrity
status. His campaign strategy was successful and Kefauver was elected as the Democratic senator from Tennessee. He began serving on January 3, 1949, and would remain in the position until his death in 1963.

An honest man

Kefauver made his mark as a senator when he was appointed chair of the Special Committee on Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce. He headed the five-man panel and conducted hearings into the existence of a nationwide organized crime syndicate in the United States (see sidebar). The investigation began in May 1950 and saw hundreds of witnesses testify in fourteen cities over the next fifteen months. Underworld figures from minor players to major gangsters as well as public servants, from police officers to mayors, gave testimony on the activities of organized crime.

Other congressional committees had been televised before but the Kefauver Committee was the first to attract a large audience. Because few people owned television sets during the 1950–51 hearings, they would gather in restaurants, bars, and businesses to watch the drama unfold. Never before had national attention been so completely focused on a single matter.

Organized Crime

Organized crime thrives by providing goods and services that laws prohibit but people desire. Not everyone agrees about the seriousness of the various activities defined as organized crime. Not all Americans see sports betting, extortion (threats of violence), loan-sharking (charging very high interest rates on loans), and racketeering (participating in a pattern of more than one criminal offenses) as equally criminal or socially harmful. Organized crime, however, does use violence, intimidation, and threats to establish power. Corruption of police and public officials is necessary in sustaining control in criminal specialties, particularly involving drug trafficking and gambling.

Early in the nation's history, crime was seen by some immigrants and citizens at the city and regional levels as a practical avenue of upward social mobility. The bootlegging (selling illegal alcohol) and racketeering (obtaining money through illegal enterprise and often intimidation) of the 1920s expanded into labor unions in the 1930s and then casinos and real estate in the 1940s. By the 1950s gangsters were known to terrorize voters and manipulate local elections to their advantage.

The Kefauver Committee greatly increased public awareness of organized crime families in 1950 when it first exposed the powerful American Mafia or Cosa Nostra, literally meaning "our thing." Comprised of several influential Italian mob families, it was not the only crime organization in America, as others existed. It was, however, the most powerful at the time.

In 1970 Congress passed the Organized Crime Control Act, also known as RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act). It provided a coordinated effort in the investigation and prosecution of organized criminal groups. The Italian American crime families of the Mafia were not successfully prosecuted for their crimes until the 1980s and 1990s.

Congress passed RICO specifically to combat the infiltration of organized crime into legitimate businesses. Tougher penalties and increased protection for witnesses accompanied the Money Laundering Control Act of 1986. By the 1980s the definition of organized crime grew to include white-collar or corporate offenders, expanding the battle from the streets to the boardroom.

Criminal conspiracies in the 1980s included accountants, lawyers, bank officials, and real estate developers in a major savings and loan (banking) scandal. The late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries saw otherwise legitimate and official organizations committing organized crimes with far-reaching consequences.

Advances in communications technologies also increased international organized crime. The potential for committing crimes across borders further increased with the integration of the world's economic systems after the Cold War. (The Cold War was an intense political and economic rivalry from 1945 to 1991 between the United States and the Soviet Union falling just short of military conflict.) Governments were left to sort out political responses to the complexities of law enforcement as organized crime increasingly operated without national boundaries.

Kefauver encouraged the public trial to arouse the national sentiment necessary to pass legislation against organized crime. He agreed to respect the wishes of those who did not want to be televised when they were testifying. Kefauver was commended for protecting the constitutional rights of all witnesses during the investigation, while still successfully probing into organized crime in America.

The Kefauver Committee investigation produced significant results and offered several recommendations to Congress. Along with the formation of a racketeering squad in the Justice Department harsher penalties were created for many unlawful acts and efforts increased to deport gangsters. Over seventy local crime commissions were established in cities across America as public awareness of organized crime increased.

The great campaigner

To hundreds of thousands of Americans, Kefauver was the man who had exposed the darkness of organized crime and could be counted on to devote himself to the task of leading the nation. Riding on a wave of popularity, Kefauver ran for president in 1952 but lost the Democratic Party nomination. In 1956 he was chosen as Adlai Stevenson's (1900–1965) running mate in an unsuccessful bid for the White House.

Kefauver finally abandoned his presidential ambitions and returned to his legislative duties. In 1954 he took a courageous stand in supporting freedom of speech when he cast the sole senate vote in opposition to a bill outlawing the U.S. Communist Party. Kefauver sponsored a number of important foreign and domestic legislative measures. He continued his fight against monopolies as chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Antitrust and Monopoly from 1957 to 1963. The hearings covered organization and pricing practices of the steel, automobile, drug, and bread industries. The ensuing drug hearings sought to protect the public from harmful and ineffective pharmaceuticals. The investigation led to the Kefauver-Harris Drug Control Act of 1962, designed to guard against excessive pricing of prescription drugs.

Kefauver was in another antimonopoly debate in the Senate on August 8 when he became ill. He was taken to the naval hospital at Bethesda, Maryland, where he died two days later of a heart condition. Estes Kefauver was buried in the family plot in Madisonville, Tennessee.

For More Information


Fontenay, Charles L. Estes Kefauver: A Biography. Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press, 1980.

Hall, Kermit L. The Oxford Companion to American Law. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Kefauver, Estes. In A Few Hands: Monopoly Power in America. New York: Pantheon Books, 1965.

Web Sites

"Happy 100th Birthday, Estes Kefauver!" The University of Tennessee. (accessed on August 15, 2004).

"Kefauver, Carey Estes, 1903–1963." Biographical Directory of the UnitedStates Congress. (accessed on August 15, 2004).

Carey Estes Kefauver

views updated May 21 2018

Carey Estes Kefauver

United States Senator Carey Estes Kefauver (1903-1963) was an influential Tennessee Democrat who often broke ranks with his more conservative Southern colleagues to support economic and political reform. He became the first candidate of his region to develop a national political following during his two campaigns for the presidency.

Estes Kefauver was born in Madisonville, Tennessee, on July 26, 1903, to Robert Cooke Kefauver and Phredonia (Estes) Kefauver. The Kefauvers were a politically distinguished family: Estes' paternal great-grandfather was a successful banker who was elected to the Tennessee State Senate in 1847, while his maternal great-grandfather ran for Congress unsuccessfully against David Crockett in 1828.

Kefauver graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1924 and three years later received a law degree cum laude from Yale University. He returned to Tennessee, established a practice in Chattanooga, and during the next 12 years became one of the city's most successful corporate attorneys. Despite extensive family and professional connections with wealthy, conservative Chattanoogans, Kefauver's political and philosophical sympathies gravitated toward reform and liberalism. He became the attorney for the Chattanooga News, the city's daily newspaper which championed publicly owned utilities, revision of Tennessee's constitution, reforms in local government, and improved labor conditions. Kefauver embraced most of these causes, and in 1936 he became president of the Volunteers, a coalition of young business and professional men and labor union leaders who wanted to reform county government. Kefauver's work with the Volunteers introduced him to the low wages and poor working conditions in Chattanooga's textile mills, and his sympathy for workers won him union support throughout his political career.

Election to Congress

That career began in 1939 when Kefauver won a special election to fill the seat of Third District congressman Sam D. McReynolds, who died in office. During the campaign Kefauver supported President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal program and advocated federal aid to education and support of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), two positions he would maintain for the remainder of his legislative career. During nine years in the House of Representatives Kefauver successfully defended TVA from its critics, including powerful Tennessee senator Kenneth D. McKellar; advocated anti-monopoly legislation to protect small business from corporate takeover; and urged the elimination of the poll tax as a voting requirement.

In 1948 Kefauver, in his first campaign for the U.S. Senate, won an upset victory over Judge John A. Mitchell, the candidate of the Memphis-based political machine of Democratic boss Edward H. Crump. Kefauver assembled a coalition of labor, women's, African American, and professional groups as his chief supporters and adopted the coonskin cap as his trademark after Crump attacked him as a "pet coon."

Although Kefauver's surprising victory briefly attracted national attention, his early Senate years afforded prolonged nationwide exposure. In 1950 he coauthored the Kefauver-Cellar Act, which regulated corporate purchases of competitor's assets, and in 1950 and 1951 he chaired a special Senate committee appointed to investigate organized crime. The nationally televised "Kefauver Committee" hearings, held in a dozen major cities, generated little new information on the crime syndicate but gave the Tennessee senator important national publicity and influenced his decision to run for president in 1952. After entering the New Hampshire presidential primary and handily defeating President Harry S. Truman, who later withdrew from the race, Kefauver won 13 of the 15 remaining primaries, losing only in Florida and the District of Columbia. Although he seemed assured of the nomination, Kefauver's opponents— including President Truman, big city political bosses, and conservative Southern Democrats—combined to block his selection and eventually swung the convention to Illinois governor Adlai Stevenson. Stevenson and vice-presidential candidate John Sparkman of Alabama were in turn defeated by the Republican ticket of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower and California Congressman Richard Nixon.

Kefauver ran for the Democratic presidential nomination a second time in 1956, but the party again chose Adlai Stevenson. The Tennessee senator, however, did score a dramatic second ballot victory over Massachusetts senator John F. Kennedy for the vice-presidential nomination. Kefauver vigorously campaigned for the ticket, particularly in the Midwest and West, hoping to capitalize on farm belt resentment over President Eisenhower's agricultural policies, but the Democratic ticket was again defeated by President Eisenhower and Vice-President Nixon.

Successful Fight for Re-election

Many supporters urged Kefauver to make one last campaign for the presidency in 1960, but he decided instead to concentrate his efforts on his upcoming re-election campaign to the U.S. Senate. Kefauver's nearly decade long focus on national affairs and his liberal voting record had eroded his support among many Tennessee voters. His votes for both the 1957 and 1960 civil rights acts were cited by opponents as examples of his incompatibility with Tennessee and Southern politics; his 1958 Senate committee hearings on the pharmaceutical industry prompted out-of-state drug manufacturing companies to contribute substantial campaign funds to his opponent, Judge Andrew T. Taylor; and his bitter rivalry with former Tennessee governor Frank Clement and his successor, Buford Ellington, further hampered the senator's re-election efforts. Nevertheless, Kefauver waged an intense campaign which took him to each of the state's 95 counties. He pulled together the coalition that first propelled him to the Senate in 1948, and, after receiving timely endorsements from Democratic vice-presidential nominee Lyndon Johnson and other Southern senators, he was reelected to a third term by a 2 to 1 margin in what the Nashville Banner called "one of the most surprising votes in Tennessee's political history."

No longer engaged in national politics nor restricted by its demands and compromises, Estes Kefauver devoted his full attention to legislative matters. In 1962 he supported the 24th amendment to the Constitution, which abolished the poll tax, and coauthored the Kefauver-Harris Drug Control Act, which reduced the price and raised the safety requirements for prescription drugs. In 1963 he led the fight against American Telephone and Telegraph's efforts to dominate the telecommunications satellite program. As part of that campaign he introduced on August 8 an amendment to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration appropriation act to require A. T. & T. to reimburse NASA for research that would specifically benefit that corporation. During the debate over the appropriations bill amendment Kefauver suffered a heart attack, was hospitalized, and died the next day, August 10, 1963.

Further Reading

The best biographies of Kefauver are Charles L. Fontenay, Estes Kefauver: A Biography (1980); Harvey Swados, Standing Up for The People: The Life and Work of Estes Kefauver (1972); and Bruce Gorman, Kefauver: A Political Biography (1971). The Kefauver Senate Hearings on Organized Crime are discussed in William Howard Moore, The Kefauver Committee and the Politics of Crime 1950-1952. Kefauver wrote three books outlining his political views: Crime in America (1951), In a Few Hands: Monopoly Power in America (1965), and A 20th Century Congress (1947). See Robert Sobel, editor, U.S. Congress, Senate, Biographical Directory of the American Congress, 1774-1971 (1971) for a discussion of Kefauver's legislative contributions. □

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