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Wayne L. Morse

Wayne L. Morse

During his two dozen years as U.S. senator from Oregon, Wayne L. Morse (1900-1974) was an independent critic of many federal policies, especially the Vietnam War.

Wunderkind Senator Wayne Lyman Morse left his impression on the nation by his intractable commitment to principle. In a Senate career of 24 years, he built a reputation as an outspoken maverick of whom The Nation editorialized: "He said what he thought, he had a sharp intelligence, and he never minced words."

Born on a Wisconsin farm on October 20, 1900, Morse was the son of farmer-rancher Wilbur Morse and his wife Jessie (White) Morse. His father exercised a strong influence on his life, inculcating values of thrift and stressing the necessity of a good education. All his life Morse loved the land, took a keen interest in farm problems, and raised livestock professionally as a hobby.

At the University of Wisconsin Morse studied economics and labor problems as well as devoting a substantial amount of time to debate and argumentation. He earned Bachelor's and Master's degrees in 1923 and 1924 respectively. For four years he taught at the University of Minnesota, earning an L.L.B. there during the same period. A year's fellowship at Columbia University advanced his career greatly; his published study of grand juries brought him national attention and the coveted J.D. degree from Columbia. By the age of 31 Morse was a full professor and dean of the University of Oregon's School of Law.

Oregon became his home, and he devoted all his talents to it, studying crime in the state, serving as a legal education official for the state government, and earning a nationwide reputation for his school. His life-long interest in labor problems also made Morse a natural choice as a labor arbitrator.

His reputation as tough, knowledgeable, and evenhanded earned him respect from labor and management alike and brought him to the attention of the Roosevelt administration during the New Deal. Morse's negotiating skills became more valuable as the United States moved toward World War II. Through his efforts several crucial labor disputes were settled in 1941.

When war came, President Roosevelt appointed Morse to the 12-member National War Labor Board, a move which brought the 41-year-old into greater public focus than he had ever enjoyed before. He waged a fierce battle against anyone he believed to be impeding the war effort, even if he was alone in his dissent. Within a short time the nation—and the citizens of Oregon in particular—began to recognize him as a different sort of public figure, and the terms "maverick," "courageous," and "incorruptible" became associated with his name.

Until the 1940s Morse had hoped for a career as an appointed official, perhaps a federal judge. After one such hope fell through he embarked on an elective career, running for the Senate on the Republican ticket in 1944. A liberal Republican, Wayne Morse had little in common with many of his fellow party members—but he was alienated from many Democrats, too. Practical politics, including the ratio of Republicans over Democrats in Oregon, also dictated his ballot line. He defeated the incumbent Republican senator in the primary and overwhelmed his Democratic opponent on election day.

In the Senate Morse lived up to his maverick reputation by challenging the leadership of both parties, crossing swords with such legendary figures as Senators Robert A. Taft of Ohio and Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas. In 1950 he overwhelmed his Democratic opponent with more than 75 percent of the vote to gain re-election.

Never popular with his colleagues, he was respected and feared for his outspoken candor. He fought his party's Taft-Hartley Labor Act of 1947 and opposed its presidential nominee in 1952. Morse's opposition did not stem from antipathy to Dwight D. Eisenhower so much as from the Republican platform and Ike's choice of Sen. Richard M. Nixon of California as his running-mate. After the Republican ticket defeated Adlai Stevenson Morse dropped his Republican Party allegiance and served his second Senate term as an Independent, converting to the Democratic Party before running for a third term in 1956. Following a spirited primary, Morse faced former Gov. Douglas McKay in November and defeated him decisively, setting a vote-getting record for Oregon. In 1962 he won a fourth term.

As a Democrat Morse was no more popular with his colleagues than he had been as a Republican. He was particularly out of step with his party during the early days of the Vietnam War. In the summer of 1964 Congress voted approval of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, granting wide powers to President Johnson to defend South Vietnam. The vote was 414 to 0 in the House and 88 to 2 in the Senate, Morse joining Alaska senator Ernest Gruening in dissent.

The 1968 presidential election put Richard Nixon in the White House and Wayne Morse in retirement, being replaced by youthful Republican Robert W. Packwood. Thus ended a career filled with fierce feuds and strongly expressed feelings. Morse was never at a loss for words, one of his Senate speeches setting a one man filibuster record of 22 hours 26 minutes in 1953.

An avid husbandman, Morse raised horses and cattle on his Oregon ranch. Kicked by one of the horses, he was hospitalized in 1951, thereby laying the groundwork for a famous national confrontation with Clare Booth Luce, wife of publisher Henry Luce. When in 1959 Clare Luce's nomination as American ambassador to Brazil was being defeated, Morse vigorously opposed Eisenhower's choice. She injudiciously ascribed Morse's conduct to his having been "kicked in the head by a horse." Morse won a victory when Luce resigned without serving in the post. The Morse-Luce feud was one of several which made headlines during his career and helped—along with his substantive measures— to earn him the reputation "Tiger of the Senate."

The United States has been enriched in different ways at different times by the widely diffused family of British emigrant John Morse, who came to Connecticut in 1639. In the 19th century the family gave the nation Samuel F. B. Morse and the telegraph; in the 20th, another communicator named Wayne Lyman Morse brought his message of uncompromising idealism and lonely commitment to his land.

Further Reading

Wayne Morse's life and career are the subject of A. Robert Smith's The Tiger of the Senate: The Biography of Wayne Morse (1962). Morse co-authored The Two Americas (1965), an account of U.S.-Latin American relations. □

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Morse, Wayne Lyman

Wayne Lyman Morse, 1900–1974, U.S. Senator (1945–69), b. Madison, Wis. He was a professor of law and later dean at the Univ. of Oregon law school (1931–44) and gained a nationwide reputation as a labor arbitrator. He served as a member of the National War Labor Board from 1942 to 1944. Elected in 1944 to the U.S. Senate as a Republican (and reelected in 1950), Morse was consistently critical of what he termed reactionary elements in the party. In 1952 he refused to support the Republican presidential nominee, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and declared himself an independent. In 1955 he formally announced himself a Democrat and as such twice won reelection (1956, 1962) to the Senate. As a Senator he strongly supported public-power measures and was a severe critic of the filibuster. Yet Morse in 1953 delivered the longest personal filibuster then on record (22 hr 6 min) in opposing the bill giving offshore oil rights to the states. A long-time opponent of the Vietnam War (he voted against the Gulf of Tonkin resolution in 1964), he was defeated for reelection in 1968. He ran for the Senate in 1972 against Senator Mark Hatfield, also a critic of the war, but failed to unseat him. In 1974 he won the Democratic primary for the Senate but died before the election.

See biography by A. R. Smith (1962).

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Morse, Wayne Lyman

MORSE, Wayne Lyman

(b. 20 October 1900 near Madison, Wisconsin; d. 22 July 1974 in Portland, Oregon), author, educator, and United States senator from Oregon from 1945 to 1969 who was best known for his opposition to the Vietnam War.

Morse, one of six children of Wilbur Frank Morse, a livestock farmer, and Jessie (White) Morse, a homemaker and farm wife, grew up in Madison under the populist political tradition of Wisconsin Senator Robert LaFollette. After attending Madison public schools and graduating from Madison High School, he earned a B.A. degree in labor economics in 1924 and an M.A. degree in speech in 1925 from the University of Wisconsin. Morse married Mildred Martha Downie, a home economics instructor, on 18 June 1924. They had three daughters. Morse completed a four-year military training course at the University of Wisconsin in 1922 and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserves, in which he served from 1923 to 1929.

Morse taught speech at the University of Minnesota from 1924 through 1926, earning a bachelor of law degree in 1928. He received a doctor of jurisprudence from Columbia University in 1932. He joined the University of Oregon as assistant professor of law in 1929 and became dean of its law school in 1931. The University of Oregon has since endowed the Wayne Morse Chair of Law and Politics in his honor.

In 1938 Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins appointed Morse Pacific coast labor arbitrator. Morse arbitrated labor disputes between ship owners and the International Long-shoreman's and Warehousemen's Union. In 1942 President Franklin D. Roosevelt selected him to represent the public on the War Labor Board.

In 1944 Morse ousted Republican incumbent Rufus Holman in the Oregon primary for the United States Senate and defeated Democrat Edgar Smith in the general election. He quickly exhibited liberalism, independence, outspokenness, and courage, antagonizing Republican leaders. Morse served on the Senate Labor Committee, supported trade unionism, opposed the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, and backed the containment policies of President Harry Truman, designed to prevent the spread of Communism.

Morse was reelected to the Senate in 1950 as a Republican, but he clashed with party leaders on economic issues and broke with the 1952 Republican presidential candidate Dwight D. Eisenhower for his conciliatory policies towards conservative Republicans. When the Senate convened in January 1953, Morse became an Independent. He carried a folding chair into the Senate chamber and placed it in the aisle between the two parties. The Republican leadership stripped him of his Labor Committee position. Morse opposed Eisenhower's policy of promoting private ownership of tidelands oil and private development of dams by electric power companies. On 24–25 April 1953 Morse engaged in a record twenty-two-hour, twenty-six-minute filibuster against the tidelands oil legislation. The previous Senate filibuster record had been held by Morse's mentor, LaFollette.

Morse in 1954 aligned with the Democrats, who regained control of the Senate and appointed him to the Foreign Relations Committee. He was elected to the Senate in 1956 as a Democrat and fought with Eisenhower over civil rights, the promotion of private ownership of the public domain, and foreign policy issues. Morse backed civil rights legislation, increased price-support payments for farmers, and federal aid to education.

Morse in 1961 became chairman of the Subcommittee on Education. He supported the New Frontier programs of President John F. Kennedy and the Great Society programs of President Lyndon B. Johnson. Morse voted for the War on Poverty, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, federal aid to elementary and secondary education, Medicare and Medicaid, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Johnson appointed Morse to two emergency labor boards, but Morse angered the labor unions involved in both cases, causing them to oppose his reelection in 1968.

Morse concentrated increasingly on foreign policy issues. He traveled to most Latin American countries and supported the Alliance for Progress, a massive economic aid program for Latin America, but his opposition to the Vietnam War cemented his place in political history. Morse disapproved of increasing the American role in Vietnam as early as 1961, but he became a more vocal critic after Johnson expanded American involvement there. In 1964 North Vietnamese torpedo boats attacked American destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin. At Johnson's request the Senate passed a joint resolution authorizing him to take all necessary steps, including the use of armed force, against aggression in Southeast Asia. Morse and Ernest Gruening of Alaska were the only two dissenting senators.

Morse voted against every measure, including appropriations, that would keep American troops in Vietnam. Besides harassing public officials who would not release information, Morse spoke against the Vietnam War in the Senate and across the nation. He argued that American intervention violated international law, described the conflict largely as a Vietnamese civil war, stressed mounting American casualties, and denied that the war was winnable.

Morse's stance on Vietnam hindered his quest for reelection to a fifth Senate term in 1968. He fervently supported Eugene McCarthy when the Minnesota Democrat sought the presidency on an antiwar platform in 1968. Morse lost his reelection bid by just over 3,000 votes to Republican Robert Packwood. His controversial decisions on the emergency labor relations boards contributed to his defeat.

Morse retired to his twenty-nine-acre farm in Eugene, Oregon, to raise saddle horses and cattle. He sought to regain his Senate seat, but lost to Republican Mark Hatfield in 1972. Morse tried again in 1974, winning the May primary and preparing to campaign against the incumbent Packwood. He died in Eugene after developing a urinary infection that led to blood poisoning and kidney failure. He is buried in the Rest Haven Memorial Park in Eugene.

The extraordinarily hardworking Morse influenced the Senate as the consummate outsider. The independent maverick crossed political lines to vote his conscience. Unfazed by criticism, Morse was guided by unequivocal conscience and integrity, and he spoke his mind and pursued his goals with relentless, self-righteous conviction. His colorful, often provocative rhetoric upbraided his opposition without regard to party membership. Morse, a legal and legislative scholar, championed untamed, fiery liberalism; fought for civil rights, civil liberties, and trade unionism; and opposed special interest groups seeking to limit the public domain.

Morse's stormy relations with fellow senators and presidents Truman, Eisenhower, and Johnson earned him the nicknames the "Lone Ranger" and the "Tiger of the Senate." Senators admired his profound intellect and feared the whiplash of his scorn. He infuriated his colleagues with brash, bold speeches, yet managed to educate the public with his liberal views. As a debater, Morse exhibited shrewdness, agility, and enormous energy. He searched for truth at the expense of his personal popularity.

Morse's papers are located at the University of Oregon, Eugene. Lee Wilkins, Wayne Morse: A Bio-Bibliography (1985), summarizes Morse's life and works by and about him. Works on Morse and his political career include A. Robert Smith, Tiger in the Senate: The Biography of Wayne Morse (1962); Harrison E. Spangler, The Record of Wayne Morse (1962); and Edward N. Fadeley, Wayne Morse Remembered (1974). Obituaries are in the New York Times (23 July 1974), the Washington Post (27 July 1974), and Time and Newsweek (both 5 Aug. 1974).

David L. Porter

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