John Little McClellan

views updated May 23 2018

John Little McClellan

John Little McClellan (1896-1977) served for 35 years as a U.S. senator from Arkansas. He was one of the old-time Southern senators, born at the turn of the century, who opposed all civil rights legislation and rose to power because of seniority.

John Little McClellan was born on a farm in southcentral Arkansas near Sheridan on February 25, 1896, the son of Issac Scott and Belle (Suddeth) McClellan. His mother died while he was a youth. Educated in the local schools, he graduated from the Sheridan High School. At age 12 he began five years of legal studies in his father's office and under a special Arkansas statute was admitted to the bar at age 17. He practiced law in Sheridan until he joined the army during World War I and rose to the rank of first lieutenant in the aviation section of the Signal Corps.

After the war he settled in Malvern, Arkansas, where he served as city attorney from 1920 to 1926, when he was elected prosecuting attorney for Hot Spring County. Active in local Democratic politics, he sought and won election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1934 and again in 1936. Generally supporting the New Deal legislative program of Franklin D. Roosevelt when not inimical to Arkansas interests, he began his life long opposition to civil rights legislation when he voted against the anti-lynching bill. He also commenced his long term interest in flood control and soil reclamation.

In 1938 he abandoned his House seat and was one of three Democratic Senate candidates in the primaries seeking the seat held by Sen. Hattie Caraway, who eventually won renomination. Following his defeat McClellan resettled in Camden and helped form the law firm of Gaughan, McClellan and Gaughan. In 1942 he entered the Senate primary among a field of several candidates and won the nomination by 50,000 votes in a runoff election which assured his seat in the U.S. Senate. In January 1943 his initial committee assignments included banking and currency, expenditures in executive departments, manufactures, and post offices and post roads; in 1945 he joined the commerce and naval affairs committees.

During his first two terms in the Senate McClellan generally supported wartime legislation—except for the soldier's vote bill, which he opposed because it failed to require state registration or payment of state poll tax. Agricultural and slightly left of center liberal legislation received his approval. He similarly endorsed the move towards international cooperation by voting for the Connally Resolution favoring an international peace-keeping organization. He supported the Bretton Woods Agreements, the United Nations Charter, and extension of the lend-lease program; he joined those in the Senate, however, who opposed the British loan following the war. Thus his stance was that of a moderate in both domestic legislation and international cooperation.

When the Republicans gained control of the Senate in 1947, McClellan's committee assignments were reduced under the terms of the legislative reorganization plan which he had voted against in 1946. Except for unsuccessfully proposing amendments—such as one which would have prevented giving any aid to countries under Russian domination—McClellan went along with the bipartisan foreign policy of 1947-1948, which included aid to Greece and Turkey, the Marshall Plan, and the Vandenberg Resolution which led to the negotiation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

By the time of the 1948 elections, however, McClellan had become so disenchanted with the liberal program of the Harry S. Truman administration and by the civil rights plank of the Democratic Party that he declared himself an Independent Democrat and handily won reelection to the Senate. When the Democrats regained control of the Senate in 1949, McClellan became chairman of the expenditures of the executive departments committee, where he helped expedite the recommendations of the Hoover Commission on government reorganization, on which he had served as a member. He was also assigned to the public works committee, reflecting his expertise on flood control, and, most important, he joined the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, where he consistently supported measures designed to cut federal expenditures.

In 1953 McClellan came to national attention when he led a boycott by Democratic Senate members of the permanent investigations subcommittee chaired by Wisconsin's Joseph R. McCarthy, whom McClellan charged with dictatorial one-man control of the committee. McClellan became chairman of the committee in 1955 and began a decade of highly visible committee hearings which drew much attention. Under McClellan the committee conducted investigations of organized crime, labor union racketeering, student revolts, urban riots, the TFX aircraft, and service clubs located abroad. During these highly publicized hearings, McClellan exhibited a stern, judge-like manner. These investigations led to the imprisonment of Dave Beck and James R. Hoffa of the Teamsters Union. Another witness was Joseph Valachi, who thrilled the public with an insider's account of the Mafia.

A quiet unassuming senator widely respected by his colleagues, McClellan's personal life was marked by tragedy. His first marriage ended in divorce, his second wife died, and he married a third time. He lost two of his five children. He was active in bar association activities and as a life-long member of the Baptist Church.

In 1973 McClellan became chairman of the influential Senate Appropriations Committee, but his greatest contribution was in working on the Judiciary Committee, where he and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy completely overhauled the federal criminal code, which Attorney General Griffin Bell and others praised. After 35 years in the upper chamber, on November 27, 1977, a week after he had announced that at age 81 he would retire, McClellan died of cancer in Little Rock.

Further Reading

McClellan is listed in Political Profiles for Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, and Carter, whose biographies also provide much valuable information. McClellan's speeches are in the Congressional Record, and articles about him are cited in the New York Times Index and the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature. There is no adequate biography of McClellan, but essential background information can be found in Arthur S. Link and William B. Catton, American Epoch (1980) and Lawrence S. Wittner, Cold War America (1974). McClellan is listed in the Biographical Directory of Congress. His obituary appeared in the New York Times.

McClellan, John Little

views updated May 23 2018


John Little McClellan served as a U.S. senator from 1942 to 1977. During the 1950s, McClellan rose to national prominence for his opposition to the methods used by Senator joseph r. mccarthy in investigating alleged Communist subversion. McClellan succeeded McCarthy as chair of the investigating subcommittee and conducted probes of union corruption, graft, and organized crime between 1955 and 1973.

McClellan was born on February 25, 1896, in Sheridan, Arkansas. He was admitted to the Arkansas bar in 1913 and served a tour of military duty in world war i. He maintained a private law practice in Arkansas before becoming a prosecuting attorney in 1927. McClellan left the post in 1930 to resume private practice, but abandoned law for democratic party politics in 1935, when he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. In 1942 he began a career in the U.S. Senate that would span thirty-five years.

"Mounting crime and corruption are insidiously gnawing at the vitality and strength of our republic."
—John Mcclellan

McClellan was largely unknown outside of Arkansas until the 1950s. In 1953, he was named to the special investigating subcommittee headed by Republican Senator Joseph R. McCarthy of Wisconsin. McCarthy had become a national figure for his controversial charges of Communist subversion in the state department and other divisions of the federal government. McCarthy was a master of the media, attracting front-page coverage for his allegations. However, his use of the investigating committee angered McClellan, who objected to McCarthy's unsubstantiated accusations and to his brow-beating of witnesses.

In 1954, following a contentious, thirty-six day televised hearing dealing with the Army's alleged concealment of foreign espionage, McCarthy's popularity declined. McClellan served on a committee that investigated McCarthy's actions during these hearings. The committee concluded McCarthy should be censured by the Senate for his abusive methods and for his "contemptuous" conduct toward a subcommittee that had investigated his finances in 1952. McClellan and an overwhelming majority of his colleagues censured McCarthy on these charges.

After the Democrats regained control of the Senate in the November 1954 elections, McClellan replaced McCarthy as chair of the investigating committee. In 1957 he drew national attention as chair of the Senate Select Committee on Improper Activities in the Labor or Management Field. As presiding officer, he directed investigations of several powerful labor unions. He forcefully questioned the leadership of the Teamsters Union, including Dave Beck and James (Jimmy) Hoffa. The McClellan Committee's investigation revealed that the Teamsters Union and other groups had taken union funds for private use and that there were clear links between the Teamsters and organized crime. One result of the probe was the expulsion of the Teamsters and two other unions from the american federation of labor and congress of industrial organizations (AFL-CIO).

The corruption uncovered by McClellan's committee also led to the passage of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959, commonly known as the landrum-griffin act (29 U.S.C.A. § 401 et seq.). This act sought to prevent union corruption and to guarantee union members that unions would be run democratically.

In 1961 McClellan investigated the fraudulent agricultural dealings of Texas businessman Billy Sol Estes. In 1963 McClellan was involved with the investigation of organized crime. During the hearings, Joseph Valachi, a member of an organized crime family, gave graphic testimony of its inner workings. McClellan continued to organize investigations as part of the Permanent Investigations Subcommittee until 1973, when he became head of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

McClellan died on November 27, 1977 in Little Rock, Arkansas.

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