Ervin, Samuel J. (1896–1985)

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ERVIN, SAMUEL J. (1896–1985)

A conservative Democrat who graduated from Harvard Law School in 1922, Samuel J. Ervin described himself as an "ol' country lawyer" from North Carolina, his native state. In 1954 he left that state's supreme court to enter the United States senate. During his two decades as a senator, he supported business against labor and opposed civil rights legislation, equal rights for women, voting by eighteen-year-olds, and federal encroachments on states ' rights. He also became a strict separationist on church–state issues, and he opposed intrusive searches, computer invasions of privacy, preventive detention, and any other measures he deemed subversive of the Constitution. By 1973 he was respected as the Senate's expert on the Constitution. Central casting destined him to be chairman that year of the Senate's Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities—the watergate committee. As chairman, he was a relentless but fair interrogator who expressed outrage when witnesses equivocated or lied. The televised hearings made him a national celebrity as the watchdog of the Constitution who preached the constitutional responsibilities of those entrusted with public office. Ervin projected a grandfatherly image of a judicious moralist, the very model of integrity when models were in short supply. The public adored "Senator Sam," and he adored the Constitution.

Leonard W. Levy


Ervin, Samuel J., Jr. 1980 The Whole Truth: The Watergate Conspiracy. New York: Random House.