Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Andrew Johnson: The First Test of Presidential Impeachment

The first suggestions that Andrew Johnson should be impeached were raised less than a week into his term as Vice President. On the morning of March 4, 1865, when he was to be sworn into office alongside President Abraham Lincoln, Johnson was suffering from typhoid fever. Meeting his his predecessor, Hannibal Hamlin, he drank a few whiskeys to try to combat the illness.

He apparently had a few too many. By the time Johnson was to give a brief address to the Senate, he was considerably drunk. Slurring his words, he delivered a rambling, incoherent, and overlong address boasting about his humble beginnings and his ultimate triumph over the Southern aristocrats who had looked down on him. At one point, Hamlin even pulled on Johnson's coattails in a futile effort to make him stop talking. After he finally wrapped up the address and took the oath of office, Johnson became so confused with his duty of swearing in the new senators that he turned the task over to a clerk.

The spectacle was all the more embarrassing because it came shortly before Lincoln's stately second inaugural address, which has endured as one of the great speeches of the Civil War. Senators were horrified by Johnson's performance; Senator Zachariah Chandler, a Republican from Michigan, recorded in his diary, "I was never so mortified in my life, had I been able to find a hole I would have dropped through it out of sight." Johnson was ridiculed in the press, with one article labeling him a "drunken clown."

Although Johnson showed no other signs of alcoholism beyond this public display, the speech led to rumors that he was a dipsomaniac. These gained further traction when Johnson, still suffering from typhoid fever, left the Senate for a few days. When he returned on March 11, there were suggestions that he had gone on a chaotic drinking spree. Some Republicans drafted a resolution calling for him to resign, and there was talk of impeachment as a way to remove him from the second highest office in the land.

Lincoln urged his colleagues to be calm, saying his Vice President was still getting accustomed to the job. "It has been a severe lesson for Andy, but I do not think he will do it again," he said.

Just a month later, Lincoln's reassurance would be put to the test as Johnson became President of the United States. Unfortunately, a rift between Johnson and the liberal wing of the Republican Party would quickly deepen, culminating in the first impeachment trial to affect a President of the United States.

Early life

Johnson was born in Raleigh, North Carolina, on December 29, 1808. His father died when he was three years old, and seven years later he was apprenticed to a tailor named James Selby. After working for Selby for five years, Johnson abruptly abandoned the apprenticeship after a neighbor threatened to sue him and his brother, William, for throwing pieces of wood at her house.

Running away to South Carolina, Johnson worked for another tailor for two years. Here he fell in love with a girl and asked her to marry him, but her family objected to the pairing. Dejected, Johnson returned to Raleigh and asked Selby to take him back in. Although Selby had posted notices offering a reward for Johnson's return, he now refused the young man's request.

A notice posted by Selby seeking the return of Andrew Johnson and his brother (Source)

Johnson subsequently moved to Greenville, Tennessee, with his mother and stepmother. Assisted by his wife Eliza, whom he married in 1827, he began a self-education effort. He had also learned enough about the tailoring business to start his own business.

Before long, Johnson had entered politics. He was elected a town alderman in 1829, and as mayor of Greenville in 1834. He joined the state militia around the same time, winning the nickname of "Colonel Johnson" after achieving this rank. Johnson served in the Tennessee house of representatives from 1835 to 1837 and again from 1839 to 1841, when he was elected to the state senate. During his political career, he helped write a new state constitution that eliminated the property-owning requirement to vote or hold office.

Running as a Democrat in 1842, Johnson was elected to the first of five terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. In this chamber, he came out against a number of spending initiatives including increases to soldiers' pay, accepting funds to start the Smithsonian Institution, infrastructure projects in the nation's capital, and funding to aid the victims and families of a cannon explosion on the USS Princeton that had killed eight people, including two Cabinet officials. Johnson was also opposed to plantation rule and protective tariffs. However, he did express support for the public funding of education.

These stances hint at Johnson's deep-seated hatred for the wealthy elite. He despised any organizations or people he saw as aristocratic, including military academies and future Confederate president Jefferson Davis, whom he said was part of the "illegitimate, swaggering, bastard, scrub aristocracy."

A depiction of Andrew Johnson in 1842, the year he was first elected to the House of Representatives (Source)

Some racist remarks are attributed to Johnson around this time. In 1844, he tacitly supported slavery by declaring that a black man was "inferior to the white man in point of intellect, better calculated in physical structure to undergo drudgery and hardship." His business was also successful enough that he bought a few slaves of his own. He proclaimed himself to be equally critical of both abolitionist and the most virulent pro-slavery plantation owners, saying both were driving the country toward war instead of reconciliation.

When it looked like a gerrymandering effort would threaten his seat in the House, Johnson ran for governor of Tennessee and was elected in 1852. His signature accomplishment during his time in office was the establishment of the first state law supporting public education through taxation. Although he won re-election against Know-Nothing candidate Meredith P. Gentry in 1856, he soon left the governor's office when the state legislature named him to the U.S. Senate.

During his time in the state house of representatives, Johnson had proposed a homestead bill to help Tennessee's poor residents acquire land to cultivate. He made a similar proposal in the Senate, advocating a bill to provide 160-acre plots. Although this bill passed in 1860, it was vetoed by President James Buchanan. Johnson would persist, pushing through the homestead bill in 1862.

Civil War

The long simmering tensions between the North and South finally came to a head in the election of 1860. Fearing that Lincoln would destroy the slave-based economy of the Southern states, many political figures below the Mason-Dixon Line threatened that secession would follow if the Republican candidate was elected President. Johnson sought to strike a balance, throwing his support behind Southern Democratic candidate John C. Breckinridge. He also opposed secession and urged Tennessee to remain in the Union if Lincoln came to office.

Breckinridge swept the Southern states, but came far short of Lincoln's electoral total. As calls for secession increased, Johnson continued to advocate for unity. On December 18, just two days before South Carolina became the first state to break away, Johnson pleaded, "Let us exclaim that the Union, the Federal Union, must be preserved!"

The attack on Fort Sumter prompted more states to secede. Johnson traveled throughout Tennessee, making public appearances urging the state to remain loyal to the Union. It was a risky move; despite Johnson's status as an elected official, his stance on secession had become quite unpopular. Across the state, he was burned and shot in effigy. In one instance, Johnson's train was stopped by an angry mob out to lynch the senator; he was reportedly saved only at the intervention of Jefferson Davis. At one appearance, he responded to an angry and hostile crowd by calmly taking a pistol out of his pocket, placing it on the pulpit where it could be quickly taken up at the first sign of trouble, and continuing his address.

Johnson's efforts were for naught. Tennessee voted to secede on June 8, 1861, becoming the last state to leave the Union. Although elected officials typically withdrew from Congress after the secession of their state, Johnson was the only senator from the South to keep his seat. This show of support for the Union made him a popular figure in the North, but he was forced to live in Washington, D.C., to avoid being arrested in Tennessee. Although Eliza continued to live in Greeneville for a time, she too eventually moved to the nation's capital.

The exile was fairly short-lived. After Union troops captured Nashville on March 4, 1862, Lincoln named Johnson to be the state's military governor and awarded him the rank of brigadier general. Resigning from the Senate to take on this duty, Johnson returned to Tennessee to find that the Confederacy had branded him an "enemy alien," subsequently confiscating and selling his property.

Johnson was faced with considerable challenges in his role as military governor of Tennessee. He seized the Bank of Tennessee and records left behind by the fleeing Confederate government, reorganized the Nashville city government, and silenced secessionist newspapers. The Confederacy continued to hold portions of the state and made frequent raids into Union-held territory. In 1863, he was embarrassed when a civil election named a conservative pro-slavery candidate to succeed him. On Lincoln's orders, Johnson ignored the result. He also issued a requirement that Tennessee residents needed to take a loyalty oath to the Union in order to vote, and even then would have to wait six months before casting a ballot.

While governor, Johnson showed more sympathy to the idea of emancipating slaves. But he considered this to be more of a military measure, one which would help end the war by taking valuable resources from the aristocratic plantation owners who had encouraged the war. "Treason must be made odious and traitors punished," he declared at one point. At Lincoln's urging, he worked to incorporate black soldiers into Tennessee regiments to defend against Confederate raids, although these troops never received enough arms or support to become a reliable force.

With the presidential election of 1864 looking to be a particularly close one, the Republicans chose Johnson as a compromise candidate for Vice President to replace Hannibal Hamlin. During the campaign, Johnson also continued to show some resentment for the aristocrats. At one stop in Logansport, Indiana, he noted how his Democratic opponents had laughed him off as a "boorish tailor." Johnson said he took it as a compliment, since it showed how he had risen from humble roots to a successful political career. He held the principle that "if a man does not disgrace his profession, it never disgraces him." In one address, he cited certain plantation owners by name and suggested that the nation would be improved if their land was broken up into smaller plots worked by "loyal, industrious farmers."

Johnson also demonstrated more support for the idea of ending slavery. "Before the rebellion, I was for sustaining the Government with slavery; now I am for sustaining the government without slavery, without regard to a particular institution," he declared in an address at Louisville, Kentucky on October 13, 1864. "Institutions must be subordinate, and the Government must be supreme." In same address, says he supports "the elevation of each and every man, white and black, according to his talent and industry."

Eleven days later, Johnson emancipated Tennessee's slaves. This action, again taken at Lincoln's urging, was essentially a voluntary one; since Tennessee had come under control of the Union at the time the Emancipation Proclamation had been issued, it was not considered to be in rebellion and its slaves had not been freed by the order. Johnson seemed particularly happy with emancipaction; on the same day he approved the action, he told a black audience in Nashville, "I will indeed be your Moses, and lead you through the Red Sea of war and bondage to a fairer future of liberty and peace."

Johnson even wanted to delay his inauguration until April so he could oversee the emancipation process in Tennessee, but Lincoln insisted that he be sworn in on schedule. Historians have noted that it was fortunate that Johnson agreed to take office when he did. If the office of Vice President was vacant at the time Lincoln was assassinated, the presidential succession may have been thrown into limbo.

Accession to President

On the evening of April 14, 1865, Johnson was woken and informed that Lincoln had been shot. The President lingered through the night before passing away the next morning. After scarcely a month as Vice President, Johnson was given the oath of office by Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase and became the 17th President of the United States.

An illustration showing Johnson being sworn in as President (Source)

It soon emerged that John Wilkes Booth, Lincoln's assassin, was one of several conspirators aiming to kill a number of high-ranking Union officials in a coordinated assault. Johnson himself had been one of the targets; George Atzerodt had registered at his hotel and, after drinking plenty of alcohol, got cold feet and left without attempting to assassinate Johnson. Atzerodt was arrested soon after, and was one of four conspirators hanged for their role in the plot.

Shortly before his attack on Lincoln, Booth learned of Atzerodt's failure and made a last-ditch effort to frame Johnson as being part of the plot. He left a card for the Vice President with the message, "Don't wish to disturb you. Are you still at home? J. Wilkes Booth." However, this card was instead picked up by Johnson's secretary, who had met Booth after one of his performances and mistakenly thought the card was for him.

Although the process of the disbanding and surrender of Rebel armies was ongoing at the time of Lincoln's death, the Confederacy had essentially ceased to exist. Robert E. Lee had surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia five days before Lincoln was shot, and Jefferson Davis would be captured by Union troops about a month later. Johnson was enraged by the conspirators' attack on the Union government, and for a time seemed bent on revenge. He considered pursuing treason charges against the former Confederate military and political leaders, and was only dissuaded at the urging of Ulysses S. Grant.

This pugnacious attitude helped convince the Radical Republicans that Johnson would be a helpful ally in the postwar Reconstruction era. This political faction would be defined by their pursuit of full emancipation and civil rights for ex-slaves. They had been somewhat disappointed by Lincoln's support of gentler forms of repatriation and occasional hindrance of larger reforms. For example, he opted not to sign the Wade-Davis Bill to enforce Reconstruction efforts with federal troops and readmit Southern states only after they agreed to protect the rights of freedmen; instead, he killed the 1864 legislation with a pocket veto.

Senator Ben Wade, a Radical Republican from Ohio and a co-sponsor of the Wade-Davis Bill, declared to the new President, "Johnson, we have faith in you. By the gods, there will be no trouble now in running this government." Such feelings would be short-lived.

Falling out with the Radicals

On May 29, 1865, Johnson issued two proclamations outlining his plans for Reconstruction. The first issued a pardon and a promise of amnesty for any ex-Confederates who were willing to take an oath of loyalty to the Union and pledge to support the emancipation of slaves in the South. He also named William W. Holden as the provisional governor of North Carolina and directed him to amend the state constitution. Similar proclamations were made for other Confederate states, but made no request for a change in voting rules. This meant that black men were still excluded from the ballot box.

In one area, Johnson seemed keen to levy some punishment on the former Confederates. The wealthiest landowners in the South, namely those with estates worth $20,000 or more, would be required to seek individual pardons. It seemed clear that Johnson was relishing the opportunity to have the high and mighty aristocrats groveling before him for forgiveness. Even with this condition, Johnson still agreed to return the land of most plantation owners who made an appeal and grant them a pardon.

Most notably, Johnson failed to intercede when the South made blatant efforts to return Confederate officials to power. The Confederate vice president, along with four generals and five colonels from the Confederate army, were all elected to Congress after the war. Johnson also took no actions when Southern governments began imposing stringent "black codes" to strip the civil rights of black citizens. These included vagrancy laws to have idle black residents arrested and put to work; in short, a de facto form of slavery.

There were signs that whatever support Johnson may have had for emancipation and equality had cooled. He told one group of African-Americans, "The time may soon come when you shall be gathered together in a clime and country suited to you, should it be found that the two races cannot get along together." His private secretary, William G. Moore, recorded that Johnson displayed a "morbid distress and feeling against negroes." In a December 1867 message to Congress, he would remark that "negroes have shown less capacity for government than any other race of people" and were more likely to "relapse into barbarism."

Some historians have suggested that Johnson was not trying to impede the progress of ex-slaves so much as he was trying to keep any Reconstruction efforts within the boundaries set by the Constitution. In his veto of the Civil Rights Act, he said it "contains provisions which I can not approve consistently with my sense of duty to the whole people and my obligations to the Constitution of the United States." When he vetoed a bill to extend the mission of the Freedmen's Bureau, which was assisting former slaves displaced in the wake of emancipation, Johnson reasoned that it was federal encroachment on a state issue and an improper use of the military during peacetime; he also argued that it would hinder ex-slaves from being able to sustain themselves, and said there were no similar provisions for poor white men who had been harmed by the war.

An 1866 political cartoon depicts Johnson using a veto to boot the Freedmen's Bureau (Source)

Johnson agreed with the Radical Republicans on some issues. In particular, he thought that some individual rebels should be punished and that new state governments established in the South should meet certain conditions before the states were formally reabsorbed into the Union. However, he also thought that some of the proposed Reconstruction programs would benefit landowners more than freedmen.

The Radical Republicans were less than pleased at Johnson's acquiescence to the status quo in the South. The former Confederate states were quick to return ex-Confederates to power, some before they had even received a pardon. The political faction was also appalled when, in the summer of 1865, Johnson ordered the Freedmen's Bureau to return abandoned plantation lands to their former owners. In several cases, these lands had already been divided up and distributed to former slaves. While Johnson had originally been welcomed as a leader who would deal firmly with the rebellious states, he was now praised among Southern Democrats as a President who would protect them against the Republican agenda and preserve white supremacy in the region.

At the end of the year, Johnson declared that the work of Reconstruction was complete. The Radical Republican resistance mobilized quickly. Led by Representative Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania, they refused to recognize members of Congress sent by states who had seceded from the Union. They also created a Joint Committee on Reconstruction, which began working on the Fourteenth Amendment to prevent Southern states from getting a numerical advantage in Congress by excluding black residents from the population count if they weren't allowed to vote.

In a President's Day message in 1866, Johnson complained that the committee was concentrating the government power accompanying Reconstruction into a tiny fringe group. He also said this approach would make the more moderate and conservative Republicans less likely to support his administration.

Radical Republicans passed the Civil Rights Bill of 1866 in the spring, targeting the black codes in the South and granting citizenship to anyone born in the United States. Johnson vetoed the legislation, saying it was "made to operate in favor of the colored and against the white race." In the first instance of Congress overriding a veto on a major piece of legislation, and by a margin of a single vote in the Senate, Congress overrode the veto to enact the bill. During his time in office, 15 of Johnson's 29 vetoes would be overturned, the most of any U.S. President. These bills included statehood for Nebraska and voting rights of black residents of Washington, D.C.

The most noticeable split between Johnson and the Radical Republicans occurred after he opposed ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment. Although he was distrusted by both Democrats and Republicans, the President tried to rally moderate members of both parties in a separate Union Party before the 1866 elections. During a "swing around the circle" campaign to rally support for this effort, he frequently traded insults with hecklers and made embarrassing statements; in one, he suggested that divine intervention had removed Lincoln from office so he could ascend to the White House. After this disastrous campaign, Republicans easily won majorities in both houses of Congress.

Once the new Congress was sworn in, they quickly passed the Reconstruction Act. This legislation divided the former Confederate states into five military districts and installed new governments to oversee the process of bringing the South back into the Union. Johnson vetoed the bill, but the Radical Republican majority easily overturned it.

Another bill passed over the President's veto was the Tenure of Office Act, which made it illegal for the President to dismiss any appointees who had been approved by the Senate without first getting Senate approval. This bill was essentially an effort to head off any effort Johnson might make to dismiss Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, a Lincoln appointee who was allied with the Radical Republicans, and replace him with someone who would guide the military element of Reconstruction in a way that was more in line with Johnson's views. Stanton had already undermined Johnson to some extent, telling Grant he could still continue to impose martial law in the South as needed even after Johnson declared the war officially over, raising the question of whether martial law was still legal. Stanton also vowed to stay in office, saying he considered Johnson to be a man "led by bad passions and the counsel of unscrupulous and dangerous men."

Dismissal of Stanton

Edwin Stanton (Source)

In January 1867, Republican Representative James Ashley of Ohio made the first formal move toward impeaching the President by proposing an inquiry into Johnson's official conduct. He made a number of allegations against Johnson, including suggestions that he had had a role in Lincoln's assassination and that he had sold pardons to former rebels, but offered no proof for these accusations. In June, the House Judiciary Committee voted 5-4 against approving any articles of impeachment.

However, the Republican attitudes toward Johnson soon hardened. During a congressional recess in August, Johnson took the opportunity to remove some of the more vigorous Reconstruction commanders from their posts. He also asked for Stanton to step down, declaring that "public considerations of a high character constrain me to say, that your resignation as Secretary of War will be accepted." Stanton shot back, "Public considerations of a high character, which alone have induced me to continue at the head of this department, constrain me not to resign." Johnson responded by suspending Stanton and appointing Grant as an interim war secretary in the hopes that he would be more aligned with his views.

In November 1867, the Judiciary Committee reversed itself and approved an impeachment resolution in a 5-4 vote. Representative John Churchill of New York said several matters in recent months had swayed him, including Johnson's statements denouncing Reconstruction efforts, his veto of a third Reconstruction bill, his dismissal of military officers overseeing Reconstruction, and his suspension of Stanton. The majority report made a number of criticisms of the President, saying his lenient attitude toward former rebels was helping to stoke violent incidents in the South, such as a race riot in New Orleans that killed scores of black men demanding the right to vote.

But the report was fairly general in its denunciations. Representative Thomas Williams, the Pennsylvania Republican who chaired the Judiciary Committee, said he did not think impeachment was possible under the circumstances of Johnson's alleged misdeeds as well as the constraints of the Constitution. Although 57 Republicans favored the impeachment resolution in a vote before the full House, 68 joined with 38 Democratic colleagues to oppose it. Another 22 congressmen did not vote on the measure.

On January 11, 1868, the Senate made a move to return Stanton to his post. In a 35-6 decision, they voted to restore him as Secretary of War. Grant did not protest the decision, and soon became embroiled in a battle with Johnson over the question of whether he had supported the President's effort to unseat Stanton. Grant charged that Johnson had sought his help in violating the Tenure of Office Act. This brought on another impeachment effort, led by Stevens, but the Committee on Reconstruction tabled this measure in a 6-3 vote.

Johnson was still itching to get Stanton out of his Cabinet. He offered to name the renowned Civil War general William T. Sherman as an interim War Secretary, but Sherman declined. On February 21, he settled on Adjutant General Lorenzo Thomas, an opponent of Stanton. Johnson issued one letter appointing Thomas as the interim Secretary of War and a second informing Stanton that he had been removed from office.

Instead of leaving, Stanton ordered Thomas arrested for illegally taking office. He quickly found support from the Republicans in Congress. A Senate resolution, passed in a 29-6 vote, stated that Johnson's action was beyond his power.

Once Thomas was released on bail, he too firmly held that he held the legal right to the office. For a time, the country essentially had two Secretaries of War. Many veterans and militiamen vowed to uphold the legitimacy of one man or the other, sparking fears that the squabble might lead to violence.

A political cartoon showing Stanton preparing to attack Johnson and Lorenzo Thomas, using a cannon labeled "Congress" and the Tenure of Office Act as a rammer. (Source)

The attempted removal of Stanton proved to be enough to get an impeachment effort off the ground. Some in Congress sided with Johnson, accusing the Radical Republicans of overstepping their authority and inflaming sectional divides, but the majority held that Johnson had been the one to exceed the power of his office. On February 24, the House of Representatives voted 126-47 to pursue impeachment. The confrontation with Stanton was the inciting issue, although Stevens suggested that Johnson had also bribed Grant by offering to pay any fine levied against him for violating the Tenure of Office Act by serving as Secretary of War.

There were some suggestions that impeachment was unnecessary. Johnson had no hope of capturing the GOP's presidential nomination, which Republicans expected would go to Grant, so the President had just over a year left in office. "Why hang a man who is bent on hanging himself?" Horace Greeley asked in the New York Tribune. For the Radical Republicans, however, a greater issue was at stake. Johnson could easily wreak havoc on the Reconstruction efforts in his final year in office; by removing him, they would remove that threat.


On March 2, the House of Representatives approved the first article of impeachment against Johnson. Two more articles were passed the next day. Ultimately, the House would seek to remove Johnson based on 11 offenses. It was the first time a President had been impeached. The Constitution states that impeachment can take place if an official is found guilty of "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors;" it would fall to the Senate to decide whether Johnson's behavior was enough to convict him on any of the charges and remove him from office.

Nine of the articles of impeachment were essentially different ways of accusing Johnson of violating the Tenure of Office Act. The tenth listed a number of inflammatory comments Johnson had made about Congress, charging that the remarks "brought the high office of the President of the United States into contempt, ridicule, and disgrace." The final article was a general summary of the charges against Johnson.

There were enough Republicans in the Senate to convict Johnson on any one of these articles of impeachment and remove him from office. But there was also a certain degree of reticence among the GOP senators. The office of Vice President had been vacant since Johnson was sworn in; as president pro tem of the Senate, Benjamin Wade would be next in line to be President if Johnson was removed. Some Republicans were less than enthusiastic about this possible accession, since they saw Wade as being too liberal on Reconstruction issues to prevail in the upcoming presidential election; others disagreed with Wade's economic policies, which included support for high tariffs.

Chief Justice Salmon Chase, who had sworn Johnson in just a few years earlier, would now oversee the impeachment trial in the Senate. Johnson did not attend personally, but spoke to the press on several occasions to offer remarks on the proceedings. Representative Benjamin Butler of Massachusetts, a former Civil War general, led the prosecution. Attorney General Henry Stanbery resigned to lead Johnson's defense team,which included three other lawyers who volunteered their services.

An illustration of an impeachment hearing for Johnson (Source)

Butler called 25 witnesses during the trial. The crux of his argument was that Johnson had acquiesced to the Tenure of Office Act by initially following it, but then knowingly violated it by removing Stanton from office. He also blamed Johnson for the unrest in the South, saying his lenient attitude toward former Confederates had emboldened white racists into making violent attacks on black residents and others.

However, Butler also made a number of missteps over the five days of presenting his case. One passage earned a good deal of criticism by telling the senators that they were "bound by no law, either statute or common," but were rather "a law unto yourselves, bound only by natural principles of equity and justice." The prospect of a trial to decide the fate of the President was so exciting that public admission to the galleries was by ticket only, but the testimony soon became tedious. One press account declared the fourth day of Butler's prosecution to be "intensely dull, stupid, and uninteresting."

An admission ticket to the impeachment trial for Johnson (Source)

Johnson's attorneys figured that the nine Democrats and three pro-Johnson Republicans in the Senate would vote for acquittal. In order to deprive the vote of the two-thirds majority necessary to convict Johnson, they would need to convince seven Republicans to vote against impeachment. The defense called 16 witnesses to support its case.

The defense focused on the validity of the Tenure of Office Act. Johnson's lawyers argued that the President had no obligation to retain Stanton since he wasn't Johnson's own appointee. Ben Curtis, a former Supreme Court justice and one of Johnson's defenders, pointed out how the bill initially didn't extend to Cabinet officers. The defense also suggested that Johnson may have simply misinterpreted the law, and that he had the right to test the constitutionality of the Tenure of Office Act and have the matter heard before the Supreme Court. Thomas, they reasoned, had simply been appointed to keep the War Department staffed in the interim. The defense also suggested that the impeachment effort against Johnson wasn't motivated by any serious "high crimes and misdemeanors," but rather by the rancorous relationship between the President and Congress.

In the midst of the proceedings, Johnson consulted with his supporters and decided to blunt the impeachment effort by naming a compromise candidate as War Secretary. On April 21, he offered the position to General John Schofield, a Civil War commander who had been helping to oversee the Reconstruction efforts. Another Johnson lawyer, William M. Evarts, promised that Johnson would cease his efforts to impede the Radical Republicans' policies on Reconstruction if he was acquitted.

The Senate took their first vote, on Article XI, on May 16. This was the catch-all summary of Johnson's misdeeds, and the tally was 35-19 in favor of conviction. It was one short of the two-thirds majority necessary to convict; the defense had been successful in swaying seven Republicans to their side. One GOP representative, James Grimes of Iowa, summed up his opposition by saying, "I cannot agree to destroy the harmonious workings of the Constitution for the sake of getting rid of an unacceptable President."

Ten days later, the Senate voted on the first and third articles of impeachment to see if any of the opposing Republicans had been swayed by the prosecution's arguments on the Tenure of Office Act. Both votes failed to convict Johnson in the same 35-19 split. As it appeared that the divide would not change on any of the remaining eight articles, no further votes were taken.

The narrow margin of the acquittal raised suspicions that bribery had been employed to convince just enough senators to vote against conviction. Butler set up an impromptu committee to investigate the matter, interviewing dozens of witnesses and confiscating correspondence and bank records. The committee seemed particularly interested in Edmund Ross, a moderate Republican who had cast the deciding vote against conviction, but the committee ultimately finished its work without presenting any evidence of bribery.

End of term and later life

Following Johnson's acquittal, Stanton stepped down so Schofield could continue working as an undisputed Secretary of War. Johnson continued to spar with the Radical Republicans, vetoing bills related to Reconstruction and earning condemnation for his failure to provide federal protection for black residents and white Unionists who were subject to violent attacks in the South.

Although Johnson harbored no expectations that the Republicans would support him as their presidential pick for the 1868 ticket, he did believe that the Democrats were likely to choose him. Instead, they selected Governor Horatio Seymour of New York. A disappointed Johnson endorsed to be his successor. Grant was chosen as the Republican nominee and easily won the election.

The Tenure of Office Act was sidelined during Grant's presidency, with Congress giving him the ability to fire Cabinet appointees and lower level officials without Senate approval. The act was repealed in 1887, during the presidency of Grover Cleveland. The Tenure of Office Act was referenced several decades later when the Supreme Court took up the case of Myers v. United States. In a 6-3 decision in 1926, the justices ruled that President Wilson had the authority to remove a postmaster from office without Senate approval and that the Tenure of Office Act had been unconstitutional.

Returning to Tennessee, Johnson was soon vying to return to politics. Running as a Democrat, he was an unsuccessful candidate for the Senate in 1869 and the House of Representatives in 1872. He was successful in his next bid for Senate, in January 1875, becoming the only President so far to return to serve in this chamber.

Lincoln's other Vice President, Hannibal Hamlin, was also a member of this Senate, along with several of the same people who had tried to oust him from the White House seven years earlier. After taking the oath of office, Johnson denied rumors that he would try to fulfill any sort of vendetta against these senators. "I have no enemies to punish nor friends to reward," he declared.

Johnson's time in the Senate was short-lived. He served only from the start of his term on March 5 to the end of a special session on March 24. On July 31, at the age of 66, he died of a stroke near Elizabethton, Tennessee.

Sources: The Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, The National Governors Association, "Andrew Johnson, 16th Vice President" at, Andrew Johnson National Historic Site (National Parks Service), "The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson" at, Impeached: The Trial of President Andrew Johnson by David O. Stewart, The Presidents of the United States by Frank Freidel and Hugh Sidey, The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson by Chester G. Hearn, Andrew Johnson by Kate Havelin, The American Presidency, edited by Alan Brinkley and Davis Dyer, Reconstruction: A Historical Encyclopedia of the American Mosaic edited by Richard Zuczek

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Buddy Cianci: Intimidation, Cronyism, and Renewal

Few could doubt that the mayor of Providence was deeply invested in the city. Vincent A. Cianci, Jr., nicknamed "Buddy," spearheaded several efforts to revitalize the city and turn it into an attractive metropolis. It wasn't hard for residents to see the mayor in person; he was a frequent guest at Providence Bruins hockey games, and could even be found chatting with spectators at Little League games.

But Cianci was a polarizing figure as well. Throughout his time in office, several people close to the mayor found themselves behind bars. Cianci himself had to cut one term short after brutally assaulting a man. Critics considered him little more than a glad-handing thug.

Judge Ernest C. Torres would reference the competing aspects of Cianci's character while sentencing him on corruption charges in 2002. Torres compared the mayor to Robert Louis Stevenson's famous story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

"The first Buddy Cianci is a skilled charismatic political figure, one of the most talented Rhode Island has ever seen, someone with wit who thinks quickly on his feet and can enthrall an audience," the judge said. "Then there's the Buddy Cianci who's portrayed here. That's the Buddy Cianci who was mayor of an administration that was corrupt at all levels."

Early life

Cianci's yearbook photo from the Moses Brown School (Source)

Born on April 30, 1941, Cianci had a comfortable upbringing as a proctologist's son in Cranston, Rhode Island. He attended the Moses Brown School, a preparatory school in Providence, where he joined the football and wrestling teams. He started his college education at St. Louis University, but after a semester he transferred to a school closer to home. He completed his undergraduate studies at Fairfield University in Connecticut, earning a degree in political science.

Cianci went on to earn a master's degree from Villanova University and a law degree from Marquette University. He was drafted into the military after law school and was set to deploy to Vietnam when his father passed away. Cianci was allowed to stay stateside, spending most of his three-year Army service at Fort Devens in Massachusetts.

After his discharge, Cianci returned to Rhode Island and opened a private practice. Before long, he was selected to serve as the chief prosecutor of an anti-corruption task force established by the state's attorney general in 1973 to go after organized crime.

Cianci would play a particularly effective part in bringing down Providence mob boss Raymond L.S. Patriarca. Another mobster, Rudolph Marfeo, had been gunned down in 1969 just one month after Patriarca was convicted of conspiracy in the murder of Marfeo's brother. Prosecutors suspected that Patriarca had been involved in the killing of the other sibling as well.

Raymond Patriarca (Source)

Patriarca had an alibi. He claimed that a Washington, D.C. priest had been visiting his company at the time of Marfeo's death. It seemed almost too good to be true: a man of the cloth who was ready to testify to the innocence of a criminal kingpin.

Cianci found a way to undercut the defense's case. Examining the parish records, he found that the official record showed the priest had not been in Rhode Island on the day of Marfeo's murder, but was actually attending a baptism in Virginia. Patriarca's alibi was shattered. He would be convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

The "anti-corruption candidate"

Cianci is sworn into office (Source)

Following his performance on the anti-corruption task force, Cianci parlayed his local fame into a mayoral run. Providence was a staunch Democratic stronghold, but a fortuitous division opened up during the election year of 1974. Lawrence P. McGarry, head of the city's Democratic committee, refused to endorse incumbent mayor Joseph A. Doorley, Jr., who had served in the role for 10 years.

Doorley forged on without the nomination, but the split with McGarry fractured a decades-old political machine in the city. Running as an "anti-corruption candidate" in the general election, Cianci won a stunning upset. As the Republican candidate, he edged out Doorley by 709 votes out of more than 52,000 ballots cast. He was the first Italian-American mayor to be elected mayor of Providence as well as the city's youngest mayor and the first Republican to hold the office in more than 30 years.

Many years later, Cianci admitted in his autobiography that he was inexperienced and completely unprepared for the job. "Maybe I didn't know precisely what I was doing, but I was confident I could save the city," he said.

The razor-thin victory in a strongly Democratic city in New England made Cianci something of a celebrity within the Republican party. He was able to get an audience with President Gerald Ford, and in 1976 he gave a brief speech at the Republican National Convention before introducing former Texas governor John Connally.

Buddy Cianci at the 1976 Republican National Convention (Source)

Cianci would dedicate much of his time in office to reimagining the former industrial city of Providence into a commercial and tourist center. More than $200 million would be invested in new commercial and office buildings during his term. During his first week as mayor, monkeys escaped from the city's decrepit Roger Williams Park Zoo. In 1976, he earmarked millions of dollars to improve the facility.

But while Cianci would earn a reputation as a tireless advocate for Providence, he also contemplated leaving office before he had served a full term as mayor. As the 1976 election approached, he contemplated challenging incumbent Senator John Chafee for the Republican nomination for the seat. He ultimately decided against it.

By the time Cianci was up for re-election in 1978, he was facing a number of challenges. There were accusations that he had been coercing the Providence Police Department to hire unqualified candidates. Earlier in the year, Police Chief Robert E. Ricci had shot himself in his office. Edward J. Collins, a police captain who would later unsuccessfully run for mayor, blamed Cianci for the suicide.

It was an open secret that Cianci rewarded his supporters with city jobs. James Diamond, a mayoral aide, recalled that Cianci asked him to set up a computer database of every Providence resident in 1975. He figured the technology could be useful in assessing their loyalties and determining where to mete out rewards or punishments. Diamond never carried out this request.

The city had also fared poorly during the Blizzard of 1978, which had dumped more than 30 inches of snow on Providence. When the public works department tried to respond to the storm, few of its snowplows were in working condition; those that worked weren't even able to break out of the department's parking lot. A contingent of Seabees from North Kingstown eventually had to open up the streets, long after other communities in New England had managed to dig themselves out. Critics charged that Cianci's patronage system had left the public works department woefully mismanaged during the crisis.

Vehicles abandoned on Providence highway after the Blizzard of 1978 (Source)

Perhaps most damaging of all was a cover story run by New Times magazine in 1978. In the article, a woman accused Cianci of raping her at gunpoint in 1966 while he was a student at Marquette. She said she withdrew her criminal complaint in exchange for a $3,000 payment from Cianci so she wouldn't sue. Sources at the River Falls Police Department in Wisconsin told New Times that Cianci had flunked a lie detector test three times while the woman had passed.

Denouncing the story as an "ugly character assassination," Cianci pressed a $72 million libel lawsuit against the magazine. In legal filings, he admitted that he had slept with the woman, that there was a gun in the house at the time, and that he paid her $3,000 after she dropped her complaint. It was enough for the court to dismiss the matter, but Cianci pressed an appeal. The case was settled out of court for $8,500 and an official letter of apology from New Times, which conceded that both the district attorney and Cianci's lawyer in the matter concluded that no crime had occurred.

Despite these scandals, Cianci won a second term when he defeated Democratic candidate Frank Darigan with 56 percent of the vote. But his administration was soon tarnished by new revelations of corruption. Prosecutors charged 30 city workers and contractors with criminal activity, namely conspiracy and fraud; 22 would be convicted. Cianci denied any knowledge of this misconduct and was never charged.

Cianci celebrates his 1978 win with his wife, Sheila (Source)

Cianci pondered whether to put his name into consideration as a vice presidential candidate for the 1980 election. He met with Ford as well as Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan, but ultimately decided to turn his sights to a local race.

In the Rhode Island gubernatorial election for 1980, Cianci challenged Governor Joseph Garrahy, the Democratic incumbent who was completing his first term. The mayor won the Republican nomination, but performed disastrously in the statewide race. Under heavy criticism for his handling of Providence's finances, Cianci mustered barely a quarter of the total vote. Worse, he didn't even win a majority of votes in any of the wards in Providence, let along in any other city or town in Rhode Island.

Other developments seemed to signal Cianci's inevitable defeat for re-election in 1982, if he even decided to enter the race. In March 1981, the mayor made the unpopular proposal to raise property taxes by 20 percent to avoid bankruptcy. Outraged residents called for his resignation, and the city council began considering whether an ordinance should be drafted to allow voters to remove elected officials from office.

Poor fiscal management in the Cianci administration had helped bring the city to the brink of insolvency in the first place. Opponents charged that the mayor had avoided more manageable tax increases in previous years for political reasons, had only hired a financial director after leaving the post vacant for three years, and had hired four times as many summer recreational workers as he had been authorized to do. While Cianci managed to put $100 million in state and federal funds toward revitalizing the city in his first two terms, these funds were facing cutbacks. The city also had to deal with the challenges of inflation and a declining population.

Things only got worst in July 1981, when municipal workers went on a 16-day strike in response to cutbacks in overtime pay and other austerity measures. The protest earned the nickname "The Great Garbage Strike" for its most pungent feature: heaps of uncollected trash ripening in the summer heat. Cianci responded by firing the striking garbagemen and hiring private crews to collect the refuse.

Tensions were high enough that these workers feared that the union men would use tractor-trailers to ram their garbage trucks. Shotgun-wielding police officers accompanied the private workers on their runs, which were conducted at night in an effort to avoid confrontation. The tactic was successful in stemming violence, aside from one angry union garbageman who smashed into one of the city trucks with his own pickup. At the end of the strike, the union won some concessions but trash collection remained privatized.

Cianci speaks with a police officer accompanying private garbage collectors during a strike of municipal workers in 1981 (Source)

A widespread effort to repave streets and sidewalks throughout Providence in the summer and fall played a significant part in Cianci's re-election in 1982. There were accusations that the work was a blatant political gesture, and that the public works department would have done the upgrades sooner if it hadn't become a den of corruption and mismanagement. But voters may well have been reassured by the improvements.

A three-way race also helped tilt the odds in Cianci's favor. Running as an independent, he faced off against Darigan and Republican candidate Frederick Lippitt. He again squeaked through to victory, defeating Darigan by 1,074 votes out of approximately 55,000 cast to win a third term.

Assault on Raymond DeLeo

While he was a gregarious character in public, Cianci could be appallingly vindictive in private. One restaurant owner recalled that the mayor was enraged when a new bouncer at the venue insisted that he pay a $2 cover charge. Cianci retaliated by having the fire department shut down the eatery. The restauranteur said Cianci threatened, "You don't want to get into a pissing match with me, because you're a cup of water and I'm Niagara Falls."

In his autobiography, Cianci himself gleefully recalls a hair-raising if dubious act of thuggery. He suspected that Ronald H. Glantz, his chief of staff, had leaked information to Garrahy to sabotage his gubernatorial campaign. During a helicopter trip to an event where Cianci was scheduled to speak, he claimed to have seized the controls and forced the aircraft into a dive. As the chopper plummeted toward the ground, he angrily demanded that Glantz admit to the betrayal and didn't relent until his chief of staff did so.

Cianci's short-tempered side became clear with a violent incident in the spring of 1983. At this point, the mayor was estranged from his wife Sheila; the couple would later be divorced. Cianci became convinced that she was having an affair with a local contractor, Raymond DeLeo. On the evening of March 20, he asked DeLeo to meet him at his rented carriage house.

Raymond DeLeo (Source)

When DeLeo arrived at the mayor's home, it proved to be the start of a three-hour ordeal. He said the mayor kept him against his will and periodically assaulted him. DeLeo said that Cianci slapped him, struck him with a fireplace log, and burned him with a lighted cigarette after trying to put it out in his eye.

Several other men were present during these acts of violence, including James K. Hassett, a Providence patrolman who served as Cianci's driver; William McGair, Cianci's attorney; and Joseph DiSanto, the city's public works director. McGair eventually became perturbed by the mayor's behavior and called Herbert DiSimone, a former Rhode Island attorney general and friend of Cianci's. But the abuse continued even after DiSimone arrived and tried to talk some sense into Cianci. He reportedly threw an ashtray at DeLeo and threatened to kill the contractor or destroy his business unless he not only signed an affidavit confessing to an affair with Sheila, but also agreed to cut Cianci a check for $500,000. DiSimone eventually persuaded Cianci to let DeLeo go.

DeLeo reported the incident to the police, and his complaint became public on April 25. About a month later, on May 24, Cianci was indicted on two charges of extortion and one each of kidnapping, conspiracy to kidnap, assault with a deadly weapon, and assault and battery. One of the extortion charges accused the mayor of threatening Lenore Siegel Sternberg, a Florida resident, to get her to make a statement about the relationship between Sheila and DeLeo. Hassett was charged with kidnapping and conspiracy to kidnapping.

Cianci quickly sought to downplay the severity of the incident. He admitted that he may have made some intimidating gestures, but that he never actually harmed DeLeo. He may have picked up a log and thrown it angrily into the fireplace, he said, but he hadn't used it to strike the contractor. Cianci claimed that DeLeo had always been free to leave his home anytime he wished.

The mayor also griped that the incident was a "domestic matter" that never should have been brought before a grand jury. "Anyone can accuse if they've got something to hide or gain from it," he said. Cianci said he would refuse to resign his office.

Trial preparations began at the end of February 1984, at about the same time that several city employees were indicted on charges related to corruption in the public works department. Three days later, petitions were delivered to City Hall demanding a recall election to try to oust Cianci; they included 19,760 signatures. The woman who had claimed that Cianci raped her at gunpoint agreed to come to Providence to testify as a character witness against the mayor.

On March 5, Cianci agreed to plead no contest to charges of assault with a deadly weapon as well as assault and battery; the remaining charges were dropped. Hassett would also plead no contest to a charge of assault with a deadly weapon and resign from the police department. However, he would later be reinstated after his attorneys argued that there was no basis for the charge if Hassett had not been convicted of kidnapping.

Cianci is sentenced on April 23, 1984 (Source)

Cianci faced up to 11 years in prison, but on April 23 he was sentenced to a fully suspended five-year term with five years of probation. The sentence raised the question of whether he could continue to serve as mayor; the assault with a deadly weapon charge was a felony, and the new city charter barred felons from holding public office. Cianci resolved the issue by resigning two days after he was sentenced. The Rhode Island Supreme Court later gave him a public censure, but allowed him to continue practicing law.

In his autobiography, Cianci expressed regret for the incident but couldn't help joking about the matter as well. "[F]ind me a man who will never admit to having made a mistake and I'll show you a successful politician," he quipped.

Return to office

At about the same time as Cianci's resignation, a federal investigation began looking into malfeasance in the Providence city government. When the five-year probe ended in 1989, it had indicted 30 people. Charges included extortion, accepting kickbacks, theft of city pavement for private jobs, and employees conducting personal business while on the clock.

U.S. Attorney Lincoln C. Almond commented that more people would have been charged but for the expiration of the statute of limitations. Those who were convicted included former city solicitor Ronald H. Glantz, who was sentenced to eight years in prison; former Democratic city chairman Anthony J. Bucci, who received the same sentence; and Richard A. Carroll, former chairman of the Providence Water Supply Board, who was sentenced to three-and-a-half years. Cianci was considered for indictment, but ultimately was not charged.

Since his resignation, Cianci had been working as a radio host. Even with the news that he had been under investigation for corruption, there was speculation that he would again seek the mayor's office in 1990. Joseph R. Paolino, Jr., the Democratic chairman of the city council, had become acting mayor after Cianci's resignation and won a special election to keep the seat before being re-elected in 1986. He wasn't running again in 1990, opting instead to enter the gubernatorial race.

Cianci hosting his AM radio show (Source)

Just 17 minutes before the deadline expired on June 27, Cianci filed his papers announcing his intention to run for mayor of Providence. He was once again running as an independent; he would again face Lippitt in the general election, along with Democrat city councilman Andrew Annaldo.

During the campaign, one of Cianci's billboards was creatively vandalized by Rhode Island School of Design student Shepard Fairey. Residents looking up at the billboard saw that Cianci's face had been replaced by a stenciled image of professional wrestler Andre the Giant, with the slogan altered to read, "Andre never stopped caring about Providence." The image became so popular that Fairey turned it into a brand, selling millions of Andre the Giant stickers as well as other merchandise. Today, Fairey is better known as the artist behind the famous "Hope" campaign poster for Barack Obama.

"Andre never stopped caring about Providence" (Source)

When the ballots were counted, Cianci had won his narrowest victory yet. About 47,000 people had gone to the polls; Cianci won by a mere 317 votes. A small group of residents challenged his victory, arguing that the state constitution disqualified felons from holding office until three years after the completion of their sentence and probation. Under these rules, Cianci wouldn't be eligible for office until the spring of 1992.

Thomas Rossi, the newly re-elected mayor's campaign advisor, responded that it was a moot point. The torrid details of Cianci's assault on DeLeo had been given national coverage, he noted, and voters would have to be "hermetically sealed in a mayonnaise jar" to not know about his past conviction; they had favored him anyway.

Cianci renewed his focus on revitalizing Providence and turning the city into a destination. One of the most ambitious projects involved an effort to draw attention to the Providence River, which had long been hidden beneath roadways and other infrastructure. Once the waterway and its tributaries were exposed, they were girded with pleasant walkways and ornate bridges. In 1994, the city debuted WaterFire, a popular semi-regular event where braziers floated down the river as gondolas plied the waters.

Downtown Providence during the WaterFire festival (Source)

The downtown was further enhanced by the opening of the Providence Place Mall and a new skating rink. A total of $300 million was invested in transportation upgrades. Several biomedical businesses opened in the city. Cianci became a tireless promoter of the city, lobbying the New England Patriots to build a stadium in Providence and frequently appearing on national programs to discuss its business development, arts scene, and historical and cultural attractions. He made a point to show his acceptance of the LGBT community, welcoming them to visit the city or make it their home.

The accelerating pace of Providence's resurrection helped improve Cianci's popularity. Critics continued to point out that the mayor's plans were doing little to help the city's poorest neighborhoods or improve its schools, or that he was taking credit for revitalization plans that were bearing fruit after decades of bipartisan efforts, but these concerns were often overshadowed by praise for the glittering new business district. Cianci further won sympathy by promising to donate the proceeds from his locally distributed pasta sauce, "Mayor's Own Marinara Sauce," to fund a scholarship assisting poor children.

In 1994, Cianci comfortably won re-election in a race against former Democratic state representative Paul Jabour as well as Republican candidate Thomas J. Ricci. In 1998, he was unopposed in the general election.

Operation Plunder Dome

This momentum may easily have carried Cianci to another term in office had he not once again been faced with criminal charges. On April 2, 2001, Cianci was indicted on 30 counts of racketeering, extortion, conspiracy, witness tampering, and mail fraud. The charges were the culmination of a four-year federal investigation, dubbed Operation Plunder Dome, which accused the mayor of essentially running his office like an organized criminal enterprise.

The indictment charged Cianci with involvement in a wide variety of schemes to accept money under the table. Between 1991 and 1999, he and two associates were said to have received $250,000 in campaign funds from tow truck operators. These companies acted as straw donors, giving the money to Cianci's campaign to ensure that they would stay on the police department's preferential tow list. Cianci was also accused of taking bribes to give out municipal jobs, give people breaks on their property taxes, or allow them to obtain vacant city properties.

Similar to the accusations that Providence had been poorly managed under Cianci in the 1970s and 1980s, investigators said there had been widespread corruption elsewhere in the city government. Cocaine and gold had mysteriously disappeared from the police department's evidence room. Manhole covers had also vanished, stolen by city workers to sell for scrap metal.

Cianci talks to the media after his arraignment on April 6, 2001 (Source)

Cianci responded with defiance. Referring to the 97-page indictment, he joked, "I'm not afraid of this. Ninety-seven times zero is zero." When he heard that former tax board chairman Joseph Pannone had said the mayor instructed him how to take a bribe, Cianci joked, "What the hell does he think, that I'm running a seminar? Stealing 101?"

Nevertheless, Operation Plunder Dome began to win convictions against those accused of malfeasance. Not long after the investigation concluded, four city officials and two lawyers were found guilty of corruption.

Cianci went to trial in June 2002, five months before an election he had every intention to enter. By the time the proceedings began, many of the criminal charges had been thrown out for lack of evidence or other reasons.

The trial focused on a number of different incidents, including the extortion related to the tow truck leases and an accusation that Cianci accepted bribes on a $1.2 million lease the School Department took out on a building owned by a convicted felon. One woman testified that she paid the mayor $5,000 to get her son a job on the police force. Another man said he had shelled out $5,000 to get a city job; he started in a temporary role that paid only $9 an hour, but was later rewarded with a full-time senior planner position. Cianci was also accused of accepting $10,000 to grant a property tax break to a resident; taking another $10,000 bribe from a person who wanted to purchase city real estate; extorting a lifetime membership to the University Club, a private club on the city's East Side; and tampering with a witness who had been summoned to discuss the extortion before the grand jury.

David C. Ead, a tax official who had been convicted of bribery as part of Operation Plunder Dome, testified that he arranged a total of $25,000 in bribes for the mayor. Another witness said Cianci had made the threat, "Be careful of the toe you step on today, because it might be connected to an ass that you have to kiss tomorrow." More than 50 witnesses testified for the prosecution, with several saying that they had feared reprisals from Cianci or his director of administration, Frank E. Corrente.

Some of the most damning evidence in Operation Plunder Dome came from Antonio Freitas, a businessman who had paid bribes for tax breaks and other rewards at the FBI's direction. He had also worn a wire to secretly record 180 conversations with city officials between 1998 and 1999. In the tapes, played during the trial, tow truck drivers and other boasted about their connections to City Hall and the schemes they had set up to benefit Cianci.

In one conversation, Pannone described the mayor as being addicted to taking money. "He needs the green. He needs to fix his hair," Pannone said. The comment may have referred to Cianci's distinctive toupee, which he had nicknamed "the squirrel."

Cianci's defense attorneys sought to undermine the credibility of the witnesses who testified against the mayor. They didn't mince words, describing the witnesses as liars and thieves. Ead, one lawyer said, had a gambling addiction and was "a pig, plain and simple." Attorney John Tarantino declared, "David Ead has said just about anything and will do just about anything to protect himself. He's lied and he's cheated and he's deceived for money."

By the end of the trial, the charges related to the tow truck operator kickbacks and the alleged witness tampering were thrown out due to lack of evidence. The charge related to the school lease was also dismissed after the judge determined that it didn't meet the criteria for racketeering.

On June 24, Cianci was acquitted of 11 charges. But the jury found him guilty of one count of racketeering conspiracy under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. The RICO rules held that the leader and beneficiary of a racketeering conspiracy could be held responsible for the acts of other conspirators even if he or she did not directly take part in their criminal actions. In his memoir, Cianci agreed with state representative Steven Smith's assessment of the conviction: "They found him guilty of nothing but responsible for everything."

The conviction did little to dampen support for Cianci among the mayor's adherents. He was greeted outside the courtroom by applauding supporters, some of whom shouted, "Let him go!" Almond had called on Cianci to resign after his indictment and repeated the advice after the verdict, saying, "I think the time has come to say the capital city cannot stand this type of corruption. Enough is enough." But Cianci was not required to leave office until his sentencing, and continued to put in public appearances; he even kept an appointment to address a graduating high school class on the evening of his conviction.

Cianci leaves his hotel to begin his prison sentence (Source)

Cianci faced up to 20 years in prison, along with a potential fine of $250,000. On September 7, Judge Ernest C. Torres ordered Cianci to serve 64 months behind bars and pay a $100,000 fine. The prison sentence was squarely in the middle of the federal sentencing guidelines of 57 to 71 months for racketeering conspiracy. Torres, disagreeing with the state's contention that the corruption under Cianci had been a significant disruption to city business, rejected the prosecution's request for a 10-year sentence. The mayor was also required to serve two years of probation and perform 150 hours of community service after his release.

Having maintained his innocence throughout the trial, Cianci thanked the judge for what he considered to be fair treatment. "It's an unfortunate situation. I'm sorry, obviously, that it has come to this," he said. "My heart will always be with Providence. I never intended to do anything wrong, Your Honor."

The sentence was stayed until December to give Cianci an opportunity to appeal, but state law required him to leave office immediately. The remainder of his term, through January 2003, was served by city council president John Lombardi. After Lombardi declined to run in the 2002 election, he was succeeded by Democratic state representative David Cicilline.

Several other people were convicted as a result of Operation Plunder Dome, including Corrente, Ead, and tow truck operator Richard Autiello. A businessman named Edward Voccola was also charged with involvement in the scheme, but was acquitted by a judge partway through his trial.

Later years

While in prison, Cianci kept up with local politics by reading week-old issues of the Providence Journal. He was also inducted into the Providence Preservation Society's hall of fame while still incarcerated. He belatedly filed an appeal in May 2003, arguing that the state had not provided any direct evidence that he was involved in corruption in the Providence city government. A federal appeals court upheld the verdict against him in a 2-1 decision in August 2004.

A surprising development came in April 2005, when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit threw out the sentences of Cianci, Autiello, and Corrente. The court ruled that a recent Supreme Court decision, United States v. Booker, had invalidated the mandatory sentencing guidelines used to determine the prison terms for the three men. Cianci attorney John MacFadyen vowed to press for a shorter term, while Robert Corrente, the U.S. Attorney for Rhode Island, said he would oppose any reduction in the former mayor's sentence. Torres, who was ordered to re-sentence Cianci, decided against shortening his prison term.

On May 30, 2007, Cianci was released from prison and sent to a halfway house. Four months later, he again began making frequent appearances as a radio host. He was a frequent critic of Representative Patrick Kennedy, and in January 2010 said he was considering challenging the congressman for his seat in the House of Representatives. He decided against it.

In 2011, Cianci released an autobiography entitled Politics and Pasta. At one point, he wrote, "I used my public power for personal reasons. I admit it. It probably wasn't the right thing to do, but it certainly felt good."

July 2012 marked the end of the three-year waiting period following the end of Cianci's probation. Although Providence residents wondered if he would again run for mayor in the 2014 race, many didn't expect him to do so. Despite his former popularity and track record of urban development, he would be in his early 70s with the less than reputable record of two separate felony convictions.

Cianci during his 2014 mayoral campaign (Source)

Much to the dismay of his prosecutors and critics, Cianci announced that he would indeed run as an independent and seek a seventh term as mayor of Providence. He won the endorsements of several municipal unions, including those representing the teachers, firefighters, and police department.

During his campaign, an Associated Press investigation revealed that Cianci had broken his promise to not accept any donations from city workers. Reporters also found that his pasta sauce hadn't actually generated any profits in the previous four years despite marketing that it supported scholarships. In the general election, Cianci won about 45 percent of approximately 38,000 votes cast. Several Democratic candidates had abandoned their bids to consolidate support against Cianci; the remaining Democratic candidate, Jorge O. Elorza, won the race.

In November 2015, Cianci's official portrait was unveiled in City Hall. During his remarks at the event, Cianci quipped that it was "not the first time I've been framed."

Three months later, Cianci got engaged to Tara Marie Haywood, a 34-year-old actress and model. A few weeks after that, he was suddenly stricken with severe abdominal pain while taping a TV show. He died on January 28, 2016, at the age of 74.

Sources: "Mayor of Providence Seeking Re-Election Without Nomination" in the New York Times on Aug. 25 1974, "R.I. Mayor Cianci Denies Alleged Rape Incident" in The Telegraph on Jul. 10 1978, "City Troubles Catch A Rising Political Star" in The Telegraph on Apr. 18 1981, "Mayor Indicted on Kidnap Charges" in the Lewiston Daily Sun on May 25 1983, "Legal Scrapes Pursue Mayor of Providence" in the Washington Post on Jul. 2 1983, "Kidnaping Charge is Mayor's Next Hurdle" in the Chicago Tribune on Jul. 6 1983, "Mayor of Providence Pleads No Contest to Assault Case" in the New York Times on Mar. 6 1984, "Northeast Journal - Back on the Beat in Providence" in the  New York Times on Jul. 7 1985, "Providence Journal - The Election Was Only Round One" in the New York Times on Nov. 14 1990, "Providence Mayor Indicted on Racketeering Charges" in the New York Times on Apr. 3 2001, "Providence Mayor Convicted On Corruption Charges" in The Hour on Jun. 25 2002, "Providence Mayor Convicted of Corruption" in South Coast Today on Jun. 25 2002, "A Sentence for Corruption Ends an Era in Providence" in the New York Times on Sep. 7 2002, "A Heap of Trouble" in the Providence Journal on Dec. 11 2002, "Raymond DeLeo's Nightmare on Power Street" in the Providence Journal on Dec. 12 2002, "Ex-Providence Mayor Appeals Conviction" in the Plainview Daily Herald on May 27 2003, "Ex-Providence Mayor's Conviction Upheld" in the Los Angeles Times on Aug. 11 2004, "Sentences of Cianci, Two Others Thrown Out" in the Boston Globe on Apr. 7 2005, "Cianci Will Serve Full 64-Month Sentence" in the Brown Daily Herald on Jun. 27 2005, "Buddy Cianci Is In The Lead to Become Mayor of Providence. Again" in the Washington Post on Sep. 24 2014, "Good Buddy, Bad Buddy" in the New York Times on Oct. 11 2014, "Vincent A. Cianci Jr., Celebrated and Scored Ex-Mayor of Providence, R.I., Dies at 74" in the New York Times on Jan. 28 2016, "Timeline of the Late Buddy Cianci's Political Career" in the San Diego Union-Tribune on Jan. 28 2016, "Vincent 'Buddy' Cianci, 1941-2016" in the Providence Journal on Jan. 28 2016, "Former Providence Mayor 'Buddy' Cianci Has Died" in South Coast Today on Jan. 28 2016, "Buddy Cianci, Flamboyant and Roguish Mayor Who Rebuilt Providence, Dies at 74" in the Washington Post on Jan. 28 2016, Politics and Pasta by Vincent Cianci Jr. and David Fisher, The Prince of Providence by Mike Stanton, Who We Be: The Colorization of America by Jeff Chang

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Glen H. Taylor: Civil Rights Cowboy

Glen Hearst Taylor earned a reputation as one of the most peace-loving people to serve in the Senate, but he could still exhibit sudden flashes of temper when it was provoked. So when he felt a man had insulted him on Election Day in 1946, Taylor responded by punching the offender in the face.

The election marked a downturn for the Democratic Party after many years of dominance in the nation's capital. Riding the wave of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's popularity, the party had gained control of both the House of Representatives and Senate in 1932 and maintained a majority in Congress ever since. With the end of World War II, and Harry Truman proving to be a less popular President that the late FDR, the Republicans won back both chambers in 1946.

The Democratic Party's state headquarters in Idaho were located near the Boise Hotel, where the GOP was celebrating a sweep of the congressional races. An incumbent Democratic congressman, Compton I. White, narrowly lost to Republican challenger Abe Goff. John C. Sanborn easily held the state's other House seat after Representative Henry C. Dworshak opted to run for the Senate instead. Dworshak defeated Democratic candidate George E. Donart in the Senate race, leaving Taylor as the only Democrat to represent Idaho in Congress.

Although not up for re-election, Taylor had vigorously advocated for Donant during the lead-up to the election. Somehow, Taylor crossed paths with Ray McKaig, a Republican leader and legislative committeeman for the Idaho Grange, in the lobby of the Boise Hotel. Both combatants gave wildly differing accounts of what happened next. Taylor said McKaig called him an obscene name in the presence of his wife. McKaig protested that he was only "twitting" Taylor, although he would also claim that he "never said a word."

Taylor admitted that he "instinctively" threw a punch at McKaig after being insulted, but pulled it before he could do any harm. McKaig then struck Taylor in the face, bloodying his nose. Taylor didn't pull his next punch, hitting McKaig hard enough to lay the GOP leader out on the hotel floor, breaking his jaw and causing his dentures to cut his lips.

In giving his version of the brawl, Taylor said McKaig had provoked him. "McKaig called me a foul name," he said. "I can take the Democratic defeat, but I couldn't take that." He also accused McKaig of breaking his nose after he pulled his first punch, after which he was "dancing excitedly in front of me, waving his arms and shouting, 'Come on!'"

 McKaig hospitalized with a broken jaw (Source)

McKaig, speaking to reporters with a plaster cast on his jaw about a week after the incident, said Taylor had blindsided him with the punch and kicked him while he was down. He accused the senator of making up the story about the broken nose after he "found out it was not popular to kick me in the face."

Taylor would never be criminally charged for assaulting McKaig, but the GOP leader would continue to hold a grudge for many years after. When Taylor lost the Democratic nomination for Senate in 1950, McKaig reportedly cabled him with the message, "You may have broken my jaw, but I just broke your back!"

When Taylor was arrested two years after the incident in Boise, he was thousands of miles away from Idaho and had been chosen as a vice presidential candidate for the year's election. He had also deliberately provoked the arrest to challenge racist policies in the South.

A theatrical youth

One of 13 children of an Oregon minister, Taylor was born in Portland on April 12, 1904. His father, John, preached in mining camps across the West. He usually incorporated the children into his services, having them do musical or theatrical performances to make the religious element more appealing. The family settled on a 160-acre homestead near Kooskia, Idaho, when Taylor was still a child.

The permanent home helped Taylor get a more formal education, but he only attended the public schools until he was 12. At that point, he left to seek employment and help supplement his father's meager income. For a time, he helped herd sheep to their summer pasture. A year later, he joined his brother E.K. Taylor to run two small movie theaters he owned in Kooskia as well as the nearby town of Stites. After his father fell ill during the influenza epidemic, Taylor took a job as a sheet metal worker's apprentice to again help support his family.

The theatrical elements of their youth had inspired at least some of Taylor's siblings to get into the performing arts, and at the age of 17 he joined his oldest brother, Ferris, to be part of his traveling vaudeville act. He again traveled the western United States, this time as part of the Taylor players. Not long after, he briefly married and had a daughter. However, the relationship quickly fell apart due to Taylor's transitory nature. In 1945, while Taylor was a senator, his first wife charged him with desertion and tried to win back payments for the support of her and their child. The matter proved embarrassing to Taylor, but he turned the matter over to his attorneys and was absolved in court.

Vaudeville was a slowly dying form of entertainment, as movies became more popular among the population. When a fire destroyed the Taylor Players' tent and wardrobe, they had no opportunity to recover. The company disbanded, with each member going their own way. Taylor worked odd jobs before finding permanent employment with the Slade Musical Comedy Company. During a performance in Montana, he fell in love with an usher named Dora Pike; the two were married in 1928.

The couple formed their own vaudeville company, dubbing it The Glendora Players as a portmanteau of their names. They used a similar trick when naming their first child, a son born in 1935, simply spelling the name of the boy's mother backwards to make Arod.

The company struggled under the dual challenges of the declining popularity of vaudeville and the financial hardships of the Great Depression. Income was variable, since admission to see The Glendora Players was whatever audiences were able and willing to pay. In some cases, they accepted donations of vegetables and live chickens.

The Glendora Players, with Glen, Arod, and Dora in the front row (Source)

Taylor may have continued this hardscrabble life had it not been for a chance encounter with politics. While going to a theater in Driggs, Idaho, to see the manager about booking the venue for a performance, he discovered that Governor C. Ben Ross was giving a speech. Taylor observed that he shared several qualities with "Cowboy Ben," then running for a Senate seat as a Democrat. Ross was a good speaker, had excellent comedic timing, and easily made friends with people he met. Taylor figured it wouldn't be too hard to put his performing skills to use to try to earn a place in Washington.

Once he became more committed to the idea of running for office, Taylor began to study politics and economics. He was particularly interested in how the Great Depression had happened and how to prevent a similar economic crash in the future. He took most of his inspiration from The People's Corporation, written by razor magnate King Camp Gillette with assistance from prominent Socialist Upton Sinclair, as well as Stuart Chase's A New Deal, which helped inspire FDR's economic relief programs.

Taylor tried tried to organize farmer-laborer parties in Nevada and Montana in 1935, but without success. He also contemplated whether the Socialist or Communist parties were a good fit for his economic views, but finally decided that FDR and the Democrats were the best way to move the country forward. Since Taylor had little chance of qualifying for public office as a nomadic showman, he settled with his family in Pocatello, Idaho.

"Wholly uneducated and wholly unfitted"

When Taylor launched his first national campaign in 1938, he employed an unorthodox campaign strategy. He had learned to play the guitar and banjo, and had incorporated country-Western tunes into his performances. He now used this image to appeal to the voters of Idaho, crooning ditties on his campaign stops and in radio appearances. He also presented the full cowboy image, wearing a ten-gallon hat and riding a horse. Taylor ran for the House of Representatives in an open Democratic primary, but was a relatively unknown figure and finished fourth.

In 1940, Taylor got an early opportunity to run in the year's election. Senator William E. Borah, a Republican who had represented Idaho in Washington for more than three decades, suddenly died in his sleep on January 19 at the age of 74. The Republican governor, Clarence A. Bottolfsen, appointed former GOP senator John W. Thomas to fill the vacancy pending a general election.

Governor Bottolfsen in his office (Source)

Using the same tactics he had employed in the 1938 race, Taylor won an unexpected upset in the Democratic primary. The party had underestimated his populist appeal, considering him to be little more than a joke. But when the ballots were counted, Taylor had bested George Donart and judge James R. Bothwell to be the party's candidate for the Senate. Angered by Taylor's victory, the Democratic Party offered little in the way of support or financing for the November campaign.

Opponents also found Taylor to be an easy target. He held very liberal views, expressing criticisms of the profit system and arguing that companies should be trying to ensure a comfortable life for their workers rather than earning excessive profits that would only benefit those at the top. The Republicans promptly accused him of harboring Socialist or Communist views. Others suggested that the cowboy candidate was an unsuitable choice to fill the vacancy left by so distinguished a figure as William E. Borah. The Idaho Pioneer described Taylor as a "sweet singer, wholly uneducated and wholly unfitted."

Taylor's appeal in the primary didn't extend to Idaho's populace as a whole. Thomas won by about 14,000 votes, winning over about 53 percent of the electorate.

After the loss at the polls, Taylor decided to pursue work in military preparedness. The nation had been moving to gird itself for defense as war raged in Europe and the Pacific, and there was a naval ordnance plant in Pocatello. But when Taylor submitted an application there, the personnel director quickly rejected him after finding out he was the far-left Senate candidate. Taylor subsequently traveled to California to begin working at a munitions factory.

In 1942, with the United States now at war with the Axis powers, Taylor again ran for Senate. This time he traveled between campaign stops on horseback, saying this alternative to the automobile helped save rubber and gas for the war effort. He defeated four other candidates for the Democratic nomination and worked to make amends with the party. He attended regular campaigns with other candidates, leaving his horse and cowboy outfit at home.

But Taylor still faced accusations that he was a Socialist, Communist, or buffoon. He again lost to Thomas, who was elected to a full term in his own right after completing the remaining years of Borah's term. However, Taylor succeeded in narrowing the gap between the two to less than 5,000 votes.

Taylor once again traveled to California, this time finding employment as a steel worker at a shipyard. He installed kitchens on destroyers while quietly preparing for his next Senate run. Realizing that his populist arguments worked well for the Democratic primary but fell short among the full electorate, Taylor received some economic tutelage from Idaho secretary of state George Curtis. When the 1944 race rolled around, Taylor resumed his familiar criticisms of Wall Street and the banking industry, but reframed them to appeal to a larger audience.

This was also the first race where Taylor benefited from a full head of artificial hair. He had started going bald in his 20s, and the problem of this physical trait became apparent during the 1942 campaign when a service station clerk mistook his wife for his daughter. Working to give himself a more youthful appearance, Taylor made himself a custom toupee out of a pie plate, felt, and human hair.

In the Democratic primary, Taylor went up against incumbent Senator D. Worth Clark as well as two Boise lawyers. He narrowly earned the party's nomination for the third Senate race in a row, getting only about one-third of the vote but eking out victory by a mere 216 ballots. The Democratic Party would prove more supportive this time around; the state chairman who had opposed Taylor resigned and was replaced by an official who immediately assured Taylor that the Democrats would back their candidate.

In the lead-up to the general election, Taylor offered a more detailed platform than his previous bids for office. He called for full employment legislation after the war, protections for small business owners against monopolies and trusts, more farm and business cooperatives, and efforts to preserve the postwar peace. The Democrats were the party that worked for the protection and well-being of the people, he argued, while the Republicans strove for the protection and well-being of private property. He strongly endorsed FDR, hoping to ride into office on the popular President's appeal.

There were continuing accusations that Taylor was a Communist and ill-prepared to serve as a senator. The Republicans were further able to accuse him of being an opportunist, saying he was a de facto California resident who only came back to Idaho when he wanted to run for office. Taylor, responding to the labeling of his ideas as Communist, fired back that the Republicans used the label to try to discredit every single proposed liberal measure. He called it a "straight steal from Hitler, who cried 'Bolshevist' at everybody who opposed him."

Taylor's third attempt at the Senate proved successful. On Election Day, he earned 107,096 votes. It was a narrow majority, but it was enough to defeat Bottolfsen, the Republican candidate, who had received 102,373 votes.

An advocate for peace

Although Taylor had largely abandoned his image as an entertainer as he became a more skilled politician, he quickly revived the singing cowboy character after arriving in Washington, D.C. There was an acute housing shortage because of the war, and the newly elected senator was having trouble finding a home for his family. In January 1945, he invited the press to see him play a song on the steps of the Capitol Building.

Taylor sings on the steps of the Capitol as his family looks on (Source)

To the tune of "Home on the Range," Taylor sang, "Oh give me a home, near the Capitol dome, with a yard where little children can play / Just one room or two, any old thing will do / Oh we can't find a pla-a-a-ce to stay!" The stunt no doubt embarrassed some Democratic leaders, but it proved effective. A real estate agent contacted Taylor and set him up with a suitable residence.

On October 23, Taylor introduced his first resolution before the Senate. He hoped that the United States and other nations could work toward the creation of a world republic designed to prevent bloody conflicts such as the one that had formally ended just one month earlier. He called for the abolition of military training and conscription, a prohibition on the manufacture of atomic weapons, and an eventual end to the production of armaments. Taylor was disappointed that this ambitious plan received little attention, complaining that the press had dedicated plenty of coverage to the song he sang upon his arrival in Washington and written next to nothing on his suggestions for world peace.

Taylor's liberal views often put him at odds with Truman, since he thought the President's postwar stances were creating too many tensions with the Soviet Union. He opposed both the Truman Doctrine, which provided aid to Greece and Turkey to shore up the countries against Communist influence, and the European Recovery Program, or Marshall Plan, which was designed to rebuild the Western European countries devastated by World War II. Taylor said he wasn't opposed to supporting nations in need, but thought American aid should be administered through the United Nations.

Perhaps cognizant of how his unusual behavior had gained attention when he first came to Washington, Taylor launched a cross-country tour in the autumn of 1947 to try to raise awareness of his concerns with U.S. foreign policy. He intended to visit several states, riding two horses named Nugget and Chuck for much of the way and traveling with his brother by automobile for the rest, with the horses coming along in a trailer. Taylor expected that the "Paul Revere" ride would be able to make stops in every state before culminating in the nation's capital.

During the stops, Taylor resumed his practice of weaving guitar playing and songs into his public appearances. He said he did not think that the United States was deliberately trying to provoke the Soviet Union with its actions overseas, but that certain policies might appear threatening. It would be far better, he opined, for the United Nations to oversee foreign aid than to go about it unilaterally.

"In other words, how would we feel if the Russians suddenly began dredging the harbors of Mexico, building hard surface roads to the borders of California and Texas, and otherwise making military preparations for an unannounced purpose?" he asked at one stop. "I think we should be plenty upset. That is exactly what the United States has been doing in Turkey and, to some extent, in Greece."

Taylor stops in Arizona during his horseback ride for peace (Source)

Taylor had to cut the trip short in November, just one month after starting it, when Truman called Congress back into session. He decided to end the tour with one last spectacle, riding Nugget up the Capitol steps before joining the other senators.

For the rest of his term, Taylor would be one of the most outspoken voices for peace and international understanding. He was the only Democrat opposed to the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and in 1949 he unsuccessfully proposed an end to peacetime conscription.
Following rumors that an alien spacecraft had crashed on a ranch near Roswell, New Mexico, Taylor was asked for his opinion on UFOs. He replied that he hoped they were real, considering that any alien race that had mastered interplanetary travel might also be able to inspire better global cooperation.

"They could end our petty arguments on Earth," he said. "Even if it is only a psychological phenomenon, it is a sign of what the world is coming to. If we don't ease the tensions, the whole world will be full of psychological cases and eventually turn into a global nuthouse."

Statements like these made Taylor a very polarizing figure. Some people thought the senator was guided by the simple idea that people could live together in harmony. On at least one occasion, he was compared to the aloof but admirable character played by Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Both Taylor and the film character were rookie senators from the West who were guided by their faith in American institutions and the idea that most people were good at heart.

Others considered Taylor to be little more than an unrealistic idealist. In 1950, Time mockingly described him as a "banjo-twanging playboy of the Senate and an easy mark for far-left propaganda."

A voice for labor and civil rights

In addition to his crusade for world peace, Taylor became a strong supporter of organized labor and civil rights activists. Both stances were a result of his ideology more than an effort to pander for votes; unions weren't particularly prevalent in Idaho, and there were fewer than 500 black residents in the state when Taylor represented it.

He kept up his commitment to full employment for American workers, along with rent controls to make housing more affordable. He opposed the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, which placed some restrictions on the powers of labor unions. When Truman refused to approve the bill, Taylor was one of four senators who contributed to an unsuccessful filibuster to try to keep Congress from overriding the veto.

Late in 1946, Taylor periodically gained the floor to speak as Southern senators filibustered an effort to give permanent status to the Fair Employment Practices Committee, which had worked to enforce FDR's executive order to bar discrimination in defense and government hiring during World War II. Taylor said he was willing to support all-night sessions and any other measures necessary to break the filibuster and force a vote.

"This is not democracy, this is rule by a small minority," he declared. "I hope that those who really believe in democracy will stand by their guns and not yield to this legislative blackmail."

Taylor's support of civil rights made him an enemy of the Southern delegation in general, but Senator Theodore Bilbo in particular. The Democratic senator from Mississippi was perhaps the most openly racist and hateful person in the entire Senate, at one point even praising the Nazi regime's appreciation of "the importance of race values" while proposing the deportation of all black Americans to Liberia. 

Theodore Bilbo during his 1946 campaign for Senate (Source)

On one occasion, Bilbo opposed the nomination of Aubrey Williams to be administrator of the Rural Electrification Administration and noted how Williams had been endorsed by a black Republican newspaper in Philadelphia. Taylor interrupted Bilbo, demanding to know what effect the endorsement could possibly have on Williams' qualifications. "I certainly object to having brought up on the floor of the Senate the question of whether a man is red, black, or white," he stated. Bilbo was dismissive, asking, "What do they know about Negroes in Idaho?"

A more dramatic confrontation between Taylor and Bilbo occurred early in 1947. Bilbo won re-election in the 1946 general election, but his victory was tainted by violence and voter intimidation at the polls. Before the Special Committee to Investigate Senatorial Campaign Expenditures, Bilbo openly admitted that he had called on "every red-blooded American who believes in the superiority and integrity of the white race to get out and see that no nigger votes" in the Mississippi race. Despite the clear incitements to voter suppression, the committee opined that Bilbo was still entitled to his seat since most of his hateful language had been aimed at "outside agitators" who were allegedly trying to stir up trouble in the election.

The excuse didn't sit well with the more liberal members of the Senate, especially since Bilbo was also under investigation for illegally accepting gifts from war contractors. At a conference of Republican senators, Homer Ferguson of Michigan was chosen to issue a resolution asking the Senate to deny Bilbo his seat. But as the roll call was made at the beginning of the session, Taylor managed to jump in first to issue his own call for barring the Mississippi senator from the chamber.

Taylor charged that Bilbo had violated the civil rights of black residents in his state, incited violence against them, violated the Constitution, and allowed himself to be influenced by gifts from war contractors. He asked that his colleague be denied his seat until after an investigation had been completed. He focused most of his attention on the voting rights issue, repeating some of Bilbo's most racist language. He admitted that race relations were a complex issue, but stressed that it was important to strive for progress rather than division. Bilbo, he accused, had been "stirring up racial hatred, inciting white to hate black and causing black to hate white."

"What a hypocritical and blasphemous gesture we would witness today if Mr. Bilbo were to stand in our midst and place his hand on the Holy Bible and swear fealty to democratic institutions, to free elections, to the rights of citizens," Taylor declared.

Taylor pushed the speech to its conclusion, even as Bilbo sauntered over and sat down at his elbow, glowering up at the man who sought to unseat him. Some other senators from the South, enraged at Taylor's resolution, vowed to filibuster any attempt to assemble the newly elected Senate unless Bilbo was allowed to take office. Alben Barkley, the Senate's Democratic leader, defused the issue by announcing that Bilbo needed to return to Mississippi for emergency surgery and would not insist on being seated until he returned.

Bilbo laughed off the resolution, mockingly declaring that "a cowboy named Taylor stole the whole Republican show." Later, he commented, "Taylor ain't got no sense. He's just a nut. He goes around playing a fiddle with a hillbilly band."

Although the Republicans were irked that Taylor had stolen their thunder, they grudgingly complimented Taylor's speech. Harold Ickes, who had served as Secretary of the Interior under FDR and gone on to become a syndicated columnist, hailed Taylor's address as "one that will reverberate throughout the country for a long time." The Southern Negro Youth Congress distributed copies of his speech, which helped accelerate the migration of black support from the Republicans to the Democrats.

The Senate would never take a vote on Taylor's resolution. Bilbo solved the thorny issue of whether or not he should be seated by dying in August 1947 of complications from multiple surgeries for mouth cancer.

Vice presidential candidate and arrest in Birmingham

As the 1948 presidential election approached, the Democrats were facing a challenge from a liberal splinter group as well as the Republicans. Henry A. Wallace, who had served as vice president for much of FDR's time in office, formed the Progressive Party in 1947 to make a bid for the White House. The party sought to improve the relationship between the United States and Soviet Union, enhance cooperation with the United States, and pursue arms reduction. It also advocated for an accelerated improvement of civil rights at home, including measures to outlaw lynching and poll taxes.

Naturally, Taylor was a perfect fit for the party. When Wallace asked him to be the vice presidential candidate on the Progressive ticket, he readily accepted.

The Progressives would be dogged by accusations that the party was influenced by Communism, in part because the Communist Party opted to endorse Wallace instead of fielding its own candidate. Taylor, long familiar with such rhetoric, said the decision to join the Progressive ticket had not been made lightly. "I knew I would probably kill my chances of being re-elected in 1950 if I threw in with Henry," he said. "I'm not a lawyer. I've been in show business all my life, living hand to mouth, often in debt. I can't leave the Senate and practice law, like most of these fellows do. It was a tough decision." He explained that he had backed the more liberal party because he believed the "question of peace or war is more important than any other consideration."

Wallace and Taylor were under no illusions that their platform would be warmly greeted in the South, where several states would list segregationist candidate Strom Thurmond as the main Democratic candidate instead of Truman. The duo organized campaign appearances in the region before integrated audiences, and were often greeted by segregationists who hurled insults and rubbish at the candidates.

On May 1, 1948, Taylor arrived in Birmingham, Alabama, at the invitation of the Southern Negro Youth Congress. The organization had asked Taylor to deliver the keynote address at their annual convention. Although he initially refused due to a city ordinance requiring public gatherings to be segregated, the SNYC convinced Taylor to attend anyway and make a statement about why he could not address the integrated group. The convention was the target of several forms of harassment, including bomb threats and hotels canceling the reservations of white delegates. Although several places declined to host the group for fear of violence, the Alliance Gospel Tabernacle church finally provided a venue for the gathering.

The local police had no intention of letting the meeting proceed quietly. Eugene "Bull" Connor, the city's commissioner of public safety, threatened that the Birmingham police would arrest anyone who committed even the smallest of provocations, such as black attendees trying to talk to white ones. Connor would later become infamous for refusing to protect civil rights advocates from racist attacks and for siccing police dogs and high pressure fire hoses on peaceful demonstrators. Upon arriving in Birmingham, Taylor referred to Connor as "a spokesman for a small and fast dying clique."

Taylor meets with the SNYC in 1947 (Source)

Upon arriving at the Alliance Gospel Tabernacle church, Taylor found that it was the scene of blatant intimidation. Looking to avoid a confrontation with Connor, the SNYC had erected temporary partitions and labeled separate entrances to ensure that the church was in compliance with the segregation ordinance. Nevertheless, the meeting site was surrounded by police officers as well as some demonstrating Klansmen.

Instead of going to the door reserved for white attendees, Taylor decided to enter through the "colored" entrance. He was confronted at the door by a police officer who told him to use the other entrance. "I'm not particular about these things," Taylor replied. He tried to force his way past the officer, at which point the cop sent him sprawling to the ground before shoving him up against a wire fence, leaving him with several scratches.

Some accounts accused Taylor of angrily sparring with the Birmingham police during the confrontation. They said the vice presidential candidate announced that he couldn't be arrested due to his status as a senator, swung his fists at officers, and called them "vile names." Along with several other visitors to the SNYC conference, Taylor was arrested and taken to jail.

The arrest provoked outrage across the United States, as many observers saw it as a heavy-handed response to a minor violation of an unjust law. Wallace declared that no one could claim to be a liberal while supporting the Jim Crow laws. "Glen was not violating any law," he said. "He was upholding the basic law of the land, the Constitution of the United States." Taylor later offered his own rationale, saying defiance of an unconstitutional measure was no vice. "If they passed a law saying you had to spit in the face of any Negro you passed on the sidewalk, I would disobey it," he said.

Taylor received less sympathy in the South. Connor stood by the actions of the police, saying the segregation ordinance applied to "First Ladies of the United States, U.S. senators, and the Constitution of the United States." Alabama newspapers denounced the vice presidential candidate's action as nothing more than a political stunt. The Huntsville Times said the action was "solely to use as political propaganda in the Wallace campaign," while the Shreveport Journal suggested that "Mr. Taylor's reason for his offensive gesture was to attract Negro support of the Wallace ticket." The Alabama Journal commented that it was sad to see a U.S. senator "deliberately defy laws, abuse policemen, play with dynamite."

Senator John J. Sparkman, an Alabama Democrat who was considered one of the more liberal members of the Southern delegation, also criticized Taylor. Unlike most of the Southern "Dixiecrats," Sparkman had refused to desert Truman in favor of Thurmond's segregationist third party bid, despite his opposition to the President's civil rights measures. After the incident in Birmingham, Sparkman praised Connor and accused Taylor of deliberately provoking his arrest "in order to get the publicity out of it."

Three days after his arrest, Taylor was brought before a police court on a charge of disorderly conduct. He was quickly convicted, fined $50, and given a fully suspended sentence of 180 days in jail. Taylor immediately appealed the verdict, hoping that in doing so he would be able to challenge the practice of segregation. In August 1948, he wrote to Arthur Shores, a black attorney who frequently represented the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, to ask for a copy of the ordinance. Shores subsequently agreed to work as Taylor's attorney for the rest of the proceedings, and had a new trial scheduled for March 1949.

Despite high expectations for the Progressives, the party had a disappointing performance on Election Day. Although more than one million people cast their votes for Wallace and Taylor, this total represented just 2.37 percent of the popular vote and was roughly equal to the number of votes earned by Thurmond. And while the Progressives had failed to capture a single electoral vote, Thurmond had carried four Southern states. Truman defeated Republican candidate Thomas E. Dewey to earn a second term.

Taylor returned to Alabama the spring after the election to face a jury trial. The court had added the charges of interfering with a police officer and assault and battery to the existing count of disorderly conduct. He could have been charged with violation of the segregation ordinance, but the court declined to press this issue for fear that Taylor would appeal it all the way to the Supreme Court.

Nevertheless, Shores and Taylor challenged the legitimacy of the segregation ordinance, saying it was a blatant violation of the First Amendment freedoms of speech and assembly. The judge disagreed, stating, "If the defendant committed the acts charged at the entrance to an old ladies quilting party, is he more or less guilty?" Taylor had little chance of triumphing before the conservative all-white jury, which quickly found him guilty and upheld the original sentence.

Taylor again appealed the verdict, but the Alabama Supreme Court upheld the result in January 1950. He then tried to get a hearing before the Supreme Court, but in June the justices declined to take on the case. Connor added insult to injury after this decision by demanding that Taylor come to Alabama to face his sentence. Taylor replied that he had "no intention of turning myself over to that chain gang."

Connor made a formal request to C.A. Robins, the Republican governor of Idaho, to have Taylor extradited. Robins refused, saying it was a petty demand since Taylor had already paid the fine and had not been required to serve any jail time. The denial quietly ended the battle between the Idaho senator and Birmingham law enforcement.

Farewell to the Senate

After the 1948 race, the Progressive Party quickly disintegrated. Taylor left in 1949, and Wallace would depart a year later after breaking with the party by supporting the American involvement in the Korean War. Taylor returned to the Democrats and defended his temporary defection, saying, "I didn't leave the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party left me."

Nevertheless, Taylor faced a stiffer challenge in seeking the Senate nomination from a party he had briefly abandoned. He was also the target of a media attack campaign by Idaho Power, a utility company Taylor had previous criticized. Since 1947, Taylor had accused the company of opposing the Hells Canyon High Dam for the sole purpose of keeping its rates and profits high. During the 1950 election season, Idaho Power publicly accused Taylor of "vicious misrepresentations in every sense of the word, designed to mislead the people of this area." The company accused Taylor of trying to give control of Idaho's water to the federal government, and Taylor admitted that he preferred public rather than private control of water.

In the year's Democratic primary, Taylor lost to D. Worth Clark, the former senator whom he had defeated for the 1944 nomination. Clark would lose the general election to Republican candidate Herman E. Welker.

In 1954, Taylor returned for another bid at the Senate. Although he won the Democratic nomination, he lost to Republican incumbent Henry Dworshak, earning only about one-third of the vote in the general election.

Returning for the 1956 race, Taylor declared, "All I want is to be known as the senator who did the most for Idaho." He found himself in a neck-and-neck race with Frank Church, a Boise attorney who won the Democratic nomination by a mere 200 ballots out of more than 55,000 cast. Taylor charged that the primary had been affected by election irregularities, namely ballot counting procedures in the Mountain Home precinct. But the Idaho attorney general said he had no authority to order a recount, and the Senate subcommittee on elections declined his request for an investigation; the Idaho legislature subsequently passed legislation on recount procedures in their next session.

Taylor decided to run as a write-in candidate in the 1956 election, but earned less than 12,000 votes. Church defeated Welker in the general election, marking the start of a 24-year career in the Senate. Two years later, Taylor was still irritated with the primary results. He wrote to Church asking if the senator would be willing to take a lie detector test on whether he believed the 1956 election had been conducted honestly. If Church agreed, Taylor promised he would not run for governor of Idaho in the 1958 race or for Senate in 1962. Church's press secretary commented that the proposal was "not deserving of a reply."

Wigging out

After he left the Senate in 1950, Taylor became the president of the Coryell Construction Company. However, he was forced to resign two years later because the federal government considered him to be a security risk and said they would not award contracts to the company. Taylor began working menial construction jobs in order to maintain an income.

Eventually, Taylor moved to the San Francisco area and capitalized on his firsthand experience with toupees. In 1961, he founded a wig manufacturing company called Taylor Topper Inc. The company is still in existence today, although it is now known as Taylormade.

Taylor died of Alzheimer's disease in Millbrae, California, on April 28, 1984. He was 80 years old.


The Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, "Taylor Croons Plea for Home" in the Spokesman-Review on Jan. 4 1945, "Senator Packs Election Punch" in the Pittsburgh Press on Nov. 6 1946, "Taylor Cracks Jaw of Political Rival" in the Spokane Daily Chronicle on Nov. 6 1946, "Sen. Taylor Tells of Battle of Boise Hotel" in the Deseret News on Nov. 8 1946, "Jaw in Plaster, McKaig Says Taylor 'Kicked Me in the Face'" in the Spokane Daily Chronicle on Nov. 14 1946, "Washington Calling" in the Daytona Beach Morning Herald on Jan. 7 1947, "Taylor Begins Cross-Nation 'Peace' Ride" in the Toledo Blade on Oct. 27 1947, "Horse-Born Solon Decides Nag's No Good" in the Tuscaloosa News on Oct. 30 1947, "Segregation Law Tested at Trial" in the Owosso Argus-Press on Mar. 31 1949, "Sen. Taylor Glad of Fine, Sentence" in the Free Lance-Star on Apr. 1 1949, "Why the Senator Rides a Horse Across the Nation" in the St. Petersburg Times on Nov. 9 1949, "Gem State Solon Hopefuls Sound Last-Ditch Appeals" in the Spokane Daily Chronicle on Aug. 11 1956, "Church Still Leads Taylor with Canvases Completed" in the Lewiston Morning Tribune on Aug. 22 1956, "Glen Taylor May Head New Splinter Party" in the Sarasota Journal on Oct. 8 1956, "Idaho Balloting Nearly Ties Record" in the Lewiston Morning Tribune on Nov. 8 1956, "Church Rejects Plan by Ex-Senator Taylor" in the Spokesman-Review on Mar. 7 1958, "Political Maverick Glen Taylor Dies" in the Spokane Chronicle on May 4 1984, "Glen H. Taylor of Idaho Dies; Wallace Running Mate in '48" in the New York Times on May 5 1984, "An Idaho Maverick" in the Coeur d'Alene Press on Feb. 22 2015, Prophet Without Honor: Glen H. Taylor and the Fight for American Liberalism by F. Ross Peterson, Public Power, Private Dams: The Hells Canyon High Dam Controversy by Karl Boyd Brooks, The Candy Bombers: The Untold Story of the Berlin Airlift and America's Finest Hour by Andrei Cherny, Dixiecrat Revolt and the End of the Solid South 1932-1968 by Kari Frederickson, The Last Campaign: How Harry Truman Won the 1948 Election by Zachary Karabell, Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama: The Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution by Diane McWhorter, The Gentle Giant of Dynamite Hill: The Untold Story of Arthur Shores and His Family's Fight for Civil Rights by Helen Shores Lee and Barbara S. Shores with Denise George, 1950, Crossroads of American Religious Life by Robert S. Ellwood, Taylor v. City of Birmingham