Absalom Willis Robertson

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Absalom Willis Robertson
Absalom Willis Robertson.jpg
United States Senator
from Virginia
In office
November 6, 1946 – December 30, 1966
Preceded by Thomas G. Burch
Succeeded by William B. Spong, Jr.
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 7th district
In office
January 3, 1935 – November 5, 1946
Preceded by District re-established
John W. Fishburne before district abolished in 1933
Succeeded by Burr P. Harrison
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's At-large district
In office
March 4, 1933 – January 3, 1935
Preceded by District re-established
John S. Wise before district abolished in 1885
Succeeded by District abolished
Member of the Virginia Senate
from the 22nd district
In office
January 12, 1916 – January 9, 1924
Preceded by J. Randolph Tucker
Succeeded by Samuel S. Lambeth, Jr.
Personal details
Born Absalom Willis Robertson
(1887-05-27)May 27, 1887
Martinsburg, West Virginia
Died November 1, 1971(1971-11-01) (aged 84)
Lexington, Virginia
Nationality American
Political party Democratic
Religion Episcopalian

Absalom Willis Robertson (May 27, 1887 – November 1, 1971) was an American politician. A member of the Democratic Party, he represented Virginia in the U.S. House of Representatives (1933–1946) and the U.S. Senate (1946–1966). He was a member of the conservative coalition during his congressional career.

Life and career[edit]

Robertson was born in Martinsburg, West Virginia, the son of Josephine Ragland (née Willis) and Franklin Pierce Robertson.[1] He graduated from the University of Richmond in 1907. Robertson was elected to the Virginia State Senate as a Democrat in 1915 and he served from 1916 to 1922. Robertson served in the United States Army during World War I. Robertson served as Commonwealth Attorney for Rockbridge County, Virginia from 1922 to 1928.

Robertson as a state senator during the 1916 General Assembly

In 1932, Robertson was elected from Virginia's 7th congressional district to the U.S. House of Representatives, and was reelected six times. In 1946, he won a special election for the right to complete the final two years of Senator Carter Glass' term and took office on the day after the election. He won the seat in his own right in 1948, and was reelected two more times without serious opposition.

Among his legislation is the Pittman–Robertson Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act which creates the formula for federal sharing of ammunition tax with states to establish wildlife areas. The program is still in effect and is a primary financing source for wildlife areas.

Robertson was a typical Byrd Democrat, and was very conservative on social issues. He was chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs from 1959 until 1966. In 1956, Robertson was one of the 19 senators who signed The Southern Manifesto, condemning the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. Board of Education and the resulting public desegregation.

When President Lyndon Johnson sent his wife, Lady Bird, on a train trip through the South to encourage support for the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, Robertson was one of four Southern Senators who refused to meet with her on the whistle-stop trip. In retaliation, President Johnson personally recruited State Senator William B. Spong, Jr., a considerably more liberal Democrat, to run against Robertson in the 1966 Democratic primary. By this time, even some Byrd Democrats were moving away from resistance to integration as espoused by Robertson and the Organization's patriarch, Harry F. Byrd, Sr. Spong defeated Robertson in the primary in one of the biggest upsets in Virginia political history—an event that is considered the beginning of the end of the Byrd Organization's long dominance of Virginia state politics.[2]

In 1971, Robertson died in Lexington and was buried in its Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery.

Robertson was the father of televangelist Pat Robertson.

Statements on Civil Rights[edit]

March 10, 1956, Christian Science Monitor[edit]

Asked to comment “on his region’s state of mind and any specific American attitudes he feels are necessary to avoid violence and bring healing in a deteriorating situation following the Supreme Court school desegregation order," Robertson stated:

Virginia recognizes the correctness of the 1850 decision of the Massachusetts Supreme Court and in the 155 subsequent decisions of State and Federal courts holding that the equal rights provision of a constitution could be properly satisfied by public schools for the white and colored races which are separate but equal.

During the last 10 years notable progress has been made in the Southern States in meeting that equality requirement. But that progress will be nullified by a program of rapid, enforced desegregation. In fact, public education for both races in some Southern States would be destroyed.

The worst feature of the current desegregation effort, however, is the resulting bitterness and racial animosities in areas where harmony heretofore prevailed. Southerners believe that the cherished constitutional right of every citizen to select his personal associates is being violated.

Monday, July 9, 1956, Congressional Record[edit]

I ask unanimous consent to have printed in the Congressional Record the weekly newsletter of my distinguished successor in the Seventh Congressional District of Virginia, Representative Burr P Harrison, in which he discussed the so-called civil rights bill now under consideration by the House. Representative Harrison’s analysis is lucid and accurate, and I fully endorse the position he has taken in opposition to it.

Harrison’s Report stated:

Even a casual reading of this bill, sponsored by the President, reveals it as one of the most drastic measures ever to receive consideration by the Congress. It would set up a Federal Commission with a staff of snoopers who could roam the length and breadth of the United States, armed with subpoenas, looking for civil-rights incidents. One of the objectives of this Commission would be to advance the idea of complete racial integration in private business.

Electoral history[edit]

  • 1934; Robertson was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives with 68.33% of the vote, defeating Republican J. Everett Will, Socialist Lester Ruffner, and Independent W.R. Eubank.
  • 1936; Robertson was re-elected with 63.87% of the vote, defeating Republican Will and Socialist Ruffner.
  • 1938; Robertson was re-elected with 63.87% of the vote, defeating Republican Charles C. Leap.
  • 1940; Robertson was re-elected with 65.11% of the vote, defeating Republican Jacob A. Garber and now-Communist Ruffner.
  • 1942; Robertson was re-elected unopposed.
  • 1944; Robertson was re-elected with 59.87% of the vote, defeating Republican D. Wampler Earman.

Footnotes[edit]

External links[edit]