Allen J. Ellender

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Allen J. Ellender
Allen Joseph Ellender cph.3b21059.jpg
United States Senator
from Louisiana
In office
January 3, 1937 – July 27, 1972
Preceded by Rose McConnell Long
Succeeded by Elaine Edwards
President pro tempore of the United States Senate
In office
January 21, 1971 – July 27, 1972
Preceded by Richard Russell, Jr.
Succeeded by James Eastland
Chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations
In office
January 21, 1971 – July 27, 1972
Preceded by Richard Russell, Jr.
Succeeded by John Little McClellan
Chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture
In office
January 3, 1951 – January 3, 1953
Preceded by Elmer Thomas
Succeeded by George Aiken
In office
January 3, 1955 – January 21, 1971
Preceded by George Aiken
Succeeded by Herman Talmadge
54th Speaker of the Louisiana House of Representatives
In office
1932–1936
Governor Alvin Olin King
Oscar K. Allen
Preceded by John B. Fournet
Succeeded by Lorris M. Wimberly
Personal details
Born Allen Joseph Ellender
September 24, 1890
Montegut, Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana, USA
Died July 27, 1972(1972-07-27) (aged 81)
Bethesda Naval Hospital, Maryland
Political party Democrat
Spouse(s) Helen Calhoun Donnelly Ellender (born 1895, died 1949)[1][2]
Children Allen Ellender Jr. (born 1921)[3]
Alma mater Tulane University
Profession Lawyer
Religion Baptized as Roman Catholic, but not a religious person in life[4]
Military service
Service/branch United States Army
Years of service 1917-1918
Rank Sergeant
Battles/wars World War I

Allen Joseph Ellender (September 24, 1890 – July 27, 1972) was a popular U.S. senator from Houma in Terrebonne Parish in south Louisiana, who served from 1937 until 1972 when he died in office at the age of eighty-one. He was a Democrat who was originally allied with the legendary Huey Pierce Long, Jr.. As senator, he compiled a generally conservative record, voting 77 percent of the time with the Conservative Coalition on domestic issues. A staunch segregationist,he voted against the 1965 Voting Rights Act.[5][6] Unlike many conservatives, he was not a "hawk" in foreign policy and opposed the Vietnam War.[7]

Early life[edit]

Ellender was born in the town of Montegut in Terrebonne Parish, a center of Cajun culture. He attended public and private schools, and graduated in 1909 from the Roman Catholic St. Aloysius College in New Orleans. (It has been reorganized as Brother Martin High School). He studied law at Tulane University Law School in New Orleans. Admitted to the bar in 1913, he launched his practice in Houma when he was twenty-three.

A political resume[edit]

Ellender was appointed as the city attorney of Houma from 1913 to 1915, and then district attorney of Terrebonne Parish from 1915 to 1916. He was a sergeant in the United States Army Artillery Corps during World War I, serving from 1917 to 1918.

Ellender was a delegate to the Louisiana constitutional convention in 1921. The constitution produced by that body was retired in 1974, two years after Ellender's death. He served in the Louisiana House of Representatives from 1924 to 1936. He was floor leader from 1928–1932, when in 1929 he worked successfully against the impeachment forces, led by Ralph Norman Bauer and Cecil Morgan, that attempted to remove Governor Huey Long for a litany of abuses of power. Ellender was the House Speaker from 1932 to 1936, when he was elected to the US Senate.

In 1937 he took his Senate seat, formerly held by the fallen Huey Long and slated for the Democratic nominee Oscar Kelly Allen, Sr., of Winnfield, the seat of the Long's home parish of Winn. Allen had won the Democratic nomination by a plurality exceeding 200,000 votes, but he died shortly thereafter. His passing enabled Ellender's election. The Democrats had so dominated state politics since the disfranchisement of most blacks at the turn of the century, that the primary was the decisive election for offices.

Lorris M. Wimberly of Arcadia in Bienville Parish, meanwhile, succeeded Ellender as House Speaker. Wimberly was the choice of Governor Richard Webster Leche and thereafter Lieutenant Governor Earl Kemp Long, who succeeded Leche to the governorship.

Ellender was repeatedly re-elected to the Senate and served until his death in 1972. He gained seniority and great influence. He was the leading sponsor of the federal free lunch program, which was enacted in 1945 and continues; it was a welfare program that helped poor students, black and white alike.[8]

Ellender served as the powerful chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee from 1951 to 1953 and 1955 to 1971, through which capacity he was a strong defender of sugar cane interests. He chaired the even more powerful Senate Appropriations Committee from 1971 until his death. Denoting his seniority as a Democrat in the Senate, Ellender was President pro tempore of the U.S. Senate from 1971–1972, an honorific position.

Ellender was an opponent of Republican Senator Joe McCarthy, who was hunting Communists in government and Hollywood during the 1950s. He destroyed the careers of many persons.[9]

Together with other Southern Democrats, Ellender strongly opposed the federal civil rights legislation of the 1960s, which included the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to enforce blacks' constitutional rights in voting, after their having been virtually all disfranchised since the turn of the century. He did support some Louisiana state legislation sought by civil rights groups, such as repeal of the state poll tax (a disfranchisement mechanism).[10]

Ellender sticks with Truman, 1948[edit]

Ellender rarely had serious opposition for his Senate seat. In his initial election in 1936, Ellender defeated Fourth District Congressman John N. Sandlin of Minden, the seat of Webster Parish in northwest Louisiana, in the Democratic primary, 364,931 (68 percent) to 167,471 (31.2 percent). There was no Republican opposition.

Early in his tenure, the Audubon Society, with an interest in the ivory-billed woodpecker, which faced extinction, persuaded Ellender to work for the establishment of the proposed Tensas Swamp National Park to preserve bird habitat: 60,000 acres of land owned by the Singer Sewing Company in Madison Parish in northeastern Louisiana. Ellender's bill died in committee. In 1998, long after Ellender's death, Congress established the Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge.[11]

Ellender was steadfastly loyal to all Democratic presidential nominees and refused to support then Governor Strom Thurmond of South Carolina for president in 1948. That year Thurmond, the States Rights Party nominee, was also listed on the ballot as the official Democratic nominee in Louisiana and three other southern states. Ellender supported Harry Truman, whose name was placed on the ballot only after Governor Earl Kemp Long called a special session of the legislature to place the president's name on the ballot. "As a Democratic nominee, I am pledged to support the candidate of my party, and that I will do," declared Ellender, though he could have argued that Thurmond, not Truman, was technically the "Democratic nominee" in Louisiana.

A rare Republican challenge, 1960[edit]

In 1954, Ellender defeated fellow Democrat Frank Burton Ellis, a former state senator from St. Tammany Parish and later a short term U.S. District Court judge, in the party primary, 268,054 (59.1 percent) to 162,775 (35.9 percent), with 4 percent for minor candidates. He faced no Republican opposition.[12]

In 1960, Ellender was challenged by the Republican National Committeeman George W. Reese, Jr., a New Orleans lawyer (born 1924). Reese had previously twice opposed conservative Democratic Congressman Felix Edward Hebert of New Orleans—in the 1952 and again in the 1954 general elections. Reese accused Ellender, who was known for his hostility to Senator Joseph McCarthy, of being "soft on communism". Ellender retorted that Reese's allegation came with "ill grace for the spokesman for the member of a party which has permitted the establishment of a Red-dominated beach head [Cuba] only ninety miles from our shores to attack my record against the spread of communism."

Ellender crushed Reese's hopes of making a respectable showing: he polled 432,228 (79.8 percent) to Reese's 109,698 (20.2 percent). Reese's best performance was in two parishes that voted for Richard Nixon, La Salle Parish (Jena) and Ouachita Parish (Monroe), but he still gained less than a third of the ballots—31.3 percent in each. In Caddo Parish (Shreveport), Reese finished with 30 percent. Reese was the third Republican since the Seventeenth Amendment was ratified even to seek a U.S. Senate seat from Louisiana. Ellender ran 24,889 votes ahead of the John F. Kennedy-Lyndon Johnson ticket, but 265,965 voters cast in the presidential race just ignored the Senate contest and didn't vote at all for those candidates, a phenomenon that would later be called an "undervote."

In 1966, Ellender disposed of two weak primary opponents, including the liberal State Senator J.D. DeBlieux (pronounced "W") of Baton Rouge (1912–2005) and the conservative businessman Troyce Guice (1932–2008), a native of St. Joseph, the seat of Tensas Parish, who then resided in Ferriday, and later in Natchez, Mississippi. The Republicans did not field a candidate against Ellender that year.

Ellender cultivated good relationships with the media, whose coverage of his tenure helped him to fend off serious competition. One of his newspaper favorites was Adras LaBorde, longtime managing editor of Alexandria Daily Town Talk. The two "Cajuns" shared fish stories on many occasions.

Ellender's last campaign[edit]

In 1972, the Democratic gubernatorial runner-up from December 1971, former state senator J. Bennett Johnston, Jr., of Shreveport challenged Ellender for renomination. Ellender was expected to defeat Johnston, but the veteran senator died in July during the primary campaign, leaving Johnston the de facto Democratic nominee. Nearly 10 percent of Democratic voters, however, voted for the deceased Ellender anyway.

Johnston became the Democratic nominee in a manner somewhat reminiscent of how Ellender had won the Senate seat in 1936 after the death of Governor Allen. Johnston easily defeated the Republican candidate, Ben C. Toledano, a prominent attorney from New Orleans who later became a conservative columnist, and former Governor John McKeithen, a Democrat running as an independent in the general election because he had not been able to qualify for the primary ballot, given the timing of Ellender's death.

Ellender's immediate successor was Elaine S. Edwards, first wife of Governor Edwin Edwards, who was appointed to fill his seat from August 1, 1972 to November 13, 1972, after the election.

Remembering Senator Ellender[edit]

In the Senate, Ellender was known by his colleagues for Cajun cooking, including dishes ranging from roast duck to shrimp jambalaya. As of 2009, the Senate Dining Room still served "Ellender Gumbo."

Ellender Memorial High School in Houma and Allen Ellender Middle School in Marrero are named in his honor.

In 1994, Ellender was inducted posthumously into the Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame in Winnfield.

The Allen J. Ellender Memorial Library on the campus of Nicholls State University is named after him.

Ellender was an uncle of Bonnie Robichaux Livingston, wife of former U.S. Representative Bob Livingston, a Republican who represented Louisiana's 1st congressional district from 1977 to 1998.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Becnel, Thomas (1995). Senator Allen Ellender of Louisiana: a biography. LSU Press. pp. 22 and p. 166. ISBN 978-0-8071-1978-5. Retrieved 27 October 2011. 
  2. ^ "Helen Calhoun Donnelly Ellender". FindAGrave.com. Retrieved 27 October 2011. 
  3. ^ Becnel, Thomas (1995). Senator Allen Ellender of Louisiana: a biography. LSU Press. p. 26. ISBN 978-0-8071-1978-5. Retrieved 27 October 2011. 
  4. ^ Becnel, Thomas (1995). Senator Allen Ellender of Louisiana: a biography. LSU Press. p. 149. ISBN 978-0-8071-1978-5. Retrieved 27 October 2011. 
  5. ^ govtrack
  6. ^ Thomas Becnel, Senator Allen Ellender of Louisiana: a biography (1996) p 245
  7. ^ Becnel, Senator Allen Ellender p 248
  8. ^ Becnel, Senator Allen Ellender p 130
  9. ^ Becnel, Senator Allen Ellender pp 192-3
  10. ^ Becnel, Senator Allen Ellender p 130
  11. ^ "John Earl Martin, Singer". rootsweb.ancestry.com. Retrieved July 24, 2013. 
  12. ^ Numan V. Bartley and Hugh D. Graham, Southern Elections: County and Precinct Data, 1950-1972, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1978, p. 122

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Reuben Chauvin
Dr. N. V. Marmande
Louisiana State Representative from Terrebonne Parish
1924-1936
Succeeded by
Morris Lottinger, Sr.
Preceded by
John B. Fournet
Speaker of the Louisiana House of Representatives
1932–1936
Succeeded by
Lorris M. Wimberly
Preceded by
Elmer Thomas
Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee
1951–1953
Succeeded by
George D. Aiken
Preceded by
George D. Aiken
Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee
1955–1971
Succeeded by
Herman E. Talmadge
Preceded by
Richard B. Russell, Jr.
President pro tempore of the United States Senate
1971–1972
Succeeded by
James O. Eastland
Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee
1971–1972
Succeeded by
John L. McClellan
United States Senate
Preceded by
Rose McConnell Long
U.S. Senator (Class 2) from Louisiana
1937–1972
Served alongside: John H. Overton, William C. Feazel, Russell B. Long
Succeeded by
Elaine S. Edwards
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Richard B. Russell, Jr.
Dean of the United States Senate
January 21, 1971 – July 27, 1972
Succeeded by
George D. Aiken