Allen J. Ellender
|Allen J. Ellender|
|United States Senator
January 3, 1937 – July 27, 1972
|Preceded by||Rose McConnell Long|
|Succeeded by||Elaine Edwards|
|President pro tempore of the United States Senate|
January 21, 1971 – July 27, 1972
|Preceded by||Richard Russell, Jr.|
|Succeeded by||James Eastland|
|Chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations|
January 21, 1971 – July 27, 1972
|Preceded by||Richard Russell, Jr.|
|Succeeded by||John Little McClellan|
|Chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture|
January 3, 1951 – January 3, 1953
|Preceded by||Elmer Thomas|
|Succeeded by||George Aiken|
January 3, 1955 – January 21, 1971
|Preceded by||George Aiken|
|Succeeded by||Herman Talmadge|
|54th Speaker of the Louisiana House of Representatives|
|Governor||Alvin Olin King
Oscar K. Allen
|Preceded by||John B. Fournet|
|Succeeded by||Lorris M. Wimberly|
|Born||Allen Joseph Ellender
September 24, 1890
Montegut, Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana, USA
|Died||July 27, 1972
Bethesda Naval Hospital, Maryland
|Spouse(s)||Helen Calhoun Donnelly Ellender (born 1895, died 1949)|
|Children||Allen Ellender Jr. (born 1921)|
|Alma mater||Tulane University|
|Religion||Baptized as Roman Catholic, but not a religious person in life|
|Service/branch||United States Army|
|Years of service||1917-1918|
|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. Unlike many conservatives, he was not a "hawk" in foreign policy and opposed the Vietnam War.
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
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.
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.
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).
Ellender sticks with Truman, 1948
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.
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
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.
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
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.
Remembering Senator Ellender
- Becnel, Thomas. Senator Allen Ellender of Louisiana: a biography (1996), the standard scholarly biography excerpt and text search
- Allen J. Ellender at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
- Finley, Keith M. Delaying the Dream: Southern Senators and the Fight Against Civil Rights, 1938-1965 (Baton Rouge, LSU Press, 2008).
- 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.
- "Helen Calhoun Donnelly Ellender". FindAGrave.com. Retrieved 27 October 2011.
- Becnel, Thomas (1995). Senator Allen Ellender of Louisiana: a biography. LSU Press. p. 26. ISBN 978-0-8071-1978-5. Retrieved 27 October 2011.
- Becnel, Thomas (1995). Senator Allen Ellender of Louisiana: a biography. LSU Press. p. 149. ISBN 978-0-8071-1978-5. Retrieved 27 October 2011.
- Thomas Becnel, Senator Allen Ellender of Louisiana: a biography (1996) p 245
- Becnel, Senator Allen Ellender p 248
- Becnel, Senator Allen Ellender p 130
- Becnel, Senator Allen Ellender pp 192-3
- Becnel, Senator Allen Ellender p 130
- "John Earl Martin, Singer". rootsweb.ancestry.com. Retrieved July 24, 2013.
- Numan V. Bartley and Hugh D. Graham, Southern Elections: County and Precinct Data, 1950-1972, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1978, p. 122
- Media related to Allen J. Ellender at Wikimedia Commons