Benjamin F. James

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For other people named Benjamin James, see Benjamin James (disambiguation).

Benjamin Franklin James (August 1, 1885 – January 26, 1961) was a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Pennsylvania.

Biography[edit]

Benjamin F. James was born in Philadelphia. He extensively studied in graphic arts. In 1910, he moved to Radnor Township in Delaware County, Pennsylvania. During World War I, he enlisted in the United States Army and was assigned to the Central Officers Training School. He was honorably discharged in November 1918 as a second lieutenant in the United States Army Reserves. He was president and chairman of the board of directors of the Franklin Printing Co. of Philadelphia (founded in 1728 by Benjamin Franklin). He was a member of the Radnor Township Board of Commissioners from 1929 to 1936. He served in the Pennsylvania State House of Representatives from 1939 through 1947. He was elected as a Republican to the Eighty-first and to the four succeeding Congresses. He was not a candidate for renomination in 1958.

He is buried at Arlington Cemetery in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania.

Like his famous ancestor, James served as president of the Poor Richard Club and also was the first president of the Printing Industries of Philadelphia, an organization for printers. Serving as a Radnor township commissioner from 1929 to 1936, he had been instrumental in reorganizing the township's lighting system and making other improvements. As a state representative from 1939 to 1947, he introduced the James bill, which would have prevented the City of Philadelphia from collecting the wage tax from suburbanites. Needless to say, the bill was defeated.

Legislative record[edit]

James' service in Congress totaled five terms, spanning the second Truman term and the first six of Eisenhower's eight years. This period in our history included the intensification of the Cold War, the Korean War, two recessions, the beginning of the civil rights movement, and the space race.

Truman's Fair Deal (1949-53)[edit]

Upon taking office on January 3, 1949, James was appointed to the District of Columbia and House Administration committees, two relatively low-profile areas.

President Truman, meanwhile, had asked Congress to enact a "Fair Deal" for the American people, calling for an increase in the minimum wage, health insurance and banning discrimination.

During his first term, some issues that James voted on were: the Marshall Plan to aid western Europe (Y); Mundt-Nixon Anti-Communist Bill (Y); allowing refugees into the country (Y); National Housing Act of 1949 (N); Agricultural Act of 1949 (price supports) (Y); Trade Agreements Extension Act (Y); Aid to NATO (N); South Korean aid (N); a weakened Fair Employment Practices Act, with no enforcement powers (Y); Proportional Electoral Vote (N); Internal Security Act of 1950, which was passed over a presidential veto (Y). He also took a position in favor of extending rent controls. Although he generally voted the Republican anti-Communist line, he voted against aiding our European allies in NATO and the fledgling Republic of Korea (South Korea), prior to its invasion by Communist North Korea. In a committee vote on the Anti-Poll Tax bill in 1949, he was the only Republican to vote with six conservative southern Democrats against the measure. In 1951, Congressman James introduced a bill to fix the strength of the Marine Corps and make the commandant a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The Eisenhower Agenda (1953-58)[edit]

When the Eighty-Third Congress convened on January 3, 1953, of the 221 Republican (GOP) House members, only fifteen had served with a Republican president. This, plus the fact that none of the 48 GOP senators had served with a president of the same party, underscored the problem of the new congressional majority that was unfamiliar with cooperating with a chief executive of the same party.

Fortunately, Eisenhower had an excellent congressional liaison staff, the first of its kind, headed by General Jerry Persons. Using shrewd diplomacy and tact, in eight years, Eisenhower and his staff were able to extract impressive amounts of legislation from a Congress in which, at best, his party held a slim majority for only two years.

In 1953, as a member of the majority party, and thirty-seventh in party seniority, James was appointed to the Appropriations Committee. He served on the subcommittees on general government matters, Treasury and Post Office departments, as well as remaining on the District of Columbia committee. He was known as an active member of the committee, according to the News of Delaware County, "developing a reputation for paying close attention to government spending." During his service on the Appropriations Committee, the federal government ran budget surpluses in 1956 and 1957. In 1957, he introduced two bills: to include the Ben Franklin TV series in the Archives of Congress and to begin the development of Independence National Historical Park. Overall, he compiled a moderately conservative record, not too different from his two predecessors. In a comparison of 58 important issues voted on between 1949 and 1958, James agreed with ultra-conservative Noah Mason of Illinois 74% of the time, but split on such key issues, such as civil rights and foreign aid. Starting in 1953, the Congressional Quarterly began compiling more detailed information about the voting records of members of Congress.

In his first term, Congressman James voted 87% of the time with the majority of his party and supported the Eisenhower administration 65% of the time and was in opposition only 15% of the time. (The numbers do not add up due to missed votes on his part.) In 1955-1956, he was 53% pro-Eisenhower in his votes and 28% against, with his attendance falling to 73% of all recorded votes. By the 1957-1958 term, his attendance had fallen to only 52%, as illness began overtaking him.

Election of 1948[edit]

In the primary of 1948, James was backed by John McClure and the Delaware County Board of Republican Supervisors to unseat the independent incumbent, E. Wallace Chadwick. James prevailed by some 7,600 votes in the primary election. In the general election, he easily trounced Democrat Arthur Snyder, 91,394 to 56,263, leading with 61.3% .

Nationally, the election of 1948 was a curious one. The Republicans had nominated New York Governor Tom Dewey to oppose President Harry Truman for his second term. The Democratic party, in characteristic fashion, had two factions spin off from the main party: one, consisting mainly of white southern Democrats opposed to the party's civil rights plank, nominated South Carolina Governor Strom Thurmond for president and the other, fearing Truman's policies could lead to war with the Soviets, nominated progressive Henry Wallace.

With the lackluster and wooden Dewey leading in the polls and the odds defying him, Truman campaigned vigorously, making the record of the Republican-led Congress the number one issue. Constantly referring to the "Do Nothing Eightieth Congress", Truman outcampaigned his Republican opponent and won a stunning upset, with 50% of the vote, compared to Dewey's 46%. The other two candidates split the rest. Likewise, the Democrats made a stunning comeback in Congress, picking up an additional 75 House seats and nine in the Senate for a lineup of 263 to 171 and 54 to 42, respectively.

The Korean War elections, 1950 and 1952[edit]

With the second war in five years grinding on in Korea and casualties mounting, the Democrats were again on the defensive in 1950. The national scene did not seem to have much impact locally, as James won reelection by a margin similar to his first election, 62.7%, over Hubert P. Earle. With campaign finance reporting being rather lax at the time, James reported 1950 expenses of $237, while his opponent reported spending about $2,700. In contrast, fellow Republican Congressman Paul Dague of the Chester/Lancaster district, reported $1,000 in expenses.

Nationally, with the voters apprehensive over the Korean War, and charges by Wisconsin Senator Joseph R. McCarthy of communists in the government, the Democrats lost ground in Congress. They had a net loss of five Senate seats, leaving them with a razor-thin majority of 48 to 47.

Several veteran Democrats were defeated, including Majority Leader Scott Lucas and Armed Services Committee chairman Millard Tydings, while Congressman Richard Nixon won a senate seat in California for the Republicans.

For the next three elections, the major parties would be separated by only two votes, at the most, in the Senate. In the House, the G.O.P. managed to pick up 28 seats, still giving the Democrats a comfortable, but not commanding edge of 234 to 199. The election results were said to have disheartened Truman and spelled an end to his Fair Deal programs.

Even though the electoral tide was with the Republicans that year, the opposite was true in Pennsylvania. After many decades of iron-clad control by a corrupt Republican machine, voters in Philadelphia finally were fed up enough to elect a young, Democratic reformer, Joseph S. Clark, as District Attorney in 1949.

With a large percentage of the state's registered voters residing in the city, the trend towards two party politics in the Keystone State had begun in earnest. In the election of 1950, the Republican candidate for governor, John S. Fine, barely defeated Richardson Dilworth, another reformer from Philadelphia. Fine received 1,796,119 to Dilworth's 1,710,355.

In 1952, in an effort to unseat the Democrats from twenty years of control of the presidency, charges of "Korea, Corruption and Communism" were made against the Truman administration by the G.O.P. ticket, headed by Dwight D. Eisenhower. Democratic nominee Illinois Governor Adlai E. Stevenson was generally forced to the defensive.

At a rally held in October at a flag-bedecked Upper Darby Junior High School, Congressman James, along with county party chairman Throne, Mrs. Ray Murdock, national committeewoman, and C. William Kraft, Jr., chairman of the Citizens for Eisenhower committee, warmed up the crowd. James said he had "traveled the length and breadth of the county to answer the lies and half-truths promulgated by our opponents." The election was a "crusade rather than a campaign - a crusade against a crowd who usurped the fair name of the Democratic Party and … degraded it." Pennsylvania's two Republican U.S. Senators, then gave rousing speeches to a crowd of 1,800 party members. They denounced the Truman administration as "mink, stink and pink", referring to investigations of corruption and charges of communists working in the federal government.

According to the News of Delaware County, the senators predicted "you're going to get Ike" and repeated an oft-used G.O.P. accusation that the administration allowed China to fall to the Communists in the late 1940s and this in turn, helped fuel the war in Korea. "I wonder," Senator James Duff asked, "if the mothers, fathers and sweethearts of the 122,000 American casualties agree with the Democrats slogan that 'you've never had it so good'?" The Democrats had been referring to a booming wartime economy, with its extremely low unemployment rate.

Further, they charged that the Truman administration did not seek a victory in Korea, but was settling for a stalemate. They, of course, ignored the administration's position that a direct attack on Communist China would have probably caused other U.S. allies fighting in Korea to pull out and involved this country in a nuclear exchange with the Soviet Union. The administration's position was later validated by the Eisenhower administration, which wisely refused to escalate the war into a general world war.

Late in October, Eisenhower's dramatic pledge to "go to Korea" helped solidify the G.O.P. ticket's lead, producing a 55% victory, about 34 million to 27 million votes. The victory seemed more of a personal one for Eisenhower, with the Republicans gaining only enough seats to narrowly hold the House, 221 to 213, with one independent, and the Senate, 48 to 47, also with one independent. This would be the first time since 1930 that a Republican-led Congress would serve with a Republican president.

With the help of a lopsided G.O.P. registration edge of 211,188 to 30,254, James was reelected with a solid 61.7% of the vote, 127,918 to Democrat Murray Zealor's 79,423. He reported expenses of $225 and Zealor reported $27. In the county, the popular Ike received 128,889 to Stevenson's 79,734, also carrying Chester, 12,772 to 11,944.

When Congress reorganized the following January, Joe Martin was once again elected Speaker of the House. Bob Taft become Senate Majority Leader, working quite closely with the Eisenhower administration until his death from cancer on July 31, 1953. He was replaced by Senator William Knowland from California.

The 1954 midterm election: the pendulum swings again[edit]

On March 1, 1954, four Puerto Rican fanatics, shouting for independence for the island, sprayed the House of Representatives with pistol fire, wounding five members of Congress. James narrowly escaped injury when a bullet struck the wall behind him.

Later that month, he was endorsed for a fourth term by McClure and the War Board and was opposed by independent Harry Hyde of Drexel Hill in the primary. Also endorsed were incumbent state representatives, M. Joseph Connelly of Upper Darby, J. Warren Bullen of Lansdowne, Edwin E. Lippincott of Upper Darby, along with newcomers Joseph W. Isaacs, Folcroft, John H. Foster, Wayne, and Clarence D. Bell of Upland. Re-endorsed for seats on the state committee were Mrs. Mae Kernaghan of Yeadon, a future state legislator, and Albert H. Swing of Radnor, later to be involved in controversy as a county commissioner. According to the News, the county chairman "pointed out that the ticket was arrived at without dissension".

The Democrats, however, did have plenty of dissension, including a fierce primary fight for James' seat between the endorsed candidate, O. Arthur Cappiello, and Swarthmore College professor Gerard W. Mangone. Minority County Commissioner Albert J. Crawford, Jr. charged that Upper Darby Democratic chairman Joseph Helyenek worked with Republicans against a Democratic candidate in 1951. Helyenek countered with charges that Crawford was "playing footsie" with McClure and the G.O.P. machine and also launched bitter attacks on the county party chairman, John Sheehan. When the votes were counted, Cappiello had won, 4,808 to 3,038 and James had been renominated over Hyde, 43,049 to 8,216.

In the fall election, the Democrats turned their fire from themselves to the G.O.P., waging a vigorous campaign. The opposition party charged that the Republican-led government had not corrected "intolerable" traffic bottlenecks at the busy 69th Street commercial district in Upper Darby, delayed constructing a county mental hospital, failed to exempt suburbanites from the Philadelphia wage tax, did nothing to stop a "probable" reduction of unemployment benefits, condoned "blueblood" gambling, took no action regarding "hidden unemployment", as well as refusing to debate the Democratic candidates openly.

The Republicans countered by accusing the Democrats of scheming to annex the suburban counties to Philadelphia (a preelection bugaboo that was repeated in succeeding elections in various forms), plotting to levy a wage tax on county residents and running a "Fifth Amendment sympathizer" for governor. GOP County Chairman Throne told the Women's Club of Morton that state Senator George Leader, Democratic candidate for governor, and his "bosses" were hatching a plot, authored by the "Dilworth-Clark Democratic machine in Philadelphia" to annex the suburbs to the city. "Dilworth and Clark will rule Delaware County and the counties adjacent to Philadelphia from their palatial soft rug upholstered sanctums in dirty Philadelphia City Hall," he further warned. "Annexation … would give the Philadelphia Democratic Machine more money and increase the tax load of the suburban home owner who moved away from Philadelphia to get clean economic government."

Democrat Cappiello returned the fire with some of his own, rejecting G.O.P. claims that a vote for Congressman James was a vote for the popular President Eisenhower. James, he said, was "not an Eisenhower supporter except when it suits John McClure." Further, he stated "McClurism, not Eisenhower, is at issue in Delaware County", blasting James for his "opposition to labor legislation, housing, aid to veterans and other progressive measures.

The Democratic congressional hopeful said that James opposed Eisenhower's programs in about one-third of the roll-call votes and cited seven votes "where James was in open rebellion against the Eisenhower program" and five missed votes on major items.

At a rally held in Yeadon, Cappiello lashed out at the federal and state inaction regarding the recession, warning "we are rapidly approaching a situation fully comparable to the Hoover Depression in terms of human misery". Indeed, the unemployment rate had increased from the low of 2.5% in 1953 to an average rate of 5.0% for 1954, as the economy adjusted to the end of the Korean War, but it hardly approached the peak Depression rate of 24.9% in 1933. Cappiello's credibility seemed a bit strained: on one hand, he was blaming the Eisenhower administration for the recession, and on the other, he was criticizing James for not voting with the Eisenhower position more often.

Whether the voters realized this or not is unclear, but, in spite of the vigorous campaign by the Democrats, James sailed to another term, carrying 60.9% of the vote this time, with a 36,000 vote plurality. According to the News, "a sign of Mr. James apparent popularity in the county is the fact he ran well ahead of the rest of the Republican ticket".

The paper cited the fact he polled about 1,600 votes more than the next highest vote-getter, the candidate for state secretary of internal affairs. The Republicans were not so fortunate statewide, as the voters chose George M. Leader over Lloyd H. Wood, giving the Democrats only their second governor since 1895.

Harboring a personal distaste for a president to be involved in political campaigning, Eisenhower, until the last month of the campaign, refrained from actively campaigning for Republican candidates, preferring to leave the task to Vice President Nixon and cabinet members. Also, with political control of Congress so close in the postwar period, Ike did not wish to antagonize the Democrats, from whom he needed support on some issues. Only when it looked like the Republicans could lose their slender majorities, did the president intervene.

However, in spite of Eisenhower's intensive barnstorming in the campaign's waning weeks, the mild post-war recession was probably enough to cause the GOP to lose eighteen House seats and two Senate seats, leaving the Democrats in control of both houses, 232 to 203 and 48 to 47, respectively. Until 1994, the Democrats would remain firmly in control of both houses of Congress, with the exception of 1981-1987, when the GOP had held a majority in the Senate.

1956, and the Voters Like Ike even more[edit]

After recovering nicely from a heart attack the previous year, Ike announced for a second term. The Democrats, facing an uphill struggle, would have to be content with dusting off and trotting out Adlai Stevenson again. With the McClure Machine securely in control of Delaware County, local attention was centered on the possibility that former Philadelphia mayor and reformer, Joseph S. Clark, Jr. might pull an upset over incumbent Republican Senator Duff.

In various speeches throughout the fall campaign, Congressman James, as well as state Senator G. Robert Watkins, attacked Clark mercilessly, often citing his membership in the liberal group, Americans for Democratic Action. In one speech in October, both officeholders said that Clark's "membership in the ADA alone is enough to disqualify Joe Clark from sitting in Jim Duff's chair in the U.S. Senate" and that the ADA had provided unspecified "aid and comfort to the cause of international communism". It was clear that even though McCarthyism had been renounced in Congress, the same tactics were alive and well in Delaware County in 1956.

The Democrats quickly returned the fire, with the county chairman, Charles J. Hepburn Jr., stating that James and his colleagues in the county, in attacking Clark's patriotism, were "duplicating cornered rat tactics that led to the defeat of the corrupt and whipped Republican regime in Philadelphia in 1949." This did not deter James, however, who again spoke out against Clark at a campaign stop.

Meanwhile, James's opponent, William A. Welsh, blasted the incumbent and congressional Republicans, stating that their version of tax relief meant a "steelworker family of four would pay $420 taxes on a $5,000 income, while a coupon clipping stockholder pays only $200 on the same income".

Further, he said: "James claims of so-called accomplishments have resulted in the last four years of profits of the corporations increasing 35 per cent, while income for the average family is up only four per cent. It is time that Delaware County had someone in Congress who thinks of prosperity in terms of the people and not just in the interests of big business".

Adding fuel to the senatorial election fires, the County Commissioners, on October 10, with the lone Democrat strenuously objecting, voted two to one to condemn a proposed increase in the Philadelphia wage tax, linking it to spending increases during Clark's previous tenure as mayor. The Democratic commissioner charged election years politics was the real concern of the Republicans.

In stepping up his attacks, Welsh charged James with a "cynical attitude" towards public housing, having "voted to kill public housing outright", causing "those in low incomes (to) have little hope of getting housing." James, who was consistently popular among the voters, did not bother to publicly respond, but saved his remarks for defending the record of Senator Duff against the rising tide of Joe Clark's candidacy.

On October 24, at a speech to four hundred party workers at the Essington Republican Club, Congressman James defended the military draft. "Parents do not want ever again to have untrained and unprepared kids sent into battle", with President Eisenhower being "their best insurance against war." Further, he declared that the draft would "insure proper conditioning of our youth in the event of armed conflict." Some eight years later, James' remarks would be tested when hundreds of thousands of "kids" would be drafted to serve in Vietnam.

Nationally, with an expanding economy and Eisenhower's proven ability to calmly handle international crises, he and Nixon were reelected by a landslide, 35.6 to Stevenson's 26 million. Ike, however, was not able to translate his immense popularity into votes for other Republicans, with the Democrats picking up an additional Senate seat and two more in the House, leaving the G.O.P. behind by 49-47 and 232-203 in each chamber.

In Pennsylvania, it was not such a good year for the Republicans either, with Clark ousting Duff by an extremely narrow margin of 2,268,641 to 2,250,671. This gave the Democrats only their second U.S. senator from Pennsylvania since 1934.

Once again, there were no surprises in the race for Congress in Delaware County, with James trouncing Welsh, with about 62% of the vote, 137,764 to 84,764. From the expense reports filed with Congress, the local campaign must have been a bargain also, with James reporting no expenses at all, to the Democrat's $804.

Final term and failing health[edit]

On February 15, 1958, Congressman James announced he would not be a candidate for a sixth term. His modest statement read: "At the conclusion of the 85th Congress I shall have served as a member of the national house of Representatives for ten years - five consecutive terms. My decision to forgo possible further preferment for public office has been made regretfully, and only after carefully weighing the demands of such service against the inevitable changes, of personal concern, that come with the passing of time".

He had been hospitalized twice in 1957 for an undisclosed illness and in May of that year had had surgery. By June 1958, he had resigned his seat on the Appropriations Committee due to his "worsening physical condition." During the following year, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles also saw his own condition worsening from the ravages of cancer, which resulted in his death on May 24, 1959.

Just as Ike had brought stability to the nation in the Cold War era of the 1950s, Ben James seemed to be a pillar of political stability to the residents of rapidly growing Delaware County. Voters showed their unfading confidence in him by giving him election majorities ranging from 60.9% to 62.7%.

He died at age seventy-five on January 26, 1961, just over three years after he left office.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]

Preceded by
E. Wallace Chadwick
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Pennsylvania's 7th congressional district

1949-1959
Succeeded by
William H. Milliken, Jr.