Burton K. Wheeler
|Burton Kendall Wheeler|
|United States Senator
March 4, 1923 – January 3, 1947
|Preceded by||Henry L. Myers|
|Succeeded by||Zales Ecton|
February 27, 1882|
Hudson, Massachusetts, U.S.
|Died||January 6, 1975
Washington, District of Columbia, U.S.
|Spouse(s)||Lulu M. White; 1 daughter, Frances Wheeler (died 1957)|
|Alma mater||University of Michigan|
Burton Kendall Wheeler (February 27, 1882 – January 6, 1975) was an attorney and an American politician of the Democratic Party in Montana; he served as a United States Senator from 1923 until 1947. He returned to his law practice and lived in Washington, DC for his remaining years. He was an independent Democrat who represented the left wing of the party, receiving supported from Montana's labor unions. He ran for vice president in 1924 as an independent on the Progressive Party ticket headed by Wisconsin republican Robert La Follette, Sr.. An ardent New Deal liberal until 1937, he broke with President Franklin D. Roosevelt on the issue of packing the Supreme Court. In foreign policy in 1938-41 he became a leader of the isolationist wing of the party, fighting against entry into World War II.
Early life and education
Wheeler was born in Hudson, Massachusetts to Mary Elizabeth Rice (née Tyler) and Asa Leonard Wheeler. He grew up in Massachusetts, attending the public schools. He first worked as a stenographer in Boston, Massachusetts.
He traveled west to attend University of Michigan Law School, where he graduated in 1905. He initially intended to settle in Seattle, but after getting off the train in Butte, Montana, he lost his belongings in a poker game. The new attorney settled there and began practicing law.
Marriage and family
Wheeler married Lulu M. White. They had a daughter, Frances, who died in 1957. She had helped her father with his research for his autobiography, which he published in 1962 and dedicated to her and his wife.
He was elected as a Montana state legislator in 1910, and in that position, he gained a reputation as a champion of labor against the Anaconda Copper Mining Company, which dominated the state's economy and politics. He was appointed as a United States Attorney. During his tenure, he was notable for not issuing a single sedition indictment during World War I, especially significant as Montana was a large stronghold of the Industrial Workers of the World. In other parts of the country, membership was suppressed under the new sedition law.
In 1920 Wheeler ran for Governor of Montana as a candidate of the Non-Partisan League. The ticket included a multi-racial set of candidates, unusual for 1920, including an African American and a Blackfoot Indian. Wheeler was defeated by Republican Joseph M. Dixon.
Wheeler ran as a Democrat for U.S. Senator in 1922 and won election with 55% of the vote over Republican Congressman Carl W. Riddick. He served a total of four terms, being reelected in the 1928, 1934 and 1940 elections. He broke with the Democratic Party in 1924 to run for Vice President of the United States on the Progressive Party ticket led by La Follette. They carried one state—La Follette's Wisconsin—and ran well in union areas and railroad towns. He returned to the Democratic Party after the election, which Republican Calvin Coolidge won in a landslide.
In 1930, Wheeler gained national attention when he successfully campaigned for the reelection to the U.S. Senate of his friend and Democratic colleague Thomas Gore, the colorful "Blind Cowboy" of Oklahoma. Wheeler supported President Franklin D. Roosevelt's election, and many of his New Deal policies. He broke with Roosevelt over his opposition to the Judicial Procedures Reform Bill of 1937, and also opposed much of Roosevelt's foreign policy before World War II. In the 1940 presidential election, there was a large movement to "Draft Wheeler" into the presidential race, possibly as a third party candidate, led primarily by John L. Lewis.
During World War II
As tensions mounted in Europe, he supported the anti-war America First Committee. As chair of the Senate Interstate Commerce Committee, Wheeler announced in August 1941 he would investigate “interventionists” in the motion picture industry. Wheeler questioned why so many foreign-born men were allowed to shape American opinion.
After the start of World War II in Europe, Wheeler opposed aid to Britain or the other Allies, already fighting in the war. On October 17, 1941, Wheeler said: "I can't conceive of Japan being crazy enough to want to go to war with us." One month later, he added: "If we go to war with Japan, the only reason will be to help England." The United States Army secret Victory Plan was leaked on 4 December 1941 to Wheeler, who passed this information on to three newspapers.
Wheeler sought renomination in 1946 but was defeated in the Democratic primary by Leif Erickson, who attacked Wheeler as insufficiently liberal. Erickson was defeated by Republican state representative Zales Ecton.
Wheeler did not return to politics, nor full-time to Montana, but took up his law practice in Washington, D.C. Aided by research by his daughter, Frances (died 1957), Wheeler wrote his autobiography, with Paul F. Healy, Yankee from the West, published in 1962 by Doubleday & Company. He dedicated the book to his wife and daughter. He died in Washington, D.C., aged 92, and is interred in the District of Columbia's Rock Creek Cemetery.
In popular culture
- David George Kin wrote and published The Plot Against America: Senator Wheeler and the Forces Behind Him, a political pamphlet against Wheeler during the 1946 campaign by supporters of the Communist Party USA. It accused Wheeler and Harry S. Truman of being part of a fascist conspiracy.
- In Philip Roth's alternate history novel, The Plot Against America (2004), Wheeler serves as Vice President during the fictional administration of President Charles Lindbergh. Roth depicted Wheeler as a political opportunist who imposes martial law in Lindbergh's absence. (However, Wheeler had historically been known as a leading opponent of the martial law imposed by the governor in Montana during World War I.)
- In The Divide, Wheeler becomes President in 1940 and retains the policy of isolationism. As a result, the U.S. is defeated and partitoned as spoils between Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.
|United States Senate|
Henry L. Myers
|United States Senator (Class 1) from Montana
Served alongside: Thomas J. Walsh, John E. Erickson, James E. Murray
John N. Heiskell
|Most Senior Living U.S. Senator
(Sitting or Former)
with Clarence Dill
December 28, 1972 – January 6, 1975
- Burton K. Wheeler (with Paul F. Healy), Yankee From The West: The Candid, Turbulent Life Story of the Yankee-born U.S. Senator from Montana, Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1962, full text online at Internet Archive website, accessed December 12, 2012
- Tribune Staff. "125 Montana Newsmakers: Burton K. Wheeler". Great Falls Tribune. Retrieved August 27, 2011.
- Current Biography 1940, p. 858
- David Gordon.America First: the Anti-War Movement, Charles Lindbergh and the Second World War, 1940-1941. Quote: "Critics charged that the Committee was motivated by animus to Jewish studio heads."
- Charles E. Kirkpatrick, Writing the Victory Plan of 1941, Ch. 4, "Detailed Planning", United States Army Center of Military History, CMH Pub 93-10.
- Burton K. Wheeler profile, Political Graveyard website
- Bill Kauffman, "Heil to the Chief", The American Conservative, September 27, 2004.
- "Wheeler's Progress: The Evolution of a Progressive", antiwar.com, May 1, 2009.
|This section lacks ISBNs for the books listed in it. (September 2013)|
- Anderson, John Thomas. ”Senator Burton K. Wheeler and United States Foreign Relations” PhD dissertation, University of Virginia, 1982; Wheeler, Burton Kendall. Yankee From the West: The Candid, Turbulent Life Story of the Yankee-Born U.S. Senator from Montana (1962); reprint. New York: Octagon Books, 1977 (American National Biography & Dictionary of American Biography)
- Johnson, Marc C., “Franklin D. Roosevelt, Burton K. Wheeler, and the Great Debate: A Montana Senator's Crusade for Non-intervention before World War II”, Montana: The Magazine of Western History (Winter 2012) 62#1 pp 3–22
- Morrison, John, and Catherine Wright Morrison, Mavericks: The Lives and Battles of Montana's Political Legends (2003), pp 161–96
- Ruetten, Richard T. Burton K. Wheeler, 1905-1925, An Independent Liberal under Fire (1957); vol 1 of standard biography
- Ruetten, R. Burton K. Wheeler of Montana: A Progressive between the Wars (1961); vol. 2 of standard biography
- Wheeler, Burton K. with Paul F. Healy, Yankee from the West: The Candid, Turbulent Life Story of the Yankee-born U. S. Senator from Montana, Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1962, full text online at Internet Archive Website
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