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|
|Died||January 6, 1975
|Spouse(s)||Lulu M. White|
|Children||John Leonard Wheeler
Elizabeth Wheeler Colman
Edward Kendall Wheeler
|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, as supported by labor unions in Montana. 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, the son of 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 went west to the University of Michigan Law School, where he graduated in 1905.
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.
Political career 
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 (IWW). In other parts of the country, their members were being 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 is often credited for steering public opinion in Gore's favor with a series of speeches in which, with characteristic hyperbole, he repeatedly implied that he would personally play the part of the Blind Cowboy's horse on his ride to Washington.
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.
During World War II 
As tensions mounted in Europe, Wheeler 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 any aid to Britain or the countries involved in the war. On 17 October 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 the Plan on to three newspapers.
Later life 
Wheeler sought renomination in 1946 but was defeated in the Democratic primary by Leif Erickson, who attacked Wheeler as insufficiently liberal. Erickson was in turn 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, who died in 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 Lulu and to Frances. He died in Washington, D.C. and is interred at Rock Creek Cemetery in the city.
In popular culture 
- David George Kin wrote The Plot Against America: Senator Wheeler and the Forces Behind Him, a political pamphlet published 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 in the fictional administration of President Charles Lindbergh. Roth depicted Wheeler as a political opportunist who imposes martial law in Lindbergh's absence, but Wheeler had historically been well known as a leading opponent of the martial law imposed by the governor in Montana during World War I.
|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 & Co., Inc., 1962, full text online at Internet Archive Website, accessed 12 December 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.
- Bill Kauffman, "Heil to the Chief", The American Conservative, 27 September 2004
- "Wheeler's Progress: The Evolution of a Progressive", Anti-War website
Further reading 
- Morrison, John, and Catherine Wright Morrison, Mavericks: The Lives and Battles of Montana's Political Legends (2003), pp 161–96 on Wheeler
- Ruetten, Richard T. Burton K. Wheeler, 1905-1925, An Independent Liberal under Fire (1957) 418pp; vol 1 of standard biography
- Ruetten, Richard T. Burton K. Wheeler of Montana: A Progressive between the Wars (1961) - 662 pages; vol. 2 of a standard biography
Primary sources 
- 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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