Gale W. McGee

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Gale W. McGee
Gale W. McGee.jpg
United States Senator
from Wyoming
In office
January 3, 1959 – January 3, 1977
Preceded by Frank A. Barrett
Succeeded by Malcolm Wallop
9th United States Ambassador to the Organization of American States
In office
President Jimmy Carter
Preceded by William S. Mailliard
Succeeded by J. William Middendorf
Personal details
Born (1915-03-17)March 17, 1915
Lincoln, Nebraska
Died April 9, 1992(1992-04-09) (aged 77)
Washington, D.C.
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Loraine Baker McGee (died March 21, 2006)
Religion Presbyterian

Gale William McGee (March 17, 1915 – April 9, 1992) was a United States Senator of the Democratic Party, and United States Ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS). He represented Wyoming in the United States Senate from 1959 until 1977; as of 2014, he is the last Democrat to have been elected to a Senate seat from that state.

Early life[edit]

McGee was born in Lincoln, Nebraska, on March 17, 1915. He attended public schools, and had planned to study law at university, but was forced by the Great Depression to attend the State Teachers College in Wayne, Nebraska, instead. He graduated from the Teachers College in 1936, and worked as a high school teacher while studying for a master's degree in history at the University of Colorado. He continued as a college instructor at Nebraska Wesleyan University, Iowa State College, and Notre Dame. In 1946 McGee received his Ph.D. in history from the University of Chicago and accepted a position as a professor of American History at the University of Wyoming. McGee also served as chair of the University of Wyoming’s Institute of International Affairs, which he founded. In addition, McGee took leave of the University of Wyoming to serve as a Carnegie Research Fellow in New York with the Council on Foreign Relations from 1952 to 1953.


Active in Democratic Party politics, McGee was asked to run for the United States Congress in 1950 but declined, saying he wanted to get more in touch with Wyoming and its people. In 1955–1956 he took a leave of absence from the university to work as top aide to Wyoming Senator Joseph C. O'Mahoney.

In 1958 McGee left the university to make his bid for the U.S. Senate, running on a program of youth and new ideas. His campaign even attracted the attention of Eleanor Roosevelt, who conducted a national fund-raising drive for him.[1] He won a very tight race against incumbent Frank A. Barrett by making campaign stops in almost every town in Wyoming. He was a member of the Democratic class of 1958 which was elected in the middle of President Eisenhower's second term. After his victory he was appointed to the Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee and to the prestigious Appropriations Committee, the first freshman senator to so be honored.

The confirmation of Lewis Strauss[edit]

In 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower nominated Lewis Strauss to serve as Secretary of Commerce. Previously, Mr. Strauss had served in numerous government positions in Administrations of Presidents Truman and Eisenhower. At the time, the 13 previous nominees for this Cabinet position won Senate confirmation in an average of eight days.[2] Because of both personal and professional disagreements, Senator Clinton Presba Anderson took up the cause to make sure that Mr. Strauss would not be confirmed by the Senate. Senator Anderson found an ally in McGee on the Senate Commerce Committee, which had jurisdiction over Mr. Strauss' confirmation. During and after the Senate hearings, Senator McGee had charged Mr. Strauss with "a brazen attempt to hoodwink" the committee.[3] After 16 days of hearings the Committee recommended Mr. Strauss' confirmation to the full Senate by a vote of 9-8. In preparation for the floor debate on the nomination, the Democratic majority's main argument against the nomination was that Mr. Strauss' statements before the Committee were "sprinkled with half truths and even lies...and that under rough and hostile questioning, [he] can be evasive and quibblesome."[4] Despite an overwhelming Democratic majority, the 86th United States Congress was not able to accomplish much of their agenda since the President had immense popularity and a veto pen.[5] With the 1960 elections nearing, congressional Democrats sought issues on which they could conspicuously oppose the Republican administration. The Strauss nomination proved tailor made.[6]

On June 19, 1959 just after midnight, the Strauss nomination failed by a vote 46-49. At the time, It marked only the eighth time in U.S. history that a Cabinet appointee had failed to be confirmed.[7]

1960 Democratic Convention[edit]

From Harper's Magazine:[8]

"With Kennedy only eleven votes short of the nomination, Ted Kennedy approached the Wyoming delegation, where Kennedy was known to have eight and a half solid votes, Johnson had six, and one-half vote remained loyal to Adlai Stevenson. Suddenly one of Wyoming's leaders broke away from a frantic huddle with Ted Kennedy, hopped on a chair, and held up four fingers to the delegates. "Give me four votes!" he begged. "We can put him over the top! Please give me four votes!" Hastily the Wyoming delegates decided to write themselves a footnote to history. Chairman Roncalio proudly spoke of the honor that was his as Wyoming cast all fifteen of its votes for John F. Kennedy."
"In the roar greeting the announcement, I kept my eyes on the man who had begged for four votes. He was jumping up and down, slapping a beaming Ted Kennedy on the back, apparently beside himself with joy. I recognized him as our old friend Senator Gale McGee."

Relationship with President Kennedy[edit]

By nature of their service together in the Senate, Senator McGee continued to enjoy a good relationship with President Kennedy while in the White House. President Kennedy provided a recorded tribute to Senator McGee for a dinner in the Senator’s honor in Wyoming in July 1963. President Kennedy referred to him as 'an old friend' and that Senator McGee was 'an asset and a leader in this country.'[9]

As part of a nationwide tour in September 1963, President Kennedy made a stop in Cheyenne, WY[10] and then boarded a smaller plane for the flight to Laramie. Senator McGee, as is protocol for a United States Senator, escorted the President in his travels throughout Wyoming. In a video of the President’s tour (at the 4 minute, 50 second mark), Senator McGee can be seen disembarking with President Kennedy upon arrival in Laramie.[11]

The President then delivered remarks at the University of Wyoming.[12] For those attending, it became a memorable occasion, particularly after JFK's untimely death in Dallas only two months later in November. As recounted by one University of Wyoming student who was there to hear Kennedy speak in Laramie, "None of us would ever forget the vivid image of the two young men together that day -- President Kennedy and Senator McGee, who had a full head of bright reddish-auburn hair very much like JFK's -- on the podium when the President spoke, and riding through Laramie on that bright sunny day in open Presidential car -- etched even more indelibly into our memories by the tragic event in Dallas just two months later."[13]

Second Senate term[edit]

In 1964 McGee was re-elected to the Senate, defeating Republican nominee John Wold. In his second term he was appointed to the Foreign Relations Committee and became chairman of the Post Office and Civil Service Committee. During this period Gale McGee supported President Lyndon B. Johnson's views on the Vietnam War. Johnson strongly considered appointing Senator McGee to be Ambassador to the UN after the resignation of Arthur Goldberg.[14]

He believed in the policy of containing communism, and his pro-military views were accented by his firm support for foreign aid. McGee often took a liberal position on domestic issues and an internationalist stand on foreign affairs.

Third Senate term[edit]

In 1970 he was elected to a third term in the Senate, winning a rematch with Congressman John Wold by a larger-than-expected margin, and continued to be a leading member of the committees on which he served. McGee was a voice of moderation in the affairs of the Watergate scandal and the impeachment proceedings of President Richard Nixon. Against the wishes of many of his constituents, McGee stood on principle and fought hard for positions unpopular in Wyoming in support of gas rationing and the 55-mile per hour speed limit in the era of the first Arab oil embargoes.

In his 1976 bid for a fourth term, McGee was defeated by Republican challenger Malcolm Wallop, who ran an expensive television advertising campaign attacking McGee for, among other positions, his opposition to state right-to-work laws, and problems with the U.S. Postal Service, based on McGee's chairmanship of the U.S. Senate committee overseeing the Postal Service. The margin of defeat was almost ten percentage points.


Among the major laws he has authored include an amendment that prevented a Nationwide rail strike in 1963; the act that created the National Commission on Food Marketing; and the Postal Reorganization Act of 1970. As chair of the Post Office and Civil Service Committee, McGee’s efforts led to greater equity in pay and benefits for those federal workers. McGee also specialized in problems of appropriations and foreign relations while serving on various subcommittees, and lobbied for legislation to allow voter registration by mail.

McGee was also the author of The Responsibilities of World Power, published in 1968. The work warned against isolationism and urged the United States to accept its power and position imposed upon it in the aftermath of World War II. McGee further argued that the U.S. had a responsibility to be a Pacific power, to act as a counterweight to China, and to support free nations in their efforts to remain nonaligned or western allies but not to fall into the Communist fold. The work was nominated for a Woodrow Wilson Foundation award.

A long-time supporter of the United Nations, McGee was appointed by President Richard Nixon to a four-member congressional delegation to represent the United States at the United Nations' 27th General Assembly in 1972.

"Champion" of Congressional Recess[edit]

In 1965, Senator McGee began calling for a mandated August recess for Congress. It was not until 1969, had his idea gained enough support amongst his colleagues that they gave it a test run - the Senate recessed from August 13 to September 3. Finally, on August 6, 1971, as mandated by the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970, the Senate began its first official August recess. The account from the Office of the Senate Historian [15]

August 6, 1971 Give Us a (Summer) Break!

“How shall we modernize Congress, and update the machinery of democracy?” asked Senator Gale McGee in 1965. His answer? An August recess! In fact, Gale McGee should be remembered as the champion of the summertime break.

From 1789 until the 1930s, Congress convened in December, stayed in session for five or six months, and then adjourned sine die. Occasionally, the demands of war kept Congress in session longer, but generally senators agreed with Vice President John Nance Garner who famously proclaimed, “No good legislation ever comes out of Washington after June.” By the 1950s, however, the schedule had changed. In 1956 Congress adjourned on July 27—marking the last time the Senate adjourned before the first of August.

Gale McGee was not the first senator to propose a summer break. In 1959 Margaret Chase Smith warned of the Senate’s increasing workload. It creates disorder, she complained, as well as “confused thinking, harmful emotions, destructive tempers, unsound and unwise legislation, and ill health with the very specter of death hanging over Members of Congress.” If that sounds dramatic, keep in mind that in the 1950s senators died in office at a rate of about two per year. Smith proposed an annual break from August to October, but the Senate ignored her words of caution.

By the early 1960s legislative sessions had crept well into autumn. In 1962 the Senate met from January to October with no recess. In 1963 it convened in January and adjourned in December with no break longer than a three-day weekend. Majority Leader Mike Mansfield complained that he no longer recognized his wife during daylight hours. “It is time to stop kidding ourselves,” Gale McGee exclaimed. It’s time to face the “facts of legislative life.”

Repeatedly, McGee called for a summer recess, and each time the idea split the Senate along generational lines. Older senators preferred the traditional system of doing business--come to Washington in January, complete business by summer, and go home. No need for weekend trips or state work periods. Senators had plenty of time to deal with home-state business and reelection campaigns. But younger senators, facing the realities of the modern Senate, wanted a designated six-week summer recess to allow them to plan family vacations and reconnect with their constituency.

By 1969 McGee had gained enough support for a test run. The Senate recessed from August 13 to September 3. Young reformers gleefully left town, while older members grumbled. “There’s too much work piling up,” snarled one. “Now we’ll be here till Christmas!” Come September, the reviews were mixed. It certainly was “no vacation,” insisted George Aiken of Vermont, who discovered that his Senate work followed him home. But even critics acknowledged that the break provided useful opportunities to connect with constituents. “The feedback you get while hitting the fish fries . . . gives you a totally different feeling than you get in Washington,” confessed Indiana’s Vance Hartke.

Finally, on August 6, 1971, as mandated by the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970, the Senate began its first official August recess. Thanks to the persistent efforts of Senator McGee and his allies, the Senate could finally prove Vice President Garner wrong. Good legislation can come out of Washington, even after June--if the Senate gets an August recess!

Post Senate career[edit]

After his defeat by Malcolm Wallop when running for his fourth term in 1976, McGee became involved in Latin American affairs while serving as chair of the Western Hemisphere Affairs subcommittee of the Foreign Relations Committee and in 1977 McGee was appointed by President Jimmy Carter as United States Ambassador to the Organization of American States, a position he held until 1981. During that time he headed the U.S. Delegation to four OAS assemblies and lobbied for the 1978 Panama Canal Treaty.

In September 1981, Gale W. McGee Associates, a consulting firm specializing in international and public affairs activities was formed with its headquarters in Washington, D.C. The firm offered a broad range of political and economic services to both domestic and international companies with a special emphasis on developing new business opportunities with the nations of Latin America and in the Caribbean. McGee later served as president of the American League for Exports and Security Assistance, Inc. in 1986; as a senior consultant at Hill & Knowlton, Inc. from 1987 to 1989; and was also president of the consulting firm of Moss, McGee, Bradley, Kelly & Foley, which was created with former U.S. Senator Frank Moss.[16]

Personal life[edit]

McGee married Loraine Baker in 1939 and together they had four children: David, Robert, Mary Gale and Lori Ann. Senator McGee died on April 9, 1992, in Washington, D.C. [17] He is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery.

Congressional recognition[edit]

In January 2007, the Wyoming congressional delegation introduced federal legislation (H.R. 335, S. 219) to rename the U.S. Post Office in Laramie, Wyoming as the "Gale W. McGee Post Office." The United States House of Representatives passed the legislation by voice vote on January 29, 2007. The United States Senate passed the legislation by Unanimous consent on February 7, 2007. The President signed the bill into law on March 7, 2007.[18]


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ [2]
  3. ^ [3]
  4. ^ [4]
  5. ^ [5]
  6. ^ [6]
  7. ^ [7]
  8. ^ King, L., "My Hero LBJ", Harper's Magazine, October 1966, 59-60.
  9. ^ "President's Tribute to Senator Gale McGee, Taped for Replay at a Dinner in Wyoming, 9 July 1963". JFK Library. Retrieved 6 May 2014. 
  10. ^ "Remarks Upon Arrival at the Airport in Cheyenne, Wyoming, 25 September 1963". JFK Library. Archived from the original on 2013-10-29. Retrieved 6 May 2014. 
  11. ^ "Trip of the President, September 24-28, 1963". JFK Library. Archived from the original on 2013-10-29. Retrieved 6 May 2014. 
  12. ^ "Address at the University of Wyoming, 25 September 1963". JFK Library. Retrieved 6 May 2014. 
  13. ^ John Gingles, "Accidents of Luck - A Personal Memoir", Washington, D.C. - 2007, & in progress.
  14. ^ LBJ Library 12504 GALE MCGEE 12/9/1967 11:00A WH6712.01 PNO 4
  15. ^ [8]
  16. ^ University of Wyoming (1997)
  17. ^ [9]
  18. ^ []

External links[edit]

Gale McGee Papers at the University of Wyoming

United States Senate
Preceded by
Frank A. Barrett
U.S. Senator (Class 1) from Wyoming
Served alongside: Joseph C. O'Mahoney, John J. Hickey, Milward L. Simpson, Clifford P. Hansen
Succeeded by
Malcolm Wallop
Political offices
Preceded by
William S. Mailliard
Permanent Representative of the United States to the Organization of American States
Succeeded by
J. William Middendorf, II