George Aiken

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For the playwright, see George Aiken (playwright).
George Aiken
GeorgeAiken-VTSEN-.jpg
George David Aiken in his office
United States Senator
from Vermont
In office
January 10, 1941 – January 3, 1975
Preceded by Ernest W. Gibson, Jr.
Succeeded by Patrick Leahy
64th Governor of Vermont
In office
January 7, 1937 – January 9, 1941
Lieutenant William H. Wills
Preceded by Charles Manley Smith
Succeeded by William H. Wills
Personal details
Born George David Aiken
(1892-08-20)August 20, 1892
Dummerston, Vermont
Died November 19, 1984(1984-11-19) (aged 92)
Putney, Vermont
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Beatrice Howard, Lola Pierotti

George David Aiken (August 20, 1892 – November 19, 1984) was an American farmer and politician. A member of the Republican Party, he was the 64th Governor of Vermont (1937–1941) before serving in the United States Senate for 34 years, from 1941 to 1975. At the time of his retirement, he was the most senior member of the Senate. As governor he had battled the New Deal over its programs for hydroelectric power and flood control in Vermont. Aiken was rooted in the state's Progressive traditions, but distrusted any increase in presidential power.[1]

As a liberal Northeastern Republican in the Senate, he was one of four Republican cosponsors of the Full Employment Act of 1945. He sponsored the food allotment bill of 1945, which was a forerunner of the food stamp program. He promoted federal aid to education, and sought to establish a minimum wage of 65 cents in 1947. He was an isolationist in 1941 but supported the Truman Doctrine in 1947, and the Marshall Plan in 1948. In the 1960s and 1970s he steered a middle course on the Vietnam war, opposing Johnson's escalation and supporting Nixon's slow withdrawal policies. He was a strong supporter of the small farmer. As acting chairman of the Senate agriculture committee in 1947, he opposed high rigid price supports. He had to compromise however, and the Hope-Aiken act of 1948 introduced a sliding scale of price supports. In 1950 he was one of seven Republican senators who denounced in writing the tactics of Senator Joseph McCarthy, warning against elements in the Republican Party that sought, "victory through the selfish political exploitation of fear, bigotry, ignorance and intolerance."[2]

Early life[edit]

George Aiken was born in Dummerston, Vermont, to Edward Webster and Myra (née Cook) Aiken.[3] In 1893, he and his parents moved to Putney, where he received his early education at local public schools and graduated from Brattleboro High School in 1909.[4] Aiken, who developed a strong interest in agriculture at an early age, became a member of the Putney branch of the Grange in 1906.[5] In 1912, he borrowed $100 to plant a patch of raspberries; within five years, the land grew to five hundred acres and included a nursery.[3] In 1926, Aiken became engaged in the commercial cultivation of wildflowers.[6] He published Pioneering With Wildflowers in 1933 and Pioneering With Fruits and Berries in 1936.[6] He also served as president of the Vermont Horticultural Society (1917–1918) and of the Windham County Farm Bureau (1935–1936).[5]

In 1914, Aiken married Beatrice Howard, to whom he remained married until her death in 1966.[7] The couple had three daughters, Dorothy Howard, Marjorie Evelyn (who married Harry Cleverly), and Barbara Marion; and one son, Howard Russell.[6] Following his first wife's death, Aiken married his longtime administrative assistant, Lola Pierotti, in 1967.[7]

Early political career[edit]

Aiken served as school director of Putney from 1920 to 1937.[4] A Republican, he unsuccessfully ran for the Vermont General Assembly in 1922.[5] However, eight years later, he was elected to the Vermont House of Representatives, serving from 1931 to 1935.[4] Three preceding generations of his family had also served in the state legislature.[3] As a state representative, he became known for his opposition to the private power companies over the issue of flood control.[7] Aiken was elected as Speaker of the House in 1933, over the opposition of the Republican establishment.[6] As Speaker, he passed the Poor Debtor Law to protect people who could not pay their obligations during the Great Depression.[6]

Governor of Vermont[edit]

Aiken was elected Lieutenant Governor of Vermont in 1934.[4] In 1936 he won election as Governor, serving from 1937 to 1941.[5] Aiken earned a reputation as a moderate to liberal Republican, supporting many aspects of the New Deal, but opposing its flood control and land policies.[7] In his second term the governor launched attacks on electric utility companies, and sponsored a bill that made the Public Service Commission independent of the utilities for technical advice. He appointed a consumer oriented Commission headed by the leading farmer.[8]

When only Vermont and Maine voted Republican in 1936, Aiken thought he was in a good position to exert national leadership in the GOP. He issued manifestos calling for a more liberal approach, and sought national support. He wrote an open letter to the Republican National Committee in 1937 criticizing the party, and claimed Abraham Lincoln "would be ashamed of his party's leadership today" during a 1938 Lincoln Day address.[5] However, the conservative Republicans favored Senator Robert Taft of Ohio, the liberals Republicans were behind New York Governor Tom Dewey, and the media was enthusiastic for Wall Street tycoon Wendell Willkie, so Aiken went nowhere.[9]

During his administration, Aiken reduced the state's debt, instituted a "pay-as-you-go" road-building program, and convinced the federal government to abandon its plan to control the Connecticut River Valley flood reduction projects.[5] He also broke the monopolies of many major industries, including banks, railroads, marble companies, and granite companies.[3] He also encouraged suffering farmers in rural Vermont to form co-ops to market their crops and get access to electricity.

He portrayed himself in populist terms as the defender of farmers and "common folk" against the state political machine of the Proctor family, and against the utilities and railroads which endorsed Ralph Flanders. He pointed ominously toward Washington and warned that President Roosevelt had dictatorial tendencies. He defeated Flanders in the GOP Senate primary in 1940 and was easily elected in the fall. He was always reelected by large majorities.[10][11]

U.S. Senate[edit]

He was elected to the United States Senate on November 5, 1940, to fill the vacancy in the term ending January 3, 1945, caused by the death of Ernest W. Gibson, and was re-elected in 1944, 1950, 1956, 1962, and 1968. During his time in the Senate he served in a number of leadership roles including Chairman of the Committee on Expenditures in Executive Departments in the 80th Congress and in the Committee on Agriculture and Forestry in the 83rd Congress bringing a Vermont-centric voice to Congress emphasizing common sense solutions over party ideology. He was one of the white-haired men during the time of President John F. Kennedy's inaugural statement about the torch passing to a new generation.

He was a proponent of many spending programs such as Food Stamps and public works projects for rural America, such as rural electrification, flood control and crop insurance. He also had a great affection for the natural beauty of his home state, saying "some folks just naturally love the mountains, and like to live up among them where freedom of thought and action is logical and inherent."[12] His views were at odds with those of many Old Guard Republicans in the Senate.

The role of labor unions, or more exactly the federal role in balancing the rights of labor and management, was a central issue in the 1940s. Aiken stood midway between the pro-union Democrats and the pro-management Republicans. He favored settling labor disputes by negotiation, not in Congress and courts. He voted against the stringent Case labor bill promoted by conservative Republicans. They in turn blocked Aiken's appointment to the Labor and Public Welfare Committee and persuaded conservative leader Robert Taft to chair it. Aiken spoke out in favor of unions but voted for Taft's Taft Hartley Act of 1947, and for overriding President Truman's veto. He argued that it was a lesser evil than the Case bill.[13]

Aiken always represented the traditional Yankee element in the GOP, and distrusted Southerners. At first he supported civil rights but by the 1960s he took a more ambiguous position. He consistently favored civil rights legislation, from the Civil Rights Act of 1957 to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, but usually with important qualifications and amendments. This ambiguity, which some called obstructionism, was attacked by militant civil rights groups and the NAACP.[14]

Aiken took an ambivalent position on the Vietnam war (1965–75), changing along with the Vermont mood. Neither a hawk nor a dove, he was sometimes called an "owl."[15] He reluctantly supported the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution of 1964, and was more enthusiastic in support of Nixon's program of letting South Vietnam do the fighting using American money.[16] Aiken is widely quoted as saying that the U.S. should declare victory and bring the troops home.[17] His actual statement was:

"The United States could well declare unilaterally ... that we have 'won' in the sense that our armed forces are in control of most of the field and no potential enemy is in a position to establish its authority over South Vietnam," and that such a declaration "would herald the resumption of political warfare as the dominant theme in Vietnam."

He added: "It may be a far-fetched proposal, but nothing else has worked."[18]

His base in Vermont was solid; he spent only $17.09 on his last reelection bid. A north-south avenue on the west side of the public lawn at the Vermont State House has been named for him, as well as the state's maple research center at the University of Vermont.

Committee assignments[edit]

Committee Congresses Notes
Agriculture and Forestry 77th93rd Ranking Member (81 – 82; 84 – 91); Chairman (83)[19]
Civil Service 77th – 79th
Education and Labor
Labor and Public Welfare
77th – 80th
81st83rd
Expenditures in Executive Departments 77th – 80th Ranking Member (79);[20] Chairman (80)[21]
Pensions 77th – 79th Ranking Member (79)[20]
Senatorial Campaign Expenditures, 1942 (Select) 77th – 78th [22]
Foreign Relations 83rd – 93rd Appointed January 15, 1954[23]
Atomic Energy (Joint) 86th – 93rd
Aeronautical and Space Sciences 89th Resigned from committee January 14, 1966[24]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Heinrichs, 2001)
  2. ^ Eleonora W. Schoenebaum, ed., Political Profiles: The Truman Years (1978) p 7
  3. ^ a b c d Krebs, Albin (1984-11-20). "George Aiken, Longtime Senator And G.O.P. Maverick, Dies at 92". The New York Times. 
  4. ^ a b c d "AIKEN, George David, (1892 - 1984)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f Current Biography 24. H. W. Wilson Company. 1948. 
  6. ^ a b c d e The History of Putney, Vermont, 1753-1953. Fortnightly Club of Putney. 1953. 
  7. ^ a b c d "George D. Aiken". University of Vermont. 
  8. ^ Hand (2002) p 157
  9. ^ D. Gregory Sanford, “You Can't Get There From Here: The Presidential Boomlet for Governor George D. Aiken, 1937-1939," Vermont History 49 (1981): 197-208.
  10. ^ Heinrichs, (2001) p 273
  11. ^ Hand (2002) pp 158-9
  12. ^ Kauffman, Bill (2004-09-13) Democracy in Vermont, The American Conservative
  13. ^ Paul M. Searls, "George Aiken and the Taft-Hartley Act: A Less Undesirable Alternative," Vermont History (1992) 60#3 pp 155-166.
  14. ^ Bruce H. Kalk, "Yankee Party or Southern Strategy? George Aiken and the Republican Party, 1936-1972," Vermont History (1996) 64#4 pp236-250
  15. ^ Duffy (2002) p 35
  16. ^ Charles F. O’Brien, "Aiken and Vietnam: A Dialogue with Vermont Voters," Vermont History (1993) 61#1 pp 5-17.
  17. ^ Mark A. Stoler, "What Did He Really Say? The 'Aiken Formula’for Vietnam Revisited,'" Vermont History (1978) 46#1 pp 100-108.
  18. ^ Eder, Richard. "Aiken Suggests U.S. Say It Has Won the War." New York Times. October 20, 1966, pp. 1, 16
  19. ^ The United States Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry: 1825–1998 (S. Doc. 105-24). 105th Congress. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office. 1998. 
  20. ^ a b Official Congressional Directory. 79th Congress
  21. ^ "Chairmen of Senate Standing Committees 1789 – present". Senate Historical Office. June 2008. p. 35. Retrieved 2009-05-07. 
  22. ^ Canon, David T.; Garrison Nelson and Charles Stewart III (2002). Committees in the U.S. Congress: 1789–1946. Vol 4, Select Committees. Washington, DC: CQ Press. ISBN 1-56802-175-5. 
  23. ^ Committee on Foreign Relations, United States Senate, Millennium Edition, 1816–2000 (S. Doc. 105-28). 105th Congress, 2d session. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office. 2000. p. 98. 
  24. ^ Committee on Aeronautical and Space Sciences, United States Senate: 1958–1976. 94th Congress, 2nd Session. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office. December 30, 1976. p. 63. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Duffy, John J. et al. eds. The Vermont Encyclopedia (2003) excerpt and text search
  • Hand, Samuel B., and D. Gregory Sanford. "Carrying Water on Both Shoulders: George D. Aiken's 1936 Gubernatorial Campaign in Vermont," Vermont History (1975) 43: 292-306
  • Hand, Samuel B. The Star That Set: The Vermont Republican Party, 1854-1974 (2002); extensive coverage of Aiken based on his diaries
  • Hand, Samuel B. and Paul M. Searls. "Transition Politics: Vermont, 1940–1952," Vermont History (1994) 62#1 pp 1–25
  • Heinrichs, Jr. Waldo H. "Waldo H. Heinrichs, George D. Aiken, and the Lend Lease Debate of 1941," Vermont History (2001) 69#3 pp 267–83 online
  • Schoenebaum, Eleonora W. ed., Political Profiles: The Truman Years (1978) pp 6–8

Primary sources[edit]

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Edward H. Deavitt
Speaker of the Vermont House of Representatives
1933–1935
Succeeded by
Ernest E. Moore
Preceded by
Charels M. Smith
Lieutenant Governor of Vermont
1935–1937
Succeeded by
William H. Wills
Governor of Vermont
1937–1941
Preceded by
Lister Hill
Chairman of the Senate Executive Department Expenditures Committee
1947–1949
Succeeded by
John L. McClellan
Preceded by
Allen J. Ellender
Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee
1953–1955
Succeeded by
Allen J. Ellender
United States Senate
Preceded by
Ernest W. Gibson, Jr.
U.S. Senator (Class 3) from Vermont
1941–1975
Served alongside: Warren R. Austin, Ralph Flanders, Winston L. Prouty, Robert Stafford
Succeeded by
Patrick Leahy
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Styles Bridges
Most Senior Republican United States Senator
1961 - 1975
Succeeded by
Milton R. Young
Preceded by
Allen J. Ellender
Dean of the United States Senate
July 27, 1972 – January 3, 1975
Succeeded by
James Eastland
and John L. McClellan