Clair Engle

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Clair Engle
Clair Engle.jpg
United States Senator
from California
In office
January 3, 1959 – July 30, 1964
Preceded by William F. Knowland
Succeeded by Pierre Salinger
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from California's 2nd district
In office
August 31, 1943 – January 3, 1959
Preceded by Harry L. Englebright
Succeeded by Harold T. Johnson
Member of the California Senate
In office
Personal details
Born (1911-09-21)September 21, 1911
Bakersfield, California
Died July 30, 1964(1964-07-30) (aged 52)
Washington, D.C., United States
Resting place Oak Hill Cemetery, Red Bluff, California
Nationality American
Political party Democrat
Alma mater California State University-Chico
University of California Hastings College of the Law

Clair Engle (September 21, 1911 – July 30, 1964) was an American politician of the Democratic Party and a United States Senator from California.

Early and Family Life[edit]

Engle was born in Bakersfield to Fred Engle (a rancher who also had had careers in teaching and as a lawyer) and his wife Carita. They named Clair after his aunt (who had assisted in his birth), and his name would become the source of many folksy stories over the years. Like his two brothers, Clair Engle was active in outdoor activities as well as attended public schools in Shasta and Tehama Counties. Fellow students at Red Bluff High School elected him their student body president. In 1928, he enrolled at Chico State Teachers College, and graduated in 1930. He then attended University of California Hastings College of the Law, and graduated in 1933. Although Engle had a reputation for straight-laced religiousity at both institutions, he eloped to marry his first wife, Hazel.[1] They divorced in 1948 and Engle married his second wife, Lucretia Caldwell of San Jose, California and a Congressional secretary.[2]

Legal and Early Political Career[edit]

Admitted to the California bar in 1933, Engle set up a practice in Corning, and soon ran for District Attorney of Tehama County. He won although just 23 years old and held that office from 1934 until 1942.

In that year he won election to the California Senate, representing Tehama, Glenn and Colusa Counties but ended up serving in that body for little more than a year. His main accomplishment was passing a law to allow conversion of unused fairgrounds to house migrant farmworkers to ease a severe labor shortage.[1]

Member of the U.S. House of Representatives[edit]

On August 31, 1943, Engle was elected as a Democrat to represent California's 2nd congressional district in the 78th Congress to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Harry L. Englebright. Although the district had more Republican than Democratic voters, Englebright's widow and another candidate split the Republican vote.

Rep. Engle was elected to a full term in 1944 and reelected to the following six Congresses, serving until January 3, 1959. At the time, this district encompassed 18 counties in northern California and only the district in Nevada was physically larger. Thus, Engle used his pilot's license to campaign and meet with constituents. He was dubbed the flying congressman and once flew solo to his home in California from the Hybla Valley Airport in Alexandria, Virginia.[3]

Rep. Engle was sometimes jokingly referred to as "Congressman Fireball" because of the his activity level, colorful language, the location of the geologically active Mount Lassen in his district, and the clouds of smoke from his cigars.[2] While in the United States House of Representatives he became Chairman of the U.S. House Committee on War Claims for the 79th Congress and Chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs for the 84th Congress and the 85th Congress. Rep. Engle sponsored several major expansions of the California Central Valley Project, as well as the Saline Water Conversion Research Program, and a low interest loan program relating to small irrigation projects. He also became known as a key supporter of the Taft-Hartley Act, which did not prevent him from being nominated by both parties when he sought re-election.[4]

U.S. Senator[edit]

Engle won election as a Democrat to the United States Senate in 1958, the year of a Democratic landslide. He defeated former Governor Goodwin J. Knight, and became the first Democrat elected to that Senate seat in the 20th century. He thus succeeded William F. Knowland, who had given up the seat in an unsuccessful run for Governor of California (losing to Edmund Brown).

Senator Engle began his service there January 3, 1959. He worked with Senator Thomas Kuchel to pass the San Luis water project, the West Coast powertie and the Point Reyes National Seashore. He also promoted federal public transit assistance and civil rights legislation to assist his urban constituents.[1]

However, on August 24, 1963, Senator Engle underwent surgery to remove a brain tumor, which left him partially paralyzed, forced him to miss several Senate sessions, and ultimately withdraw from his re-election campaign. On April 13, 1964, the gravity of Engle's health problems was clearly evident as he attempted to introduce a resolution calling for a delay in constructing an atomic power plant near San Francisco. He was given permission but was unable to speak, so a colleague presented the resolution instead.

Engle officially ended his re-election campaign on April 28, 1964, just four days after undergoing his second brain operation in eight months. However, he chose not to endorse either of the remaining Democratic challengers, California State Controller Alan Cranston and former Presidential press secretary Pierre Salinger. That decision came as because state Democratic leaders refused to endorse him unless he provided details concerning his health.

On June 10, 1964, during the roll call for the historic, successful effort to break the filibuster on what would become the Civil Rights Act of 1964, when the clerk reached "Mr. Engle," there was no reply. The tumor had robbed Engle of his ability to speak. Slowly lifting an arm, he pointed to his eye, thereby signaling his affirmative vote ("aye").[5] The cloture vote was 71-29, four votes more than the two-thirds required to cut off the filibuster.[6] Nine days later the Senate approved the Act itself.

Death and Legacy[edit]

Engle died in Washington, D.C. a month and a half later, aged 52. He was survived by his parents, widow and daughter from his first marriage, Yvonne Engle Childs. The Senate Chaplain led the memorial service at Fort Myer, Virginia, at which Chief Justice Earl Warren attended. Approximately 3000 mourners attended his funeral in Red Bluff at the First Methodist Church. He was buried in the Oak Hill cemetery.[2]

Trinity Lake, in California's Trinity County, was renamed for Clair Engle, although the name Trinity Lake continued to be commonly used, and eventually the lake's original name was restored.

His papers are held in the library at California State University, Chico.[7]

The city of Shasta Lake named a park and community center for Clair Engle.[8]

See also[edit]

Steven Sayles, Clair Engle and his Political Development in Tehama County, California Historical Quarterly 54 (Winter 1975) ppp. 293 et seq.


External links[edit]

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Harry Lane Englebright
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from California's 2nd congressional district

Succeeded by
Harold T. Johnson
United States Senate
Preceded by
William F. Knowland
U.S. Senator (Class 1) from California
1959 – 1964
Served alongside: Thomas Kuchel
Succeeded by
Pierre Salinger
Party political offices
Preceded by
Will Rogers, Jr.
Democratic nominee for Senator from California
(Class 1)

Succeeded by
Pierre Salinger
Political offices
Preceded by
Arthur L. Miller
Chairman of House Interior and Insular Affairs Committee
Succeeded by
James A. Haley