John Little McClellan

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For the English chemist, see John McClellan (chemist).
The Honorable
John Little McClellan
John Little McClellan.jpg
United States Senator
from Arkansas
In office
January 3, 1943 – November 28, 1977
Preceded by G. Lloyd Spencer
Succeeded by Kaneaster Hodges, Jr. (interim)
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Arkansas's 6th district
In office
January 3, 1935 – January 3, 1939
Preceded by David D. Glover
Succeeded by William F. Norrell
Personal details
Born February 25, 1896
Sheridan, Arkansas
Died November 28, 1977(1977-11-28) (aged 81)
Little Rock, Arkansas
Nationality American
Political party Democratic
Military service
Service/branch United States Army
Years of service 1917–1919
Rank First Lieutenant
Unit Signal Corps
Battles/wars World War I

John Little McClellan (February 25, 1896 – November 28, 1977) was an American lawyer and politician. A member of the Democratic Party, he served as a U.S. Representative (1935–1939) and a U.S. Senator (1943–1977) from Arkansas. At the time of his death, he was the second most senior member of the Senate and chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.[1] He is the longest-serving Senator in Arkansas history.[2]

Early life and career[edit]

John McClellan was born on a farm near Sheridan, in Grant County, Arkansas, to Isaac Scott and Belle (née Suddeth) McClellan.[2] His parents, who were strong Democrats, named him after John Sebastian Little, who served as a U.S. Representative (1894–1907) and Governor of Arkansas (1907).[1] His mother died only months after his birth, and he received his early education at local public schools.[3] At age 12, after graduating from Sheridan High School, he began studying law in his father's office.[4] He was admitted to the state bar association in 1913, when he was only 17, after the Arkansas General Assembly approved a special act waiving the normal age requirement for certification as a lawyer.[1] As the youngest attorney in the United States, he practiced law with his father in Sheridan.[4]

McClellan was a renowned racist.[5] As a boy, after Theodore Roosevelt invited Booker T. Washington to dinner at the White House, McClellan wrote a prize-winning school essay proclaiming that Roosevelt had destroyed the integrity of the presidency. Well into his teenage years, McClellan carried a copy of this essay with him, showing it to influential politicians who were friends of his father.[6] His negative attitudes on race transcended throughout his life. McClelland was an author of the Southern Manifesto, which attempted to delegitimize the Brown v. Board of Education decision, in which the United States Supreme Court held that segregated public schools violated the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

McClellan married Eula Hicks in 1913; the couple had two children, and divorced in 1921.[2] During World War I, he served in the U.S. Army as a first lieutenant in the aviation section of the Signal Corps from 1917 to 1919.[7] Following his military service, he moved to Malvern, where he opened a law office and served as city attorney (1920–1926).[1]

In 1922, he married Lucille Smith, to whom he remained married until her death in 1935; they had three children.[2] He was prosecuting attorney of the seventh judicial district of Arkansas from 1927 to 1930.[7]

U.S. House of Representatives[edit]

In 1934, McClellan was elected as a Democrat to the U.S. House of Representatives from Arkansas's 6th congressional district.[7] He was re-elected to the House in 1936. In March of that year, he condemned CBS for airing a speech by Communist leader Earl Browder, which he described as "nothing less than treason."[4] During his tenure in the House, he voted against President Franklin D. Roosevelt's court-packing plan, the Gavagan anti-lynching bill, and the Reorganization Act of 1937.[4] In 1937, he wed for the third and final time, marrying Norma Myers Cheatham.[1]

In 1938, McClellan unsuccessfully challenged first-term incumbent Hattie Caraway for the Democratic nomination for the United States Senate.[7] During the campaign, he criticized Caraway for her support for the 1937 Reorganization Act and accused her of having "improper influence" over federal employees in Arkansas.[4] Nevertheless, he was defeated in the primary election by a margin of about 8,000 votes.[4] He subsequently resumed the practice of law in Camden, where he joined the firm Gaughan, McClellan and Gaughan.[2] He served as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1940 (Chicago), 1944 (Chicago), and 1948 (Philadelphia).

U.S. Senate[edit]

In 1942, after G. Lloyd Spencer decided not to seek re-election, McClellan ran for the Senate again but this time won. He served as Senator from Arkansas from 1943 to 1977, when he died in office. During his tenure, he served as chairman of the Appropriations Committee and served 22 years as chairman of the Committee on Government Operations. McClellan was the longest serving United States Senator in Arkansas history. During the later part of his Senate service Arkansas had, perhaps, the most powerful Congressional delegations with McClellan as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Wilbur Mills as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Oren Harris as chairman of the House Commerce Committee, Senator J. William Fulbright as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Took Gathings as chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, and James William Trimble as a member of the powerful House Rules Committee.

McClellan also served for eighteen years as chairman of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (1955–1973) and continued the hearings into subversive activities at U.S. Army Signal Corps Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, where Soviet spies Julius Rosenberg, Al Sarant and Joel Barr all worked in the 1940s. He was a participant in the famous Army-McCarthy Hearings and led a Democratic walkout of that subcommittee in protest of Senator Joseph McCarthy's conduct in those hearings. McClellan appeared in the 2005 movie Good Night, and Good Luck, in footage from the actual hearings. Under his leadership, the committee conducted the famous McClellan Hearings, more commonly known as the Valachi Hearings which investigated organized crime activities across America and centered on Teamsters head and mafia associate, Jimmy Hoffa in 1957 and other leading mafia figures of the era such as Sam Giancana of Chicago. The first American mafia informant, Joseph Valachi appeared before the McClellan Committee in 1963 and gave the American public a firsthand account of mafia activities in the United States and Canada. McClellan continued his efforts against organized crime, supplying the political influence for the anti-organized crime laws (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, RICO) which were conceived by G. Robert Blakey until 1973 when he switched to investigating political subversion. During this period, he hired Robert F. Kennedy as chief counsel and vaulted him into the national spotlight. McClellan investigated numerous cases of government corruption including numerous defense contractors and Texas financier Billie Sol Estes.

In 1957, he helped form and was chair of the Select Committee on Improper Activities in Labor and Management, which investigated organized crime influence in labor unions.

One of McClellan's law partners prior to his Senate service, Maud Crawford, went missing in March 1957 in Camden, Arkansas. There had been speculation that she had been kidnapped by the Mafia in an attempt to intimidate McClellan, but no ransom note was ever forthcoming. The disappearance, which remains unsolved, received international attention.[8]

Senator John Little McClellan

In 1957, McClellan opposed U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower's decision to send federal troops to enforce the desegregation of Central High School in Little Rock. Prior to the sending of the troops under the command of Major General Edwin A. Walker, McClellan had expressed "regret [regarding] the ... use of force by the federal government to enforce integration. I believe it to be without authority of law. I am very apprehensive that such action may precipitate more trouble than it will prevent."[9]

McClellan and fellow Senator Robert S. Kerr of Oklahoma were the sponsors of the bill that authorized construction of the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System, maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers. The system transformed the once-useless Arkansas River into a major transportation route and water source.

Although his Select Committee on Improper Activities in Labor and Management had already been dissolved by 1960, McClellan began a related three-year investigation in 1963 through the Permanent Investigations Senate Subcommittee into the union benefit plans of labor leader George Barasch, alleging misuse and diversion of $4,000,000 of benefit funds.[10][11] McClellan's notable failure to find any legal wrongdoing led to his introduction of several pieces of new legislation including McClellan's own bill on October 12, 1965 setting new fiduciary standards for plan trustees.[12] Senator Jacob K. Javits (R) of New York also introduced bills in 1965 and 1967 increasing regulation on welfare and pension funds to limit the control of plan trustees and administrators.[13][14] Provisions from all three bills ultimately evolved into the guidelines enacted in the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA).[15][16]

In his last Senate election in 1972, McClellan defeated fellow Democrat David Hampton Pryor, then a U.S. representative, by a narrow 52-48 percent margin in the party runoff. He then defeated the only Republican who ever ran against him, Wayne H. Babbitt, then a North Little Rock veterinarian, by a margin of 61-39 percent. Pryor was elected to the seat in 1978, three weeks before the one-year anniversary of McClelland's death.

In 1974, McClellan informed President Gerald R. Ford, Jr., that he would not support the renomination of Republican Lynn A. Davis as U.S. marshal for the Eastern District of Arkansas based in Little Rock. McClellan claimed that Davis, who as the temporary head of the Arkansas state police had conducted sensational raids against mobsters in Hot Springs, was too partisan for the position. In an effort to appease the powerful McClellan, Ford moved to replace Davis with Len E. Blaylock of Perry County, the mild-mannered Republican gubernatorial nominee in the 1972 campaign against Dale Bumpers.[17]

Personal life[edit]

In 1955, McClellan appeared as the "mystery guest" on the popular CBS TV game show What's My Line?, where the blindfolded celebrity panelists had to guess his identity. In 1957, his teenage grandson Steve appeared as a guest challenger on the TV game show To Tell The Truth.

McClellan experienced many personal tragedies in his life. His second wife died of spinal meningitis in 1935 and his son Max died of the same disease in 1943 while serving in Africa during World War II. His son John L. Jr. died in 1949 in an automobile accident. His son James H. died in a plane crash in 1958.

McClellan died in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1977 and was buried at Roselawn Memorial Park in Little Rock.

A VA Hospital in Little Rock is named in his honor. Ouachita Baptist University is the repository for his official papers.


  1. ^ a b c d e "John L. McClellan, 35 Years in the Senate, Dead at 81; Headed Major Investigations". The New York Times. 1977-11-29. 
  2. ^ a b c d e "John Little McClellan (1896–1977)". The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. 
  3. ^ Thomas, David Yancey (1930). Arkansas and Its People: A History, 1541-1930 IV. The American Historical Society. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f Current Biography. New York: H.W. Wilson Company. 1950. 
  5. ^ Leuchtenburg, William (2005). The White House Looks South: Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Lyndon B. Johnson. Louisiana State University Press. 
  6. ^ Haygood, Will (2015). Showdown: Thurgood Marshall and the Supreme Court Nomination that Changed America. Knopf. 
  7. ^ a b c d "McCLELLAN, John Little, (1896 - 1977)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. 
  8. ^ "Maud Robinson Crawford (1891-1957)". Retrieved January 14, 2011. 
  9. ^ Quoted in Osro Cobb, Osro Cobb of Arkansas: Memoirs of Historical Significance, Carol Griffee, ed. (Little Rock: Rose Publishing Company, 1989), pp. 237, 238
  10. ^ Committee on Government Operations, United States Senate (1966). Diversion of union welfare-pension funds of Allied Trades Council and Teamsters 815; report, together with individual views. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office. 
  11. ^ "Pension Fund Probe: Searching Questions and Puzzling Answers". Herald Tribune. August 8, 1965. 
  12. ^ Barkdoll, Robert (October 13, 1965). "Bill to Guard Welfare, Pension Funds Offered". Los Angeles Times. p. 1. 
  13. ^ Whitten, Leslie H. (August 2, 1965). "Javits Aims to Protect Union Funds". Journal American. 
  14. ^ "Javits Bids U.S. Curb Union Pension Funds". Daily News. August 4, 1965. 
  15. ^ McMillan, III, James G. (2000). "Misclassification and Employer Discretion Under ERISA" (PDF). University of Pennsylvania Journal of Labor and Employment Law 2 (4): 837–866. 
  16. ^ Special Committee on Aging, United States Senate (August 1984). The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974: The First Decade (PDF). Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office. p. 11. 
  17. ^ Arkansas Outlook, Republican Party newsletter, February and March 1975

External links[edit]

United States Senate
Preceded by
G. Lloyd Spencer
U.S. Senator (Class 2) from Arkansas
Served alongside: Hattie Caraway, J. William Fulbright, Dale Bumpers
Succeeded by
Kaneaster Hodges, Jr.
Political offices
Preceded by
George Aiken
Chairman of Senate Government Operations Committee
Succeeded by
Joseph McCarthy
Preceded by
Joseph McCarthy
Chairman of Senate Government Operations Committee
Succeeded by
Sam Ervin
Preceded by
Allen J. Ellender
Chairman of Senate Appropriations Committee
Succeeded by
Warren G. Magnuson
Honorary titles
Preceded by
George Aiken
Dean of the United States Senate
January 3, 1975 – November 28, 1977 with
James Eastland
Succeeded by
James Eastland
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
David Delano Glover
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Arkansas's 6th congressional district

Succeeded by
William F. Norrell