Thomas Gore

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For the English soccer player, see Tommy Gore.
Thomas Gore
ThomasGore3c32246u crop.jpg
Gore pictured in 1908
U.S Senator from Oklahoma
In office
December 11, 1907 – March 4, 1921
Preceded by None
One of the first two senators from Oklahoma after it achieved statehood
Succeeded by John W. Harreld
In office
March 4, 1931 – January 3, 1937
Preceded by William B. Pine
Succeeded by Joshua B. Lee
Personal details
Born Thomas Pryor Gore
(1870-12-10)December 10, 1870
Webster County, Mississippi
Died March 16, 1949(1949-03-16) (aged 78)
Washington, D.C.
Nationality American
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Nina Belle Kay
Relations Gore Vidal (grandson)
Nina Gore Auchincloss (granddaughter)
Hugh Auchincloss Steers (great-grandson)
Newton Steers (great-grandson)
Children Nina S. Gore
Thomas N. Gore
Alma mater Cumberland University

Thomas Pryor Gore[1] (December 10, 1870 – March 16, 1949) was an American politician who served as one of the first two United States Senators from Oklahoma, from 1907 to 1921 and again from 1931 to 1937. He first entered politics as an activist for the Populist Party, and continued this affiliation after he moved to Texas. In 1899, just before moving to Oklahoma Territory to practice law in Lawton, he formally joined the Democratic Party and campaigned for William Jennings Bryan as President. In the Senate, his anti-war beliefs caused him conflict with both President Woodrow Wilson and President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Gore lost his eyesight during his youth. He was the maternal grandfather of noted author Gore Vidal.

Life and introduction to politics[edit]

Gore was born on December 10, 1870, near Embry, Mississippi in Webster County, Mississippi, the son of Caroline Elizabeth (Wingo) and Thomas Madison Gore.[2][a] The Gore family was one of the nineteen original families that owned farmlands in what later became the capital of the United States, the District of Columbia. The Gores were Anglo-Irish from Donegal and arrived in North America at the end of the seventeenth century and tended to intermarry with other Anglo-Irish families, particularly in Virginia.[4] When the District was established in 1790, the families that had been dispossessed to make way for the capital city, including the Gores, reaped significant financial rewards. The Gores who remained either sold their land in lots, built homes or hotels, and all became rich. The Gores that moved away, including the branch of Thomas Pryor Gore, moved to the far West, which in those days was Mississippi.[4] Young Thomas and his family moved to Walthall, the county seat, when his father was elected Chancery Clerk of Sumner County.[3]

He went blind as a child through two separate accidents[b] but did not give up his dream of becoming a senator. Despite his blindness, he excelled in school and showed special talents in debate and oratory.[3] He taught school briefly after graduation. In 1882 he served as a page in the Mississippi Senate. He moved to Lebanon, Tennessee in 1891 and received a law degree from Cumberland University Law School in the following year. He was admitted to the Mississippi Bar and joined his father's law firm in Mississippi.[3]

Progressive Party politics[edit]

The Gore family had been prominent members of the Southern Farmers' Alliance. Young Thomas was addressing Alliance meetings as early as 1888. The Alliance nominated him for the state legislature, but he had to withdraw because he was still a minor. Instead he served as a presidential elector for the Populist party in 1892. This experienced expanded his reputation as an orator. In 1894, the Populist party of Navarro County, Texas invited him to come to Corsicana to help them win elections. He and his brother,Ellis, moved there in December, 1894, whee they opened a law office. Meanwhile, he returned to Mississippi to run for the legislature in 1895, a race which he lost. He campaigned vigorously from Utah to New York for William Jennings Bryan, the Democratic candidate for President in 1900.[3]

Returning to Texas, he ran as a Populist candidate for the 6th Congressional District in 1898, but lost because the party was already in decline. He served as a delegate to the Populist convention that year, but in 1899, formally joined the Democratic Party.[3]

Democratic Party politics[edit]

After marrying Nina Kay in December 1900, the Gores moved to Lawton, in Oklahoma Territory. In 1902, he entered and won an election for the Oklahoma Territorial Senate. He declined an opportunity to run as a territorial representative for the U. S, Congress, but became an adviser to the 1907 Constitutional Convention, then was elected to the U. S. Senate in 1907.[3]

In 1907, he was elected to the Senate as one of the first two senators from the new state of Oklahoma. He was re-elected in 1908 and 1914 but lost his seat[5] in 1920. Gore and William H. "Alfalfa Bill" Murray were co-leaders of Woodrow Wilson's Oklahoma campaign for the Presidency in 1912.[3] He was known as a member of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, who supported many of Wilson's domestic programs,[5] and worked well with Republicans such as Robert La Follette. He was to a large extent no different from any other politician because of his blindness, but there were problems, as La Follette recounts an example in his memoirs when, during a filibuster, Gore did not realize that the senator who was to take over speaking for him had left the room, and the filibuster failed because he did not continue to speak. Also, some of Gore's colleagues in the Senate would attempt to take advantage of Gore's blindness by tricking him into signing documents that it was not in his party's interest for him to sign. He was famous for turning the tables on these sharp dealers and tricking them into signing documents that they did not intend to sign. These exploits made him popular with the press, who dubbed him "The Blind Cowboy."

Gore's political enemies set a trap to discredit him during the 1914 senatorial campaign in Oklahoma. A woman asked Gore to meet her in her hotel room to discuss a political appointment for her husband. Afterward, she claimed he had "taken advantage" of her. When skeptical prosecutors refused to charge the senator, the woman filed a $50,000 suit against Gore. The senator's lawyer attended the civil trial and called it "a political trial." The phrase appeared in many newspaper headlines nationwide. The jury exonerated Gore and the woman lost her suit.[5]

Gore personal beliefs were isolationist as well as anti-war. He voted against the Wilson Administration on most legislation pertaining to World War I. However, a majority of Oklahoma voters favored helping the Allies fight Germany. After the war, he also opposed Wilson's plan to support a League of Nations. Not only did Gore alienate many previous supporters, but he also lost his close relationship with Wilson. Thus, he lost his bid for reelection in 1920. after leaving the Senate, he returned to his private law practice full-time in Washington D.C.[5]

Gore in 1929

During the early stages of World War I, he co-authored the Gore-McLemore Resolution to encourage American citizens not to travel aboard merchant vessels of countries participating in the war.[3] The merchant vessels were under threat of attack by German U-boats, and the Senator felt the loss of American lives in attacks upon these boats put American neutrality at risk. He was a strong, early supporter of Woodrow Wilson's, indeed, one acknowledged as the very first major elected official to endorse Wilson's candidacy for President in 1911.[6] Yet Gore later opposed America's entry into the war even after American involvement began. He unsuccessfully opposed providing manpower for the military by conscription, saying it would create "an army of conscripted slackers." He asked: "Why should we brand the American boy as a conscript without affording him the opportunity to earn the glory of an American volunteer?"[7] This was the principal cause of Gore's defeat in the Democratic primary in 1920 by Congressman Scott Ferris, who was in turn defeated in the general election by Republican John W. Harreld. In addition to his opposition to the draft, Gore "was one of the earliest and most vigorous sponsors of a constitutional amendment to require a popular referendum on any congressional declaration of war."[8] On domestic policy he was a supporter of the interests of farmers and Native Americans.

Gore was re-elected to the Senate in 1930. When Franklin D. Roosevelt took office as President, Gore at first supported his New Deal policies but later feuded with him. In 1935, Gore helped lead the charge against funding the Works Progress Administration (WPA). In written response to constituents who favored the WPA, he told them that their attitude "shows how the dole spoils the soul. Your telegram intimates that your votes are for sale. Much as I value votes I am not in the market. I cannot consent to buy votes with the people's money. I owe a debt to the taxpayer as well as to the unemployed." After dictating these words, the blind senator was led to the Senate floor to cast the lone vote against the WPA.[9][10]

After losing the 1936 Democratic primary to Congressman Joshua B. Lee, Gore retired from the Senate in January 1937 and practiced law in Washington, D.C., until his death in 1949.[8]

Personal life[edit]

Thomas married Nina Belle Kay (1877–1963), a Texas plantation owner's daughter, on December 27, 1900. She was described as his "constant companion" and as his "eyes. They moved to Lawton, Oklahoma in June 1901. They had two children:

Gore died on March 16, 1949 was buried at Rosehill Cemetery, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, but was later re-interred on July 19, 1949, in Fairlawn Cemetery, also in Oklahoma City. According to his grandson, Gore Vidal, Gore was "the first and, I believe, last senator from an oil state to die without a fortune."[8]

Gore Vidal stated that his grandfather was an atheist[12] and had a strong misanthropic streak: "He was a genuine populist; but he did not like people very much. He always said no to anyone who wanted government aid."[8] During a speech to the National Press Club on November 4, 1994, Vidal claimed that Thomas Gore had said "If there was any race other than the human race, I'd go join it."[13]


Thomas Gore was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame in 1932.

A major road artery in Lawton, Oklahoma, Gore Boulevard, is named after him, as is the eastern Oklahoma town of Gore.


In the television play The Indestructible Mr. Gore, Gore Vidal dramatized some incidents in his grandfather's youth.


  1. ^ Webster County was then known as Sumner County[3]
  2. ^ Thomas was eight years old when he injured his left eye and lost his right eye three years later. He was totally blind before he was twenty years old.,[3]


  1. ^ "Vidal, Gore (1925- )", accessed March 16, 2010
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Gore, Thomas Pryor." The Handbook of Texas. Texas State Historical Association. Accessed August 29, 2016.
  4. ^ a b Vidal, Gore (April 29, 1982). "The Ruins of Washington". The New York Review of Books. Retrieved 13 March 2016. 
  5. ^ a b c d "Burke, Bob. "Gore, Thomas Pryor (1870 - 1949)". Accessed October 14, 2016.
  6. ^ Berg, A. Scott (2013). Wilson. New York, NY: G.P. Putnam'sSons. p. 218. ISBN 978-0-399-15921-3. 
  7. ^ Christopher Cappozolla, Uncle Sam Wants You: World War I and the Making of the Modern American Citizen (NY: Oxford University Press, 2008), 26
  8. ^ a b c d Kauffman, Bill (2006-11-20) The Populist Patriotism of Gore Vidal, The American Conservative
  9. ^ Billington, Monroe L, Thomas P. Gore: The Blind Senator from Oklahoma (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1967) 169-170
  10. ^ Folsom, Burton W., New Deal or Raw Deal?: How FDR's Economic Legacy Has Damaged America (Simon and Schuster, 2008), 91
  11. ^ "Mrs. Steers Wed to Michael Straight". The New York Times. May 2, 1974. Retrieved 3 February 2016. 
  12. ^ "Real Time with Bill Maher Episode #149 April 10, 2009". 
  13. ^ Vidal, Gore, Point to Point Navigation: A Memoir, 1964 to 2006 (New York: Doubleday, 2006), 19

External links[edit]

United States Senate
Preceded by
U.S. Senator (Class 3) from Oklahoma
Served alongside: Robert L. Owen
Succeeded by
John W. Harreld
Preceded by
William B. Pine
U.S. Senator (Class 2) from Oklahoma
Served alongside: Elmer Thomas
Succeeded by
Joshua B. Lee