Tuesday, August 06, 2013

VP Blogging: Alben W. Barkley

Have you been helplessly pressing refresh on your Google Reader Feedly or browser window or whatever, hoping beyond hope that I might one day return to the glory days of this blog, back in, like, 2008 when I'd post weekly presidential profile write-ups? WELL NOW IT IS HAPPENING. Though I'm pretty much out of presidents, so Imma do vice presidents. This particular VP was part of a pub trivia question a while back and I was ashamed of myself for not knowing who he was. Now I know and now also you will know.

Oh, look at me, President Truman's giving me some fancy Congressional service gold medal.
Alben W. Barkley was Harry S. Truman*'s second in command (1949-1953), but that was but a small moment in a long and incredibly industrious political career. Also, we recently watched season one of Veep. It is amazing. TRUE FACT: it was Barkley's grandson who coined the nickname "Veep" for his grandfather while he was serving as vice president. Apparently the next veep, Richard Nixon, was not so into it, but it is still around! But anywaaays, Barkley was born in 1877 as "Willie Alben Barkley," but he was not into that name, so he switched that shit around as soon as he could. He was the oldest of eight children born to tobacco tenant farmers in Kentucky. His paternal grandmother was a midwife who delivered him in a fucking log cabin OMG badass. Barkley's father was a Presbyterian elder who did not approve of alcohol or playing cards or any of that sinful frippery. Alben and his siblings, when not working on the family farm, stayed with their grandparents a lot. Presumably in said log cabin house thing.

Barkley briefly enrolled in a seminary, but then was like, "No thanks, Jesus," and got a scholarship and a job as a janitor at Marvin College in Clinton, Kentucky. There he did debating and fraternity-ing and whatnot and also became a Methodist. He moved on to Emory College (now University) in Georgia for grad school or something, but was too poor to keep it up. He taught back at Marvin for awhile, but that wouldn't pay his bills either. He got jobs with congressmen and lawyers, whose books he used to read the law. He passed the bar and then went to UVA Law School for a bit, because I guess that's how that worked around the turn of the century. In 1903 he married Dorothy Brower, with whom he would have three children. In addition to having babies and becoming a lawyer Barkley was a lay preacher and member of numerous fraternal organizations, including the Improved Order of Red Men, which doesn't sound racist at all.

Barkley identified as a Democrat early on, but one who was for sticking to the gold standard (a very controversial and boring issue at this time, if you will recall from those chapters in your history textbook you skimmed over between the Civil War and WWI). In 1905, Barkley was elected to his first office: county attorney, moving up to county judge three years later. He was known for rooting out financial corruption in government. In 1912, he ran for Congress. More conservative Democratic opponents called him a socialist for supporting federal funding of highway construction, but he was ushered into office on Woodrow Wilson's progressive coattails. During this time, Barkley stuck closely to his religious, teetotaling roots (BORING) and spoke for the Anti-Saloon League as well as sponsoring bills to ban the sale of alcohol in D.C. Though he initially endorsed American neutrality during World War I, he supported Wilson and the war effort upon the U.S.'s entry in 1917. He was also a supporter of the ill-fated League of Nations.

Proof he was not always an old man.**
Flash forward all the way to 1923, when Barkley ran for governor of Kentucky. He lost in the Democratic primary but first earned his nickname "Iron Horse" for his marathon campaigning--giving up to sixteen speeches a day while on the trail. He picked himself up and in 1926 was elected to the U.S. Senate for Kentucky. He was even considered as a running mate for Al Smith's unsuccessful presidential run in 1928. Barkley spoke out against our hapless friend Herbert Hoover's handling of the Great Depression and was the keynote speaker at the 1932 Democratic National Convention that nominated Franklin Roosevelt. Apparently he nearly caused a riot on the convention floor when he suggested the party adopt a platform plank repealing Prohibition. Not that he was, like, suddenly all about the boozing, but because he believed it was the will of the people. Of course, FDR swept into office with majorities in both legislative bodies, and as Senate Majority Leader, Barkley was a huge supporter of New Deal reforms. He gave the keynote again at the 1936 DNC which of course renominated President Roosevelt, but a divided caucus in the Senate halted further reforms, leading to a new nickname for the leader: "bumbling Barkley." In his 1938 reelection bid, the bumbler was challenged in the primary by one Governor "Happy" Chandler, a more conservative Dem who at one point accused Barkley's campaign of poisoning his ice water. OBVS. FDR endorsed Barkley without actually endorsing him, and he once again won the party nomination and recaptured his Senate seat.

Though passed over as VP once again in favor of awesomely communist John Nance Garner in 1940, Barkley continued to support FDR in the Senate what with the declaration of war and whatnot, though apparently was insulted when not offered an open seat on the Supreme Court. Some shenanigans that are boring involving some kind of revenue bill ultimately broke the alliance between Barkley and Roosevelt, and Truman was chosen as FDR's fourth term running mate instead. Barkley supported the U.S.'s involvement in the U.N. and was instrumental in the development of the coordinated Department of Defense after heading up a congressional investigation of the Pearl Harbor attack. Unfortunately, Barkley's wife Dorothy fell into ill health. She had heart problems and Barkley went on the speaking circuit while Congress was out of session to help pay their many medical bills. They even sold their house and moved into an apartment to save money, but she died in 1947. A Republican resurgence in the midterm elections of 1946 didn't help the situation in Congress, but Barkley was eventually asked to keynote the DNC once again in 1948, and though Truman's second choice, became the vice presidential candidate.

Stone-cold getting remarried while VP. St. Louis Post-Dispatch
As Vice President, Barkley supported Truman on civil rights reforms, attended Cabinet meetings, and regularly presided over the Senate. But mostly VPs don't really do much. While America's #2, Barkley met a special lady named Jane Hadley, many years his junior, whom he married in November of 1949.  He unofficially entered the 1952 Democratic primary, but people were like, "Oh, he's super-old and has heart problems and failing eyesight" and Barkley ended up withdrawing his name before the convention, where Adlai E. Stevenson, perpetual crossword puzzle answer, was ultimately nominated. After a short break from politics, Barkley actually ran again for Senate for Kentucky in 1954 and was elected. Kind of like when John Quincy Adams went back to the House after his presidency, you guys! He insisted on sitting in the back of the Senate Chamber with the other freshman senators since his previous seniority apparently no longer applied. He wasn't in the Senate long, however, when he collapsed on stage during a speech and died of a heart attack in 1956. He's buried in Paducah, where a bunch of shit is named for him. Alben W. Barkley, guy who did lots of politics for, like, half the twentieth century, huzzah!

*I think I have somehow missed writing up Harry Truman. HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE?!
**Though he does look kind of cuddly and avuncular as an old man.

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