Alben Barkley

Alben Barkley

Alben William Barkley (November 24, 1877 – April 30, 1956) was a lawyer and politician from Kentucky who served in both houses of Congress and as the 35th Vice President of the United States from 1949 to 1953. In 1905, he was elected county attorney for McCracken County, Kentucky. He was chosen county judge in 1909 and U.S. Representative from Kentucky's First District in 1912. As a Representative, he was a liberal Democrat, supporting President Woodrow Wilson's New Freedomdomestic agenda and foreign policy.

Endorsing Prohibition and denouncing parimutuel betting, Barkley narrowly lost the 1923 Democratic gubernatorial primary to fellow Representative J. Campbell Cantrill. In 1926, he unseated Republican Senator Richard P. Ernst. In the Senate, he supported the New Deal approach to addressing the Great Depression and was elected to succeed Senate Majority LeaderJoseph T. Robinson upon Robinson's death in 1937. During his 1938 re-election bid, his opponent A. B. "Happy" Chandleraccused him of using Works Progress Administration employees to campaign for him; Barkley claimed Chandler used state employees in the same way. Neither candidate was charged with any wrongdoing, but in 1939, Congress passed the Hatch Act, making it illegal for federal employees to campaign for political candidates.

When World War II focused President Franklin D. Roosevelt's attention on foreign affairs, Barkley gained influence over the administration's domestic agenda. He resigned as floor leader after Roosevelt ignored his advice and vetoed a tax bill in 1944, but the Democratic caucus supported and unanimously re-elected him. Barkley had a better working relationship with Harry S. Truman, who ascended to the presidency after Roosevelt's death in 1945. With Truman's popularity waning entering the 1948 Democratic National Convention, Barkley gave a keynote address that energized the delegates. Truman selected him as his running mate for the upcoming election and the Democratic ticket scored an upset victory. Barkley took an active role in the Truman administration, acting as its primary spokesman, especially after the Korean War necessitated the majority of Truman's attention. When Truman announced that he would not seek re-election in 1952, Barkley began organizing a presidential campaign, but labor leaders refused to endorse his candidacy because of his age, and he withdrew from the race. He retired but was coaxed back into public life, defeating incumbent Republican Senator John Sherman Cooper in 1954.[1]Barkley died of a heart attack while giving a speech at the Washington and Lee Mock Convention on April 30, 1956.




Early life

Willie Alben Barkley, the eldest of John Wilson and Electa Eliza (Smith) Barkley's eight children, was born November 24, 1877.[2][3] His grandmother, midwife Amanda Barkley, delivered him in the log house she lived in with her husband, Alben, inWheel, Kentucky.[4] Barkley's parents were tenant farmers who grew tobacco, and his father was an elder in the localPresbyterian church.[5] Both parents were religious, opposed to playing cards and alcohol.[5] Occasionally, Barkley's parents would leave him in the care of his grandparents for extended periods.[6] During these times, his grandmother related stories of her relatives and childhood playmates, future U.S. Vice President Adlai Stevenson and James A. McKenzie, a future U.S. Representative from Kentucky.[6]

Barkley worked on his parents' farm and attended school in Lowes, Kentucky, between the fall harvest and spring planting.[7]Unhappy with his birth name, he adopted "Alben William" as soon as he was old enough to express his opinion in the matter.[8] In the difficult economy of late 1891, relatives convinced Barkley's father to sell his farm and move to Clinton, to pursue opportunities as a tenant wheat farmer.[9] Barkley enrolled at a local seminary school, but did not finish his studies before entering Marvin College, a Methodist school in Clinton that accepted younger students, in 1892.[10][11] The college's president offered him a scholarship that covered his academic expenses in exchange for his work as a janitor.[11] He allowed Barkley to miss the first and last month of the academic year to help on the family farm.[11] Barkley was active in the debating society at Marvin.[12] He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1897, and his experiences at Marvin persuaded him to convert to Methodism, the denomination with which he identified for the rest of his life.[8][11][13]

After graduation, Barkley went to Emory College (now part of Emory University) in Oxford, Georgia, the alma mater of several administrators and faculty members at Marvin.[14] During the 1897–1898 academic year, he was active in the debating society and the Delta Tau Delta fraternity, but he could not afford to continue his education and returned to Clinton after the spring semester.[15] He took a job teaching at Marvin College but did not make enough money to meet his basic living expenses.[2]He resigned in December 1898 to move with his parents to Paducah, Kentucky, the county seat of McCracken County, where his father found employment at a cordage mill.[16]

In Paducah, Barkley worked as a law clerk for Charles K. Wheeler, an attorney and congressman for the district, accepting access to Wheeler's law library as payment for his services.[17] Despite their political differences – Wheeler supported William Jennings Bryan and Free Silver, while Barkley identified with the Gold Democrats – he hoped that being acquainted with and taught by Wheeler would aid him in his future endeavors, but congressional duties frequently kept Wheeler away from the office.[18] After two months, Barkley accepted an offer to clerk for William S. Bishop and former congressman John Kerr Hendrick, who paid him $15 per month.[17] He read law while completing his duties and was admitted to the bar in 1901.[2] Barkley practiced in Paducah where a friend of Hendrick's appointed him reporter of the circuit court.[2] He continued studying law in the summer of 1902 at the University of Virginia School of Law.[19]

Barkley joined the Broadway Methodist Episcopal Church, where he was a lay preacher, and several fraternal organizations, including Woodmen of the World, theBenevolent and Protective Order of Elks, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, and the Improved Order of Red Men.[20] On June 23, 1903, he married Dorothy Brower.[2]They had three children—David Murrell Barkley (1906 - 1983), Marion Frances Barkley (1909 - 1996), and Laura Louise Barkley (1911 - 1987).[2][20] Laura Louise marriedDouglas MacArthur II, a U.S. diplomat and nephew of General Douglas MacArthur.[21]