Everett Dirksen

Everett Dirksen
Senate Minority Leader
In office
January 3, 1959  September 7, 1969
Deputy Thomas Kuchel
Hugh D. Scott, Jr. (whips)
Preceded by William F. Knowland
Succeeded by Hugh D. Scott, Jr.
Senate Minority Whip
In office
January 3, 1957  January 3, 1959
Leader William F. Knowland
Preceded by Leverett Saltonstall
Succeeded by Thomas Kuchel
United States Senator
from Illinois
In office
January 3, 1951  September 7, 1969
Preceded by Scott W. Lucas
Succeeded by Ralph Tyler Smith
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Illinois's 16th district
In office
March 4, 1933  January 3, 1949
Preceded by William E. Hull
Succeeded by Leo E. Allen
Personal details
Born Everett McKinley Dirksen
(1896-01-04)January 4, 1896
Pekin, Illinois, U.S.
Died September 7, 1969(1969-09-07) (aged 73)
Walter Reed General Hospital
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Resting place Glendale Memorial Gardens
Pekin, Illinois
Nationality American
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Louella Carver Dirksen
Alma mater University of Minnesota Law School
Religion Christian Reformed
Military service
Allegiance  United States of America
Service/branch  United States Army
Years of service 1918–1919
Rank Second lieutenant
Battles/wars World War I

Everett McKinley Dirksen (January 4, 1896 September 7, 1969) was an American politician of the Republican Party. He represented Illinois in the House of Representatives (1933–1949) and the Senate (1951–1969).

As Senate Minority Leader for a decade, he played a highly visible and key role in the politics of the 1960s, including helping write and pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and that of 1968, both landmarks of civil rights legislation. Dirksen, a conservative, was one of the Senate's strongest supporters of the Vietnam War and was also known as "The Wizard of Ooze" because of his flamboyant oratorical style.

Early life

Dirksen was born in Pekin, Illinois, a small city near Peoria. He was the son of German immigrants Johann Friedrich Dirksen and his wife Antje Conrady. Everett had a fraternal twin, Thomas Dirksen, and a brother named Benjamin Harrison, a nod to the Republican leanings of his father. The boys' father died when the twins were nine years old.

Dirksen grew up on a farm on Pekin's outskirts, in a section called "Beantown" because immigrants grew beans instead of flowers. After attending the local schools, he entered the University of Minnesota Law School but dropped out during World War I to enlist in the US Army. He served as a second lieutenant in a field artillery battery.[1] He was a member of the Reformed Church in America, founded in the 18th century by Dutch immigrants.[2]

After the war, Dirksen invested money in an electric washing machine business, but it failed. He joined his brothers in running a bakery. He expressed his artistic side by writing a number of unpublished short stories, as well as plays with former classmate Hubert Ropp. In addition, Dirksen was active in the American Legion, and appearances on its behalf gave him the opportunity to hone his public speaking skills.

His political career began in 1926, when he was elected to the nonpartisan Pekin City Council. He placed first in field of eight candidates vying for four seats. At the time, the top votegetter also received appointment as the city's commissioner of accounts and finance, and Dirksen held both posts from 1927 to 1931.[3]

Dirksen was a Freemason and was a member of Pekin Lodge #29 in Pekin. In 1954, he was Grand Orator of the Grand Lodge of Illinois. He was honored with the 33rd degree in 1954.[4]

US Representative

After losing in the 1930 Republican primary, Dirksen won the nomination and the congressional seat in 1932 and was re-elected seven times. His support for many New Deal programs marked him as a moderate, pragmatic Republican. During World War II, he lobbied successfully for an expansion of congressional staff resources to eliminate the practice under which House and Senate committees borrowed executive branch personnel to accomplish legislative work. Dirksen was able to secure the passage of an amendment to the Lend Lease Act by introducing a resolution while 65 of the House's Democrats were at a luncheon. It provided that the Senate and the House could, by a simple majority in a concurrent resolution, revoke the powers granted to the President.[5]

Dirksen's penchant for changing his mind was noted by the Chicago Sun-Times, which once noted that he had changed his mind 62 times on foreign policy matters, 31 times on military affairs, and 70 times on agricultural policies.[3]

Dirksen studied law privately in Washington, D.C., after he was elected. He was admitted to the District of Columbia Bar in 1936 and the bar of Illinois in 1937.

In December 1943, Dirksen announced that he would be a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 1944. He stated that a coalition of midwestern Republican representatives had urged him to run and that his campaign was serious. However, press pundits had assumed that the candidacy was a vehicle to siphon support away from the campaign of Wendell Willkie, whose reputation as a maverick and staunch internationalist had earned him the hatred of many Republican Party regulars, especially in the Midwest.[6] Dirksen's presidential campaign was apparently still alive on the eve of the 1944 convention, as Time speculated that he was running for vice-president.[7] Dirksen received no votes for either office from delegates at the convention.

Dirksen continued to be re-elected. In 1947, he began to experience trouble in his right eye, which was diagnosed as chorioretinitis. Despite a number of physicians (including one from Johns Hopkins University) recommending for the eye to be removed, Dirksen chose treatment and rest; he recovered most of the sight in that eye. In 1948, he declined to run for re-election because of his ailment. He returned to politics two years later and was popularly elected to the Senate from Illinois.[3]

US Senator

Senators Mike Mansfield (left) and Dirksen conversing in 1967.

Dirksen was elected as senator in 1950, when he unseated Senate Majority Leader Scott W. Lucas. In the campaign, the support of Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy helped Dirksen gain a narrow victory. As an ally of McCarthy, Dirksen tried but failed to get him to apologize for his misdeeds to stave off his censure in 1954, which Dirksen voted against. Dirksen's canny political skill, rumpled appearance, and convincing if sometimes flowery overblown oratory (which made his critics call him "the Wizard of Ooze") earned him a prominent national reputation.

In 1952, Dirksen supported the presidential candidacy of fellow Senator Robert A. Taft of Ohio, the longtime leader of the Republican party's conservative wing. At the national party convention, Dirksen gave a speech attacking New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey, a liberal Republican and the leading supporter of General Dwight Eisenhower, the commander of the Allied forces in Europe in World War II and Taft's opponent for the Republican presidential nomination. During his speech, Dirksen pointed at Dewey on the convention floor and shouted, "Don't take us down the path to defeat again,"[8] a reference to Dewey's presidential defeats in 1944 and 1948. His speech was met by cheers from conservative delegates and loud boos from pro-Eisenhower delegates. After Eisenhower won the nomination, Dirksen then supported him.

In 1959, he was elected Senate Minority Leader, defeating Kentucky's more liberal senator, John Sherman Cooper, 20-14. Dirksen successfully united the various factions of the Republican Party by granting younger Republicans more representation in the Senate leadership and better committee appointments. He held the position of Senate Minority Leader until his death.

Along with Charles Halleck and later President Gerald Ford (the Republican Minority Leaders of the House), Dirksen was the official voice of the Republican Party during most of the 1960s. He discussed politics on television news programs. On several occasions, political cartoonist Herblock depicted Dirksen and Halleck as vaudeville song-and-dance men, wearing identical elaborate costumes and performing an act called "The Ev and Charlie Show."

Dirksen's voting record was consistently conservative on economic issues. He developed a good rapport with the Senate's majority leaders, Lyndon B. Johnson and Mike Mansfield. On foreign policy he reversed his early isolationism to support the internationalism of Republican President Eisenhower and Democratic President John F. Kennedy. He was a leading "hawk" on the issue of the Vietnam War, a position he held well before President Johnson decided to escalate the war.

Dirksen said in February 1964:

First I agree that obviously we cannot retreat from our position in Vietnam. I have been out there three times, once as something of an emissary for then President Eisenhower. I took a good look at it. It is a difficult situation, to say the least. But we are in to the tune of some $350 million. I think the last figure I have seen indicates that we have over 15,500 military out there, ostensibly as advisers and that sort of thing. We are not supposed to have combatant troops, even though we were not signatories to the treaty that was signed at Geneva when finally they got that whole business out of the fire. But we are going to have to muddle through for a while and see what we do. Even though it costs us $1.5 million a day.[9]:59

As Johnson followed the recommendations and escalated the war, Dirksen gave him strong support in public and inside the Republican caucus. Some Republicans advised him that it would be to the party's advantage to oppose Johnson. Ford commented, "I strongly felt that although I agreed with the goals of the Johnson administration in Vietnam, I vigorously criticized their prosecution of the war. Now, Dirksen never took that same hard-line position that I took."[9]:149

Dirksen played a key role in passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

In 1964, as Southern Democratic Senators staged a filibuster, which ran 54 days to block passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Dirksen, Thomas Kuchel (R-CA), Hubert Humphrey (D-MN), and Mike Mansfield (D-MT) introduced a substitute bill that they hoped would attract enough swing votes to end the filibuster. It was weaker than the House version, on the government's power to regulate the conduct of private business, but it was not so weak it would cause the House to reconsider the legislation. Also, the Department of Justice said the Mansfield-Dirksen Amendment would not prevent effective enforcement. However, Senator Richard Russell, Jr. (D-GA) refused to allow a vote on the amendment. Finally, Senator Thruston Morton (R-KY) proposed an amendment that guaranteed jury trials in all criminal contempt cases except voting rights. It was approved on June 9, and Humphrey made a deal with three Republicans to substitute it for the Mansfield-Dirksen Amendment in exchange for their supporting cloture on the filibuster. Thus, after 57 days of filibuster, the substitute bill passed in the Senate, and the House-Senate conference committee agreed to adopt the Senate version of the bill.[10]

At that cloture vote, Dirksen said, "Victor Hugo wrote in his diary substantially this sentiment: 'Stronger than all the armies is an idea whose time has come.' The time has come for equality of opportunity in sharing of government, in education, and in employment. It must not be stayed or denied."[11]

On March 22, 1966, Dirksen introduced a constitutional amendment to permit public school administrators providing for organized prayer by students; the introduction was in response to Engel v. Vitale, which struck down the practice. Considered by opponents to violate the principle of separation of church and state, the amendment was defeated in the Senate and gained only 49 affirmative votes, far short of the 67 votes a constitutional amendment. Dirksen was a firm opponent of the doctrine of one man, one vote on the grounds that large cities (such as Chicago in Dirksen's home state of Illinois) could render rural residents of a state powerless in their state governments; after the Warren Court imposed one-man-one-vote on all state legislative houses in Reynolds v. Sims, he led an effort to convene an Article V convention for an amendment to the Constitution that would allow for legislative districts of unequal population.[12] Dirksen died before enough states passed resolutions for the convention, by which point the court-ordered re-engineered legislatures began repealing their predecessors' resolutions.

Dirksen is noted as saying, "A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon, you're talking real money." Although there is no direct record of the remark,[13] he is believed to have made it during an appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Dirksen is also quoted as having said, "The mind is no match with the heart in persuasion; constitutionality is no match with compassion." (See wikiquotes of Everett Dirksen.)

Statue of Senator Dirksen on the grounds of the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield, Illinois.

Dirksen was also known for his fondness for the common marigold. When political discussions became tense, he would lighten the atmosphere by taking up his perennial campaign to have the marigold named the national flower, but it never succeeded. In 1972 his hometown of Pekin started holding an annual Marigold Festival in his memory. It now identifies itself as the "Marigold Capital of the World."

Recordings and TV appearances

Dirksen recorded four spoken-word albums. Collaborating with Charles Osgood and composer John Cacavas, he produced a single, "Gallant Men" (1966), released by Capitol Records, speaking his own poem. The same-named album reached #16 on the U.S. Billboard charts and won a Grammy Award for Best Documentary Recording in 1968. On January 7, 1967, Dirksen at 71 years 3 days old became the oldest person to reach the Billboard Hot 100's top 40 when the single reached #33; two weeks later he reached #29.[14] That distinction passed to Moms Mabley with her recording of "Abraham, Martin and John" peaking at #35 on 19 July 1969 when she was 75 years 4 months old. Gordon Sinclair became the oldest person to eclipse Dirksen's peak when "The Americans" peaked at #24 on 9 February 1974.[15]

Dirksen made TV guest appearances on game and variety shows, such as What's My Line, The Hollywood Palace and The Red Skelton Show. Dirksen made a cameo appearance in the 1969 film The Monitors, a low-budget science-fiction movie in which invading extraterrestrials assert political dominion over the human race. He also appeared in several other movies.


President Richard Nixon paying his last tributes to Sen. Dirksen in 1969.

In August 1969, chest x-rays disclosed an asymptomatic peripherally located mass in the upper lobe of the right lung. Dirksen entered Walter Reed Army Hospital for surgery, which was undertaken on September 2. A right upper lobectomy removed what proved to be lung cancer (adenocarcinoma). Mr. Dirksen initially did well, but progressive complications developed into bronchopneumonia. He suffered a cardiopulmonary arrest and died on September 7, 1969, at age 73.

His remains were returned to Pekin, and interred at Glendale Memorial Gardens, joined by those of his wife a decade later.[16]

Legacy and honors


Dirksen's widow, Louella, died of cancer on July 16, 1979. Their daughter Joy, the first wife of Senator Howard Baker of Tennessee, died of cancer on April 24, 1993.


  1. "DIRKSEN, Everett McKinley, (1896 - 1969)". Biographical Directory (1974 - Present). United States Congress. Retrieved 15 May 2015.
  2. Donald J. Bruggink and Kim N. Baker, By Grace Alone: Stories of the Reformed Church in America (2004) p. 162
  3. 1 2 3 "Nation: The Leader: Everett Dirksen". Time. 14 September 1962.
  4. "Famous Masons". MWGLNY. January 2014.
  5. "Everett Dirksen," Current Biography 1941, p.227; "260 to 165", TIME Magazine, February 17, 1941
  6. Time Magazine, December 13, 1943
  7. Time, June 26, 1944
  8. George Packer (January 30, 2012). "The Republicans' 1972". The New Yorker. Retrieved March 26, 2016.
  9. 1 2 Dietz, Terry (1986). Republicans and Vietnam, 1961-1968. Greenwood Press. ISBN 978-0-313-24892-4.
  10. Library of Congress exhibition, The Civil Rights Act of 1964
  11. "Everett McKinley Dirksen's Finest Hour: June 10, 1964". Dirksen Congressional Center. Retrieved 11 May 2015.
  12. PBS article on Reynolds v. Sims
  13. "A Billion Here, A Billion There...", The Dirksen Center. (archived from the original on 2004-08-16)
  14. American Top 40, 18 November 1972
  15. American Top 40, 26 June 1976
  16. http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=2566
  17. http://www.ilsos.gov/facilityfinder/facilityfinder?command=getFacilityDetails&facilityId=137
  18. https://www.google.com/webhp?ei=JKrtVcG2N4Oueu-UiYgN&ved=0CAQQqS4oAQ#q=Dirksen+Drive%2C+DeBary%2C+FL
  19. "Laureates by Year - The Lincoln Academy of Illinois". The Lincoln Academy of Illinois. Retrieved 2016-03-07.
  20. yahoo

Further reading

Primary sources

Secondary sources

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Everett Dirksen.
Wikiquote has quotations related to: Everett Dirksen
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
William E. Hull
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Illinois's 16th congressional district

Succeeded by
Leo E. Allen
United States Senate
Preceded by
Scott W. Lucas
U.S. Senator (Class 3) from Illinois
Served alongside: Paul Douglas, Charles H. Percy
Succeeded by
Ralph Tyler Smith
Party political offices
Preceded by
Ralph Brewster
Chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee
Succeeded by
Barry Goldwater
Preceded by
Barry Goldwater
Chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee
Succeeded by
Andrew F. Schoeppel
Preceded by
Leverett Saltonstall
Senate Republican Whip
Succeeded by
Thomas Kuchel
Preceded by
William F. Knowland
Senate Republican Leader
Succeeded by
Hugh Scott
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Persons who have lain in state or honor
in the United States Capitol rotunda

September 9, 1969 – September 10, 1969
Succeeded by
J. Edgar Hoover
Preceded by
Thanat Khoman
Grand Marshals of the Tournament of Roses Parade
Succeeded by
Bob Hope
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