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GEORGE NORRIS III

August 24 & 25, 2012

GEORGE NORRIS III

Knoxville, Tennessee (JFK+50) Today we continue our report on Senator John F. Kennedy’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, “Profiles In Courage.”  


JFK’s book highlights the stories of eight United States Senators who risked their political careers to pursue justice.


In the introduction to the Memorial Edition, Robert Kennedy writes:


“Courage is the virtue that President Kennedy most admired.  That is why this book so fitted his personality, his beliefs.”

 

JFK Library Image

The title of Chapter VIII is George Norris.


JFK writes that in addition to the overthrow of “Czar Cannon,” the other “struggles” that are noteworthy in the political career of George Norris include his support of AL SMITH for President in 1928 & his filibuster against President WOODROW WILSON’s ARMED SHIP BILL in 1917.


Wilson requested the authorization to arm U.S. merchant ships in response to German unrestricted submarine warfare.


Despite the overwhelming vote for the authorization in the House of Representatives (403-13), there was “determined opposition” in the Senate from a small group of senators led by BOB LA FOLLETTE* & GEORGE NORRIS.


*Robert La Follette (1855-1925), born in Primrose, Wisconsin, graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1879.  He served in the US House of Representatives & US Senate.  He was Governor of Wisconsin 1901-1906.


In 1924, La Follette ran as the Progressive Party’s candidate for President of the United States.  He won 17% of the popular vote & carried Wisconsin’s 13 electoral votes.

 

Robert M. La Follette with family, Library of Congress Photo

          

JFK writes that Norris feared that ‘Big Business’ was ‘driving the nation into a useless, bloody struggle.’


To block authorization, a filibuster would be required.


Although the filibuster was a success & the bill was not passed,  President Wilson announced that he already had the executive power to order the arming of merchant ships WITHOUT congressional approval.


Among the criticisms of the senators who opposed the President was this editorial comment in the NEW YORK TIMES:


“The odium of treasonable purpose will rest upon their names forevermore.”


Despite the criticisms, George Norris’s “fame & political fortune multiplied.”


In 1928, Norris, “a Republican, a Midwesterner, (&) a Protestant,” gave his support to Al Smith, a Democrat, an Easterner & & a Catholic.


This 2nd struggle also ended in failure for Senator Norris as Republican HERBERT HOOVER won in a landslide.


But George Norris didn’t see it totally as a failure.  As he later confided to a friend:


“It happens very often that one tries to do something & fails.  He feels discouraged, & yet he may discover years afterward that the very effort he made was the reason somebody else took it up & succeeded.


I really believe that whatever use I have been to progressive civilization has been accomplished in the things I failed to do than in the things I actually did do.”

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