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John J. Williams (politician)

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John James "Whispering Willie"[1] Williams (May 17, 1904 – January 11, 1988) was an American businessman and politician from Millsboro, Delaware. He was a member of the Republican Party and served four terms as U.S. senator from Delaware from 1947 to 1970.

John J. Williams
United States Senator
from Delaware
In office
January 3, 1947 – December 31, 1970
Preceded byJames Tunnell
Succeeded byBill Roth
Personal details
John James Williams

(1904-05-17)May 17, 1904
Frankford, Delaware, U.S.
DiedJanuary 11, 1988(1988-01-11) (aged 83)
Lewes, Delaware, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
Spouse(s)Elsie Steele
ResidenceMillsboro, Delaware

Early life and familyEdit

Williams was born on a farm near Frankford, Sussex County, Delaware, the ninth of eleven children. In 1922, he moved to Millsboro, where he and his brother Preston established the Millsboro Feed Company, a livestock and poultry feed business. John Williams married Elsie Steele in 1924; they remained married until his death 64 years later. In 1946, he served on the Millsboro Town Council.

United States SenateEdit

Williams was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1946, defeating incumbent Democratic U.S. Senator James M. Tunnell. During this term, he served in the Republican majority in the 80th Congress, but was in the minority in the 81st and 82nd Congresses. He was elected to a second term in 1952, defeating Democrat Alexis I. du Pont Bayard, and once again served in the Republican majority in the 83rd Congress, but returned to the minority in the 84th and 85th Congresses. Williams was elected to a third term in 1958 and a fourth term in 1964, both times defeating Democrat Elbert N. Carvel, who at the time of the 1964 election was Governor of Delaware. During these terms Williams served in the Republican minority in the 86th through the 91st Congresses. In all, he served for 24 years, from January 3, 1947 until December 31, 1970, when he resigned just before the end of his fourth term. He served during the administrations of U.S. presidents Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Richard M. Nixon. Williams was Delaware's first four-term U.S. senator.

In the Senate, Williams established himself as an opponent of wasteful government bureaucracy. A proponent of free markets, he objected to President Truman's continuation of many New Deal and World War II policies. Williams supported tax cuts, opposed the continuation of price controls, and suggested the federal budget could be balanced by slashing one million federal jobs he felt were unnecessary after the Great Depression and World War II.

From 1947 through 1948, Williams worked to root out corruption in the Internal Revenue Service, exposing the illegal activities of two hundred employees of the Treasury Department. In October 1963, at a time when President Kennedy was pondering the future of his vice president, Lyndon Johnson, Williams exposed corruption in the office of U.S. Senate aide Bobby Baker, Johnson's protégé. Williams voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In 1967, he helped defeat a proposed rule change that would have eliminated the filibuster, a tool that had been of great use to him in exposing government waste and misconduct. In 1968, unable to defeat the tax increase proposed by President Johnson, Williams worked with Democratic U.S. Senator George Smathers of Florida to simultaneously cut federal spending by $60 billion.

Williams, as well as his Senate colleague Prescott Bush of Connecticut, was considered a possible running mate for Republican presidential nominee Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952, but removed himself from consideration. He was also considered for a spot on the Republican ticket in 1964 and as a possible replacement for Spiro Agnew when he resigned as vice president of the United States in 1973. Williams was a delegate to the Republican National Conventions in 1948 and 1956.

In 1965, Williams began pressing for a law that would set a mandatory retirement age of 65 for all elected officials. Though mandatory retirement was never enacted, Williams announced in 1969 that he would not seek a fifth term in the U.S. Senate. On December 31, 1970, he resigned from the Senate just before the end of his term, allowing his protégé, newly elected Republican William V. Roth, Jr., to gain additional seniority in his new class of U.S. senators.

In September 1966, Williams assailed the anti-inflation program of the Johnson administration as a "piece-meal approach" to a larger issue and advocated for a five percent across the board tax hike as well as Congress resuming a leadership role on the subject of enacting "necessary remedies to stave off financial collapse that may engulf us".[2]

Death and legacyEdit

Williams died in a hospital in Lewes, Delaware and was buried in Millsboro Cemetery, at Millsboro. He was a member of the Methodist Church, the Freemasons, and the Shriners. During his career in the U.S. Senate, Williams was called the "Lonewolf Investigator," "Watchdog of the Treasury," "Honest John," "Mr. Integrity," and most often, "the Conscience of the Senate." The section of Delaware Route 24 between Millsboro and Midway is named the John J. Williams Highway in his honor.


Elections are held the first Tuesday after November 1. U.S. Senators are popularly elected and take office January 3 for a six-year term.

Public Offices
Office Type Location Began office Ended office Notes
U.S. Senator Legislature Washington January 3, 1947 January 3, 1953
U.S. Senator Legislature Washington January 3, 1953 January 3, 1959
U.S. Senator Legislature Washington January 3, 1959 January 3, 1965
U.S. Senator Legislature Washington January 3, 1965 December 31, 1970
United States Congress service
Dates Congress Chamber Majority President Committees Class/District
1947–1949 80th U.S. Senate Republican Harry S. Truman class 1
1949–1951 81st U.S. Senate Democratic Harry S. Truman class 1
1951–1953 82nd U.S. Senate Democratic Harry S. Truman class 1
1953–1955 83rd U.S. Senate Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower class 1
1955–1957 84th U.S. Senate Democratic Dwight D. Eisenhower class 1
1957–1959 85th U.S. Senate Democratic Dwight D. Eisenhower class 1
1959–1961 86th U.S. Senate Democratic Dwight D. Eisenhower class 1
1961–1963 87th U.S. Senate Democratic John F. Kennedy class 1
1963–1965 88th U.S. Senate Democratic John F. Kennedy
Lyndon B. Johnson
class 1
1965–1967 89th U.S. Senate Democratic Lyndon B. Johnson class 1
1967–1969 90th U.S. Senate Democratic Lyndon B. Johnson class 1
1969–1971 91st U.S. Senate Democratic Richard M. Nixon class 1
Election results
Year Office Subject Party Votes % Opponent Party Votes %
1946 U.S. Senator John J. Williams Republican 62,603 55% James M. Tunnell Democratic 50,910 45%
1952 U.S. Senator John J. Williams Republican 93,020 55% Alexis I. du Pont Bayard Democratic 77,685 45%
1958 U.S. Senator John J. Williams Republican 82,280 53% Elbert N. Carvel Democratic 72,152 47%
1964 U.S. Senator John J. Williams Republican 103,782 52% Elbert N. Carvel Democratic 96,850 48%


  1. ^ THE BUDGET: Money, Anyone?, Time Magazine
  2. ^ "'Piecemeal approach'". The Bulletin. September 14, 1966.


  • Caro, Robert A. (2012). The Passage of Power, vol. 4 of The Years of Lyndon Johnson. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. pp. 282–94. ISBN 978-0-679-40507-8.
  • Carter, Richard B. (2001). Clearing New Ground, The Life of John G. Townsend, Jr. Wilmington, Delaware: The Delaware Heritage Press. ISBN 0-924117-20-6.
  • Martin, Roger (1997). Elbert N. Carvel. Wilmington, Delaware: Delaware Heritage Press. ISBN 0-924117-08-7.
  • Hoffecker, Carol E. (2000). Honest John Williams. Newark, Delaware: University of Delaware Press.


External linksEdit