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Joseph W. Martin Jr.

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Joseph William Martin Jr. (November 3, 1884 – March 6, 1968) was an American politician who served as the 44th Speaker of the United States House of Representatives from 1947 to 1949 and 1953 to 1955; he represented the district covering North Attleborough, Massachusetts. He was the only Republican to serve as Speaker in a sixty-four year period from 1931 to 1995. He was a "compassionate conservative" who opposed the New Deal and supported the conservative coalition of Republicans and southern Democrats, especially on opposing labor unions.[1]

Joseph Martin
44th Speaker of the United States House of Representatives
In office
January 3, 1953 – January 3, 1955
Preceded bySam Rayburn
Succeeded bySam Rayburn
In office
January 3, 1947 – January 3, 1949
Preceded bySam Rayburn
Succeeded bySam Rayburn
House Minority Leader
In office
January 3, 1955 – January 3, 1959
DeputyLeslie C. Arends
Preceded bySam Rayburn
Succeeded byCharles Halleck
In office
January 3, 1949 – January 3, 1953
DeputyLeslie C. Arends
Preceded bySam Rayburn
Succeeded bySam Rayburn
In office
January 3, 1939 – January 3, 1947
DeputyHarry Englebright
Leslie C. Arends
Preceded byBertrand Snell
Succeeded bySam Rayburn
Chair of the Republican National Committee
In office
July 8, 1940 – December 7, 1942
Preceded byJohn Hamilton
Succeeded byHarrison E. Spangler
House Republican Leader
In office
January 3, 1939 – January 3, 1959
DeputyHarry Englebright
Leslie C. Arends
Charles Halleck
Leslie C. Arends
Charles Halleck
Leslie C. Arends
Preceded byBertrand Snell
Succeeded byCharles Halleck
Member of the
U.S. House of Representatives
from Massachusetts
In office
March 4, 1925 – January 3, 1967
Preceded byRobert M. Leach
Succeeded byMargaret Heckler
Constituency15th district (1925–1933)
14th district (1933–1963)
10th district (1963–1967)
Personal details
Joseph William Martin Jr.

(1884-11-03)November 3, 1884
North Attleborough, Massachusetts, U.S.
DiedMarch 6, 1968(1968-03-06) (aged 83)
Hollywood, Florida, U.S.
Political partyRepublican

Early in his career, Martin worked as a newspaper editor and served in both houses of the Massachusetts General Court. He won election to the United States House of Representatives in 1924. He was elected House Minority Leader after the 1938 elections and continued to hold the lead House Republican position (either Speaker or House Minority Leader) until 1959. He also served as Chairman of the Republican National Committee from 1940 to 1942 at the behest of Wendell Willkie, the 1940 Republican presidential nominee. Martin presided over five Republican National Conventions and frequently became involved in presidential politics. He urged General Douglas MacArthur to seek the 1952 Republican presidential nomination, and supporters of Robert A. Taft accused Martin of favoring Dwight D. Eisenhower in Martin's role as chairman of the contentious 1952 Republican National Convention. After Eisenhower won the 1952 election, Martin supported Eisenhower's internationalist foreign policy outlook.

Martin lost his position as Republican leader after the party lost seats in the 1958 elections. He was succeeded by his more conservative deputy, Charles A. Halleck. Martin continued to serve in Congress until his defeat in the 1966 Republican primary by Margaret Heckler. Martin died in Hollywood, Florida in 1968.


Joe Martin was born in North Attleborough, Massachusetts, the son of Catherine (Katon) and Joseph William Martin, a blacksmith.[2] He graduated from North Attleborough High School, where he played shortstop on the school baseball team. He also played semi-professional ball in an intercity league, from which he earned ten dollars per game.[3] Martin worked for the Evening Chronicle, first as a newspaper delivery boy and then as the managing editor and publisher. In his autobiography, entitled My First Fifty Years in Politics, Martin describes the North Attleborough in which he was reared:

I made still more friends as a delivery boy for the North Attleborough Evening Chronicle. Our world was much smaller and more intimate then than it is now [1960]. The population of the town was only four thousand, and it seemed that everyone knew everyone else. The men and women were more disposed than they are today to give a young fellow a lift when he was starting out. No one bothers anymore. People are colder, more indifferent than they used to be.[4]

Though Martin had intended to attend Dartmouth College, he instead remained with his newspaper work, where his future prospects seemed promising. "I felt that I should keep working and take some of the burden off my parents by helping put my younger brothers through college", noting that he used most of his $750 annual salary as a state senator to defray Edward's expenses at Dartmouth.[5]


Martin served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives (1912–1914), Massachusetts Senate (1914–1917) and the United States House of Representatives (1925–1967). He entered Congress when Massachusetts was a historically Republican state. As Democrats gained overwhelming strength over the years, Martin managed to hold on to his House seat despite ongoing redistricting. In his autobiography, Martin explains:

Martin early in his congressional career
Martin and Sam Rayburn at US Capitol

"Redistricting is an officeholder's nightmare because overnight it can change the makeup of his constituency sufficiently perhaps to cost him the next election. The dread of everyone who holds an elective office within a given district is that when the boundaries are redrawn, as they are from time to time because of population changes, he will lose a friendly town or pick up a hostile one and that either way the vote will shift against him. The truth of the matter is that redistricting goes to the heart of democratic government. Indeed it can determine which party controls Congress."[6]

Martin was the Chairman of the Republican National Committee from 1940 to 1942, having been recruited to that position by presidential nominee Wendell Willkie, whose nomination came as a complete surprise to political pro Martin. During the New Deal, he stood out as a major opponent of Franklin D. Roosevelt's policies and opposed his internationalist outlook on foreign affairs. However, he supported a few New Deal measures, such as the establishment of the minimum wage.

During the 1940 presidential campaign, Martin achieved a measure of notoriety as one-third of President Roosevelt's famous denunciation of "Martin, Barton and Fish." The other two were fellow GOP House members Bruce Fairchild Barton and Hamilton Fish III.

After 1952, Martin joined the moderate wing of the Republican Party and supported Dwight D. Eisenhower's internationalist outlook (through support of foreign aid), endorsed federal aid for school construction, and backed Lyndon B. Johnson's Economic Opportunity Act of 1964.

In 1960, McGraw-Hill published My First Fifty Years in Politics, by Joe Martin as told to Robert J. Donovan, a lively and detailed account of Martin's role in American politics over half-a-century. Martin was the longtime publisher of The Evening Chronicle newspaper in North Attleborough. After his death it merged with a nearby rival and became The Sun Chronicle newspaper.


Martin was elected House Minority Leader following Republican gains in the 1938 elections. He served as Speaker of the House of Representatives on two separate occasions from 1947 to 1949 and from 1953 to 1955. These terms represented two Republican short-term majorities in the House, and Martin's two terms were bookended by Sam Rayburn, the Texas Democrat and mentor of Lyndon Johnson with whom Martin enjoyed a warm personal relationship.

In 1948, Martin traveled with his presidential nominee Thomas E. Dewey in North Attleborough, where Martin's mother, Catherine (died 1957), told the confident Dewey, the governor of New York, that he was too complacent in the campaign and could not take victory for granted. "Don't take it so easy," she admonished.[7] Later Dewey confessed to Martin that Dewey could be more forceful in speaking on behalf of other candidates, such as Eisenhower, than he could for himself because of Dewey's innate hesitancy to tout his own abilities.

Probably the most controversial moment of Martin's congressional career came in April 1951, when he read on the floor of Congress a letter he had received from General Douglas MacArthur, who was commanding US troops fighting in the Korean War. President Harry S Truman had decided on peace negotiations as the best way out of the grinding conflict. MacArthur's letter, written in response to one from Martin asking for the general's views on Truman's policy, was scathingly critical of the president.

Martin had hoped that disclosing the letter's contents would bolster MacArthur's case. Instead, it ignited a political firestorm and demands for his removal. Six days after Martin read the letter on the House floor, Truman dismissed MacArthur.[8]

In spite of this unintended outcome, Martin and MacArthur remained friends. Martin invited the general to deliver what became known popularly as the "Old Soldiers Never Die" speech before a joint meeting of Congress following his dismissal. In 1952, Martin urged MacArthur to seek the Republican presidential nomination. MacArthur, however, favored U.S. Senator Robert A. Taft, of Ohio, who lost the nomination to Willkie in 1940, to Dewey in 1948, and to Dwight Eisenhower in 1952. Eisenhower then defeated Governor Adlai E. Stevenson II of Illinois.

In his capacity as leader of the House Republicans, Martin presided over the Republican National Convention on five occasions between 1940 and 1956. In 1940, he was instrumental in the choice of Senate Minority Leader Charles L. McNary of Oregon as Wendell Willkie's running mate. His most controversial role was at the 1952 Republican National Convention, when several of his rulings were seen as tilting the nomination to Dwight D. Eisenhower over Robert A. Taft.

In preparation for the 1952 elections, Martin traveled to Hot Springs, Arkansas, for a regional Republican meeting called by state party chairman Osro Cobb, a former member of the Arkansas House of Representatives, to unveil a potential strategy to make the GOP competitive in the American South. "We came away from the meeting more determined and better prepared to advance the two-party system in the South," recalls Cobb in his memoirs, as the Republicans won at the presidential level that year in Tennessee, Texas, Florida, and Virginia.[9]

Martin was in the Speaker's chair presiding over the House on March 1, 1954 when four Puerto Rican independence activists opened fire on the House, wounding five Congressmen. Speaker Martin declared the House in recess as he sought cover behind a marble pillar on the rostrum.[10] Martin would be the last Republican to serve as Speaker of the House until the election of Newt Gingrich of Georgia almost forty years later.[11] Martin remained leader of the House Republicans until 1958, when the party experienced heavy losses in that year's elections. In the aftermath, Martin was ousted from the leadership by his deputy, Charles A. Halleck.

In spite of this defeat, Martin chose to remain as a backbench member of the House. Eight years later, in 1966, he was ousted from his seat in the Republican primary by the more liberal Margaret Heckler, who was forty-six years his junior. He was also one of seven Speakers to serve more than one non-consecutive term, and the second Republican.

Martin died in Hollywood, Florida, on March 6, 1968.


Joseph W. Martin with Israel's Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion in Jerusalem, 1951

Today in his hometown of North Attleborough, the Joseph W. Martin Jr. Elementary School bears his name, as does the Joseph W. Martin Institute for Law and Society which houses his personal archives. The Martin Institute is located at Stonehill College in North Easton, Massachusetts.

In 2007, the North Attleborough High School Alumni Association established the Joseph W. Martin Jr. Distinguished Alumni Award to recognize the outstanding professional and civic achievements of the men and women who are former students of North Attleborough High School.


  1. ^ James J. Kenneally, A Compassionate Conservative: A Political Biography of Joseph W. Martin Jr., Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives (2003)
  2. ^ Block, Maxine (1 January 1940). "Current Biography Yearbook 1940". H. W. Wilson Company. Retrieved 30 March 2017 – via Google Books.
  3. ^ Joe Martin to Robert J. Donovan, My First Fifty Years in Politics, p. 24 (McGraw-Hill, 1960), 261 pp.
  4. ^ Martin, My First Fifty Years in Politics, p. 23
  5. ^ Martin, My First Fifty Years in Politics, pp. 24-25
  6. ^ Martin, My First Fifty Years in Politics, p. 32
  7. ^ Martin, My First Fifty Years in Politics,, p. 20
  8. ^ Kirby, Mike (17 July 2011). "Truman, MacArthur and the infamous letter: How a battle over war backfired on North's Joe Martin". Sun-Chronicle.
  9. ^ Osro Cobb, Osro Cobb of Arkansas: Memoirs of Historical Significance, Carol Griffee, ed. (Little Rock, Arkansas: Rose Publishing Company, 1989), pp. 101-102
  10. ^ "Timeline of 1954 Shooting Events - US House of Representatives: History, Art & Archives". Retrieved 30 March 2017.
  11. ^ Jr, R. W. Apple (10 November 1994). "THE 1994 ELECTIONS: CONGRESS -- NEWS ANALYSIS How Lasting a Majority?; Despite Sweeping Gains for Republicans, History Suggests the Power Is Temporary". Retrieved 30 March 2017 – via

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