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Kenneth McKellar (politician)

  (Redirected from Kenneth D. McKellar)

Kenneth Douglas McKellar (January 29, 1869 – October 25, 1957) was an American politician from Tennessee who served as a United States Representative from 1911 until 1917 and as a United States Senator from 1917 until 1953. A Democrat, he served longer in both houses of Congress than anyone else in Tennessee history, and only a few others in American history have served longer in both houses.

Kenneth McKellar
Kenneth McKellar LCCN2014716761 (cropped).jpg
President pro tempore of the United States Senate
In office
January 3, 1949 – January 3, 1953
Preceded byArthur Vandenberg
Succeeded byStyles Bridges
In office
January 6, 1945 – January 4, 1947
Preceded byCarter Glass
Succeeded byArthur Vandenberg
United States Senator
from Tennessee
In office
March 4, 1917 – January 3, 1953
Preceded byLuke Lea
Succeeded byAlbert Gore, Sr.
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Tennessee's 10th district
In office
December 4, 1911 – March 3, 1917
Preceded byGeorge W. Gordon
Succeeded byHubert Fisher
Personal details
Kenneth Douglas McKellar

(1869-01-29)January 29, 1869
Dallas County, Alabama
DiedOctober 25, 1957(1957-10-25) (aged 88)
Memphis, Tennessee
Political partyDemocratic
Alma materUniversity of Alabama

Early life and careerEdit

McKellar was a native of Dallas County, Alabama and graduated from the University of Alabama in 1891 and its law school in 1892. He moved to Memphis, Tennessee, and was admitted to the bar the same year. McKellar was first elected to the House in a special election in November 1911 to succeed George W. Gordon in the 10th Congressional District, which included Memphis. He won the seat in his own right in 1912 and was reelected in 1914 serving until his election to the United States Senate.

United States SenateEdit

McKellar ran for the Senate in 1916, defeating incumbent Senator Luke Lea in the Democratic primary and winning the general election against former Republican Governor Ben W. Hooper. He was reelected to the Senate in 1922 (defeating former Senator Newell Sanders), 1928 (defeating former U.S. Assistant Attorney General James Alexander Fowler), 1934 (again defeating Ben Hooper), 1940 (against Howard Baker, Sr., father of future Senator Howard Baker), and 1946 when he defeated William B. Ladd.[1]

McKellar was considered a moderate progressive in his early days in the Senate, supporting many of President Woodrow Wilson's reform initiatives as well as ratification of the Treaty of Versailles. He also staunchly supported the New Deal, especially the creation of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). McKellar was also a close ally of Memphis political boss E. H. Crump.

Kenneth McKellar was a crusader of free trade and supported the repeal of the Smoot-Hawley Tariff after 1930. Despite his early support for the policies of Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR), McKellar grew more conservative in his political stances and began opposing the administration's appointments. The most noted of these would be a prolonged feud with FDR's appointee to head the TVA, David E. Lilienthal.

As ranking member of the Appropriations Committee McKellar, who was an avid supporter of property rights, successfully forced the TVA to properly reimburse landowners whose property was taken over by the TVA for such purposes as dam building. Prior to McKellar's threats to withhold Federal appropriations for the purchase of uranium early in World War II, the TVA was commonly offering to give landholders "pennies on the dollar" for their property taken over by the TVA. As head of the Appropriations Committee, McKellar had full knowledge of the appropriations needed for the Manhattan Project to build an atomic bomb. He was often called upon to "keep the secret" of the Manhattan Project by mingling funds for the bomb project with other projects, or through carefully planned (secret) War Projects Funding. As the Tennessee Valley Authority was centered in Tennessee, his home state, McKellar felt that the harsh treatment of his constituents by the TVA was a personal affront by David Lilienthal.

McKellar's threat to withhold funding for purchases of uranium had a much deeper meaning though. Lilienthal was also intimately associated with the Manhattan Project's work done to electromagnetically enrich uranium, coincidentally at the facility later known as Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Ernest Lawrence's "electromagnetic" enrichment of uranium at Oak Ridge, Tennessee would eventually use the electricity created by the TVA to enrich the uranium used in the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. By threatening to withhold funding for the purchase of uranium, Senator McKellar was making it clear to David Lilienthal that it was he (McKellar, as ranking member and Acting Chairman of the Appropriations Committee) who was holding the cards, and that it was Lilienthal who was being forced to give a fair market value for land appropriated by the TVA.

McKellar twice served as President pro tempore of the United States Senate, commencing in 1945, the first to hold the position under the system that has prevailed since of reserving it for the most senior member of the majority party.[2] When Harry Truman became president in April 1945, upon FDR's death, the vice presidency became vacant (the mechanism for filling intra-term vacancies had not yet been created by the 25th Amendment), and so McKellar became the permanent presiding officer of the United States Senate. Also, as the President pro tempore of the Senate had, prior to 1886, been second in the presidential line of succession, behind only the vice president, Truman viewed McKellar as the logical wartime replacement for himself, and asked McKellar to attend all Cabinet meetings. In 1947 Truman successfully lobbied Congress to pass a new Presidential Succession Act restoring both the Speaker of the House and the President pro tempore of the Senate to the succession ahead of the Cabinet secretaries. By the time the law came into effect, McKellar was no longer in the position of President pro tempore, because Republicans held the majority in the 80th Congress. Truman vetoed the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947 to restrict labor unions, which McKellar voted in favor of. As such Truman selected Alben Barkley of Kentucky as his running mate in the 1948 presidential election. When Democrats regained control as a result of the 1948 elections, McKellar again became President pro tempore. He was therefore second in line for the presidency (behind the Speaker of the House) from January 3, 1949 until January 20, 1949, when Alben Barkley took office as Vice President of the United States.

McKellar also served as chairman of the Civil Service Committee, Post Office and Road Committee, and, most notably, the powerful Appropriations Committee from 1945–1947 and again from 1949–1953.[3]


McKellar is the only Tennessee senator to have completed more than three full terms; except for McKellar, Tennessee has generally not joined in the Southern tradition of reelecting Senators for protracted periods of service. (Before the era of popular election of U.S. Senators, Senator William B. Bate was elected to a fourth term by the Tennessee General Assembly, but died only five days into it. Senator Isham G. Harris had also died early in his fourth term. Senator Joseph Anderson was elected by the General Assembly to three full terms after completing the term of William Blount, who was expelled from the Senate.)

1952 electionEdit

In 1952 McKellar stood for a seventh term (the first Senator to do so), despite being by then quite elderly (age 83). He was opposed for renomination by Middle Tennessee Congressman Albert Gore. McKellar's reelection slogan was "Thinking Feller? Vote McKellar.", which Gore countered with "Think Some More – Vote for Gore." Gore defeated McKellar for the Democratic nomination in August in what was widely regarded as something of an upset. At this point in Tennessee history, the Democratic nomination for statewide office was still "tantamount to election", as the Republican Party's activities were still largely limited to East Tennessee, as they had been since the Civil War. Gore went on to serve three terms in the Senate.

McKellar's defeat was part of a statewide trend in 1952. The year also saw the defeat for renomination of incumbent governor of Tennessee Gordon Browning by Frank G. Clement. Browning, who had served a total of three terms as governor, the last two successive, had also at one point been a close ally of Crump's but had since broken ranks with him. As Clement and Gore were both considerably younger and regarded as more progressive than their predecessors, some historians cite the 1952 elections as an indication that Tennessee was earlier to enter into the "New South" era of Southern politics than most of the other Southern states. This election also marked the end of Crump having any real influence in Tennessee beyond Memphis.


McKellar wrote a book about his Tennessee predecessors in the Senate called Tennessee Senators as Seen by One of Their Successors (1942). In recent years it has been updated by one of his successors, former Senate Majority Leader Dr. Bill Frist.

Some have speculated that Senator McKellar was the inspiration for the character of South Carolina Senator Seabright Cooley in Allen Drury's novel Advise and Consent.[4]

Lake McKellar, bordering the Memphis President's Island industrial area along the Mississippi River and McKellar-Sipes Regional Airport (originally "McKellar Field") in Jackson, Tennessee ("MKL") are both named in his honor.

McKellar died on October 25, 1957, and is interred at Elmwood Cemetery in Memphis, Tennessee.[5] He was portrayed by actor Ed Bruce in the film Public Enemies (2009) and Michael O'Neill in the film J. Edgar (2011).


  1. ^ "Kenneth D. McKellar". Tennessee Historical Society. Retrieved 2 May 2013.
  2. ^ "Kenneth D. McKellar". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. Retrieved 2 May 2013.
  3. ^ "Kenneth D. McKellar". Govtrack US Congress. Retrieved 2 May 2013.
  4. ^ David, personalName=Bratman,. "The fictional Senate of Allen Drury's Advise and consent". Retrieved 20 October 2016.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
  5. ^ "Kenneth D. McKellar". The Political Graveyard. Retrieved 2 May 2013.

External linksEdit

U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
George W. Gordon
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Tennessee's 10th congressional district

December 4, 1911 – March 3, 1917
Succeeded by
Hubert Fisher
U.S. Senate
Preceded by
Luke Lea
U.S. Senator (Class 1) from Tennessee
March 4, 1917 – January 3, 1953
Served alongside: John K. Shields, Lawrence D. Tyson, William E. Brock I, Cordell Hull, Nathan L. Bachman, George L. Berry, Tom Stewart, Estes Kefauver
Succeeded by
Albert Gore, Sr.
Political offices
Preceded by
Carter Glass
President pro tempore of the United States Senate
January 6, 1945 – January 2, 1947
Succeeded by
Arthur Vandenberg
Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee
1946 – 1947
Succeeded by
Styles Bridges
New Hampshire
Preceded by
Arthur Vandenberg
President pro tempore of the United States Senate
January 3, 1949 – January 2, 1953
Preceded by
Styles Bridges
New Hampshire
Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee
1949 – 1953
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Ellison D. Smith
South Carolina
Dean of the United States Senate
November 17, 1944 – January 2, 1953
Succeeded by
Walter F. George