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Brien McMahon: Wikis


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Senator Brien McMahon

Brien McMahon (October 6, 1903, Norwalk, Connecticut – July 28, 1952, Washington, D.C.) was born James O'Brien McMahon.

McMahon was an American lawyer and politician who served in the United States Senate (as a Democrat from Connecticut) from 1945 to 1952. McMahon was a major figure in the establishment of the Atomic Energy Commission, through his authorship of the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 (the McMahon Act).

McMahon served as chairman of the Special Committee on Atomic Energy, and the first chairman of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy. McMahon was a key figure in the early years of atomic weapons development and an advocate for the civilian (rather than military) control of nuclear development in the USA. Also, in 1952, McMahon proposed an "army" of young Americans to act as "missionaries of democracy", which sowed the seeds for what would later become the Peace Corps.

McMahon was born James O'Brien McMahon in 1903 in Norwalk, Connecticut. McMahon graduated Fordham University in 1924. and then Yale University Law School, New Haven, Connecticut in 1927. McMahon changed his name to Brien McMahon the same year as being admitted to the bar.

McMahon began a practice in Norwalk and later served as a judge in the city, appointed to the position by Connecticut Governor Wilbur Cross. [1] However, McMahon quickly resigned to become special assistant to the Attorney General of the United States in 1933. Attorney General Homer Cummings was also from Connecticut. McMahon in 1935 was appointed as United States Assistant Attorney General overseeing the Department of Justice's Criminal Division. Among prominent cases McMahon was associated with in the Criminal Division were the prosecutions of "John Dillinger's lawyer, Louis Piquette (for harboring a criminal) and the trials of gangsters associated with 'Baby Face' Nelson. However, the case which elevated McMahon to national renown and laid the foundation for his political career, was the Harlan County Coal Miner's case ...[,] a landmark trial as the first effort to uphold the Wagner National Labor Relations Act, i.e., to enforce the right of labor to form unions. The case became most famous, however, not for the legal principles at stake, but for the violence and scandal that surrounded the trial. [And, d]espite [a] disappointing outcome of the case, ... McMahon ... received wide public recognition and a reputation as a courageous and honest upholder of justice, both of which would further his political ambitions," according to a biography accompanying the introduction to his papers, held by Georgetown University library.[1]

In 1939, McMahon left government service and resumed his law practice. In February of 1940 McMahon married Rosemary Turner, and they had a daughter, Patricia. McMahon mounted a successful campaign for a Connecticut United States Senate seat in 1944, defeating incumbent John Danaher, with internationalism (McMahon) v. isolationism (Danaher) a major point of debate. [1] McMahon was reelected in 1950 and served until his death in Washington, D.C. in 1952, aged 48. McMahon is buried in St. Mary’s Cemetery in Norwalk.

In 1952, before being diagnosed with what would become his fatal cancer, McMahon launched a campaign for the presidency, with the "campaign slogan ... 'The Man is McMahon' and his main platform ... to insure world peace through fear of atomic weapons."[1]

McMahon Commemorative Stamp, 1962

A commemorative stamp honoring Brien McMahon and his role in opening the way to peaceful uses of atomic energy was issued by the United States on July 28, 1962 at Norwalk, CT. The stamp features a portrait of McMahon facing a rendition of an atomic symbol.

Brien McMahon High School, in Norwalk, is named after him. Brien McMahon Hall, a residence hall at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, also bears his name.


  • December 20, 1945 Senator Brien McMahon introduces a substitute to the May-Johnson bill, which had been losing support, including Truman's.
  • January 1946 Hearings on the McMahon bill begin.
  • June 14, 1946 Bernard Baruch presents the American plan for international control of atomic research.
  • July 1, 1946 Operation Crossroads begins with Shot Able, a plutonium bomb dropped from a B-29, at Bikini Atoll.
  • July 15, 1946 Operation Crossroads continues with Shot Baker, a plutonium bomb detonated underwater, at Bikini Atoll.
  • August 1, 1946 President Truman signs the Atomic Energy Act of 1946, a slightly amended version of the McMahon bill.
  • December 1946 - January 1947 The Soviet Union opposes the Baruch Plan, rendering it useless.


  1. ^ a b c d The Brien McMahon Papers Biography/Introduction to papers. Georgetown University library. Retrieved 2-7-09.
  • American National Biography; Dictionary of American Biography; U.S. Congress.
  • Memorial Services. 83d Cong., 1st sess., 1953. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1953.

External links

United States Senate
Preceded by
John A. Danaher
United States Senator (Class 3) from Connecticut
1945 – 1952
Served alongside: Francis T. Maloney, Thomas C. Hart,
Raymond E. Baldwin, William B. Benton
Succeeded by
William A. Purtell
Preceded by
Francis T. Maloney
Secretary of Senate Democratic Conference
1945 – 1952
Succeeded by
Thomas Hennings


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