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Henry F. Ashurst


In office
March 27, 1912 – January 3, 1941
Preceded by None
Succeeded by Ernest W. McFarland

Born September 13, 1874
Winnemucca, Nevada
Died May 31, 1962 (aged 87)
Washington, D.C.
Nationality American
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Elizabeth McEvoy Reno
Alma mater Stockton Business College
University of Michigan Law School

Henry Fountain Ashurst (September 13, 1874 – May 31, 1962) was an American Democratic politician and one of the first two Senators from Arizona, the other being Marcus A. Smith. Largely self-educated, he served as a district attorney and member of the Arizona Territorial legislature before fulfilling his childhood ambition of joining the United States Senate. During his time in the Senate, Ashurst was chairman of the Committee on Indian Affairs and the Judiciary Committee.

Called "the longest U. S. theatrical engagement on record" by Time,[1] Ashurst's political career was noted for a self-contradictory voting record, the use of a sesquipedalian vocabulary, and for a love of public speaking that earned him a reputation as one of the Senate's greatest orators. Among the sobriquets assigned to him are the "Dean of Inconsistency", "Five-Syllable Henry", and the "Silver-Tongued Sunbeam of the Painted Desert".[2]

Contents

Background

Ashurst was born on September 13, 1874 in a covered wagon near Winnemucca, Humboldt County, Nevada to William and Sarah Ashurst. The second of ten children, his family moved to a ranch near Williams, Arizona when he was two and he attended school in Flagstaff.[3] At the age of ten he demonstrated a desire to be a senator by writing "Henry Fountain Ashurst, U.S. Senator from Arizona" into a speller.[4] After dropping out of school at the age of thirteen, he worked as a cowboy on his father's ranch.[5]

Elizabeth McEvoy Reno Ashurst, wife of Senator Ashurst

At the age of nineteen, Ashurst was made the turnkey at the county jail in Flagstaff. While woking at the jail, he developed an interest in the law by reading William Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England.[5] He later took a job at a local lumber yard and began studying law at night. In 1895 he worked as a lumberjack in the Los Angeles area and as a hod carrier in San Francisco. Following a brief return to Flagstaff, Ashurst enrolled at Stockton Business College (now Humphreys College) where he graduated in 1896. Ashurst was admitted to the bar in 1897 and began a law practice in Williams. He completed his formal education with a year at University of Michigan Law School beginning in 1903.[5]

In 1904 Ashurst married Elizabeth McEvoy Reno, an Irish-born widow who had moved with the four children from her first marriage to Flagstaff to establish and manage a Weather Bureau station. She served as his political adviser for the rest of her life. Ashurst became a widower on November 1, 1939.[6]

Political career

Ashurst in his typical frock coat, striped pants, and winged collar.

Ashurst was elected to the Territorial House of Representatives in 1897 and when re-elected in 1899 became the territory's youngest speaker. In 1902, he was elected to a term in the territorial senate, and he served as district attorney of Coconino County from 1905 till 1908 when he moved to Prescott, Arizona.[5]

In 1911, Ashurst presided over the convention that adopted Arizona's state constitution.[7] During the convention, he positioned himself for a senate seat by avoiding political fighting over various clauses in the constitution while other rivals for the new state's two seats damaged each other's careers with political infighting. This left Ashurst with an undamaged reputation in a field of damaged candidates.[8]

With the admission of Arizona into the United States in 1912, Ashurst was confirmed by the Arizona legislature, alongside Marcus A. Smith, as one the states two new senators. He was sworn into office on March 27, 1912. During his early years in the Senate, Ashurst was a supporter of the Woodrow Wilson administration and served as chairman of the Committee on Indian Affairs between 1914 and 1919. Following his party's loss of control of the Senate in 1919 and White house in 1921 he became a critic of Republican leaders and policy. When his party regained control of the Senate, Ashurst became chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary from 1933 till he left the Senate in 1941.[5]

While in office, Ashurst focused on the interests of his constituents. He described this focus with the statement: "You (the people of Arizona) send me to Washington to represent you in the Senate. But you do not send me here because you are interested in grave questions of international policy. When I come back to Arizona, you never ask me questions about such policies; instead, you ask me, 'What about my pension?' or 'What about that job for my sons?'"[7] While he routinely read correspondence from his home state, letters and telegrams from other states were normally ignored.[9]

During reelection campaigns Ashurst employed one of his favorite quotations, "Praise undeserved is scandal in disguise". To this end, his normal technique was to confess his faults and shortcomings to the voters while at the same time glorifying his opponent. During the 1934 elections he even told his constituents "If you don't send me back to the Senate, you'll have an old broken down politician on your hands, and you don't want that."[8]

After five terms in the Senate, Ashurst was defeated in the 1940 elections by Ernest McFarland during the Democratic primary. Following the defeat he gave a farewell address, the Senate chambers were crowded by both fellow senators and members of the House of Representatives. During the address Ashurst reflected on the experience of defeat saying, "The first half-hour, you image that the earth has slipped from beneath your feat and that the stars above your head have paled and faded, and in your heart you wonder how the Senate will do without you, and how the country will get along without you. But, within another hour, there comes a peace and joy to be envied by the world's greatest philosopher."[10]

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Oratory and style

I suffer from Cacoëthes loquendi, a mania or itch for talking; from vanity, morbidity and, as is plain to everyone who knows me, from an inborn, an inveterate flair for histrionics.

—Henry F. Ashurst, [11]

Ashurst had an affection for oration as expressed by his statement, "I simply love speaking — just as one may like maple syrup, Beethoven, Verdi, or Longfellow, Kipling, or Shakespeare — one hardly knows why." [12] This combined with his courtly manners and impeccable attire earned Ashurst a reputation as the Chesterfield of the Senate.[13] As written by the New York Times, "Sheer eloquence is best personified in the present Senate by Ashurst of Arizona—the debonair, balm-tongued chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Without losing one whit of his eloquence, or missing or misquoting a classical phrase, Ashurst can run the range from buffoonery to some of the most challenging remarks heard in Congress."[14]

Ashurst's loquacious nature developed at an early age. After obtaining copies of several speeches by Roscoe Conkling, a prominent rhetorician of the late 19th century, Ashurst developed his speaking range and ability by thundering the words of other to the plants and rocks of the surrounding countryside. He also read a wide variety of classical and literary sources in an effort to learn as much quotable material as possible. As a result of these early efforts, By the time Ashurst joined Congress he had a well developed speakers voice and a capacious collection of memorized quotations in both English and Latin. To this was added an interest in etymology that aided his vast vocabulary.[8]

I love auriferous words, and nothing delights me more than to pluck gems from the dictionary that otherwise might never see the light of day.

—Henry F. Ashurst, [11]

Ashurst's most celebrated address came on June 15, 1935 when from the senate floor he chastised Huey Long in harangue labeled by Time "one of the most devastating speeches the chamber ever heard".[4] Other notable speeches by Ashurst dealt with Hugo Black's nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, a 1932 proposed tariff on foreign copper, and the 1917 U.S. entry into World War I.[15]

Barry Goldwater was so fond of Ashurst's speeches that he compiled fourteen into the book Speeches of Henry Fountain Ashurst of Arizona. Ashurst responded to the book with "But, Barry, I made over 5,000 of them."[16]

Dean of Inconsistency

...there has never been superadded to these vices of mine the withering embalming vice of consistency. Whoever in the public service is handcuffed and shackled by the vice of consistency will be a man not free to act as various questions come before him from time to time; he will be a statesman locked in a prison house the keys to which are in the keeping of days and events that are dead. As Emerson said, 'A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen.' Never have I let what I said yesterday bind me today. No senator can change his mind quicker that I.

—Henry F. Ashurst, [11]

Through his legislative career, Ashurst maintained a need to be inconsistent in his political actions. He was also noted for an eccentric and flexible record on a variety of issues. Ashurst's pride in his variable record was such that he appointed himself of "Dean of Inconsistency" and awarded Degrees of Inconsistency to other members of the Senate who displayed irregular voting patterns.[8] For his critics, he usually kept a supply of tracts on his person explaining the virtue and necessity of being inconsistent and awarded these to his detractors when he was criticized for his incongruous nature.[7]

An example of Ashurst's inconsistency is his behavior regarding the Judiciary Reorganization Bill of 1937. During campaign for 1936 presidential election Ashurst denounced rumors that Franklin D. Roosevelt planned to reorganize the Supreme Court by "whittling, chiseling, indirection, circumlocution, periphrasis, and house-that-Jack-built tactics."[11] He furthermore labeled the rumored plan to pack the court with six new justices "a prelude to tyranny".[5] Upon Roosevelt's introduction of the plan, Ashurst became the legislation's sponsor and claimed "I'm for it, it's a step in the right direction. It will be enacted into law immediately."[8] After the bill's introduction, the Arizona senator then delayed hearings in the Judiciary Committee, saying "No haste, no hurry, no waste, no worry — that is the motto of this committee."[5] As a result of his delaying efforts, the bill was held in committee for 165 days and opponents of the bill credited Ashurst for being instrumental in its defeat.[10] Upon receiving a constituent's congratulatory message regarding him on his stand the bill, Ashurst's reply read "Dear Madame: Which stand?"[7]

Other examples of Ashurst switching positions include his advocation of prohibition being followed by a vote to allow 3.2% beer along with voting both for and against the 18th Amendment.[17] His four votes on veteran's bonuses, two for and two against, generated the comment "What of it? At least I was fifty per cent right, which is a pretty good record for a politician."[11] Even his speaking skills could contribute to his inconsistency, as was the case on January 21, 1914 when Ashurst delayed passage of constitutional amendment granting women's suffrage by giving a three hour speech in support of the issue and overrunning the time available to vote on the legislation.[18]

After office

Henry F. Ashurst, c. 1925

During his farewell speech in the senate, Ashurst indicated his intention to Arizona with the statement "When you are here worrying about patronage, worrying about committee assignments, worrying about bills, I shall possibly be enjoying the ecstasy of the starry stillness of an Arizona desert night, or enjoying the scarlet glory of her blossoming cactus, and possibly I may be wandering through the Petrified Forest in Arizona."[10] Instead of returning home he accepted a position on the U.S. Board of Immigration Appeals from April 8, 1941 till his retirement on February 28, 1943.[7]

During retirement Ashurst remained in Washington, devoting his time on classical poetry and public speaking.[5] He also made several public appearances. Ashurst was a contestant on The $64,000 Question where as a consolation prize Cadillac after he missed a question. He also made a cameo appearance in Otto Preminger's film Advise and Consent, playing the role of "Senator McCafferty".[4] Ashurst suffered a stroke on May 15, 1962 and was admitted to Georgetown university Hospital were he died on May 31, 1962.[7]

Ashurst kept a journal from June 1910 to July 27, 1937 which contains pen portraits of several fellow senators. The journal was edited by George F. Sparks and published in 1962 under the title A Many Colored Toga.[5]

References

  1. ^ "The Silver-Tongued Sunbeam". Time 34 (6): 12. August 7, 1939. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,848048,00.html.  
  2. ^ Johnson, pg 111
  3. ^ Johnson, pg 114
  4. ^ a b c "The Silver-Tongued Sunbeam". Time 79 (23): 26. June 8, 1962. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,896290-1,00.html.  
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i Baker, Richard Allan (1999). "Ashurst, Henry Fountain". in Garraty, John A. & Carnes, Mark C.. American National Biography. 1. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 686–687. ISBN 0-19-512780-3.  
  6. ^ "Mrs. Henry Ashurst, Wife of Senator". New York Times. November 2, 1939. pp. 29.  
  7. ^ a b c d e f "Henry Fountain Ashurst Dead; Former Senator from Arizona". New York Times. June 1, 1962. pp. 27.  
  8. ^ a b c d e Johnston, Alva (December 25, 1937). "The Dean of Inconsistency". The Saturday Evening Post 210: 23,38–40.  
  9. ^ "Ashurst Ignores Wires—Except From Home State". New York Times. February 14, 1938. pp. 6.  
  10. ^ a b c "Ashurst, Defeated, Reviews Service". New York Times. September 12, 1940. pp. 18.  
  11. ^ a b c d e Creel, George (November 13, 1937). "Coconino Cloudburst". Collier's 100 (20): 22,48–49.  
  12. ^ Johnson, pg 115
  13. ^ "Senate's New Chesterfield". New York Times. April 2, 1912. pp. 1.  
  14. ^ Catledge, Turner (September 24, 1939). "Thunder in the Senate". New York Times. pp. 113.  
  15. ^ Johnson, pg 118-119
  16. ^ Johnson, pg 113
  17. ^ "Ashurst Out". Time 36 (13): 16. September 23, 1940. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,801964,00.html.  
  18. ^ "Suffrage Hit by Kindness". New York Times. January 22, 1914. pp. 1.  
  • Johnson, James W. (2002). Arizona Politicians: The Noble and the Notorious. illustrations by David `Fitz' Fitzsimmons. University of Arizona Press. ISBN 0-8165-2203-0.  

External links

United States Senate
Preceded by
(none)
United States Senator (Class 1) from Arizona
1912 – 1941
Served alongside: Marcus A. Smith, Ralph H. Cameron, Carl Hayden
Succeeded by
Ernest W. McFarland
Political offices
Preceded by
William J. Stone
Chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee
1914 – 1919
Succeeded by
Charles Curtis
Preceded by
George W. Norris
Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee
1933 – 1941
Succeeded by
Frederick Van Nuys
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Norris Brown
Most Senior Living U.S. Senator
(Sitting or Former)

January 5, 1960 – May 31, 1962
Succeeded by
John Heiskell

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