Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Everett McKinley Dirksen (January 4, 1896 – September 7, 1969) was a Republican U.S. Congressman and Senator from Illinois. He helped pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964, raising civil rights legislation above the state level, where it had remained blocked for decades. He later offered his support for the Open Housing Act of 1968 , another landmark piece of Civil Rights legislation. Pragmatic and broadly non-partisan, he shifted from being a major Republican critic of Truman and confidant of Eisenhower to become an ardent Republican supporter of LBJ. He was one of the Senate's strongest supporters of Johnson's expansion of the Vietnam War.
Dirksen was born in Pekin, Illinois—about 120 miles southwest of Chicago, Illinois—where he grew up on a small farm. He served in the United States Army during World War I. His political career began in 1927, when he was elected to the Pekin city council.
After an unsuccessful first run for the House of Representatives 1929, he was elected to that body in 1932. During World War II, he lobbied successfully for an expansion of congressional staff resources to eliminate the practice under which House and Senate committees borrowed executive branch personnel to accomplish legislative work. He served until 1946 when he left due to a series of medical problems.
After recovering, he was elected to the Senate in 1950 when he unseated Senate Majority Leader Scott Lucas in a bitter contest. His canny political skill, rumpled appearance, and convincing, if sometimes flowery, overblown oratory (he was hence dubbed by his critics "the Wizard of Ooze") made his national reputation.
In 1959 he was elected to lead the Republican Senatorial Delegation as minority floor leader. In 1959, largely supported by the party establishment, Dirksen successfully defeated more liberal Senator John Sherman Cooper for the position of Senate Minority Leader by a vote of 20–14. After winning the position, he successfully united the various factions of the Republican party by granting younger, liberal Republicans more representation in the Senate leadership and better committee appointments. This unity would decline as the 1960s progressed and Dirksen increasingly allied himself with President Johnson's foreign policy. He held the position of Senate Minority Leader until his death following cancer surgery on September 7, 1969 at Walter Reed Hospital, Washington, DC.
On March 22, 1966, Dirksen introduced a Constitutional amendment that would permit public school administrators to provide for organized prayer by students. This amendment was seen by many to violate the principle of separation of church and state, and was defeated in the Senate with only 49 affirmative votes, falling short of the 67 votes required for a Constitutional amendment.
He is most often remembered for the quip: "A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon, you're talking real money". Unfortunately, hard evidence that he actually ever made this remark has yet to be found.
Dirksen was also legendary for his fondness for the marigold. When political discussions became tense, Dirksen would lighten the atmosphere by taking up his perennial campaign to have the marigold named the national flower. Although unsuccessful at that, in 1972 his home town of Pekin started holding an annual Marigold Festival in his memory, and now considers itself the Marigold Capital of the World.
He recorded four albums in his resonant bass voice one of which, Gallant Men, won a Grammy Award for Best Documentary Recording in 1968.
In 1972, one of the Senate's buildings was renamed the Dirksen Senate Office Building in his honor.
At the vote for cloture on the filibuster against the Civil Rights Act, Dirksen had this to say
- "Victor Hugo wrote in his diary substantially this sentiment, 'Stronger than all the armies is an idea whose time has come.' The time has come for equality of opportunity in sharing of government, in education, and in employment. It must not be stayed or denied."
- Dirksen, Everett McKinley. The Education of a Senator. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1998.
- MacNeil, Neil. Dirksen: Portrait of a Public Man. New York: World Publishing Company, 1970.
- Dirksen, Louella Carver, with Norma Lee Browning. The Honorable Mr. Marigold: My Life With Everett Dirksen. Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, 1972.
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