Remember when Florida had a progressive leader in the US Senate? It’s been a long while, but Senator Claude Pepper was the leading New Deal Democrat, and a figure of incredible national stature.
Republicans captured a majority in Congress during the 1946 midterm elections. This came after the years of the New Deal where Democrats had an almost 3-1 majority in the Congress which was undone in 1938. From 1938 to 1946, a Conservative Coalition of Southern Democrats and Northern/Western Republicans controlled the Congress and after the 1946 election, this coalition had a veto-proof majority in both houses.
Almost immediately in 1947, Republicans and Conservative Democrats began promoting anti labor legislation to push back against the progress of the New Deal. Most Democrats from the solid south were conservatives, and would take any opportunity to bust unions. But Florida’s Claude Pepper was an exception.
The House and Senate overwhelmingly passed the corporate-backed Taft-Hartley Act (officially the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947), but President Truman vetoed it. After the House overrode the veto, the bill went to the Senate floor to be debated. Senator Pepper led the opposition:
On the floor of the Senate, Pepper said the following as reported by the New York Times:
“this is not the first time that a mighty storm of reaction has burst over this nation and its people, but I am comforted by the testimony of history that victories of reaction have never been permanent ones.”
“The common man is on the march. He is going forward, and not backward. This, too (the bill), shall not endure.”
Unfortunately Pepper’s efforts were in vain. The veto override was successful by a 68-25 vote. Truman against all odds was reelected in 1948 and the Democrats were returned to a Congressional majority but a narrow majority which allowed the Conservative Coalition to continue to give the President trouble.
Pepper as we have discussed repeatedly on this site was defeated in the Democratic Primary in 1950 thanks to the most acrimonious and negative campaign in Florida’s history (until the 2014 Governor’s race).