Estes Kefauver

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Estes Kefauver

Carey Estes Kefauver (July 26, 1903 - August 10, 1963) was an American politician from Tennessee.

Kefauver was born in Madisonville, Tennessee and attended the University of Tennessee and Yale University. He was a member of the United States House of Representatives from 1939 to 1949. He served in the United States Senate from 1949 to his death in 1963.

Kefauver in Congress

As a member of the House during President Franklin D. Roosevelt's term in office, Kefauver distinguished himself from the other Democrats in Tennessee's congressional delegation, most of whom were conservatives, by becoming a staunch supporter of the President's New Deal legislation, particularly the controversial Tennessee Valley Authority.

His progressive stances on the issues put Kefauver in direct competition with E.H. Crump, the former mayor of Memphis and the "boss" of the state's Democratic Party, when he chose to seek the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate in 1948. During the primary, Crump and his allies accused Kefauver of being a "fellow traveler" and of working for the "pinkos and communists" with the stealth of a raccoon. In a televised speech given in Memphis, in which he responded to such charges, Kefauver put on a coonskin cap and proudly proclaimed, "I may be a pet coon, but I'm not Boss Crump's pet coon." After he went on to win both the primary and the election, he adopted the cap as his trademark and wore it in every successive campaign.

Once in the Senate, Kefauver began to make a name for himself as a crusader for consumer protection laws, antitrust legislation, and civil rights for African-Americans. These positions made him even more unpopular with his state party's machine than ever before, especially after he, fellow Tennessee Senator Albert Gore, Sr., and Senate Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas became the only three southern Senators to refuse to sign the so-called "Southern Manifesto" in 1956. In fact, these unpopular positions, combined with his reputation as a maverick with a penchant for sanctimony, earned him so much enmity even from other Senators that one Democratic insider felt compelled to dub him "the most hated man in Congress."

When he ran for reelection to a third term in 1960, his first and, it would turn out, last attempt at running for office after refusing to sign the Manifesto, he faced staunch opposition for renomination from his party's thriving pro-segregation wing and he only won the primary by a slim margin. During the general election itself, polls showed Kefauver's support to be near-nonexistent and it was later said that, on election day, no one outside of Kefauver's family could be found who would admit to having voted for him. Nevertheless, Kefauver swamped his opponent, winning an estimated 65% of the vote.

In 1962, Kefauver, who had become known to the public at large as the chief enemy of crooked businessmen in the Senate, introduced legislation which would eventually pass into law as the Kefauver-Harris Drug Control Act. This bill, which Kefauver dubbed his "finest achievement" in consumer protection, imposed controls on the pharmaceutical industry which required that drug companies disclose to doctors the side-effects of their products, allow their products to be sold as generic drugs after having held the patent on them for a certain period of time, and be able to prove on demand that their products were, in fact, effective and safe.

On August 8, 1963, Kefauver suffered a massive heart attack on the floor of the Senate while attempting to place an antitrust amendment into a NASA appropriations bill which would have required that companies benefitting financially from the outcome of research subsidized by NASA reimburse NASA for the cost of the research. Two days after the attack, Kefauver passed away in his sleep.

The Kefauver Committee

In 1950, Kefauver headed a U.S. Senate committee investigating organized crime. The committee, officially known as the Senate Special Committee to Investigate Crime in Interstate Commerce, was popularly known as the Kefauver Committee or the Kefauver hearings. The Committee held hearings in fourteen cities and heard testimony from over 600 witnesses. Many of the witnesses were high-profile crime bosses, including such well-known names as Willie Moretti, Joe Adonis, and Frank Costello, the latter making himself famous by refusing to allow his face to be filmed during his questioning and then staging a much-publicized walkout. A number of politicians also appeared before the Committee and saw their careers ruined. Among them were former Governor Harold G. Hoffman of New Jersey and Mayor William O'Dwyer of New York City. The Committee's hearings, which were televised live, made Kefauver nationally famous and introduced many Americans to the concept of a criminal organization known as the Mafia for the first time ever.

Kefauver for President

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The issue of Time Magazine in which Kefauver's victory in New Hampshire was reported.

In the 1952 presidential election, Kefauver decided to offer himself as a candidate for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination. Campaigning in his coonskin cap, often by dogsled, Kefauver made history when he defeated President Harry S. Truman, the sitting President of the United States, in the New Hampshire primary. Although Kefauver would go on to win twelve of the fifteen primaries that were held that year, losing three to "favorite son" candidates, primaries were not, at that time, the main method of delegate selection for the national convention. Kefauver, therefore, entered the convention a few hundred hundred votes shy of the needed majority. Although he began the balloting far ahead of the other declared candidates, Kefauver eventually lost the nomination to Governor Adlai Stevenson of Illinois. Stevenson, a one-term governor who was up for reelection in 1952, had previously resisted calls to enter the race, but he was nominated anyway by a "Draft Stevenson" movement that had been energized by his eloquent keynote speech on the opening night of the convention. He would go on to lose the general election to General Dwight D. Eisenhower in a landslide.

Four years later, Kefauver once again offered himself as a candidate for the nomination. This time, he not only received active competition from Stevenson, but also from Governor W. Averell Harriman of New York, who was endorsed by former President Truman. Once again, Kefauver swept to an overwhelming victory in the primaries and, once again, he was defeated for the nomination by Stevenson at the convention. Kefauver's hopes were rekindled, however, when Stevenson decided to let the delegates themselves pick his vice-presidential nominee, instead of having the choice dictated to them. Although Stevenson preferred that young Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts be his runningmate, he did not attempt to influence the balloting for him in any way, and Kefauver eventually received the nomination. Stevenson went on to lose the election to Eisenhower once again, this time by an even bigger margin than in 1952, although Kefauver did manage to deliver Tennessee, which Stevenson had not won previously.

Preceded by:
John Sparkman
Democratic Party Vice Presidential candidate
1956 (lost)
Succeeded by:
Lyndon B. Johnson

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