Historical records matching Allen J. Ellender, U.S. Senator
About Allen J. Ellender, U.S. Senator
Allen Joseph Ellender (September 24, 1890 - July 27, 1972) was a popular U.S. senator from Houma, Louisiana (Terrebonne Parish), who served from 1937 until his death. He was a Democrat who was originally allied with the legendary Huey Pierce Long, Jr.. As Senator he compiled a generally conservative record, voting 77% of the time with the Conservative Coalition on domestic issues. He was not a "hawk" in foreign policy and opposed the Vietnam War.
Ellender was born in the town of Montegut in Terrebonne Parish. He attended public and private schools and graduated from the Catholic St. Aloysius College in New Orleans, now Brother Martin High School, in 1909. He studied law at Tulane University in New Orleans. Admitted to the bar in 1913, he launched his practice in Houma when he was twenty-three.
A political resume
Ellender was the city attorney of Houma from 1913–1915 and then district attorney of Terrebonne Parish from 1915-1916. He was a sergeant in the Artillery Corps during World War I, serving from 1917-1918.
Ellender was a delegate to the Louisiana constitutional convention in 1921. The constitution produced by that body was retired in 1974, two years after Ellender's death. He served in the Louisiana House of Representatives from 1924–1936, serving as floor leader from 1928–1932 and Speaker from 1932–1936, when he was elected to the U.S. Senate. He took the seat held by Long and slated for the Democratic nominee, Oscar Kelly Allen, Sr., of Winnfield, the seat of the Longs' home parish of Winn. Allen had won the Democratic nomination by a plurality exceeding 200,000 votes, but he died shortly thereafter. His passing paved the way for Ellender's election. Lorris M. Wimberly of Arcadia in Bienville Parish, meanwhile, succeeded Ellender as House Speaker. Wimberly was the choice of Governor Richard Webster Leche and thereafter Lieutenant Governor Earl Kemp Long, who succeeded Leche to the governorship.
Ellender was President pro tempore of the U.S. Senate from 1971–1972, an honorific position that denoted he was the most senior Democrat. He served as the powerful chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee from 1951 to 1953 and 1955 to 1971, through which capacity he was a strong defender of sugar cane interests. He chaired the even more powerful Senate Appropriations Committee from 1971 until his death.
Ellender was an opponent of Republican Senator Joe McCarthy.
Ellender was also, along with his Southern Democratic colleagues, a strong opponent of federal civil rights legislation. However he supported some state legislation sought by civil rights groups, such as repeal of the state poll tax by the Louisiana legislature. He was the leading sponsor of the federal free lunch program, which was enacted in 1945 and still is in effect; it was a welfare program that helped poor students, black and white alike.
Ellender sticks with Truman, 1948
Ellender rarely had serious opposition for his Senate seat. In his initial election in 1936, Ellender defeated Fourth District Congressman John N. Sandlin of Minden, the seat of Webster Parish in northwest Louisiana, in the Democratic primary, 364,931 (68 percent) to 167,471 (31.2 percent). There was no Republican opposition.
Ellender was steadfastly loyal to all Democratic presidential nominees and refused to support then Governor Strom Thurmond of South Carolina for president in 1948, when Thurmond, the States Rights Party nominee was also the official Democratic nominee in Louisiana and three other southern states. Ellender supported Harry Truman, whose name was placed on the ballot only after Governor Earl Kemp Long called a special session of the legislature to place the president's name on the ballot. "As a Democratic nominee, I am pledged to support the candidate of my party, and that I will do," declared Ellender, though he could have argued that Thurmond, not Truman, was technically the "Democratic nominee" in Louisiana.
A rare Republican challenge, 1960
In 1954, Ellender defeated fellow Democrat Frank Burton Ellis, a former state senator from St. Tammany Parish and later a short term U.S. District Court judge, in the party primary, 268,054 (59.1 percent) to 162,775 (35.9 percent), with 4 percent for minor candidates. He faced no Republican opposition.
In 1960, however, Ellender was challenged by the then Republican National Committeeman George W. Reese, Jr., a New Orleans lawyer (born 1924). (Ellender himself had been his party's national committeeman from 1939-1940.) Reese had also previously twice opposed conservative Democratic Congressman Felix Edward Hebert of New Orleans—in the 1952 and again in the 1954 general elections. Reese accused Ellender, who was known for his hostility to Senator Joseph McCarthy, of being "soft on communism". Ellender retorted that Reese's allegation came with "ill grace for the spokesman for the member of a party which has permitted the establishment of a Red-dominated beach head only ninety miles from our shores to attack my record against the spread of communism."
Ellender crushed Reese's hopes of making a respectable showing: he polled 432,228 (79.8 percent) to Reese's 109,698 (20.2 percent). Reese's best performance was in two parishes which voted for Richard Nixon, La Salle Parish (Jena) and Ouachita Parish (Monroe), where he drew less than a third of the ballots—31.3 percent in each. In Caddo Parish (Shreveport), Reese finished with 30 percent. Reese was only the third Republican since the Seventeenth Amendment was ratified even to seek a U.S. Senate seat from Louisiana. Ellender ran 24,889 votes ahead of the John F. Kennedy-Lyndon Johnson ticket, but 265,965 votes cast in the presidential race ignored the Senate contest, a phenomenon that would later be called an "undervote."
In 1966, Ellender disposed of two weak primary opponents, including the liberal State Senator J.D. DeBlieux (pronounced "W") of Baton Rouge (1912–2005) and the conservative businessman Troyce Guice (1932–2008), a native of St. Joseph, the seat of Tensas Parish, who then resided in Ferriday, and later in Natchez, Mississippi. The Republicans did not field a candidate against Ellender that year.
Ellender cultivated good relationships with the media, whose coverage of his tenure helped him to fend off serious competition. One of his newspaper favorites was Adras LaBorde, longtime managing editor of Alexandria Daily Town Talk. The two "Cajuns" even shared fish stories on many occasions.
Ellender's last campaign
In 1972, the Democratic gubernatorial runner-up from December 1971, former state senator J. Bennett Johnston, Jr., of Shreveport challenged Ellender for renomination. Ellender was expected to defeat Johnston, but the veteran senator died during the primary campaign and left Johnston the de facto Democratic nominee. Nearly 10 percent of Democratic voters, however, voted for the deceased Ellender. Johnston became the Democratic nominee in a manner somewhat reminiscent of how Ellender had won the Senate seat in 1936 after the death of Governor Allen. Johnston then easily defeated the Republican candidate, Ben C. Toledano, a prominent attorney from New Orleans who later became a conservative columnist, and former Governor John McKeithen, a Democrat running as an independent in the general election because it had not been possible to qualify for the primary ballot after Ellender's death.
Ellender's immediate successor was Elaine S. Edwards, first wife of Governor Edwin Edwards, who filled his seat from August 1, 1972 to November 13, 1972.
Remembering Senator Ellender
In the Senate, Ellender was known by his colleagues for Cajun cooking from roast duck to shrimp jambalaya. Even as of 2009 the Senate Dining Room still served "Ellender Gumbo."
Ellender Memorial High School in Houma and Allen Ellender Middle School in Marrero are named in his honor.
In 1994, Ellender was inducted posthumously into the Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame in Winnfield.
The Allen J. Ellender Memorial Library on the campus of Nicholls State University is named after him.
Ellender was an uncle of Bonnie Robichaux Livingston, wife of former U.S. Representative Bob Livingston, a Republican who represented Louisiana's 1st congressional district from 1977 to 1998.