John McClellan, U.S. Senator

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John Little McClellan

Birthplace: Sheridan, Grant County, Arkansas, United States
Death: November 28, 1977 (81)
Little Rock, Pulaski County, Arkansas, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Isaac Scott McClellan and Belle McClellan
Father of Max McClellan

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Immediate Family

About John McClellan, U.S. Senator

John Little McClellan (February 25, 1896 – November 28, 1977) was an American lawyer and politician. A member of the Democratic Party, he served as a U.S. Representative (1935–1939) and a U.S. Senator (1943–1977) from Arkansas. At the time of his death, he was the second most senior member of the Senate and chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. He is the longest-serving Senator in Arkansas history.

Early life and career

John McClellan was born on a farm near Sheridan, in Grant County, Arkansas, to Isaac Scott and Belle (née Suddeth) McClellan. His parents, who were strong Democrats, named him after John Sebastian Little, who served as a U.S. Representative (1894–1907) and Governor of Arkansas (1907). His mother died only months after his birth, and he received his early education at local public schools. At age 12, after graduating from Sheridan High School, he began studying law in his father's office. He was admitted to the state bar association in 1913, when he was only 17, after the Arkansas General Assembly approved a special act waiving the normal age requirement for certification as a lawyer. As the youngest attorney in the United States, he practiced law with his father in Sheridan.

McClellan married Eula Hicks in 1913; the couple had two children, and divorced in 1921. During World War I, he served in the U.S. Army as a first lieutenant in the aviation section of the Signal Corps from 1917 to 1919. Following his military service, he moved to Malvern, where he opened a law office and served as city attorney (1920–1926).

In 1922, he married Lucille Smith, to whom he remained married until her death in 1935; they had three children. He was prosecuting attorney of the seventh judicial district of Arkansas from 1927 to 1930.

U.S. House of Representatives

In 1934, McClellan was elected as a Democrat to the U.S. House of Representatives from Arkansas's 6th congressional district. He was later re-elected to a second term in 1936. In March 1936, he condemned CBS for airing a speech by Communist leader Earl Browder, which he described as "nothing less than treason." During his tenure in the House, he voted against President Franklin D. Roosevelt's court-packing plan, the Gavagan anti-lynching bill, and the Reorganization Act of 1937. In 1937, he wed for the third and final time, marrying Norma Myers Cheatham.

In 1938, McClellan unsuccessfully challenged first-term incumbent Hattie Caraway for the Democratic nomination for the United States Senate. During the campaign, he criticized Caraway for her support for the 1937 Reorganization Act and accused her of having "improper influence" over federal employees in Arkansas. Nevertheless, he was defeated in the primary election by a margin of about 8,000 votes. He subsequently resumed the practice of law in Camden, where he joined the firm Gaughan, McClellan and Gaughan. He served as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1940 (Chicago), 1944 (Chicago), and 1948 (Philadelphia).

U.S. Senate

In 1942, after G. Lloyd Spencer decided not to seek re-election, McClellan ran for the Senate again but this time won. He served as Senator from Arkansas from 1943 to 1977, when he died in office. During his tenure, he served as chairman of the Appropriations Committee and served 22 years as chairman of the Committee on Government Operations. McClellan was the longest serving United States Senator in Arkansas history. During the later part of his Senate service Arkansas had, perhaps, the most powerful Congressional delegations with McClellan as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Wilbur Mills as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Oren Harris as chairman of the House Commerce Committee, Senator J. William Fulbright as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Took Gathings as chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, and James William Trimble as a member of the powerful House Rules Committee.

McClellan also served for eighteen years as chairman of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (1955–1973) and continued the hearings into subversive activities at U.S. Army Signal Corps Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, where Soviet spies Julius Rosenberg, Al Sarant and Joel Barr all worked in the 1940s. He was a participant of the famous Army-McCarthy Hearings and led a Democratic walkout of that subcommittee in protest of Senator Joseph McCarthy's conduct in those hearings. McClellan appeared in the 2005 movie Good Night, and Good Luck, in footage from the actual hearings. Under his leadership, the committee conducted the famous McClellan Hearings, more commonly known as the Valachi Hearings which investigated organized crime activities across America and centered on Teamsters head and mafia associate, Jimmy Hoffa in 1957 and other leading mafia figures of the era such as Sam Giancana of Chicago. The first American mafia informant, Joseph Valachi appeared before the McClellan Committee in 1963 and gave the American public a firsthand account of mafia activities in the United States and Canada. McClellan continued his efforts against organized crime, supplying the political influence for the anti-organized crime laws (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, RICO) which were conceived by G. Robert Blakey until 1973 when he switched to investigating political subversion. During this period, he hired Robert F. Kennedy as chief counsel and vaulted him into the national spotlight. McClellan investigated numerous cases of government corruption including numerous defense contractors and Texas financier Billie Sol Estes.

In 1957, he helped form and was chair of the Select Committee on Improper Activities in Labor and Management, which investigated organized crime influence in labor unions.

In 1957, one of McClellan's law partners prior to his Senate service, Maud Crawford, went missing in Camden, Arkansas, and her disappearance remains unsolved. There had been speculation that she had been kidnapped by the Mafia in an attempt to intimidate McClellan, but no ransom note was ever forthcoming. The disappearance received international attention.

McClellan and fellow Senator Robert S. Kerr of Oklahoma were the sponsors of the bill that authorized construction of the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System, maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers. The system transformed the once-useless Arkansas River into a major transportation route and water source.

In his last Senate election in 1972, McClellan defeated fellow Democrat David Hampton Pryor, then a U.S. representative, by a narrow 52-48 percent margin in the party runoff. He then defeated the only Republican who ever ran against him, Wayne H. Babbitt, then a North Little Rock veterinarian, by a margin of 61-39 percent.

In 1974, McClellan informed President Gerald R. Ford, Jr., that he would not support the renomination of Republican Lynn A. Davis as U.S. marshal for the Eastern District of Arkansas based in Little Rock. McClellan claimed that Davis, who as the temporary head of the Arkansas state police had conducted sensational raids against mobsters in Hot Springs, was too partisan for the position. In an effort to appease the powerful McClellan, Ford moved to replace Davis with Len E. Blaylock of Perry County, the mild-mannered Republican gubernatorial nominee in the 1972 campaign against Dale Bumpers.

Personal life

In 1955, McClellan appeared as the "mystery guest" on the popular CBS TV game show What's My Line?, where the blindfolded celebrity panelists had to guess his identity. In 1957, his teenage grandson Steve appeared as a guest challenger on the TV game show To Tell The Truth.

McClellan experienced many personal tragedies in his life. His second wife died of spinal meningitis in 1935 and his son Max died of the same disease while serving in Africa during World War II in 1943. His son John L. Jr. died in 1949 in an automobile accident. His son James H. died in a plane crash in 1958.

McClellan died in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1977 and was buried at Roselawn Memorial Park in Little Rock.

A VA Hospital in Little Rock is named in his honor. Ouachita Baptist University is the repository for his official papers.

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John McClellan, U.S. Senator's Timeline

February 25, 1896
Sheridan, Grant County, Arkansas, United States
November 28, 1977
Age 81
Little Rock, Pulaski County, Arkansas, United States