About Joseph William Martin, Jr., 49th and 51st Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives
Joseph William Martin, Jr. (November 3, 1884 – March 6, 1968) was a Republican Congressman and Speaker of the House from North Attleboro, Massachusetts. He was notably the only Republican to serve as Speaker between 1931 and 1995.
Links to southern Massachusetts
Joe Martin graduated from North Attleboro High School, where he played shortstop on the school baseball team. He also played semi-professional ball in an intercity league, from which he earned ten dollars per game. Martin worked for the Evening Chronicle, first as a newspaper delivery boy and then as the managing editor and publisher. In his autobiography entitled My First Fifty Years in Politics, Martin describes the North Attleboro where he was reared:
"I made still more friends as a delivery boy for the North Attleboro Evening Chronicle . Our world was much smaller and more intimate then than it is now . The population of the town was only four thousand, and it seemed that everyone knew everyone else. The men and women were more disposed then than they are today to give a young fellow a lift when he was starting out. No one bothers anymore. People are colder, more indifferent than they used to be."
Martin had younger brothers, including the businessman Edward Everett Martin, named by Martin's mother at Martin's insistence for Edward Everett Hale, the author of The Man Without a Country, a book which Martin said "made me nearly dizzy with patriotism."
Though Martin had intended to attend Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, he instead remained with his newspaper work, where his future prospects seemed promising. "I felt that I should keep working and take some of the burden off my parents by helping put my younger brothers through college," noting that he used most of his $750 annual salary as a state senator to defray Edward's expenses at Dartmouth.
Martin served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives (1912–1914), Massachusetts Senate (1914–1917) and the United States House of Representatives (1925–1967). He entered Congress when Massachusetts was a historically Republican state. As Democrats gained overwhelming strength over the years, Martin managed to hold on to his House seat despite ongoing redistricting. In his autobiography, Martin explains:
"Redistricting is an officeholder's nightmare because overnight it can change the makeup of his constituency sufficiently perhaps to cost him the next election. The dread of everyone who holds an elective office within a given district is that when the boundaries are redrawn, as they are from time to time because of population changes, he will lost a friendly town or pick up a hostile one and that either way the vote will shift against him. The truth of the matter is that redistricting goes to the heart of democratic government. Indeed it can determine which party controls Congress."
Martin was the Chairman of the Republican National Committee from 1940 to 1942, having been recruited to that position by presidential nominee Wendell Willkie, whose nomination came as a complete surprise to political pro Martin. During the New Deal, he stood out as a major opponent of Franklin D. Roosevelt's policies and opposed his internationalist outlook on foreign affairs. However, he supported a few New Deal measures, like the establishment of the minimum wage. After 1952, Martin joined the moderate wing of the Republican Party and supported Dwight D. Eisenhower's internationalist outlook (through support of foreign aid), endorsed federal aid for school construction, and backed Lyndon B. Johnson's Economic Opportunity Act of 1964.
In 1960, McGraw-Hill published My First Fifty Years in Politics, by Joe Martin as told to Robert J. Donovan, a lively and detailed account of Martin's role in American politics over a half-century. Martin was the longtime publisher of The Evening Chronicle newspaper in North Attleboro. After his death it merged with a nearby rival and became The Sun Chronicle newspaper.
Martin served as Speaker of the House of Representatives on two separate occasions from 1947 to 1949 and from 1953 to 1955. These terms represented two Republican short-term majorities in the House, and Martin's two terms were bookended by Sam Rayburn, the Texas Democrat and mentor of Lyndon Johnson with whom Martin enjoyed a warm personal relationship.
In 1948, Martin traveled with his presidential nominee Thomas E. Dewey in North Attleboro, where Martin's mother, the former Catherine Keating (died 1957), told the confident Dewey, the governor of New York, that he was too complacent in the campaign and could not take victory for granted. "Don't take it so easy," she admonished. Later Dewey confessed to Martin that Dewey could be more forceful in speaking on behalf of other candidates, such as Eisenhower, than he could for himself because of Dewey's innate hesitancy to tout his own abilities.
In 1952, Martin urged General Douglas MacArthur, whom he had invited to give the speech before Congress popularly called "Old Soldiers Never Die," to seek the Republican presidential nomination. MacArthur, however, favored U.S. Senator Robert A. Taft, Sr., of Ohio, who lost the nomination to Willkie in 1940, to Dewey in 1948, and to Dwight Eisenhower in 1952. Eisenhower then defeated Governor Adlai E. Stevenson, Jr., of Illinois.
In preparation for the 1952 elections, Martin traveled to Hot Springs, Arkansas, for a regional Republican meeting called by state party chairman Osro Cobb, a former member of the Arkansas House of Representatives, to unveil a potential strategy to make the GOP competitive in the American South. "We came away from the meeting more determined and better prepared to advance the two-party system in the South," recalls Cobb in his memoirs, as the Republicans won at the presidential level that year in Tennessee, Texas, Florida, and Virginia.
Following dramatic Republican losses in the 1958 election cycle, which placed a return to majority status out of reach (for thirty-six more years, as it turned out, until the 1994 Republican Revolution), Martin was ousted from the leadership by Charles A. Halleck of Indiana, whom Martin had befriended after Halleck's election to the House. In spite of this defeat, Martin chose to remain as a backbench member of the House. Eight years later, in 1966, he was ousted from his seat in the Republican primary by the more liberal Margaret Heckler, who was forty-six years his junior, and later a member of the Cabinet of President Ronald W. Reagan.
He lost re-nomination in 1966. He died in Hollywood, Florida, on March 6, 1968, less than a month before his old political rival Lyndon Johnson removed himself from the ongoing presidential election.
Today in his hometown of North Attleboro, the Joseph W. Martin, Jr., Elementary School bears his name, as does the Joseph W. Martin Institute for Law and Society which houses his personal archives. The Martin Institute is located at Stonehill College in North Easton, Massachusetts.