John Nance Garner


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(b. Detroit, Red River, County, Texas, 22 Nov. 1868; d. Uvalde, Texas, 7 Nov. 1967)

US; member of the US House of Representatives 1903–33, Speaker of the House 1931–3, Vice-President 1933–41 The son of a Confederate cavalry trooper, Garner received only limited elementary education. Then, after attending Vanderbilt university for one term, he read law whilst employed in the office of Sims and Wright, Clarkesville, Texas. He was called to the bar in 1890 and began practising law at Uvalde Texas, at the same time he edited the weekly Uvalde Leader.

His forty-six-year-long public career began in 1894 when he was appointed to an unexpired term as Uvalde county judge. Re-elected to a further term in 1895, but defeated in 1897, he turned his attention to the state legislature. After serving two terms in the Texas House of Representatives, 1898–1902, he was elected Democratic Representative for the 15th Texas congressional district, a new seat he had persuaded the state legislature to create. He served in Congress continuously for thirty years, including two years as elected minority leader, 1929–31, and two as Speaker of the House, 1931–3. A candidate for his party's nomination for President in 1932, he agreed to release his delegates in favour of Franklin D. Roosevelt and was rewarded with the vice-presidency, which he held throughout Roosevelt's first two terms. In 1940 he broke with Roosevelt over the latter's decision to run for a third term and challenged him for the party's nomination. On failing to secure it, he retired to his Texas homestead to live out the rest of his life reading, discussing politics, and regaling people with tales of his Washington years.

Fondly nicknamed ‘Cactus Jack’ after the inhospitable landscape of his birthplace, Garner was a colourful, independent-minded politician who was renowned in Washington for his somewhat eccentric lifestyle. At election time he refused to campaign for votes and when Speaker of the House he refused use of an official car. His working day began at 7.30 a.m., he went to bed by 9 p.m., and, except in times of dire emergency, would not answer the telephone after 6 p.m. Claiming that he was ‘striking a blow for liberty’ he openly drank a glass of whiskey a day throughout the Prohibition years. He is alleged to have dismissed the vice-presidency as ‘not worth a pitcher of warm piss’.

Subjects: Politics.

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