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William Fife Knowland

(b. 1908)


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(b. Alameda, California, 26 June 1908; d. Guerneville, California, 23 Feb. 1974)

US; US Senator 1945–58 Knowland, whose father was a Congressman and part owner of the Oakland Tribune, grew up in California and in Washington, DC. He worked for the Tribune after graduating from Berkeley. In 1932 he was elected to the California state assembly and in 1934 to the state senate. Knowland became a member of the Republican National Committee in 1938 and was chairman of its executive committee in 1941. Drafted into the army, he returned when he was named to fill a California Senate vacancy created by the death of Hiram Johnson in 1945. Knowland won re-election in his own right in 1946 and in 1952 he won re-election on both the Republican and the Democratic tickets.

In the Senate Knowland was a supporter of a bipartisan foreign policy and was among those Republicans who challenged Robert Taft's leadership. He was made acting majority leader of the Senate in 1953 following Taft's illness. He served as Senate majority leader 1953–5 and as minority leader 1955–9. Knowland's period as leader of the GOP forces in the Senate was a difficult one. The party was faction-ridden and he had to work hard to keep it unified behind Eisenhower. In the partisan struggle, Knowland was hardly the equal of Lyndon Johnson and was generally criticized for his lack of legislative and political dexterity.

In 1958 Knowland retired from the Senate to run for Governor of California. However, he was beaten by Edward Brown in a contest in which labour rights and the recession were key issues. Knowland then returned to Oakland and edited the Tribune after his father died in 1966. Knowland exercised a good deal of political influence through the press but he was also still involved in Republican politics. He headed the California campaign committee for Goldwater in 1964 and endorsed Reagan in 1968. Debts, partly incurred as a result of his second marriage, caused him to commit suicide in 1974.

Subjects: Politics.


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