Charles Harting Percy


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(b. Pensacole, Florida, 27 Sept. 1919)

US; US Senator 1967–85, chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations 1981–5 Educated at the University of Chicago, Percy served in the navy during the Second World War and went on to an extremely successful career in business in the post-war years. On his appointment as president of Bell & Howell at the age of 30 he was named by the American Junior Chamber of Commerce as one of the ten most successful young men in America in 1949. In 1964 he was Republican candidate for Governor of Illinois. Although he ran a successful campaign, he fell victim to the sweep of Democratic triumphs and Republican defeats in the wake of the landslide victory of President Johnson over Barry Goldwater in the presidential election of 1964.

In 1966 he was elected Senator from Illinois and served three terms, winning re-election in 1972 and 1978. He was a consistent supporter of moderate Republican policies. He harboured ambitions to succeed to the presidency in 1976 if President Nixon had completed his two terms. With Nixon's resignation in 1974 and the succession of President Ford he supported Ford's re-election campaign in 1976 and by 1980 he felt that his chance to seek the presidency had passed.

With the victory of the Republicans in the Senate elections in 1980 he became chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. He was a low-key chairman, seeking quietly but ineffectively to moderate the aggressive foreign policy standpoint of the Reagan administration in the early 1980s. He found himself increasingly out of tune with the conservative policies of the Reagan administration on domestic as well as foreign issues. He was subjected to growing criticism from conservatives within the Republican party in Illinois and, although he won renomination as Republican candidate for the Senate in 1984, he lost to his Democratic opponent, Paul Simon, in a year when President Reagan was re-elected in a landslide on the Republican ticket.

He was a ‘wunderkind’ who never entirely lived up to his early promise. More significantly, he was representative of moderate liberal Republicanism in the mould of Nelson Rockefeller, which became increasingly a minority position within the Republican Party in the 1970s and 1980s.

Subjects: Politics.

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