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Key Pittman

(b. 1872)


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(b. Vicksburg, Mississippi, 19 Sept. 1872; d. Reno, Nevada, 10 Nov. 1940)

US; US Senator 1913–40 Pittman was educated at Southwestern University and studied law, which he practised in Seattle, Washington. He was then drawn by the gold rush to Alaska before moving to Nevada in 1902.

Pittman's first try for the Senate was in 1910, before the direct election of Senators. The two candidates (Pittman and George Nixon) held a mock election to test their popularity, although the final choice rested with the state legislature. Nixon won but died in 1912, when the legislature chose Pittman to succeed him.

Pittman had specialized in mining law and much of his early career in the Senate involved promoting the interest of Nevada's silver mining industry. In 1933, as a delegate to the London Economic Conference, he helped devise the eight-power silver agreement which imposed restrictions on the production of silver and hence stabilized the silver market.

He also developed a strong interest in international affairs and served on the Foreign Relations Committee, which he came to chair for seven years, succeeding Thomas Walsh (who was appointed by Franklin Roosevelt to be Attorney-General). Pittman had backed Woodrow Wilson's abortive effort to secure ratification of the Versailles Treaty and in the 1930s he used his powerful committee chairmanship to support Roosevelt's foreign policy. He played a leading part in amending the United States neutrality legislation in order to make Lend-Lease possible.

In addition to his interests in silver and foreign affairs, Pittman, as a western Senator, was a strong advocate of environmental legislation. He was a stalwart Democrat who served from 1913 to 1917 as secretary of the Senate Democratic Caucus, as secretary of the Platform Committee of the Democratic National Convention in 1924, and as chairman of the Platform Committee in 1928. Although Pittman took an independent line on public land issues, he was in general a firm supporter of the New Deal and played a supporting role on the Judiciary Committee during Roosevelt's battle with the Supreme Court. He died after securing election for a fifth Senate term in 1940.

Subjects: Politics.


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