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Richard Russell

(1897—1971)


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(b. Winder, Georgia, 2 Nov. 1897; d. Washington, DC, 21 Jan. 1971)

US; Governor of Georgia 1931–3, US Senator 1933–71 Born into an established southern family, Russell was educated at the University of Georgia Law School, following a period at Gordon Military Institute and the Agricultural and Mechanical School in Powder Springs. After a brief stint in the navy, Russell began legal practice in Georgia and also started a political career. In 1920 he was elected to the Georgia State Assembly where he spent ten years, the last four as Speaker. From 1931 to 1933 Russell was Governor of Georgia and instituted a set of financially prudent policies which allowed Georgia to balance its budget. He also reformed the governmental structure and made major contribution to Georgia's agricultural sector. In 1932 Russell was elected to fill the Senate vacancy caused by the death of William Harris.

Russell's long tenure in the Senate was marked by steadfast adherence to the doctrine of states rights and a strong opposition to racial integration. It was also marked by devotion to the Senate as an institution (he became its president pro tem in 1969) and to the interests of Georgia, especially its farming and military businesses.

Although Russell started his career a supporter of F. D. Roosevelt's New Deal (and was enthusiastic about many forms of federal support for agriculture and for rural electrification) like other southern Democrats he opposed the increasingly strong civil rights planks of Presidents Truman, Kennedy, and Johnson. In 1935 Russell had opposed an anti-lynching bill and, although he did not join the Dixiecrat revolt of 1948, he was a key leader of the southern Democrats opposed to integration.

Russell was chair of the Armed Forces Committee from 1951 to 1969 and developed an expertise in the area of defence and national security policy which made him a significant participant in Democratic debates on these issues. Although anxious to maintain a strong American defence, he was not an uncritical ‘hawk’ and expressed his reservations about American involvement in Vietnam at an early stage of the conflict. He also won praise for his impartial chairing of the committee which investigated Eisenhower's sacking of General MacArthur in the Korean War.

Russell made a bid for the presidential nomination in 1952 but it failed. Despite his ability as a legislator and administrator, his identification with the south and the cause of segregation proved a barrier to advance in national Democratic politics.

Subjects: Politics.


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