Virtue in High Places:Senator Norris of Nebraska

May 11th, 2010
Jim Thomas

In 1932 Franklin D. Roosevelt, then the Democratic Nominee for President, paid the following tribute to George Norris, Republican senator from Nebraska:

 History asks, “Did the man have integrity?  Did the man have unselfishness? Did the man have consistency?”  There are few statesmen in America today who so definitely and clearly measure up to an affirmative answer to those three questions, as does George W. Norris.  John F. Kennedy, in his book Profiles in Courage, offered a similar appraisal.  He designated Norris on of the six greatest senators in American History.  Their praise was well placed

 A man of mild manners and disarming honesty, Norris never hesitated to disagree with anyone, from Presidents on down.  On public questions that made a difference, his firm stands were unmistakable.  They are a matter of record.  For instance, he voted to reduce the tariff on sugar with full knowledge Nebraska was a major sugar beet state.  He filibustered against the Armed Ship Bill Act of 1917 amidst the patriotic furor of World War I.  In later years, he supported the Catholic Democrat, Al Smith, for President when opposition to Smith in Nebraska bordered on the fanatical.

 It is the manner in which he exercised authority, however, that wins our everlasting respect.  Especially in today’s political world, one soaked in money, pervaded by millionaire lobbyists, and beset by incessant campaigning, as if grubbing for votes is the same as administering a government.

 Norris declined to control, much less influence, one jot of political patronage. He refused to write letters of endorsement for constituents seeking public jobs.  Extreme, you say.  Think about it.

 He belonged to no church and made no appeals to the Almighty on grounds his religion was the “The doctrine of the brotherhood of man.”  On more than one occasion, he offered to resign, stating that his views were not always those of the people of Nebraska.

He even offended home state pride by spending his summer vacation in the rival State of Wisconsin.  In Washington, he was rarely seen at social function, and no one ever recalled seeing him in formal attire.  He favored quiet evening at home, where he read and studied extensively, emerging often as the recognized authority on pending legislation. 

 From the start of his career as a country lawyer back in Nebraska, to its end as a United States Senator; Norris remained intact, unimpaired, and incorruptible.  The title of his biography by Neuberger and Kahn reads, Integrity.

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