John Nance Garner

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John Nance Garner (1868-1967) was a Representative from Texas and the thirty-second Vice President of the United States.

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Background

He was lawyer by trade, and this legendary Democrat (also known as "Cactus" Jack) served in the Texas Legislature 1898-1902 and was elected later to the House of Representatives, 1903 to 1933. He was Speaker of the House 1931-1933. He is remembered as an ingenious and effective behind-the-scenes political operator and a staunch populist Southern Democrat.

Garner was financed and backed by William Randolph Hearst and William McAdoo in a bid for the 1932 Democratic Presidential nomination. At the convention Garner threw his delegates over to Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the fourth role call. Historians disagree as to the exact nature of the deal that was struck. Some say it was simply an exchange for the Vice-Presidential slot on the ticket, while others say it was an instance of Garner's "solid party" philosophy, fearing as he did another Al Smith candidacy, or worse: a deadlocked convention.

For two terms as Vice-President (1932-1940), Garner's immense political skill helped FDR to expedite much New Deal legislation through Congress although Garner himself had reservations about the direction FDR was taking the country. In the New Deal formula of "relief, recovery and reform" the "reform" element especially was problematic for conservatives, Jeffersonians, racists and rabid anti-communists within the Democratic Party. In spite of this, Garner's experience and expertise helped to hold the Democratic coalition together while the early New Deal programs took root.

The tenuous balance collapsed however in 1937 under FDR's notorious "court-packing" scheme. Garner, already upset with FDR's refusal to stop the widespread sit-down strikes in the country, literally packed his bags and left Washington, DC for Texas. He had never left DC during a legislative session before.

Garner became the unofficial leader of a new coalition of Southern Democrats, Conservative Democrats and Republicans who hoped to impede what they saw as the undemocratic and impractically perverse excesses of FDR and the New Deal. They feared and resented the enormous power of the un-elected advisors who surrounded FDR, many of whom they viewed as elitist. Garner hoped to use this conservative bloc to wrest control of the Democratic Party away from the New Deal Democrats.

Garner sought the Democratic nomination for the 1940 Presidential election but FDR decided to seek an unprecedented third term. Garner scored only 69 delegates at the convention and was replaced on the ticket by Henry A. Wallace, an ardent New Deal Democrat.

John Nance Garner was central to the conflicts which helped forge the modern Democratic Party. He vigorously defended certain philosophies against the prevailing and eventually dominant shifts the Democratic Party would take as it confronted and overcame the defining crises of the United States in the 20th Century.


Preceded by:
Nicholas Longworth
 Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives  
1931–1933
Succeeded by:
Henry T. Rainey
Preceded by:
Charles Curtis
 Vice President of the United States  
1933–1941
Succeeded by:
Henry A. Wallace

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