NOTE: The following
appeared in Everett Dirksen's memoir, The Education of a Senator (Urbana: University
of Illnois Press, 1998):xlviii-li. It is updated periodically.
Everett Dirksen has not attracted a large following among researchers,
writers, and biographers. In Senators of the United States:
A Historical Bibliography (Washington, DC: Government Printing
Office, 1995), for example, Dirksen garners only sixteen citations,
compared to sixty-six entries dealing with Lyndon Johnson's congressional
career. Even the taciturn Senate Majority Leader during Dirksen's
time, Mike Mansfield, rates eleven.
The literature about Everett Dirksen falls into five categories:
contemporary press accounts, oral histories, scholarly journal
articles and book chapters, dissertations, and book-length treatments.
In addition, the late Senator's papers are housed at the Everett
McKinley Dirksen Congressional Leadership Research Center in
Among the contemporary journalistic treatments of Dirksen, six
stand out. In April 1945, Fortune magazine published "Congressman:
A Case History" describing how Congress worked and how it might
be made to work better. The twelve-page spread, which was later
turned into a reprint, introduced Dirksen to a national audience,
casting him as an effective, creative advocate of congressional
As Dirksen climbed the Republican leadership ladder, he attracted
more attention. William Barry Furlong wrote a lengthy feature
for Harper's in December 1959. Entitled "The Senate's
Wizard of Ooze: Dirksen of Illinois," the piece dealt with Dirksen's
flexibility on the issues, his persona, and his usefulness to
the White House. Furlong coined many of the phrases used by others
to describe Dirksen, such as "virtuoso of the switch." Three
years later, Dirksen achieved his only solo cover for Time magazine
when the September 14, 1962 issue devoted nearly five pages to
Dirksen's roots, leadership style, speech-making, and legislative
Both The New York Times Magazine and Life printed
feature-length studies of Dirksen in March 1965. Ben Bagdikian's "'The
Oil Can is Mightier Than the Sword'" and Paul O'Neil's "Grand
Old King of the Senate" respectively captured Dirksen at the
height of his power. Together, they provided a comprehensive,
not altogether uncritical treatment of Dirksen the wily legislative
craftsman and media star. In the October 1966 issue of Esquire,
Milton Viorst explored the reasons why Dirksen had emerged as
a modern-day hero in "Honk, Honk, The Marigold."
These are not the only press stories worth reading about Dirksen,
but they contain information not available elsewhere and, when
added to daily reporting of the period, give a reasonably full
accounting of Dirksen's career.
Interviews with Everett Dirksen provide another rich source
of information about him and his views. Although he never conducted
a formal oral history, Dirksen appeared on scores of interview
shows, including such Sunday morning talk shows as "Issues and
Answers" and "Meet the Press." These transcripts, many of them
available in his papers, are all the more valuable because Dirksen
rarely wrote full texts of his speeches and because video was
not prevalent during his time. Interview transcripts survive
as one of the best records of the man in his own words.
More formal oral histories conducted with Dirksen's contemporaries
exist at libraries and archival repositories throughout the country.
The U.S. Senate Historical Office, for example, has more than
a dozen oral histories with Senators and Senate staffers that
contain references to the Minority Leader.
Among more scholarly studies in journals and books chapters,
political scientist Burdett Loomis's chapter about Dirksen in First
Among Equals: Outstanding Senate Leaders of the Twentieth Century is
the most recent example of a thoughtful, interpretive piece based
primarily on secondary sources.(1) Historian
Frank Fonsino gives details of Dirksen's early life in an article
appearing in the Journal of the Illinois State Historical
Society in 1983.(2) That journal also
published two articles by Edward L. and Frederick H. Schapsmeier,
the first scholars to make extensive use of the Dirksen papers.(3) Byron
Hulsey's "Himself First, His Party Second, Lyndon Johnson Third:
Everett Dirksen and the Vietnam War, 1967," explores Dirksen's
fascinating relationship with his former Senate colleague on
the most disruptive issue of the day.(4)
Two doctoral students have paid close attention to Dirksen.
The titles of their dissertations are self-explanatory: Jean
Torcom Cronin's "Minority Leadership in the United States Senate:
The Role and Style of Everett Dirksen" (Johns Hopkins University,
1973); and, Edward Keynes, "The Dirksen Amendment: A Study of
Legislative Strategy, Tactics, and Public Policy," (University
of Wisconsin, 1967).
Books about Dirksen run the gamut from simple compilations to
thoughtful biographies. Among the former is Annette Culler Penney's Dirksen:
The Golden Voice of the Senate which mixes her brief analysis
of Dirksen with famous Dirksenisms. The book contains candid
photographs of the late Senator, too.(5) A
year later, in 1969, Fred Bauer compiled Ev: The Man and
His Words which combines the autho's recollections and extensive
examples of Dirksen's wit and wisdom.(6)
Neil MacNeil, the chief congressional correspondent for Time magazine
during the time Dirksen was Minority Leader, wrote the first
and still the best Dirksen biography.(7) MacNeil
enjoyed a special relationship with his subject, gaining access
to off-the-record meetings and privileged information. Beginning
with the Senator's boyhood, MacNeil follows the Dirksen trail
to political eminence, placing the story in the context of political
history and analyzing his impact on the national scene. Dirksen:
Portrait of a Public Man provides the most thorough discussion
of Dirksen's role in the legislative issues of the day.
The first biography informed by archival research in the Senator's
papers was written by two historians, Edward L. and Frederick
H. Schapsmeier. Dirksen of Illinois: Senatorial Statesman contains
a wealth of information drawn from Dirksen's notes, speeches,
letters, and legislative files. The Schapsmeiers also visited
archives containing the papers of Dirksen's colleagues and the
presidents he served. Their book does not have the "insider" flavor
of MacNeil's, but it succeeds in capturing the essence of Dirksen's
character and leadership. Dirksen of Illinois contains
chapter notes, too, guiding the reader to other sources, a feature
lacking in the other book-length treatments.
Louella Carver Dirksen, the Senator's widow, collaborated with
Norma Lee Browning to write The Honorable Mr. Marigold: My
Life With Everett Dirksen in 1972.(8) It
is a self-professed "special kind of love story -- the love of
a man for his country, for his family, and for God." More a book
of memories than a biography, Mrs. Dirksen's work relies heavily
on her husband's words, including excerpts from some fascinating
letters he wrote to her during his years in the House of Representatives.
It is largely uncritical , as one would expect, but The Honorable
Mr. Marigold is must reading.
The most recent book-length treatment of Dirksen flows from
a Ph.D. dissertation completed by Byron Hulsey at the University
of Texas. Everett Dirksen and His Presidents: How a Senate
Giant Shaped American Politics (University Press of Kansas,
2000) traces Dirksen's relationships with four presidents to
show how the senator shifted from being a major Republican critic
of Truman to an ardent Republican supporter of LBJ. Hulsey links
Dirksen to the issues and events that shaped the 1950s and 1960s
and tells how the Johnson-Dirksen coalition moved domestic policy
forward through civil rights legislation but ran aground on the
problem of Vietnam. For a short version of Hulsey's analysis,
Finally, Memorial Services Held in the Senate and the House
of Representatives of the United States, Together with Tributes
Presented in Euolgy of Everett McKinley Dirksen, Late a Senator
from Illinois (9) contains remarks
and reminiscences by nearly two hundred of Dirksen's colleagues
in Congress. The volume also prints the eulogy delivered by
President Richard M. Nixon and the family's response made by
Senator Howard H. Baker, Jr.
The richest source of information about Everett Dirksen remains
largely unmined -- his personal papers located at The Dirksen
Congressional Center in Pekin, Illinois. The collection consists
of about 1200 linear shelf feet of documents, photographs, films
and tapes, books, and artifacts. Although the bulk of the material
relates to Dirksen's career in the Senate, there are scattered
references to the years leading up to 1950. Major file groups
encompass campaigns and politics, public works, legislation,
constituent correspondence, congressional leadership activity,
remarks and press releases, and newspaper clippings. With only
a few exceptions, the collection is processed and open to researchers.
1. Edited by Richard A. Baker and Roger H.
Davidson, pp. 236-63. Washington: Congressional Quarterly, 1991.
2. "Everett McKinley Dirksen: The Roots of
an American Statesman," v. 76 (Spring 1983):17-34.
3. "Dirksen and Douglas of Illinois: The
Pragmatist and the Professor as Contemporaries in the United
States Senate," v. 83 (Summer 1990):75-84 and "Senator Everett
M. Dirksen and American Foreign Policy: From Isolationism to
Cold War Interventionism," v.76 (Spring 1983):359-72.
4. Congress and the Presidency, v.
22 (Fall 1995):167-81.
5. Penney, Annette Culler, Dirksen: The
Golden Voice of the Senate (Washington: Acropolis Books,
6. Bauer, Fred, ed., Ev: The Man and
His Words (Old Tappan, NJ: Hewitt House, 1969).
7. MacNeil, Neil. Dirksen: Portrait of
a Public Man (New York: The World Publishing Co., 1970).
8. Garden City, NY (Doubleday and Company,
9. U.S. Congress, 91st Cong., 1st sess.,
1969 (Washington, DC: Government Priting Office, 1970).