Everett McKinley Dirksen
Previous versions of The Center’s web suite included several special features based on the Dirksen Collection. We will re-post them as they are updated to modern programming and internet access standards.
The Education of a Senator
by Everett McKinley Dirksen
Everett Dirksen spent much of the last three weeks before his unexpected death in September 1969 working on this book. Following the mid-August recess of the 91st Congress, Dirksen had retired to his home to rest up for scheduled lung surgery. At "Heart's Desire" in Virginia, he tended his gardens, prepared for the resumption of the legislative session, and put the finishing touches on his autobiography. Dirksen's thoughts had turned increasingly to the deterioration of the nation's civic life. Appalled by the country's social and political turmoil, manifested in race riots and demonstrations against the war in Vietnam, he worried that young people seemed to be turning their backs on their American heritage. He sought to bring them, in his words, "back into the stream of tradition," and he hoped that the telling of his life story would help reestablish the virtue of public service. The Education of a Senator was the result.
What qualities did Everett Dirksen possess that allowed him to serve his party and his nation effectively and in bipartisan fashion? What were the ingredients of his success? What style characterized his leadership? Political scientist Jean Torcom conducted a series of interviews with 27 of Dirksen’s colleagues ten months after his death for her dissertation, “Minority Leadership in the United States Senate: The Role and Style of Everett Dirksen” (Baltimore, Maryland: The Johns Hopkins University, 1973).
Dirksen Family Christmas Cards
For many years, Everett Dirksen composed and drew his own Christmas cards. This feature includes examples drawn from his collection of papers at The Dirksen Congressional Center [Everett M. Dirksen Papers, Personal File, f. 7a-7d].
Dirksen at the Mike
During more than four decades in politics, Everett Dirksen earned a reputation as a masterful speaker. By the time of his death in September 1969, the Republican senator from Illinois had reached the stature of a folk hero, recognizable everywhere in the country. As his biographer noted, “Above all Dirksen was an orator, and his best speeches were free-style, letting him digress with pithy anecdotes and humorous sallies drawn from his large accumulated store. His resonant voice was by turn deep-throated or husky, his style alternatively humble and heroic, and his often rococo vocabulary charmed and tickled his listeners.” In large part, Dirksen made his mark at the microphone. We have selected 75 still photographs from his collection that capture him in full glory—at the mike.
Dirksen a Favorite of Editorial Cartoonists
Editorial cartoonists loved Everett Dirksen—his position of influence as Minority Leader in the Senate, his way with words, and, of course, his distinctive appearance. Over the years, Senator Dirksen’s staff compiled a scrapbook containing more than 300 editorial cartoons. Topics covered include Vietnam, civil rights, Republican Party politics, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, reapportionment, Taft-Hartley 14(b), school prayer, Dirksen’s recording career, Senate procedures, congressional pay, presidential appointments, and Dirksen’s legacy. Naturally, cartoonists also used these topics to depict Dirksen’s relationship with President Lyndon Johnson, with his Democratic colleagues in the Senate, and with the Supreme Court. In addition, cartoonists sent Dirksen between 50 and 60 original sketches on equally diverse topics. Among the scores of cartoonists represented in the collection are Herblock, Gib Crockett, Hugo, Bill Mauldin, Gene Basset, Pat Oliphant, Al Capp, Wayne Stayskal, Jim Berry, Guernsey LePelley, Tom Engelhardt, Paul Conrad, and Jim Berryman.
Everett McKinley Dirksen’s name appeared on the ballot in 26 elections beginning with his election to Pekin’s City Council in 1926. There followed nine primary and eight general elections to the U.S. House of Representatives as well as four primary and four general elections to the U.S. Senate. This feature presents an overview of his electoral record, something historians have neglected.
Dirksen’s Opponent in 1950: Scott W. Lucas
The 1950 campaign for the U.S. Senate in Illinois pitted Republican challenger Everett M. Dirksen against incumbent Democrat Scott Lucas, Majority Leader of the U.S. Senate. The Illinois Democratic State Central Committee produced a 16-page, professionally illustrated, full-color, cartoon-style brochure on Lucas's behalf. Even today, it is an amazing piece of campaign literature complete with headings set apart from cartoon frames filled with action scenes and dialogue presented in bubbles. The span of subjects is equally impressive. They include depictions of Lucas's ancestors; his early years of a hard-scrabble existence; his education, law practice, and public service; his election first to House, then to Senate, and finally to his leadership position; and his stance on issues.
On February 21, 1945, then Congressman Dirksen set out on a world trip that would take him to twenty-one countries, logging 32,000 miles. This was not an ordinary junket. Dirksen traveled on behalf of the House Committee on Appropriations to inspect American embassies, reconstruction agencies, intelligence services, and the armed forces. He had a bird’s-eye view of Europe and the Middle East as World War II neared its end. His stops included London, Algiers, Tunis, Cairo, Bombay, Calcutta, Delhi, Karachi, Teheran, Baghdad, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Palestine, Beirut, Damascus, Ankara, Istanbul, Athens, Rome, Florence, Paris, Rheims, Augsburg, Dachau, Wiesbaden, and Leipzig, among many others.
Promoting the Marigold as the National Floral Emblem
Everett Dirksen’s well-known fondness for the marigold took root in 1959 as a result of David Burpee’s persistent efforts to persuade the senator to sponsor legislation naming it the national floral emblem. As CEO of the W. Atlee Burpee Co., seed growers extraordinaire, Burpee used the full range of lobbying techniques in his ultimately unsuccessful campaign.
Dirksen: Every Inch a Performer
On November 30, 1966, Capitol Records released the first commercial recording ever to feature the voice of a United States senator, “Gallant Men.” The company’s president, Alan Livingston, joined Everett McKinley Dirksen to announce the debut of Gallant Men at a reception in the Senate Conference Room of the U.S. Capitol. So began Dirksen’s career as a bone fide recording artist, a career that would produce four record albums, at least two books, many television guest appearances, several documentaries, a film project, and even a run-in with a labor union by the time of his death in September 1969.