Volume 8, Number 8 - Summer 1984

Dewey J. Short vs. The New Deal
by Robert Wiley

Galena, the county seat of Stone County, is a small, rural community nestled in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains in southeast Missouri. Established on the banks of the picturesque James River in 1851, Galena was described as a "dilapidated little town" by General Samuel Curtis during his march through southern Missouri in 1862. After the Civil War, the community grew to become the center of trade in Stone County during the latter part of the 1800’s, but it remained a rural community of the backwoods, not easily accessible by the modes of transportation available at the turn of the century. All in all, Galena seemed an unlikely source from which a man of greatness might emerge.

But small towns such as Galena, though short on sophistication, are long on the qualities which nurture character: hard work, honesty, neighborly compassion and old-fashioned Christian morality. So, to one reared in the Ozarks and familiar with its people, it is not surprising that a man of the stature of Dewey Jackson Short would be born, raised and prepared for greatness, all in the little town of Galena, Missouri.

Born April 7, 1898, to Jackson Grant Short and Permila Cordelia Long, Dewey Jackson Short would often thereafter embellish many a speech with his family heritage and allow as to how he was the "long and the short of it." Endowed with a gregarious personality, superior intelligence and a remarkable gift for oratory, Dewey Short was destined to become known far and wide as the "Orator of the Ozarks" and to serve his district in the U.S. House of Representatives for twenty-four years.

The trek from Galena to Washington D.C., and the many excursions along the by-ways, culminated on November 19, 1979, when Dewey Short departed this earth, leaving behind a legacy of which legends are made. As he had requested, his body was returned to his beloved Galena for burial.

Having been born in the small community of Hurley, in northern Stone County, and having been raised there, I learned of Dewey Short at an early age. One of Dewey’s kinfolk on the Short side of his family, was Mary Scott Hair, my Sunday School teacher at the Methodist Church in Hurley. In 1952, when I was but ten years of age, I heard that Dewey Short was coming to town for a rally, and I asked Mary if she would introduce me to him. She kindly obliged, and thus began my allegiance to Dewey Short. I recall the warm and friendly handshake and the down home manner which had won him many a vote over the years. I recall his stirring oratory, and I became a Dewey Short fan.

Later, in 1959 or 1960, I met Dewey again and heard him speak at a Memorial Day ceremony at the little Short Cemetery, located one mile South of Hurley. At a time when I had been reading of Darrow and Bryan, I was moved by the eloquence of his oratory. In the 70’s Dewey spoke to a Republican gathering at my office in Crane, and on August 27, 1978, Dewey made an impromptu talk at the Hurley Methodist Church. While the body was weak, the old touch was still there. I have yet to hear a speaker who can rise to the level of oratorical eloquence of Dewey Short.

Short graduated from Galena High School in 1915. He attended Marionville College for two years and attained his degree at Baker University at Baldwin City, Kansas in 1919. Having decided to enter the ministry, Short attended Boston College School of Theology from 1919 to 1922 and graduated with honors. Having earned a fellowship to study abroad Short, and his friend Earl Marlatt, travelled to Europe and studied at Berlin, Heidelburg and Oxford in 1922-23. Short then became Professor of Philosophy and psychology at Southwestern College in Winfield College. In 1928 he ran successfully for the congressional seat in the 14th district which extended from Stone County on the west to the Mississippi River on the east. After serving one term, he was defeated in the Democratic landslide of 1930, the era of the Great Depression which nearly rendered Republicans extinct.

After again traveling in Europe and visiting the Soviet Union, Short ran for the U.S. Senate, unsuccessfully, in 1932. In 1934 he captured the congressional seat in the newly formed 7th district, a position he held until his defeat in 1956. During that time he rose to the chairmanship of the House Armed Services Committee.

During his first term in Congress, Short had but few opportunities to speak on the floor of Congress. With one term of congressional experience behind him, Dewey was determined not to be denied the opportunity to display his oratorical wares on the floor of the House. The debate on the floor was bitter. The Republicans denounced the concentration of power in the White House under the New Deal programs. The Democrats at every turn reminded their colleagues across the aisle of various failings of the Hoover administration.

Under Hoover, the budget deficits amounted to four billion dollars. In two years of the Roosevelt administration, a deficit of 10 billion dollars had been accumulated. Republicans such as Hamilton Fish, Jr. of New York reminded the opposition that Roosevelt


and other Democrats had been highly critical of the Hoover deficits and challenged the majority to point out "the difference between a Democratic deficit and a deficit under a Republican administration. In this floor debate on January 8, Dewey joined the fray asking, "What percent of this money goes to the people who are in dire need or distress and what percent goes to the White-collar bureaucratic politician?"

Kent E. Keller of Illinois joined the verbal battle and stated that 8 percent of the funds would go for administrative expenses while 92 percent would go directly to the people on relief. Keller’s comments prompted this exchange:

MR. SHORT. We are glad to have the sage of southern Illinois answer the question that I asked.
MR. KELLER. I thank the gentlemen. The gentlemen is entirely correct in his illusion
MR. SHORT. I would answer for the gentlemen from New York (Mr. Fish) by saying that the deficits are due primarily to the World War which the Democratic Party kept us out of in 1916.
(Applause on the Republican side.)

On January 16, in a pointed reference to the 1932 Democratic Party platform pledge to promote economy in government and abolish wasteful bureaus, Short inquired of a Democratic colleague: "Did not the gentleman’s party in their platform promise the electorate that they stood for economy in government, and does he not think it is time to abolish the bureaus and cut down expenses?" Later the same day, Short rose to ask another question: "Does the gentleman think that this Congress has any right or authority under the Constitution to delegate its powers?"

Thus far Short had been able only to make occasional brief remarks and ask some questions on the floor, and he earnestly desired to give greater range to his oratorical skills. On the 22nd of January, Short made known to his Republican colleagues his plan to gain the floor and undertake a critique of the evils of the New Deal in general and the concentration of power in the president in particular. The impetus for Short’s plan was House Joint Resolution 117 which would appropriate as to the manner in which the funds would be spent. There was even some dissension among the Democratic ranks over the President’s demands, and the majority did not intend to allow the Republicans the opportunity to exploit this dissension.

Short requested unanimous consent to address the House for 15 minutes. Short’s Democratic colleague from Missouri, John J. Cochran offered no objection, but Democratic Edward Taylor of Colorado balked. Coming to Short’s aid, Republican Bertrand H. Snell of New York reminded Taylor that no other business was before the House, and "I do not know that it has ever been policy on this side to cut off any Member who desired a few minutes to make a statement." Short volunteered to limit his remarks to 10 minutes, and the Speaker asked if there was any objection to the request. Democrat John J. O’Conner of New York rose.
MR. O’CONNOR. I object.
MR. SNELL. Very well, remember that.
MR. SHORT. I will remember it as long as I am here.

When the Speaker sought to adjourn the proceedings for the day, Hamilton Fish, Jr. made one more attempt to save the day for Short by demanding a roll call vote on the motion to adjourn. The motion to adjourn was easy approval.

It appeared that Speaker Joe Byrns of Tennessee had matters well under control. But he mis-calculated the growing opposition within Democratic ranks to the bill giving the Roosevelt administration such a large appropriation without strings attached. According to Time Magazine which subsequently carried a lengthy account of the affair, Byrns encounterd resistance from three factions: (1) Constitutionalists who felt the Congress was abdicating, its power over the public purse; (2) "pork barrel" politicians who wanted some of the money for their constituencies; and (3) "Ickeshaters" who were increasingly angered over the conduct of Public Works Administrator, Harold Ickes.

On the following day, January 23, there was no attempt to prevent Short from taking the floor, and the young orator gave full vent to his fury. He began by chiding the majority for its effort to deny him the floor suggesting that they were "afraid to listen for even 10 or 15 minutes to the views of the opposition." Short then proceeded to the heart of his remarks in "opposition to this resolution, which is so momentous and far-reaching in its consequences that it transcends the level of party politics." After citing instances of wasteful projects of the New Deal, evoking laughter and applause. Short declared: "I care not what other Members of this House might do here today, but I am unalterably and unequivocably opposed to this resolution, which is so filthy, foul and rotten that it stinks to high heaven."

Short then unleashed a verbal barrage which was to reverberate across the nation via newspapers and magazines. he said:
I deeply and sincerely regret that this body has degenerated into a supine,


subservient, soporific, superfluous, supercilious, pusillanimous body of nit-wits, the greatest ever gathered beneath the dome of our National Capitol, who cowardly abdicate their powers and, in violation of their oaths to protect and defend the Constitution against all of the Nation’s enemies, both foreign and domestic, turn over these constitutional prerogatives, not only granted but imposed upon them, to a group of tax-eating, conceited, autocratic bureaucrats-a bunch of theoretical, intellectual, professional nincompoops out of Columbia University, at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue-who were never elected by the American people to any office and who are responsible to no constituency. These brain trusters and ‘new dealers’ are the ones who wrote this resolution, instead of the Members of this House whose duty it is, and whose sole duty it is, to draft legislation. (Applause.)

Short’s tirade drew national news coverage and Time carried his picture and termed the speech "notable," done in "his best revivalistic style." But the New Deal partisans and many Democrats were not impressed. The battle lines were drawn, and both sides dug their trenches deeper.

In the years to come, Short would continue to press his opposition to the centralization and expansion of the federal government embodied in the New Deal. In 1984, an era of huge deficits and a bloated federal government, we can view Short’s crusade in historical perspective. Perhaps the Congress should have heeded the warnings of the Silver Tongued Orator of The Ozarks.

Warning! Genealogy Pox (Very contagious to adults.)

Symptoms: Continual complaint as to need for names, dates and places. Patient has blank expression, sometimes deaf to spouse and children. Has no taste for work of any kind, except feverishly looking through records at libraries and courthouses. Has compulsion to write letters. Swears at mailman when he doesn’t leave mail. Frequents strange places such as cemeteries, ruins and remote, desolate country areas. Makes secret night calls. Hides phone bill from spouse. Has strange, faraway look in eyes.

Treatment: There is no known cure. Medication is useless. Disease is not fatal, but gets progressively worse. Patient should attend genealogy workshops, subscribe to genealogical magazines and be given a quiet corner in the house where he can be alone.

Remarks: The unusual nature of this disease is…the sicker the patient gets, the more he enjoys it.

From "The Marin Kin Tracer" courtesy of the Genealogical Library at Greenville, Texas and reprinted in the Newsletter of the Reno County, Kansas Genealogical Society August 1981.


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