Charles L. McNary
Charles Linza McNary (June 12, 1874 – February 25, 1944) was a United States Republican politician from Oregon. He served in the U.S. Senate from 1917 to 1944 and was Senate Minority Leader from 1933 to 1944. In the Senate, McNary helped to pass legislation that led to the construction of Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River, and worked on agricultural and forestry issues. He also supported many of the New Deal programs at the beginning of the Great Depression. Until Mark O. Hatfield surpassed his mark in 1993, he was Oregon’s longest-serving senator.
McNary was the Republican vice presidential candidate in 1940, on the ticket with presidential candidate Wendell Willkie; both died in 1944, during what would have been their first term had they won. They lost to the Democratic ticket, composed of Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was running for his third term as president, and Henry A. Wallace by just under a ten-point margin. McNary was a justice of the Oregon Supreme Court from 1913 to 1915 and was dean of Willamette University College of Law, in his hometown of Salem, from 1908 to 1913. Before that, he was a deputy district attorney under his brother, John Hugh McNary, who later became a federal judge for the District of Oregon.
McNary died in office after unsuccessful surgery on a brain tumor. Oregon held a state funeral for him, during which his body lay in state at the Oregon State Capitol in Salem. McNary Dam, McNary Field, McNary High School, and McNary Country Club (on land he owned) in Oregon are named in his honor. He is currently the longest serving Senate Minority Leader.
McNary was born on his maternal grandfather’s family farm north of Salem on June 12, 1874. He was the ninth of ten children, and the third son, born to Hugh Linza McNary and Mary Margaret McNary (née Claggett). When the two married in 1860, Hugh McNary’s father-in-law gave him a 112-acre (0.45 km2) farm in what is now the city of Keizer. Charles McNary’s paternal grandfather, James McNary, moved from Missouri to Clackamas County under the Provisional Government of Oregon in 1845, while James McNary’s grandfather, Hugh McNary, was an Ulster Scots immigrant who settled in Kentucky. Charles McNary’s maternal grandparents, Charles Claggett (McNary’s namesake) and Mary South Claggett (née Irvine), moved also from Missouri to the Oregon Territory in 1852. McNary’s maternal grandmother also descended from Ulster Scots immigrants from County Antrim and County Armagh, Ireland to Campbell County, Virginia, who originally migrated to Ulster from Aberdeenshire, Scotland.[list 1]
McNary’s father helped on the family farm, then taught school for a few years before returning to farming near Salem. When McNary’s mother died in 1878, his father moved the family to Salem where he bought a general merchandise store after being unable to run the family farm because of declining health. Charles, known as Tot, began his education at a one-room school in Keizer and later attended Central School in Salem, living on North Commercial Street. Hugh McNary died in 1883, making Charlie an orphan at the age of nine.
Nina McNary became the head of the household, while other siblings took jobs in order to provide for the family. As a boy, Charles worked as a paperboy, in an orchard, and at other farming tasks. He met Herbert Hoover, a future U.S. president, who moved to Salem in 1888. He later worked in the county recorder‘s office for his brother John Hugh McNary, who had been elected as county recorder in 1890, and for a short time attended the Capital Business College. After leaving that school, he enrolled in college preparatory classes at Willamette University, with an eye towards attending Stanford University or the University of California. During this time he met Jessie Breyman, whom he began dating, at a social club he helped start. Another member of the club was Oswald West, a future governor of Oregon.
In the autumn of 1896, McNary moved to California to attend Stanford, where he studied law, economics, science, and history while working as a waiter to pay for his housing. He left Stanford and returned to Oregon in 1897 after his family asked him to come home. Back in Salem, he read law under the supervision of his brother John and Samuel L. Hayden, and passed the bar in 1898. The brothers practiced law together in Salem as McNary & McNary, while John also served as deputy district attorney for Marion County. At this time, Charles bought the old family farm and returned it to the family. From 1909 to 1911 he served as president of the Salem Board of Trade, and in 1909 helped to organize the Salem Fruit Union, an agricultural association.
While still partnered with his brother, McNary began teaching property law at Willamette University College of Law in the spring of 1899 and courting Jessie Breyman. In 1908, he was hired as its dean to replace John W. Reynolds. As dean, he worked to enlarge the school and secure additional classroom space. He recruited prominent local attorneys to serve on the faculty and increased the size of the school from four graduates in 1908 to 36 in 1913, his last year as dean. In his drive to make Willamette’s law school one of the top programs on the West Coast, he had it re-located from leased space in office buildings to the university campus.
On November 19, 1902, he married Jessie Breyman, the daughter of successful Salem businessman Eugene Breyman. Jessie died on July 3, 1918, in an automobile accident south of Newberg on her way home to Salem. She had been in Oregon to attend the funeral of her mother and was returning from Portland in the Boise family‘s car when it flipped and crushed her. McNary spent several days in Oregon for her funeral and then returned to Washington. Charles and Jessie had no children.
McNary first held public office in 1892 when he became Marion County’s deputy recorder, remaining in the position until 1896. In 1904 he managed successful campaign of his brother, John, for district attorney for the third judicial district of Oregon. John then appointed Charles as his deputy, who served until 1911.
Steve Neal, McNary’s biographer, describes McNary as a progressive who stuck with the Republican Party in 1910 even when many progressives left the party in favor of West, a Democrat. McNary backed the Progressive Era reforms (the initiative, recall, referendum, primary elections, and the direct election of US senators) of Oregonian William Simon U’Ren, and he was an early supporter of public, rather than private, power companies. After West won the election, he chose McNary to be special legal counsel to Oregon’s railroad commission, who urged lower passenger and freight rates. Meanwhile, McNary maintained friendly relations with both progressive and conservative factions of the Oregon Republicans and with West.
In 1913, West appointed McNary to the Oregon Supreme Court to fill a new position, created by the legislature’s expansion of the court from five justices to seven. The youngest of the justices, at 38, McNary left law school and private practice behind. He quickly “established himself as a judicial activist and strong advocate of progressive reform.” A supporter of organized labor, McNary “consistently defended the rights of injured workers and was not hesitant about using the bench as an instrument for social change” such as an eight-hour day for public employees. Unions supported McNary throughout his political career.
Several criminal convictions resulted from the Portland vice scandal in November 1912 surrounding the city’s gay male subculture. By the time McNary was seated, some convictions had been appealed to the court. He wrote the dissenting opinion in the reversal of the conviction of prominent Portland attorney Edward McAllister. The dissent was emotionally charged and “revealed a deeply seated personal discomfort with same-sex eroticism.”
In 1914, the court moved into the new Oregon Supreme Court Building, and McNary filed to run for a full six-year term on the bench. At that time the office was partisan, and McNary lost the Republican primary, by a single vote, to Henry L. Benson, after several recounts and the discovery of uncounted ballots. After his defeat, he served the remainder of his partial term and left the court in 1915. On July 8, 1916, after a close, multiballot contest, with several contenders, the Republican State Committee elected McNary to be the chair. He was seen as someone who could unify the progressive and conservative wings of the party in Oregon.
As chairman of the state’s Republican Party, McNary campaigned to get the Republican presidential nominee, Charles Evans Hughes, elected in the 1916 presidential election. Hughes, a former US Supreme Court justice and future chief justice, carried Oregon but lost the presidency to the incumbent, Woodrow Wilson. When US Senator Harry Lane died in office, on May 23, 1917, it created an opportunity for McNary to redeem himself after his failed bid for election to the Oregon Supreme Court. McNary was among several possible successors considered by Oregon Governor James Withycombe. The governor preferred someone who supported national women’s suffrage and Prohibition, and he shared with McNary an interest in farming. Furthermore, McNary supporters argued that both progressive and conservative factions of the Republican Party would accept McNary and that unity would give the party the best chance of retaining the Senate seat in the next election. Withycombe appointed McNary to the unexpired term on May 29.
After resigning as state party chairman, McNary prepared to campaign for a full term in the Senate. He faced Speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives Robert N. Stanfield in the May 1918 Republican primary. McNary defeated Stanfield 52,546 to 30,999. In the November general election, he defeated a friend and former governor, Oswald West, 82,360 to 64,303, to win a full, six-year term in the Senate. Meanwhile, Frederick W. Mulkey won the election to replace McNary and finished Lane’s original term, which would end in January 1919, and Mulkey took office on November 6, 1918, replacing McNary in that seat.
Shortly after taking office, Mulkey resigned the seat effective December 17, 1918, and McNary was then reappointed to the Senate on December 12, 1918, and took office on December 18, instead of taking office in January, when his term he was elected to would have started. Mulkey resigned in order to give McNary a slight seniority edge over other new members of the Senate. In 1920, former adversary Stanfield defeated incumbent Democrat George Earle Chamberlain for Oregon’s other Senate seat, making McNary the state’s senior senator. McNary won re-election four times, in 1924, 1930, 1936, and 1942, serving in Washington, D.C., until his death.
After World War I, Wilson sought Senate approval of the Treaty of Versailles. Because the treaty included provisions for establishing and joining the League of Nations, one of Wilson’s Fourteen Points, Republicans opposed it. Going against much of his party, McNary, part of a group of senators known as “reservationists,” proposed minor changes to support the United States entry into the League. Ultimately, the Senate never ratified the Treaty of Versailles, and the United States never joined the League.
One of the prime opponents of Wilson and the League was Senate Majority Leader Henry Cabot Lodge. After McNary demonstrated his skill in the debate over the League, Lodge took him under his wing, and the two formed a longtime friendship. The friendship helped McNary secure favorable committee assignments and ushered him into the inner power circle of the Senate. Early in his career, he served as chairman of the Irrigation and Reclamation of Arid Lands Committee, and as a member of the Agriculture and Forestry Committee. In 1922, President Warren G. Harding asked McNary to be the Secretary of the Interior to replace Albert B. Fall because of Fall’s involvement in the ongoing Teapot Dome scandal. McNary declined, preferring to stay in the Senate.
In 1933, McNary was selected as the Senate Minority Leader by fellow Republicans, while the Senate was under Democratic control during the New Deal era. He remained Minority Leader for the rest of his time in office and “hovered most of the time on the periphery of the Republican left” and opposed disciplining Republican senators who supported Roosevelt. He supported many of the New Deal programs, at the beginning of Roosevelt’s presidency. As World War II approached, he favored “all aid to England and France short of war.” He voted to keep an arms embargo in place but supported the Lend-Lease agreement with the British in 1941 and the reinstatement of Selective Service in 1940, in preparation for military conscription of civilian men.
As early as the 1920s, McNary supported the development of federal hydroelectric power dams, and in 1933, he introduced legislation that led to the building of the Grand Coulee and Bonneville dams on the Columbia, as public works projects. He voted for the US joining the World Court in 1926. He favored buying more National Forest lands, reforestation, fire protection for forests via the Clarke–McNary Act, and farm support. Although vetoed by President Calvin Coolidge, the McNary–Haugen Farm Relief Bill was the forerunner of the farm legislation of the New Deal.
Vice presidential nomination
The two men differed on many issues. Writing for Life magazine shortly before the general election in 1940, Richard L. Neuberger said, “Whether as Vice President of the U.S. Charley McNary can keep on endorsing Government-power projects, isolation, high tariffs and huge outlays for farm relief under a President who believes in none of these things remains to be seen.” McNary’s acceptance speech reiterated his support for the Tennessee Valley Authority, a federally owned power-producing corporation that Willkie, as “the head of a far-flung [private] utilities empire,” had opposed. During the campaign, McNary promoted farming issues and criticized foreign trade agreements, which, he said, had “closed European markets to our grain, meat, fruits and fiber.” The Willkie/McNary ticket lost decisively to the Roosevelt/Wallace ticket.
Family and legacy
On December 29, 1923, McNary married for the second time, to Cornelia Woodburn Morton. He met Morton at a dinner party during World War I, in her hometown of Washington, D.C. Before the marriage, she had worked as his private secretary. As with his first marriage, his second did not produce children, but Charles and Cornelia adopted a daughter, Charlotte, in 1935.
In 1926, McNary built a new $6,000 ranch-style house, which he designed himself, along two creeks on his farm north of Salem. His estate, called “Fir Cone,” featured a putting green, rose garden, tennis court, fishpond, and arboretum, and more than 250 acres (1.0 km2) of trees. Fir Cone was described as Oregon’s Monticello by later Senator Richard L. Neuberger, as it hosted many meetings with politicians from the national stage. The farm included 110 acres (0.45 km2) of nut and fruit orchards, through which McNary helped establish the filbert industry in Oregon and on which he developed the Imperial prune.
After complaining of headaches and suffering slurred speech beginning in early 1943, McNary went to the Bethesda, Maryland, Naval Hospital on November 8, 1943, where doctors diagnosed a malignant brain tumor. They removed it that week, and McNary was released from the hospital on December 2, but the cancer had already spread to other parts of his body. He and his family departed for Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to spend the winter. He partly recovered from the surgery, but by February 24, 1944, when he was re-elected as Republican Senate leader, he was comatose. Charles L. McNary died in Fort Lauderdale, and he was buried in Belcrest Memorial Cemetery in Salem. He was given a state funeral during which his body lay in state in the chamber of the Oregon House of Representatives at the Oregon State Capitol, Salem. At the time of his death, McNary held the record for longest-serving senator from Oregon—9,726 days in office. This mark held for nearly 50 years, until broken by Mark O. Hatfield in 1993.
McNary’s running mate, Willkie, died eight months later on October 8. It was the first, and to date only time both members of a major-party presidential ticket died during the term for which they sought election. Had they been elected, the Presidential Succession Act of 1886 would have been invoked upon Willkie’s death, and his Secretary of State would have been sworn in as Acting President for the remainder of the term ending on January 20, 1945.
Named for him are:
- McNary Dam on the Columbia River between Oregon and Washington
- McNary Field, in Marion County, Oregon
- McNary High School in Keizer, Oregon
- McNary Residence Hall at Oregon State University
- During McNary’s 1940 campaign for Vice President, Austin served as Acting Leader.
- “U.S. Senate: Majority and Minority Leaders and Party Whips”. www.senate.gov. Retrieved 2017-05-16.
- Neuberger, Richard L. (1940-08-12). “McNary of Fir Cone”. Life. Time, Inc. pp. 76–84. Retrieved 2009-10-17.
- Steve Neal, McNary of Oregon: A Political Biography. Portland, OR: Western Imprints, 1985; pp. 1–2. OCLC 12214557.
- Oregon Biographical Dictionary. St. Clair Shores, Michigan: Somerset Publishers, Inc. 1999. pp. 130–134. ISBN 0-403-09841-6.
- “Mary South Irvine Claggett (1813-1889) – Find a Grave Memorial”. Find a Grave. Retrieved July 25, 2019.
- “John Irvine (1700-1788) – Find a Grave Memorial”. Find a Grave. Retrieved July 25, 2019.
- “Mary Boyd Irvine (1707-Unknown) – Find a Grave Memorial”. Find a Grave. Retrieved July 25, 2019.
- “Robert Irvine (1655-Unknown) – Find a Grave Memorial”. Find a Grave. Retrieved July 25, 2019.
- “Margaret Wylie Irvine (1660-Unknown) – Find a Grave Memorial”. Find a Grave. Retrieved July 25, 2019.
- Gaston, Joseph (1912). The centennial history of Oregon, 1811–1912, Volume 4. Chicago: The S.J. Clarke Publishing Company. p. 389. Retrieved 2009-10-16.
- Neal, McNary of Oregon, pp. 3–6.
- “McNary, Charles Linza”. Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. United States Congress. Retrieved 2007-02-03.
- Neal, McNary of Oregon, pp. 9–13.
- Colmer, Montagu; Charles Erskine Scott Wood (1910). History of the Bench and Bar of Oregon. Portland, Or.: Historical Pub. Co. p. 180.
- Neal, McNary of Oregon, pp. 12–13.
- Neal, McNary of Oregon, pp. 39–50.
- Neal, McNary of Oregon, p. 13.
- Neal, McNary of Oregon, p. 17.
- Neal, McNary of Oregon, pp. 17–24.
- Neal, McNary of Oregon, p. 18.
- Neal, McNary of Oregon, p. 19.
- Painter, George (April 2001). “Justice Finally Realized: The case of Edward McAllister”. Oregon State Bar Bulletin. Retrieved December 25, 2010.
- Neal, McNary of Oregon, p. 24.
- Neal, McNary of Oregon, p. 30.
- Neal, McNary of Oregon, pp. 29–38.
- “Harry Lane”. Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. United States Congress. Retrieved 2008-11-26.
- Neal, McNary of Oregon, pp. 32–33
- “Frederick W. Mulkey Was Twice Elected to the United States Senate from Oregon”. The New York Times. 1924-05-06.
- Neal, McNary of Oregon, p. 61–70.
- Neal, McNary of Oregon, pp. 50–59.
- Egerton, George W. (December 1978). “Britain and the ‘Great Betrayal’: Anglo-American Relations and the Struggle for United States Ratification of the Treaty of Versailles, 1919-1920”. The Historical Journal. Cambridge University Press. 21 (4): 891, 909–911. doi:10.1017/s0018246x0000073x. ISSN 0018-246X. JSTOR 2638973.
- “Senate Democrats to Organize Today”. The New York Times. Associated Press. 1933-03-06.
- Dick, Wesley Arden (Autumn–Winter 1989). “When Dams Weren’t Damned: The Public Power Crusade and Visions of the Good Life in the Pacific Northwest in the 1930s”. Environmental Review. Forest History Society and American Society for Environmental History. 13 (3/4): 122. JSTOR 3984393.(subscription required)
- Catledge, Turner (1940-06-29). “Senator Drafted: New Party Rulers Pick Veteran Farm Leader to Balance Ticket”. The New York Times.
- Neuberger, Richard L. (1940-07-07). “M’Nary Is Strong in the Northwest”. The New York Times.
- “M’Nary’s Acceptance of the Vice Presidential Nomination”. The New York Times. 1940-08-28.
- “Hull ‘Double Talk’ Scored by M’Nary”. The New York Times. 1940-10-06.
- Neal, McNary of Oregon, pp. 85–88.
- Terry, John (October 20, 2002). “Oregon’s Trails; Oregon’s Sen. McNary was a tree hugger for his time”. The Oregonian. p. A22.
- The McNary Family (Keizertimes online reprint, with self-published author’s permission, of material from Looking Back–People and Places in the Early Keizer Area, 1981 ed.). Anne Lossner. Archived from the original on 2007-07-02. Retrieved 2007-09-06.
- Neal, McNary of Oregon, pp. 233–235.
- “Senator M’Nary Dies in Florida”. The New York Times. 1944-02-26.
- Ultich, Roberta (August 26, 1993). “Hatfield chalks up yet another mark”. The Oregonian. p. D1.
- Brewer, F. (1945). “Succession to the presidency”. Editorial research reports 1945 (Vol. II). Washington, D.C.: CQ Press. Retrieved July 12, 2018.
If the Republican ticket had been elected in 1940, the plan of succession adopted in 1886 would probably have come into operation for the first time in 1944. Charles McNary, Republican candidate for Vice President, died on Feb. 25, 1944, With the death of Wendell Willkie, on Oct. 8, his Secretary of State would have been sworn in for the remainder of the term ending on Jan. 20, 1945.
- Feinman, Ronald L. (March 1, 2016). “The Election of 1940 and the Might-Have-Been that Makes One Shudder”. History News Network. Retrieved July 13, 2018.
- Bundled references
- Senate Portrait
- Salem Online History: Charles McNary
- Letter to McNary from President Hoover
- Memorial services held in the House of representatives and Senate of the United States, together with remarks presented in eulogy of Charles Linza McNary, late a senator from Oregon. Seventy-eighth Congress, second session.
- Historic images of Charles McNary from Salem Public Library
- “Charley Mac”. Time Magazine. 1944-03-06. Retrieved 2008-08-10.
- Supreme Court Justices of Oregon
- Election History of Oregon
- Harry Lane
- Charles L. McNary at Find a Grave