John C. Stennis

John C. Stennis

Infobox Senator
name = John C. Stennis

imagesize = 175px

caption =
jr/sr = United States Senator
state = Mississippi
term_start = November 17, 1947
term_end = January 3, 1989
predecessor = Theodore Bilbo
successor = Trent Lott
order2 = 100th President pro tempore of the United States Senate
term_start2 = January 3, 1987
term_end2 = January 3, 1989
vicepresident2 =
viceprimeminister2 =
deputy2 =
president2 =
primeminister2 =
predecessor2 = Strom Thurmond
successor2 = Robert Byrd
order3 = Chairman of the United States Senate Committee on Armed Services
term_start3 = January 3, 1969
term_end3 = January 3, 1981
vicepresident3 =
viceprimeminister3 =
deputy3 =
president3 =
primeminister3 =
predecessor3 = Richard Russell
successor3 = John Tower
birth_date = birth date|1901|8|3|mf=y
birth_place = Kemper County, Mississippi
death_date = death date and age|1995|4|23|1901|8|3|mf=y
death_place = Jackson, Mississippi
constituency =
party = Democratic
spouse = Coy Hines
profession = Lawyer
religion = Methodist

footnotes =

John Cornelius Stennis (August 3, 1901April 23, 1995) was a U.S. Senator from the state of Mississippi. He was a Democrat who served in the Senate for over 41 years, becoming its most senior member by his retirement.

Early life

Born in Kemper County, Mississippi, Stennis received a bachelor's degree from Mississippi State University in Starkville (then Mississippi A&M) in 1923. In 1928, Stennis obtained a law degree from the University of Virginia at Charlottesville, where he was a member of Phi Beta Kappa and Alpha Chi Rho. While in law school, he won a seat in the Mississippi House of Representatives, in which he served until 1932. Stennis was a prosecutor from 1932 to 1937 and a circuit judge from 1937 to 1947, both for Mississippi's Sixteenth Judicial District.

U.S. Senator

Upon the death of Senator Theodore Bilbo in 1947, Stennis won the special election to fill the vacancy, winning the seat from a field of five candidates (including two sitting Congressmen: John E. Rankin and William M. Colmer). He remained in the Senate until 1989. From 1947 to 1978, he served alongside fellow Mississippi senator and Democrat James Eastland; notwithstanding his long service Stennis would serve 35 years as Mississippi's "junior" Senator. He and Eastland were at the time the longest serving Senate duo in American history, later broken by the South Carolina duo of Strom Thurmond and Fritz Hollings. He later developed a good relationship with Eastland's successor, Republican Thad Cochran.

Stennis wrote the first Senate ethics code, and was the first chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee.

In 1973, Stennis was almost fatally wounded by two gunshots after being mugged outside his Washington home. In October 1973, during the Watergate scandal, the Nixon administration proposed the Stennis compromise, wherein the hard-of-hearing Stennis would listen to the contested Oval Office tapes and report on their contents,Fact|date=February 2007 but this plan went nowhere.

Stennis lost his left leg to cancer in 1984.

He was unanimously selected President pro tempore of the Senate during the 100th Congress (1987–1989). During his Senate career he chaired, at various times, the Select Committee on Standards and Conduct, the Armed Services committee, and the Appropriations committee. Because of his work with the Armed Services committee (1969–1980) he became known as the "Father of America's Modern Navy", and he was subsequently honored by having a supercarrier named after him. He is one of only two members of Congress to be so honored, the other being former Georgia Democrat Carl Vinson.

Civil rights record

Throughout Stennis' long career, his record on civil rights was a mixed one. As a prosecutor, he sought the conviction and execution of three black men whose murder confessions had been extracted by torture. The convictions were overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in the landmark case of "Brown v. Mississippi" (1936) that banned the use of evidence obtained by torture. The transcript of the trial indicates Stennis was fully aware of the methods of interrogation, including flogging, used to gain confessions.

As a Senator, Stennis was initially a strong supporter of racial segregation, though his rhetoric was not nearly as virulent as other Mississippi politicians during the Civil Rights Movement. Nonetheless, in the 1950s and 1960s he vigorously opposed such legislation as the Voting Rights Act, as did most Southern senators. He also signed the Southern Manifesto of 1956 and openly supported Barry Goldwater's presidential bid in 1964, as did most of the state's prominent Democrats.

However, by the 1980s he regularly supported legislation to extend the civil rights of women and minorities, though he opposed the Martin Luther King holiday. He also campaigned (along with Governor Bill Allain) for Mike Espy in 1986 during Espy's successful bid to become the first black Congressman from the state since the end of Reconstruction.

Earlier in his career, Stennis had been the first Democrat to publicly criticize Joseph McCarthy on the Senate floor during the Red Scare, while Eastland supported McCarthy to the end. On balance, he was much more supportive of civil rights than Eastland. In some ways, Stennis' record on civil rights is similar to those of Goldwater, Robert Byrd, Sam Ervin and J. William Fulbright — all of whom opposed many federal civil rights bills not out of explicit racism, but because they felt the bills gave the federal government too much power over the states. Still, Stennis shied away from supporting civil rights legislation when there was no political risk in doing so.


Declining to run for re-election in 1988, Stennis retired from the Senate in 1989 at the height of his popularity. He never lost an election in 60 years as an elected official. He took a teaching post at his alma mater, which he held until his death in Jackson at the age of 93.

In his last election in 1982, Stennis easily defeated Republican Haley Barbour in a largely Democratic year.

At the time of Stennis' retirement, his continuous tenure of 41 years and 2 months in the Senate was second only to that of Carl Hayden. (It has since been surpassed by Robert Byrd, Strom Thurmond, Ted Kennedy, and Daniel Inouye, leaving Stennis sixth).

John Stennis is buried at Pinecrest Cemetery in Kemper County. He and his wife, the former Coy Hines, had two children, John Hampton and Margaret Jane.

Naming honors

*John C. Stennis Space Center
* [ John C. Stennis Center for Public Service Training and Development] ( [ "Stennis Center for Public Service"] )
*John C. Stennis National Student Congress of the National Forensic League
*John C. Stennis Lock and Dam
* [ John C. Stennis Institute of Government]
* [ John C. Stennis Scholarship in Political Science]
* [ John C. Stennis Vocational Complex]
*USS "John C. Stennis" Aircraft Carrier and Carrier Strike Group
* [ USS John C. Stennis University]


"I want to plow a straight furrow right down to the end of the row."


* "Stennis Center for Public Service". [ "Tribute to John C. Stennis"] . Retrieved June 16, 2005.

External links

* [ Stennis Center for Public Service]
* [ USS "John C. Stennis" website]
* [ John C. Stennis Space Center]
* [ John C. Stennis Institute of Government]
* [ Biographical Sketch of John C. Stennis] , via Mississippi State University

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