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 Pekin, Illinois.
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 reform.
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 effectiveness.
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, visit http://www.dirksencenter.org/print_emd_masterlegislator.htm.
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.
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.
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