Tuesday Reading: 'How a little-known conservative Ohio congressman changed American history'

Just wanted to pass along this little nugget of Buckeye-based longform today. Politico writer Todd Purdum chronicles the work of William Moore McCulloch, an Ohio congressman from just north of Dayton who helped spearhead the 1964 Civil Rights Act in Washington.

First, a quick footnote about McCulloch (whose district is represented in the present day by none other than House Speaker John Boehner):

William Moore McCulloch was a rock-ribbed conservative Republican from small town Ohio — and also a

passionate backer of civil rights. He was the ranking minority member of the House Judiciary Committee and his conditions for supporting the bill drove the legislative strategy of both the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, and required trying something that had never succeeded before: breaking a civil rights filibuster in the Senate.

And an excerpt from Purdum's work:

A frugal man of simple tastes, he favored red suspenders and loved pumpkin pie (served with cold turkey gravy at the local Elks Club). He worked seven days a week, employed an office staff of one or two and returned home every June to make the rounds of his district, borrowing a room in each local courthouse where held open house, a pencil always ready in his shirt pocket for taking notes. One of his favorite phrases, with family or friends, was “Are you sure?” — as if by testing their assumptions, he might test his own. He liked a martini, but his limit was one. “If I ordered a second drink, I would get a look or an ‘Are you sure?’” his son-in-law David Carver would recall.

McCulloch had an unusually considered view of his job. “The function of Congress is not to convert the will of the majority of people into law; rather its function is to hammer out on the anvil of public debate a compromise between polar positions acceptable to a majority,” he would tell his House colleagues on the eve of his retirement in 1972, contrasting their work with the direct democracy of a town meeting, in which one position always prevails and the other loses. “In a republic, representatives vote for the people. There is discussion and debate. There are amendments. There is opportunity for compromise. It is less clear that there is a losing side.”

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Eric Sandy

Eric Sandy is an award-winning Cleveland-based journalist. For a while, he was the managing editor of Scene. He now contributes jam band features every now and then.
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