Alben BarkleyA Life in Politics

Alben BarkleyA Life in Politics

James K. Libbey

Print publication date: 2016

ISBN: 9780813167138

Publisher: University Press of Kentucky


Born in humble, rural surroundings in the Jackson Purchase, Barkley grew into a sturdy youth who received an education through parental sacrifices. He graduated from Marvin College as an award-winning speaker and soon moved with his parents to Paducah, where he read law and became an attorney. Barkley entered politics winning elections as county attorney and then county judge: he gained victory through his farmer constituents. In 1913 he moved from courthouse to Congress as a progressive who championed President Wilson’s New Freedom program. During World War I, he favored freedom of the seas to promote agricultural exports and gained national attention by advocating prohibition. In wartime he visited US soldiers on the front lines and in peacetime became a member of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, which enhanced his understanding of international relations. His only electoral loss occurred when he campaigned for governor, but his Kentucky canvass enabled him to win a US Senate seat in 1926. Furious over Republican administrations for their support of high tariffs that hurt agricultural exports and their inability to assist impoverished Americans during the Great Depression, Barkley became a strong supporter and national spokesman for the New Deal. World War II found Senate majority leader Barkley playing a key role in wartime legislation, but he lost favor with President Roosevelt by opposing the president’s expensive revenue bill of 1944. Meanwhile, the senator had maintained close and supportive relations with Truman and joined him as his vice presidential candidate on the 1948 presidential ticket. Barkley became the one and only Veep who turned the vice presidency into an important office. The Paducah politician failed to get his party’s nomination for president in 1952, so he temporarily retired, appearing on his own national television show, and preparing (with help) his autobiography. In 1954 he won election and returned to the US Senate as a junior member.