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Senator Allen Ellender of Louisiana

A Biography

by Thomas A. Becnel

Southern Biography

344 pages / 6.00 x 9.00 inches / 24 halftones

Southern History

  Hardcover / 9780807119785 / January 1996

Allen J. Ellender, born on a sugar plantation in Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana, rose to become one of the most dominant men in the U.S. Senate. This biography, based on prolonged examination of the voluminous Ellender Papers and extensive research in other primary and secondary sources, including interviews with people who knew Ellender during various stages of his lengthy career, makes an important contribution to our understanding of Louisiana and national politics during much of this century.

Ellender began life in a farm family and never lost his close ties to rural Louisiana. Still, he sought a career as a lawyer and served as city attorney and district attorney before being elected to the Louisiana state legislature in 1924. Originally an opponent of Huey Long, Ellender converted to Longism after Huey was elected governor in 1928. But because he refused to condone questionable oil-leasing practices on state lands, he was bypassed as Long’s state political heir in the thirties. He was elected instead to the U.S. Senate, where he served until his death in 1972.

In Senator Allen Ellender of Louisiana, Thomas A. Becnel methodically traces the extended career of this contradictory politician­a man who, though essentially a conservative, was surprisingly liberal on many issues. He supported progressive legislation in areas such as education, public housing, censorship, and the separation of church and state. He was also one of the first senators to criticize his colleague Joseph McCarthy. Yet throughout his career he remained an advocate of racial segregation.

During Ellender’s long tenure in the Senate, in which he served under Presidents Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon, through the Great Depression, World War II, the Cold War, McCarthyism, the Korean conflict, the civil rights movement, and the Vietnam War, he was intimately involved in decisions and debates that have shaped the recent history of the country. Becnel astutely places Ellender in the context of the history of his time and the social, economic, and political milieu of his state. The result is a careful, balanced portrait of one of the most influential legislators of this century. 

Thomas A. Becnel is Distinguished Professor of History at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, Louisiana, and the author of, among other works, The Barrow Family and the Barataria and Lafourche Canal: The Transportation Revolution in Louisiana, 1829-1925.

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