Pat Harrison

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Bryon Patton "Pat" Harrison (August 29, 1881 - June 22, 1941) was a Mississippi politician who served as a Democrat in the United States House of Representatives from 1911 to 1919 and in the United States Senate from 1919 until his death.

He was born at Crystal Springs, Mississippi. Following an education in the local Mississippi public schools, he briefly attended the University of Mississippi and Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge. He studied law, was admitted to the bar in 1902, and practiced in Leakesville, Mississippi. After four years as district attorney on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Harrison won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1911 and was re-elected three times. He was a progressive and strongly supported Wilson's Mexican and German policies. In 1918 he defeated for reelection Senator James K. Vardaman, a conservative enemy of Wilson. Harrison was a highly effective politician, a brilliant orator, who listened to his district--and in return provided information, services and patronage. In 1928 he supported Al Smith and campaigned for him across the South. At the 1932 Democratic convention he swung the Mississippi delegation to Franklin D. Roosevelt on the crucial third ballot, and became welcome at the White House.

As chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, Harrison was one of the three or four key people behind the creation of the Social Security system in 1935. He promoted low tariffs and reciprocal trade agreements. When the Senate majority leader’s job opened up in 1937, Harrison went after it. Nose counts put him in a tie with Kentucky’s Alben Barkley. Harrison’s campaign manager asked Theodore G. Bilbo, the other member from Mississippi, to consider voting for his fellow Mississippian. Bilbo, a race-baiting demagogue whose base was among liberal tenant farmers, hated the conservative upper-class Harrison who represented the rich planters and merchants. Bilbo said he would vote for Harrison only if he were personally asked. However, Harrison loathed Bilbo and snapped, “Tell the son of a bitch I wouldn’t speak to him even if it meant the presidency of the United States.” When the ballots were in, Pat Harrison lost by one vote, 37-38, but his reputation as the senator who wouldn’t speak to his home-state colleague remained intact.

Harrison served on the Committee on Finance and was chairman of that body from 1933 to 1941 (Seventy-third through Seventy-seventh Congresses). He served as President pro tempore of the Senate during the Seventy-seventh Congress. He was a supporter of the Conservative coalition.


  • Coker, William S. "Pat Harrison - Strategy for Victory". Journal of Mississippi History 1966 28(4): 267-285.
  • Coker, William Sidney. "Pat Harrison: the Formative Years." Journal of Mississippi History 1963 25(4): 251-278.
  • Davis, Polly. "Court Reform and Alben W. Barkley's Election as Majority Leader". Southern Quarterly 1976 15(1): 15-31.
  • Edmonson, Ben G. "Pat Harrison and Mississippi in the Presidential Elections of 1924 and 1928". Journal of Mississippi History 1971 33(4): 333-350.
  • Grant, Philip A., Jr. "Editorial Reaction to the Harrison-Barkley Senate Leadership Contest, 1937". Journal of Mississippi History 1974 36(2): 127-141.
  • Grant, Philip A., Jr. "The Mississippi Congressional Delegation and the Formation of the Conservative Coalition, 1937-1940". Journal of Mississippi History 1988 50(1): 21-28.
  • Swain, Martha H. Pat Harrison: The New Deal Years (Jackson, Miss., 1978), the standard biography
  • Swain, Martha. "Pat Harrison and the Social Security Act of 1935". Southern Quarterly 1976 15(1): 1-14.
  • Swain, Martha H. "The Lion and the Fox: the Relationship of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Senator Pat Harrison". Journal of Mississippi History 1976 38(4): 333-359.
  • Thomas, Phyllis H. "The Role of Mississippi in the Presidential Election of 1916" Southern Quarterly 1966 4(2): 207-226.