During his eighteen years in the United States Senate, Paul H. Douglas of Illinois became nationally renowned as an advocate for the powerless in society. He became a relentless crusader for civil rights, economic reform, and other causes that favored the underdog against the rich and powerful. A man of conscience and a stubborn defender of his core principles, Douglas was a patient legislator who sometimes pursued his objectives for years before making critical breakthroughs. His single-mindedness of purpose and fierce independence won public respect but often strained relationships with other Democratic leaders such as Adlai E. Stevenson, Harry S. Truman, and Lyndon B. Johnson. He frequently demonstrated his willingness to break with his party or take unpopular stands if he judged the cause to be just. "I wanted to represent the general public interest," Douglas said. "In the struggle between concentrated private interest and diffused general interest, the private interests have all the resources and drive they need to win"
Marshall lamented that "[the civil rights act] isn't worth the paper it's written on," white supremacist Senator Strom Thurmond happily reported that Congress's actions created "a pattern of defeat for the NAACP and its spokesmen." Again, Douglas acknowledged the shortcomings of the liberals' efforts but refused to despair. He argued that the passage of the law constituted a significant achievement "because of its symbolic importance as another step toward equal justice for all our citizens, more than its probable, actual effectiveness."
The payoff for years of dogged effort and frustratingly gradual progress came with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The most far-reaching civil rights measure in American history, the 1964 law prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, religion, gender, or national origin from all public accommodations and in employment. Southerners filibustered for more than five hundred hours spread across seventy-five days, the longest debate in Senate history, before passage of a cloture petition forced consideration of the bill. Although he presented the case on the Senate floor for Title IV of the measure, which dealt with the desegregation of public schools, Douglas appeared less visible in 1964 than he had in earlier civil rights struggles in Congress. Even so, no one in Washington underestimated the essential role the Illinois senator had played in the civil rights victory. After signing the historic law in the East Room of the White House, President Lyndon B. Johnson handed out pens as souvenirs to the legislators and other public figures who had been most responsible for the bill's passage. A smiling Douglas gratefully accepted one. Paul Simon of Illinois, who later served as one of the state's United States senators, contended that "no one other than Martin Luther King is more responsible than Paul Douglas for the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act." Mindful of Douglas's invaluable contributions, King called him "the greatest of all senators."
Although Douglas's unrelenting advocacy of civil rights earned him praise in some quarters, his stand on the issue cost him support among some voters and played a large role in his failed 1966 reelection campaign. The seventy-four-year-old incumbent ran that year against a youthful and energetic Republican challenger, Charles Percy. Many factors explained the forty-seven-year-old Percy's victory in 1966, but clearly Douglas's unpopular stand on the combustible open housing issue worked against him with many Illinois voters. By the end of the campaign, open occupancy -or, as Douglas called it, "freedom of residence" - became the most volatile issue of the campaign. While Percy vacillated on the issue, Douglas consistently argued that persons should not be denied the opportunity to acquire decent housing solely on the basis of their race; such discrimination simply contradicted the tenets of the Constitution's bill of rights, he insisted. To the consternation of his advisers, Douglas seemed to take a perverse pleasure in proclaiming that position in front of the most antagonistic audiences. When speaking before notoriously conservative business groups and white homeowners associations, he insisted on confronting the issue straightforwardly and, in many cases, making it the centerpiece of his remarks. Douglas's loss in 1966 became one of the first signs of the powerful white backlash that emerged following the civil rights victories of the mid-1960s.
While Douglas's unwavering crusade for civil rights constituted his greatest legacy, he fought valiantly for a number of other causes as well. Long before environmentalism became a concern for many Americans, for example, the Illinois senator battled against industrialists despoiling the American landscape. In 1958 Douglas introduced for the first time a bill to create a public recreation preserve in the Indiana Dunes southeast of Chicago. Over the years, he had become passionate about the unspoiled beauty of the majestic dunes even as steel mills, slag heaps, and railroad yards gradually metastasized along the lakefront between Gary and Michigan City, Indiana. By the late 1950s, only 3.75 miles of shoreline remained undeveloped, and naturalists feared that this remaining sanctuary would be disfigured as well. Douglas's bill, which authorized the federal government to purchase the land and create an Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service, made little headway against the combined opposition of the steel companies and the Indiana politicians who refused to challenge the powerful economic interests intent on developing the land adjacent to Lake Michigan. Douglas vowed to continue the fight in future legislative sessions.
The battle to preserve the Indiana Dunes continued for nearly a decade. Although Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson both endorsed legislation that Douglas introduced to create a national preserve along Lake Michigan, the Indiana congressional delegation worked in conjunction with the Bethlehem, Inland, and National Steel Companies to blunt the initiative.
Success finally came in 1966, fully eight years after the Illinois senator commenced his efforts, when President Johnson signed legislation authorizing the establishment of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore on 8,721 acres in northern Indiana thirty-five miles southeast of Chicago. During the years of the political struggle, industrial expansion and residential development in the area had claimed some of the acreage Douglas had originally intended for parkland. Still, Douglas celebrated the preservation of a significant portion of the region. In later years, he often laughingly told of how, when he first went to the Senate, he had hoped to save the world. After he had been there several years, he just hoped to save the country. By the end of his career in Congress, he concluded, he just wanted to save the Indiana Dunes. In limited fashion, he did.
After many years of effort, Douglas also won a significant victory on behalf of American consumers. In 1960 he introduced a "truth in interest" bill designed to provide consumers with accurate information about the interest charged by various lending institutions. In most instances, borrowers did not know the total cost of receiving loans, and in many cases this ignorance resulted from the widespread use of deceptive methods of reporting interest rates and the price of credit. Often the practice of quoting monthly interest rates rather than annual percentages misled debtors; at other times, lenders quoted loans as "so much down and so much per month" but never revealed the actual interest rate. Unscrupulous lenders employed a host of other tactics to mislead potential customers. Douglas's bill stipulated that lenders provide all borrowers with two basic facts: the total charges for the cost of money being lent and an expression of these charges as an annual interest rate on the unpaid balance of the loan.
Douglas's bill received the avid support of labor unions, credit unions, and other consumer groups, but met vigorous opposition from banks and other lending institutions. He emphasized that his disclosure bill would not regulate credit or impose any ceilings on interest rates but only sought to provide consumers with full and accurate information so that they could make informed choices. Nevertheless, critics charged that such disclosure would confuse the public and saddle purveyors of credit with needless costs. Douglas labored unsuccessfully for truth in lending legislation for the remainder of his senatorial career, attracting increasing support but never amassing the necessary votes for passage of a bill. In 1967, the year after he left the Senate, the legislative logjam broke, and Wisconsin Senator William Proxmire's truth-in-lending bill passed. When President Johnson signed the measure, Proxmire attributed the achievement to the indefatigable efforts of Paul Douglas.
The Illinois senator's efforts to improve the lot of the underprivileged resulted in the passage of other important legislation, including Medicare, area redevelopment, and increased aid for education. Ever the realist, however, Douglas understood that reform came in fits and starts, and he acknowledged failures as well as successes. His campaign to improve the efficiency of military spending produced modest results, for example. His highly-publicized battles against pork-barrel legislation, he readily admitted, resulted in flattering newspaper headlines but also in lopsided roll-call defeats. Unable to persuade many of his senatorial colleagues to set aside the parochial interests of their home states, he finally surrendered. "I just had to give up," he said. "I couldn't take it any longer. For about ten years, I hit my head against a...wall. The people want it; they expect it; heaven help the legislator who does not deliver."
Douglas's fight against congressional logrolling, insistence on fully disclosing the details of his own finances long before other politicians did so, pioneering work on composing standards for ethics in government, political independence, and reputation for blunt honesty marked him as a man of singular probity in the nation's capital. Known as the "conscience of the Senate," he took forceful positions and never equivocated in front of hostile audiences. His persona undoubtedly contributed significantly to the political success he enjoyed in Illinois, a large and diverse state that sent a
number of conservative Republicans to Washington at the same time that Douglas won three consecutive senatorial elections. Without a doubt, Illinois voters saw him as an unabashed liberal; they also saw him as an honest and diligent public servant. Douglas's status as a straight-talking, issues-oriented politician served him well in an era before personal celebrity, pithy sound bites, and lavish campaign chests became the prerequisites for political office seeking. He won several notable victories but win or lose Douglas never wavered from his goal of being a tribune of the people.
Change most often occurs in small increments over long periods of time, as Senator Paul H. Douglas's reform efforts repeatedly demonstrated. Although he may not always have achieved "immediately spectacular" results in the areas where he fought for reform, he progressively laid essential groundwork that has allowed for change to continue to the present on such issues as civil rights, the environment, and government ethics. The following lessons will help students understand that the process of political and social change requires empathy, patience, hard work, and an understanding of how political institutions function.
Connection with the Curriculum
This material would be appropriate to teach lessons in U.S. history, Illinois history, and government. These lessons could also be included in current events units about civil rights, consumerism, the environment, and ethics.
These activities may be appropriate for Illinois Learning Standards for Social Science: 14.A.4; 14.A.5; 14.C.4; 14.D.3; 14.D.4; 14.F.4a; 14.F.4b; 14.F.5; 16.A.4a; 16.A.5a; 16.B.5a (US); 16.B.5b (US); 16.C.5b (US); 16.D.4b (US); 16.D.5 (US); 16.E.4b (US); 16.E.5a (US); 16.E.5b(US);18.B.3a.
Materials for Each Student
A copy of the narrative portion of the article
Objectives for Each Student
Identify Senator Paul Douglas's challenges and achievements in fighting for reform in the areas of civil rights, consumerism, the environment, and ethics (Activity 1).
SUGGESTIONS FOR TEACHING THE LESSON
Opening the Lesson
Senator Paul Douglas, like social reformers who came before him such as Ida Wells-Barnett and Jane Addams, empathized with those seeking social injustice. His sensitivity to the needs of dispossessed individuals in regard to basic civil rights and fair treatment motivated him to explore avenues of greater social inclusion. At the same time he was in a unique position in the United States Senate to confront the tough exterior that covered years of prejudice and preference embodied in the congressional legislative process.
In these lessons students will locate the main ideas in a narrative about Paul Douglas's advocacy for the powerless in society, write an essay based on primary and secondary sources of information, design and create a tool to identify ethical political behavior, and collaborate in groups to present information and defend positions on current reform debate.
As an introduction, the teacher may want to discuss the following terms with students:
Developing the Lesson
The lesson includes four activities
Activity 1 is to be used in conjunction with the article "Paul H. Douglas, Champion of the People." Distribute the worksheet along with the article. This exercise will allow students to find the main points in the author's article. After completion, have students review and discuss their answers in groups of two or three. Then, in a teacher-led large group discussion, draw out the main points in the article. Emphasize Douglas's determination, patience, empathy, foresight, and personality.
Activity 2 is based on an excerpt from the article "Democracy Can't Live in These Houses." (Handout for Activity 2) This portion of the lesson will allow students to synthesize ideas from primary and secondary sources and draw conclusions to support the thesis of an essay. Read the excerpt in the handout and write an essay that answers the question, "What understanding of human nature did Paul Douglas have, and how did he feel government could provide solutions to problems that individuals may face in a modern, capitalist society?"
Activity 3 is to design and create a nominating form for selecting candidates for an ethics award. Outline the kinds of background information you would need to examine in order to evaluate candidates for the award. List selection criteria you feel would be important in nominating a political leader who demonstrates good ethical behavior in government. See the Code of Ethics for Government (Handout for Activity 3) which was passed by Congress on July 11, 1958. Senator Douglas's personal example and persuasive arguments had laid the groundwork for this bill.
You may also use the Internet to find additiona ideas at these sites:
The council for Excellence in Government
Organizational Ethics Links
Paul Douglas Ethics in Government Home Page
Activity 4 is to be structured as a seminar or debate. This lesson would be especially effective as part of a current events, contemporary issues, or global issues unit or class. First, have the class brainstorm a list of current reform topics. Then, divide the class into research teams of four or five members and assign them a topic from the list. Second, take a position and present information that supports this point of view. Third, be prepared to defend this view. Consider questions such as these: What are the arguments on the other side of the issue? What special interest groups are involved in the debate? Who are the stakeholders, and how will the change affect them?
After each presentation, the rest of the class will challenge, question, or supplement the view presented. Perhaps, students could be allowed time in the library or computer lab to gather material to challenge, question, or support the views presented.
Sources students may find helpful in preparing the lesson include:
Congressional Digest magazine is available as an online service at http://www.pro-and-con.org/login.htm or by subscription
Concluding the Lesson
The teacher may help students compare Senator Douglas's reform efforts to those of other reformers or political leaders they have studied about from Illinois, the United States, or the world. Discuss the political and social climate necessary for accomplishing change. What is the role of the individual citizen or political leader in bringing about reform? What lasting contribution did Douglas make to the "process" of change? How may contemporary reform leaders "learn" from the example of Douglas?
Extending the Lesson
Research your Congressman's position on campaign finance reform.
Research and report on a recent winner of The Ethics in Government Award. See Web site at http://www.igpa.uiuc.edu/ethics/default.htm
What position would Senator Douglas favor on these issues? Why?
Assessing the Lesson
The teacher may use specific questions to test orally or on paper specific facts related to the life of Paul H. Douglas. Examples might include: How was Senator Douglas perceived by his peers? By the public? What did Douglas mean by "educating the public"? Why can Douglas be called "the conscience of the Senate"? How was he a "champion of the people"?
Broader, thought-provoking questions may be used to test the ability of students to express their historical knowledge in terms of today's world. For example, if Paul Douglas were in the Senate today, what issues would he address, what obstacles would he encounter, and what steps would he use to bring about change?
Use teacher and/or student designed rubrics to assess: (1) student-created nominating forms for ethical political behavior awards, and (2) individual and group participation in the seminars.
Why Was Paul H. Douglas a Champion of the People?
Why did Douglas fight for the underdog?
In paragraph 6 of the narrative article "Paul H. Douglas, Champion of the People," the author suggests that Paul Douglas's loss to Charles Percy for the Senate in 1966 was due at least in part to Douglas's bold, consistent, and unrelenting stand for civil rights; in particular, open occupancy in housing, or "freedom of residence," as Douglas called it.
Douglas had argued passionately almost two decades earlier for a federal housing program to clear slum areas. He expressed his ideas in an article entitled "Democracy Can't Live in These Houses," which appeared in Colliers. July 9, 1949. (See History Matters at http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/6267)
Based on information from these two articles, write an essay structured around a clear thesis statement that answers the following question: What understanding of human nature did Senator Paul Douglas have, and how did he feel government could provide solutions to problems that individuals may face in a modern, capitalist society?
Democracy Can't Live in These Houses
The Federal Housing Administration, established in 1934, helped middle-income families buy new homes and improve existing ones. Federal loans for low-cost housing, however, became available only after passage of the Wagner-Steagle Housing Act of 1937, and then only in modest amounts. To address a growing crisis, President Harry S. Truman, as part of his "Fair Deal" initiative, called for new slum clearance and housing legislation. Despite accusations of "socialized housing" and opposition from the real estate and construction industries, on July 15, 1949, Truman signed into law a bill providing $1.5 billion in loans and grants. Available to localities, this money would, in the President's words, "open up the prospect of decent homes in wholesome surroundings for low-income families now living in the squalor of the slums." In the following article published just prior to the bill's passage, Illinois Senator Paul Douglas, a professor of economics and former New Deal supporter, argued for effective legislation. Despite the law's progressive intent, urban renewal programs ultimately destroyed formerly vibrant neighborhoods. These programs were also used throughout the South and in Northern cities to strengthen segregation by relocating African-Americans away from white school districts.
Democracy Can't Live in These Houses
Whatever the federal government has done or proposes to do about housing, it is a dangerous fact that millions of Americans are shabbily sheltered and living in filthy, malignant slum areas that are growing both in size and in their threat to the physical and political health of our country. Any slum-clearance legislation passed by Congress would have to be followed up by action in states and cities, and by continuous Congressional action.
We Americans like to think of the typical home as a vine-clad cottage, with roses growing on trellises, and trees and grass in the yard; and with all this we associate the pleasing and lively sounds of healthy children at play. It is one of the glories of America that so many of our homes are of that kindor, at least, equally attractive.
But it is one of our moral, political and economic responsibilities to do something to lift more homes at least to the minimum level for satisfactory living. The 15,000,000 or more Americans who live in the blighted areas are not inferior to the rest of us. They are only less fortunate. Imagine how you would feel if you and your family were housed as they are. Trouble does not come from men who live agreeable lives. It breeds among men who are frustrated, ashamed and envious.
Some people seem to think that slums are what they are because of the character and capacity of the people who live in them. That is not true. Environment to a considerable degree determines the way men act. The extremely strong or the extremely lucky can break free from the handicaps which surround them. Unfortunately not many have exceptional luck or strength.
Clifford R. Shaw made a careful study of bad localities in Chicago, and in his book, Delinquency Areas, he presents some facts that will bring you up short.
For example, he found slum areas in which years ago most of the residents were Irish. The juvenile delinquency rate was from 12 to 14 times that of normal neighborhoods. The Irish in these blighted areas began rising in the world, and moved out. Italians moved in. Juvenile delinquency among the Italian youth was almost exactly what it had been when the Irish were there. The Italians moved out and Jews moved in. The delinquency story was repeated. The Jews moved out, and Negroes moved in. Again, the delinquency rate in these blighted sections was some 12 to 14 times that of cleaner neighborhoods.
If I can interpret facts, this means that the living conditions, and not race or religion or color, largely determine delinquency rates.
When the Farm Security Administration began its relief activities in the days of the depression, only rural families who were completely down and out could qualify for its program. If a farmer had means or could get credit, Farm Security could not take him on. Failure was the qualification for getting in under Farm Security. In the South, and elsewhere, this meant that only those who generally were thought of as "shiftless" or "worthless" were assisted. And what do you think happened?
Faith in Human Nature Justified
When the government helped them, about 90 per cent of these people moved swiftly to better living than they ever had known, and paid back the loans the government had made to them. Of those who did not make good, some were sick, and a fewperhaps 5 per centwere shiftless and worthless.
Farm Security first found reasonably fertile land and reasonably habitable houses for those in need of help. Then it set them up with loans for equipment and work clothes, and even a few dollars for window curtains.
That window curtain item evoked some loud yells of protest, but it was wise. Curtains, bright colors, mean something to women. These people, who had not imagined they ever could have such a luxury as curtains, aspired to new heights of living when they saw them in their own homes. Hundreds of thousands of "shiftless" and "worthless" rural slum dwellers, who never had known the possibility or even the meaning of thrift, became thrifty producers and canners of food. Never before had they had a reason for storage shelves.
These people could not have done this by themselves, and private landlords could not have done it for them. They had to have help, and the national government was the only source from which effective help could come at that time.
The people who dwell in the urban slums today can't get out by themselves, either. They require help. Where is it to come from?
The fact that upward of 4,000,000 dwelling units exist in blighted areasand many of them are very oldis pretty good evidence that private capital cannot solve the housing problem. Private enterprise is always alert for profitable investment. It must make a profit in order to survive. If slums could have been cleared and decent dwellings put up for the slum families, at a profit to private investors, it would have been done. But private enterprise should not be expected to commit suicide by plunging into enterprises that cannot possibly pay out. Men who finance great private works do so, usually, partly with the money of other persons. They have no right deliberately to lose it, even for the worthiest of social causes.
I would favor solving the housing problem by private effort, if it could be done that way. But since it cannot, I think the national government must do it. When the soil resources of this nation were threatened by erosion, the national government properly set to work to save them. It must act similarly when human resources are threatened. States and municipalities generally have not the means to do what must be done.
Anyway, the problem, the responsibility and the dangers are national. . . .
The Danger of Complacency
Some of you may imagine that because you live in nice small towns where the refreshing air of heaven circulates freely, the cleansing rays of the sun penetrate every room and yard, and rats do not congregate nightly around garbage cans and outside privies, you are immune to the threat of the blighted areas. I beg you, if you imagine yourself safe, to stop and think. If, because of depression in some future decade, we should have dangerous unrest, the consequences would not be confined to the areas where the unrest is most likely to develop first. If some dreadful disease should begin in one area, it might spread anywhere.
Responsibility to do something to clear the blighted living areas is not limited to morality or to national pride. National internal security demands that something effective be done. National health demands it. Protection of your own health and protection of you and your family from crime require it....
Source: Paul Douglas, "Democracy Can't Live in These Houses," Collier's , 9 July 1949, 22, 50.
Code of Ethics for Government Service
Resolved by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring), that it is the sense of the Congress that the following Code of Ethics should be adhered to by all Government employees, including officeholders:
CODE OF ETHICS FOR GOVERNMENT
Any person in Government service should:
2. Uphold the Constitution, laws, and legal regulations of the United States and all governments therein and never be a party to their evasion.
3. Give a full day's labor for a full day's pay; giving to the performance of his duties his earnest effort and best thought.
4. Seek to find and employ more efficient and economical ways of getting tasks accomplished.
5. Never discriminate unfairly by the dispensing of special favors or privileges by anyone, whether for remuneration or not; and never accept for himself or his family, favors or benefits under circumstances which might be construed by reasonable persons as influencing the performance of his governmental duties.
6. Make no private promises of any kind binding upon the duties of office, since a Government employee has no private word which can be binding on public duty.
7. Engage in no business with the Government, either directly or indirectly, which is inconsistent with the conscientious performance of his governmental duties.
8. Never use any information coming to him in confidentiality in the performance of governmental duties as a means of making private profit.
9. Expose corruption whenever discovered.
10. Uphold these principles, ever conscious that public office is a public trust.
(Passed July 11, 1958)