George Norris was born in 1861 in Ohio. He was the eleventh child of largely poor and uneducated parents. He was able to rise above his start in life and eventually earned a law degree and practiced as an attorney in Nebraska.
He became active in politics and ran as a Republican for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1902. He served five terms in the U.S. House and five terms in the U.S. Senate. His service in Congress lasted 40 years, making him one of the longest-serving elected leaders.
While he began his career as a traditional Republican, he became an independent thinker. In1906 he voted against the railroads that had supported him and voted for regulations that were favorable to his constituency. Later he would lead a campaign against the autocratic rule of the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
While he was a Republican, he frequently supported Democratic causes he felt were beneficial to the public. Perhaps he is best known for the creation of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). This was especially notable because the TVA would not benefit his own constituents, but it would benefit a large section of rural America that had no access to electricity. The TVA legislation had been vetoed twice by Republican presidents before President Franklin Roosevelt signed it into law.
As a man of conscience, Senator Norris opposed the entry of the U.S. into World War I because “war brings no prosperity to the great mass of common and patriotic citizens.” He was in favor of prohibition as an evil destroying the homes of Americans. He was a strong proponent of labor unions and opposed the use of court injunctions against strikes.
His vetoes often seemed contradictory. He opposed anti-lynching legislation because he thought it was unconstitutional but supported legislation against poll taxes. He opposed President Roosevelt’s efforts to increase the size of the Supreme Court. He initially opposed the entry of the U.S. into World War II until he saw the atrocities of the Japanese in their invasion of China.
He was unable to win the nomination of either party in the 1942 elections and retired and returned to his hometown in Nebraska. He is generally considered to be one of the five best Senators in the U.S. Just imagine how long a person of Senator Norris’ conscience and courage would remain in office today. His 40 years of service is a hope for America that we could return to electing those who have the best interests of their constituents in mind rather than the orthodoxy of a political party.
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“To get good government and retain it, it is necessary that a liberty-loving, educated, intelligent people should be ever watchful, to carefully guard and protect their rights and liberties.” – George Norris