Harry F. Byrd

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Harry F. Byrd in 1926-1930

Harry Flood Byrd Sr. (June 10, 1887 – October 20, 1966) was an American newspaper publisher, politician, and leader of the Democratic Party in Virginia for four decades as head of a political faction that became known as the Byrd Organization. Byrd served as Virginia's governor from 1926 until 1930, then represented it as a United States Senator from 1933 until 1965. He came to lead the "conservative coalition" in the United States Senate, and opposed President Franklin D. Roosevelt, largely blocking most liberal legislation after 1937. His son Harry Jr. succeeded him as U.S. Senator, but ran as an Independent following the decline of the Byrd Organization.

If we can organize the Southern states for massive resistance to this order... the rest of the country will realize that racial integration is not going to be accepted in the South.
Harry F. Byrd
Byrd on 4 August 1937

Quotes[edit]

  • I favor a strong military but, if wartime spending is to be made a part of our budget in peacetime, and continued for many years, our system simply will not stand it.
    • Remark to Douglas Southall Freeman on 7 February 1948, preserved in Box 85 of the Freeman Papers. As quoted by Ronald L. Heinemann, Harry Byrd of Virginia (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1996), p. 251
  • If we can organize the Southern states for massive resistance to this order... the rest of the country will realize that racial integration is not going to be accepted in the South.
    • Excerpt from Byrd's 1956 announcement of Virginia's strategy for responding to growing pressure from the U.S. government and U.S. Supreme Court to end racial segregation. As quoted by Ty Seidule in Robert E. Lee and Me: A Southerner's Reckoning with the Myth of the Lost Cause (2020), p. 66

Quotes about Byrd[edit]

Incontestably what runs Virginia is the Byrd machine, the most urbane and genteel dictatorship in America. A real machine it is, though Senator Harry Flood Byrd himself faced more opposition in 1946 than at any time in his long, suave, and distinguished public career. ~ John Gunther
There are limits to what government can accomplish, dangers in long-term unbalanced budgets, and liabilities in dependence on the welfare state- for rich and poor alike. Byrd's flaw was that he did not translate these forebodings into imaginative solutions to the problems of modern society but instead fell back on old clichés and a narrow individualistic ethic that was no longer serviceable, a sterile legacy to show for thirty years of service. ~ Ronald L. Heinemann
He spent his remaining days at Rosemont, mostly bedridden, but not without having one last small impact on Virginia politics. On the eve of his son's reelection bid, he lapsed into a coma, and out of respect for him, the campaign was halted. Days later, Harry Jr. won a narrow victory over Armistead Boothe in the Democratic primary, but Willis Robertson and Howard Smith went down to defeat. The Old Guard had passed. ~ Ronald L. Heinemann
  • Incontestably what runs Virginia is the Byrd machine, the most urbane and genteel dictatorship in America. A real machine it is, though Senator Harry Flood Byrd himself faced more opposition in 1946 than at any time in his long, suave, and distinguished public career.
  • Byrd entered the Senate at a time when his America of farms and small towns, formerly insulated from the shocks of world affairs and modernization, was dying. Rather than adjust to the revolutionary changes that occurred over the course of his lifetime, he chose to contest their inroads, becoming a cipher whose predictable negativism and welfare legislation revealed a parochialism that bordered on meanness and miserliness. Driven by a desire to preserve the old order, Byrd spent over thirty years fighting ever-increasing federal bureaucracies and budgets, protecting states' rights from intrusions by Washington, and defending racial segregation. Focusing attention on waste in government and pressing for reductions in federal spending, he won some minor skirmishes, but he lost most of the battles. His political philosophy of unregulated individualism and limited government was no longer appropriate for the modern world. Much of his personal value system remained sound- hard work, thrift, initiative, and responsibility- but the demands of the highly technological, mass consumer, global society called for modifications to this individualistic ethic through community planning, resource management, public assistance for the dependent, aid to education, and international commitments. Without a political opposition that might have forced him to reevaluate his position, Byrd could not overcome the limitations of his upbringing and his experience. He remained caught in the time warp of the early twentieth century when the nation was still closely tied to the libertarian principles of the old yeomanry.
    • Ronald L. Heinemann, Harry Byrd of Virginia (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1996), p. 419
  • Nevertheless, there was merit in the manner of the man and the portent of his prognostications. His major contribution as a senator was his repeated warning about the dangers of excessive federal spending, a warning that had more substance twenty years after his retirement than it did during the prosperous post-World War II years. There are limits to what government can accomplish, dangers in long-term unbalanced budgets, and liabilities in dependence on the welfare state- for rich and poor alike. Byrd's flaw was that he did not translate these forebodings into imaginative solutions to the problems of modern society but instead fell back on old clichés and a narrow individualistic ethic that was no longer serviceable, a sterile legacy to show for thirty years of service.
    Harry Byrd's retirement was short-lived. A few months later, as his condition deteriorated, he was diagnosed as having an inoperable brain tumor. He spent his remaining days at Rosemont, mostly bedridden, but not without having one last small impact on Virginia politics. On the eve of his son's reelection bid, he lapsed into a coma, and out of respect for him, the campaign was halted. Days later, Harry Jr. won a narrow victory over Armistead Boothe in the Democratic primary, but Willis Robertson and Howard Smith went down to defeat. The Old Guard had passed. On October 20, 1966, Harry Flood Byrd died in the same room where his wife had died two years earlier. He was buried next to her on a hill overlooking Winchester and the Valley and mountains he loved so much.
    • Ronald L. Heinemann, Harry Byrd of Virginia (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1996), p. 419-420
  • Byrd was born out of his time and into the wrong political party.
    • Benjamin Muse, writing for the Manassas Messenger on 26 April 1949, as quoted by Ronald L. Heinemann, Harry Byrd of Virginia (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1996), p. 295
  • A talented man, Byrd chose to stand outside the broad currents of his time and to set his face against the future... He began as a force and ended as an anachronism.
    • New York Times editorial following Byrd's retirement from the United States Senate, dated 14 November 1965, as quoted by Ronald L. Heinemann, Harry Byrd of Virginia (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1996), p. 419
  • When the Supreme Court issued its decision in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, it overturned one aspect of the carefully constructed system of the racial police state in the South. Virginia did not accept the Supreme Court's decision. Initially, the Virginia governor Lindsay Almond counseled moderation, but the U.S. senator Harry Byrd, who controlled Virginia politics with an iron fist, reacted with fury when he heard Almond would acquiesce to the highest court in the land. "The top blew off the U.S. Capitol," Almond recalled. Byrd announced the state's strategy in 1956: "If we can organize the Southern states for massive resistance order... the rest of the country will realize that racial integration is not going to be accepted in the South." Almond was soon on board, declaring, "We will oppose with every facility at our command, and with every ounce of our energy, the attempt being made to mix the white and Negro races in our classrooms." Virginia followed that pronouncement with laws to back up its position, ordering schools to shutter rather than integrate.
    • Ty Seidule, Robert E. Lee and Me: A Southerner's Reckoning with the Myth of the Lost Cause (2020), p. 66-67
  • In 1958, Charlottesville and Norfolk schools as well as those in Prince Edward and Warren Counties closed by order of the governor. Thousands of schoolchildren went without education for half a decade so Virginia could, once again, maintain its racial code. The general assembly also created a voucher system using public funds to allow white parents to send their children to private schools. The federal courts ruled the closures and the vouchers unconstitutional, but Harry Byrd would not give up. He tried to persuade Governor Almond to call out the National Guard. One unverified account of the meeting suggests Byrd ordered Almond to shoot children if necessary. Almond allegedly replied, "I'll do it, Harry, if you put it in writing." White supremacists rarely give up their power without a fight. Almond finally relented, and token integration began peacefully in February 1959.
    • Ty Seidule, Robert E. Lee and Me: A Southerner's Reckoning with the Myth of the Lost Cause (2020), p. 67

External links[edit]

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