Home / Maryland / Most Prominent Politicians (VII): Maryland

Most Prominent Politicians (VII): Maryland


Maryland has a surprisingly lame history of prominent politicians. Given its proximity to the nation’s capital and its relatively high population for a small state, one might expect more from Maryland. The top 10 list is pretty thin and includes some pretty unsavory characters. Supreme Court justices lead us off.

1. Roger Taney–Supreme Court justice notorious for writing the opinion in the Dred Scott case.

2. Thurgood Marshall–not really a politician, but as a Supreme Court justice and gamechanger in American racial history, obviously deserves a high place on this list.

3. Spiro Agnew–it’s always good times to think about Nixon’s hippie-punching and race baiting vice president.

4. Samuel Chase–Supreme Court justice from 1796 to 1811; most famous for being impeached by angry Jeffersonians in 1804.

5. Paul Sarbanes–Senator from 1977 to 2007, making him the longest serving senator in Maryland history. Not really all that prominent but is well-known for cosponsoring the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 which reformed securities law.

6. William Pinkney–Long-term Jeffersonian politician, Attorney General under James Madison

7. Millard Tydings–Senator from 1927-51. Most famous for cosponsoring the Tydings-McDuffie Act of 1934, which provided for the eventual independence of the Philippines and ensured that Filipinos could no longer migrate to the United States. I always loved this law–we gave up colonialism in order to prevent Asian immigration! Tydings was later redbaited by Joe McCarthy and lost the 1950 election because of it.

8. Charles Carroll of Carrollton–signer of Declaration of Independence. The only Catholic to sign and the last surviving signer.

9. Gabriel Duvall–Supreme Court justice from 1811-35. Follower of John Marshall and made little name for himself. Averaged less than one written decision a year (17 written decisions in 24 years).

10. James Pearce–Senator from 1843-62. A Whig who switched to the Democrats after the Whig Party’s decline. Not much of a player. Chairman of the Committee on the Library (!). Did serve as Chairman of the Committee on Finance for 2 months in 1861.

Was it as lame as you expected? Probably lamer.

Next: South Carolina. That ought to be interesting.

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  • nitpix

    You mean ‘its’, ‘its’, ‘race-baiting’, and Charles Carroll, not John Carroll.

    • Yes, John was Charles’ cousin.

      • mattc

        I went to Carroll College in Wisconsin. Apparently, Carroll was the only signer of the Constitution not to have a college or university named after him, so the good folks of Wisconsin decided to throw him a bone.

        • Bill Murray

          He also helped Nicholas Cage’s career so he has that going for him

          • Davis

            Carroll is the only founder whose descendants still live on the family estate, just a fraction of what it once was.

            Mathias deserves a place as one of the last truly liberal Republicans.

  • CapnMidnight

    Tommy Carcetti! After presiding as mayor of Baltimore over the strange phenomenon of Hamsterdam and the redevelopment of the grain pier, he went on to even greater success on the Small Council of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, eventually rising to be Master of Coin to the first two Baratheon kings, and a succesful businessman besides. Now that’s prominence.

    • Carcetti!

    • Sharon

      O’Malley really can’t stand that guy.

    • John

      It was Mayor Royce who presided over Hamsterdam, surely?

      • CapnMidnight

        You’re right. I should have cited his handling of the schools-budget crisis.

    • Warren Terra

      Shee-ee-ee-it, no love for Clay Davis?

      • CapnMidnight

        There’s a guy who could do some work in Kings Landing.

  • Malaclypse

    Why was Marshall the only one of the four SC Justices listed to be “not really a politician”? Or did you start with him at #1? I’m just curious how this caveat belongs with just him.

    • I guess just because his pre-Supreme Court career is so robust.

      • I was surprised you didn’t lead off with his pre-SCOTUS career, which was arguably more significant in American history than his time on the court.

        • DrDick

          Depends on what you mean by significant. His decision in Worchester v. Georgia laid the foundation for all subsequent Indian law and gave Indian tribes a globally unique position in US law.

          • DrDick

            Also it precipitated a constitutional crisis. It is the case where Jackson is apocryphally supposed to have said, “Mr. Justice Marshall has made his law, now let him enforce it.”

            • DrDick

              Oops, wrong Justice Marshall. Shows my professional bias that I always assume Justice John Marshall.

              • I thought we were talking about the actress who played Shirley.

      • Malaclypse

        Fair enough. Not sure I would characterize arguing and winning Brown as non-political though.

        • Though to be equally fair, much of the pre-SC political things he achieved weren’t as a politician per se; at least in this case, I don’t think it’s unfair to say “non-politician” and “political” are entirely different things.

        • We had this discussion with MLK not appearing on the Georgia list.

          Can’t say that I agree with the choice, although admittedly “Most Prominent Officeholders Except Some Revolutionary-Era Men Whose Contributions Predate the Offices Themselves” doesn’t quite have the same ring as the present series title.

  • John

    Taney and Chase were certainly politicians as well as judges. Not really sure about Duvall.

    Possibly absences:

    Reverdy Johnson, Attorney General under Taylor and a senator, defended Mary Surratt, played by Tom Wilkinson in a recent movie.

    Thomas Hicks, governor in the early years of the Civil War, his prompt action helped keep Maryland in the Union.

    Luther Martin, one of the leading critics of the proposed Constitution at the constitutional convention; also a drunk

    But, yeah, a very weak crop.

    • This actually reminds me that I want to create a list of who has played 19th century politicians in movies.

  • Parris Glendening, the governor who implemented the first significant Smart Growth policy in the U.S., and put the concept into the national agenda.

    And who had perhaps the most awesome name of any 20th century political figure.

    • You know, it’s almost as if nobody actually gives a damn about Smart Growth.

      Almost. But, of course, that’s crazy talk.

      Excuse me, sir, can I have a moment of your time to talk to you about zoning reform…hey, where are you going?

  • Dirty Davey

    Are you looking only at national-level political participation?

    At a strictly intramural level there’s something to be said for Baltimore Mayor/ Governor/ Comptroller William Donald Schaefer.

    Also Agnew’s successor in Annapolis, Marvin Mandel–House speaker, chosen by the legislature to replace Agnew (as there was not then a Lt Gov), and then spent time in federal prison before getting the convictions overturned in the 1980s.

    And going back slightly farther, four-term Governor Albert Ritchie (1920-1934), who was somewhat seriously considered for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1924 and was at least somewhat in the running in 1932.

    • Sharon

      Marvin and Barbara also got popped trying to spirit antiques from the Governor’s mansion when the Mandels moved out of the Governor’s Mansion after Marvin’s conviction.

      Good times.

      • Dirty Davey

        Not Barbara–Jeannie. Barbara was the first wife who stayed in the mansion until the divorce came through. Jeannie Dorsey was who Mandel was having an affair with, who he married the day after the divorce, and who helped “move out” of the mansion.

  • Malaclypse

    Kurt Schmoke, who I think was the first elected politician (meaning Hunter Thompson doesn’t count) to call for an end to the war on drugs.

  • partisan

    Doesn’t Barbara Mikulski deserve something? All female senators before had (a) been widows of male politicins (Carraway, Smith), (b) been the daughter of prominent male politicians (Kassebaum), or (c) defeated after one term (Hawkins).

    • efgoldman

      Second Mikulski!

      • Sasha

        I also support Mikulski. And if you accept MY definition of politicians, you’d include Harriet Tubman.

        • dbwhite

          ..and Frederick Douglass

  • efgoldman

    I understand that you’rr going on Time magazine’s old “Man of the Year” theory – prominent for good or ill (that’s why they named both Hitler and Stalin over the years).
    But Spiro Agnew? Really?
    The man was nothing but a small-time grifter.
    I think of him as the Sarah Palin of the 1960s.

    • Malaclypse

      The man was nothing but a small-time grifter.

      I think if you reach the vice-presidency, you qualify as a big-time grifter.

      • efgoldman

        Small time is as small time does.
        The bribery for which he pleaded no contest was done in the state house.

    • Tom Paxton’s “Ballad of Spiro Agnew”:

      “I’ll sing of Spiro Agnew
      And all the things he’s done.”

      That’s it. No second verse. Sometimes he sang it as “And all the good he’s done” which struck me as more accurate. He did a version of it for Reagan as well, with the “all the good things he’s done” line.

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  • Jay B.

    No Barbara Mikulski?

    She’s the longest serving woman senator in history, which is a more notable achievement than anything Pearce did.

    And Thomas D’Alesandro not only had a decent New Dealer record and fought FDR’s conservative Jewish emigration policy during WWII, he also was mayor of B’more and, of course, the former Speaker’s dad.

    • scythia

      Second D’Alesandro, both father and west-coast daughter.

    • mark f

      On the other hand, Pearce was apparently Chairman of the Committee on the Library, which unfortunately trumps Mikulski’s career lack of chairmanships.

  • LuckyJimJD

    “Millard Tydings–Senator from 1927-51. Most famous for cosponsoring the Tydings-McDuffie Act of 1934”

    He might be better known these days as the namesake of an otherwise nondescript bridge along I-95 north of Baltimore.

  • efgoldman

    Sarbanes first came to wide attention as a member of the House Judiciary committee for the Watergate hearings. He was one of several members who used the TV time eventually to win higher office.

    • Indeed. There was a great quote from him during that time that I used to carry in my pocket.

  • Humanities Grad

    Nice to see Tydings getting a bit of attention.

    It should be noted, though, that the role of racism in the U.S. anti-imperialist movement goes back a lot farther than Tydings-McDuffie. It played a significant role in the debate over whether the U.S. should acquire the Philippines after the Spanish-American War.

    There were two very distinct groups within the anti-imperialist camp. The first group were what I’d call “principled anti-imperialists,” led by Senator George Frisbee Hoar of Massachusetts. Their argument was that the holding of colonies by the United States was in conflict with the values upon which the nation had been founded.

    But there was also a lot of American “antis” who based their opposition to the acquisition of the Philippines explicitly on racial grounds. They were afraid that intercourse (literally) with the Filipinos would pollute the white race. They were also terrified by the possibility that the Philippines might someday be incorporated into the U.S. as a state or as several states, because prior to 1898 almost every bit of land that the U.S. had bought/fought for/stolen had eventually become part of the nation itself. Adding a few million Filipinos to U.S. voter rolls was NOT an idea that appealed to them.

    As far as Tydings-McDuffie goes, I’m sure that the immigration issue played a role in securing its passage, but most narratives on the Act suggest that economic issues were more important. The U.S. was still struggling with the Great Depression, and granting the Philippines their independence would have the effect of pushing the islands outside the U.S. tariff wall. That way, its agricultural products wouldn’t be competing on an equal footing with those of producers in the U.S.

    • efgoldman

      We (MA) had a senator named Frisbee?
      How cool is that!

      • Warren Terra

        No – MA had a senator named Frisbie. And New England had a pie-baking institution called the Frisbie Baking Company, whose name Wham-O later adapted to “Frisbee”.

        • You say whatever you want, Warren.

          I’m sticking with Senator Frisbee Whore.

        • efgoldman

          Yeah, but my way is funnier.

          • Malaclypse

            Yeah, but my way is funnier.

            Your way also has truthiness.

            • efgoldman

              Truthiness and funniness are not mutually exclusive.

    • Hogan

      Tydings: the second most prominent Millard in US political history.

  • rea

    Montgomery Blair, Lincoln’s postmaster general, Dred Scott’s attorney, and prominent Lincoln supporter. His dad, Francis Preston Sr., was also a major political figure, but might be allocated to Kentucky rather than Maryland, despite founding the town of Silver Springs. The third Blair, Francis Preston Jr., gets assigned to Missouri.

    Montgomery Blair was also Montgomery Cliff’s great grandfather.

    • hamletta

      It’s “Silver Spring.” Major pet peeve of mine.

      And I concur with the nomination for Barbara Mikulski.

    • Brett Turner

      Meh. The Blairs were the worst racists in the 1860s Republican party, almost as bad as the Democrats.

      Montgomery was cast out of Lincoln’s cabinet at the bequest of the Radicals as the 1864 campaign started to get under way, probably as part of a deal to withdraw a potential Radical Republican third-party candidacy. They had limited influence after that.

      Mikulski would be on my list.

    • I always think of the Blairs as from Missouri, so that’s a good one that deserves a spot, and probably fairly high given the general lameness.

  • snarkout

    Reverdy Johnson was my suggestion in an earlier comments thread; the first two Secretaries of the Navy, Benjamin Stoddert and Robert Smith, are also possibilities.

  • Incontinentia Buttocks

    How about Mac Mathias? One of the (nationally) leading liberal Republicans in the Senate as liberal Republicanism was dying in the ’70s and ’80s.

    Nor hugely significant, I’ll grant, but perhaps more significant than James Pearce.

  • I’d have put Thurgood Marshall ahead of Roger Taney. Yeah, I know Taney was the Chief, and I know that Dred Scott led directly to the Civil War. But Taney isn’t known for much more than that one case these days, and Marshall did more than his part to heal the wounds Taney helped inflict, both as an advocate and as a jurist. Just on a question of wanting to recognize good instead of evil, Marshall should have got the nod for #1.

    • Scott Lemieux

      Dred Scott led directly to the Civil War

      Dred Scott was profoundly immoral, but it had essentially nothing to do with the Civil War happening. The result of deciding the case correctly would have been that the war would have happened sooner (cf. the 1860 election), and had the Court not done anything the Democratic coalition would have collapsed over Lecompton and other issues in any case (which is why Buchanan and the Democratic leadership in Congress wanted the Court to intervene.)

  • cpinva

    fortunately for south carolina, prominent doesn’t mean a positive influence. if it did, you might well have to skip the state entirely.

  • Jestak

    Reverdy Johnson was one alternative possibility I came up with. Another was John Eager Howard, Revolutionary War general, Governor and Senator during the early national period and Vice-Presidential nominee for the Federalists in 1816.

  • Vance Maverick

    Is there a tag or rubric link for this excellent series? If not, there should be….

    • Should be under “Most Prominent Politicians”

  • Jim Lynch

    As a native San Franciscan, I shudder to consider some-if-not-most of the worthies from California that will be included in your listing of Golden State politicians.

    • Warren Terra

      Out of deference to the sensibilities of the Republicans, the only name on the California list, occupying all ten places, will be Ronald The Reagan.

      • DrDick

        That is properly St. Ronald The Reagan.

        • efgoldman

          More properly:
          Saint Ronaldus Magnus Reagan

          [if I knew how to change and enlarge the font, I would, to some kind of Olde Englishe thingy or other]

          St. Ronny, for short.

  • ScottC

    Pinkney, Duval, and Pearce over Reverdy Johnson, Montgomery Blair, and Luther Martin? I disagree. But I certainly agree with the assessment that Maryland has produced a peculiarly short list of prominent politicos, and that Taney & T. Marshall should top this list.

  • jafd

    Surprised that no one’s mentioned Rep. George H. Fallon of Baltimore, chairman of the Subcommittee on Roads in the House Committee on Public Works in 1955-56, and leading shaper of the compromise that became The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956.

    It’s probable that the Interstates would have gotten built sooner or later, and the question of whether they were paid for from long-term bond issues, or ‘as-you-go’ from gas and tire taxes is historical trivia today. Certainly Senators Prescott Bush and Al Gore, Sr, the leading spokesmen for their parties’ positions on this question, might be surprised at the place this holds in their historical memory. (Speculation on what Al Jr. might say to his father, given a time machine, is left to my fellow LGM denizens.)

  • anonymous

    Chris Van Hollen is pretty darn good, and he’s young enough that eventually he might be considered sufficiently “historical” for this sort of list. (Note,though, he wasn’t born or raised in Maryland.)

  • William Wirt, Monroe’s Attorney-General, prosecutor of Burr, lawyer for the Cherokees, third party candidate for president.

    Surely more important than the SOB Chase, whose malice exceeded his competence. He didn’t do much to the Democrats, except in not being removed after his impeachment.

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