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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 1,412

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This is the grave of T.F. Green.

Born in 1867 in Providence, Rhode Island, Theodore Francis Green grew up pretty well off. His father was a prominent lawyer. Green went to Brown, graduating in 1887 and then getting a master’s degree from there in 1888. He then went to Harvard Law and then to the University of Bonn in Germany in the early 1890s. He was admitted to the bar in Rhode Island in 1892 and threw himself into civic, political, and business life. Green was one of those political types who really have no interests other than the life around that. He never married and I don’t think dated either. What that means, I have no idea.

Green was one of the wealthy volunteers who rushed to fight in the Spanish American War, serving as a first lieutenant in the Rhode Island Militia. He came back and got involved both in business and in Rhode Island Democratic Party politics. The former was there to promote the latter. He was a successful businessman and was president of a couple of companies over the years. But his real interest was the Democratic Party.

Now Rhode Island was a very undemocratic state. It had adopted the kind of political arrangement at the state level that existed in places in the South, which was that the state senate was designed to be controlled by conservatives through the old practice of giving each town one representative. This meant that the tiniest little hamlet had the same representation as Providence. In New England, this meant rock-ribbed Republicanism, whether the people actually wanted it or not. Reminds one of a certain political party today, no? Green dedicated his life to overcoming this.

Green started his political career in the state legislature in 1907. He became the stalwart Rhode Island Democrat for the rest of his very long life. He was the frequent candidate for governor, which meant losing over and over again. But unlike today, where when someone loses they are considered finished (by and large), at this point that wasn’t the case. He was the guy to build the party if anyone was.

The turning point came in 1932. That year, Green won the race for governor, thanks to the Republican Party being completely discredited nationally. This did not last very long. By 1938, Republicans came roaring back. But in the early 30s, long-standing political change was possible. Beginning in the 1930 midterms, Republicans just got wiped out and that would continue through 1936. In Rhode Island, this meant that not only was Green governor, but Democrats won enough seats in 1934 to actually control the state Senate finally. Well, sort of. At that point, there was only one goal–proportional representation. This was key as well because the governor position in Rhode Island was very weak at this time, with the real power in the Senate, including the power of appointment in many areas. Senators decided who the state judges would be, for instance. Like, they nominated them and the governor had no choice but to go along. Green obviously wanted all of this to end.

But to be clear, there were shenanigans involved from Democrats. In fact, according to the vote count, Republicans did still control the state senate 22-20. But there were three contested races, two that would have gone to the Republicans and one to the Democrats. A special commission was formed to decide them and they were all thrown to the Democrats. This was almost certainly bogus. But Green was determined to turn Rhode Island into a Democratic state, not to mention a democratic state, and the only way to do this was to engage in some non-democratic actions. Democrats then purged the entire state government of Republicans. This, the most important moment in the state’s 20th century political history, became known locally as the Bloodless Revolution and thanks to the state’s strong urban cores, it has remained a solidly Democratic state ever since, to the point that the Republican Party is effectively irrelevant. It also means that the state legislature in Rhode Island is the most conservative set of Democrats in a legislature in the nation, since all being a Democrat means in Rhode Island is “I want power.”

Well anyway, Green kept pressing his advantage. Now that he had accomplished the dream of the Rhode Island Democratic Party, he wanted the reward. In 1936, though he was already 69 years old, he decided to run for Senate. He won, defeating the incumbent Jesse Metcalf and remained in the Senate until he was 93. Yep, four full terms for the old man. At first, Green was pretty good. Strong supporter of FDR and everything about the New Deal. It won’t surprise you that a guy who had played dirty in Rhode Island to create more democracy in the end would be a very strong court packing supporter. He was a big time internationalist who wanted to support the British at the beginning of World War II and urged preparedness at home. He was a free trade liberal who also supported basically all civil rights legislation. He did a lot of work on the Civil Rights Act of 1957 in the Senate, making himself an ally of Lyndon Johnson. He hated Joe McCarthy and fought against the Cold War repression of civil liberties.

Green also remained a serious foreign policy figure through his time in the Senate, at least until he got so old that he wasn’t really any good anymore. He supported the UN and Truman’s Cold War politics. He was a strong liberal, but most certainly no communist, so a switch to Cold War liberalism was not hard for him. He was dismayed to say the least when Republicans took the Senate during the 50s for awhile, but could work with Eisenhower at least to some extent, though he strongly opposed any reduction in the foreign aid programs that Republicans mistrusted. Thanks to seniority rules, it took him forever to hold the chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, but he finally managed it for one congressional term, from 1957 to 1959. At the age of 92, he finally decided that he could not functionally run the committee (whether this was actually decided for him, I don’t know, but this has a strong Dianne Feinstein smell to it). He didn’t resign from the Senate though, no no. Impossible. He demanded to run out his term, which finally ended in 1962. At the age of 95, he left the Senate.

Green died in 1966. He was 98 years old.

T.F. Green is buried in Swan Point Cemetery, Providence, Rhode Island.

If you would like this series to visit other senators elected in 1936, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Pat Harrison is in Gulfport, Mississippi and William Bulow is in Beresford, South Dakota. Couple real memorable guys there! Previous posts in this series are archived here and here.

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