19th Century Era
4. Stephen Douglas,D-Ill., 1813-61: Best known for beating Abraham Lincoln in 1858 but losing to him in the presidential contest two years later, Douglas’ biggest legacy in the Senate was his championing of the cause of "popular sovereignty," which said that states and territories could decide the slavery issue. The Supreme Court struck down part of that in its Dred Scott decision, noting that territories and Congress had no right to prohibit slavery. He was influential in the passing of the Compromise of 1850, which preserved the union temporarily. But he then authored the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, applying popular sovereignty as the nation expanded. It worked with the territories of Utah and Nevada, but at this time, it further divided the country on the issue of slavery. Northern states were enraged and saw it as kowtowing to Southern demands, moving the country closer to inevitable war. It led to the creation of the Republican Party and the rise of Lincoln.
13. Daniel Voorhees, D-Ind., 1827-97: Voorhees played an important role in establishing the Library of Congress and getting it built. The “Tall Sycamore of the Wabash” gained notoriety for defending an abolitionist at the Harper’s Ferry Raid that went wrong. The man was convicted of murder but not treason, unlike others without as strong a defense. Voorhees personally opposed slavery, saying: “I do not favor the institution of slavery; I don't want it here.” But he espoused Stephen Douglas’ philosophy of “popular sovereignty.” As a “constitutionalist,” he didn’t want to see any changes made to the document and believed slavery “is not to be distinguished from other kinds of property.” He served 18 years in the Senate, and, according to Indiana historian William E. Wilson, he was “opposed to the war, opposed to emancipation, and in the Gilded Age of the 1870s and 1880s an enemy of the Eastern moneyed interests.” In one of his re-elections, he was chosen over Benjamin Harrison, who eventually became president. As a congressman, he opposed the 13th Amendment, freeing slaves, because he felt it was too soon to consider changes.
20th Century Era
4.Joseph McCarthy, R-Wis., 1908-1957: During the early days of the Cold War, McCarthy became famous – and then infamous -- for asserting that communists had infiltrated the U.S. government. He began these allegations when he delivered a Lincoln Day speech in Wheeling, W.V. , and he later launched Senate investigations to uncover Soviet espionage in the government. But McCarthy’s fall took place during the so-called “Army-McCarthy” hearings of 1954, when the Wisconsin senator charged that a lawyer representing the U.S. Army had communist ties. McCarthy’s popularity plummeted, and the Senate censured him. He passed away three years later at the age of 48.
13. John Sherman Cooper, R-Ky., 1901-1991: Cooper was a notable post-World War II senator, who backed the early civil-rights legislation, supported Joseph McCarthy’s censure, and later opposed the Vietnam War. He also was the first U.S. ambassador to East Germany.
4.Strom Thurmond, D/R- S.C., 1902-2003: Call him the Cal Ripken of the Senate. Thurmond served for 49 years and was 100 years old -- the oldest senator ever – while still serving in the Senate. He also holds the record for the longest talking filibuster (24 hours). Thurmond bolted from the Democratic Party and became a Republican due to his opposition to civil rights and integration (even though he fathered a child with a 16-year-old black maid, who worked for his family, when he was 22). In fact, he became a Republican in 1964, the year the Civil Rights Act was passed. And that may be his lasting legacy – representing Southern conservatives moving away from the Democratic Party to the GOP.
13. Ed Brooke, R-Mass., 1919-current: Brooke was the first and longest-serving (1967-1979) African American elected to the Senate by popular vote. Elected just three years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed, Brooke was an advocate for civil rights, racial equality in the South, affordable housing, increasing the minimum wage, commuter rail and mass transit. The Washington, D.C., native and Howard University grad is a World War II vet and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2004, as well as the Congressional Gold Medal in 2008. There have been just eight black senators in U.S. history and just two before Brooke – 86 years earlier.
4. Robert La Follette, R-Wis., 1855-1925: The quintessential senator of the Progressive Era, La Follette sought to regulate the railroads and worker protection. He also opposed America’s entry into World War I, and he helped launched an investigation into the Teapot Dome scandal. In 1924, he ran for president as a third-party candidate under the Progressive Party banner, and he won 13% of the popular vote.
13. Robert Morris, Pro-Administration-Pa., 1734-1806: Robert Morris isn’t just the school that upset Kentucky in this year’s NIT… Dubbed “America’s Founding Capitalist,” Morris financed the American Revolution -- despite his initial concerns that America could not defeat the British. He abstained from the vote to declare independence. Still, the Liverpool, England-born émigré with a common touch was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, and played a vital role in the revolution, smuggling in gun powder from overseas and backing the country’s fledgling currency with his own personal credit, according to author Charles Rappleye. Morris used tactics as a member of Congress to fund the war that would be considered unethical in today’s Congress and rankled fellow Founding Fathers, as he profited from the arms deals he struck for the revolution. And for every businessman, it’s high risk-high reward. Despite being one of the richest men in the new republic, just 12 years after the signing of the Constitution, he was imprisoned for debt due to land speculations that went wrong. He bought up six million acres between New York and Georgia, but there was no one to live on that land – at least not for about another 100 years.