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David I. Walsh

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Subject: United States Senate election in Massachusetts, 1928, United States Senate election in Massachusetts, 1934, United States Senate election in Massachusetts, 1940, Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., United States Senate election in Massachusetts, 1918
Collection: 1872 Births, 1947 Deaths, American Anti-War Activists, American People of Irish Descent, American Roman Catholics, Boston University School of Law Alumni, College of the Holy Cross Alumni, Democratic Party State Governors of the United States, Democratic Party United States Senators, Governors of Massachusetts, Lgbt Members of the United States Congress, Lgbt Roman Catholics, Lgbt State Legislators in Massachusetts, Lieutenant Governors of Massachusetts, Massachusetts Democrats, Massachusetts Lawyers, Members of the 1917 Massachusetts Constitutional Convention, Members of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, People from Clinton, Massachusetts, People from Fitchburg, Massachusetts, People from Leominster, Massachusetts, Politicians from Fitchburg, Massachusetts, United States Senators from Massachusetts
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David I. Walsh

David Ignatius Walsh
United States Senator
from Massachusetts
In office
December 6, 1926 – January 3, 1947
Preceded by William M. Butler
Succeeded by Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr.
In office
March 4, 1919 – March 4, 1925
Preceded by John W. Weeks
Succeeded by Frederick H. Gillett
46th Governor of Massachusetts
In office
January 8, 1914 – January 6, 1916
Lieutenant Edward P. Barry
Grafton D. Cushing
Preceded by Eugene N. Foss
Succeeded by Samuel W. McCall
43rd Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts
In office
Governor Eugene N. Foss
Preceded by Robert Luce
Succeeded by Edward P. Barry
Personal details
Born (1872-11-11)November 11, 1872
Leominster, Massachusetts
Died June 11, 1947(1947-06-11) (aged 74)
Boston, Massachusetts
Political party Democratic
Alma mater College of the Holy Cross
Boston University
Profession Lawyer
Religion Roman Catholic[1]

David Ignatius Walsh (November 11, 1872 – June 11, 1947) was a United States politician from Massachusetts. As a member of the Democratic Party, he served in the state legislature and then as the 43rd Lieutenant Governor (1913–1914) and then as the 46th Governor (1914–1916). His first term in the U.S. Senate (1919–1925) was followed by a brief hiatus from government, after which he was elected to the U.S. Senate four times, serving from 1926 to 1947. On foreign affairs, he was a consistent isolationist, from his early opposition to U.S. domination of the Philippines to opposing Lend-Lease until the attack on Pearl Harbor.


  • Youth and education 1
  • Career in state politics 2
  • Career in national politics 3
    • World War II 3.1
    • Scandal 3.2
    • Final Senate years 3.3
  • Personal life and death 4
  • Notes 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7

Youth and education

Walsh was born in Leominster, Worcester County, Massachusetts, on November 11, 1872, the ninth of ten children. His parents were Irish Catholic immigrants. Walsh attended public schools in his birthplace and later in Clinton, Massachusetts. His father, a comb maker, died when he was twelve. Thereafter, his mother ran a boarding house.

Walsh graduated from Clinton High School in 1890 and from Holy Cross in 1893. He attended Boston University Law School, where he graduated in 1897. Walsh was admitted to the bar and commenced the practice of law in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, in 1897, later practicing in Boston.[2]

Career in state politics

Walsh was a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives for two terms in 1900 and 1901, elected from a longtime Republican district.[3] From the start of his political career, he was anti-imperialist and isolationist and opposed America's authority over the Philippines as part of the settlement of the Spanish–American War. Walsh's vote to restrict the hours that women and children could work to 58 led to his defeat when he sought another term.[4] He next lost the race for Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts in 1910, but ran again and won in 1912,[5] becoming the state's first Democratic Lieutenant-Governor in 70 years.[3] He became the first Irish and the first Catholic Governor of Massachusetts in 1914,[6] and served two one-year terms.

He offered voters an alternative to boss-dominated politics, expressing a "forthright espousal of government responsibility for social welfare."[7] Walsh proposed increased government responsibility for charity work and the care of the insane and reorganized the state's management of these areas with little opposition.[8] In his 1914 campaign for re-election, he cited as accomplishments an increase in the amounts paid for workman's compensation and improved administration of the state's care for the insane.[9] As Governor, Walsh fought unsuccessfully for a Women's Suffrage Amendment to the Massachusetts Constitution.[10] He also campaigned for film censorship in the state after large protests were mounted against the racial depictions in D. W. Griffith's film The Birth of a Nation.[11]

He supported the work of the

Political offices
Preceded by
Robert Luce
Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts
Succeeded by
Edward P. Barry
Preceded by
Eugene N. Foss
Governor of Massachusetts
Succeeded by
Samuel W. McCall
Preceded by
Jesse H. Metcalf
Rhode Island
Chairman of the Senate Education and Labor Committee
Succeeded by
Hugo L. Black
United States Senate
Preceded by
John W. Weeks
U.S. Senator (Class 2) from Massachusetts
Served alongside: Henry Cabot Lodge, William M. Butler
Succeeded by
Frederick H. Gillett
Preceded by
William M. Butler
U.S. Senator (Class 1) from Massachusetts
Served alongside: Frederick H. Gillett, Marcus A. Coolidge, Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., Sinclair Weeks, Leverett Saltonstall
Succeeded by
Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr.

External links

  • Biddle, Francis, In Brief Authority, (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1962)
  • Charles, Douglas M., J. Edgar Hoover and the Anti-interventionists: FBI Political Surveillance and the Rise of the Domestic Security State, (Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Press, 2007)
  • City of Boston: "Charles River Esplanade Study Report as amended June 23, 2009"
  • Fleming, Thomas, The New Dealers' War: F.D.R, and the War within World War II (Basic Books, 2001), ISBN 0-465-02465-3
  • Gentry, Curt, J. Edgar Hoover: The Man and the Secrets, (NY: W.W. Norton, 1991)
  • Hanify, Edward B., Memories of a Senator: The Honorable David I. Walsh (Boston, MA?, 1994?)
  • Improper Bostonians: Lesbian and Gay History from the Puritans to Playland (Boston: Beacon Press, 1998)
  • Irish Heritage Trail: Irish Heritage Trail, Boston
  • O'Toole, David Outing the Senator: Sex, Spies, and Videotape (privately published, 2005), ISBN 0-9771970-0-X
  • Peabody, Richard and Ebersole, Lucinda, Conversations with Gore Vidal (University Press of Mississippi, 2005)
  • Rosenkrantz, Barbara Gutmann, Public Health and the State: Changing Views in Massachusetts, 1842-1936 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1972)
  • Tommasini, Anthony, Virgil Thomson: Composer on the Aisle (NY: W.W. Norton & Company, 1999)
  • Tripp, C.A., The Homosexual Matrix (NY: McGraw-Hill, 1975)
  • Trout, Charles H., Boston, the Great Depression, and the New Deal (NY: Oxford University Press, 1977)
  • Wayman, Dorothy G. David I. Walsh: Citizen-Patriot (Milwaukee: Bruce Publishing Company, 1952)


  1. ^ "David Ignatius Walsh (1872-1947)", accessed November 7, 2011
  2. ^ Wayman, 1-23
  3. ^ a b c d e TIME: "Letters," November 25, 1929, accessed October 28, 2010
  4. ^ Wayman, 34–35
  5. ^ Wayman, 44–45
  6. ^ In the 1913 election Walsh won 180,400 votes; Progressive Charles S. Bird, 126,700; Republican Augustus P. Gardner, 116,300; and Independent Eugene Foss, 20,900. The American Review of Reviews, vol. 48 (December, 1913), 671
  7. ^ Rosenrantz, 137, 139
  8. ^ Rosenkrantz, 140–42
  9. ^ New York Times: "Gov. Walsh Takes Stump," October 18, 191, accessed October 30, 2010
  10. ^ James J. Kenneally, "Catholicism and Woman Suffrage in Massachusetts," Catholic Historical Review, v. 53 (1967), 54–55
  11. ^ Melvyn Stokes, D.W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation: A History of "The Most Controversial Motion Picture of All Time" (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 146
  12. ^ Alan Rogers, "Chinese and the Campaign to Abolish Capital Punishment in Massachusetts," in Journal of American Ethnic History, v. 18 (1999), 55–56
  13. ^ Augustus Peabody Loring, "A Short Account of the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention of 1917–1919," in New England Quarterly, v. 6 (1933), 89, 14, 54–56
  14. ^ Debates in the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention, 1917-1918, vol. 2: The Initiative and Referendum (Boston, 1918), 570–85, quote 572
  15. ^ James Clark Fifield, The American Bar: Contemporary Lawyers of the United States and Canada (Minneapolis: James C. Fifield Company, 1918), 285
  16. ^ Wayman, 108-11
  17. ^ New York Times: June 29, 1924, accessed October 30, 2010. Walsh and others who shared his position attacked the Klan largely for its opposition to Catholics and Jews, notably potential Democratic presidential candidate Al Smith. For Walsh's support of Negro rights, see his speech at Howard University: The Inauguration of J. Stanley Durkee as President of Howard University... (Washington: Howard University, 1919), 26-27
  18. ^ Wayman, 153, 159; Melvin I. Urofsky, Louis D. Brandeis: A Life (Pantheon, 2009), 653
  19. ^ TIME: "National Affairs: Lodge," November 17, 1924, accessed October 28, 2010. Time magazine noted the special election posed a risk to the Republicans because Walsh had come so close to surviving the Coolidge landslide in 1924.
  20. ^ Rosenkrantz, 139-42, 156-7, 158n
  21. ^ His social activities were occasionally noted in the press: his arrival in Newport by yacht, New York Times: "Notes of Social Activities in New York and Elsewhere," July 7, 1938, accessed October 30, 2010; hosting a Washington hotel dinner for 25 young men, New York Times: "Notes of Social Activities in Metropolitan District and Elsewhere," May 26, 1932, accessed October 30, 2010
  22. ^ New York Times: "D.I. Walsh Sees 'Revolt'," November 5, 2010, accessed October 30, 2010
  23. ^ Trout, 102-6
  24. ^ New York Times: "Walsh Says Black Won by Deception," September 23, 1937, accessed October 30, 2010
  25. ^ a b c d New York Times: "Ex-Senator Walsh Dies at Age of 74," June 12, 1947, accessed October 30, 2010
  26. ^ Wayman, 88-9
  27. ^ Melvin I. Urofsky and David W. Levy, eds., Letters of Louis D. Brandeis: 1921-1941: Elder Statesman (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1978), 239n
  28. ^ New York Times: F. Lauriston Bullard, "Walsh Casts Lot with Curley Group," March 1, 1936, accessed October 30, 2010
  29. ^ Trout, 288
  30. ^ Trout, 211; Jeff Sheshol, Supreme Power: Franklin Roosevelt vs. the Supreme Court (NY: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010), 456-7;
  31. ^ New York Times: Delbert Clark, "Congress Ends Its Session," June 21, 1936, accessed October 30, 2010. The bill was an attempt to restore certain provisions of the 1933 National Recovery Act, which the Supreme Court held unconstitutional in 1935. Gerard D. Reilly, Madame Secretary," in Katie Louchheim, ed., The Making of the New Deal: The Insiders Speak (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1983), 171
  32. ^ Trout, 225
  33. ^ John Robert Moore, "Senator Josiah W. Bailey and the 'Conservative Manifesto' of 1937," in Journal of Southern History, v. 31 (1965), 23
  34. ^ New York Times: "3 Senators Score Court Plan Here as Peril to Nation," March 13, 1937, accessed October 30, 2010; New York Times: "Text of Senator Walsh's Address Denouncing Court Plan," March 13, 1937, accessed October 30, 2010
  35. ^ a b Biddle, 202
  36. ^ Sheldon Spear, "The United States and the Persecution of the Jews in Germany, 1933-1939," in Jewish Social Studies, v. 30 (1968), 216. Walsh had a long record of opposition to antisemitism. See Abraham Myerson, The Terrible Jews (Boston:Jewish Advocate Publishing Company, 1922), 62.
  37. ^ Spencer C. Tucker, ed., Encyclopedia of World War II: A Political, Social, and Military History (ACB-CLIO, 2005), 1541
  38. ^ Alfred Steinberg, Sam Johnson's Boy: A Close-Up of the President from Texas (NY: Macmillan Company, 1968), 138
  39. ^ J. David Valaik, "Catholics, Neutrality, and the Spanish Embargo, 1937–1939," in Journal of American History, v. 54 (1967), 78–79
  40. ^ Doris Kearns Goodwin, No Ordinary Times, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II (NY: Simon & Schuster, 1994), 65–66
  41. ^ Trout 292–93
  42. ^ Jean Edward Smith, FDR (NY: Random House, 2007), 458
  43. ^ Trout, 302. The CIO had opposed Walsh from the mid-1930s; Trout, 222–23, 316–17
  44. ^ O'Toole, 123–24.
  45. ^ New York Times: Turner Catledge, "Another Aid Bill is Seen in Capital," August 15, 1941, accessed October 30, 2010. The comparison was with the sharper opposition of Senator Burton K. Wheeler.
  46. ^ Philip A. Grant, Jr., "The Michigan Congressional Delegation and the Burke-Wadsworth Act of 1940," in Michigan Historical Review, v. 18 (1992), 73
  47. ^ William E. Leuchtenburg, Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, 1932–1940 (NY: Harper & Row, 1963), 303–05; Richard M. Ketchum, The Borrowed Years, 1938–1941: America on the Way to War (NY: Random House, 1989), 475
  48. ^ Frank Friedel, "FDR vs. Hitler: American Foreign Policy, 1933–1941," in Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 3d ser., v. 99 (1987), 37–39
  49. ^ a b Wayman, 312
  50. ^ The brothel was located within walking distance of the Brooklyn Navy Yard at 329 Pacific Street and attracted young military men, not all sailors. Clients included a range of New York professional men. The scandal also touched composer and music journalist Virgil Thomson, who was arrested in a raid there on March 14, 1942. Tommasini, 355-6
  51. ^ a b TIME: The Press: The Case of Senator X, June 1, 1942, accessed Dec. 1, 2009
  52. ^ Tripp, 224n
  53. ^ Tommasini, 360; New York Times: "Pleads Guilty in Morals Case," May 12, 1942, accessed November 4, 2010; New York Times: "Gets 5 to 20 Years in Spy-Tinged Case," October 6, 2010, accessed November 4, 2010
  54. ^ Tommasini, 358
  55. ^ a b c New York Times: "FBI Clears Walsh, Barkley Asserts," May 21, 1942, accessed November 4, 2010
  56. ^ a b Tommasini, 360
  57. ^ Tommasini, 358-9
  58. ^ Tommasini, 358-9; Tripp, 225
  59. ^ Fleming, 298
  60. ^ Gentry, 287. See also Charles, 87ff; Fleming, 298; Lewis L. Gould, The Most Exclusive Club: A History of the Modern United States Senate (Basic Books, 2005), 164
  61. ^ Tripp, 226
  62. ^ Gentry, 287
  63. ^ Wayman, 351-8, presents Barkley's speech in its entirety.
  64. ^ Wayman, 354
  65. ^ Tommasini, 359-60
  66. ^ Tommasini, 361; Tripp, 226
  67. ^ New York Times: "Walsh Resentful, Replies to Truman," November 1, 1944, accessed November 22, 2010
  68. ^ New York Times: President Invites Walsh to Join his Party for Meeting in Boston and Senator Accepts." November 3, 1944, accessed November 22, 2010
  69. ^ Philip A. Grant, Jr., "Roosevelt, the Congress, and the United Nations," in Presidential Studies Quarterly, v. 13 (1983), 281-2
  70. ^ New York Times: "Says Senators ask Jews' Delegation," May 23, 1945, accessed October 30, 2010
  71. ^ Hanify, 26-7
  72. ^ Wayman, 10-1, 16, 21, 49, 66-7, 92-3, 127, 142, 145, 160-1, 174-5, 194-5, 257, 316, 345
  73. ^ Wayman, 163-4
  74. ^ Wayman, 36, 123-4, 193, 322, 344-6
  75. ^ Steinberg, 138, calls Walsh "a notorious homosexual who sought companions in the lower ranks of the Naval Academy staff." Randall E. Woods, LBJ: Architect of American Authority (NY: Free Press, 2006), 138, attributes this characterization to Congressman Carl Vinson, a key opponent of Walsh on naval policy issues.
  76. ^ Vidal also said that "The senator from Massachusetts, David Ignatius Walsh, tried to make my father when my father was a West Point cadet." Peabody and Ebersole, 16
  77. ^ O'Toole, 8
  78. ^ Wayman, 92, 221, 252
  79. ^ City of Boston, Charles River Esplanade
  80. ^ Irish Heritage Trail, Boston
  81. ^ Holy Cross:"Holy Cross Scholarships", 224


A bronze statue of him by Joseph Coletti was erected near the Music Oval on Boston's Charles River Esplanade in 1954. It bears the motto: "non sibi sed patriae", a tribute to his service to the U.S. Navy while in the Senate.[79][80] Walsh's alma mater, Holy Cross, awards an annual scholarship in his name.[81]

In his later years he received honorary degrees from Holy Cross, Notre Dame, Fordham, Boston University, Canisius College, and St. Joseph's College (Philadelphia),[25][78]

Upon his retirement from political office, Walsh resided in Clinton, Massachusetts, until his death following a cerebral hemorrhage in Boston on June 11, 1947.[25] Walsh is buried in St. John’s Cemetery, Clinton.

Walsh never married. He and his brother Thomas, who died in 1931, supported their four unmarried sisters, two of whom outlived the Senator.[74] Walsh's supposed homosexuality is believed by some historians.[75] Writing in the 1960s, former Attorney General Francis Biddle hinted at the subject when he described Walsh in the mid-1930s as "an elderly politician with a soft tread and low, colorless voice...whose concealed and controlled anxieties not altogether centered on retaining his job."[35] According to Gore Vidal, interviewed in 1974, "There wasn't anybody in Massachusetts...who didn't know what David Walsh was up to."[76] Walsh's most recent biographer writes that "The campaign to destroy David I. Walsh worked because he could not defend himself....David I. Walsh was gay."[77]

I am unworthy to make any defense of the Roman Catholic Church but I want to remind every senator on this floor that everyone of them owes her an everlasting debt of gratitude. For fifteen centuries she alone held aloft the torch of Christianity in the world; she gave her blood to preserve it....I speak in the name of the large, tolerant and superb non-Catholic citizenship of my state. I speak also in the name of the forty percent of soldiers and sailors in the last war who were Roman Catholics. I speak not less confidently in the name of the nearly twenty million Roman Catholics in these United States; and I say that the sons of my Church are loyal and true, on this issue, not less than every other, always and at all times loyal and devoted to our country, its institutions and its high aims and objects.

Walsh was raised a Roman Catholic and throughout his life identified himself as a Catholic and practiced his religion both in public and in private. An altar boy as a youth, in his adult years he regularly attended retreats and participated in meetings of Catholic laymen. Senate colleagues recognized his Catholic faith and occasionally baited him by challenging him to defend himself as a partisan of Catholic interests, which Walsh did not hesitate to answer.[72] Once when a senator accused the Catholic Church of attempting to involve the United States in the church's battle with the government of Mexico, Walsh defended the Church at length, saying in part:[73]

Personal life and death

Given his poor relationship with the White House, Walsh anticipated that the administration might even support an opponent in a Democratic primary when he next ran for reelection.[71] He faced no such challenge, but was defeated in his 1946 race for reelection by Henry Cabot Lodge Jr.

In 1945, demonstrating that his isolationism was not absolute, Walsh voted in favor of the San Francisco Conference.[70]

During the 1944 presidential race, with FDR seeking a fourth term, his running mate Harry S. Truman referred to Walsh as an "isolationist", a characterization Walsh resented.[67] On November 2, just five days before the election, the President called Walsh at his home in Clinton, Massachusetts, and invited him to join the presidential party in Worcester, Massachusetts. Walsh accepted the invitation to the relief of the Democrats. The contretemps gave Walsh an opportunity to define his position, that he was no isolationist because he favored the war and seeing the war through to total victory. He also believed the troops should return home quickly, allowing only that some may be required to perform "police duties in enemy territory," and the reserves demobilized. He hoped for a "democratic from the influences of political expediency which compromises with imperialism and surrenders to power politics."[68]

Final Senate years

Time reported Barkley's speech exonerating Walsh and that the Post in reply had repeated its charges. It concluded its coverage: "The known facts made only one thing indisputable: either a serious scandal was being hushed up or a really diabolical libel had been perpetrated."[51]

New York Post: Whitewash for Walsh
New York Times: FBI Clears Walsh, Barkley Asserts
Boston Globe: Senator Walsh Story Denounced as Absolute Fabrication

The press used these Senate speeches to cover the affair at last. Their treatment varied in tone:[56]

Isolationist senators promptly denounced the charges as an attack on their political position. Senator Bennett Clark asserted that Morris Ernst, attorney for the New York Post, had contacted the White House trying to engage the administration to smear FDR's opposition. Senator Gerald Nye contended the incident represented a larger effort on the part of a "secret society" that for two years had been trying to discredit him and his fellow isolationists.[55]

On May 20, 1942, with a full report from FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover in hand, Senator Barkley addressed the Senate at length on the irresponsibility of the New York Post, the laudable restraint of the rest of the press, the details of the FBI's report, and the Senate's affirmation of Walsh's "unsullied" reputation.[63] He declined to insert the FBI report in the Congressional Record, he said, "because it contains disgusting and unprintable things."[64] Without addressing Walsh's sexuality, he said the report contained no evidence that Walsh ever "visited a 'house of degradation' to connive or to consort with, or to converse with, or to conspire with anyone who is the enemy of the United States."[65] He denied the charges related to espionage. He provided no specifics about the sexual activity at issue and said the details of the charges were "too loathsome to mention in the Senate or in any group of ladies and gentlemen."[66] The press conflated the charges in a similar way. For example, the New York Times report of Barkley's speech said that the FBI reported that "there is not the 'slightest foundation' for charges that Senator Walsh, 69-year-old chairman of the Naval Affairs Committee, visited a 'house of degradation' in Brooklyn and was seen talking to Nazi agents there."[55]

Without discussing details, Walsh issued a brief statement calling the story "a diabolical lie" and demanding a full investigation.[49] He then conducted his usual Senate business without reference to the charges.[61] An FBI investigation produced no evidence to support the New York Post's specific charges against the Senator, though it accumulated much "derogatory information" in its files.[62]

The brothel's owner and several others arrested in a police raid identified Walsh to the police as "Doc," a regular client, whose visits ended just before police surveillance began. Some furnished intimate physical details.[58] President Roosevelt believed the charge that Walsh was homosexual was true. He told Vice President Henry Wallace that "everyone knew" about Walsh's homosexuality[59] and he had a similar conversation with Alben W. Barkley, the Senate majority leader.[60]

The scandal was complex in that it implicated the Senator as a homosexual, as a patron of a male bordello, and as a possible dupe of enemy agents. Homosexuality was a taboo subject for public discourse, so the Post referred to a "house of degradation."[54] At one point a sub-headline in the New York Times called it a "Resort."[55] In the Daily Mirror, columnist Walter Winchell mentioned "Brooklyn's spy nest, also known as the swastika swishery."[56] The Post first suggested a scandal. Over the course of several weeks it hinted an important person was involved, then named "Senator X", and finally identified Walsh by name. Its sensational treatment of the story detracted from the seriousness of its charges.[57]

On May 7, 1942, the New York Post, which had long favored U.S. involvement in the European conflict, implicated Walsh in a sensational sex and spy scandal uncovered at a Brooklyn male brothel for U.S. Navy personnel that had been infiltrated by Nazi spies.[49][50] The charges went unreported by the rest of the press, but word of mouth made it, according to Time, "one of the worst scandals that ever affected a member of the Senate."[51] The police operation led to the arrest and conviction of three foreign agents[52] and the brothel's owner-operator, Gustave Beekman, though promised leniency for cooperating with the police, received the maximum sentence of 20 years for sodomy and was not released from prison until 1963.[53]


When the Senate considered the Burke-Wadsworth Act to establish peacetime conscription for the first time in U.S. history, Walsh offered an amendment, which failed to pass, that would have delayed the law's effective date until war was declared.[46] In June, 1940, he authored an amendment to the naval appropriations bill, sometimes called the Walsh Act of 1940, which permitted "surplus military equipment" to be sold only if it was certified as useless for American defense. To aid Great Britain, the administration evaded the Walsh provision by substituting leases for sales and by trading equipment for bases.[47] In 1941, when the administration used the Greer incident, an exchange of fire between a German submarine and an American destroyer, to authorize American forces to "shoot on sight," Walsh held hearings of the Naval Affairs Committee to demonstrate that the administration was misrepresenting the facts of the encounter to support its case for American military action against Germany.[48]

After the 1940 election in particular, he opposed any action that would compromise American neutrality, first in closed-door hearings of the Naval Affairs Committee, which he headed, and then in attacking the Lend-Lease program on the floor of the Senate.[44] He was a leading member of the America First movement, opposing U.S. involvement in World War II. In 1940, the New York Times described Walsh as a "more moderate critic" of the administration's attempts to aid Great Britain even as he called the August commitment FDR made to Churchill one "that goes far beyond the Constitutional powers of the President and one that no other President in our history even presumed to assume. … The President alone, and on his own initiative, has undertaken to pledge our government, our nation, and the lives of 130,000,000 persons and their descendants for generations to come."[45]

At the CIO for his anti-New Deal positions.[43]

I say it is too risky, too dangerous, to try to determine how far we can go tapping the resources of our own Government and furnishing naval vessels, air planes, powder and bombs. It is trampling on dangerous ground. It is moving toward the edge of a precipice—a precipice of stupendous and horrifying depths. … I do not want our forces deprive of one gun, or one bomb, or one ship which can aid that American boy whom you and I may some day have to draft. I want every instrument. I want every bomb. I want every plane. I want every boat ready and available. So I can say when and if it becomes necessary to draft him: "Young man, you have every possible weapon of defense your Government can give you."

In the Senate, Walsh was a consistent isolationist[38] He supported American neutrality with respect to the Spanish Civil War[39] and opposed an American alliance with the United Kingdom until the attack on Pearl Harbor. Speaking in the Senate on June 21, 1940, he denounced Roosevelt's plans to provide armaments to Great Britain:[40]

Immediately following the defeat of France, Walsh was the sponsor along with Senator Vinson of the Vinson-Walsh Act of July 1940 that increased the size of the U.S. Navy by 70%. It included 7 battleships, 18 aircraft carriers and 15,000 aircraft.[37]

World War II

Along with four of his colleagues, Walsh condemned antisemitism in Nazi Germany in a Senate speech on June 10, 1933.[36]

One Cabinet official described his overall relationship to the administration as "not put it mildly."[35]

Who can say when some majority of the moment may attempt to harass a minority? Who dares predict that a future Congress in a time of hysteria may not succumb to the prejudice or passion of the hour....Without an independent judiciary, I hesitate to even think of denials to minorities of constitutional guarantees if some of the doctrines preached by groups in this country today should be enacted into law.

He continued:

Another was an outburst during the Ku Klux Klan hysteria. A State Legislature and the Governor approved a law, supported by an initiative vote of the people, denying a parent the right to send his child to a religious school of his choosing. An independent judiciary, the United States Supreme Court, nine old men, struck down that law and proclaimed that it is an unalienable right under the Constitution for a parent to bring up his children and educate them as he may choose.
One was the enactment, during the war hysteria, of a law in one of the sovereign States making it a crime to teach a child the German language....[A] teacher in a German-language school was indicted and convicted....The United States Supreme Court, nine old men, sworn to uphold the Constitution, struck down that law and released from jeopardy an American citizen whose only offense was that he was a victim of war hysteria. I wonder if young men would have had the courage to do it.

In 1937, he declared himself an opponent of the administration[32] and joined the opposition to FDR's plan to enlarge the Supreme Court.[33] Speaking at New York City's Carnegie Hall, Walsh argued his position in terms of the separation of powers, judicial independence, and the proper role of the executive. He described the public's reaction as "a state of fear, of apprehension, of bewilderment, of real grief, as a result of the proposal to impair, if not indeed to destroy, the judicial independence of the Supreme Court." He also emphasized the role of the Court in protecting civil liberties, citing two examples:[34]

In 1936, Walsh, as head of the Senate Labor Committee, lent his name an administration bill to establish labor standards for employees of government contractors, known as the Walsh–Healey Public Contracts Act[25][30] It provided for minimum wages and overtime, safety and sanitation rules, and restrictions on the use of child and convict labor.[31]

Walsh won reelection in 1928, 1934 and 1940, failing in his final bid for reelection in 1946. During his Senate service, Walsh held the posts of chairman of the Committee on Education and Labor (73rd and 74th Congresses) and of the Committee on Naval Affairs (74th-77th and 79th Congresses). In 1932, he supported Al Smith against FDR for the Democratic nomination for president.[23] He objected to Justice Hugo Black's failure to disclose his earlier membership in the Ku Klux Klan[24] and promoted the appointment of Jews to the judiciary, notably that of Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis,[25][26] a longtime friend.[27] Though a Democrat, he gave only reluctant support to President Roosevelt's agenda. In 1936, when some Democrats looked for an alternative presidential candidate, he supported Roosevelt, "although their relations are none too good." A newspaper reported that "He is not of the insurgent type....At heart, observers [in Boston] say, he dissents from many of the policies of the New Deal," but "he will stay on the reservation" and "he will avoid an open break."[28] During the campaign, he failed to speak in support of the President until October 20, 1936.[29]

When attacking the Hoover administration following the 1930 elections, Walsh identified two principal causes of voter dissatisfaction: "the administration's indifference to economic conditions and its failure to recognize the widespread opposition to prohibition."[22]

Time reported that some commented on the contrast between his political populism and his luxurious life style.[21] The profile noted he was a "gruff and bull-voiced debater" but that "in private conversation his voice is soft and controlled." In sum, Time said that "Impartial Senate observers rate him thus: A good practical politician, a legislator above the average. His political philosophy is liberal and humane, except on economic matters (the tariff) which affect the New England industry, when he turns conservative. His floor attendance is regular, his powers of persuasion, fair."

A bachelor, he is tall and stout. A double chin tends to get out over his tight-fitting collar. His stomach bulges over his belt. He weighs 200 lbs. or more. Setting-up exercises every other day at a Washington health centre have failed to reduce his girth. He is troubled about it. His dress is dandified. He wears silk shirts in bright colors and stripes and, often, stiff collars to match. His feet are small and well-shod. Beneath his habitual derby hat his hair is turning thin and grey. Society is his prime diversion. Of secondary interest are motoring, sporting events, the theatre. In Washington he occupies an expensive suite of rooms at the luxurious Carlton Hotel on 16th Street. A good and frequent host himself, he accepts all invitations out, is one of the most lionized Senators in Washington.

In 1929, Time published a detailed profile of Walsh and his voting record.[3] It noted that he voted for the Jones Act of 1929 that increased penalties for the violation of Prohibition, but said the Senator "votes Wet, drinks Wet." Its more personal description said:

Walsh's 1924 defeat also marked a turning point in his political philosophy. He had previously endorsed an activist role for government, but after 1924 his rhetoric increasingly attacked the "federal bureaucracy" and "big government." Though he had once advocated in favor of federal child labor legislation, he became one of its most consistent opponents.[20]

Walsh failed to win reelection by just 20,000 votes[3] in 1924, the year of the Republican National Committee.[3]

"If you can denounce Republicanism, you can denounce Ku Kluxism. If you can denounce Bolshevism, you can denounce Ku Kluxism."

David I. Walsh

In 1918, Walsh was elected as a Democrat to the United States Senate and served from March 4, 1919, to March 4, 1925. He was the first Irish-Catholic Senator from Massachusetts. A noted orator, he introduced Irish Republic President Éamon de Valera at Fenway Park on June 29, 1919.[16] At the Democratic National Convention in 1924, he spoke in favor of condemning the Ku Klux Klan by name in the party platform: "We ask you to cut out of the body politic with the sharpest instrument at your command this malignant growth which, injected, means the destruction of everything which has made America immortal. If you can denounce Republicanism, you can denounce Ku Kluxism. If you can denounce Bolshevism, you can denounce Ku Kluxism."[17]

Career in national politics

After serving as Governor, he practiced law with his older brother Thomas in his hometown of Clinton.[15]

There are men—and you and I know them—who, though proclaiming their belief in democracy, really are believers in autocracy. There are men within the knowledge of us all who believe in a government of the few, of the college bred class only, of those only who have been successful in the commercial world, or those only who have been fortunate enough to have been born in an environment of ease and luxury. To this class of men no argument on the initiative and referendum can be addressed with any confidence of success. Consciously or unconsciously, they are recreant to the principles upon which this republic was founded.

As Governor he asked the legislature to call a Constitutional Convention without success. When the legislature later called a convention, Walsh won election as a delegate-at-large as part of a slate of candidates who endorsed adding provisions for initiative and referendum to the state constitution, key Progressive-era reforms. He served as a delegate-at-large to the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention in 1917 and 1918 that saw those reforms passed.[13] His speech on behalf of initiative and referendum shows him in the role of populist and reformer:[14]


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