Chapter 27: the postwar years.
Advance planning helped to speed the reconversion of war plants to civilian production. War production was cut back after the surrender of Germany in the spring of 1945, and substantial progress was made toward reconversion during the summer. When the Japanese surrendered in August, war contracts were cancelled and reconversion began in earnest. By the end of 1945, 75,000 cars had been built, enough to supply about two cars to each of the 33,000 dealers in the country. Since it takes months and even years to design and produce new models, these early postwar cars were simply refurbished versions of the last models that had been produced four years before. These conditions created a sellers' market, something that had not existed since the early days of the auto industry, and for several years after the war any car that was produced was immediately sold. This helped the smaller, so-called independent automobile companies to enjoy their best sales in many years, and it also encouraged the formation of new companies. Preston Tucker, originally from Ypsilanti, created a flurry of excitement among car enthusiasts with his plans to produce a car with a dramatic new design at a plant which he leased in Chicago where Dodge had built aircraft engines during the war. But only a few prototypes of the Tucker Torpedo were seen on the highways before financial and legal problems forced Tucker out of business in 1949. (1)
A more serious new entry in the competition for car sales was that made by Henry J. Kaiser, a California businessman who was hailed as a new Henry Ford for his remarkable success in applying mass-production assembly techniques to the building of ships during the war. Kaiser joined with Joseph W. Frazer, president of Graham-Paige Motor Company of Detroit, to form the Kaiser-Frazer Corporation and announced plans to produce a full line of cars. As its main manufacturing facility, Kaiser-Frazer obtained the government-owned Willow Run bomber plant, which the Ford Motor Company decided not to retain when it was offered to the company after the war. When the first low-priced Kaiser and higher-priced Frazer models began coming out of the vast, reconverted B-24 factory in 1946, it appeared for a time as though Henry Kaiser would succeed in his effort to make his company the first successful new entrant in the auto industry since the appearance of the Chrysler Corporation two decades earlier. By 1948 Kaiser-Frazer accounted for 5 percent of all new car sales in the country, one of the most impressive performances by one of the independents since the rise of the Big Three in the twenties. But then Kaiser's prospects began to sour. The negotiation of a $44 million loan from the Reconstruction Finance Corporation in 1949 was an early sign that Kaiser-Frazer was in trouble. Production of the Frazer was abandoned in 1951, and the effort to boost sales in the low-priced field by introducing the Henry J, a small car, came in a period when the public was demanding big cars--not the compacts that would achieve popularity in later years. In 1953 Kaiser sold the Willow Run plant to General Motors, which needed an immediate replacement for its Hydra-Matic transmission plant at Livonia that had been destroyed by fire on August 12 of that year. By 1955 Kaiser had abandoned passenger car production entirely and was concentrating on the production of Jeeps (a vehicle developed during the war) and commercial vehicles at the Toledo factory of Willys-Overland, an old-line non-Michigan automobile company that Kaiser had acquired in 1953. (2)
Kaiser's problems were duplicated by other small automobile companies, including Detroit's Hudson and Packard, which also saw their best sales figures in many years followed in the fifties by sharply reduced shares of the market. Seeking to strengthen their positions, Packard and Studebaker of South Bend merged in 1954, but within two years the Packard plant in Detroit was abandoned and the Studebaker-Packard operations were consolidated at the South Bend plant, where in 1958 all further efforts to keep the Packard on the market were abandoned. Five years later production of the Studebaker also ceased at the South Bend plant, although the car continued to be assembled at the company's Canadian factory until 1965. Somewhat more successful was the merger, also in 1954, of the Hudson company with the Nash company of Kenosha, Wisconsin, to form the American Motors Corporation. Although Detroit remained the headquarters for the executive offices of the new corporation, the Hudson assembly plant in the Motor City was closed as all automotive assembly operations were concentrated at the Kenosha factory. In 1957 the last of the Hudson automobiles, long one of Detroit's best-known automotive products, came off the Wisconsin assembly line.
It was inevitable that the successes of the smaller companies in the immediate postwar years would be short-lived, because the Big Three had vastly superior manufacturing facilities and an extensive network of experienced dealers. By 1949, when total American auto production finally surpassed the record year of 1929, the sellers' market, which had benefited the small companies, was coming to an end, and as more normal market conditions returned, the competitive edge held by the big companies became ever more evident.
Among the Big Three, most attention focused on the Ford Motor Company, as both businessmen and the public wondered what would happen to that great firm now that Henry Ford and most of the other old-timers who had run it for so many years were gone. It soon became apparent that Ford's grandson had far greater managerial skills than the grandfather had ever shown. Faced with staggering problems when he took on the presidency of the company in 1945, Henry Ford II cleared the decks, completely overhauling the company's antiquated management structure. He hired an experienced administrator, Ernest R. Breech, president of the Bendix Aviation Corporation, as executive vice president, and later president, with Ford becoming chairman of the board, and he accepted the services of ten ex-air force officers, highly trained in financial and statistical matters, who were nicknamed the "Whiz Kids." Under this new regime, company losses, which had been averaging $9 million per month in 1945, were turned to profits, and by 1950 Ford, which had dropped to third place in car sales in 1933, moved past Chrysler into second place, where it became securely entrenched with sales that usually gave it control of slightly more than a quarter of the domestic car market. Although this was only half of the share held by GM, Ford was comfortably ahead of Chrysler, which, from the fifties on, experienced managerial and financial difficulties.
The ability of GM to convert its massive manufacturing facilities in Detroit, Pontiac, Flint, Lansing, and other cities in Michigan and across the country to civilian automobile production was temporarily delayed by a strike called by the UAW on November 21, 1945, which was not finally settled until March 13 of the following year. The strike was almost as crucial to the future of the industry as the Flint sit-down strike nine years earlier because it was regarded as a test of strength. During the war, a moratorium on strikes had generally been adhered to, and so at war's end the relationship of the auto union and the auto companies was where it had been at the end of the initial negotiations in the thirties. The question now was whether the UAW could hold on to and add to the gains it had made at that time or whether the companies could strengthen their position in postwar labor-management relations. In addition, however, the 1945-46 GM strike was also a test of the strength in the union of Walter Reuther, a native of Wheeling, West Virginia (where he had been born in 1907), who had come to work in the auto plants in Detroit in 1927. In the mid-thirties Reuther had begun to rise in the ranks of the UAW when he and his brothers Victor and Roy had played leading roles in the historic strikes of that period. Walter Reuther, who was in charge of the postwar strike against GM, hoped to use it as a stepping-stone to the presidency of the union, then held by a rival faction headed by R. J. Thomas, which Reuther charged was communist-dominated, although Thomas denied the accusation. Reuther initially demanded that GM grant its workers a 30 percent wage increase. More important, he asked that the corporation open its books for the union to examine--a move which Reuther declared would settle the question of whether GM could afford such a wage increase, but which the corporation steadfastly refused to agree to on the grounds that this would be the first step in involving the union in strictly managerial decisions. Although Reuther, much to the delight of his union rivals, failed to budge GM on this issue and ultimately had to settle for some fringe benefits and a wage increase of 181/2cents per hour (about a 15 percent wage increase; approximately what other companies had agreed to without a strike), Reuther and his supporters regarded the strike as having been successful, because the union had emerged from the fray with undiminished strength as the spokesman for the auto workers. (3)
At the convention of the UAW in March 1946, Reuther was elected president of the union by a narrow margin, but the rival Thomas faction succeeded in maintaining control of the union's executive board. When Reuther was reelected to the presidency in 1947, however, he quickly rooted out his opponents, thereby obtaining firm control of the union, control which he maintained until his death in an airplane crash in northern Michigan in 1970. In April 1948 Reuther was severely wounded in an attempted assassination, and a year later Victor Reuther lost an eye when an attempt was also made on his life. Although the persons who fired the shots were never caught, it was widely assumed the attacks had been instigated by some of Reuther's union rivals. Walter Reuther recovered from his wounds to lead his union to major new victories in bargaining in 1948 and 1950 that for the first time provided automatic wage increases when the cost of living went up and guaranteed retirement benefits for employees. (4)
Reuther went on in 1952 to become president not only of the UAW but also of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), that federation of industrial unions which had split off from the American Federation of Labor (AFL) back in 1936. Reuther now led the CIO in a successful drive to reunite its forces with those of the AFL in 1955, but he was never happy with that merger because the AFL forces, under George Meany, emerged as clearly dominant. In 1968 Reuther led the UAW out of the AFL-CIO. (5) Reuther viewed George Meany as an old-time union leader whose only concern was with the so-called bread-and-butter issues that directly affected his union members. In contrast, Reuther represented a new breed of union leaders who, because of the Depression, sought to go beyond the traditional approach and use their unions' power to influence the development of wide-ranging programs of social and other humanitarian reforms. This new approach, favored primarily by the new industrial unions, led men like Reuther to abandon the political tactics of the older craft unions, which had supported whatever candidates promised to protect the union's interests. Instead they allied their forces with the Democratic Party led by Roosevelt, who was pushing for the kinds of liberal reforms that the CIO unions favored.
The full impact of this new approach on state politics in Michigan was not felt until 1948. The elections earlier in that decade seemed to indicate a return in Michigan to the kind of one-party dominance that had prevailed before the Depression. In 1942 Harry F. Kelly, a far stronger candidate than Luren Dickinson had been two years before, recaptured the governorship for the Republicans. Kelly defeated the reelection bid of Murray D. Van Wagoner, who found that the organization he had built up when he was highway commissioner had faded away when he no longer, as governor, dispensed highway contracts and jobs. Two years later, Kelly overwhelmed his Democratic opponent, becoming the first governor since Fred Green to succeed in winning reelection, and also the first Republican to win the office when Franklin Roosevelt was on the same ballot running for the presidency.
During Kelly's administration rumors spread that the votes of some legislators were being purchased by lobbyists for various interest groups. Judge Leland W. Carr of Ingham County was named as a one-man grand jury to look into the rumors, and Kim Sigler, a flamboyant attorney, was appointed the special prosecutor. Charles F. Hemans, a lobbyist, turned state's evidence, and revealed that he had kept records of payments to legislators from bankers, loan companies, racetrack operators, slot-machine owners, and others. Sigler secured the conviction of twenty defendants in 1944. In the continuing investigation, Senator Warren G. Hooper of Albion, who was scheduled to testify on January 12, 1945, was found murdered on January 11. The killer--or killers--was never found. The prosecution's case was further weakened by the refusal of Charles Hemans to continue in his role as the star witness. Thus the ultimate resolution of this scandal--a relatively rare occurrence in Michigan's political history--left many questions unanswered, but the careers of several legislators were ruined and the reputations of some businessmen badly tarnished. (6)
One who benefited from the investigations was Kim Sigler. Sigler made the most of his role as the special prosecutor in the case even though he had been removed from that post by Judge Louis E. Coash, who had replaced Judge Carr as the grand juror when Carr was named to the state Supreme Court in September 1945. Like Owosso's Thomas E. Dewey, who a few years before had ridden into the governorship of New York on the strength of his record as a crusading district attorney in New York City, Sigler, who earlier in his career had been a Democrat and had been that party's candidate for attorney general in the election of 1928, used his role in the grand jury investigations to win the Republican gubernatorial nomination in 1946. In November Sigler defeated former governor Murray D. Van Wagoner.
Sigler had the support in his campaign of former governor Alex Groesbeck, and as governor, Sigler resumed Groesbeck's campaign of a quarter of a century before for a more efficient state government. He presented the legislature with a long list of recommendations designed to lengthen the terms of the principal state executive officers to four years and to increase the powers of the governor. Although Sigler sought to get his way by calling the legislature back into special sessions, as such strong-willed predecessors in the governor's office as Hazen Pingree and Chase Osborn had also done, he failed to get most of what he requested, even though the Republicans had a strong majority in both houses. He did, however, succeed in securing the creation of the Department of Administration, headed by a controller appointed by the governor. This department was given the responsibility for overseeing state budgetary, purchasing, and accounting matters. But Sigler's arrogant personality, together with the changes he was advocating, made him even more vulnerable than his mentor Groesbeck had been to the charge that he was seeking to impose one-man rule on the state and made his chances for reelection in 1948 appear uncertain. Groesbeck himself turned against Sigler, who possibly could have overcome the opposition that had developed within his own party had not events in the Democratic Party sealed his fate. (7)
Once Walter Reuther had consolidated his control of the UAW he sought to use the power of that union to turn the Democratic Party in Michigan into an organization that would support on the state level the kind of programs that Reuther favored and with which the party on the national level had been associated under the New Deal of Franklin Roosevelt and his successor, Harry Truman. On a broader scale, August Scholle, powerful head of the Michigan CIO Council, now openly abandoned all pretense of nonpartisanship in political matters, throwing his support behind the Democratic Party in the state and making it plain to Republican candidates that they could no longer expect any endorsements from his organization. On November 21, 1947, two young Detroit attorneys, Hicks Griffiths and G. Mennen Williams, together with Neil Staebler of Ann Arbor and several others, met at Griffiths's home and laid plans to establish a coalition of liberal intellectuals and labor leaders to take advantage of the votes of the union members that Scholle and Reuther represented. They chose Williams as their standard bearer and candidate for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 1948. (8)
Gerhard Mennen Williams was then thirty-six years old. A native of Detroit, Williams's mother was an heir to the great Mennen soap fortune, hence Williams's nickname of "Soapy," which he had had since boyhood. As a graduate of Princeton and the University of Michigan Law School, Williams had compiled a brilliant record. As a protege of Frank Murphy both in the state and federal government in the late thirties, Williams had been infected with the liberal idealism of Murphy and his fellow New Dealers. After service in the navy in the Second World War, Williams had returned to Detroit, where he resumed his career in law and politics. Ironically, his career was given a boost by his future gubernatorial opponent when Kim Sigler in 1947 appointed him as a Democratic member of the bipartisan Liquor Control Commission. (9)
Early in 1948 Williams entered the race for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. He immediately revealed the talents that made him one of the most formidable and effective political campaigners in Michigan history. Physically, he was tall, powerful, and handsome. His wife Nancy, member of a wealthy Ypsilanti family, was an attractive woman, and the couple appeared together frequently on the campaign trail, another change from past practices when candidates' wives were rarely seen or heard. What Williams lacked in a speaking voice was more than compensated for by the sincerity that he projected. Most important was his ability to establish a rapport with the working men and women and a host of minority groups through such folksy techniques as wearing his familiar green polka dot bow tie, calling square dances, and traveling across the state during the 1948 campaign in his beat-up DeSoto convertible. Although Williams had not yet come into his share of the family fortune and he had had to mortgage his home to get the money needed for the campaign, he could probably have gotten a better car, but the sight of the candidate and his wife in their old DeSoto helped to endear them to the average person, who was still having difficulty in getting delivery on a new car.
Strong opposition to Williams in the primary came from the old-guard Democrats, who were seeking to maintain their hold on the party, but he overcame that opposition and won the nomination. In November Williams defeated Kim Sigler by more than 160,000 votes at a time when Thomas E. Dewey, the Republican presidential candidate, came in well ahead of Harry Truman in Michigan. That few other Democrats were elected with Williams in 1948, and the paper-thin margins by which Williams defeated former governor Harry Kelly and Secretary of State Fred M. Alger, Jr., in gaining second and third terms in office in 1950 and 1952, indicated that Kim Sigler's unpopularity had contributed considerably to Williams's initial victory in 1948. But then in 1954, when Williams ran for a fourth term, he not only won reelection by a large majority, but Democrats running with him for other state executive positions were also elected. From this time, through the remainder of the fifties, the Democratic Party was clearly the majority party in the state as it carried Williams into office for fifth and sixth terms and captured the other state administrative offices, a majority on the Supreme Court, Michigan's two United State Senate seats, and an increasing number of seats in the lower house of Congress.
The Democratic victories came in a decade when the Michigan Republican organization enjoyed unusual power on the national level following the election of the party's presidential candidate, Dwight D. Eisenhower, in 1952. Eisenhower carried Michigan by more than 300,000 votes and did even better in 1956. Arthur E. Summerfield of Flint, head of the country's largest Chevrolet dealership, who had led a takeover of the state Republican machinery by auto industry executives in the forties, was national chairman of the party during the 1952 campaign and was rewarded with the office of postmaster general in Eisenhower's cabinet from 1953 to 1961. Charles E. Wilson, president of GM, served as secretary of defense in Eisenhower's first term, delighting administration critics with a penchant for saying the wrong thing, although his remark in his confirmation hearing that he had always felt that what was good for GM was good for the country has been often taken out of context. Wilson brought a number of GM executives into the Defense Department with him, and in 1955 former governor Wilber M. Brucker was named secretary of the army, an office that he held through the remainder of Eisenhower's administration.
That the Michigan Republicans were unable to use Eisenhower's immense popularity to recapture control of the state's executive branch can be attributed in part to the tendency of more and more Michigan voters to cross party lines and vote for the person, not the party. The man who more than anyone else attracted these independent voters to the Democratic column was G. Mennen Williams. He championed the cause of the little people, advocated more support for education, and in general was sensitive to human needs. His appointments were excellent; there was hardly a breath of scandal during his dozen years as governor. Although Williams was hated by his opponents, who were fond of using the nickname "Soapy" as ridicule, he was idolized by many more. But there were other factors behind the Democratic victories. First under Hicks Griffiths and then particularly under his successor as chairman of the Democratic State Central Committee, Neil Staebler, the most formidable political organization the state had ever seen was built up. Under Vice Chairman Adelaide Hart, national committee-woman Margaret Price, and her alternate, Mildred Jeffrey, the women's role in the party increased greatly. Another factor was the black vote. Prior to the thirties, blacks were regarded as supporters of the Republican Party, the party of Lincoln, but they were won in overwhelming numbers to the Democratic Party by the programs of the New Deal. In the period after 1945, those in the North perceived the Democratic Party as being far more zealous than the Republicans in the fight for equal rights, and beginning with the 1948 Democratic National Convention, Williams and the liberal-labor coalition that he headed were in the forefront of the fight to keep the party strongly committed to the civil rights cause. Finally, Democratic victories were evidence of the success of Gus Scholle and his fellow labor leaders in recruiting union financial support and votes for the party's candidates.
But throughout the fifties, despite the success of the Democrats in gaining control of the executive and judicial branches of government, they could not achieve many of their programs because of the continued control of the legislature by the Republicans. Year after year, the recommendations that Williams sent to the legislature were rejected or approved only in a watered-down form. The consistent ability of the Republicans, with their preponderant strength in the rural, outstate regions, to elect a majority of the members of the legislature thus brought to the forefront the issue of legislative apportionment. In 1958 the Democrats came close to breaking the Republican hold on the lower house of the legislature, electing half of the members, but the illness of one of the Democratic members enabled the Republicans to retain control at the opening of the new session in 1959. In the senate, however, the Democrats still trailed the Republicans twenty-two seats to twelve. The inequality in the legislative districts was illustrated by the fact that the twelve successful Democratic candidates for the senate received 46,000 more votes than all the twenty-two winning Republican candidates combined, while the total vote received by the fifty-five winning Democratic candidates for seats in the lower house was nearly double that received by the fifty-five Republican victors.
In earlier years the apportionment of seats in the state senate and house of representatives had been the subject of little discussion. Under the state's first and second constitutions the legislature was given the responsibility for reapportioning the legislature after each federal census; there was also to be a state census between the federal censuses, after which there also was to be a reapportionment. The legislature generally carried out this duty of reapportioning every five years. The Constitution of 1908 provided for reapportionment only every ten years after each federal census, the state census having been abandoned. The house was to be apportioned according to population, but there was some question whether the language of the constitution obligated the legislature to apportion the senate seats on the same basis.
The phenomenal growth of Detroit and its suburban areas as well as other cities after 1900 was reflected in the 1910 census. Members of the legislature, the majority of whom represented rural areas and small towns, balked at carrying out the requirement that the legislature be reapportioned in 1913 and every tenth year thereafter. At that time Wayne County had four out of thirty-two senators and fourteen out of one hundred representatives. A weak gesture toward reapportionment was made by the 1913 legislature by giving Wayne County one more senate seat; nothing was done about reapportioning house seats. When 1923 rolled around, the legislature again failed to act at the regular session in spite of the recommendation of Governor Groesbeck. The governor called a special session and still there was no action. In the 1925 session, however, Groesbeck was able to push through reapportionment. This gave Wayne County seven more legislative seats. (10)
No action was taken in 1933 to reapportion legislative seats as required by the constitution. The senate failed to reapportion its seats in 1943, but the house passed a reapportionment that gave Wayne County twenty-seven seats. The population of that county entitled it to thirty-eight seats. There appeared to be no reason to suppose that the legislature would carry out its responsibility to provide a fair reapportionment in 1953 any more adequately than it had in the preceding decades. As the gap between the population of senatorial and house districts became wider, public demand for reapportionment became more insistent. As a result a Michigan Committee for Representative Government was formed and proposed a plan under which four counties in southeastern Michigan which had 50 percent of the state's population, according to the 1950 census (Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, and Genesee), would have sixteen out of thirty-three senate seats and forty-nine out of ninety-nine house seats. Another plan was proposed by the Michigan Committee for a Balanced Legislature, largely made up of outstate citizens. This plan increased the senate from thirty-two to thirty-four members, and the house from one hundred to one hundred ten. The house was to be reapportioned by the legislature according to population every ten years beginning in 1953, and if the latter failed to act within 180 days of the start of its first regular session, the duty was to devolve upon the state board of canvassers. The plan for the house, however, retained the moiety provision of the 1908 Constitution, which meant that any county having a population equal to one-half of the population of the state divided by one hundred was entitled to one representative. As this worked out, some larger counties had less representation in the house than the smaller counties. The plan provided fixed senatorial districts, the effect of which was to give the less populous areas of the state much more representation in the senate than they would been entitled to on a population basis.
Both proposals were placed on the ballot in November 1952. The "balanced legislature" plan was adopted by a margin of about 300,000 votes out of over 2 million cast. The other proposal was defeated by nearly 500,000 votes. In 1953 the house was reapportioned according to the provisions of the new amendment, and the first legislature of thirty-four senators and one hundred ten representatives was elected in 1954. The largest house district had a population of 67,110, according to the census of 1950, while the smallest had 32,913. Population of senatorial districts had a wider range: from 364,026 to 61,008.
Dissatisfaction with the 1952 apportionment plan became stronger as urban populations in southeastern Michigan continued to grow faster than outstate areas during the fifties. By 1960 the Thirty-second Senatorial District, comprising Ontonagon, Houghton, Baraga, and Keweenaw counties in the Copper Country, had a total population of only 55,806 people. In contrast, Oakland County, which likewise constituted a single senatorial district, had a population of 690,583, while there were three other districts in the metropolitan Detroit area with populations in excess of 400,000, more than four times the population of four districts in the northern part of the Lower Peninsula which, together with the Copper Country district, had populations of less than 100,000. Such gross examples of legislative malapportionment were important factors in the increased support for complete constitutional revision, and legislative reapportionment was the hottest issue in the Constitutional Convention of 1961-62. Republicans, who held a large majority of the seats in the convention, favored a continuance, with some modifications, of the balanced legislature, that is, with one house apportioned according to population and the apportionment of the other determined to some degree by geographical considerations. Most Democrats, whose strength lay in populous southeastern Michigan, favored a straight population basis for both houses. (11) The outcome in the convention was a compromise. The provision written into the new constitution provided, as did the 1952 amendment, for the reapportionment of house seats every ten years on a population basis. Moiety, however, was raised from one-half to seven-tenths. This meant that a county had to have seven-tenths of the total population of the state, divided by one hundred, in order to be entitled to a single representative. The new constitution also provided for the reapportionment of the senate every ten years. In apportioning senate seats a formula was to be applied that weighted population 80 percent and area 20 percent.
Democrats might have accepted this compromise had it not been for a United States Supreme Court decision, handed down while the convention was still in session. In the case of Baker v. Carr in 1962, the court ordered the Tennessee legislature to carry out the provisions of the Tennessee constitution, which called for reapportionment at periodic intervals according to population. This appeared to offer hope that the federal courts would order the Michigan legislature to be reapportioned on a straight population basis.
Meanwhile, a case initiated in 1959 by August Scholle was pending before the United States Supreme Court. In his suit, Scholle claimed that the 1952 amendment to the Michigan constitution violated the equal-rights provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The state supreme court had decided against him and he had appealed the case to the United States Supreme Court. After the decision in the case of Baker v. Carr, the federal court remanded the Scholle case to the Michigan Supreme Court for reconsideration. On July 18, 1962, the state court, on a party-line 4-3 vote, found in favor of Scholle, cancelled the primary election for the nomination of senators scheduled for August 7, and ordered the legislature to reapportion the senate according to population. But a stay order was obtained from Justice Potter Stewart of the United States Supreme Court, and the primary election was held as scheduled. With the adoption of the new constitution, the question of the constitutionality of the 1952 amendment became academic. Scholle then started over, with a suit claiming the provisions of the new constitution also were in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the federal Constitution.
In 1964 the federal courts declared that the Fourteenth Amendment required that state legislatures be apportioned strictly according to population. The bipartisan apportionment commission (provided for under the new state constitution) having failed to agree on a formula, the state supreme court specified house and senatorial districts of approximately equal population, and in November 1964 legislators were elected from these new districts, with a Democratic majority returned in each house.
The final resolution of the apportionment problem came too late to avert a bitter conflict between the Democratic state administration and the Republican-controlled legislature in the late fifties. In several ways, this conflict badly damaged the state's image and that of a good many of its leaders. The major issue, although originating with the philosophical differences between the conservative Republican legislators and the liberal Williams and his associates, came down to the amount of money needed to finance governmental activities in the state and how it was to be obtained. The sales tax that had been passed in 1933 had satisfactorily met the state's needs for more than a decade. During World War II, in fact, revenues from this and other taxes had resulted in the accumulation of a sizable surplus in the state treasury. But local governmental units found themselves caught in a squeeze. Rising costs of materials as well as wages and salaries created a serious problem for them in view of the fifteen-mill tax limitation. At every legislative session mayors and school superintendents entreated the legislature for state aid. The response was meager. As a result of this situation, a constitutional amendment providing for the diversion of part of the state sales tax to local units was placed on the ballot by petition and adopted by the people in 1946. Under the provisions of this amendment two-thirds of the total sales tax revenue was to be returned to local school districts and one-sixth to cities, villages, and townships. The adoption of this "sales tax diversion amendment" marked the beginning of a long period of financial problems and difficulties for the state government. At the time it was approved, it diverted some 77 percent of the state's revenues to local governmental units.
The legislature in the years that followed sought to make up for the loss to state government of sales tax revenues by levying new taxes and by striving for economy. At the same time, persistent pressures for more and better state services drove the lawmakers to adopt larger and larger budgets. Among the new taxes levied in an effort to balance income and expenditure in the state treasury were a cigarette tax (1947), a diesel fuel tax (1947), liquor taxes (1957 and 1959), a watercraft tax (1947), and a business activities tax (1953). But as government costs continued to rise, these taxes proved inadequate. An amendment adopted in 1954 limited the sales tax to 3 percent. Since the constitution limited the state debt to $250,000 it was impossible to borrow money in any substantial amount. By July 1, 1958, the state treasury showed a deficit of $21.1 million. In order to meet payrolls amounts were borrowed from funds that had a balance to cover deficits in other funds. Payments of state aid to school districts were delayed, and contractors with the state had to wait beyond the usual time for the payment of their bills. The amount of the deficit increased to $95.4 million by July 1, 1959. (12)
These recurring deficits and the possibility that the state might not be able to meet its payrolls got national attention. Michigan became known as the state that was going broke. The reports were greatly exaggerated, but they gave the state a bad reputation. Michigan was by no means the only state that had financial problems in these years. But a variety of factors made the situation in Michigan more acute than elsewhere. With Michigan's increased dependence on the automobile industry, its economy, upon which its tax revenues largely depended, was subject to far more exaggerated fluctuations than was true of the nation's economy as a whole. At the beginning of the fifties, the auto industry boomed, with production in 1950 up to 8,003,056 vehicles, nearly 2 million more than the record number of cars, trucks, and buses that had been produced in 1949. World events then intervened as they had ten years before. The fall of Czechoslovakia to the Communists in 1948, the Communist takeover in China in 1949, and finally the outbreak of war in Korea in 1950 roused the United States to the necessity for renewed expenditures on armaments. Congress not only appropriated vast sums for United States rearmament but also authorized military aid to other non-Communist nations. Some 250,000 Michigan men and women served in the Korean War from 1950 to 1953, and once more, as in 1940, the nation turned to the automobile industry for much of the needed war materials, although during the active phase of the Korean War between 1950 and 1953 civilian automobile production was not shut down. Prosperous times led to sharp increases in auto production, which surpassed 9 million units by 1955. To meet the need for workers resulting from the combination of war contracts and auto production, the flow of people into Michigan in the first half of the fifties was at a rate exceeded by only two or three states in the country.
After 1955, however, employment in Michigan's auto industry declined sharply. As the emphasis in defense shifted to more sophisticated weapons, such as rockets and missiles, most prime government contracts went to other areas. For a time, Michigan received almost no defense contracts, although there was an encouraging upturn later in the early sixties. It was estimated that between 125,000 and 150,000 jobs were lost after 1953 as a consequence of awarding defense contracts to firms in other states. Related to this is the fact that Michigan lagged behind in the industrial research so essential to this field. The big boom, lasting from 1940 to 1955, had absorbed the energies of Michigan industrial leaders. They did not look far enough to the future.
A second factor in the loss of employment in the auto industry was decentralization, which had actually been going on for some time. In the 1930s Michigan had accounted for over 60 percent of all automotive employment. By 1958 this state had only about 47 percent of the nation's employment in the industry. Assembly plants were moved elsewhere to be closer to major markets. It is a moot question whether this movement outside Michigan was induced to any appreciable extent by the relatively high taxes Michigan levied on corporate business.
Also contributing to the decline of employment in the automobile industry was automation, the installation of machinery and devices that reduced the amount of personnel needed to produce a car. Immense sums were spent by the auto companies in 1955 and 1956 for automation. It was estimated that 130,000 additional workers would have been needed in 1958 if production facilities and techniques had been those used in 1948. Other factors that also caused unemployment in the industry were the 1958 recession and the competition of the foreign car. Employment in Michigan auto plants, which stood at 503,000 in 1953, had dropped to 293,000 in 1958.
The result of this on the state as a whole was catastrophic. Michigan had come to be so heavily dependent on automobile manufacturing that it became known as a "one-industry state." The sustained boom over a fifteen-year period brought a huge influx of workers, and when employment in the auto industry was cut almost in half, the unemployment rate in the state, and especially in the Detroit area, far exceeded the national averages. Unemployed people bought less and therefore the revenues from the state sales tax, chief source of revenues for the state government and an important source for local government and schools, declined sharply. At the same time, the cost of providing relief to the unemployed skyrocketed. Thus the decline in the auto industry became a matter of deep concern to all the people in Michigan.
In addition, important as the auto industry had become, it was by no means the sum total of Michigan's economy. Even when the auto industry enjoyed good times, there were large sections of Michigan's population that did not share in that prosperity. In 1960, when the nation's economy was coming out of the recession of the latter part of the fifties and the auto industry was beginning to enjoy one of its better periods, over a fifth of Michigan's families had annual incomes of less than $3,000, which was defined as the poverty level. The median family income in the state at this time was $6,256, but in six counties the median was less than $4,000. The gap between the rural areas and manufacturing centers widened, with manufacturing workers in the early sixties enjoying an increase in their income of 21 percent while the average farmer's income dropped by 6 percent. But in terms of geographical areas, northern Michigan, and particularly the Upper Peninsula, remained the most persistently troubled of all sections in the state. In 1960, when the unemployment rate for the state was 6.9 percent, the rate in parts of the Upper Peninsula was nearly three times as great.
Numerous committees studied the problems of the Upper Peninsula in the fifties and sixties searching for methods of reviving the area's economy. In the mining areas in the western portions of the peninsula, prospects seemed to brighten considerably. In the Copper Country, annual production in the early fifties dropped below 50 million pounds, a fifth of the production reached in the record years of the second decade of the century. But then the White Pine mine in the Ontonagon area, developed by the Copper Range Company with the aid of a $57 million loan from the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, began to use new techniques to produce copper from a huge deposit of low-grade ores that could not be worked profitably under older techniques. By the end of the decade, Michigan copper production annually was above 100 million pounds, with most of this coming from the White Pine development. Additional production was promised by the announcement by Calumet and Hecla in the mid-sixties of the discovery of a similar vast deposit of low-grade copper ores in the central portion of the Copper Country which this company had been mining for a century. Although the announcement indicated that it would be several years before these new deposits could be exploited, it spurred a sudden revival of interest in this company's stock and led to a takeover of the company by a California conglomerate, Universal Oil Products, which may have been more interested in acquiring Calumet and Hecla's Wolverine Tube Division than it was the mining properties. After a prolonged strike of the Calumet and Hecla miners in 1968-69, Universal Oil broke off any further talks and shut down the mine. The action left the White Pine mine as the sole remaining copper producer in Michigan and once again created a feeling of despair in what had once been one of the state's most prosperous areas.
The outlook on the area's three iron ranges also fluctuated between optimism and gloom. In 1954 efforts that had been underway for many years to discover a feasible method of working the vast quantities of low-grade iron ores that remained in this region culminated with the establishment by the Cleveland-Cliffs Iron Company (with funds also supplied by the Ford Motor Company) of a plant near Ishpeming, on the Marquette Iron Range, that would remove most of the waste from these ores and produce a concentrated product with a high percentage of iron. The process, known as beneficiation, worked well and led to the construction of several additional plants which were producing nearly 10 million tons of this iron concentrate by the end of the sixties. This exceeded any production ever achieved on that range. During the sixties, beneficiation began on the Menominee Iron Range, but on January 29, 1966, the last operating iron mine on the Gogebic Iron Range was closed down. This range had produced well over 300 million tons of iron ore since its opening in 1884, but now the ores were either too far underground to permit profitable mining or could not be treated by the processes that were reviving iron mining on the other two ranges.
For many, the economic future of the Upper Peninsula and for much of the northern parts of the Lower Peninsula rested in the development of the tourist industry, and great efforts were expended by the state, through the Michigan Tourist Council, and the regional tourist associations in promoting Michigan's numerous attractions. Helping this development in the fifties was the beginning of the most massive road-building program in the nation's history, particularly after the passage of the Interstate Highway Act of 1956, which called for the construction of 41,000 miles of free express highways across the country, with the federal government paying for 90 percent of the cost. Although much of the emphasis was on the construction of expressways linking the major cities--I-94 between Detroit and Chicago and I-96 from Detroit to Lansing, Grand Rapids, and the Lake Michigan shore areas--there was great interest in the impact that I-75 to northern Michigan and other highway improvements in that direction would have on enabling greater numbers of tourists to reach those areas. By the early sixties, with the completion of much of this work, trips from the southern areas of the state to the Straits of Mackinac that had been exhausting, all-day adventures a short time before could now be made in a matter of four or five hours.
The bottleneck for motorists had always come at Mackinaw City, where they had to ferry their cars across the straits to St. Ignace. The railroad ferries that had been operating there since the late nineteenth century had had little interest in this automobile trade, and the exorbitant rates they had charged to carry the motorists' cars across the straits had led the state highway department in 1923 to establish its own car ferry operation. In normal times of the year, motorists were likely to have only a short wait for the forty-five-minute trip across the straits at the low rates the state charged. But at the peak periods of the tourist and hunting seasons, the lines of cars waiting to board the ferries caused delays of many hours. This led to renewed demands for a bridge across the straits. In 1950 Governor Williams appointed the Mackinac Bridge Authority, with Prentiss M. Brown of St. Ignace, former United States senator, as the chairman. After a long and enormously complicated struggle, Brown and his associates, with the backing of Governor Williams and the tireless work of various individuals--particularly W. Stewart Woodfill, the longtime head of Mackinac Island's Grand Hotel--were able to resolve the doubts concerning the feasibility of such a bridge. A reluctant legislature authorized the work through the issuance by the bridge authority of $99.8 million in revenue bonds, to be paid off by tolls from the users of the bridge. (13)
Work on the bridge, designed by David B. Steinman, began in 1954 and proceeded in the face of formidable difficulties, but the project was completed in November 1957, with the formal dedication occurring in June 1958. The central suspension span, extending 3,800 feet between the main towers that rose 552 feet above the water, was the second longest such span in the world; the total length of the bridge between the cable anchorages was 8,614 feet, leading to the claim that it was the longest suspension bridge in the world, a claim that did not go undisputed. (14) But at any event, the bridge was a spectacular achievement and became one of the state's best-known attractions. It created an enormous boom in the development of facilities of all types to serve the influx of visitors to the area. But the long-term hopes that the bridge, by facilitating traffic between the two peninsulas, would cause the economy of northern Michigan, particularly the Upper Peninsula, to surge ahead again were not fulfilled. There was undoubtedly an impact on the tourist industry, but this was a seasonal industry, incapable of supplying the large numbers of year-round jobs for the residents that lumbering and mining had done in the old days. As for the development of other kinds of industry, the remoteness of this region from the major markets and materials still hindered the development of many large manufacturing activities, despite the best efforts of the state's economic development department, established in 1947, and various Upper Peninsula promotional groups. Thus as the fifties drew to a close, the southern third of the state, itself hard hit by the decline in auto sales, was still in the position it had been in for some years of providing most of the funds needed for governmental services in the other two-thirds of the state.
The costs of those services, furthermore, had been rising sharply in a number of areas, even before the greatly increased expenses of dealing with the high unemployment rates of the late fifties had focused new attention on the state's financial problems. One such area was that served by the Department of Mental Health, which was the largest in terms of the number of employees but which needed much more support as the incidence of mental illness increased and public attitudes that had regarded admission to a mental hospital as a disgrace became less prevalent. The state's mental hospitals were taxed well beyond their capacity by the fifties, leading to demands for expansion of these facilities. By the sixties new approaches to the treatment of mental illness, which stressed the need to involve patients in the community rather than institutionalizing them, were beginning to relieve this overcrowding and would eventually lead to the closing of a number of the state hospitals, without, however, lessening the need for additional funds and staff to care for the patients in their new surroundings.
In addition to the ultimate reduction in the need for state-operated mental hospitals, the success of tuberculosis prevention programs also led either to the closing of tuberculosis sanitariums or the shifting of these facilities to other kinds of medical care. But these gains were offset by the overwhelming need for additional educational facilities to handle the rapidly mounting enrollments that were the paramount problem faced by the state's schools for a quarter of a century after 1945. Indeed, the proportion of young men and women continuing their education through high school had increased sharply during the Depression of the thirties. While the state's population increased 8 percent, high school enrollments went up 56 percent. Future enrollment increases were forecast as the birth rate began a sustained rise during World War II, and from 1940 to 1960 the population growth of Michigan was one of the largest in the nation. College enrollments, which had skyrocketed right after the war as thousands of returning veterans took advantage of the educational benefits and financial aid provided by the G.I. Bill of Rights, continued to rise in the fifties as the proportion of high-school graduates going on to college approached the proportion of primary-school students who had gone on to high school in the thirties. All these factors combined to bring a tidal wave of students into the schools and colleges. Colleges and universities in 1960 enrolled 160,261 students, as compared with 122,808 a decade earlier, and the "war babies" had not yet reached college age. Public-school enrollments stood at a little over a million in 1950--about what they had been in 1930--but by the next decade this enrollment figure had doubled.
These figures led to a host of actions designed to deal with the problem they presented. The movement to consolidate school districts to create the property tax base that was required to provide the facilities and staff the enrollments demanded was accelerated, cutting the number of districts, which had stood at 7,333 in 1910, to 2,145 in 1960. In 1964 an act requiring all school districts to maintain kindergarten through high school programs compelled those that could not do so to merge with neighboring districts. By 1967 the number of districts had been slashed to 740, and, although the pace of consolidation slowed, the number of districts had fallen to 561 by 1990, and the rural one-room school had been virtually eliminated. This meant that nearly all farm children now attended larger schools, where they had better educational opportunities and could become acquainted with children from towns, villages, and cities. This also meant that the number of school buses needed to transport the students in the enlarged districts had to be increased, from 2,000 buses in 1947 carrying 105,733 students to 7,267 buses in 1967 carrying 603,850 students, many of whom no longer came simply from outlying rural areas but also from within the city, for those who lived beyond a reasonable walking distance from the school they attended. Such services cost money, but their cost was nothing compared with the cost of building and staffing the new schools the enlarged enrollments made necessary. By the sixties even districts with substantial tax bases were encountering difficulties in persuading voters to approve property tax hikes to finance these expenses. The result was a demand for increased state aid and a growing belief that some other means to support public schools had to be devised to replace the dependence on revenues from property taxes--although no agreement could be reached as to the source of that revenue.
Beyond the high school level, school districts also became increasingly involved in the support of community colleges. The movement had begun with the opening of Grand Rapids Junior College in 1914. At first this and similar colleges offered only the usual college courses at the freshman and sophomore levels, but beginning in the thirties they also started to provide vocational and technical courses. At about the same time, the legislature authorized broader support for these colleges by permitting several school boards or even an entire county to support a community college. Multicounty support was ultimately approved. State aid to community colleges began in 1947 and helped to trigger an enormous boom in this area of higher education, particularly by the 1960s. By the 1970s there were thirty-nine such colleges in the state, several with more than one campus and enrollments and facilities that rivaled or surpassed those of some of the state's four-year colleges.
Meanwhile, the number of such four-year colleges and universities had also increased. The three that had been established in the mid-nineteenth century had already been increased to seven by the start of the twentieth century with the establishment of Michigan School of Mines (now Michigan Technological University) in 1885 and three new normal schools at Mount Pleasant, Marquette, and Kalamazoo between 1895 and 1903. In the mid-twentieth century there was a great new outburst of activity along this line, part of which centered on a move to upgrade most of the existing schools to university status to reflect more clearly the ways in which their programs had expanded. In spite of intense opposition from the University of Michigan, the one-time agricultural college in East Lansing was renamed Michigan State University on the occasion of that school's centennial in 1955. The normal schools, which had earlier been renamed colleges, now became regional universities, beginning with Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo in 1957, followed by Central Michigan University at Mount Pleasant and Eastern Michigan University at Ypsilanti in 1959, and Northern Michigan University at Marquette in 1963. But in contrast with Michigan State, whose wide-ranging undergraduate and graduate programs in engineering, science, and other areas clearly entitled it to be called a university, only Western Michigan in the early years after these changes had been made came close to the academic standards associated with the use of the term "university."
In addition to the seven state schools that already existed, new state schools emerged after World War II. Wayne University, founded in 1933 by the Detroit Board of Education as a consolidation of several colleges that had developed in Detroit since 1868, was taken over by the state and renamed Wayne State University in 1957 when Detroit could no longer maintain its support. Ferris Institute (now Ferris State University), which had been founded by Woodbridge N. Ferris in 1884, became a state-supported institution in 1950. In 1963 a tenth state-supported degree-granting college, Grand Valley State College, was opened in Allendale, near Grand Rapids, and an eleventh, Saginaw Valley State College, in 1964 (both colleges would later be redesignated universities). In addition, three of the older state schools established branches, with Michigan Tech's branch at Sault Ste. Marie, established in old Fort Brady in 1946, achieving an independent status as Lake Superior College (later, university) in 1969. Michigan State's branch at Rochester, opened in 1957, became Oakland University in 1970. Branches established by the University of Michigan at Flint in 1956 and at Dearborn in 1959 developed into full four-year operations but continued under the control of the university board of regents.
Much of this expansion was in response to the increase in college enrollments that outstripped the ability of the existing schools to handle them, despite massive postwar building programs. Unfortunately, political considerations, rather than actual educational needs, often seemed to explain much of this growth and pointed up the failure of the state to maintain the kind of centralized control that had been included in the plans of Augustus B. Woodward, Isaac Crary, and John D. Pierce. The need for such controls was underlined in the late 1960s when a flood of students born in the postwar baby boom reached college age. Between 70 and 80 percent of the state's college students enrolled in its tax-supported institutions, 20 percent over the national average, thus requiring much higher appropriations for higher education. But some college administrators were overly optimistic in their projections of future enrollments, leaving them, when enrollments leveled off and began to fall in the 1970s, with excess staff and classroom and dormitory space. By the time the state Board of Education tried to assume a stronger supervisory role in the 1970s it was too late for it to gain effective control of the situation.
The escalating costs of state services were major factors in the tax and financial crisis that climaxed in 1959. But the political aspect of the crisis received much more attention. The winning personality of Governor Williams, which had endeared him to the majority of the state's voters, had no effect on the Republican majority in the legislature. Party rivalry is normal and healthy, but in Michigan during the latter part of the fifties, the rivalry between the Democrats and the Republicans, who had been repeatedly thwarted in their attempts to oust Williams from the governor's office, became bitter and often vicious.
It was apparent by 1957 that expenditures of state government would have to be curtailed or else new tax revenues found. The Republicans blamed Governor Williams for reckless spending. The Democrats replied that every penny spent had to be appropriated by the Republican legislature. Actually, the increased need of funds for education, mental hospitals, relief, and other state programs made it impossible to reduce spending. Even the enemies of Williams came to recognize that the only answer was to increase tax revenues. But at this point a serious difference of opinion arose over tax philosophy. On the one hand, the Republicans favored an increase in the sales tax, which Democrats opposed because it would impose a heavier burden on low-income families than it would on those in higher brackets. On the other hand, Governor Williams urged that the state adopt a graduated personal and corporation income tax as the fairest and most equitable kind of taxation. He met with staunch opposition in the legislature, and there was evidence that the majority of Michigan citizens, while demonstrating their support of Williams, did not favor an income tax. The voters had twice rejected proposals for a state income tax in the 1920s by overwhelming majorities. Newspaper polls in the 1950s showed popular opposition to such a tax, which encouraged the Republicans in the legislature to maintain an intransigent opposition to Williams's proposals. They derided a study of the Michigan tax system that recommended an income tax as being the work of labor-union bosses.
The mounting state deficit made it obvious that the legislature that convened January 14, 1959, would have to take some kind of action. Weeks went by, however, with no decision. There were indications that conservative Republicans in the legislature were deliberately putting off a decision on tax reform in order to destroy Williams as a possible presidential candidate in 1960 by giving him the image of a governor of a bankrupt state. For his part, Williams made the mistake of thinking that the Republicans would compromise before forcing the state to suspend payment of its obligations. Many years later, however, Williams admitted that compromise was "a word that didn't fit into my vocabulary very well" at that time either. (15) On May 5, 1959, the state did not pay its employees. This "payless payday," which made headlines across the country and was featured on national television news programs that evening, further damaged Michigan's reputation. Even though funds were juggled and employees did receive their pay the following week, the harm had been done.
The "payless payday" incident, however, did force political leaders to deal with the problem. On August 29 lawmakers passed a series of bills to increase tax revenues. The business receipts tax was increased, and so was the intangibles tax. Main reliance was placed, however, upon a so-called use tax of one percent. In effect this was an addition to the 3 percent sales tax, although it covered some items such as hotel bills that the sales tax did not cover. By calling it a use tax the legislature sought to evade the constitutional limit of 3 percent on the sales tax. But the stratagem proved unsuccessful, for on October 22 the state supreme court found the new tax unconstitutional. (16) The legislature then reconvened and on December 18 enacted a package of nuisance taxes on telephone bills, liquor, cigarettes, and beer. The corporation franchise tax was also increased. Even with the income from these new taxes (which became effective January 1, 1960), expenditures for the fiscal year 1959-60 exceeded revenues by $9,211,630. In 1960 the legislature authorized the raiding of the Veterans' Trust Fund, pledging the state to appropriate each year an amount equal to the annual interest the fund had earned. This brought $40.7 million into the state treasury, reducing the accumulated deficit on July 1, 1960, to around $64 million.
But this was no permanent solution to chronic deficits. Indeed, the nuisance taxes were intended only as a stopgap. The 1960 legislature drew up a proposal to amend the constitution that would permit a 4 percent sales tax. The question was submitted at the November 8, 1960, election, and was approved by a narrow margin. The legislature then reconvened and enacted a measure increasing the sales tax to the amount now authorized. It was signed by the governor and took effect on February 1, 1961. John B. Swainson, who had succeeded G. Mennen Williams as governor, recommended a tax program to the legislature that called for permitting nuisance taxes to lapse, abandonment of the sales tax on food, and enactment of a personal and corporation income tax. The legislature rejected his plan, except for allowing the nuisance taxes to expire on schedule July 1, 1961. By that time the deficit was up again to almost $72 million. Even with a full year's yield of the new sales tax, the following year produced another deficit, running the total to $85 million on July 1, 1962. Some of the nuisance taxes were reimposed, and this, added to a sharp increase of business activity, resulted in a reduction of the deficit by July 1, 1963, to around $45 million. Nevertheless, the need for tax reform remained one of the major unresolved issues in the state.
The political stalemate that reached its grim climax with the financial crisis of 1959 had far-reaching consequences for Michigan political parties and for many of its political leaders. It marked a turning point in the career of G. Mennen Williams. Michigan's best-known politician of the fifties made a serious mistake in 1958 when he chose to run for another term as governor. The state party chairman, Neil Staebler, had urged Williams to run for the United States Senate that year. (17) The Democrats had captured one of Michigan's two Senate seats in 1954 when the Detroit labor official, Patrick V. McNamara, had defeated the incumbent Republican, Homer Ferguson. The other Michigan seat was held by Charles E. Potter, a Republican who had been elected in 1952 to the seat that had been held by the late Arthur Vandenberg. Potter had been a rather obscure member of the Senate who would likely be easily defeated in 1958 by a Democrat of any stature. Williams certainly would have had no trouble winning such an election, and in Staebler's view he could do far more to advance himself as a national political figure with a shot at the party's presidential nomination if he went on to the United States Senate than if he stayed on in Lansing, where he had achieved about all he could achieve in face of the legislature's opposition to his programs. But Williams apparently felt that his reputation and his programs were at stake and that his career would be damaged if he stepped down from the governor's position at this critical time. Thus, while Williams's lieutenant governor, Philip A. Hart, defeated Potter in 1958, and during the next eighteen years became one of the nation's most respected United States senators, Williams ran for and was elected to a sixth term as governor, although by a margin that was only half of what he had run up over his Republican opponent in 1956. That sixth term was a fatal one for Williams. The state's financial embarrassments effectively destroyed any hopes he might have held for the presidency. He still had great influence as the titular leader of the Democrats in one of the most populous states in the country, and his early support of John F. Kennedy in 1960 gave an important boost to Kennedy's drive to gain the Democratic presidential nomination that year. But at the Democratic National Convention Williams was visibly and vocally dismayed when he learned of Kennedy's choice of the Texan, Lyndon B. Johnson, as his vice-presidential running mate. Then following Kennedy's narrow victory over Richard M. Nixon, which was greatly aided by the success of the Michigan Democrats in carrying the state for Kennedy--the first Democratic presidential candidate to gain this support since 1944--Michigan Democrats were bitterly disappointed when the president-elect, rather than naming Williams to a cabinet-level position, appointed him assistant secretary of state for African affairs, a job which was scarcely regarded at that time as a choice assignment in the federal government and one which did little to advance Williams's career either on the national or state level. (18)
If the financial problems of 1959 served to derail the Democratic governor's political plans, however, they also had an equally serious impact on the reputations and futures of Williams's hard-line Republican conservative opponents. When a telegram from Joseph H. Creighton of the Michigan Manufacturers Association to the Republican senators, congratulating them on having Williams "over the barrel for the first time in ten years" and urging them to "keep him there 'til he screams 'uncle,'." (19) was leaked to the newspapers, many were certainly outraged that such personal partisan considerations should be given precedence over the resolution of the state's pressing problems. Further damage to the conservatives' cause resulted from the antics of such Republican senators as John P. Smeekens, whose motto "Smeekens Never Weakens" summed up his opposition to any suggestion that an income tax be adopted, while Senator Carlton H. Morris, a member of the senate's taxation committee, strapped a mock torpedo to the top of his car to indicate what he intended to do to any tax reform measures. These tactics backfired, causing even the Detroit News, always a strong Republican supporter, to declare during the "payless payday" crisis in 1959 that "the senate Republicans have made the Democrats look like paragons of political courage and virtue." (20) The result was a strengthening of the position of moderate Republicans, who argued that the party could never regain the governorship if it continued to project a negative image of being completely opposed to everything proposed by Williams and the Democratic Party. The nomination of Paul D. Bagwell, a moderate Republican from the faculty of Michigan State University, as the Republican gubernatorial candidate in 1958 and 1960 was an indication that the extreme conservatives did not control the party, and although Bagwell did not win either race, the narrow margins by which he was defeated, particularly in 1960, suggested that moderation was the path that Republicans should follow and which they did follow with the successful gubernatorial campaigns of George Romney in the sixties and William Milliken in the seventies.
At the same time that the Republicans began to demonstrate greater strength at the state level, the coalition of liberal intellectuals, labor unions, and ethnic and minority groups that had carried the Democrats to victory from 1948 to 1960 began to disintegrate. The importance of G. Mennen Williams in holding these diverse elements together was revealed in 1960 when he did not seek another term as governor and a bitter primary fight raged between Lieutenant Governor John B. Swainson and Secretary of State James M. Hare to gain the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. Hare had been the party's best vote getter since he was first elected secretary of state in 1954. His temperament and his long association with Williams indicated to many Democrats that he was best able to maintain the loyal support of the party's various factions. Swainson had risen rapidly in the ranks, however, and with his strong union support gained the nomination and went on to defeat Bagwell in November, becoming, at age thirty-five, the state's youngest governor since Stevens T. Mason. But Swainson was unable to handle the problems he had inherited from the Williams administration and at the same time heal the deep divisions in his party caused by the primary campaign of 1960; in 1962 he fell victim to a resurgent Republican Party and its dynamic new leader, George W. Romney.
Thirty years later Neil Staebler declared that he and Williams in 1960 had tried to persuade Swainson not to run for governor but to continue on as the candidate for lieutenant governor, running with Hare, who was the better-known candidate and more in the Williams mold. However, "John's ambition greatly overbalanced his party philosophy, and the campaign took on a competitive tenseness which had long-term repercussions." With Swainson's victory, Staebler wrote, "the prevailing sense of purpose which dominated the Party gave way to a calculation of personal ambition." (21)
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|Publication:||Michigan: A History of the Wolverine State|
|Date:||Jan 1, 1995|
|Previous Article:||Chapter 26: Depression and war.|
|Next Article:||Chapter 28: years of change and turmoil.|