Congressperson Walter L Hensley and World War I Opposition

A high-school classmate contacted me and informed me that his grandfather, Congressperson Walter L Hensley, voted against the Declaration of War, that brought the U.S. into World War I as an “associated power”, on Good Friday, April 6, 1917. The vote in the House was 373-50. Jeannette Rankin, the first woman elected to the Congress, was one of those fifty heroes in the House. Now we have another.

The Congressman was from the 13th District in Missouri and was a Democrat. I have always considered a vote against war to be an example of unstinting leadership. I consider it uncommon courage and valour when a Senator or Congressperson votes against a president’s request for war even though they are members of the same party. Such was the case with Mr Hensley and President Woodrow Wilson.

Congressperson Hensley also served as United States District Attorney from 1919-1920. I must admit some respect for an administration, which having successfully obtained a Declaration of War, would appoint an antiwar member of Congress to such an elevated position.

My high school, Mary Institute-Saint Louis Country Day School, has produced three United States Senators: Tom Eagleton (Democrat from Missouri), who briefly was George McGovern’s running mate, Pete Wilson (Republican from California), who besides becoming a senator from Cal., also served as governor; John Danforth (Democrat from Missouri), who recently served as U.N. Ambassador under Mr Bush. When I graduated from MICDS, it was in Danforth Chapel, that had been donated to the school from his relatives who I believe had founded Ralston Purina.

Yet most of my classmates were Republicans–from ardently active political families. I remember my father would prep me to “debate” them whenever there was an election and I would wear a button of a Democratic presidential candidate among a sea of GOP buttons. I know that is where my political interests began, having being encouraged to pronounce my views even if in a distinct minority. My father was obsessed with politics and wanted me to serve as his liberal voice when I went to school in the mornings!! He would ask me in the evenings, “What did they say to you today? What did they say?” I would sheepishly recount these conversations and he would say. “No No! Tomorrow tell them about the Marshall Plan, Point 4, Social Security. Peter, point these out to them!” I did not really know what these were but I was a semi-passive mouthpiece for my father. That passivity however would eventually change, as the seeds of political discourse and advocacy, were unknowingly being planted within me. This base of political expression would remain dormant in college but would surface mightily in graduate school.

For the record: I consider the Democratic Party to be utterly lacking in vision and honour. It merely wants power and has no alternative vision for the country. I hope they never win another presidential contest given their craven hypocrisy and violent prowar, prodeath penalty, anti-equal marriage position.

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