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Notable Oregonians: Wayne Morse - U.S. Senator

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Wayne Morse

Wayne Morse, 1900-1974

Wayne Morse was born to a rural farming family in Madison, Wisconsin where he learned the Progressive tradition that was in full swing in Wisconsin during the early 1900s. He attended college at the University of Wisconsin, earning Bachelor's degrees in speech and economics, and a Master's degree in speech. As a professor of rhetoric and speech at the University of Minnesota, Morse took law courses, completing the LL.B. law degree in 1928, and coursework for a Doctor of Jurisprudence degree from Columbia University Law School the following year.

 

He took his first law professorship at the University of Oregon School of Law, and within nine months became the dean. At thirty, he was the youngest dean of any ABA-accredited law school in the country. While he was still dean he began to practice labor arbitration, first settling a labor dispute and obviating a strike of the Ferryboatmen's Union in Portland in 1935. In the wake of this success, Morse was appointed Pacific Coast arbitrator in 1939 by the U.S. Secretary of Labor, where he practiced as a "kind of one-man longshore industry supreme court," according to labor economist Charles Larrowe. Morse's mission as an arbitrator was to uphold what he saw as the sanctity of the contract, the rule of law in the field of labor relations. Deeply committed to fairness and justice, he was popular both with unions and employers. He later served on the National War Labor Board.

 

Morse represented Oregon from 1944 to 1968 in the U.S. Senate where he was a leader in a wide range of issues, including the antiwar movement, education, civil rights, and international law. He is perhaps best remembered for his historic stance as one of two senators who opposed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which initiated U.S. military intervention in Vietnam. Morse was defeated by Bob Packwood in 1968.

 

Known as an outspoken maverick, after he had left the Republican party in the 1950s but not yet joined the Democrats, he placed his chair temporarily in the middle of the center aisle in order to demonstrate his independence. While he was described as the "loneliest man in Washington" for his sometimes abrasive style, he also earned the title of the "conscience of the Senate."

 

(Sources: Wayne Morse Center for Law and Politics | Biographical Directory of the United States Congress) Revised 1/2013

 

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