The Governorship of William M. Tuck, 1946-1950 : Virginia Politics in the "Golden Age" of the Byrd Organization

Crawley, William Bryan, Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia
Younger, Edward, Department of History, University of Virginia
Shannon, David A., University of Virginia

For much of the first three quarters of the twentieth century, the political history of Virginia was dominated by the Democratic organization of Harry Flood Byrd. During that time there was one political figure, William Munford Tuck, whose career remarkably paralleled that of the Byrd organization. Having entered· active politics in the early 1920's, just as Byrd was solidifying his political machine, Tuck advanced along the cursus honorum while the organization grew in strength: from the House of Delegates in the 1920's he moved to the state Senate in the 1930's, was elected lieutenant governor in 1941, governor in 1945, and congressman from the state's Fifth District in 1953. By the time he retired from politics in 1968, the Byrd organization was in serious decline. The years of Tuck's governorship, 1946-1950, were years in which the organization was at the height of its power. The dissertation focuses on the political events of those years.

The post-World War II era was in Virginia, as it was across the nation, a time of increased hostility toward labor unions. The most spectacular manifestation of labor unrest in Virginia occurred in the spring of 1946 when a proposed strike of electrical workers threatened to cut off power to over half of the state. Taking a novel approach, Governor Tuck reacted by drafting the would-be strikers into the state "unorganized militia." Since the threatened strike was settled before the draft went into operation, the legality of the maneuver was never tested in the courts. It did, however, win for Tuck a reputation as being anti-labor. The following year the Virginia General Assembly enacted an important body of labor legislation, including a statute which provided for state seizure and operation of public utilities in the event of work stoppages, and (reflecting the national mood which led to the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act) a statute which guaranteed the "open shop."

One of the most controversial events of the Tuck governorship involved a change in the state's presidential election law in 1948. The most notable feature of the revised statute was that it permitted a state party to choose, 60 days prior to the election date, a presidential nominee other than the nominee of the national party. Since the law was enacted shortly after President Truman had taken a strong stand in favor of civil rights a position which brought an angry Southern response), the legislation was widely interpreted as being an attempt to block Truman's re-election. Although the so-called Tuck "anti-Truman bill" did not keep Truman from being re-elected, or even keep him from carrying Virginia, it did indicate a growing Southern alienation from the national Democratic party.

Other significant aspects of the Tuck administration included a revision of the state tax structure; a movement to repeal the poll tax as a prerequisite for voting; a mildly effective reorganization of the state governmental structure; and salutary, if limited, increases in expenditures for state services such as public schools, health and welfare. In examining such developments, the dissertation attempts to show how the Byrd organization operated during the time when it was at its peak; further the study seeks to suggest the essence of the organization's philosophy and development by tracing the career of William M. Tuck both before and after his governorship.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Tuck, William M. -- (William Munford) -- 1896-1983

Digitization of this thesis was made possible by a generous grant from the Jefferson Trust, 2015.

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