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Fundamental Documents of Ohio







1939- 1945

The year 1938 saw the rebound of the Republican party in Ohio after eight years of Democratic rule in the statehouse and in most of the eighty-eight county courthouses-a period during which the party of Hayes, Garfield, McKinley, Hanna, and Foraker had ebbed to the lowest point of power since the Civil War. The candidate for governor who led the party to victory that year and who was twice reelected, thus becoming the first Republican governor to serve three consecutive terms, was John William Bricker.

Bricker was no "political accident." He had come up a long route of political activity, beginning with his indoctrination as a boy when he accompanied his father to the Republican party caucuses in his native Pleasant Township in Madison County. Politics was in his blood; he debated it in the high school at Mt. Sterling and as a member of the debating team at Ohio State University, where he divided his activities between forensics and the varsity baseball team. At the university, in 1916, he organized a campus club supporting Hughes and Willis, the candidates for president and governor. While yet in his twenties, he was elected president of the Buckeye Republican Club of Columbus. By that time many party members already had their eyes on him as a "young hopeful" among Republicans. Years later one of the state's best-known Republican leaders of Ohio said: "I have never known anyone except Bricker whose friends have thought from the time he was 18 years old that he would some day be governor."

John Bricker was born on September 6, 1893, in a house built partly of logs on a small farm, the son of Lemuel and Laura King Bricker. On his paternal side he was descended from colonial settlers who came to Maryland from southern Germany; on his mother's side he was of Scotch-Irish descent, also by way of Maryland. Bricker and his twin sister, Ella, later Mrs. P. Freeman Mooney, attended one-room rural schools in Madison County until they entered Mt. Sterling High School.

Bricker's college career was interrupted by World War I in which he served as a chaplain in the army. Because of a "slow heart," he had been rejected by the army, the navy, and the marines, and finally by his draft board. By special ordination of his church, the Christian, the way was opened for him to enter the army chaplain corps. Shortly before the armistice in 1918, he was approved for line service, the physical requirements having been changed, but with the cessation of hostilities the transfer fell through and he was mustered out of the service as a first lieutenant in the chaplain corps.

Bricker's first public office (1920) was that of solicitor of the village of Grandview, a Columbus suburb. Three years later he was appointed assistant attorney general and counsel for the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, in which position he was soon established as a champion of fair utilities prices for the consumer. In 1928, at the age of thirty-four, Bricker became a candidate for attorney general and missed nomination by less than 8,800 votes in a field of six. The next year Governor Myers Y. Cooper named Bricker to the public utilities commission where, during three years of service, he made a distinguished record as an advocate of fair rates and the extension and improvement of utilities services in rural areas. He was nominated for attorney general without opposition in 1932, and was elected despite the fact that the Democratic governor, George White, was reelected by a plurality of more than 200,000 and that Franklin D. Roosevelt carried the state for president. His record as attorney general was such as to merit reelection, and he was elected by a plurality of 40,000, again in the face of a general Democratic sweep throughout Ohio. By 1936 it was almost universally conceded that Bricker should be the Republican candidate for governor, and he was nominated without opposition to face the Democratic incumbent, Martin L. Davey, who was seeking a second term. That year the national administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt was at its height of popularity and power. Under the existing Ohio election code, the national and state tickets were printed on the same ballot, and Governor Davey made the most of that fact, tying his candidacy to that of Roosevelt. Bricker attempted to press home charges of waste and corruption in the state government, but the Davey strategy won, the Democrats winning every state office and the general assembly. Bricker, however, ran 300,000 votes ahead of the presidential nominee and it was a foregone conclusion he would again lead his party's ticket in 1938. In the latter year, Bricker campaigned vigorously and effectively, sometimes traveling several hundred miles a day. During the legislative sessions of 1937 and 1938, a senate committee of the Democratic legislature had produced testimony supporting the charges Bricker had made in the 1936 campaign regarding the Davey administration. Davey was defeated for renomination by Charles Sawyer, a former lieutenant governor and at that time the Democratic national committeeman from Ohio. Bricker drove home the campaign slogan, "Ohio Needs a Change," and won by a majority of 118,229, leading to victory a list of candidates, including Robert A. Taft, first Republican United States Senator from Ohio in ten years, and fifteen out of twenty-four members of the national house of repre- sentatives from Ohio, and enough Republican candidates for the legisla- ture to return that body to Republican control.

In his inaugural address, delivered on January 9, 1939, Governor Bricker spoke out against the growing centralization of government and the growing dependence on federal bureaucracy. "There must be a revitalization of state and local governments throughout the nation," he said. "The individual citizen must again be conscious of his responsibility to his government and alert to the preservation of his rights as a citizen under it. That cannot be done by taking government further away, but by keeping it at home.... Here in America we are determined again to encourage business rather than to hinder it; to preserve opportunity and to recognize the proper place of the individual in his government.

No superman or dictator can point the way to the better life we seek. It is a democratic task. The leadership must be of the many, of people of high character and good purpose. Such leadership is undramatic but safe. By it, democracies can serve and build."

This was Bricker's political creed. It ruled his conduct during his six years as governor; it was his platform as a candidate for the Republican nomination for president in 1944, and the theme that pervaded the hundreds of speeches he made that year in a transcontinental tour as his party's candidate for vice president, following his nomination to that office by the Republican national convention; it is the philosophy to which he has adhered as United States Senator from Ohio, since his election to that office in 1946 and his reelection in 1952.

When Bricker assumed the governorship of Ohio in 1939, the state was operating under a $40,000,000 deficit, composed mostly of promises made to local subdivisions, including school districts, to pay off debts the state had authorized them to incur in lieu of a balanced state budget. Governor Bricker at once instituted a program of economy which included dismissal of hundreds of unnecessary state employees, cancellation of contracts for state supplies in favor of agreements at lower prices, reorganization of various departments of state government, revamping of state and local government budget procedures, and en- forcement of tax laws as to assessments and collections. This program resulted, during Bricker's six years as governor, not only in the liquidation of the debts incurred by schools and local governments and in the erasure of a $2,000,000 operating deficit, but in the accumulation of a surplus in excess of $90,000,000. At the same time, payments in old age pensions were substantially increased, partly by larger state appro- priations; the state public school foundation program was put in operation in its entirety for the first time; many state and local facilities were provided for defense purposes from the state treasury; a post-war building fund of $19,000,000 for state institutions was established; local government debts were decreased; and the efficiency and services of the state departments were improved generally. Each of the times the voters reelected Bricker governor, that is, in 1940 and 1942, it was by an increased majority.

Most of the period of World War II fell within Bricker's admin- istration. Advance planning under his direction enabled Ohio to slip into wartime gear with a minimum of strain and confusion. Months before Pearl Harbor, the governor had appointed a committee to coordinate industrial activities with national defense and had obtained from the legislature authorization for a state council of defense and local defense councils, an increase in the size of the state highway patrol; and the establishment of a state guard to defend the state in the absence of the Ohio National Guard which had been called into federal service in October 1940. Through these agencies and the regular departments of the state government, Ohio was well prepared for the demands of wartime. After Pearl Harbor it was unnecessary even to call a special session of the legislature. Bricker's appointments of commanding officers in the Ohio National Guard were shown by their performance and record in World War II to have been exceptionally outstanding.

After his defeat in November 1958 for reelection to the United States Senate in the reaction against the Republican party's support (against his advice) of the right-to-work issue in Ohio, Bricker resumed the private practice of law in Columbus. He is at present senior member of the firm of Bricker, Evatt, Barton, Eckler, and Niehoff. He is also a director of a number of corporations including Republic Steel, Buckeye Federal Savings, and Buckeye Steel Castings. Although a three-term governor of Ohio and United States Senator for twelve years serving on the atomic energy control and other important committees of the senate, Governor Bricker derives his greatest satisfaction from his service on the board of trustees of the Ohio State University. He is completing his third term (twenty-one years) on the board, of which he is now chairman.

Mrs. Bricker, the former Harriet Day of Urbana, a fellow student of Bricker's at Ohio State, was one of the most charming and beloved of Ohio's "first ladies." The Brickers have one son, John Day Bricker, who is associated with his father's legal firm. Ohio State Journal


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