Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

The Other Caraway: Senator Thaddeus H. Caraway

Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

The Other Caraway: Senator Thaddeus H. Caraway

Article excerpt

DESPITE A POLITICAL CAREER that included four years as the prosecuting attorney of the second Judicial District in Arkansas, eight years in the United States House of Representatives, and more than ten years as a U.S. senator, Thad Caraway has almost vanished from the political history of Arkansas.

There are multiple reasons for his failure to draw more public and scholarly attention. Though his election to the U.S. Senate in 1920 offered opportunities for media exposure and policy making, he would be overshadowed by Joe T. Robinson, the senior senator from Arkansas, who became the leader of Senate Democrats in 1923 and the party's vice-presidential nominee in 1928. Diane Kincaid (later Diane Blair), a biographer of Hattie Caraway, Thad Caraway's wife and later U.S. senator in her own right, commented that "both Caraways lacked the polish and suavity that permitted Robinson's easy entry into the more sophisticated political and financial inner circles."1 Republican control of the U.S. Senate during Thad Caraway's years there also made it hard for someone who was a Wilsonian loyalist in foreign affairs and an agrarian populist at home to enact significant legislation. Perhaps the most important factor of all in drawing attention away from Thad Caraway was his wife's election to a six-year term as a United States senator from Arkansas in 1932, following his death in 1931. For the first time, a woman had been elected to serve a full term in the U.S. Senate.2 The unintended consequence of her courageous and unexpected victory was to eclipse her husband and his political career. But both Caraways deserve historical recognition, Thad as well as Hattie, and it is unfortunate that Thad is sometimes slighted.

Thad Caraway built a reputation in the Senate, Kincaid wrote, as "a champion of the poor white farmers of his state and region, a foe of lobbyists, a die-hard Democrat, and a fierce opponent in debate."3 He played a conspicuous role in cleaning up the Teapot Dome scandal. He repeatedly attacked Albert Fall, secretary of the interior during the Harding and Coolidge administrations, calling him a traitor and comparing him to Benedict Arnold, a comparison in which Arnold came out better than Fall. His attacks helped to speed Fall's resignation and led to the passage of a resolution canceling the Teapot Dome oil leases.4 Caraway also chaired a Senate committee that investigated lobbying groups and their influence in Congress in 1929 and 1930. In 1931, he and Robinson clashed with President Herbert Hoover over the amount of relief money to be apportioned to Arkansas and other states to mitigate the disastrous effects of the 1930 drought. They won.

Thaddeus Horatius Caraway was born in Spring Hill, Stoddard County, Missouri, on October 17, 1871. His parents, Tolbert F. Caraway and Mary E. Scates, moved from Missouri to Carroll County, Tennessee, when Caraway was very young. Soon afterward, his father, a doctor, died.5 Caraway attended common schools in Tennessee and graduated from Dickson Normal College in Dickson, Tennessee, with a bachelor of arts degree in 1896. He helped pay his way through college by working as a cotton picker, sawmill laborer, and railroad section hand.6 While at Dickson, he became engaged to a fellow student, Hattie Ophelia Wyatt, who also graduated in 1896 with a bachelor of arts degree.7

Caraway settled in Arkansas, probably first in clay County, teaching school in order to finance his legal studies. Admitted to the bar in 1900, he began to practice in Lake City, a small town in Craighead County, not far from Jonesboro.8 In 1902, he married Hattie Wyatt and moved his legal practice to Jonesboro, which became the Caraways' permanent home.9 The couple had three children, Paul, Forrest, and Robert.

After practicing law with his firm, Caraway and Lamb, for five years, Caraway decided to run for prosecuting attorney for the second Judicial District, consisting of Mississippi, clay, Greene, Craighead, Poinsett, Cross, and Crittenden Counties. …

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