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John C. Stennis
United States Senator
from Mississippi

In office
November 17, 1947 – January 3, 1989
Preceded by Theodore Bilbo
Succeeded by Trent Lott
President pro tempore of the United States Senate

In office
January 3, 1987 – January 3, 1989
Deputy George J. Mitchell
Preceded by Strom Thurmond
Succeeded by Robert Byrd
Chairman of the United States Senate Committee on Armed Services

In office
January 3, 1969 – January 3, 1981
Preceded by Richard Russell
Succeeded by John Tower
Personal details
Born John Cornelius Stennis
(1901-08-03)August 3, 1901
Kemper County, Mississippi, U.S.
Died April 23, 1995(1995-04-23) (aged 93)
Jackson, Mississippi, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Coy Hines
Children John Hampton Stennis
Margaret Jane Stennis Womble
Alma mater Mississippi A&M University
University of Virginia
Profession Politician, Lawyer
Religion Presbyterian

Stennis (left) visited the Marshall Space Flight Center in mid-November 1967, where he was greeted at the Redstone Airfield by Center Director Dr. Wernher von Braun.

John Cornelius Stennis (August 3, 1901 – April 23, 1995) was a U.S. Senator from the state of Mississippi. He was a Democrat who served in the Senate for over 41 years, becoming its most senior member for his last eight years. He retired from the Senate in 1989.


Stennis was the son of Hampton Howell Stennis and Margaret Cornelia Adams. His great-grandfather John Stenhouse emigrated to Greenville, South Carolina from Scotland just before the American Revolution. According to family tradition, the local residents would habitually mispronounce his name, forcing him to legally change it to Stennis.[1]

Early life

Born in Kemper County, Mississippi, Stennis received a bachelor's degree from Mississippi State University in Starkville (then Mississippi A&M) in 1923.[2] In 1928, Stennis obtained a law degree from the University of Virginia at Charlottesville, where he was a member of Phi Beta Kappa and Alpha Chi Rho Fraternity.[3] While in law school, he won a seat in the Mississippi House of Representatives, in which he served until 1932. Stennis was a prosecutor from 1932 to 1937 and a circuit judge from 1937 to 1947, both for Mississippi's Sixteenth Judicial District.

Stennis married Coy Hines, and together, they had two children, John Hampton and Margaret Jane. His son, John Hampton Stennis (1935–2013),[4] an attorney in Jackson, Mississippi, ran unsuccessfully in 1978 for the United States House of Representatives, defeated by the Republican Jon C. Hinson, then the aide to U.S. Representative Thad Cochran.

U.S. Senator

Upon the death of Senator Theodore Bilbo in 1947, Stennis won the special election to fill the vacancy, winning the seat from a field of five candidates (including two sitting Congressmen, John E. Rankin and William M. Colmer). He won the seat in his own right in 1952, and was reelected five times. From 1947 to 1978, he served alongside James Eastland; thus Stennis spent 31 years as Mississippi's junior Senator, even though he had more seniority than most of his other colleagues. He and Eastland were at the time the longest serving Senate duo in American history, later broken by the South Carolina duo of Strom Thurmond and Fritz Hollings. He later developed a good relationship with Eastland's successor, Republican Thad Cochran.

Stennis wrote the first Senate ethics code, and was the first chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee. In August 1965, Senator Stennis, who was known as "Mr. Integrity", protested the Johnson administration's emergency supplemental appropriation request for the Vietnam war and the lack of information about the future costs of the conflict.[5]

In January 1973, Stennis was almost fatally wounded by two gunshots after being mugged outside his Washington home by two teenagers.[6] In October of that year, during the Watergate scandal, the Nixon administration proposed the Stennis compromise, wherein the hard-of-hearing Stennis would listen to the contested Oval Office tapes and report on their contents, but this plan went nowhere. Time magazine magazine ran a picture of John Stennis that read: "Technical Assistance Needed." The picture had his hand cupped around his ear.

Stennis lost his left leg to cancer in 1984[7] and subsequently used a wheelchair.

Stennis was named President pro tempore of the United States Senate during the 100th Congress (1987–1989). During his Senate career he chaired, at various times, the Select Committee on Standards and Conduct, and the Armed Services, and Appropriations Committees. Because of his work with the Armed Services Committee (1969–1980) he became known as the "Father of America's modern navy", and he was subsequently honored by having a supercarrier, USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74) named after him. He is one of only two members of Congress to be so honored, the other being former Georgia Democrat Carl Vinson.

Civil rights record

Originally, Stennis was an ardent supporter of racial segregation, like most Mississippian Democrats at the time. In the 1950s and 1960s he vigorously opposed the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as well as the Civil Rights Act of 1968 and he signed the Southern Manifesto of 1956, supporting filibuster tactics to block or delay passage in all cases.

Earlier, as a prosecutor, he sought the conviction and execution of three sharecroppers whose murder confessions had been extracted by torture, including flogging.[8] The convictions were overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in the landmark case of Brown v. Mississippi (1936) that banned the use of evidence obtained by torture. The transcript of the trial indicated Stennis was fully aware that the suspects had been tortured.

As time went on, Stennis became more supportive of civil rights legislation. He supported the 1982 extension of the Voting Rights Act,[9] though he voted against establishing Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a federal holiday.[10] Stennis campaigned (along with Governor Bill Allain) for Mike Espy in 1986 during Espy's successful bid to become the first black Congressman from the state since the end of Reconstruction.

Joseph McCarthy

Stennis was the first Democrat to publicly criticize Joseph McCarthy on the Senate floor during the Red Scare. This stood in marked contrast to Eastland, who was a staunch supporter of McCarthy.

Opposition to Bork

Stennis opposed President Ronald Reagan's nomination of Robert Bork to the U.S. Supreme Court. On October 23, 1987, Stennis voted with six Republicans and all but two Democrats to defeat Bork's nomination by a vote of 42 to 58.


In 1982, his last election, Stennis easily defeated Republican Haley Barbour in a largely Democratic year.

Declining to run for re-election in 1988, Stennis retired from the Senate in 1989, having never lost an election in 60 years as an elected official. He took a teaching post at Mississippi State University, his alma mater, which he held until his death in Jackson, Mississippi, at the age of 93. At the time of Stennis' retirement, his continuous tenure of 41 years and 2 months in the Senate was second only to that of Carl Hayden. (It has since been surpassed by Robert Byrd, Strom Thurmond, Ted Kennedy, and Daniel Inouye, leaving Stennis sixth).

John Stennis is buried at Pinecrest Cemetery in Kemper County.

In an obituary, the New York Times called Stennis the "conscience of the entire institution."[11]

Naming honors

The USS John C. Stennis.


  1. "The Stenhouse - Stennis Family". Retrieved 21 October 2014. 
  2. Stennis Space Center, Stennis History,, accessed Oct 14, 2009
  3. Alpha Chi Rho Distinguished Alumni,, accessed 29 June 2010
  4. "Chicago | Chicago : News : Politics : Things To Do : Sports". Retrieved 2015-04-09. 
  5. Hormats, Robert (2007). The Price of Liberty: Paying for America's Wars. New York: Times Books Henry Holt and Company. p. 213. ISBN 9780805082531.
  6. "Senator John Stennis Mugged and Shot in Front of Cleveland Park Home". 2012-01-04. Retrieved 2015-04-09. 
  7. [1][dead link]
  8. Cortner, Richard C. (1986). A Scottsboro Case in Mississippi: The Supreme Court and Brown v. Mississippi. Jackson, Miss.: University Press of Mississippi. ISBN 1-57806-815-0. 
  9. "Senate Session - C-SPAN Video Library". Retrieved 2015-04-09. 
  10. "McCain "Was Wrong" Voting Against Martin Luther King Holiday; How Other Congressional Members Voted | Republican Ranting". 2008-04-07. Retrieved 2015-04-09. 
  11. "John Stennis, ex-U.S. senator, dies". Baltimore Sun. 24 April 1995. Retrieved 14 October 2014. 
  12. The late professor Jimmy G. Shoalmire handled much of the early organizing of the Stennis collection and later briefly worked on Stennis' staff in Washington.


External links

  • John C. Stennis at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
United States Senate
Preceded by
Theodore Bilbo
U.S. Senator (Class 1) from Mississippi
November 17, 1947 – January 3, 1989
Served alongside: James Eastland, Thad Cochran
Succeeded by
Trent Lott
Political offices
Preceded by
Richard B. Russell, Jr.
Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee
Succeeded by
John Tower
Preceded by
Strom Thurmond
South Carolina
President pro tempore of the United States Senate
Succeeded by
Robert C. Byrd
West Virginia
Preceded by
Mark O. Hatfield
Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Warren G. Magnuson
Dean of the United States Senate
January 3, 1981 – January 3, 1989
Succeeded by
Strom Thurmond
South Carolina

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