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View Full Version : The slandering of Claude Pepper ("homo sapien/thespian"). UL or all fact?


syncrolecyne
01-08-2003, 08:59 PM
Did George Smathers really defeat Congressman Claude Pepper in a 1950 congressional election by alleging his brother was a "known homo sapien", his sister "a practicing thespian", and accusing him of "matriculating" into college, and practicing "celibacy before marriage"?

Some accept this as fact, others take it for a gag. I have a lot of doubts that these "allegations" would have actually carried through - even assuming a lot of voters in 1950 were paranoid commiephobic rubes.

It sounds like a funny story, but is this why the election was really lost?

Duck Duck Goose
01-08-2003, 09:21 PM
This columnist, one of the few Google references I could find, says it was in a "speech". I can't find the speech itself anywhere offhand.
http://www.rrstar.com/opinion/columnists/pat/0329.shtml
Campaign distortions often include certain amounts of truth but create false impressions. The classic example of this was a speech made by Rep. George Smathers of Florida in a Democratic primary campaign of 1950 for a U.S. Senate nomination in Florida.

Smathers told an audience of bumpkins that incumbent Claude Pepper was "a known extrovert," practiced "celibacy" before marriage, practiced "nepotism" with his sister-in-law, "matriculated" with women in college, that his sister was "a thespian" and his brother "a practicing homo sapien."

Smathers carried the rustic vote and won the election.Here's the other reference, another columnist, in which he mentions that Smathers always denied the story.
http://www.ksg.harvard.edu/citizen/Oct04/yoon1004.htm
Sometimes arcane and high-falutiní words can be used as weapons. No one knew this better than former Senator Claude Pepper of Florida. In 1950, Pepper, a three-term incumbent, ran for re-election and faced off against Congressman George Smathers in the Democratic primary. Smathers launched an infamous smear campaign against Pepper that today sounds more like a fake political ad from Saturday Night Live.

Smathers outed Pepper as "a known extrovert," his sister as a "thespian," and his brother as a "practicing homo sapien." He accused Pepper of practicing "nepotism" with his sister-in-law and of "matriculating" with young women in college. Worst of all, he "practiced celibacy" before marriage.

Naturally, voters were horrified, and Pepper lost by over 67,000 votes. (To be fair, Smathers denied the story until the end of his Senate career in 1971, perhaps fearing that his own homo sapien past would come back to haunt him.)Interview with Claude Pepper. He does not mention it.
http://www.history.ufl.edu/oral/FP30.html
He recalls that in the election of 1950, six senior senators were defeated, including himself, over the liberal issues of national health insurance, civil rights, liberal attitudes favoring labor, minimum wage, and adequate hospital and medical care. An analysis of the election, which does not mention it.
http://www.folioweekly.com/archives/old%20stories/0718/page7.html
Over time, writers and political historians have recast the 1950 election as a battle between Ball and Pepper, almost eclipsing the role of Smathers in his own election. That is only a part of the story. Smathers had his own ambitions and agenda. He found Ball a valuable supporter, but did not make him the foundation of his campaign. Wolfe was more active in raising money than Ball. Ball's prominence was due not so much to what he did for Smathers, but the constant refrain of the Pepper camp that it was engaged in a battle with the reactionary forces of the duPonts led by Ball.

There were overtones of McCarthyism in Smathers' campaign. A booklet emphasizing Pepper's past associations with the far-left, including known communist organizations and party members, was circulated in the late days of the campaign. It emphasized the "Red Pepper" theme, a Pepper sobriquet gleaned from an earlier article in the Saturday Evening Post. By 1950, most Americans recognized the threat posed by the Soviet Union, and Pepper's actions seemingly on its behalf was a source of dismay to many, and treasonous to others. That, coupled to the strong opposition of the business community, unions, and the medical profession gave Smathers the victory. Pepper was defeated by more than 60,000 votes. So, you tell me. Smathers denies it, Pepper himself and a fairly serious analysis of the election don't mention it. That's about as far as I got.

I don't think Florida voters were that ignorant in 1950, so if I had to guess, I'd guess that it's just a "humorous rustics" story repeated by columnists.

slipster
01-08-2003, 09:26 PM
While I certainly can't match the erudition of Duck Duck Goose on this question, I am inclined to believe that Smathers actually made the statements in question.

While Pepper maynot have alluded to these statements by his opponent in the interviews cited, I recall distinctly that he did discuss this as actually happening during a report on 60 Minutes in which he was profiled.

The issue of whether this cost him the election is another question. IIRC, Pepper did not suggest this when interviewed for 60 Minutes, but instead saw this as a striking instance of the sort of nonsense one sometimes had to put up with in politics.

Shade
01-08-2003, 09:43 PM
...practiced "nepotism" with his sister-in-law...

This one could be a genuine complaint, though :)

F. U. Shakespeare
07-04-2006, 08:03 PM
Mad magazine ran an article circa 1969 showing a ficticous pol giving such a speech, which also included mention of the opponent's nephew who "subscribe(d) to a "phonographic magazine".

The opponent's "thespian" wife was also said to have "practiced in front of paying customers".

I've also heard derivative writings where "nuptials" is used similarly as the dirty word it sounds like.

Exapno Mapcase
07-04-2006, 10:44 PM
Daily Courier, The Tuesday, November 14, 1950 Connellsville, Pennsylvania
from a syndicate column Assignment America, by Inez Robb:

Then I asked the newly elected, senator [Smathers], who has been in Washington the last four years as a member of the House from Florida, to come clean about his campaign against Senator Pepper in the primaries. Is it true, I wanted to know, that you made the following charges against Mr. Pepper in the wool hat district' of Florida:

"It is well-known in Washington, D. C., that, Senator Pepper is a shameless extrovert, and that his sister was once a thespian on Broadway. It is equally well known that before his marriage, Senator Pepper was addicted to celibacy."

Senator Smathers laughed and said, in a word, "No." Then he explained that this effusion, so widely printed in the Nation's press, had a strange political- history. Senator Pepper's own press agent, during the primary campaign last Spring, told a Washington columnist that Senator Pepper had made these charges against George Smathers in the cracker districts at the fork of the Florida creeks.

But the Washington pundit, in the confusion so often enveloping that capital, somehow got the names switched and credited Mr. Smathers with making the charges against Senator Pepper.

But said Senator Smathers, who has a pretty wife and two sons to protect him in Washington, he was often tempted to add to the legend by thundering from the stump: "And the last time I saw my worthy opponent, he was vacillatin' all over the floor of the United States Senate."

I don't know if it's true, but it is contemporary. Apparently the original story he was refuting appeared in Time magazine.

susan
07-04-2006, 11:27 PM
Though it's sapiens, for what it's worth.

Colibri
07-04-2006, 11:48 PM
Though it's sapiens, for what it's worth.

That's the plural. Obvoiusly Smathers (or Pepper) was referring to only a single person, hence the use of the singular. ;)

Giles
07-05-2006, 04:09 PM
That's the plural. Obvoiusly Smathers (or Pepper) was referring to only a single person, hence the use of the singular. ;)
No, by the rules of zoological nomenclature, it has to be a singular adjective, because "Homo" is a singular noun. If you wanted to form the plural, you'd also have to form the plural of "Homo", but you don't do that for names of genera or of species. And in Latin "sapiens" is singular.

There's an SD report that refer's to this, too, saying: (http://www.straightdope.com/mailbag/mplurals.html)
The name of our species, Homo sapiens (literally "wise human") is singular in both Latin and English. The plural of the phrase in Latin--in the non-technical sense of a wise human--would be homines sapientes, but there is never any call to use a plural in English. There is only one species called Homo sapiens. Homo sapien as the supposed singular of Homo sapiens is an abomination. I call this a "double singular."

Giles
07-05-2006, 04:11 PM
There's an SD report that refer's to this, too, saying: (http://www.straightdope.com/mailbag/mplurals.html)
Sorry, "refers". I don't usually insert redundant apostrophes :)

Earl Snake-Hips Tucker
07-05-2006, 04:34 PM
No, by the rules of zoological nomenclature, it has to be a singular adjective, because "Homo" is a singular noun. If you wanted to form the plural, you'd also have to form the plural of "Homo", but you don't do that for names of genera or of species. And in Latin "sapiens" is singular.

I'm sure he didn't know any of that already.

Governor Quinn
07-05-2006, 05:08 PM
I don't know if it's true, but it is contemporary. Apparently the original story he was refuting appeared in Time magazine.


It's in the April 17, 1950 issue of "Time", in an article with the title of "Anything Goes".

Chronos
07-05-2006, 06:20 PM
But the Washington pundit, in the confusion so often enveloping that capital, somehow got the names switched and credited Mr. Smathers with making the charges against Senator Pepper.It should at least be a matter of undisputed fact whether either or both of these politicians had a sister working as a Broadway actress. It seems to me that that would be at least indicative of who was the original target of the slander.

samclem
07-05-2006, 06:56 PM
Infrequent poster Tammi Terrell answered this back in 2004.

http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=17144&highlight=claude

It's a study which would be worthy of a Staff Report. She is probably the most knowledgeable poster on SDMB about most Urban Legends.

mhardee
11-07-2010, 09:59 AM
I contributed a rec.humor.funny entry in 1989 that included a note from the book of long-time Florida House Clerk Allen Morris, who was respected as a chronicler of Florida political history and knew both Smathers and Pepper well:

"Smathers retired from the Senate in 1971, vigorously denying the story till the end--but nonetheless acknowledging in Florida House Clerk Allen Morris' book `Reconsiderations,' (1982) that the tale has by now 'gone into the history books.' "

http://www.netfunny.com/rhf/jokes/old89/pepper.851.html