John Nance "Cactus Jack" Garner (November 22, 1868–November 7, 1967) was a Representative from Texas and the thirty-second Vice President of the United States.
Garner was born near Detroit, Red River County, Texas. He studied law, was admitted to the bar in 1890, and began practice in Uvalde, Uvalde County, Texas. He was a judge of Uvalde County from 1893 to 1896 and a member of the state House of Representatives from 1898 to 1902.
House of Representatives
Garner was elected as a Democrat to the United States House of Representatives in 1902 from a newly created congressional district covering tens of thousands of square miles of rural South Texas. He was elected from the district fourteen subsequent times, serving until 1933.
Garner's hard work and integrity made him a respected leader in the House, and he was chosen to serve as minority floor leader for the Democrats in 1929, and then as Speaker of the United States House of Representatives in 1931.
In 1932, Garner ran for the Democratic Presidential nomination, becoming one of New York Governor Franklin Roosevelt's most serious opponents for the nomination. When it became evident that Roosevelt would win the nomination, Garner cut a deal with the front-runner, becoming Roosevelt's Vice Presidential candidate. He was re-elected to the Seventy-third Congress on November 8, 1932, and on the same day was elected Vice President of the United States. He was reelected Vice President in 1936 and served in that office from March 4, 1933 to January 20, 1941.
Garner, always the character, once described the office of the vice presidency as being "not worth a bucket of warm piss" (at the time reported with the bowdlerization "spit") and that his decision to take it in the first place was "the worst damn fool mistake I ever made."
Turning against Roosevelt
During Roosevelt's second term, the previously warm relationship between Garner and Roosevelt quickly soured, as Garner disagreed sharply with Roosevelt on a wide range of important issues. Garner supported federal intervention to break up the first sit-down strike, supported a balanced federal budget, opposed packing the Supreme Court with additional judges, and opposed executive interference with the internal business of the Congress.
After Roosevelt sought to defeat in the 1938 primaries Democrats who opposed him, Garner began to see himself as the champion of the regular Democratic Party, as opposed to the New Deal party which supported Roosevelt.
Running for President
During 1938 and 1939, numerous Democratic party leaders urged Garner to run for President in 1940. Gallup polls showed that Garner was the favorite among Democratic voters, presuming that Roosevelt would not run for a third term.
Though he never declared his candidacy, Roosevelt quietly made it known that he would seek a third term. Even though this decision made it highly unlikely that Garner would win the nomination, he stayed in the race anyway, because he opposed much of what the President stood for, and opposed the idea of anyone having a third term as President.
Roosevelt beat Garner soundly in the Democratic primaries, and won re-nomination at the Democratic National Convention on the first ballot.
Garner stepped down as Vice President in January 1941, ending a 46-year career in public life. He retired to Uvalde for the last 26 years of his life, where he managed his extensive real estate holdings, spent time with his great-grandchildren, and fished. Throughout his retirement, he was consulted by active Democratic politicians, and was especially close to Harry S. Truman.
Success in politics
- Garner felt that the way to get ahead was to get elected, stay there, and gain influence through seniority.
- Garner felt that keeping one's mouth shut, whiskey drinking, poker playing, and understanding the legislative process were useful skills.
On Garner's 95th birthday (November 22, 1963), he spoke to President John F. Kennedy over the telephone in regards to the upcoming 1964 Presidential campaign. He vowed to support Kennedy's bid as long as he himself was alive; ironically, Kennedy was assassinated later that day.
Garner State Park, located 30 miles north of Uvalde, was named in his honor.
Garner lived longer than any other Vice President (or President) to date.
- Biographical Directory of the United States Congress: GARNER, John Nance. (http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=G000074)
- Timmons, Bascom N. Garner of Texas : A Personal History. New York : Harper & Brothers, 1948.