Senator Duncan Fletcher

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Mark Baber

Jul 4, 2000
The New York Times, 18 June 1936

Veteran Lawmaker Stricken in Home While Preparing to Go to Capitol
Floridian Was Second Only to Glass in Seniority---He Led Long Banking Inquiry
By The Associated Press
WASHINGTON, June 17---Senator Duncan U. Fletcher, praised as Florida's "grand old man," died here today as he had hoped to die, “in harness." He was 77 years old.

The death of the veteran Democratic Senator, one of the most popular men on Capitol Hill, plunged Washington into mourning, The Senate, in which he served for twenty-seven years, immediately suspended its rush toward an adjournment of Congress, recessing until tomorrow in tribute to him.

Senator Fletcher died of a heart attack a little more than a month after his colleague, Senator Park Trammell of Florida. The two men had served together in the Senate for almost twenty years. Mr. Trammell died May 8.

Funeral plans were still incomplete, but Mr. Fletcher’s office said that services probably would be held in Jacksonville on Sunday.

The Senator died at his home about 10:30 A. M., as he was preparing to leave for the Capitol for another day of hard work. He apparently felt normal when he arose, but after breakfast showed some distress and a physician was called.

Only the physician and a maid were with him when he died, but Mrs. Fletcher and one daughter, Mrs. Nell Smith-Gordon, were in the apartment. The Senator’s other daughter, Mrs. T. J. Kemp of St. Louis, was immediately notified.

Death Laid to Canal Fight

Colleagues of the Senator said that the prolonged battle he had made during recent weeks for the Florida ship canal undoubtedly contributed to his death. Mr. Fletcher was instrumental in getting the original allocation for the huge canal project last year, and had since defended it in and out of the Senate.

He was genuinely disappointed when the Senate a few weeks ago refused by a single vote to appropriate additional money for it. Only two weeks ago he fought the battle in the Senate again and won. An amendment was added to the Relief Bill, authorizing a new study of the canal and additional funds for it if the report should be favorable.

President Roosevelt led in paying tribute.

“The country has lost and able and conscientious servant in the death of Senator Fletcher,” the Chief Executive said.

"As Chairman of the great Committee on Banking and Currency throughout a period of unprecedented financial upheaval, his steadying influence was reflected both in emergency and in permanent legislation which rescued the entire banking structure of the country from utter collapse and destruction.

“Throughout a long and distinguished career in the Senate he was ever actuated by motives of high patriotism and unselfish devotion to the public welfare. In his passing a fine and gallant gentleman goes from our midst.”

Had Been Urged to Rest

Unusual tribute was paid in the Senate before it recessed.

Senator Robinson of Arkansas, Democratic leader, said that during Mr. Fletcher's long service he had “exemplified exceptional diligence and notable ability.”

"Even after his health had become somewhat impaired," Mr. Robinson added, "he was so persistent in the performance of the tasks assumed by him that he labored an excessive number of hours.”

The Arkansan said that during his service “there has never been one more beloved than Senator Fletcher, nor has there been in the service of his State and nation one more conscientiously devoted to high standards of duty and of service."

Senator Loftin, who succeeded Senator Trammell, officially announced the death to the Senate and with breaking voice added that he was "truly known as Florida's grand old man."

Mr. Loftin disclosed that he had tried to persuade Senator Fletcher on Monday to go home because he did not seem physically able to work, but the veteran legislator refused and "remained here steadfastly performing his duty to the last.”

"In my judgment,” Mr. Loftin added, "he died, as he wanted to die, in harness."

Other eulogies were in similar vein. Senator Borah said that "if ever a man sacrificed his life to his duties, it was Senator Fletcher."

“God knows we need more men like Senator Fletcher in the Senate,” Senator Norris said.

In a statement, James A. Farley, Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said:

"Few men have, accomplished more than he did for the public good during his long years of public service.”

Served in Senate 27 Years

During the twenty-seven years that he represented Florida in the Senate Mr. Fletcher introduced much legislation and was a member of several important committees.

His greatest triumph probably was the passage of the bill to regulate stock exchanges. This bill, which was known as the Fletcher-Rayburn bill, provided for drastic supervision and regulation of all stock trading. It was met with determined opposition from Wall Street and other financial centers throughout the country, but it passed both the Senate and the House, although with several changes and modifications.

During February, March, April and May of 1934 the bill was debated from every conceivable angle. Its opponents protested that it was "a serious deterrent to recovery.” Senator Fletcher pointed to business improvement and said:

“No honest business has anything to fear from the truth.” He was chairman of the Senate Banking Committee.

Senator Fletcher was the second oldest member of the upper house at the time of his death, Senator Carter Glass being his senior.

Always a champion of a strong American merchant fleet, Senator Fletcher was chairman of the Merchant Marine Committee during the World War. He was also at various times a member of the Committee on Commerce, the Joint Committee on Printing and the Military Affairs Committee.

Favored Inland Waterways

Besides his steady interest in a bigger and better merchant marine, the Senator urged constantly the development and improvement of inland waterways. He was particularly interested in the Gulf-to-Maine inland project and the proposed building of a canal from the mouth of the Mississippi to the Atlantic Ocean. He was a former director of the National Rivers and Harbors Congress and was president of the Gulf Coast Inland Waterways Association and the Mississippi and Atlantic Waterways Association.

Senator Fletcher had been in public life since 1893, when he was elected to the Florida House of Representatives. During two terms, 1893 to 1895 and 1901 to 1903, he was Mayor of Jacksonville, and was chairman of the Democratic State Committee from 1905 to 1908. On June 16, 1908, he was nominated at the primary election in Florida and was appointed to the Senate. He took his seat in Washington on March 4, 1909; was elected by the Legislature in April, 1909, for the term 1909 to 1915 and was re-elected four times. His present term would have elapsed in 1939.

Duncan Upshaw Fletcher was born in Sumter County, Ga., Jan. 6, 1859, the son of Captain Thomas Jefferson and Rebecca Ellen McCowen Fletcher. He went to Vanderbilt University, where he studied law, and was graduated in 1880. Then he received the LL. B. degree from John B. Stetson University. Admitted to the bar in 1881, he had practiced law in Jacksonville ever since.

He Fought Sale of Ships

From 1900 to 1906 he was chairman of the Board of Public Instruction of Duval County, Fla. He was one of the most energetic men in State politics and took a keen interest in the affairs of the South, both before and after he went to Washington.

He was a member of the Senate subcommittee on appropriations, member of the United States section of the International High Commission and was chairman of the United States Commission on Rural Credits.

In the Senate he was one of the foremost critics of those who would sell the International Mercantile Marine ships to British interests. He proposed the establishment of regular routes to keep engaged the wartime fleet of our merchant ships, but after the advent of the Republican administration, at the time of President Harding, he opposed the granting of ship subsidies.

Senator Fletcher proposed that the government take over all shipbuilding plants and put employees on government pay during the war. He also urged that all wireless stations and equipment be taken over during the war.

Directed Banking Inquiry

As chairman of the Banking Committee Senator Fletcher was extremely busy after the Democrats came back into power in 1932. He presided during the long investigation at which Ferdinand Pecora was counsel for the Banking Committee and at which most of the nation’s best-known financiers testified.

Senator Fletcher devoted his first years in Washington to observing and learning. In 1913 President Wilson appointed him chairman of the commission to study European cooperative land-mortgage banks and cooperative rural credit unions. He was about to sail for Europe when he was requested by President Wilson to remain at home to help with administration measures then pending. These culminated in the Farm Loan Act.

He was a member of the international body appointed to study conditions pertaining to rural life in North and South America. Before entering politics Senator Fletcher had some experience as a farmer in Georgia and he was no amateur theorist when rural problems came up for discussion.

Twice Hit by Automobiles

On two occasions he was the victim of automobile accidents. Soon after being hit by a car as he was crossing a Washington street, he declared in the Senate:

“I should vote to acquit a man who drew his pistol and shot down a reckless driver who came plunging into a group of people waiting for a street car."

Senator Fletcher's energetic fight for the Florida canal project aroused the admiration of his colleagues in the Senate. Although visibly aged, he spoke with such convincing logic on the scheme that was nearest to his heart and succeeded in winning much sympathy for it.

Senator Fletcher was a trustee of John B. Stetson University and of St. Luke's Hospital Association at Jacksonville. He was vice president of the Children’s Home Society of Florida and honorary president of the Southern Commercial Congress. He was also a member of the American Bar Association and the Florida State Bar Association and president of the Florida Society.

In 1883 he married Anna Louis Paine of Jacksonville. They had two daughters, Mrs. Lionel Smith-Gordon and Mrs. Thomas J. Kemp.


Mark Baber

Jul 4, 2000
Congressional Directory, 62d Congress, 3d Session, December 1912

DUNCAN U. FLETCHER, Democrat, of Jacksonville, was born in Sumter
County, Ga., January 6, 1859. His parents, Capt. Thomas J. and Rebecca
Ellen McCowen Fletcher, moved the following year to Monroe County, Ga.,
where he resided until July, 1881. He was educated in the country
schools, preparatory school, Gordon Institute, Barnesville, Ga., and
Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tenn., where he graduated in June,
1880; studied law there, and has practiced law in Jacksonville since
July, 1881, in State and Federal courts, including the United States
Supreme Court; he was a member of the legislature in 1893; mayor of
Jacksonville, 1893-1895 and 1901-1903; chairman board of public
instruction, Duval County, 1900-1906; chairman Democratic State
executive committee 1904-1907; was nominated for United States Senator
in primary election June 16, 1908, and elected by the legislature next
convening. His term of service will expire March 3, 1915.
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