Governors and Senators
Phil Bryant was elected governor of Mississippi in the November 2011 Republican landslide. In that historic election, Republicans won all statewide offices, except for attorney general, and won majorities in both houses of the Mississippi Legislature. Bryant defeated the Democrat candidate, Mayor Johnny Dupree of Hattiesburg, by a 61-to-39-percent majority. Mayor Dupree was the first African American candidate in Mississippi history to win a major-party nomination for governor. In 2015, Bryant was reelected with 66 percent of the vote. Mississippi has a two-term limit on governors.
In 1936, Time magazine suggested that “better than any living man, Senator Byron Patton Harrison of Mississippi represents in his spindle-legged, round-shouldered, freckle-faced person the modern history of the Democratic Party.” By then Harrison had been in politics since 1906 and now, thirty years later, he was chairman of the most powerful committee in the United States Senate. His political era had begun when the Democratic Party was in the doldrums, yet he had won national attention in the 1920s when Republicans held the presidency and control of Congress.
Senator Pat Harrison served his native state of Mississippi in both the U.S. House of Representatives (1911-1919) and the U.S. Senate (1919-1941). In a political career that spanned more than thirty years, Harrison represented his state and nation during difficult times. He served during World War I, during the 1930s Great Depression, and during the buildup to World War II. It was during these challenging times that Harrison served as chairman of the powerful Committee on Finance in the U.S. Senate.
In 1949, political scientist V. O. Key suggested that “insofar as any geographical division remains within the politics of [Mississippi] it falls along the line that separates the delta and the hills.” By the time Key thus defined the state’s political line of demarcation, James O. Eastland had already been a significant player on both sides of it.
During his twenty-eight-year public career, Hubert Durrett Stephens was a Mississippi district attorney, a United States congressman and senator, and a member of the board of directors of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation. Nonetheless, he is little known due to his desire for privacy and his reluctance to match political adversaries in their clamor for public attention. At retirement he directed the burning of his papers. Without access to the kind of material by which a public official’s influence can best be evaluated, historians have relegated him to the sidelines.
He left no records of his political philosophy and there are few recorded instances of his oratory while on the floor of the United States Congress. Yet, Hubert D. Stephens represented Mississippians in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U. S. Senate for more than two decades.
United States Senator John Sharp Williams, of Yazoo County, Mississippi, launched his political career in 1892, when he defeated a Populist opponent in his congressional district and entered the United States House of Representatives the following year. The Mississippi Democrat won re-election to Congress seven times before securing a seat in the United States Senate for a six-year term that began in March 1911. He had no opposition in winning a second Senate term and decided to retire when it ended in March 1923.
The Mississippi History Now profiles on Mississippi’s governors offer brief summaries of the personal and political lives of each of the state’s chief executives. Although students usually are aware of the current governor and perhaps can name others who have served in the position, rarely is there enough time in the classroom to permit them a more personal glimpse into the lives of those who have served in the state’s highest elected position. Students can use these gubernatorial biographies in a variety of ways.