Friday, July 14, 2017

Birth Dates of Notable Kentuckians: July 14, 1898 – A. B. “Happy” Chandler


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From the Kentucky Encyclopedia -
A.B. ("Happy") Chandler, twice governor of Kentucky (1935-39, 1955-59), was born near Corydon, Kentucky, on July 14, 1898, to Joseph Sephus and Callie (Saunders) Chandler. After graduating from Corydon High School in 1917, he attended Transylvania University , then enrolled for a year at Harvard law school; he graduated from the University of Kentucky law school in 1925. That same year he married Mildred Watkins; they had four children. Chandler opened a law practice in Versailles, Kentucky, and coached high school sports. Deeply interested in Democratic politics, he won a seat in the state Senate in 1929. In 1931 he was elected lieutenant governor over Republican John C. Worsham, 426,247 to 353,573, while Ruby Laffoon became governor. Chandler and the governor split over the sales tax, which Chandler opposed, and some of Chandler's powers were removed by legislation. In 1935, while the governor was in Washington, D.C., Chandler called a special legislative session that passed a bill requiring party nominations to be made by a primary election and not by a convention, which Laffoon and his supporters might well control. Chandler trailed Tom Rhea in the first primary but won the runoff, then defeated Republican King Swope, 556,262 to 461,104, to become governor.

The "Boy Governor" had the new sales tax repealed. Then through reorganization, reform, frugality, and higher excise and income taxes, he financed far-reaching improvements in schools, roads, health and welfare programs, and penal institutions. A masterful politician, aided by such associates as J. Dan Talbott of Bardstown, Chandler dominated the legislature. He used radio effectively to win public support. The Government Reorganization Act of 1936 created a more efficient administration, and he was able to pay off much of the state's debt. Among the most significant innovations were the free textbook program, participation in the federal rural electrification program, establishment of a teachers' retirement system and an old-age assistance program, and the start of a special rural roads program. Although friendly to labor, Chandler opposed closed shops and sit-down strikes, and he sent the National Guard into Harlan County to curb labor-related violence there. Chandler's first administration was one of the most productive in the state's history.

In 1938 Chandler challenged Alben Barkley for his U.S. Senate seat. When President Franklin D. Roosevelt made a whistle-stop trip to Kentucky in support of the Senate majority leader, the governor boarded the train uninvited and appeared with the president whenever possible. Barkley won, and Chandler then took aim at the U.S. Senate seat vacated in October 1939 when M.M. Logan died. Chandler resigned as governor, and on October 10, 1939, when Lt. Gov. Keen Johnson succeeded him, Johnson appointed Chandler to the U.S. Senate. In 1940 Chandler won a special election for the rest of Logan's term, and in a controversial 1942 campaign he defeated John Y. Brown, Sr. , and won a full six-year term. In Washington Chandler usually backed the administration although he opposed some of the New Deal fiscal policies and the decision to give priority to the war in Europe over the Pacific conflict. On November 1, 1945, Chandler resigned from the Senate to become national commissioner of baseball. During the next six years, black players entered the major leagues for the first time and a players' pension fund was established. As commissioner, Chandler alienated many of the owners, and when his contract was not renewed in 1951, he resumed his law practice in Versailles.

In 1955 he won the Democratic nomination for governor over Bert T. Combs , despite the opposition of many of the party's most powerful leaders. His smashing victory over Republican Edwin R. Denney, 451,647 to 322,671, was an anticlimax to the Democratic primary. Times had changed greatly in the twenty years since Chandler's first term, and he was opposed by many of the liberal elements in his party. In his second term, he achieved substantial improvements in the highway program (using a $100 million bond issue), the schools, and other public institutions. Additional funding went to the public schools' Minimum Foundation Program and the teachers' retirement system. His proudest accomplishment was the establishment of the University of Kentucky Medical Center, named for him. He attracted national notice in 1956 when he used state police and National Guardsmen to enforce desegregation in the public schools, yet his second administration lacked some of the reforming zeal of his first term.

Increasingly out of touch with the times, Chandler failed in bids for the nomination for governor in 1963, 1967, and 1971. In 1967 he supported the Republican nominee, Louie B. Nunn, for the office. He remained deeply interested in politics and was especially close to Gov. Wallace Wilkinson (1987-91), who restored voting rights to Chandler's lifetime honorary membership on the University of Kentucky board of trustees in January 1988. Two incidents in the late 1980s involving alleged racial slurs led to unsuccessful demands for Chandler's resignation or removal from the board. In 1989, in collaboration with Vance H. Trimble, Chandler published his autobiography, Heroes, Plain Folks, and Skunks.

Chandler died on June 15, 1991, at home in Versailles and was buried in the cemetery of Pisgah Presbyterian Church in Woodford County.


Selected Sources from UK Libraries:

Birdwhistell, Marshall, Cooper, Appleton, Birdwhistell, Terry L, Marshall, William, . . . Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History. (1974). A. B. "Happy" Chandler Oral History Collection.Special Collections Research Center - Oral History Collection

Mann, A. (1951). Baseball confidential; secret history of the war among Chandler, Durocher, MacPhail, and Rickey. New York: McKay.GV865.A1 M3 1951, Special Collections Research Center

Carter, J. (1939). Harlan County Mine Strike Photographic Collection, 1939.81PA109, Special Collections Research Center - University Archives 

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