Jacob Koppel „Jack“ Javits (May 18, 1904 – March 7, 1986) was a politician who served asUnited States Senator from New York from 1957 to 1981. A liberal Republican, he was originally allied with Governor Nelson Rockefeller, fellow U.S. Senators Irving Ives and Kenneth Keating, and New York City Mayor John Lindsay.
Categories: Members of the United States House of Representatives from New York | United States Senators from New York | New York State Attorneys General | United States Army officers | People from New York City | Presidential Medal of Freedom recipients | American prosecutors | Columbia University alumni | New York University School of Law alumni | American military personnel of World War II | New York lawyers | New York Republicans | Deaths from motor neurone disease | 1904 births | 1986 deaths | Jewish United States Senators |Jewish members of the United States House of Representatives | American Jews | Republican Party United States Senators
The son of Morris Javits, a janitor, and Ida Littman, Javits grew up in a teeming Lower East Side tenement, and when not in school he helped his mother hawk dry goods from a pushcart in the street. Javits graduated in 1920 from George Washington High School, where he was president of his class. He worked part-time at various jobs while attending night school at Columbia University, then in 1923 he enrolled in the New York University Law School, from which he earned his J.D. in 1926.
He was admitted to the bar in June 1927 and joined his brother Benjamin Javits, who was nearly ten years older, as partner to form the Javits and Javits law firm. The Javits brothers specialized in bankruptcy and minority stockholder suits and became quite successful. In 1933 Javits married Marjorie Joan Ringling; they had no children and divorced in 1936. In 1947 he married Marian Ann Boris, with whom he had three children. Deemed too old for regular military service when World War II began, Javits was commissioned in early 1942 as an officer in the army’s Chemical Warfare Department, where he served throughout the war, reaching the rank of lieutenant colonel.
In his youth Javits had watched his father work as a ward heeler for Tammany Hall and experienced firsthand the corruption and graft associated with that notorious political machine. Tammany’s operations repulsed Javits so much that, he forever rejected the city’s Democratic party and in the early 1930s joined the Republican-Fusion party, which was supporting the mayoral campaigns of Fiorello H. La Guardia. After the war he became the chief researcher for Jonah Goldstein’s unsuccessful 1945 bid for mayor on the Republican-Liberal-Fusion ticket. Javits’s hard work in the Goldstein campaign showed his potential in the political arena and encouraged the small Manhattan Republican party to nominate him as their candidate for the Upper West Side’s Twenty-first Congressional District (since redistricted) seat during the heavily Republican year of 1946. Although the Republicans had not held the seat since 1923, Javits campaigned energetically and won. He was a member of the freshman class along with John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Richard M. Nixon of California. He served from 1947 to 1954, then resigned his seat to take office as New York State Attorney General.
Throughout his career in Congress, in the House and later in the Senate, Javits was part of a small group of liberal Republicans who were often isolated ideologically from their mainstream Republican colleagues. One scoring method found Javits to be the most liberal Republican to serve in either chamber of Congress between 1937 and 2002. Although he frequently differed with the more conservative members of his party, Javits always maintained that a healthy political party should tolerate diverse opinions among its members. He rejected the idea that either party should reflect only one point of view. Javits liked to think of himself as a political descendant of Theodore Roosevelt’s Progressive Republicanism. He was strongly committed to social issues, believing that the federal government should have a role in improving the lives of Americans. Yet as a lawyer who had for years represented business clients, Javits also advocated a mixed economy in which business and government would cooperate to further the national welfare.
During his first two terms in the House, Javits often sided with the Harry Truman administration. For example, in 1947 he supported Truman’s veto of the Taft-Hartley Bill, which he declared was antiunion. A strong opponent of discrimination, Javits also endorsed anti-poll tax legislation in 1947 and 1949, and in 1954 he unsuccessfully sought to have enacted a bill banning segregation in federally funded housing projects. Unhappy with the witch hunt atmosphere in Washington during the Cold War, he publicly opposed continuing appropriations for theHouse Un-American Activities Committee in 1948. Always a staunch supporter of Israel, Javits served on the House Foreign Affairs Committee during all four of his terms and supported congressional funding for the Marshall Plan and all components of the Truman Doctrine.
In 1954 Javits ran for New York State Attorney General against a well-known and well-funded opponent, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jr. Javits’s vote-getting abilities carried the day, and he was the only Republican to win a statewide office that year. As attorney general, Javits continued to promote his liberal agenda, supporting such measures as antibias employment legislation and a health insurance program for state employees.
In 1956, Javits ran for U.S. Senator from New York to succeed the retiring incumbent Democrat Herbert H. Lehman. His Democratic opponent was the popular Mayor of New York, Robert F. Wagner. In the early stages of that campaign Javits vigorously and successfully denied charges that he had once sought support from members of the American Communist party during his 1946 race for Congress. He went on to defeat Wagner by nearly half a million votes. Although his term began on January 3, 1957, he delayed taking his seat in the U.S. Senate until January 9, the day the New York State Legislature convened, to deny Democratic Governor W. Averell Harriman the opportunity to appoint a Democratic Attorney General. Thus, on January 9, the Republican majority of the State Legislature elected Louis Lefkowitz to fill the office for the remainder of Javits’s term.
Upon taking office, Javits resumed his role as the most outspoken Republican liberal in Congress. For the next twenty-four years the Senate was Javits’s home. His wife had no interest in living in Washington, D.C., a town she considered a boring backwater, so for over two decades Javits commuted between New York and Washington nearly every week to visit his „other“ family and conduct local political business. During his first term he supported the limited 1957 Civil Rights Act, which was bitterly opposed by many of his southern colleagues. In foreign affairs he backed the Eisenhower Doctrine for the Middle East and also pressed for more foreign military and economic assistance.
Re-elected in 1962 and 1968, he supported Lyndon Johnson’s civil rights measures and generally endorsed the Great Society programs. To promote his views on social legislation, he served on the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee for twenty years, most of that time as the second-ranking minority member. Javits initially backed Johnson during the early years of America’s involvement in the Vietnam War, supporting, for example, the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in 1964. By the end of 1967, however, he was becoming disenchanted with the war’s progress and joined twenty-two other senators in calling for a peaceful solution to the conflict. By 1970 his rising opposition to the war led him to support the Cooper-Church Amendment, which barred funds for U.S. troops in Cambodia, and he also voted to repeal the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. Increasingly concerned about the erosion of congressional authority in foreign affairs, Javits sponsored the 1973 War Powers Act, which limited to sixty days a president’s ability to send American armed forces into combat without congressional approval. Despite his unhappiness with President Richard Nixon over the Vietnam War, Javits was slow to join the anti-Nixon forces during theWatergate scandal of 1973-1974. Until almost the very end of the affair, Javits’s position reflected his legal training: Nixon was innocent until proven guilty, and the best way to determine guilt or innocence was by legal due process. Javits’s position was not popular among his constituency, and his re-election in 1974 over Ramsey Clark was by fewer than 400,000 votes, a third of his 1968 margin of victory. During his last term Javits shifted his interests more and more to world affairs, especially the crises in the Middle East. Working with President Jimmy Carter, he journeyed to Israel and Egypt to facilitate discussions that led to the 1978 Camp David Accords.
Javits served until 1981; his 1979 diagnosis with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease) led to a 1980 primary challenge by the comparatively lesser-known Long Island Republican county official Alfonse D’Amato. D’Amato received 323,468 primary votes (55.7 percent) to Javits‘ 257,433 (44.3 percent). Javits‘ loss to D’Amato stemmed from Javits‘ continuing illness and his failure to adjust politically to the rightward movement of the GOP.
Following the primary defeat, Javits ran as the Liberal Party candidate in the general election. His candidacy split the Democratic base votewith United States Representative Elizabeth Holtzman of Brooklyn and gave D’Amato a plurality victory by a margin of 1%. Javits received 11% of the vote.
Throughout his years in Congress, Javits seldom enjoyed favor with his party’s inner circle. His liberalism was a vestige of a Republican party of an earlier era, and though he hung tenaciously to his liberal precepts, his influence was more subtle than obvious. Few pieces of legislation bear his name, yet he was especially proud of his work in creating the National Endowment for the Arts, of his sponsorship of the ERISA Act, which regulated defined-benefit private pensions, and of his leadership in the passage of the 1973 War Powers Act.
Javits was generally considered a liberal Republican, and was supportive of labor unions and movements for civil rights. In an essaypublished in 1958 in the magazine Esquire, he predicted the election of the first African-American president by the year 2000. In 1964, Javits refused to support his party’s presidential nominee, his conservative colleague, Barry M. Goldwater of Arizona.
Senator Javits sponsored (1) the first African-American Senate page in 1965 and (2) the first female page in 1971. His liberalism was such that he tended to receive support from traditionally Democratic voters, with many Republicans defecting to support the Conservative Party of New York.
Javits played a major role in legislation protecting pensioners, as well as in the passage of the War Powers Act; he led the effort to get theJavits-Wagner-O’Day Act passed. He reached the position of Ranking Minority Member on the Committee on Foreign Relations while accruing greater seniority than any New York Senator before or since (as of 2007). He was also one of the main forces behind the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act that removed immigration quotas that favored Western European nations. Along with Dwight D. Eisenhower (another unusual Republican), he was among the first and most important statesmen in passing legislation promoting the cause of education for gifted individuals, and many know his name from the federal Jacob Javits Grants established for this purpose.
U.S. House of Representatives, New York 21st District
- Jacob Javits (R), 46,897 votes (46.0%)
- Daniel Flynn (D), 40,652 votes (39.9%)
- William Mandel (American Labor), 14,359 votes (14.1%)
- Jacob Javits (R), 67,067 votes (50.5%)
- Paul O’Dwyer (D), 64,654 votes (49.5%)
- Jacob Javits (R), 62,604 votes (61.8%)
- Bennett Schessel (D), 33,349 votes (32.9%)
- Jacob Javits (R), 89,866 votes (63.4%)
- John C. Hart (D), 47,637 votes (33.6%)
New York State Attorney General
- Jacob Javits (R), 2,603,858 votes (51.7%)
- Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jr. (D), 2,430,959 votes (48.3%)
U.S. Senate, New York
- Jacob Javits (R), 3,723,933 votes (53.3%)
- Robert F. Wagner (D), 3,265,159 votes (46.7%)
- Jacob Javits (R), 3,272,417 votes (57.4%)
- James B. Donovan (D), 2,178,212 votes (40.1%)
- Jacob Javits (R), 3,269,772 votes (49.6%)
- Paul O’Dwyer (D), 2,150,659 votes (32.7%)
- James L. Buckley (Conservative), 1,139,402 votes (17.3%)
- Jacob Javits (R), 2,340,188 votes (45.3%)
- Ramsey Clark (D), 1,973,781 votes (38.2%)
- Barbara Keating (Conservative), 822,584 votes (15.9%)
1980 Republican Primary
- Jacob Javits, 257,433 votes (44.3%)
- Alfonse D’Amato, 323,468 votes (55.7%)
- Jacob Javits (Liberal), 664,544 votes (11.0%)
- Elizabeth Holtzman (D), 2,618,661 votes (43.5%)
- Alfonse D’Amato (R), 2,699,652 votes (44.9%)
Javits died of Lou Gehrig’s disease in West Palm Beach, Florida, at the age of eighty-one. In addition to spouse Marian Ann Borris Javits, he was survived by three children, Joshua, Carla, and Joy. He is interred at Linden Hill Jewish Cemetery in Queens, NY.
Among those who attended the funeral were Governor Mario Cuomo, Mayor Ed Koch, former President Richard Nixon, Attorney GeneralEdwin Meese, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Senator Al D’Amato, Cardinal John Joseph O’Connor, former Mayor Lindsay, former Governor Hugh Carey of New York, and former State Attorney General Louis Lefkowitz.
Also there were then U.S. Representative Bella Abzug of Manhattan; then Senators Nancy Kassebaum Baker of Kansas, Bill Bradley of New Jersey, Lowell Weicker of Connecticut, and Gary Hart of Colorado; David Rockefeller, the banker; Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, publisher of The New York Times; Victor Gotbaum, the labor leader; Kurt Vonnegut, the writer, and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., the actor.
Javits received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1983.
New York’s Javits Center is named in his honor, as is a playground at the southwestern edge of Fort Tryon Park. The Jacob K. Javits Federal Building at 26 Federal Plaza in lower Manhattan’s Civic Center district, as well as a lecture hall on the campus of the State University of New York at Stony Brook on Long Island, are also named after him.
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