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John McCormack
John W. McCormack (Speaker of the US House).jpg
McCormack, c. 1955
45th Speaker of the United States House of Representatives
In office
January 10, 1962 – January 3, 1971
Preceded by Sam Rayburn
Succeeded by Carl Albert
Leader of the House Democratic Caucus
In office
January 10, 1962 – January 3, 1971
Preceded by Sam Rayburn
Succeeded by Carl Albert
House Majority Leader
In office
January 3, 1955 – January 10, 1962
Deputy Carl Albert
Preceded by Charles A. Halleck
Succeeded by Carl Albert
In office
January 3, 1949 – January 3, 1953
Deputy Percy Priest
Preceded by Sam Rayburn
Succeeded by Charles A. Halleck
In office
September 16, 1940 – January 3, 1947
Deputy Patrick J. Boland
Robert Ramspeck
John Sparkman
Preceded by Sam Rayburn
Succeeded by Charles A. Halleck
House Minority Whip
In office
January 3, 1953 – January 3, 1955
Leader Sam Rayburn
Preceded by Leslie C. Arends
Succeeded by Leslie C. Arends
In office
January 3, 1947 – January 3, 1949
Leader Sam Rayburn
Preceded by Leslie C. Arends
Succeeded by Leslie C. Arends
Member of the
U.S. House of Representatives
from Massachusetts
In office
November 6, 1928 – January 3, 1971
Preceded by James A. Gallivan
Succeeded by Louise Day Hicks
Constituency 12th district (1928–1963)
9th district (1963–1971)
Member of the Massachusetts Senate
from the 3rd Suffolk district
In office
Preceded by William H. McDonnell
Succeeded by Henry Parkman Jr.
Member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives
from the 11th Suffolk district
In office
Serving with James B. Troy
Preceded by Patrick M. Costello, Michael J. Reidy
Succeeded by Hugh H. Garrity, Walter B. Grant
Personal details
Born (1891-12-21)December 21, 1891
Boston, Massachusetts
Died November 22, 1980(1980-11-22) (aged 88)
Dedham, Massachusetts
Resting place Saint Joseph Cemetery
West Roxbury, Massachusetts
Political party Democratic
Harriet Joyce
(m. 1920; died 1971)
Relatives Edward J. McCormack Jr. (nephew)
Profession Politician
Military service
Allegiance  United States
Branch/service  United States Army
Years of service 1918
Rank Sergeant Major
Unit 14th Company, 151st Depot Brigade
Infantry Replacement Center, Camp Lee, Virginia
Battles/wars World War I

John William McCormack (December 21, 1891 – November 22, 1980) was an American politician from Boston, Massachusetts. An attorney and a Democrat, McCormack served in the United States Army during World War I, and afterwards won terms in both the Massachusetts House of Representatives and Massachusetts State Senate before winning election to the United States House of Representatives.

McCormack enjoyed a long House career (1928 to 1971), and advanced through the leadership ranks to become majority leader before being chosen as the 45th speaker of the House. He served as speaker from 1962 until his 1971 retirement.

McCormack's congressional career was highlighted by his support for the New Deal measures undertaken to combat the Great Depression, U.S. involvement in World War II, and support for the Great Society programs of the 1960s, including civil rights, education, and health care for the elderly. A staunch anti-communist, McCormack supported U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. His support for the war and the seniority system in Congress caused increasing numbers of younger members to challenge his leadership; McCormack survived a 1969 contest with Mo Udall for the Speakership. He did not run for reelection to his House seat in 1970, and retired to his home in Boston. He later resided at a Dedham nursing home, where he died in 1980.

At 42 years and 58 days, as of 2022 McCormack's service in the U.S. House ranks 17th in terms of uninterrupted time. He is the longest-serving member of the U.S. House in Massachusetts history; Joseph William Martin Jr. is second to McCormack at 41 years, 305 days.

Early life

McCormack was born in Boston on December 21, 1891. He was the son of Joseph H. McCormack, a hod carrier and native of Prince Edward Island, Canada, and his wife Mary Ellen (née O'Brien) McCormack of Boston (1861-1913). He said he was one of 12 children, several of whom died as children or young adults. In fact, Mary Ellen McCormack carried eight children to term, and six lived long enough to be counted in the census or included in other records. John McCormack's older siblings Patrick (d. 1911), Catherine (d. 1906), and James (d. 1906) died at ages 24, 19 and 17, respectively. His brother Edward ("Knocko") died in Boston in 1963 at age 67. McCormack's brother Donald died in Texas in 1966 at the age of 65. McCormack also had a half brother named Harry from his father's first marriage; Harry died on Prince Edward Island at age 18 in 1902.

McCormack said for most of his life that his father died when McCormack was 13; other sources indicate that his father actually left the family and moved to Waldoboro, Maine, where he worked in the local granite quarries. He died in 1929, and was buried in a pauper's grave at Waldoboro Rural Cemetery.

McCormack attended the John Andrew Grammar School through the eighth grade. He then left school to help support his family, initially working for $3 a week (about $95 in 2021) as an errand boy for a brokerage firm. McCormack and his brothers also managed a large newspaper delivery route for $11 a week (about $347 in 2021). He later left the brokerage for the office of attorney William T. Way, where he received a 50-cent a week increase. He began to study law with Way, passed the Massachusetts bar exam at age 21, and was admitted to the bar despite not having gone to high school or college. He was also an active member of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks.

Start of political career

As a young man, McCormack began his involvement in politics by making campaign speeches on behalf of local Democratic candidates. In May 1917, McCormack was elected to serve as a member of the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention, representing the 11th Suffolk District of the Massachusetts House of Representatives.

World War I

In June 1918, McCormack enlisted in the United States Army for World War I, and was initially posted to Camp Devens, Massachusetts, as a member of the 14th Company of the 151st Depot Brigade. After completing his initial training, McCormack was assigned to the Infantry Replacement Center at Camp Lee, Virginia, to receive officer training. McCormack advanced through the ranks from private to sergeant major, and was attending Officer Training School at Camp Lee when the Armistice occurred. He was discharged in late November, following the end of the war.

Continued political career

1923 John W McCormack senator Massachusetts
McCormack as a state senator in 1923

After the war McCormack practiced law and resumed his political career. He soon entered the state legislature, representing the 11th Suffolk District in the House from 1920 to 1922 and serving in the Senate from 1923 to 1926, including holding the leadership position of Democratic floor leader in 1925 and 1926. In 1926 he made an unsuccessful primary election run against incumbent Congressman James A. Gallivan. McCormack made a favorable impression in a losing cause, leaving him well positioned for a future race. He resumed practicing law, and built a successful career as a trial attorney, which enabled him to enjoy an income that reached $30,000 a year (approximately $400,000 in 2016).

McCormack was selected as a delegate to every state Democratic convention from 1920 until his retirement. In addition, he was a delegate to the Democratic National Conventions of 1932, 1940, 1944, and 1948.

Congressional career

McCormack's opportunity to run for Congress again came after Gallivan died in 1928. That November McCormack won both the special election to complete Gallivan's term in the U.S. House as well as the general election for a full term. He was reelected 20 times, initially from the 12th District, and from the re-numbered 9th after 1963. McCormack usually won reelection without difficulty, and he served in the House from November 6, 1928, to January 3, 1971 (the 70th to 91st Congresses). He did not run for reelection in 1970.

Early years in Congress

At the beginning of his House career, McCormack served on the Committee on Territories, In his second term, Speaker John Nance Garner appointed McCormack to the powerful Ways and Means Committee, and he served there until 1941.

McCormack maintained a consistently liberal voting record throughout his Congressional career, including support for the New Deal. In 1934, he served as chairman of the Special Committee on Un-American Activities, known as the McCormack-Dickstein Committee, which investigated Communist and Nazi propaganda and recruitment efforts in the United States prior to World War II.

Ascension to House leadership

When Sam Rayburn became Speaker in 1940, he backed McCormack for majority leader, a key factor in McCormack's victory over Clifton A. Woodrum. For the next 21 years, McCormack was the second-ranking Democrat in the House; he served as majority leader with Rayburn as Speaker when Democrats had the majority (1939–1947, 1951–1953, 1955–1961), and as minority whip with Rayburn as minority leader when the Republicans controlled the House (1947–1949, 1953–1955).

Always staunch in his opposition to both Communism and Fascism, he played a key role in extending the military draft, just before the attack on Pearl Harbor, when isolationist sentiment and opposition to U.S. involvement in World War II were still strong.

He was chairman of the Select Committee on Astronautics and Space Exploration in the 85th Congress (1957 to 1959). In that role, he introduced and secured passage of the bill that created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Speaker of the House

Mayor John F. Collins; John McCormack, Speaker of the House of Representatives; Mary Collins; daughter of John and Mary Collins in front of Amrheins Restaurant watching a St. Patrick's Day parade (12306414393)
McCormack with Boston Mayor John F. Collins (1960–1968) during a St. Patrick's Day parade in South Boston.

After Rayburn's death in November 1961, McCormack acted as Speaker until winning election to the post in early 1962; he served from January 1962 until retiring from the House in 1971. McCormack's nine years as Speaker were dominated by House passage of Great Society legislation during the administration of Lyndon B. Johnson, including laws to expand civil rights, access to public education, and health care for the elderly.

McCormack was the first Catholic to be elected Speaker, and some critics complained that his religion sometimes showed in his leadership qualities. As an example, during the 1961 debate on federal aid to schools, McCormack insisted that church schools should be included, and the bill died because of disagreement over this issue. In 1963, McCormack changed his position, and oversaw passage of an aid bill devoted primarily to public schools.

President John F. Kennedy with Speaker of the House of Representatives, John W. McCormack
McCormack with President John F. Kennedy in 1962
John McCormack speaking at luncheon, 15 Feb 1966
McCormack (standing) speaking at a Department of Defense luncheon, February 1966

The latter part of McCormack's tenure increasingly focused on the debate over the Vietnam War, which he supported. McCormack's demeanor changed during these years and he reminded some observers of a kindly elder relative attempting to provide wisdom and guidance to unruly younger family members. According to House members, McCormack's strength was his personal consideration of members, which inspired them to return his affection and sparked a desire to work with him. His weakness was that the seniority system created entrenched committee chairmen who wielded great power in the House, but could not be controlled by the Speaker. As Speaker, McCormack pursued a national agenda; he was proud of fighting for passage of farm bills, though he said he did not have "more than five flower pots in my whole district."

Between the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, and the swearing-in of Hubert Humphrey as Vice President on January 20, 1965, McCormack was first in the line of succession for the presidential powers and duties, thus he received Secret Service protection.

Speaker John McCormack
McCormack's official speaker's portrait, 1966

In January 1969, Arizona congressman Morris Udall attempted to unseat McCormack as Speaker. In 1970, the political attacks increased and several congressmen urged McCormack to step down because of his age. Jerome R. Waldie of California asked a party caucus to declare a lack of confidence in his leadership, which it refused to do. McCormack decided not to run for reelection to the House in early 1970, but kept his decision secret until he announced it publicly in May. McCormack was succeeded as Representative in 1971 by Louise Day Hicks, and as Speaker by Carl Albert.

Retirement and death

McCormack lived in retirement in Boston. He died of pneumonia in a Dedham nursing home on November 22, 1980. He was buried at Saint Joseph Cemetery in West Roxbury, Massachusetts.


In 1983, the University of Massachusetts Boston established the John W. McCormack Institute of Public Affairs. In 1985, the university dedicated John W. McCormack Hall, which was named in McCormack's honor. In 2003, the McCormack Institute was expanded into a graduate school. In 2010, the school expanded its mission again, and it was renamed the McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies. The McCormack Graduate School's mission currently includes training in social justice, government accountability and transparency, and strengthening democratic institutions.

The John W. McCormack Post Office and Courthouse in Boston was built in the early 1930s, and was renamed in McCormack's honor. It was designated a Boston landmark by the city Landmarks Commission in 1998, and in 2011 it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

John W. McCormack Middle School in Dorchester was also named for him.

A Massachusetts state government office building in Boston is also named for McCormack.


In 1920, McCormack married Marguerite Harriet Joyce (usually known as Harriet or M. Harriet); she was seven years older than McCormack and pursuing a career as an opera singer, a vocation she gave up after their wedding.

The McCormacks had no children.

While Congress was in session, they lived at the Washington Hotel.

Stories about McCormack's devotion to his wife became legendary; his friends and colleagues claimed that they always had dinner together, no matter how late McCormack worked, and that they never spent a night apart.

McCormack and his wife were devout Roman Catholics, and he was a Knight of Columbus; both were honored by the Vatican in recognition of their work on behalf of the church.

Harriet McCormack died at age 87 in December 1971, following a long hospitalization. For more than a year, McCormack had spent every night in an adjoining hospital room.

Edward J. McCormack Jr., the son of McCormack's brother Edward ("Knocko"), served as Massachusetts Attorney General from 1958 to 1963. He was an unsuccessful candidate for the Democratic nomination for United States Senator in 1962, and the unsuccessful Democratic nominee for Governor of Massachusetts in the 1966 election.

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