Wednesday, January 14, 2015

John Nance Garner III, Vice-president of the United States

1868 – 1966
(a descendant of William Nance, the founder of the Nance family in the United States)

A story always has to start somewhere, and John Nance Garner III's story as a well known American in his time began before his birth when William Nance arrived in America in the mid 1600s.  After settling in Virginia, William met and married Margaret Tinsley, with whom he built a strong family tradition of loyalty to country, a tradition  which has been passed from generation to generation for more than three centuries.

Living up to the family tradition, William and Margaret's grandson, Reuben Nance, fought in the Revolution; and Reuben's son, Bird Nance, lost his life from wounds incurred in the War of 1812. If you'd like to know more about these two men, they were each  featured in this blog a few months ago.  

John was born to a Confederate veteran, John Nance Garner II, and his wife, Sarah, on November 22, 1868 in Red River County,Texas. 

His earliest years aren't recorded, so we pick up his story after he returned home after completing only one semester at Vanderbilt University.  Although it seems that formal schooling was not for him, he continued to study law on his own and successfully passed the Texas Bar exam.  

After being admitted to the Bar, he realized that  he couldn't make a living in the rural area where he had grown up and soon moved to Uvald, Texas.  It was there that he met and eventually married Mariette “Ettie” Rheiner, a strong young woman in her own right who had openly expressed her opposition to his candidacy for Uvalde county judge. In an age when few women expressed their political opinions, Ettie opposed his candidacy because of his reputation for drinking and poker-playing and, despite their marriage, he retained that reputation for the rest of his life.

Cactus Flower

Bluebonnet Flower
In 1898, at age 30, John made his first successful political foray into State politics when he was elected to the Texas House of Representatives and earned the nickname "Cactus Jack" after unsuccessfully proposing the cactus as the state flower. The bluebonnet prevailed, but the moniker "Cactus Jack" lasted a lifetime.


Always moving upward in the political arena, he was elected as a Democrat to the U.S. House of Representatives four years later.  Even though he was no longer in Texas, he was still known as a salty character who brought many “pork barrel” projects to his district. But even when fighting to bring home "the bacon" to his state, he remained popular with both parties, making him a very effective Speaker of the House in 1931.

Based on his popularity and recognized abilities, it's not surprising that in 1932, John was encouraged by his wife and supporters to make a run for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States.  There was a big problem with that plan, however.  Franklin Delano Roosevelt, had the same dream and an even stronger base.

After winning the nomination, Roosevelt asked John to be his running mate. Together, they were unbeatable and won both the 1932 and 1936 elections to the highest offices in the land. Not bad for a Texas boy who didn't finish college!

But "Cactus John" did not take well to being in the largely decorative position of Vice President. In typical John Garner style, he was heard to describe it as “not worth a bucket of warm piss”, a version that was cleaned up by the press to read “not worth a bucket of warm spit”.

It was during Roosevelt's second term that John could no longer hold his tongue and often disagreed strongly with the President.  As the warm relationship started to cool off, some Democratic party leaders urged him to run against Roosevelt in 1940, which he agreed to do.  But once more, Roosevelt proved himself the stronger candidate and was elected to an unprecedented third term. 

By this time John Nance Garner, who was 72 years old and had served the public for 46 years, decided to leave the race, stepping  down in 1941, which resulted in Harry S. Truman eventually becoming the Vice President who stepped into the presidency after Roosevelt's death.


Although he neither lived nor worked in Washington any longer, he continued to have close friendships with many of the insiders, including President Harry Truman; and, on November 22, 1963, President Jack Kennedy called to wish him a happy birthday just before traveling to Dallas.  



He lived to age 98, and was one of only two vice presidents who served both as Speaker of the House and Vice President of the United States.

He was not forgotten by the people of the State of Texas, whom he had served so well and so long.  In order to honor his many years of service and keep his name alive, a state park just north of his home in Uvalde, Texas was re-named the Garner State Park.


Special thanks to one of the Nance/Philpott family historians, Sheila Oliver Coupland, who graciously called my attention to the story of John Nance Garner, who made his mark in national politics long after his ancestor had planted the seeds of service and devotion to this country.  Suffice it to say, the details of this man's genealogy reside on one of the many branches of the Nance family tree, but in order to avoid confusion or boredom, we'll just say that his place on the tree is several generations removed from his ancestors, William and Margaret Nance.
Garner  State Park, Uvalde, TX