19th Century Era
3. Charles Sumner, R-Mass., 1811-74: A prominent abolitionist on slavery, Sumner wrote the seminal piece of civil-rights legislation in 1870 during the debate over Reconstruction. The bill was far ahead of its time: It declared all men, including ex-slaves equal and to have equal access to all walks of life. The legislation passed in 1875 after Sumner’s death, but was ruled unconstitutional (leading eventually to the 1896 Plessy vs. Ferguson decision declaring “separate but equal facilities to be allowable). Sumner, though, is perhaps best known for being beaten with a cane by Rep. Preston Brooks of South Carolina in 1956 – in fact, Sumner was beaten so badly he didn’t return to the Senate for nearly three years.
14. Franklin Pierce, D-N.H., 1804-1869: He served as the nation’s 14th president -- just years before the Civil War -- but he also was in the U.S. Senate (from 1837-1842). As a rare Democrat from the Northeast, he sympathized with pro-slavery senators and found an ally in Mississippi Sen. Jefferson Davis, who went on to be the president of the Confederacy.
20th Century Era
3. Barry Goldwater, R-Ariz., 1909-98: Dubbed “Mr. Conservative,” Goldwater is seen as the father of the modern-day conservative movement. He’s largely responsible for the delineation of the parties along lines of small government, free markets, and national defense. Compromiser, he was not. Famously, he declared at the 1964 Republican National Convention, accepting his party’s presidential nomination: “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” But Goldwater was more of a libertarian than social conservative. He also was also a staunch anti-Communist and strong supporter of Joseph McCarthy. Despite previously supporting civil-rights efforts, he was against the landmark 1964 law because he said it violated states’ rights.
14. John Stennis, D-Miss., 1901-95: Nicknamed the “Father of America’s Modern Navy” (he has an aircraft carrier named after him) and his era’s “Conscience of the Senate” (he wrote the first ethics code), Stennis served in the Senate for 41 years, the fourth-longest tenure in history. No senator had greater influence over military matters in the 1960s and 70s than Stennis did, and he was put in charge of touchy political investigations – ranging from charges against Joseph McCarthy to the Pentagon not allowing rank-and-file to speak out against communism. In a political world in which winning is everything, Stennis told a roundtable of political advisers working on his last campaign in 1982, which he won: "There is one thing you really need to understand before we go any further. We don't have to win." He was the first Democrat to publicly oppose Joseph McCarthy, but being from Mississippi, he opposed integration -- though in his later years, he backed civil-rights measures. He also was a believer in supporting a president, regardless of party, on foreign policy and military matters, even if he disagreed.
3. Jesse Helms, R- N.C., 1921-2003: Helms was the combative conservative senator who served in the Senate for 30 years. Legislatively, he was best known for sponsoring measures tightening trade with Cuba and for preventing U.S. funds for being sent to international family planning organizations that provide abortions. “I didn’t come to Washington to be a ‘yes man’ for any president, Democrat or Republican,” Helms said, per the New York Times. “I didn’t come to Washington to get along and win any popularity contests.”
14. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, 1923-2010: Known as “Uncle Ted” in his state, Stevens was the most powerful senator in Alaska’s history. An at-times cantankerous, curmudgeonly, and dogged advocate for Alaska (who made famous Incredible Hulk ties as well as the phrase “series of tubes” to describe the Internet), Stevens used his influence to build much of the infrastructure that currently exists in modern Alaska – from roads to hospitals to the “Bridges to Nowhere.” The New York Times noted that Stevens “questioned President Ronald Reagan's level of military spending, supported the Title IX legislation to give women equal access in institutions receiving federal aid, backed spending for public radio, supported a ban on smoking in federal buildings and endorsed tougher fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks.” Stevens, who was a World War II pilot, survived a plane crash that killed his wife a generation earlier, and ultimately was killed in a plane crash himself in 2010. He lost his Senate seat in 2008 after being found guilty of corruption, though that conviction was thrown out because of prosecutorial misconduct.
3. Hiram Johnson, R- Calif., 1866-1945: Johnson was labeled an isolationist for his impassioned opposition to Woodrow Wilson’s foreign policy and attempt at establishing a League of Nations after the Treaty of Versailles. He blocked U.S. membership to the World Court and was against FDR’s peace-time draft and lend-lease plan. He was also instrumental in the creation of the Hoover Dam and was one of the founders of the Progressive Party, running with Teddy Roosevelt on the Progressive ticket in 1912.
14. Henry Martin “Scoop” Jackson, D-Wash., 1912-83: The 30-year senator (1953-1981) and 43-year member of Congress wielded tremendous influence with colleagues on Capitol Hill and was regarded for his deep bipartisan ties. His counsel was sought after by presidents, especially on foreign-policy issues. He was liberal on most social issues, but he was hawkish on military affairs. For example, he supported U.S. efforts to get involved in Southeast Asia, even saying in 1975: “The basic decision to go into Vietnam was right.” He was popular with the American Jewish community for his support of Israel and crafting legislation to help Russian Jews emigrate more freely to there. He was one of the first senators to benefit from television’s advent, notably during the McCarthy-Army hearings of the 1950s; Jackson said McCarthy was “hunting headlines instead of hunting communists.” He also was seen as the “Senator from Boeing” for his work procuring funding for the airline maker in his home state. He ran for and lost the Democratic nomination for president twice – in 1972 and 1976. He got his nickname, “Scoop,” by the way, because his sister thought he reminded her of a comic-strip character.