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William Borah
William Edgar Borah cph.3b19589.jpg
United States Senator
from Idaho
In office
March 4, 1907 – January 19, 1940
Preceded by Fred Dubois
Succeeded by John W. Thomas
Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations
In office
Preceded by Henry Cabot Lodge
Succeeded by Key Pittman
Dean of the United States Senate
In office
March 4, 1933 – January 19, 1940
Preceded by Reed Smoot
Succeeded by Ellison D. Smith
Personal details
Born William Edgar Borah
(1865-06-29)June 29, 1865
near Fairfield, Illinois
Died January 19, 1940(1940-01-19) (aged 74)
Washington, D.C.
Resting place Morris Hill Cemetery
Boise, Idaho
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Mary McConnell Borah
(m. 1895–1940, his death)
Parents William Nathan Borah
Elizabeth West Borah
Alma mater University of Kansas
Profession Attorney
Religion Protestant
Nickname(s) The Lion of Idaho[1]
The Big Potato[2]

William Edgar Borah (June 29, 1865 – January 19, 1940) was a prominent United States Senator from Idaho, a Republican noted for his oratorical skills and isolationist views. Progressive, independent, and often outspoken, he served over 32 years in the Senate and was internationally known as "The Lion of Idaho."[1]

Childhood and early career[edit]

Born in Jasper Township, Illinois, near Fairfield in Wayne County, William Edgar Borah was the son of Elizabeth (West) and William Nathan Borah, farmers.[3] Borah was distantly related to Katherine von Bora, a Catholic nun who left her convent to marry Martin Luther. The family came to America in about 1760, fought in the Revolutionary War, and moved west with the frontier. The young William E. Borah was the seventh of ten children, and the third son.[4]

The future senator was not a good student, but at an early age began to love oratory and the written word.[3] Borah was educated at Tom's Prairie School, near Fairfield. When the eager learner exhausted its rudimentary resources, he was sent by his father in 1881 to Southern Illinois Academy, a Cumberland Presbyterian academy at Enfield. The 63 students there included two future U.S. senators, Borah and Wesley Jones, who would represent the state of Washington; the two often debated as schoolboys. Instead of becoming a minister, Borah was expelled for hitching rides on the Illinois Central to spend the night in the town of Carmi. He ran away from home with an itinerant Shakespearean company, but his father persuaded him to return. In his teenage years, he became interested in the law, and later stated, "I can't remember when I didn't want to be a lawyer ... there is no other profession where one can be absolutely independent".[5][6]

With his father finally accepting his son's ambition to be a lawyer, Borah in 1883 went to live with his sister Sue in Lyons, Kansas; her husband, Ansel M. Lasley, was an attorney. Borah initially worked as a teacher, but became so engrossed in historical topics at the town library that he was ill-prepared for class; he and the school parted ways. In 1885 Borah enrolled at the University of Kansas, and rented an inexpensive room in a professor's home in Lawrence, he studied alongside students who would become prominent, like William Allen White and Fred Funston. Borah was working his way through college, but his plans were scuttled when he contracted tuberculosis in early 1887, and had to return to Lyons, where his sister nursed him to health and he began to read law under Ansel Lasley's supervision. The bar examination was rudimentary and Borah passed it in September 1887, going into partnership with his brother-in-law.[7][8]

The mayor of Lyons appointed Borah city attorney in 1889, but the young lawyer felt that he was destined for bigger things than a Kansas town suffering in the hard times that persisted on the prairie in the late 1880s and early 1890s. Following the advise attributed to Horace Greeley, Borah decided to go west and grow up with the country.[9] In October 1890, uncertain of his destination, he boarded the Union Pacific Railroad in Omaha. On the advice of a gambler on board the train, Borah decided to settle in Boise, Idaho, for, as his biographer, Marian C. McKenna, put it, "that was as far west as his pocketbook would take him".[10]

Pre-Senate career[edit]

Idaho lawyer[edit]

Idaho had been admitted to the Union earlier in 1890, and Boise, the state capital, was a boom town, where law and order was more the exception than the rule. His first case was referred to him by the gambler, that of a man accused of murder for shooting a Chinese immigrant in the back; Borah gained an unasked-for dismissal when the judge decided that shooting a Chinaman was at worst manslaughter. Borah prospered in Boise, both in law and in politics, and in 1892 became head of the Republican State Central Committee. He served as political secretary to Governor William J. McConnell and in 1895 married the governor's daughter, Mary, a union that produced no children.[3]

Idaho, a mining state, was fraught with labor tensions, and violence was not uncommon. In 1899, there was a strike, and a large group of miners blew up with dynamite facilities belonging to a mining company that refused to recognize the union. The explosion took no life, but the mob of miners that had come by hijacked train to destroy the company's plant shot and killed a strikebreaker. Governor Frank Steunenberg declared martial law and had more than one thousand miners arrested. Paul Corcoran, secretary of the union, was placed on trial for murder and Borah was engaged as a prosecutor in a trial that began at Wallace on July 8, 1899. Prosecution witnesses testified to seeing Corcoran sitting on top of the train, rifle in hand, and later leap to the platform. The defense contended that given the sharp curves and rough roadbed of the rail line, no one could have sat on top of the train, nor jump from it without severe injury. Borah used his skills as a teenage rail rider to ride the top of the train, and jump from it to the platform without injury. Corcoran was convicted, but his death sentence was commuted, and he was pardoned in 1901, after Steuenberg left office. Borah gained wide acclaim for his actions.[11]

Senate contender[edit]

Borah also involved himself in politics. Many Idahoans, including Senator Fred Dubois, bolted the Republican Party in 1896 to support the campaign of Democrat William Jennings Bryanfree silver, which Bryan supported, was extremely popular in Idaho. Borah joined the exodus, becoming a Silver Republican in opposition to the campaign of the Republican presidential candidate, former Ohio governor William McKinley. Borah ran for the House of Representatives that year, but knew that with the silver vote split between himself and a Democrat-Populist fusion candidate, he had little chance of winning, and concentrated on making speeches aimed at gaining a legislature that would re-elect Dubois—until 1913, state legislatures elected senators. Bryan, Dubois, and Borah were all defeated.

In 1898, Borah supported the Spanish-American War and remained loyal to the Silver Republicans. By 1900, Borah deemed the silver issue of minimal importance due to increased gold production and national prosperity,[12] and, with other former silverites, made an unapologetic return to the Republican Party. He made speeches for McKinley, who was re-elected. Bryan, however, took Idaho's electoral votes for a second time. Dubois, though nominally remaining a Silver Republican, gained control of the Democratic Party in the southern, more populous part of the state, and was returned to the Senate by the Idaho Legislature.

Borah's legal practice had made him prominent in southern Idaho, and in 1902 he sought election to the Senate. By this time, a united Republican Party was deemed likely to defeat the Democratic/Populist combine that had ruled Idaho for the past six years. The 1902 Idaho state Republican convention showed that Borah had, likely, the most support among the people, but the choice of senator was generally dictated by the caucus of the majority party in the legislature. In 1902, Idaho Republicans elected a governor, a congressman, and a large majority in the legislature. There were three other Republicans seeking the seat, including Weldon B. Heyburn, a mining lawyer from the northern part of the state. When the legislature met in early 1903, Borah led on early ballots, but then the other candidates backed Heyburn, who was chosen by the caucus, and then by the legislature.[13] There were many rumors of corruption in the choice of Heyburn, and Borah determined that the defeat would not end his political career, deciding to seek the seat of Senator Dubois (by then a Democrat) when it was filled by the legislature in early 1907.[14]

At the state convention at Pocatello in 1904, Borah made a speech in support of the election of Theodore Roosevelt for a full term as president, which was widely applauded but not by the Old Guard Republicans in Idaho, who determined to defeat Borah in his second bid for the Senate.[14] The same year, Dubois damaged his prospects for a third term by his opposition to the appointment of H. Smith Woolley, a member of the Mormon church (many Idahoans adhered to that faith), as assayer-in-charge of the United States Assay Office at Boise. Dubois had advanced politically through anti-Mormonism in the 1880s, but the issue was more or less dead in Idaho by 1904. Woolley was confirmed by the U.S. Senate despite Dubois's opposition, and Rufus G. Cook, in his article on the affair, suggested that Dubois was pushed into damaging his prospects by Borah and his supporters. The result was that Borah attacked Dubois for anti-Mormonism in both 1904 and 1906, which played well in the heavily Mormon counties in southeast Idaho.[15]

Borah campaigned to end the caucus's role in selecting the Republican nominee for Senate, arguing that it should be decided by the people, in a convention (in later years, in a primary election). He drafted a resolution based on that passed by the 1858 Illinois Republican convention that had endorsed Abraham Lincoln for Senate in his unsuccessful race against Stephen Douglas. He made a deal with a potential Republican rival, Governor Frank Gooding, whereby Borah would be nominated for Senate and Gooding for re-election and on August 1, 1906, both men received the state convention's endorsement by acclimation. Dubois was the Democratic choice, and Borah campaigned in support of President Roosevelt, argued that Republicans had brought the nation prosperity, and urged law and order. Voters re-elected Gooding, and selected a Republican legislature, which in January 1907 retired Dubois by electing Borah to the Senate.

Haywood trial, lumber accusations[edit]

Borah presented his credentials at the Senate prior to the formal beginning of his first term on March 4, 1907. Congress did not meet until December, allowing him time to participate in two major trials, one of which boosted him to national prominence for his role in the prosecution, and the other, with Borah as the defendant, placed him at risk of going to prison. The first was a trial for conspiracy to commit the murder of ex-governor Steuenberg, who was killed on December 30, 1905 by a bomb planted on the gate at his home in Caldwell. Borah, who viewed Steuenberg as a father figure, was among the prominent Idahoans who hurried to Caldwell, and who viewed Steuenberg's shattered body and the bloodstained snow. Suspicion quickly fell on a man registered at a local hotel who proved to be Harry Orchard, an explosives expert and assassin. Many labor leaders were embittered against Steuenberg for his actions while in office, and Orchard implicated four of them. The three who could be found, including "Big Bill" Haywood, were extradited from Colorado to Idaho in February 1906. As the legal challenges wended through the courts, the case became a campaign issue both for Gooding, who had signed the extradition warrant, and for Borah, who joined the prosecution team and stated that trying the case was more important to him than being sent to the Senate.[16]

While the Haywood defendants awaited trial, Borah and others were indicted in federal court for land fraud, having to do with the acquisition by the Barber Lumber Company (for which Borah had been counsel) of title to timber land claims. Individuals had filed for the claims, and then sold them to the Barber Company although they had sworn that the claims were for their own use. As the United States Attorney for Idaho, Norman M. Ruick, had expanded the grand jury from 12 members to 22 before he could get a majority vote to indict Borah (by a 12—10 margin), the accusation was immediately deemed political, with Ruick acting on behalf of Idaho Republicans who had lost state party leadership to the new senator. Roosevelt took a wait-and-see attitude, upsetting Borah, who considered resigning his Senate seat even if exonerated.[17]

Haywood was tried first; jury selection began on May 9, 1907 and proceedings in Boise continued for over two months. The courtroom, corridors, and even the lawn outside were often filled. Counsel for the prosecution included Borah and future governor James H. Hawley; famed attorney Clarence Darrow led the defense team. A highlight of the trial was Borah's cross-examination of Haywood, who denied personal animus against Steuenberg and any connection with the death, and another was Borah's final argument for the prosecution in rebuttal to Darrow on July 25 and 26. Borah urged the jury to convict,

But as I listened to the voice of counsel and felt for a time their great influence there came to me after the spell was broken another scene. There came to me in more moving tones than of voices—I remembered again [the night of] December 30th, 1905 ... I felt again its cold and icy chill, faced the drifting snow and peered at last into the darkness for the sacred spot where last lay the body of my dead friend, and saw true, only too true, the stain of his life's blood upon the whitened earth. I saw Idaho dishonored and disgraced. I saw murder—no, not murder, a thousand times worse than murder; I saw anarchy wave its first bloody triumph in Idaho. And as I thought again I said "Thou living God, can the talents or the arts of counsel unteach the lesson of that hour?" No, no. Let us be brave, let us be faithful in this supreme test of trial and duty ... But you never had a duty imposed upon you which required more intelligence, more manhood, more courage than that which the people of Idaho assign to you this night in the final discharge of your duty.[a][18]

Although Darrow won the day, gaining an acquittal for Haywood,[b] the trial transformed Borah from an obscure freshman senator to a national figure. But Borah still had to face a jury on the land fraud charge, which he did in September 1907, a trial held then at Roosevelt's insistence—Ruick had asked more time, but Borah wanted the matter disposed of before Congress met in December. Borah refused to challenge the indictment and at the trial, his counsel allowed Ruick free rein; the judge commented on Ruick's inability to tie Borah to any offense. The defense case consisted almost entirely of Borah's testimony, and the jury quickly acquitted him, setting off wild celebrations in Boise. Ruick was dismissed from his post by Roosevelt in 1908.[19]

Senator (1907–1940)[edit]

Progressive insurgent (1907–1913)[edit]

When Borah went to Washington for the Senate's regular session in December 1907, he was immediately a figure of note, not only for the dramatic events in Idaho, but for keeping his Western habits, including wearing a ten-gallon hat. It was then the custom that junior senators wait perhaps a year before giving their maiden speech, but at Roosevelt's request, in April 1908, Borah spoke in defense of the president's dismissal of over a hundred African American soldiers in the Brownsville affair, their cause pressed by the fiery Ohio senator, Joseph B. Foraker. The soldiers were alleged to have shot up a Texas town, and Borah compared their alleged offense to the murder of Steuenberg. The accusations later proved to be motivated by racism, and in 1972, after the death of Roosevelt, Borah, and most of the soldiers, the dismissals were reversed.

Republican leaders had heard that Borah was an attorney for corporations, who had prosecuted labor leaders; they believed him sympathetic to their Old Guard positions and assigned him to important committees. In fact, Borah supported unions, so long as they did not commit violent acts. When Borah staked out progressive positions after his swearing-in, Rhode Island Senator Nelson Aldrich, the powerful chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, hoped to put pressure on Borah through the westerner's corporate clients, only to find that he had given up those representations before coming to Washington.[20] Borah became one of a growing number of progressive Republicans in the Senate. Yet, Borah often opposed liberal legislation, finding fault with it or fearing it would increase the power of the federal government. Throughout his years in the Senate, in which he would serve until his death in 1940, his idiosyncratic positions would limit his effectiveness as a reformer.[3]

After Roosevelt's hand-picked successor, former Secretary of War William Howard Taft was inaugurated in March 1909, Congress battled over what became the Payne-Aldrich Tariff. Tariffs were the main source of government revenue, and battles over it were passionate. The party platform had promised tariff reform, which progressive insurgents like Borah took to mean tariff reductions. Old Guard legislators like Senator Aldrich disagreed, and the tariff bills actually raised rates by about one percent. The battles alienated Borah from Taft, who in a speech at Winona, Minnesota described the new law as the best tariff the country had ever had. Borah and other progressives had proposed an income tax to be attached to the tariff bill; when this was unacceptable to Taft, who feared the Supreme Court would strike it down again, Borah repackaged it as a constitutional amendment, which passed the Senate unanimously and then the House, and to the surprise of many passed the requisite number of state legislatures by 1913 to become the Sixteenth Amendment. Borah also had a hand in the other constitutional amendment to be ratified in 1913, the Seventeenth Amendment. In 1909, due to Borah's influence, the Idaho legislature passed an act for a statewide election for senator with legislators in theory bound to choose the winner, and by 1912 over 30 states had similar laws. Borah pushed the issue in the Senate in 1911 and 1912 until it passed Congress and after a year was ratified by the states. Thus, according to McKenna, the popular Borah "secured for himself a life option on a seat in the Senate".[21]

Borah opposed Taft over a number of issues and in March 1912 announced his support of the candidacy of Roosevelt over Taft for the Republican presidential nomination. Most delegates to the 1912 Republican National Convention in Chicago selected by primary supported Roosevelt, but as most states held conventions to select delegates, Taft's control of the party machinery gave him the advantage. A number of states, especially in the South, had contested delegate seats, matters which would be initially settled by the Taft-controlled Republican National Committee. Borah was Idaho's Republican National Committeeman and was one of those designated by the Roosevelt campaign to fight for it on the RNC. As Taft controlled the committee, Borah found few victories. Borah was among those who tried to find a compromise candidate, and was spoken of for that position, but all such efforts failed. When it became clear Taft would be renominated, Roosevelt and his supporters bolted the party; the former president asked Borah to chair the organizational meeting of his new Progressive Party, but Borah would not countenance leaving the Republican Party and refused to support any of the presidential candidates (the Democrats nominated New Jersey Governor Woodrow Wilson), but when Roosevelt came to Boise on a campaign swing in October felt he had little choice than to greet the former president and sit on the platform as Roosevelt spoke, though he was unwilling to endorse a presidential candidate. Roosevelt told in his speech of a long list of delegate votes he said had been robbed from him, and after each state, turned to Borah and asked, "Isn't that so, Senator Borah?" giving him no choice but to nod.[22] Roosevelt later described Borah as "entirely insincere", an insurgent whose chief talent was to "insurge".[23] The main election issue in Idaho was Borah's re-election, which was so popular that those disgruntled at the senator for not supporting Taft or Roosevelt kept quiet. Idahoans helped elect Wilson, but sent 80 Republican legislators out of 86 to Boise (with even two of the six Democrats pledged to support Borah if necessary), who on January 14, 1913 returned William Borah for a second term.[24]

U.S. Senate[edit]

Early in his Senate career

On January 15, 1907, the Idaho Legislature elected Borah to the U.S. Senate over the controversial Democratic incumbent, Fred Dubois.[25][26][27] Reelected by the legislature in January 1913,[28][29] and four more times by popular vote (1918, 1924, 1930, 1936) after the 17th Amendment changed the way senators were selected, Borah remains the longest-serving member in Congress in Idaho history.

A member of the Republican National Committee from 1908 to 1912, Borah was a delegate to the 1912 Republican National Convention. As a senator, he was dedicated to principles rather than party loyalty, a trait which earned him the nickname "the Great Opposer." Borah disliked entangling alliances in foreign policy and became a prominent anti-imperialist and nationalist, favoring a continued separation of American liberal and European Great Power politics. He encouraged the formation of a series of world economic conferences and favored a low tariff.

In 1919, Borah and other Senate Republicans, notably Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts and Hiram W. Johnson of California, clashed with President Woodrow Wilson over Senate ratification of the Treaty of Versailles. It ended World War I and established the League of Nations. Borah emerged as leader of the "Irreconcilables," a group of senators noted for their uncompromising opposition to the treaty and the League. During 1919, Borah and Johnson toured the country speaking against the treaty in response to Wilson's speaking tour supporting it. Borah's impassioned November 19, 1919, speech on the Senate floor in opposition to the treaty and League of Nations contributed to the Senate's ultimate rejection of it.[30]

In 1922 and 1923, Borah spoke against passage of the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill, which had passed the House. A strong supporter of state sovereignty, he believed that its clause authorizing federal authorities to punish state officials for failure to suppress lynchings was unconstitutional. The bill was defeated by filibuster in the Senate by Southern Democrats. When another bill was introduced in 1935 and 1938, Borah continued to speak against it, by that time saying that it was no longer needed, as the number of lynchings had dropped sharply.[31]

Following Lodge's death in 1924, Borah became the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a post he held until 1933, when the Democrats regained the majority. As chairman, he became known for his pro-Soviet views, favoring recognition of the Soviet Union, and sometimes interceded with that government in an unofficial capacity during the period when Moscow had no official relations with the United States. Purportedly, Kremlin officials held Borah in such high esteem that American citizens could gain permission to travel throughout the Soviet Union with nothing more than a letter from the Senator.[32]

Domestically, he sponsored bills that created the Department of Labor and the Children's Bureau. He was one of the Senators responsible for uncovering the scandals of the Harding Administration.[citation needed] In 1932, unhappy with the misguided policies of President Herbert Hoover, such as a doubling of revenues with no positive results, in light of the Great Depression Borah refused to publicly endorse Hoover's reelection campaign.

After Hoover's defeat by the Democratic candidate Franklin D. Roosevelt, Borah became the dean of the Senate and supported certain components of the New Deal. These included old-age pensions and the confiscation of U.S. citizens' gold by executive order, but he opposed the National Industrial Recovery Act and the Agricultural Adjustment Act.

Personality and views[edit]

Borah was a progressive Republican who often had strong differences of opinion with the conservative wing of the party. Borah also had a reputation for being headstrong and independent. When conservative President Calvin Coolidge was told of Borah's fondness for horseback riding, the president is said to have replied, "It's hard to imagine Senator Borah going in the same direction as his horse."[2]

Conservative Republicans in Idaho, notably Governor and later Senator Frank R. Gooding, often feuded with Borah as well. Nevertheless, Borah became a strong political force in Idaho and elsewhere, often in spite of opposition from his own party.

Wallace E. Olson, then president of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants in mocking the United States income tax system and rates reported on the debates held in Congress that,

A fear expressed by a number of opponents was that the proposed law, with its low rates was the camel's nose under the tent that once a tax on incomes was enacted, rates would tend to rise. Sen. William E. Borah of Idaho was outraged by such anxieties, and derided a suggestion that the rate might eventually climb as high as 20 percent. Who, he asked, could impose such socialistic, confiscatory rates? Only Congress. And how could Congress, the Representatives of the American People, be so lacking in fairness, justice and patriotism?.[33]

In 1931, Borah declared he was in favor of the revision of the Versailles Treaty and the Polish corridor, and the revision of the Treaty of Trianon that divided lands from the old Hungarian Kingdom between Austria, Czechoslovakia, Romania and Yugoslavia.[34]

In 1932, Borah strongly disagreed with the suggestion of the drafters of the London Economic Conference of 1933, who met in Geneva, that the United States should settle intergovernmental debts as a step to recover from the Great Depression.[35]

Borah became the dean of the U.S. Senate in 1933, an informal term used to refer to the Senator with the longest continuous service.

Borah positioned himself as the Republican expert on foreign affairs. When Hitler came to power in January 1933, he was not alarmed. He told the press the combination of President von Hindenburg and the Nazi leader should be able to administer the affairs of the German people.[36]

"I think Hindenburg one of the greatest men, not alone of this time, but of all time,” he said. “I am impressed with the fact that Hitler speaks more and more with the voice of the German people, with reference to certain matters growing out of the World war and Versailles, which will have to be revised in the interest of peace."

1936 Presidential campaign[edit]

In an attempt to revitalize the progressive wing of the Republican Party, a 71-year-old Borah ran for nomination as candidate for President of the United States in 1936, the first from Idaho to do so. His candidacy was opposed by the conservative Republican leadership and dismissed by Roosevelt. Borah managed to win only a handful of delegates and won a majority of delegates in only one state, Wisconsin, where he had the endorsement of Progressive United States Senator Robert M. La Follette, Jr. Borah refused to endorse the eventual Republican nominee, Alf Landon, leading some to believe he might cross party lines and support Roosevelt's reelection. Ultimately, as he had four years earlier, he chose to support neither candidate.[37] Even more significantly, Borah announced:

Unless the Republican party is delivered from its reactionary leadership and reorganized in accord with its one-time liberal principles, it will die like the Whig party of sheer political cowardice...[The people] are offered the Constitution. But the people can't eat the Constitution.[38]

Final years[edit]

Despite his failed presidential run, throughout his long career Borah remained personally popular among Idaho voters. While in the Senate in Idaho he never faced a serious political challenge from either the Republicans or Democrats.[citation needed] After abandoning his presidential campaign, later in 1936 at the height of Democratic power during the New Deal era, Borah ran for reelection against three-term Idaho Governor C. Ben Ross, a Roosevelt ally, and won with well over 60 percent of the vote.

Known for his public integrity, eloquent speaking ability, and genuine concern for his constituents, his private affairs were less straightforward; his romantic relationship with the irascible and none-too-discreet Alice Roosevelt Longworth was unseemly, especially for the time, but it apparently did him no lasting political harm.[39]


Still in office, Borah suffered a fall and died in his sleep at his home in Washington, D.C., on January 19, 1940 of a cerebral hemorrhage at age 74.[40][41] His state funeral at the U.S. Capitol was held in the Senate chamber on Monday, January 22.[42] A second state funeral in Idaho was held three days later at the Idaho State Capitol in Boise, where Borah's casket lay in state beneath the rotunda for six hours prior to the funeral at three o'clock. An estimated 23,000 passed by the bier or attended the funeral service,[43] nearly equal to Boise's population (26,130) in 1940. He is buried in Morris Hill Cemetery in Boise.[44]

Marriage and family[edit]

Mary McConnell Borah, ca 1909

In 1895, Borah married Mary McConnell (1870–1976) of Moscow, daughter of Idaho Governor William J. McConnell. They first met in Moscow while he was campaigning for her father.[45][46] They had no children, and she died at the advanced age of 105 in Beaverton, Oregon,[47][48] and is buried next to Borah at Morris Hill Cemetery in Boise.[49] Petite and elegant, she was commonly known as "Little Borah."[50][51][52]

Later in life in Washington, Borah had a relationship with Alice Roosevelt Longworth,[53] with whom he had one daughter, Paulina Longworth Sturm (1925–1957).[54] And according to one family friend, "everybody called her 'Aurora Borah Alice.' " [55]


Statue in Washington, D.C.
by Bryant Baker, 1947
Borah Peak, Idaho's highest
Borah High School.png

In 1947, the state of Idaho donated a bronze statue of Borah to the National Statuary Hall Collection, sculpted by Bryant Baker.[56] Idaho's highest point, Borah Peak, at 12,662 feet (3,859 m) was named for him in 1934,[57] while he was dean of the Senate. Two public schools are named for him: Borah High School in Boise, opened in 1958, and Borah Elementary School in Coeur d'Alene,[58] both with "Lions" as mascot.

At the University of Idaho in Moscow, his wife's hometown, an annual symposium on international problems and policy,[59] a residence hall, and a theater in the student union building bear his name. Borah Avenue in Twin Falls is also named in his honor.

William E. Borah Apartment, Windsor Lodge, a home of his in Washington, D.C., was designated a U.S. National Historic Landmark in 1976.[60]

Bora Laskin, the Chief Justice of Canada from 1973–1984, was named after Borah.[61][dubious ]

"Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler"[edit]

Borah may be best known today for having reportedly said, in September 1939, after Germany invaded Poland, "Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler—all this might have been averted." The source of this quote was a 1940 Senate Document, News Articles on the Life and Works of Honorable William E. Borah, compiled and written by William Kinsey Hutchinson, then International News Service's Washington Bureau Chief. Hutchinson indicated that Borah said it to him in private "in words that ran like a prayer."[62] There is no other public record of Borah saying this; Borah died before Hutchinson published the document, and thus could not deny or confirm it; its veracity is therefore unknown.

The quote has been repeatedly cited as evidence of the alleged naivete of a belief in the power of pure diplomacy. Conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer has referred to the quote in at least three of his columns, making an analogy to negotiating with China in 1989, with North Korea in 1994 and with Iran in 2006.[63] In August 2006 Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld referred to the quote when decrying those who want to "negotiate a separate peace with terrorists."[64]

On May 15, 2008, President George W. Bush referred to the quote in a speech to the Knesset in Israel commemorating that nation's 60th anniversary, after stating, "some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along."[65] Some, including Barack Obama himself, interpreted Bush's comment to be a criticism of Obama, who was about to become the Democratic nominee for president, for his stated willingness to negotiate with the leaders of Iran. White House staff stated that the reference was meant more as a criticism of former president Jimmy Carter, who had argued that the U.S. should be willing to meet with Hamas.[66]

Other quotations[edit]

  • "No more fatuous chimera has ever infested the brain than that you can control opinions by law or direct belief by statute, and no more pernicious sentiment ever tormented the heart than the barbarous desire to do so. The field of inquiry should remain open, and the right of debate must be regarded as a sacred right." —1917[67]
  • "America has arisen to a position where she is respected and admired by the entire world. She did it by minding her own business... the European and American systems do not agree." —1919 speech in Brooklyn opposing the League of Nations.[68]
  • "There is something phoney about this war."[69] —1939 interview, commenting on the lack of military response by the Western Allies (United Kingdom and France) against Nazi Germany following the German invasion of Poland at the beginning of World War II. The term Phoney War became the standard term used by journalists and historians for the relatively quiet period of war from September 1939 to the German invasion of France in May 1940.


  1. ^ As per the trial transcript, held by the Idaho Historical Society. Borah later published his address as a pamphlet, taking the opportunity to polish and expand the prose, and biographers have often relied on the later version. See Grover, pp. 70–72.
  2. ^ After Darrow gained a second acquittal, for George Pettibone, the charges against the third defendant, Charles Moyer, were dropped. Orchard was tried and convicted; his sentence was reduced from death to life imprisonment because he had turned state's evidence; he died in prison in 1954 at age 88. Haywood was convicted of espionage for his opposition to World War I by federal Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, jumping bail during the appeal and dying in 1928 in Moscow. See McKenna, p. 63.


  1. ^ a b "Idaho governor sets Borah day". Spokane Daily Chronicle (Washington). Associated Press. November 23, 1957. p. 7. 
  2. ^ a b c Bates, Kirk (January 25, 1940). "The Senator who traveled alone". Milwaukee Journal. p. 22. 
  3. ^ a b c d Maddox, Robert James (February 2000). "Borah, William Edgar". American National Biography online. Retrieved April 18, 2016. (subscription required (help)). 
  4. ^ McKenna, pp. 5–6.
  5. ^ McKenna, pp. 7–9.
  6. ^ Braden, pp. 170–173.
  7. ^ Braden, p. 174.
  8. ^ McKenna, pp. 10–15.
  9. ^ McKenna, pp. 16–17.
  10. ^ McKenna, pp. 1–5.
  11. ^ McKenna, pp. 27–31.
  12. ^ Johnson, p. 125.
  13. ^ Johnson, pp. 126–137.
  14. ^ a b McKenna, p. 42.
  15. ^ Cook, pp. 193, 197–198.
  16. ^ Grover, pp. 66–67.
  17. ^ Grover, pp. 67–68.
  18. ^ Grover, pp. 71–72.
  19. ^ McKenna, pp. 67–82.
  20. ^ McKenna, pp. 98–100.
  21. ^ McKenna, pp. 103–112.
  22. ^ McKenna, pp. 118–118.
  23. ^ Maddox, p. xix.
  24. ^ Johnson, pp. 16–17.
  25. ^ "Borah wins long fight". Spokane Daily Chronicle (Washington). January 16, 1907. p. 3. 
  26. ^ "Joint session ratifies Borah". Lewiston Morning Tribune (Idaho). January 17, 1907. p. 1. 
  27. ^ "Idaho bestows toga on Borah". Spokesman-Review (Spokane, Washington). January 18, 1907. p. 1. 
  28. ^ "State of Idaho reelects William E. Borah U.S. Senator". Spokane Daily Chronicle (Washington). January 14, 1913. p. 1. 
  29. ^ Ford, James A. (January 15, 1913). "Idaho short term senatorship left in doubt on first ballot". Spokesman-Review (Spokane, Washington). p. 3. 
  30. ^ Classic Senate Speeches: Notes on William E. Borah to The League of Nations on November 19, 1919. Retrieved May 15, 2008. Text of the speech also here.
  31. ^ "Proceedings of the U.S. Senate on June 13, 2005 regarding the "Senate Apology" as Reported in the 'Congressional Record'", "Part 3, Mr. Craig", at African American Studies, University of Buffalo. Retrieved July 26, 2011
  32. ^ "At The Hinge Of History: A Reporter's Story" Accounts of Joseph C. Harsch regarding certain issues. Retrieved March 6, 2014.
  33. ^ The Wall Street Journal. October 5, 1973. p. 8, col. 4–6.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  34. ^ Show Stolen?, Time Magazine, November 2, 1931
  35. ^ The World Economic Conference, Herbert Samuel, International Affairs (1933) 12#4 p 445.
  36. ^ Keesing's Contemporary Archives Volume I, (January 1933) p 655
  37. ^ A Lion Among The Liberals, by Kevin C. Murphy. Retrieved May 15, 2008.
  38. ^ Brands, H.W. (2008). Traitor to his Class. New York, NY: Doubleday. p. 451. ISBN 978-0-385-51958-8. 
  39. ^ McKenna, Marian, Borah, Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1961.
  40. ^ "Senator Borah dies; state funeral Monday". Toledo Blade (Ohio). Associated Press. January 20, 1940. p. 1. 
  41. ^ Wilson, Lyle C. (January 20, 1940). "Borah is mourned by nation". Berkeley Daily Gazette (California). United Press. p. 1. 
  42. ^ "Leaders grieve at state rites for Sen. Borah". Lewiston Morning Tribune (Idaho). Associated Press. January 23, 1940. p. 1. 
  43. ^ Bottcher, Walter R. (January 26, 1940). "Senator Borah rests in mountain's shadow". Lewiston Morning Tribune (Idaho). Associated Press. p. 1. 
  44. ^ Cemetery Walking Tour: William E. Borah, published by City of Boise. Retrieved May 15, 2008.
  45. ^ Ulrich, Roberta (October 14, 1970). "Widow of Sen. Borah nearing 100th birthday anniversary". Ludington Daily News (Michigan). UPI. p. 9. 
  46. ^ Taylor, Dabney (October 14, 1970). "Mrs. Borah recalls 100". Spokane Daily Chronicle (Washington). Associated Press. p. 1. 
  47. ^ "Mrs. Borah dies". Spokesman-Review (Spokane, Washington). Associated Press. January 16, 1976. p. 7. 
  48. ^ "Illness claims Mary Borah, 105". Lewiston Morning Tribune (Idaho). Associated Press. January 16, 1976. p. 2A. 
  49. ^ "Mary Mamie McConnell Borah". Find a Grave.com. Retrieved October 24, 2012. 
  50. ^ Sumner, Allene (May 30, 1928). ""Little Borah" is popular confidant of many ex-serviceman". San Jose News (California). p. 12. 
  51. ^ "Death takes Borah, noted Idaho Senator". Milwaukee Journal. January 20, 1940. p. 1. 
  52. ^ "Mary Borah retains wit at 100 mark". Toledo Blade (Ohio). Associated Press. October 14, 1970. p. 30. 
  53. ^ Carter, Jack (April 8, 1988). "did Sen. Borah father Alice Longworth's child?". Idahonian (Moscow). p. 1C. 
  54. ^ Cordery, Stacy A. Alice: Alice Roosevelt Longworth, From White House Princess to Washington Power Broker. New York: Penguin Group, Viking Adult (2007). ISBN 0-670-01833-3 ISBN 978-0-670-01833-8
  55. ^ Brands, H.W. (2008). Traitor to his Class. New York, NY: Doubleday. p. 91. ISBN 978-0-385-51958-8. 
  56. ^ "Statue of Borah unveiled today". Spokane Daily Chronicle (Washington). Associated Press. June 6, 1947. p. 1. 
  57. ^ "Named for solon: Idaho's highest mountain be called "Borah Peak"". Lewiston Morning Tribune. Associated Press. February 12, 1934. p. 1. 
  58. ^ "Borah Elementary School". Coeur d'Alene School District. Retrieved September 27, 2015. 
  59. ^ "The Borah Foundation & Symposium". University of Idaho. Retrieved October 18, 2015. 
  60. ^ Cathy A. Alexander; Ralph Christian & George R. Adams (January 1976), National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination: William Edgar Borah Apartment, Number 21, Windsor Lodge / William Edgar Borah Apartment, Number 21, Chancellery Cooperative (PDF), National Park Service, retrieved June 22, 2009  and Accompanying three photos, exterior, from 1975 and 1978 PDF (1.56 MB)
  61. ^ Girard, Philip (2005), Bora Laskin: Bringing Law to Life, Toronto: Osgoode Society for Canadian Legal History, ISBN 0-8020-9044-3 
  62. ^ William Kinsey Hutchinson, News Articles on the Life and Works of Honorable William E. Borah, Late a Senator from the State of Idaho, Senate Document 150 (Washington, D.C., 1940), p. 37.
  63. ^ "Why the Nazi Analogy Is on the Rise", Brendan Nyhan, Time Magazine, August 31, 2006
  64. ^ Address at the 88th Annual American Legion National Convention, Donald Rumsfeld, August 29, 2006
  65. ^ John Yang (May 15, 2008). "Bush's 'Nazi' swipe at Obama". NBC. 
  66. ^ CNN, "The Situation Room," May 15, 2008 at 5 PM EDT.
  67. ^ William E. Borah Quote/Quotation at quotes.liberty-tree.ca
  68. ^ U.S. Senate: Art & History Home > Classic Senate Speeches
  69. ^ McNaughton, Frank (September 19, 1939). Edward T. Leech, ed. "Roosevelt Deplores German Bombings". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh Press Company). United Press. p. 8. ISSN 1068-624X. Retrieved 2015-09-09. 'There is something phoney about this war,' [Senator William E. Borah (R. Idaho) in an interview] told questioners yesterday, explaining that he meant the comparative inactivity on the Western Front. 'You would think,' he continued, 'that Britain and France would do what they are going to do now while Germany and Russia are still busy in the East, instead of waiting until they have cleaned up the eastern business.' He did not expect an early end to hostilities. 


  • Braden, Waldo W. (June 1947). "Some Illinois Influences on the Life of William E. Borah". Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 40 (2): 168–175. JSTOR 40188261. 
  • Cook, Rufus G. (October 1969). "The Political Suicide of Senator Fred T. Dubois of Idaho". The Pacific Northwest Quarterly 60 (4): 193–198. JSTOR 40488686. 
  • Johnson, Claudius O. (June 1943). "When William E. Borah Was Defeated for the United States Senate". The Pacific Historical Review 12 (2): 125–138. JSTOR 3634181. 
  • Maddox, Robert James (1969). William E. Borah and American Foreign Policy. Baton Rouge LA: Louisiana State University Press. 
  • McKenna, Marian C. (1961). Borah. Ann Arbor MI: The University of Michigan Press. 
United States Senate
Preceded by
Fred Dubois
U.S. Senator (Class 2) from Idaho
March 4, 1907 – January 19, 1940
Served alongside: Weldon B. Heyburn, Kirtland I. Perky, James H. Brady, John F. Nugent, Frank R. Gooding, John W. Thomas, James P. Pope, D. Worth Clark
Succeeded by
John W. Thomas
Party political offices
Preceded by
Pre-17th Amendment
Republican Party nominee, U.S. Senator (Class 2) from Idaho
1918 (won), 1924 (won), 1930 (won), 1936 (won)
Succeeded by
John W. Thomas
Political offices
Preceded by
Henry Cabot Lodge
Chair of the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations
Succeeded by
Key Pittman
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Reed Smoot
Dean of the United States Senate
March 4, 1933 – January 19, 1940
Succeeded by
Ellison D. Smith
South Carolina
Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Gelasio Caetani
Cover of Time Magazine
May 5, 1924
Succeeded by
Homer Saint-Gaudens

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