Jackson, Henry M. "Scoop" (1912-1983)

  • By Kit Oldham
  • Posted 8/19/2003
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 5516
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Henry M. (Scoop) Jackson was one of the most successful and powerful politicians in the history of Washington state. Jackson was born and died in Everett, Snohomish County, the rough-edged industrial port on Puget Sound north of Seattle, where he lived in the house where he was born for much of his life (when Congress was not in session). At 28, Jackson entered the United States Congress as its youngest member. He remained there the rest of his life, serving under nine presidents. Jackson never lost an election in Washington, winning six terms in the House of Representatives and six in the Senate, often by record margins. Jackson was the quintessential "Cold War liberal." He was an outspoken and influential advocate of increased military spending and a hard line against the Soviet Union, while supporting social welfare programs, civil rights, and the labor movement. Together with Warren G. Magnuson (1905-1989), with whom he served in the Senate for 28 years, Jackson used his legislative skill and seniority to win the state unprecedented influence in the nation's capital. He guided landmark environmental legislation that greatly expanded wilderness areas and national parks in Washington and across the country, managed the bills that granted statehood to Alaska and Hawaii, and sponsored the law that turned surplus military bases into parks in Seattle and elsewhere.

Raised in Everett

Henry Martin Jackson was born on May 31, 1912, in the home of his parents Peter and Marine Jackson at 3602 Oakes Street in Everett. Both parents were immigrants from Norway. Peter Jackson was born Peter Gresseth, and changed his name when he immigrated. He met Marine Anderson at the Lutheran church in Everett, where they were married in 1897.

Henry was the fifth and last of the Jackson children. He had three sisters -- Gertrude, Agnes (who died before Henry was three), and Marie -- and one brother, Arthur. Gertrude, the oldest, 14 when Henry was born, was particularly close to Henry. It was Gert who gave young Henry the enduring nickname "Scoop." The name came from a comic strip character, a newspaper reporter who got others to do his work for him, which reminded Gert of her little brother's ability to avoid chores. Gertrude, who taught at Everett's Garfield Elementary School for many years, helped pay Henry's way through college and law school. She was an enthusiastic campaigner when he ran for office, and advised him throughout his political career. Neither Gertrude nor Marie married, and both lived in the Oakes Street house until their deaths some months apart in 1969.

In junior high and high school, Jackson participated on the debate team and told classmates he hoped to be a senator some day. He went to college and law school at the University of Washington, graduating from law school in 1935.

A Crusading Prosecutor

Jackson returned to Everett and worked for the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) while waiting for his bar exam results. His relief work made him an enthusiastic supporter of the New Deal policies of Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945) and a lifelong believer in the ability of government to improve people's lives. At FERA, Jackson developed a close friendship with John Salter, a natural political strategist who played a key role in his early career.

In 1936, having passed the bar, Jackson went to work for Lloyd Black, a well-known Everett attorney and Democratic politician. Black, who became a superior court judge in 1937, encouraged Jackson when the 26-year-old lawyer considered running for Snohomish County prosecuting attorney in 1938.

The Democratic incumbent, Al Swanson, had a drinking problem and was widely blamed for the corruption that flourished in post-Prohibition Snohomish County, where illegal drinking, gambling, and prostitution establishments operated openly. Jackson's successful campaign, which Salter managed, relied on door-to-door canvassing by a corps of largely youthful volunteers, Jackson's sister Gertrude foremost among them. In office, Jackson garnered publicity as a crusading prosecutor, running pinball machines out of the county and leading well-publicized raids against bootlegging and gambling establishments.

Youngest Member of Congress

Two years later, a new political opportunity arose. Mon Wallgren, the popular Everett jeweler who represented Washington's Second District in the United States House of Representatives, gave up his seat to run for the Senate. Salter managed Jackson's campaign for the House seat, relying again on young volunteers and door-to-door campaigning, as well as on advertisements touting Jackson's prosecutorial success -- "Vote for a Man Who Has the Courage of his Convictions" (Kaufman, 30). Jackson beat five opponents in the Democratic primary, and won the general election in the Roosevelt landslide. In January, 1941, taking Salter as his administrative assistant, the 28-year-old Jackson became the youngest member of the United States Congress.

World War II dominated Jackson's first two terms in the House of Representatives. Draft age and single, Jackson felt political pressure to join the army, which he did, as a private. However, he spent only a few months on active duty before the president required Congressmen to either leave active duty or give up their seats. Like many but not all West Coast politicians, Jackson strongly supported the wartime policy of removing Japanese Americans from their homes to internment camps, a constitutional abuse which has subsequently been generally regretted.

The 1946 election brought the closest of the 13 straight victories that comprised Jackson's electoral career. A backlash against the Democrats led to Republican gains across the country. Jackson held his seat with 53 percent of the vote against the same Republican he had easily defeated in the three previous elections, but Republicans won every other House of Representatives race in the Pacific Northwest.

In the House, Jackson staked out positions he would hold throughout his career. On domestic, especially economic, issues he was resolutely liberal, a strong supporter of the New Deal and the Fair Deal of President Harry Truman (1884-1972). In part inspired by the example of Norway and other Scandinavian countries, Jackson advocated for national health insurance and publicly owned power systems. On foreign policy, he backed the Truman administration, which saw the Soviet Union as the primary post-war threat to American interests, and sought to "contain" the growing "Communist menace."

Into the Senate

In 1952, Jackson decided to take on Republican Senator Harry P. Cain and announced his candidacy on his 40th birthday. Cain had entered politics as a liberal Democrat. As Mayor of Tacoma, he was one of very few western politicians who opposed Japanese internment. Cain then joined the military, and while serving as a paratrooper in Europe, won the Republican nomination in the 1944 Senate race, losing the general election to Warren Magnuson. Two years later, in the 1946 Republican landslide, Cain won the Senate seat that Mon Wallgren had given up to run for governor in 1944, defeating Wallgren's appointed successor Hugh Mitchell. In the Senate, Cain allied himself with "red-baiting" Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy (1908-1957), established an erratic record, and was widely considered to be among the least competent senators.

Jackson fiercely attacked Cain's performance. Cain responded by using McCarthy-style tactics against Jackson, even bringing McCarthy to Seattle to campaign for him. It did not help Cain. Salter assembled a strong staff that ran an innovative media campaign. Washington's senior senator, Warren Magnuson, who had served with Jackson in the House before winning his Senate seat, lent his support and staff to Jackson's campaign, establishing a pattern of cooperation between the two that would last throughout the 28 years they spent in the Senate together. Despite another Republican landslide, headed this time by Dwight Eisenhower (1890-1969), Jackson handily defeated Cain.

As a freshman senator, Jackson got his first taste of national publicity when he played a subsidiary role in the Army-McCarthy hearings where Joseph McCarthy met his downfall. While repudiating McCarthy's tactics and his grossly exaggerated allegations, Jackson, along with other Democrats, criticized the Eisenhower administration for what they considered insufficient spending on defense against the Soviet Union, particularly on intercontinental ballistic missiles. Jackson's avid support for nuclear weapons brought the first -- but not the last -- challenge from the left wing of his own party, when Seattle peace activist Alice Franklin Bryant unsuccessfully opposed him in the 1958 Democratic primary. By the late 1950s, Jackson was labeled the "Senator from Boeing" by some who disapproved of his constant support for more weapons systems.

In 1958 Jackson used his position as chair of the Interior Committee's Subcommittee on Territories to lead the fight for the successful bill granting statehood to Alaska, a cause that Jackson, Magnuson, and other Washington politicians had long supported, but which was opposed by various powerful interests. The following year, Jackson managed the bill that made Hawaii a state. At the 1960 Democratic convention, Jackson was a leading candidate to be John F. Kennedy's vice presidential choice, but Kennedy ultimately selected Lyndon Johnson, the Senate Majority Leader from Texas and a key Southern ally.

Marriage and Family

For Jackson, 1961 brought not only the inauguration of Kennedy's New Frontier, but a major personal change. At 48, the senator was still considered one of the capital's most eligible bachelors, although Jackson, conservative and conventional in his social life, was certainly not known for a playboy lifestyle, as were some single colleagues such as Magnuson. Jackson met 28-year-old Helen Hardin (1933-2018), a receptionist in the office of New Mexico Senator Clinton Anderson, in early 1961, and they married on December 16, 1961.

They had two children, Anna Marie in 1963, and Peter in 1966. The Jacksons had a home in Washington, D.C., but in Everett they continued to live, as Jackson had all his life, with his sisters in the Oakes Street house where he was born. They acquired their own home in Everett in 1967, when Jackson purchased the mansion at 1703 Grand Avenue that in his youth had been the home of a leading banker. This home, known as the Butler-Jackson house, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1998. Helen Jackson lived there until her death in 2018.

Environmental Protection and Historic Preservation

Jackson became chair of the Senate's Interior Committee in 1963, and in that position shepherded passage of much of the significant environmental legislation of the 1960s. The Wilderness Act of 1964 protected 9 million acres of wilderness land, and created the procedure for protecting additional land by designating it as wilderness. Other bills established national seashores and protected wild and scenic rivers. In 1968 Jackson won passage of bills creating North Cascades National Park in North Central Washington and Redwood National Park in California.

It was also as head of the Interior Committee that Jackson introduced the legislation that became the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 (NHPA), which established the National Register of Historic Places, in which his Everett home would later be listed. The act was prompted by concern that, like the natural environment, cultural heritage needed protection from the effects of America's massive post-World War II development boom in which historic buildings, districts, battlefields, archeological sites, and other landmarks were impacted or obliterated by construction of highways and other projects, often funded by the federal government. Working with Interior Secretary Stewart Udall (1920-2010), Jackson introduced legislation creating the National Register and funding historic-preservation efforts, and then worked to integrate the bill with other proposals and win final passage. One key provision, drawn originally from another proposed bill, became section 106 of the NHPA, which required that before funding any project, federal agencies consider its effect on properties listed in the National Register (later legislation expanded this to properties eligible for listing).

Section 106 of NHPA not only helped protect historic properties but also -- although not formally referenced in the later act's legislative history -- was a clear forerunner of what in many ways was Jackson's most far-reaching contribution to environmental protection: the 1969 National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). NEPA required preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement assessing potential impacts to the environment before any federal project was approved, and it became a model for similar legislation in Washington and other states. Neither Jackson nor anyone else foresaw that the Environmental Impact Statement requirement would become a powerful tool for those seeking to halt, delay, or modify projects they considered harmful to the environment, and Jackson subsequently had mixed feelings when his bill was used to oppose projects such as the I-90 Freeway and the Alaska oil pipeline that he supported.

Vietnam, the ABM, and Fort Lawton

At the time, the environmental achievements of the 1960s were overshadowed by the increasingly bitter national debate over the war in Vietnam. Following President Kennedy's assassination, President Lyndon Johnson (1908-1973) and the advisors he inherited began to escalate American combat involvement in Vietnam. Jackson, like Kennedy and Johnson, saw Vietnam as a key Cold War battlefield, and he remained a dogged supporter of the administration's Vietnam policy even when many other Democrats began calling for an end to American involvement.

Jackson, along with conservative southern senators, pressured the administration to develop an anti-ballistic missile (ABM) system that was supposed to protect American targets from a nuclear missile attack. Johnson agreed, and Fort Lawton, a military base in Seattle, was selected in 1967 as one of the ABM locations. This triggered a storm of protest from constituents that put Jackson in a bind. Seattle residents were looking forward to having under-utilized Fort Lawton become a park, and they feared the ABM installation would make the city a prime target for attack. Jackson tried to defuse the opposition by convincing the Army to move the ABM site across Puget Sound to Bainbridge Island and Port Gamble, but residents there were equally opposed.

When Richard Nixon (1913-1994) succeeded Johnson as president in 1969, Jackson persuaded him to place ABM missile sites in lightly populated areas, thus keeping them from Puget Sound altogether. By then many senators, including Magnuson, opposed the ABM, but Jackson led the fight to preserve the program, winning close votes in 1969 and 1970.

With Fort Lawton safe from the ABM, Jackson sought to mollify his Seattle critics by making the surplus military installation available for a park. He pushed through the Federal Lands for Parks and Recreation Act, which made surplus federal land in metropolitan areas available for parks at little or no cost to local authorities. Cities across the country used the act to acquire federal property as parks. However, Jackson's position triggered another controversy over Fort Lawton. Northwest Indian leaders who wanted to reclaim the site as an Indian cultural center were angered by Jackson's apparent decision to give the property to Seattle. In 1970, Indian activists and supporters "invaded" the fort and staged a sit-in to highlight their demands. They were soon removed but the controversy continued until a compromise, which Jackson helped broker, gave most of Fort Lawton to Seattle as Discovery Park, on condition that 20 acres be leased to United Indians of All Tribes, who opened the Daybreak Star Cultural Center there in 1977.

A Primary Challenge

In 1970, as in 1958, Jackson faced a challenge from his own party. Aided by some national anti-war figures, left wing Democrats mounted a concerted attack on Jackson in the 1970 primary. Their candidate was Carl Maxey, a lawyer and civil rights leader from Spokane, who fiercely denounced Jackson's support for the war and military spending. Maxey was one of the first African American politicians to run for statewide office in Washington. The Maxey forces won some victories in party conventions, but Jackson retained his popularity with voters and racked up record margins over both Maxey and his subsequent Republican opponent, Charles Elicker.

Jackson opposed the policy of detente with the Soviet Union that Nixon pursued. He did, however, endorse Nixon's efforts to improve relations with the Communist government of China. In sharp contrast to his position on the Soviet Union, Jackson came to believe that maintaining closer diplomatic and trade ties was the best approach to China. Between 1974 and his death in 1983, Jackson made four official visits to China, where he was warmly welcomed by Chinese leaders.

Jackson also had a close relationship with Israel and its leaders. By the 1970s Jackson was the leading Congressional supporter of increased military aid to Israel. He co-sponsored the Jackson-Vanik amendment, which responded to Soviet restrictions on emigration of Jewish Soviet citizens to Israel by linking increased trade between the U.S. and Soviet Union to lifting emigration restrictions.

Running for President

In 1972, Jackson launched the first of his two attempts to win the Democratic presidential nomination, but managed to win only the Washington state caucuses. In 1976, Jackson mounted a better prepared attempt at the nomination. He was the early frontrunner, and won several primaries, but dropped out of the race after losing the crucial Pennsylvania primary to Jimmy Carter (b. 1924). His campaign was dogged by the hostility of the Party's left wing and by allegations of illegal contributions by Boeing and other elements of the "military-industrial complex."

The elements that made Jackson the most successful vote-getter in the history of the state did not work as well in the national primaries. Unremarkable at best as a public speaker, Jackson was an excellent one-on-one campaigner, with a remarkable ability (assisted by detailed notes) to remember voters' names and important personal information. Over the years, he and his staff built up numerous political connections throughout the state. Community leaders, newspaper writers, and average voters all referred to Jackson simply as Scoop, and felt a personal connection to him. Jackson was not able to make the same connection with voters across the country in the short time-frame of the presidential primaries.

Neoconservative Legacy

Jackson's hard line on the Soviet Union and his strong support for Israel made him a favorite of an increasingly influential group of formerly liberal but strongly anti-Communist intellectuals and politicians who came to be known as the neoconservatives. Many neoconservatives who supported Jackson's presidential bids gravitated to Ronald Reagan (1911-2004) and the Republican party after Jackson's defeats. Among these were Richard Perle, a longtime Jackson staffer who worked under Dorothy Fosdick, Jackson's top foreign policy adviser, and Paul Wolfowitz, another member of the Jackson circle, both of whom went on to play prominent roles developing Middle East policy in the George W. Bush administration.

Jackson presaged Reagan's foreign policy when he openly opposed Jimmy Carter's attempts at expanding detente with the Soviet Union. Jackson, who had only reluctantly supported arms control treaties negotiated by Kennedy and Nixon, repudiated the SALT (Strategic Arms Limitations Talks) II Treaty that Carter negotiated, and led the Senate forces that prevented its ratification. Jackson was not sorry when Carter lost to Reagan, although he was saddened that the Reagan landslide defeated many Democratic senators, including Magnuson, leaving the Senate in Republican control for the first time since early in Jackson's first term.

End of an Era

Magnuson's defeat, and the Democrats' loss of Senate control, ended a lengthy era in which Jackson and Magnuson teamed to give Washington unprecedented influence in the U.S. Senate. The two senators had very different temperaments, and were not personally close, but they shared a dedication to serving their constituents. Both were skilled legislators and had powerful chairmanships, Jackson on the Interior Committee and Magnuson on Appropriations. "Scoop and Maggie," as they were known, repeatedly brought the state its share and then some of federal expenditures. Ironically, one of their highest profile battles on behalf of Washington interests, the unsuccessful 1971 effort to continue funding for Boeing's controversial supersonic transport (SST), was one of the few major legislative defeats that either senator suffered.

Henry Jackson easily won his sixth Senate term in 1982, defeating Republican Douglas Jewett with 69 percent of the vote. Jackson turned 71 in May 1983, but was known for his healthy lifestyle and appeared vigorous and fit. As a result, his sudden death on September 1, 1983, was a shock. Perhaps fittingly, his final public appearance was a press conference in which he denounced the recent downing of Korean Airlines (KAL) Flight 007 by a Soviet jet. In the evening Jackson suffered a ruptured aorta at his Everett home and died within hours despite intense efforts to save him.

Governor John Spellman (1926-2018) appointed former governor Daniel Evans (b. 1925) to Jackson's seat, and Evans defeated Congressman Mike Lowry (1939-2017) in a subsequent special election to complete Jackson's term. In the months and years that followed his death, Jackson received many honors. A Trident submarine and the new federal office building in Seattle were named for him. The University of Washington renamed its School of International Studies in his honor, and a private foundation was later organized to promote his legacy. Congress, under the provisions of the Wilderness Act Jackson helped pass, designated more than 100,000 acres in the scenic Cascade Mountains of eastern Snohomish County and western Chelan County as the Henry M. Jackson Wilderness. The Port of Seattle Commission also voted to rename Seattle-Tacoma International Airport for Jackson, but quickly retreated due to protests from Tacoma.

Thus, Henry M. Jackson's work survives in much groundbreaking progressive legislation, in an empowered environmental movement, in numerous public improvements throughout and beyond Washington state, in the current influence of policy makers he mentored, and in the ultimate collapse of the Soviet Union's Stalinist government and the opening of post-Maoist China. He would have much to be proud of were he alive today.


Robert G. Kaufman, Henry M. Jackson: A Life in Politics (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2000); Peter J. Ognibene, Scoop: The Life and Politics of Henry M. Jackson (New York: Stein and Day, 1975); William W. Prochnau and Richard W. Larsen, A Certain Democrat: Senator Henry M. Jackson (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1972); Byron Acohido, "Scoop Calls Downing of Jet an Outrage ...," The Herald, September 1, 1983, p. 2-A; Mark Funk, "Sen. Jackson, Everett's Favorite Son, Is Dead of Heart Attack at 71," Ibid., September 2, 1983, pp. 1 & 8-A; Jim Muhlstein, "Medics Worked Intensely to Save a Big Man," Ibid.; "Milestones Were Many in Henry Jackson's Career," Ibid., p. 2-B; Mike Barber, "500 Gather at Daybreak Star to Honor Northwest Indian Leader," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 21, 2000, Website accessed August 6, 2003 (http://seattlepi.nwsource.com); "Henry M. Jackson Wilderness Area," The Wilderness Information Network, Website accessed July 10, 2003 (http://www.wilderness.net/ nwps/wild_view.cfm?wname=Henry%20M%2E%20Jackson); Leslie E. Barras, Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act: Back to Basics -- Part 2: Technical Report (Washington, D.C.: National Trust for Historic Preservation, 2010), copy available at Michigan Historic Preservation Network website accessed April 24, 2015 (http://www.mhpn.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/NTHP-Back-to-Basics-Technical-Report.pdf);  Barry Mackintosh, The National Historic Preservation Act and the National Park Service: A History," (Washington, D.C.: National Park Service, 1986), copy available at National Park Service website accessed April 24, 2015 (http://www.nps.gov/parkhistory/online_books/mackintosh5/index.htm); HistoryLink.org Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Butler-Jackson House: Everett Landmark" (by Kit Oldham) and "Jackson, Helen Hardin (1933-2018)" (by Melinda Van Wingen), http://www.historylink.org/ (accessed February 26, 2018).
Note: This essay was slightly expanded on April 24, 2015, and updated on February 26, 2018.

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