Carl Vinson

Last updated
Carl Vinson
Congressman Carl Vinson.jpg
38th Dean of the United States House of Representatives
In office
November 16, 1961 January 3, 1965
Preceded by Sam Rayburn
Succeeded by Emanuel Celler
Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee
In office
January 3, 1955 January 3, 1965
Speaker Sam Rayburn
John William McCormack
Preceded by Dewey J. Short
Succeeded by L. Mendel Rivers
In office
January 3, 1949 January 3, 1953
Speaker Sam Rayburn
Preceded by Walter G. Andrews
Succeeded by Dewey J. Short
Member of the
U.S. House of Representatives
from Georgia
In office
November 3, 1914 January 3, 1965
Preceded by Thomas W. Hardwick
Succeeded by John J. Flynt, Jr.
Constituency 10th district (1914–1933)
6th district (1933–1965)
Member of the
Georgia House of Representatives
In office
Personal details
BornNovember 18, 1883
Baldwin County, Georgia
DiedJune 1, 1981 (aged 97)
Milledgeville, Georgia
Political party Democratic
Alma mater Mercer University
Signature Carl Vinson Signature.svg

Carl Vinson (November 18, 1883 – June 1, 1981) was an American politician who served in the U.S. House of Representatives for over 50 years and was influential in the 20th century expansion of the U.S. Navy. He was a member of the Democratic Party and represented Georgia in the House from 1914 to 1965. He was known as "The Father of the Two-Ocean Navy". He is the longest-serving member of the United States House of Representatives from the state of Georgia. [1]


Early years

Vinson was born in Baldwin County, Georgia, where he attended local schools and Georgia Military College. He graduated with a law degree from Mercer University in 1902. [1] After some years of practice, he was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives in 1908. After losing a third term following redistricting, he was appointed as judge of the Baldwin County court. [1]

Following the sudden death of US Senator Augustus Bacon, Representative Thomas W. Hardwick of Georgia's 10th congressional district was nominated to fill Bacon's Senate seat. Vinson announced his candidacy for Hardwick's seat in Congress. Vinson defeated three opponents. By this time, most of Georgia's African Americans had been disenfranchised since the turn of the century, after the state passed laws and a new constitution making voter registration more difficult. The Republican Party was hollowed out in the state. Vinson was the youngest member of Congress (30 years old) when he was sworn in on November 3, 1914.

Service in Congress

Carl Vinson was elected as a Representative at age 30. A Democrat, he was repeatedly re-elected, serving until age 81. Carl Vinson (D-GA).jpg
Carl Vinson was elected as a Representative at age 30. A Democrat, he was repeatedly re-elected, serving until age 81.

Vinson served as a Representative from November 3, 1914, to January 3, 1965. He was repeatedly re-elected by Democratic voters for this seat. During his tenure in the U.S. House, Vinson was a champion for national defense and especially the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Marine Corps. He joined the House Naval Affairs Committee shortly after World War I and became the ranking Democratic member in the early 1920s. He was the only Democrat appointed to the Morrow Board, which reviewed the status of aviation in America in the mid-1920s.

In 1931, Vinson became chairman of the House Naval Affairs Committee. In 1934, Vinson helped push the Vinson–Trammell Act, along with Democratic Senator Park Trammell of Florida. The bill authorized the replacement of obsolete vessels by new construction and a gradual increase of ships within the limits of the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922 and London Naval Treaty of 1930. Initial funding for the Vinson–Trammell Navy Act was provided by the Emergency Appropriations Act of 1934. This was necessary as during the previous administration, not a single major warship was laid down and the US Navy was both aging and losing ground to the Japanese Navy. Japan repudiated the treaties in late 1934.

Vinson later was primarily responsible for additional naval expansion legislation, the Naval Act of 1938 ("Second Vinson Act") and the Third Vinson Act of 1940, as well as the Two-Ocean Navy Act of 1940. The ambitious program called for by this series of laws helped the U.S. Navy as the country entered World War II, as new ships were able to match the latest ships from Japan.

At the end of World War II, Congress had authorized four Naval four-star officers to be promoted to Fleet Admiral. A staunch partisan of Admiral William Halsey, Jr., Vinson blocked the nomination of Admiral Raymond A. Spruance several times, although the majority thought him more deserving,[ citation needed ] to ensure that Halsey got the fourth billet. Congress eventually responded by passing an unprecedented act that specified that Spruance would remain on a full admiral's pay once retired until his death. [2] [3]

Portrait of Vinson, 1943. Carl Vinson 1943 Portrait.jpg
Portrait of Vinson, 1943.

Following World War II, the House Naval Affairs Committee was merged with the Military Affairs Committee to become the House Armed Services Committee (this consolidation mirrored the establishment of the Department of Defense when the old Departments of War and of the Navy were consolidated). With Republicans winning control of Congress in the 1946 election, Vinson served as ranking minority member of the committee for two years before becoming Chairman in early 1949, when the Democrats were again in majority. He held this position, with the exception of another two-year Republican interregnum in the early 1950s, until his retirement in 1965. In this role, Vinson adopted a committee rule that came to be known as the "Vinson rule", which limited the number of questions a junior member of the committee could ask to one question per year of service on the committee. As chairman, Vinson oversaw the modernization of the military as its focus shifted to the Cold War. He was also committee chair when Congress authorized the procurement of the first nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, starting with USS Enterprise (CVN-65) in the late 1950s.

A staunch segregationist, in 1956, Vinson signed "The Southern Manifesto". Other Southern politicians signed this in resistance to the ruling by the United States Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education (1954) that segregated public education was unconstitutional, and that states needed to integrate their public schools.

Vinson did not seek re-election in 1964 and retired from Congress in January 1965.

Personal life

Vinson married Mary Green of Ohio in 1921. She died in 1949 after a long illness. [1]

Vinson did not have children, but his great-nephew, Sam Nunn, served as a Senator from Georgia for more than 24 years. Nunn followed in his great uncle's footsteps, serving on the Senate Armed Services Committee for nearly his entire tenure in the Senate. Sam Nunn's daughter, Michelle Nunn ran unsuccessfully for one of Georgia's U.S. Senate seats in 2014.

Vinson considered his longtime assistant Charles Tillman Snead, Jr. his surrogate son, and Snead's wife, Molly Staeman Snead, was Vinson's wife's nurse for several years. Snead's son and grandchildren maintained this familial bond to Vinson until his death in 1981.


Vinson returned to Baldwin County, Georgia, where he lived in retirement until his death on June 1, 1981. [4] He is buried in Memory Hill Cemetery in Milledgeville, Georgia.

At the time of his death, Vinson was the last living member of the House of Representatives who was serving at the time of the United States' declaration of war against the German Empire, which precipitated the United States' entry into World War I.


In recognition of his efforts on behalf of the U.S. Navy, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier was named the USS Carl Vinson, an honor rarely given to a person while living. On March 15, 1980, at age 96, he attended the ship's launching. [4]

Vinson Massif, Antarctica's highest mountain, is also named after him, [5] together with the related Mount Vinson and Vinson Plateau. [6]

Carl Vinson served 26 consecutive terms in the U.S. House, rarely running against significant opposition. He served for 50 years and one month, a record that stood until 1992, when the mark was surpassed by Jamie L. Whitten of Mississippi. [7]

For his commitment, Vinson was awarded the prestigious Sylvanus Thayer Award by the United States Military Academy. In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson awarded Vinson the Presidential Medal of Freedom with Special Distinction, the highest award the President can give to a civilian. During his own tenure in the House, Johnson had served for years as a junior member of the House Naval Affairs Committee under Vinson.

The Department of Veterans' Affairs Medical Center in Dublin, Georgia, serving veterans in Central and Southern Georgia, is named for Vinson.

The University of Georgia hosts the Carl Vinson Institute of Government. [8]

Athens Georgia hosts Carl Vinson Park.

Carl Vinson Parkway is located in Warner Robins Georgia.

Georgia Military College formerly had a barracks named for him. It was razed in the mid-2000s.

Vinson Hall Retirement Community in McLean, Virginia, is named after Carl Vinson.

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  1. 1 2 3 4 "Carl Vinson (1883-1981)".
  2. "sci.military.naval FAQ, Part C - General Naval Information".
  3. " - CBSi".
  4. 1 2 "Carl Vinson, 97, Ex-Congressman who was with House 50 Years, Dies". The New York Times. 2 June 1981.
  5. "Mount Vinson, the summit of Antarctica. The seven summits, the highest peaks of the 7 continents! Trips, Statistics & information!".
  6. "Mount Vinson: Antarctica's Highest Mountain".
  7. "Rep. Carl Vinson dies, June 1, 1981".
  8. "Carl Vinson: A Legend in His Own Time". Carl Vinson Institute of Government, University of Georgia. Archived from the original on 2016-08-28.


U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
Thomas W. Hardwick
Member of the  U.S. House of Representatives
from Georgia's 10th congressional district

November 3, 1914 – March 4, 1933
Succeeded by
Charles H. Brand
Preceded by
Carlton Mobley
Member of the  U.S. House of Representatives
from Georgia's 6th congressional district

March 4, 1933 – January 3, 1965
Succeeded by
John J. Flynt Jr.
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Sam Rayburn
Dean of the House
Succeeded by
Emanuel Celler
Preceded by
James F. Byrnes
Most Senior Living U.S. Representative
(Sitting or Former)

April 9, 1972 – June 1, 1981
Succeeded by
Hamilton Fish III
Preceded by
Charles S. Dewey
Oldest Living U.S. Representative
(Sitting or Former)

December 27, 1980 – June 1, 1981
Succeeded by
Elizabeth Hawley Gasque
Preceded by
James B. Conant
Sylvanus Thayer Award recipient
Succeeded by
Francis Spellman