1976 : Senator Philip Hart of Michigan Dies

December 26, 2018 all-day

Senator Philip Hart of Michhigan, courtesy of Wikipedia

Philip Hart died of cancer on 26th December, 1976. In a tribute to his distinguished career, Edward Kennedy suggested that the new Senate building be named after Hart. A bill sponsored by 85 senators passed, and the new structure became the Phil A. Hart Senate Office Building.

Other buildings named after Hart include the Hart-Dole-Inouye Federal Center in Battle Creek, Michigan; the Philip A. Hart Plaza along the Detroit International Riverfront; the Philip A. Hart Visitor Center of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Empire, Michigan; and the Hart-Kennedy House in Lansing, the headquarters of the Michigan Democratic Party.

The Philip Hart Memorial Scholarship at Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan is a full scholarship established to carry on the ideals and goals of the Senator.

The moot court room at Georgetown University Law Center is named in his honor.

In his bestselling book Inside Congress : the shocking scandals, corruption, and abuse of power behind the scenes on Capitol Hill , author Ronald Kessler lauded Senator Hart as one of the few truly honorable men who served in the Senate. He pointed out an incident where the Senator refused even a box of chocolates as a gift from a lobbyist.

Hart is interred in St. Anne’s Catholic Cemetery on Mackinac Island.

Philip Hart was born in Bryn Mawr, Montgomery County, on 10th December, 1912. He was admitted to the Michigan bar after graduating from Michigan Law School in 1937.

Hart worked as a lawyer in Detroit until serving in the United States Army during the Second World War. He was wounded during the D-Day landings in Normandy and left the army in 1946 as a lieutenant colonel.

In 1949 Hart was appointed as Michigan Corporation Securities Commissioner. This was followed by other posts such as State Director of the Office of Price Stabilization (1951-52), District Attorney of the Eastern Michigan District (1952-53), legal adviser to the Governor of Michigan (1953-54) and Lieutenant Governor (1955-58).

A member of the Democratic Party, Hart was elected to the Senate in 1958. Over the next few years he gained the reputation for being a strong supporter of civil rights, anti-trust legislation and consumer and environmental protection. He took great pride in the fact that he was a leader in the Senate fight for the 1965 Voting Rights Act. As a result of his political activities he became known as the “Conscience of the Senate”.

In 1975, Frank Church became the chairman of the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities. Members of this committee included Hart (Michigan), Gary Hart (Colorado), Walter Mondale (Minnesota), Richard Schweiker (Pennsylvania), Howard Baker (Tennessee) and Barry Goldwater (Arizona). This committee investigated alleged abuses of power by the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Intelligence.

The committee looked at the case of Fred Hampton and discovered that William O’Neal, Hampton’s bodyguard, was a FBI agent-provocateur who, days before the raid, had delivered an apartment floor-plan to the Bureau with an “X” marking Hampton’s bed. Ballistic evidence showed that most bullets during the raid were aimed at Hampton’s bedroom.

Church’s committee also discovered that the Central Intelligence Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation had sent anonymous letters attacking the political beliefs of targets in order to induce their employers to fire them. Similar letters were sent to spouses in an effort to destroy marriages. The committee also documented criminal break-ins, the theft of membership lists and misinformation campaigns aimed at provoking violent attacks against targeted individuals.

One of those people targeted was Martin Luther King. The FBI mailed King a tape recording made from microphones hidden in hotel rooms. The tape was accompanied by a note suggesting that the recording would be released to the public unless King committed suicide.

In September, 1975, a sub-committee made up of Gary Hart and Richard Schweiker was asked to review the performance of the intelligence agencies in the original John F. Kennedy assassination investigation. Hart and Schweiker became very concerned about what they found. On 1st May, 1976, Hart said: “I don’t think you can see the things I have seen and sit on it.”

When the Final Report of the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations was published in 1976, Hart joined Walter Mondale and Gary Hart to publish an appendix to the report. The three men pointed out that “important portions of the Report had been excised or security grounds”. However, they believed that the CIA had “used the classification stamp not for security, but to censor material that would be embarrassing, inconvenient, or likely to provoke an adverse public reaction to CIA activities.”

The appendix went on to say: “Some of the so-called security objections of the CIA were so outlandish they were dismissed out of hand. The CIA wanted to delete reference to the Bay of Pigs as a paramilitary operation, they wanted to eliminate any reference to CIA activities in Laos, and they wanted the Committee to excise testimony given in public before the television cameras. But on other more complex issues, the Committee’s necessary and proper concern for caution enabled the CIA to use the clearance process to alter the Report to the point where some of its most important implications are either lost, or obscured in vague language.”

Senator Philip Hart is also credited with passage of the legislation establishing the Sleeping Bear Dunes and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshores as National Parks.

Upon Senator Hart’s retirement Michigan House Concurrent Resolution No. 770 was adopted on November 22, 1976. A portion of the resolution states: “Whereas, The retirement of Senator Hart will leave a great void in the leadership of our nation, for Senator Hart championed the causes of peace, the issues of consumer protection, the need for antitrust actions, as well as the continuing quest for civil rights for all citizens of these United States; and Whereas, It is now incumbent upon all citizens of this State to recommit themselves to the qualities of leadership, honesty, integrity, humility, compassion, and unselfish devotion so characterized by Senator Hart. Most certainly, his greatest legacy will be this monument of humane goodness and moral worth; which is vital to maintaining our tradition of government of, by, and for the people; and Whereas, The political record of Senator Hart is a beacon of hope for restoration of the faith and trust once accorded elected officials. Called the conscience of the Senate by his associates, regardless of their partisan affiliation, Senator Hart made his incorruptible spirit and noble character a testament upon which other men and women may call to carry on his noble tradition of distinguished moral leadership; and Whereas, Senator Hart is so admired by his colleagues that they have honored him by placing his name on the new Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C., and on the Visitors Center at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan; and Whereas, The depth of insight and strength of character of Senator hart made his every act sincere and reasonable, earning him a place in the hearts and minds of a grateful citizenry, for he is deeply cognizant that all people are bonded together by the same threads of struggle, sacrifice, victory, and faith in themselves and in their Creator; and….. Therefore, be it Resolved by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring), That the weekend of December 10 through December 13, 1976, be commemorated as a time to reflect upon the ideals of morality and integrity in public service which have been epitomized by the life of United States Senator Philip A. Hart; and be it further Resolved, That a copy of this tribute be transmitted to Senator Hart and his family in testimony to the high esteem held for him by the Michigan Legislature.” H.R. Con. Res 770, 78th Leg., 113 Sess. (MI 1976)

Sources :

Senator Philip Hart was awarded a Honorary Doctorate of Laws posthumously by the University of Detroit Mercy.

Philip Hart wikipedia entry

For more information see Michael O’Brien, Philip Hart: The Conscience Of The Senate. East Lansing, MI : Michigan State University Press, 1995.

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