There being no local public schools, Tuck's father established a small school on his farm for educating his own and neighborhood children. Tuck also attended Virgilina High School, in Virgilina, Halifax County; the Chatham Training School (later Hargrave Military Academy), in Pittsylvania County; William and Mary Academy; and the College of William Mary. After two years of college he left to work as a teacher-principal in Northumberland County during the 1917–1918 school year. After serving in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1918 to 1919, deployed mostly in the Dominican Republic, Tuck entered Washington and Lee University in September 1919, earning a law degree in June 1921. He was admitted to the Virginia bar that same year, practicing law in South Boston, in Halifax County.
Tuck's grandfather and father had both been active in local Democratic Party politics, with R. J. Tuck serving a single term in the House of Delegates, from December 6, 1899, until March 7, 1900. This early immersion in public affairs predisposed Bill Tuck, as William Tuck was called by friends, toward a political career. In 1923, he was elected to the House of Delegates as a Democrat from Halifax.
In the State Senate
By 1941, Tuck was widely regarded as a leading contender to receive the Byrd Organization's support for the governorship, having proved to be an effective vote-getter from the outset. Expansive in girth and flamboyant in behavior, Tuck was variously described as "salty, jovial, paunchy, … blimp-like in his physical contours" and as "garrulous, blustery, earthy [and] stout as a tobacco hogshead." A Richmond newspaper further noted that he was "known to chew tobacco, drink whiskey, and play a wicked hand of poker … His vocabulary began where the resources of Mark Twain left off." However, the singular personality, combined with conservative politics, that endeared him to the nearly all-white voting public did not necessarily commend him to the one who mattered most: Senator Byrd himself, whose decorum was as bland as his politics.
Reluctant to endorse Tuck, Byrd turned instead to the urbane and erudite congressman Colgate W. Darden. Tuck accepted the nomination for lieutenant governor and along with Darden easily won election on November 4, 1941, defeating the Republican candidate, Benjamin Muse, with 80.6 percent of the vote. The two men, so dissimilar in personality, nevertheless worked well together in leading Virginia during World War II (1939–1945) and formed a lasting friendship.
Governor: Vepco Affair
Seldom had the Byrd Organization been more dominant than in the post–World War II period. Democrats held both U.S. Senate seats, all nine congressional seats, a large majority in the General Assembly, and virtually all local offices. This did not guarantee a smooth administration for Tuck, however. Indeed, he encountered difficulties almost from the outset. Inaugurated on January 16, 1946, Tuck saw the so-called Vepco affair erupt just a few months later.
Nonetheless, labor leaders excoriated Tuck, with one spokesman calling the action "sinister, damnable, and unprincipled." By way of contrast, the general public, the vast majority of whom were non-union or did not support unions, hailed the governor for his audacious stratagem. The episode was instrumental in creating a popular image of Tuck as a bold—opponents said rash—leader. In May, President Harry S. Truman used a similar tactic in threatening to draft into the U.S. Army railway workers whose union, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, was calling for a nationwide strike; as in the Vepco affair, the two sides reached a settlement at the eleventh hour. In 1947, Tuck scored another victory against unions, signing a right-to-work bill into law on January 21.
Governor: Anti-Truman Bill
When Truman announced his decision to seek reelection, Tuck, in his determination to see the incumbent defeated, formulated a remarkable plan to revise the state's election laws. On February 25, 1948, Tuck presented to the General Assembly his anti-Truman bill, also known as the ballot bill. It proposed to keep the presidential candidates' names off the ballot, using only the names of parties and electors, and, further, to permit a state party convention to decide for whom the state's electoral votes would be cast—even after the election had been held. In a state controlled by the Byrd Organization, this in effect would have given Senator Byrd—who spoke in favor of the bill on the floor of the U.S. Senate—the power to choose Virginia's presidential electors and, therefore, whom they would support.
In response to such attacks, the governor agreed to a modification of the bill that, while still permitting a state party to instruct its electors to stand for someone other than the national party nominee, also required that such action be announced at least sixty days before an election or the electors would automatically be committed to the national ticket. The modified bill passed the General Assembly on March 14 but was not actually employed in the 1948 election or thereafter. In November, Truman defeated the Republican candidate, Thomas E. Dewey, of New York, and even carried Virginia. For his part, Tuck supported a third-party candidate, Strom Thurmond, of South Carolina, who represented the pro-segregation States' Rights Democratic Party (also known as the Dixiecrats).
The sensational nature of the Vepco affair and the anti-Truman bill overshadowed other aspects of Tuck's governorship—actions that, though hardly reformist, included several moderately progressive innovations. Among them was a slight increase in both corporate and personal income taxes. The additional revenue permitted some improvement, however slight, in the commonwealth's traditionally meager funding for state services. Other advancements included creation of the State Water Control Board, an agency to control water pollution, as well as reform of the prison system to outlaw corporal punishment and to phase out road camp chain gangs, and a modest reorganization of state government to create more efficient functioning of the state bureaucracy.
When Tuck's term as governor ended in 1950, he returned to private life in Halifax County, but his absence from politics proved brief. In 1953, when the Fifth District congressman Thomas B. Stanley resigned to run for governor, Tuck won the seat in a special election on April 14, 1953, defeating Lorne R. Campbell, the Republican candidate, with 57.8 percent of the vote. Rejecting occasional entreaties to run for the U.S. Senate, he remained in the House for the next sixteen years, regularly winning reelection unopposed or with only minimal opposition.
When the "massive resistance" effort crumbled after a few years, Tuck shifted his focus to opposing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965—all, he declared, in defense of states' rights—but to no avail. The problem was that he was warring against the tide of time, with the result that his congressional career overall yielded little lasting accomplishment. It was apparently with genuine relief that he announced his decision in 1967 to retire at the end of his term, preferring to be "back down there on my poor rocky farm."
Tuck practiced law in desultory fashion for a few years, resisting sporadic suggestions that he run for the General Assembly. His eyesight dimmed by cataracts and his mobility diminished by a stroke in 1976, Tuck gradually withdrew from politics. His wife died in November 1975. Tuck died at Halifax–South Boston Community Hospital in South Boston on June 9, 1983, of heart ailments related to his stroke. He is buried with his wife in that city's Oak Ridge Cemetery.
September 28, 1896 - William M. Tuck is born in Halifax County.
1917–1918 - William M. Tuck works as a teacher-principal in Northumberland County.
1918–July 1919 - William M. Tuck serves in the U.S. Marine Corps, mostly in the Dominican Republic.
September 1919–June 1921 - William M. Tuck earns a law degree at Washington and Lee University.
January 9, 1924–January 13, 1932 - William M. Tuck represents Halifax County in the House of Delegates.
February 26, 1928 - William M. Tuck and Eva Ellis Lovelace Dillard, a widow from South Boston, marry.
January 13, 1932–January 14, 1942 - William M. Tuck serves in the Senate of Virginia.
November 4, 1941 - William M. Tuck, a Democrat, wins election as lieutenant governor of Virginia, defeating the Republican, Benjamin Muse.
January 21, 1942–January 16, 1946 - William M. Tuck serves as lieutenant governor of Virginia.
November 6, 1945 - William M. Tuck, a Democrat, wins election as governor of Virginia, defeating the Republican, S. Lloyd Landreth.
January 16, 1946–January 18, 1950 - William M. Tuck serves as governor of Virginia.
January 21, 1947 - Governor William M. Tuck signs the right-to-work bill into law, curtailing the power of labor unions in Virginia.
February 25, 1948 - Governor William M. Tuck presents to the General Assembly his so-called anti-Truman bill, designed to keep presidential candidates' names off the ballot.
February 27, 1948 - In the Richmond Times-Dispatch Virginius Dabney editorializes against Governor William M. Tuck's anti-Truman bill.
March 14, 1948 - The General Assembly passes a modified version of the anti-Truman bill.
April 14, 1953–January 3, 1969 - William M. Tuck serves in the U.S. House of Representatives.
November 1975 - Eva Lovelace Dillard Tuck, the wife of William M. Tuck, dies.
1976 - William M. Tuck suffers a stroke.
June 9, 1983 - William M. Tuck dies at Halifax–South Boston Community Hospital in South Boston. He is buried in that city's Oak Ridge Cemetery.
Cite This Entry
- APA Citation:
Crawley, W. B., Jr. William M. Tuck (1896–1983). (2017, November 16). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Tuck_William_M_1896-1983.
- MLA Citation:
Crawley, William B., Jr. "William M. Tuck (1896–1983)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 16 Nov. 2017. Web. READ_DATE.
First published: June 12, 2017 | Last modified: November 16, 2017