Thomas Gore

On this date in 1870, Thomas Pryor Gore was born near Embry, Miss. As a young boy, he permanently lost sight in both eyes in separate accidents. Gore took a great interest in politics as a teenager and developed exceptional public speaking skills. He taught school before attending law school at Cumberland University in Tennessee. After being admitted to the Tennessee bar in 1892, Gore joined the national Populist movement and moved to Texas to practice law. In 1895, he returned to Mississippi and ran unsuccessfully for Congress as a Populist candidate. After the Populist movement began to decline nationwide with the defeat of presidential nominee William Jennings Bryan in 1900, Gore became a Democrat and moved to Oklahoma to continue practicing law. He was elected to the Oklahoma Territorial Council in 1903, and, when Oklahoma became the 46th state in 1907, he was elected one of its first two U.S. senators. A powerful figure in the Democratic party serving on the Democratic National Committee, Gore helped President Woodrow Wilson make sweeping changes to the party and turned down a presidential cabinet position so that he could keep his Oklahoma Senate seat.

Gore advocated for women's suffrage and the interests of farmers, and strongly opposed railroad monopolies. His opposition to American involvement in World War I and later opposition to the formation of the League of Nations cost him his personal friendship with President Wilson and the 1920 election. He successfully ran for the Senate again in 1930, at which time he openly criticized President Hoover's Great Depression recovery policies, and later Roosevelt's New Deal programs. (He was the only senator to vote against the Works Progress Administration.) These positions, once again lost him his Senate seat in the election of 1936. Gore married Nina Belle Kay in 1900, and they had two children, one of whom was Nina S. Gore, the mother of historian and author Gore Vidal. Gore Vidal recalled that his grandfather was talked into being photographed in a Methodist Church on Sunday. Young Gore asked him, “ ‘Grandpa, what are we doing in this thing?’ He said, ‘Well, my boy, you may ask what we’re doing here. I’m getting votes, I don’t know about you.’ ” Vidal said his grandfather, once publicly asked about the religious differences between himself and his wife, replied: “Well, one Sunday we don’t go to her church and the next Sunday we don’t go to mine” (The Humanist, Jan/Feb 2010). The Senator was most remembered for his love of his adopted state of Oklahoma. He once famously noted: "I love Oklahoma. I love every blade of her grass. I love every grain of her sands. I am proud of her past and I am confident of her future" (Oklahoma Historical Society). Gore died at the age of 78, and is buried in Oklahoma. In September 2010, the Freedom From Religion Foundation posted a billboard in Tulsa, Okla., which read: "Atheism is OK in Oklahoma: Saluting Gore — First Atheist Senator." D. 1949.

"[Thomas Gore] was a dedicated atheist. Imagine, he was senator for over thirty years in Oklahoma, a hotbed of the Lord Jesus, and they never found out."

—-Gore Vidal on his grandfather, in an interview by Jennifer Bardi and David Niose in The Humanist, Jan/Feb 2010

Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch

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