Thomas Gore

On this date in 1870, Thomas Pryor Gore was born near Embry, Miss. As a 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 bar in 1892, he joined the national Populist movement and moved to Texas to practice law.

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 Territorial Council in 1903 and, when Oklahoma became the 46th state in 1907, to the U.S. Senate. A powerful figure in the party, he served on the Democratic National Committee. He helped President Woodrow Wilson make sweeping changes to the party and turned down a cabinet position so that he could keep his 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 Wilson and the 1920 election. He successfully ran for the Senate again in 1930, when he openly criticized President Herbert Hoover’s Depression recovery policies and later opposed many of FDR’s New Deal programs. He was the only senator to vote against the Works Progress Administration. He lost 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. Vidal recalled that his grandfather was talked into being photographed in a Methodist Church on Sunday. 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 Gore, asked once 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, Dec. 28, 2009.)

He once famously noted of his adopted state, “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.” Gore died at the age of 78 in 1949 and is buried in Oklahoma. In September 2010, FFRF posted a billboard in Tulsa which read: “Atheism is OK in Oklahoma: Saluting Gore — First Atheist Senator.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation