The University of Southern Mississippi -- McCain Library and Archives
Historical Manuscripts Home
Alphabetical List of All Collections | Collections Listed By Subject

Manuscript Collection

*This collection is being re-processed. All items may not be available at all times. For questions regarding the availability of particular items, please call (601) 266-4348.*

Collection Title: Colmer (William M.) Papers 
Collection Number: M24


Volume: 168 cu. ft.

undated photo of William M. Colmer

Provenance: Materials in this collection were donated by William M. Colmer: First accession-1970.

Copyright: This collection may be protected from unauthorized copying by the Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code).

Biographical/Historical Sketch: William M. Colmer was born February 11, 1890 in Moss Point near Pascagoula, Mississippi and was educated in the Gulfport public schools. He attended Millsaps College in Jackson and taught school in Lumberton from 1914 to 1917 while studying law on the side. He was admitted to the bar in 1917. He served in World War I, leaving the service with the rank of regimental sergeant major, and returned to Pascagoula to practice law.

Colmer's start in politics came in 1921, when he was elected Jackson County Attorney. In 1928 he was elected District Attorney and held that post until he was elected to his first term in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1933. Although he entered the Congress as a Franklin D. Roosevelt New Dealer and remained a life-long member of the Democratic Party, he frequently supported Republican candidates and his political philosophy evolved toward conservatism.

His forty-year tenure in the House spanned the economic depression of the thirties, three wars, and the Civil Rights Movement. When he retired in January 1973, he had served in the Congress longer than any other Mississippian.

Capitalizing on the Congressional seniority system, Colmer became a bastion of conservatism. He was named a member of the powerful House Rules Committee in 1939. He served as vice-chairman for twelve years from 1954 to 1966 and as chairman for seven years from 1966 until 1973, leading a conservative coalition which periodically dominated the fifteen-person panel and frustrated the legislative objectives of liberal leaders. He survived several attempts to break the conservative control of the committee, including a move in 1961 to oust him from the committee. Instead the committee was enlarged in order that President John F. Kennedy's legislative program would go forward.
1966. Marshall Space Flight Center, Mississippi Test Facility.  Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.  William M. Colmer is in the center.

1966. Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.
Marshall Space Flight Cent
er. Mississippi Test Facility. (Colmer is in the center.)

In 1942 Congressman Colmer was named one of the two members representing the House on the National Forest Reservation Commission. In 1948 he was one of the organizers of the informal House Southern Group and was elected its chairman.

Congressman Colmer served as chairman of the Special Committee on Post-War Economic Policy and Planning charged with planning a smooth conversion to a peace-time economy. The committee's recommendations paved the way for the Marshall Plan for the economic recovery of Europe and foretold the Cold War after interviews conducted with Soviet leader Joseph Stalin during a two-month fact-finding trip to Europe in the fall of 1945.

After the death of Senator Theodore G. Bilbo in 1947, Congressman Colmer ran unsuccessfully for a seat in the U.S. Senate. All of his nineteen campaigns for the U.S. House of Representatives were successful.

One of Colmer's aides was Republican Trent Lott, who succeeded him with his blessing.

William M. Colmer died in Pascagoula on September 9, 1980 at the age of ninety.

April 22, 1971.  Trent Lott, Postmaster General William Blount, William M. Colmer.
April 22, 1971. Postal Service Building, Washington, D.C. Left to right: Trent Lott (Administrative Assistant to Congressman Colmer), Postmaster General Winton Blount, and Congressman William M. Colmer (Democrat, 5th District).

Related Collections:

William M. Colmer Oral History Interview, vol. 43. A copy of the transcript is available in the McCain Library, call number F341.5 .M57.

*This collection is being re-processed. All items may not be available at all times. For questions regarding the availability of particular items, please call (601) 266-4348.*


The papers of Congressman William M. Colmer (D.-Miss) cover the administrations of six Presidents. Assuming office on March 4, 1933, as did President Franklin D. Roosevelt, he has served from the "New Deal" to the present "Forward Together;" from the depression, through three wars, to the current era of affluence and unrest. His papers reflect his reaction and the reaction of the people he represented to these programs and events. These papers are history in the raw. From one standpoint they show the conversion of a "New Deal" supporter into a "Southern Conservative" and backstage leader of the States' Rights forces in the House. Over the past quarter of a century these forces have engaged in a running fight with the centralist, modern "Liberals" on such issues as civil rights and federal spending.

The papers present the view of a conservative, a Southerner, and a Mississippian. They contain a part of history that has never been told. Of considerable interest are recommend- ations of the Colmer Committee (the Special Committee on Post-War Economic Policy and Planning). These recommendations (1) paved the way for the Marshall Plan; (2) foretold the "Cold War" after the Committee interviewed Stalin in 1945, and proposed a firm foreign policy to counter it, thus beginning the controversy that polarized into the "hawks" versus the "doves" debate; and (3) blueprinted measures for the conversion of the domestic economy from a war-time to a peace-time basis. William Colmer (right) shaking hands at the sea wall.
Mississippi Gulf Coast (undated). Colmer is on the right.
In general the papers reflect many political changes and challenges; specifically they cover nineteen successful campaigns for United States Representative and an unsuccessful campaign for a seat in the Senate after the death of Senator Bilbo. The Colmer Papers record the agonies of the depression, of World War II, of Korea and Vietnam. They contain pleas for help and efforts to respond. They are the grist from a Congressman's mill through thirty-six years -- what he does, what his staff does, what his constituents do and say.

Highlights of Career

Congressman Colmer became a member of the key House Rules Committee in 1939. In January 1967, he succeeded Judge Howard W. Smith as its chairman. In 1948 he was one of the organizers of the informal House Southern Group and was elected its chairman. Congressman Colmer was the Chairman of the Special Committee on PostWar Economic Policy and Planning, which was established in the 78th Congress and continued through the 79th. This committee was made up of a senior member of each of the major legislative committees of the House. Its basic assignment was to recommend legislation to provide a smooth reconversion of a peace-time economy. Its hearings were published in nine parts, four in the 78th and five in the 79th Congress. They covered the whole domestic economy, with leaders of industry, agriculture, and labor and members of the Cabinet appearing as witnesses. Because of the dependence of the domestic economy on a healthy European recovery, in the Fall of 1945 the Committee made a two-month survey abroad, visiting nineteen countries and consulting the leaders of each, including Stalin. The memorandum of the conversation with Stalin on September 14, 1945 was classified "Top Secret." So was an airgram sent by the United States Embassy in Moscow quoting this memorandum, prepared by Marion Folsom, Executive Director of the Committee. (These have now been declassified). Also in the file is a memorandum of the conversation with Stalin written by George Kerman, Charge d'Affaires, who acted as interpreter.

The Colmer Scrapbooks of 1944-46 contain many front-page stories from the New York Times and other metropolitan papers on recommendations of the Committee. These recommendations were made through eleven reports plus a supplement of the eleventh report. Congressman Colmer is also the senior member of the National Forest Reservation Commission, which approves all purchases and exchanges of land in the National Forests. He was named to this post by Speaker Sam Rayburn in 1942 and has been reappointed in each succeeding Congress. This Commission consists of two members of the House, two Senators, and three members of the President's Cabinet. Colmer has served in Congress longer than any other Mississippian in history.
William M. Colmer at No. 10 Downing Street, London
London, 1945. Post-War Policy Committee visiting Prime Minister at No. 10 Downing Street. (Colmer, 2nd from right.)

Some Opportunities for Scholarly Study

The Colmer Papers offer many opportunities for scholarly research, possible articles or books, graduate dissertations, term papers, etcetera. Major areas are:

1. Foreign Policy
The two principal recommendations in this field made by the Special Committee on Post-War Economic Policy and Planning were noted above. However, these additional comments may be of interest:

(a) The role of the Committee as a forerunner of the Marshall Plan has never been fully recognized or publicized.
(b) In foretelling the "Cold War" the Committee was ahead of its time. Russia was still our ally, and the metropolitan press and several public figures were outraged at the committee's "get tough" proposal. Secretary of State Byrnes and President Truman also rejected it. Times and details have changed, but the basic philosophical controversy persists to this day.
(c) An interesting personality sidelight is revealed in a newspaper story in which Colmer recounts his visit with Sir Winston Churchill in Florida in 1946. At luncheon, Churchill said he had one more message for the American people, and Colmer, the only American present, quickly assured him that a joint session of Congress could be arranged to hear him. How ever, when Colmer returned to Washington, he found that the State Department opposed this on the basis of protocol, since Churchill was out of office and Attlee was the current Prime Minister of Britain. Therefore, the famous "Iron Curtain" speech was delivered instead at Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri shortly thereafter (See News Releases - Iron Curtain speech). Included in the Committee files are letters from President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Secretary of State James F. Byrnes, Chief of Staff Dwight D. Eisenhower, Under Secretary of War Robert P. Patterson, Assistant Secretary of War John J. McCloy, Assistant Secretary of State W.L. Clayton, Prince Hubertus zu Lowenstein, Dorothy Thompson, Bernard Baruch, and other notables.

2. Civil Rights versus States' Rights
The Southern Manifesto rallied Congressmen and Senators from the South to oppose the Supreme Court's 1954 school desegregation decision. Issued on March 12, 1956, it was called a "Declaration of Constitutional Principles" and was signed by nineteen Senators and seventy-seven Representatives, including Senator Fulbright and Representative Brooks Hays, both moderate Arkansas Democrats. It originated with the formal Southern Group of the House, but it passed through several revisions in which some Senators had a hand. In what he referred to as his capacity as "legman", Chairman Colmer of this House Group rounded up signatures and votes. Representatives Oren Harris (D.-Ark.) was the secretary and Judge Howard W. Smith (D.-Va.) was the floor leader of the Group. The "manifesto" was followed on July 13, 1956 by a resolution of the House Group called a "Warning of Grave Danger." It was signed by eighty-three House members from eleven states. The original signed copies are in the Colmer Papers. The Southern Group in the House and a similar one in the Senate, headed by Russell (D.Ga.) were effective in barring or limiting action on civil rights by the Legislative Branch for nearly ten years.

3. New Dealer to Southern Conservative
Congressman Colmer supported the "New Deal" as the only means available to counter the economic depression of the Thirties. However, he became more and more disaffected with the modern liberal, centralist philosophy of the Administrations with which he served.
This change, growing partly out of an independent personality and partly out of regional and other sociological and political influences, is mirrored in these files.

4. The Challenge of the Mississippi House Delegation
On December 3, 1964, Victoria Jackson Gray signed a "Notice of Intention to Contest Election" against Congressman Colmer, and members of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party signed similar notices against the four other members of the House from Mississippi. On January 4, 1965, one hundred forty-nine members of the House voted against authorizing the delegation to take the oath of office, even though its members had been properly certified as elected and the contestants had not been candidates in the November election. During the early months of 1965 friends of the delegation in Congress cautioned the Mississippi members that they would lose if the question of seating them came to a vote again. Only after the riots in Watts had occurred were members of the delegation assured that a vote of dismissal of the contest was safe. Even then Northern members asked privately at the last minute to be released from their commitments so that they would not be recorded as voting "for Mississippi." The final vote on dismissal of the contest on September 17, 1965 was 276 yeas and 143 nays.

5. The Unsolid South--Roosevelt to Wallace
The three subjects immediately preceding might be combined into a broader, less personal, possibly more scholarly study, with some such working title as the above heading.

6. More Limited Areas of Possible Interest to Scholars:
(a) The effect of the depression on the people of Congressman Colmer's District, as reflected in the WPA (Works Progress Administration) and job application files.
(b) The reaction of the people in one political microcosm, this 16-county District, toward all but forgotten programs of bygone Administrations--AAA (Agricultural Adjustment Administration), NRA (National Recovery Administration), HOLC (Home Owners
Loan Cororation), WPA (Works Progress Administration), PWA (Public Works
Administration), Subsistence Homesteads, Farm Security, etcetera.
(c) The rise and fall of the tung industry. An excellent drying agent, tung oil at one time provided a solution to many economic problems of the area. The virgin pine forests had been cut, the sawmill industry no longer provided employment, and thousands of acres of
cut-over land lay idle and desolate. The growing of tung trees on this land raised the farm income level of Pearl River County, for example, from the bottom to close to the top in the State. In later years the tung industry declined because of foreign competition and synthetics developed during World War II by the paint industry.
Reforestation--the forerunner of the present wood products industrial development in the area.
(e) The effect of port and waterway development on the economy of the area.

The First Accession

The Colmer Papers [were transferred] to the University of Southern Mississippi in several installments. The first [covered] the years from 1933 through 1962 or fifteen Congresses, except for several categories of special files that have been retained for reference in the Congressman's office. These and files for succeeding years [were transferred] to the University later. The Index and the Inventory that follow show the papers included in the first accession.

Arlington, Virginia
December 8, 1969 Waller Batson

*This collection is being re-processed. All items may not be available at all times. For questions regarding the availability of particular items, please call (601) 266-4348.*


Subject Files                                                                                           Box Number     

  Correspondence 1933-1942 (73rd Congress through 77th) 1-74
    1943-1952 (78th Congress through 82nd) 74-167
    1953-1962 (83rd Congress through 87th) 167-242


  Correspondence 1933-1962 (73rd Congress through 87th) 243-306


  Bills Introduced by Congressman Colmer (Also Rules handled by)

1933-1962 (73rd Congress through 87th) 306-309
  Correspondence 1933-1952 (73rd Congress through 82nd) 309-360
    1953-1956 (83rd Congress and 84th) 360-372
    1957-1958 (85th Congress) 372-380
    1959-1960 (86th Congress) 380-387
    1961-1962 (87th Congress) 388-401
   Special Committee on Post-War Economic Policy and Planning
       (Congressman William M. Colmer, Chairman) 1944-1946


    1935-1960 (74th Congress through 86th) 420-422

Speeches (Includes some Statements and News Releases)

    1933-1962 (73rd Congress through 87th) 423-431

       Miscellaneous Statements, News Releases and Speeches

    1933-1962 (73rd Congress through 87th) 431-435


    1933 through 1961 436


Created by: Waller Batson
Prepared and maintained by
The University of Southern Mississippi Libraries Special Collections
118 College Drive #5148   Hattiesburg, MS 39406-5148

Please send comments or questions to Ask-a-Librarian
Revised: November 24, 2004