Thomas Vernor Smith – Colonel, United States Army Member of Congress


Thomas Vernor Smith, professor, politician, and author, was born in a two-room cabin at Blanket, Texas, on April 26, 1890, one of ten children of John Robert and Mary Elizabeth (Graves) Smith. He had no high school diploma, but the University of Texas admitted him conditionally, and two years later, in 1915, he graduated with a B.A. degree. In 1916 he received an M.A. degree from the university. He taught English literature and philosophy in 1916-17 at Texas Christian University; after serving as a private in the United States Army during World War I, he taught philosophy from 1919 to 1921 at the University of Texas. In 1922 he received his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago and was associated with that university as both a professor of philosophy and dean from 1922 to 1948. In 1934 Smith was elected to the Illinois Senate as a Democrat; he later served as chairman of the Illinois legislative council. He was Illinois congressman-at-large in the Seventy-sixth United States Congress from 1939 to 1941. He gained national recognition when he engaged Senator Robert A. Taft in a series of radio debates that was later published as Foundations of Democracy (1939). Smith ran unsuccessfully for reelection in 1940. He helped organize and produce an educational radio program, the “University of Chicago Round Table,” which became the longest continuously broadcast educational program. Smith was the moderator and a participant in this endeavor, which gained a nationwide audience. During World War II he served in Italy as an educational director of the Allied Control Commission and in Germany was an advisor dealing with German prisoners of war. He was involved in similar duties with the Educational Mission to Japan. He left the service with the rank of Colonel.

In 1948 Smith went to Syracuse University as Maxwell professor of citizenship and philosophy. Known there as the “three P professor” (poetry, politics, and philosophy) he also taught for brief periods of time at some twenty-three American universities as a visiting professor and presented a television series on some of the campuses he visited. He was a member of numerous organizations, including the American Philosophical Association and the American Political Science Association. He edited the International Journal of Ethics and was the author of more than twenty books and hundreds of articles. Some of his books were The Democratic Way of Life (1925), Philosophers in Hades (1932), The Legislative Way of Life (1940), Discipline for Democracy (1942), and his autobiography, A Non-Existent Man (1962). He was married to Nannie Stewart, a fellow student at the University of Texas; they had two children. He retired from Syracuse in 1959 and moved to Austin, Texas, for a while, but failing health caused him to move near his family in Maryland. Smith died on May 24, 1964, in Hyattsville, Maryland, and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Courtesy of the U.S. House of Representatives:

Representative from Illinois; born in Blanket, Brown County, Texas, April 26, 1890; attended the public schools; was graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 1915 and from the University of Chicago, Chicago, Ill., in 1922; during the First World War entered the military service September 3, 1918, and served as a private in the United States Army until discharged on January 28, 1919; member of the faculty of Texas Christian University 1916-1918, the University of Texas 1919-1921, and the University of Chicago 1923-1948; author of numerous books; editor of the International Journal of Ethics 1931-1948; member of the State senate 1935-1938; chairman of the Illinois Legislative Council in 1937 and 1938; elected as a Democrat to the Seventy-sixth Congress (January 3, 1939-January 3, 1941); unsuccessful candidate for reelection in 1940 to the Seventy-seventh Congress; served in the Army of the United States, as a lieutenant colonel and later as a colonel, from 1943 to 1946; served as director of education of the Allied Control Commission in Italy from November 24, 1943, to November 11, 1944; in 1948 resumed his profession as a writer and teacher at the University of Syracuse, Syracuse, N.Y., until his retirement in 1959; resided in Hyattsville, Md., until his death there May 24, 1964; interment in Arlington National Cemetery.

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