Richard Wayne "Dick" Van Dyke (born December 13, 1925) was the 34th President of the United States of America, serving between 1965-1973. At only 38 when elected in 1964 and having recently turned 39 when inaugurated in January of 1965, he was the youngest person to ever be elected to the Presidency and the youngest person to be sworn in. Prior to the Presidency, he served as Governor of Missouri from 1961 to 1965 and as the US Representative for Missouri's 1st District in the House of Representatives from 1955 to 1961.
As President, Van Dyke developed the Van Dyke Doctrine of "containment of the interests of France" and set about a mass production of nuclear weapons, conventional arms and nearly doubled the size of the United States Navy and more than tripled the size of the Air Force, while fulfilling his campaign promise of "maintaining our security while preserving our dignity," aimed at lowering public fears of an overreaching government realized during the Hoover years that preceded him. He managed to avoid war with France during the St. Lawrence River Crisis in 1969, authorized the CIA to intervene in Peru, Cambodia and Bengal to prevent the rise of pro-French governments, continued the Hoover administration's Spectrum CIA operations in the Balkans and in 1971 authorized the deployment of American soldiers to Ceylon to help the friendly local government there defeat a rebellion.
Domestically, Van Dyke signed the Voting Rights Act of 1970 which made it a felony to willfully prevent any legalized US citizen from voting through coercion, legal loopholes or "unconstitutional tests" while also standardizing voting practices nationwide for federal offices and also signed the Women At Work Act of 1971, which guaranteed women equal pay for equal work, although it reserved the right to determine what was "equal work" to the states. Van Dyke also established the Interstate Highway System after the Interstate Act of 1966 and oversaw an economy that exited the early-1960s recession and saw five straight years of record-setting growth.
Following the Presidency, he served as a US Senator representing Missouri from 1973 to 1997, and refused on several occasions the position of Party Leader. Van Dyke is often regarded as one of the most influential politicians in the history of the United States.
Richard Wayne "Dick" Van Dyke was born on December 13, 1925 in West Plains, Missouri to State Senator Loren "Cookie" Van Dyke, who mounted an unsuccessful campaign for Governor of Missouri in 1932 as a Nationalist. They moved to St. Louis in 1934, where Loren was elected as an Alderman and became a prominent local politician in the south end of the city. He later ran for State Senator once again, this time serving in a different seat than his old one, and by 1950 was the Minority Leader of the Missouri Senate.
Governor of Missouri
Electoral History of Richard Van Dyke
1960 Missouri Gubernatorial Election
1964 Presidential Election
1968 Presidential Election
1972 Missouri Senate Election
1978 Missouri Senate Election
1984 Missouri Senate Election
1990 Missouri Senate Election
Presidency of Richard Van Dyke: 1965-1973
Richard Wayne Van Dyke was inaugurated as the 34th President of the United States on January 20, 1965, at the age of 39. Upon his inauguration, he was the youngest President in history (upon election or inauguration), the first Missourian to become President and the first President born in the 20th century.
Outside of his policies towards France, Van Dyke
Relations with France
Unlike many of his successors in both parties, President Van Dyke did not put together a particularly active or thorough economic package in either his campaign or in his day-to-day policies. Van Dyke, regarded as a pragmatist who believed in the importance of low interest rates to fuel borrowing as opposed to high rates that favored banks and bondholders, generally encouraged National Bank Chairman Jonathan Goldberg to keep benchmark rates low throughout his Presidency in order to make consumers more likely to borrow money to buy homes, cars or other goods. Generally speaking, Van Dyke ended over thirty years of tight fiscal policy in the United States, breaking with what had previously been National Party orthodoxy. The economy grew strongly during his first term and most of his second - after 1964 had seen GDP growth of just 0.93%, 1965 saw growth at 2.1% with every year until 1970 averaging roughly 4% growth.
Van Dyke shocked many Nationalists in June 1967 when he ordered his Attorney General, John Broward, to file an antitrust lawsuit against several steel companies who Van Dyke accused of fixing prices and collusion. As the U.S. Government was a major purchaser of steel for its various weapons programs at the time, it had a vested interest in the fairness of prices. After uproar within his own pro-business party and in the business community, Van Dyke made a televised address in which he explained in his view that the actions taken by the Justice Department were no different from an angry customer suing a company for malpractice. It was hailed by the national media as the first time in decades that a prominent Nationalist politician had stood up to the powerful industrial interests that many at the time perceived to be backing Van Dyke.
Senator Van Dyke: 1973-1997
Van Dyke was sworn in as Senator on January 25, 1973, five days after leaving office as President and twenty-two days after the rest of the Senate had been sworn in. He entered the Senate as the first President in history to go directly from the Presidency to a different elected office, with only a five-day gap of civilian life. On January 20, Van Dyke flew back to Missouri, where he relaxed for a few days before returning to Washington and his new home in suburban Maryland.
As Senator, Van Dyke was immediately regarded as a future party leader in the Senate - however, Van Dyke declined on multiple occasions posts within senior leadership, fearing that his status as a former President might overshadow his colleagues and his calculated decision to act as a powerful backbencher. Within the Senate, Van Dyke biographer Ruth McKee attested, he was able to groom young new proteges in both that chamber as well as in the House without focusing on the day-to-day grueling minutiae of the leadership posts. As McKee wrote in her book Van Dyke, "the former President was not only the most powerful political figure in Missouri due to his political standing as a former President, Governor and current Senator, but also one of the most powerful men in Washington due to his ex-President status, his sophisticated network of donors, political operatives and supporters, and the unquestioned deference both Nationalists and Democrats passed to him. No Senator had the power to influence legislation quite like Van Dyke."
Despite his clout, Van Dyke shied away from the national stage starting in the 1980s. After publicly clashing with his successor, Clyde Dawley, Van Dyke expressed regret and stated in 1979 that, "It is unhealthy, I have come to realize, for a former President, with his influence and public statue, to criticize his successors." Van Dyke attended the funeral of Adam Eisler and eulogized him, saying, "Today there are no political parties - we mourn as one country."
Van Dyke's endorsement became critical - his support of Elizabeth Shannon, a fellow Midwestern Governor with little national experience, in 1980 is credited with helping power her through the Nationalist primaries. He campaigned vigorously in 1980 and 1982 for fellow Nationalist candidates but starting in 1984, after comfortably coasting to reelection, the former President withdrew somewhat from the public sphere and decided to focus on his committee assignments. He chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 1985-1993.
In the 1990 Democratic landslide, Van Dyke fought the most closely contested election in his career and admitted after his narrow win that he was exhausted. After the Nationalist defeats in 1992, Van Dyke resigned his committee chairmanship and committed himself fully to the backbenches.