Byrns, Joseph

Byrns, Joseph (Wellington)

(1869–1936) U.S. representative; born in Cedar Hill, Tenn. His family moved to Nashville from their farm to provide him, the eldest of six children, with an education. A lawyer in Nashville in 1891, he served in the Tennessee house and senate before going to the U.S. House of Representatives (Dem., 1909–36). As a member of the Committee on Appropriations he championed governmental economy and tariff reductions, although he secured the massive wartime appropriations requested by President Wilson. Faced with a Republican majority in the House, he attacked their economic policies, claiming that their high tariffs had contributed to a world-wide depression. In 1933 he became majority leader, successfully shepherding New Deal legislation through the House, setting aside his fiscal conservatism to support his party. Elected Speaker of the House (1935–36), he managed the Democratic majority through persuasion, using a team of deputy whips to poll congressmen before critical votes.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.