Tom Connally, United States senator, was born on a farm in McLennan County, Texas, on August 19, 1877, to Jones and Mary Ellen (Terry) Connally. Jones Connally was a Confederate veteran. Tom, the only surviving son of the couple, took a law degree from the University of Texas in 1898 and was elected to the state House of Representatives unopposed in 1900 and 1902. He was a progressive in his opposition to monopolies and to the powerful Senator Joseph Weldon Bailey. Connally declined to run for a third term. He practiced law for several years in Marlin and married a local belle, Louise Clarkson, in 1904. He was Falls County prosecuting attorney from 1906 to 1910 and was in and out of local politics for the next decade, while building up a prosperous law practice and establishing himself in the Methodist Church and several fraternal orders.
In 1916 Connally ran for the vacant Eleventh District seat in the United States Congress, a jurisdiction centered in Waco. After defeating two opponents without a runoff, he was elected and placed on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He became something of a foreign-policy spokesman for the Democrats in the 1920s, urging the Republican administrators to settle their differences with Mexico and to cease invading Caribbean republics. In 1928 Connally ran against United States Senator Earle B. Mayfield, a Klansman who had been elected during the heyday of the Ku Klux Klan. Connally successfully urged voters to "turn out the bedsheet-and-mask candidate" and in his first term fought President Herbert Hoover's efforts to raise the tariff, levy a national sales tax, and aid business and mortgage holders at the expense of consumers and homeowners.
During Franklin D. Roosevelt's first term as president, Connally was a stalwart New Dealer, seldom differing with the administration. Like any senator he looked after the largest interest groups in his state, writing relief bills for cattle ranchers, cotton farmers, and oilmen. The most far-reaching solutions were devised for the oil industry, which was facing a glut. Prostrate in the early 1930s, the major oil companies and leading independent operators were demanding state and federal aid. The Connally Hot Oil Act of 1935 effectively outlawed the interstate shipment of oil produced in violation of the new state quotas and was fiercely resisted by many independent drillers and processors. Connally first parted significantly from Roosevelt when the senator opposed the president's attempt to change the United States Supreme Court, the court-packing plan of 1937. The measure failed in the Senate. Also in 1937 Connally led the filibuster against the antilynching bill and fought diligently for the southern differential in the wage and hour law.
Connally was a traditional southern internationalist who resisted the isolationist tide and the neutrality acts of the middle and late 1930s. He led the Senate battle for the arms-embargo repeal in 1939 (the Cash and Carry Act) and for the Lend Lease Act of 1941. As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 1941 to 1947, he was one of the handful of Americans who devised the United Nations and its charter. Together with Arthur Vandenburg, he helped to determine bipartisan foreign policy during Harry Truman's administration, including the establishment of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. He served another stretch as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 1949 to 1953.
During the war years Connally and his fellow Texas senator, W. Lee O'Daniel, supported the Republican-Southern Democratic coalition more often than any other southern duo. In 1942 Connally led the ten-day filibuster against the repeal of the poll tax. The Smith-Connally Act of 1943 extended the power of the president to seize strike-bound war plants, a measure that Connally believed helped the war effort.
In his years of prominence in the 1930s and 1940s Connally was the best showman in the Senate. A contemporary politician, describing the 200-pound, white-haired Connally, decreed him to be "the only man in the United States Senate who could wear a Roman Toga and not look like a fat man in a nightgown." By the early 1950s, however, Connally had lost some of his effectiveness. Moreover, his notions of party loyalty were distasteful to the powerful tidelands oil lobby. The lobby wanted a strong leader who would support whichever 1952 presidential nominee embraced state ownership of offshore oil lands (see TIDELANDS CONTROVERSY). After they found their candidate in state attorney general M. Price Daniel, Sr., whose speeches effectively linked Connally with the unpopular Truman administration, Connally retired.
Connally and his first wife had one son, Ben C. Connally. Mrs. Connally died in 1935. In 1942 the senator married Lucile (Sanderson) Sheppard, the widow of Senator Morris Sheppard. Connally died on October 28, 1963.