Gore, Thomas Pryor (1870–1949)

By: Worth Robert Miller

Type: Biography

Published: January 1, 1995

Updated: December 4, 2019

Thomas P. Gore, Populist orator and Democratic politician, the son of Thomas Madison and Caroline Elizabeth (Wingo) Gore, was born near Embry, Mississippi, on December 10, 1870. After the elder Gore was elected chancery clerk of Sumner (now Webster) County, Mississippi, in 1877, the family moved to Walthall, the county seat. Gore injured his left eye at the age of eight and lost his right eye three years later. By his twentieth birthday he was totally blind. Despite his handicap, he excelled in school, showing a special aptitude for debate and oratory. Service as a page in the Mississippi Senate in 1882 developed his ambition for a career in politics. He taught school briefly before entering the Cumberland University law school in Lebanon, Tennessee, in 1891. He was admitted to the Mississippi bar and joined his father's law firm in 1892.

The Gore family was prominent in the Southern Farmers' Alliance, and young Thomas addressed meetings as early as 1888. The Mississippi Alliance nominated Gore for the state legislature in 1891, but he was forced to withdraw because he was a minor. He served as a Populist presidential elector in 1892 and gained a notable reputation while stumping his district for the ticket. Gore's oratorical reputation spread well beyond Mississippi. In April 1894 Populists in Navarro County, Texas, invited him to Corsicana to aid their local campaign. He campaigned in Mississippi during the fall and moved to Corsicana with his brother Ellis and established a law office in December 1894. He again returned to Mississippi in the spring of 1895 to run for the state legislature. Gore stumped the state for the Populist ticket in 1895 but returned to Texas when he lost his bid for the state legislature. He campaigned for the 1896 Populist ticket in Texas but attended the party's national convention as a member of the Mississippi delegation. His influence helped secure Texas support for Mississippian Frank Burkitt in the vice-presidential balloting. Texas Populists nominated Gore for the Sixth United States Congressional District race in 1898. Although he ran a strong race, the People's party was in decline and he lost. Gore joined the Democratic party in 1899 and served as a delegate to the party's national convention the next year. He campaigned for William Jennings Bryan from Utah to New York in the presidential elections of 1900 and 1908.

He married Nina Kay of Palestine, Texas, on December 27, 1900. She became his constant companion and served as his "eyes." The Gores moved to Lawton, Oklahoma, in June 1901, and Gore successfully ran for the territorial Council (Senate) in 1902. He declined to run for Congress as a representative from Oklahoma Territory, in anticipation of the race for the United States Senate when Oklahoma became a state. He did, however, attend the 1907 constitutional convention as an adviser. He was elected to the United States Senate that year and reelected in 1909 and 1915. He and William Henry (Alfalfa Bill) Murray, another ex-Texan, led Woodrow Wilson's Oklahoma campaign for the presidency in 1912.

Gore built a progressive voting record in the Senate, but he ran afoul of President Wilson on the neutrality issue before World War I. His tendency to isolationism was seen in the Gore-McLemore Resolution, which warned Americans against traveling on armed ships of belligerent nations. Once the United States entered the war, Gore was a vocal opponent of Wilson's methods of war financing, conscription, and the subversion of civil liberties. He also took a reservationist position on the League of Nations. Gore's positions on the war eventually cost him the support of his Oklahoma constituents, and in 1920 he was defeated when he ran for reelection in the Democratic primary. While in the Senate, Gore originated the oil depletion allowance with an amendment to a 1918 war-revenue measure. He represented oil interests in the 1920s. He came in a poor third in the 1924 primaries but finally secured reelection to the Senate in 1930. Although he supported Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932, Gore generally opposed the New Deal. He came in last in a four-way primary in his final bid for reelection in 1936. He attended the Dixiecrat national convention in 1948, but was too feeble to campaign. He died in Washington, D.C., on March 16, 1949, and was buried in Oklahoma City.

Monroe Lee Billington, "Thomas P. Gore and Oklahoma Public Opinion, 1917–1918," Journal of Southern History 27 (August 1961). Monroe Lee Billington, Thomas P. Gore: The Blind Senator from Oklahoma (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1967).

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Worth Robert Miller, “Gore, Thomas Pryor,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 14, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/gore-thomas-pryor.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

January 1, 1995
December 4, 2019