Delaware’s Congressional Trio of Tom Carper, Chris Coons and John Carney and the Political History Preceding Them
Delaware’s current congressional trio stands out from its predecessors for a number of reasons—and not just because their last names all start with the same letter.
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It was mostly the fault of the corrupt tomfoolery of John Edward O’Sullivan Addicks, a name that shall live in political infamy. He was called “Gas” Addicks, and not just because his full name was a mouthful, but because he made a fortune by wheeling and dealing in gas companies.
The best that can be said of him is he was not a native Delawarean, but a Philadelphian.
Addicks manipulated the Senate elections here for 11 years at the turn of the last century the same way he manipulated gas companies, as is recounted in history books written by Carol Hoffecker and the late John Munroe, both distinguished past professors at UD.
Addicks moved to Claymont in 1877, not realizing for two months he had relocated to Delaware and not to neighboring Delaware County in Pennsylvania. He plunged into state politics anyway.
Bribing and swaggering, Addicks tried to get the legislators to elect him to a Senate seat. “I’ve bought it, I’ve paid for it, and I’m going to have it,” he is supposed to have said.
Although Addicks never could bribe enough legislators to send him to Washington, he bribed enough of them to deadlock the voting. Once it took 177 ballots over nearly four months to elect someone. From 1895 until 1906, Delaware sometimes was represented by one senator and for one unforgettable two-year stretch by no senators at all.
While Delaware was the most notorious example of compromised legislatures, it was not the only one, and the direct election of senators was a constitutional amendment waiting to happen.
At least, it was elsewhere. The General Assembly here never actually got around to officially ratifying the 17th Amendment until three years ago. This is true. It took until 2010, just in time for the Tea Party to make noises about repealing it. To the legislators’ everlasting credit, none of them were recorded as voting “no.”
In the century since the election of all members of Congress has been up to the voters, it is a mark of how different Delaware politics is today to have an all-Democratic delegation, especially one that shows no signs of stopping.