William D. Upshaw
"The Georgia Cyclone"
our candidate for President in 1932
The following biographical sketch has been excerpted from articles written by William K. Shearer and published in Shearer's "California Statesman" in March and April of 1996. The full text of the articles is being posted to our website.
Additional information is taken from the article, The Healing of Congressman Upshaw, published in the magazine "Only Believe," March, 1983 (v.6, no.1) and available on the internet at www.biblebelievers.org.
William D. Upshaw was born near Newnan, Coweta County, Georgia on 15 October 1866. He suffered a spinal injury at age 18 which kept him in a body cast, in a brace, in a wheelchair, and finally on crutches for all but the last few months of his life. He nonetheless served four terms in Congress 1918-1920-1922-1924 all of them on crutches. His life should be an inspiration to all of us who have been deluded into believing that some things may be impossible.
Upshaw was elected to Congress as a Democrat in 1922, receiving 6646 votes (95.17%). In 1924, he was unopposed, receiving 16,608 votes.
Upshaw lost the Democratic primary in 1926, to a candidate who was backed by the Ku Klux Klan. In 1928, he opposed Alfred E. Smith's nomination by the Democrats, saying that Smith was a "cocktail candidate." Following Smith's defeat by Hoover, in which Upshaw rejoiced, he advocated the formation of a "Jeffersonian Democratic Party" divorced from the Northern Democrats' political machine.
Colliers Magazine said of him, in 1924: In a materialistic age, given over to thought and discussion of gross profits, net income, public debts, and taxation, Upshaw is an incurable romantic. He is a sentimentalist, an idealist, a dreamer, an exhorter, an evangelist, but with all these impractical qualities and attributes, he has and this is our final test the ability to put his stuff across; to do things. Upshaw would be intolerable if he were not so absolutely sincere and genuine. He has had an amazing career, because he believes in all the copy book maxims. He is one of the old Sunday school storybooks come to life.
Upshaw spent much of his boyhood in rural Cobb County, to which his father, a Confederate veteran who worked variously as a school teacher, a shop keeper, and a farmer, had removed his family after residing for several years in Atlanta. "My father," Upshaw once said, "became afraid that his boys might fall prey to the gilded temptations of city life. Because he loved his boys better than he loved money, he moved us away from Atlanta to grow up amid the beauties, glories, and wholesome inspirations of rural life.
Early on, Upshaw evinced a strong interest in education and in things literary. He was neighborhood correspondent for his county's weekly newspaper, and he contributed articles to the Atlanta magazine "The Sunny South."
After his accident, and while completely bedridden, he continued writing for the newspaper and for Atlanta publications. At his bedside, he organized a literary club. He compiled a book of inspirational prose and verse, which he titled "Echoes from a Recluse;" the book went into 11 editions.
After six or seven years of immobility, Upshaw managed to substitute a steel jacket for his body cast, and he moved from his bed into a wheelchair. A member of his literary club devised an apparatus which allowed him to ride in carriages, and he began traveling about, lecturing.
Roger Storms, in his Party history Partisan Prophets, says that Upshaw founded a magazine, The Golden Age, early in the 20th Century. Upshaw also served, Storms says, on something called the "Scandinavian Commercial Commission.
His books and speaking engagements eventually provided enough money that in 1895 he could enroll in Mercer University, in Macon, Georgia.
Upshaw had a strong interest in Prohibition. He became vice-president of the Georgia Anti-Saloon League in 1906 and, in 1907, he was instrumental in the adoption of state-wide Prohibition in Georgia the first dry state in the South. He traveled to Washington, DC and lobbied Congress to pass the Volstead Act. He was a frequent lecturer for the Anti-Saloon League and for the Woman's Christian Temperance Union.
He ran for Congress in 1918 at the behest of friends, from the Georgia 5th District (Atlanta), defeating six experienced political operators to win the Democratic nomination.
Upshaw soon became known as the "driest dry" in Congress. He startled the City of Washington by holding evangelistic meetings, in addition to fulfilling his duties as a Congressman, because "all the laws made on Capitol Hill will fall like chaff to the ground unless they are planted in character."
It was on the liquor issue that the new Congressman expended his greatest energy. He repeatedly called on public officials to demonstrate their personal commitment to the 18th Amendment by pledging personal abstinence. The Literary Digest noted: "To Congressman Upshaw belongs the credit of awakening the conscience of America on the subject of sober officials."
Although Prohibition was undoubtedly Upshaw's favorite subject, he fought for many other causes, as well. He tended to be more progressive in his views than were many of his Southern colleagues, and he was particularly temperate in his comments on racial issues.
His first important vote was for the 19th Amendment, providing for national women's suffrage; he was the only member of the Georgia delegation to support suffrage. He espoused a "square deal" for both capital and labor, but he clearly favored "the man in overalls and the man behind the plow." He supported a Constitutional amendment to restrict child labor. He helped defeat the anti-strike clause in the Railroad Transportation Act. He urged Congress to provide pensions for Confederate veterans, as well as for Union veterans. He wished to provide Jewish chaplains in the Armed Forces, as well as Christian chaplains.
Upshaw believed that the best way to keep the Prohibition Cause viable in the face of its desertion by Republicans and by Northern Democrats was to support the Prohibition Party. He accepted our nomination for President in 1932 and conducted a vigorous campaign, running in 20 states and winning almost 82,000 votes. For the remainder of his life, he fought an increasingly lonely battle to revive the Prohibition Cause.
Moving to California late in life, Upshaw became Vice-President and a faculty member of Linda Vista Bible College, in San Diego; he was ordained a Baptist minister at age 72. He died, in Glendale, California, on 21 November 1952, shortly after returning from a speaking tour to 22 states and 7 foreign countries. He lies buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery at Glendale; he was 86.