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Vito Marcantonio

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Labor's Martyrs


By Vito Marcantonio
American History

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Vito Marcantonio

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Vito Anthony Marcantonio (December 10, 1902 – August 9, 1954) was an American lawyer and politician. Though originally a member of the Republican Party, he later switched to the American Labor Party and became one of the most successful third party American politicians since the 1800s. He is well-known for defending the rights of Italian Americans, as well as other ethnic groups in New York City, such as Puerto Ricans and African Americans.

Contents

Early life

An Italian-American, Marcantonio was born in New York City and attended the public schools there. He graduated from New York University with a law degree, and began practicing law. He was an assistant United States district attorney from 1930 until 1931.

Congressional career

Marcantonio was first elected to the United States House of Representatives from New York in 1934 as a Republican. He served in the House from 1935 until 1937 and was defeated for reelection in 1936. In either 1937 or 1938 he became a member of the American Labor Party. He was elected to the House again from New York in 1938, and served this time for six terms, from 1939 to 1951 being reelected in the elections of 1940, 1942, 1944, 1946, and 1948. In 1949 he ran for mayor of New York City on the American Labor Party ticket, but was defeated. In 1950 he was defeated by Democrat James Donovan, after a particularly vociferous campaign against him because of his refusal to vote for American participation in the Korean War. Donovan had the support of the Democratic, Republican, and Liberal Parties in that election.

Political Ideology and Relationship with Other Political Parties and Movements

Marcantonio, who was arguably the furthest left wing member of congress in history, believed that party loyalty was less important than voting his conscience. He was sympathetic to Socialist and Communist parties, as well as labor unions and was investigated by the FBI as many were suspicious of him because of his sympathy with communism and ties to the Communist Party. In 1940, he helped form the American Peace Mobilization to keep the U.S. from participating in World War II, and served as its vice-chair.

Marcantonio's district was centered in East Harlem, New York City, which had many residents of Italian and Puerto Rican origin. He was considered an ally of the Puerto Rican community and an advocate for the rights of the workers and the poor.

He was so popular in that district that he sometimes won the Democratic and Republican primaries, as well as the American Labor Party endorsement. Aside from Marcantonio, the only American Laborite congressman was Leo Isacson, who served in Congress from 1948 to 1949, after winning a special election but being defeated in a general election. As the sole representative of his party for most of his years in Congress, Marcantonio never held a committee chairmanship. After his defeat in 1950, the party soon fell apart. At the time of his death in 1954, he was running for Congress as the candidate of a newly formed third party.

Though he initially opposed efforts in World War II, he supported entry in the war after the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union, consistent with the Communist line. He later campaigned in 1942 to expand the U.S. military commitment to a second front in Europe. He opposed American involvement in the Korean War.

Later life

After his defeat in mayoral and congressional elections, Marcantonio continued to practice law. It was his law practice, maintained while in Congress, that gave him the money to substantially self-finance his political campaigns. At first he practiced in Washington, D.C. but he soon returned to New York City, where he died from a heart attack after coming up the subway stairs, on Broadway by City Hall Park, August 9, 1954.

Marcantonio's collection of speeches, "I Vote my Conscience" edited by Annette Rubenstein had a profound effect on a generation of younger readers. His defense of workers rights, his mastery of parliamentary procedure, his ability to relate to the workers in his district while also engaging in world-wide issues, made him an underground hero.

Precededby
James J. Lanzetta
MemberoftheU.S.HouseofRepresentatives
from New York's 20th congressional district

1935–1937
Succeededby
James J. Lanzetta
Precededby
James J. Lanzetta
MemberoftheU.S.HouseofRepresentatives
from New York's 20th congressional district

1939–1945
Succeededby
Sol Bloom
Precededby
Martin J. Kennedy
MemberoftheU.S.HouseofRepresentatives
from New York's 18th congressional district

1945–1951
Succeededby
James G. Donovan


This article might use material from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.



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