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McGill was last Democrat senator

This is one in a series of vignettes celebrating history. The series’ name comes from the state motto, Ad astra per aspera: “To the stars through difficulties.”

George McGill has the distinction of being the last Democrat from Kansas to serve in the U.S. Senate.

That was more than seven decades ago — and it’s been one of the longest running streaks for one party for any state in the nation.

All told, there have been 33 senators from Kansas — most Republican. There were two Populists in the 1890s, William Pfeifer and William Harris, and two Democrats — John Martin from 1893 to 1895, and William Thompson from 1913 to 1919.

And then there was McGill, the only Democrat to serve more than a six-year term.

He was born in 1879 on an Iowa farm. He and his family moved to Barton County in 1884, and settled on a farm near Dundee.

Growing up, he began studying law in Great Bend and was admitted to the bar in 1902. His first practice was in Hoisington before he moved his practice to Wichita in 1904.

Once in Wichita, McGill became a rising star by winning every case he brought to trial. He served first as the deputy county attorney and then county attorney.

On Nov. 4, 1930, McGill was elected as a Democrat to the U.S. Senate to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Charles Curtis, who became vice president under President Herbert Hoover. Former Kansas governor and editor and publisher of the Wichita Beacon, Henry J. Allen, was appointed to fill the seat until a successor was elected.

In a letter to the editor of Time magazine, a group of Kansans wrote about their senator:

“A scrupulous legislator, Senator McGill always records his vote, regularly attends the meetings of his five committees — Agriculture, Judiciary, Immigration, Naval Affairs, and Pensions (of which he is chairman). In committee he has furthered his two legislative interests: more money for veterans and the cause of the wheat farmer. He wrote the wheat sections of the Pope-McGill Farm Bill (the second AAA), defended them in the longest speech he ever made in Congress (30 min.).”

McGill was re-elected in 1932 and served until Jan. 3, 1939.

He was defeated when he ran for office in the November 1938 election and again in 1942, 1948 and 1954.

McGill was appointed by President Franklin Roosevelt as a member of the U.S. Tariff Commission, a post he held until 1954.

Following his unsuccessful bids for the Senate, McGill returned to Wichita where he continued to practice law until his death on May 14, 1963. He was 84.

Sen. McGill is buried in the Pawnee Rock Cemetery in Barton County.

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