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Jamie Whitten
Jamie L. Whitten.jpg
42nd Dean of the United States House of Representatives
In office
January 3, 1979 – January 3, 1995
Preceded byGeorge H. Mahon
Succeeded byJohn Dingell
Chair of the House Appropriations Committee
In office
January 3, 1979 – January 3, 1993
SpeakerTip O'Neill
Jim Wright
Tom Foley
Preceded byGeorge H. Mahon
Succeeded byWilliam Natcher
Member of the
U.S. House of Representatives
from Mississippi
In office
November 4, 1941 – January 3, 1995
Preceded byWall Doxey
Succeeded byRoger Wicker
Constituency2nd district (1941–73)
1st district (1973–95)
Member of the
Mississippi House of Representatives
In office
Personal details
Jamie Lloyd Whitten

(1910-04-18)April 18, 1910
Cascilla, Mississippi, U.S.
DiedSeptember 9, 1995(1995-09-09) (aged 85)
Oxford, Mississippi, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic

Jamie Lloyd Whitten (April 18, 1910 – September 9, 1995) was an American politician and member of the Democratic Party who represented Mississippi in the United States House of Representatives from 1941 to 1995. He was at the time of his departure the longest-serving U.S. Representative ever (since surpassed by John Dingell) and the second-longest serving member of Congress ever (since surpassed by Dingell, Robert Byrd, and Daniel Inouye). He is the longest-serving member of Congress ever from Mississippi. Together with John Dingell and Joseph Gurney Cannon, he served in the House under more presidents than anyone else: 11.

Early life, education, and early career

Jamie Whitten was born in Cascilla, Mississippi. He attended local public schools and the University of Mississippi where he was a member of Beta Theta Pi fraternity. He worked as a school teacher and principal and was elected as a Democrat to the Mississippi House of Representatives, where he served in 1931 and 1932. He attained admission to the bar in 1932, and from 1933 to 1941 he was District Attorney of Mississippi's 17th District, which included his home county of Tallahatchie.

U.S. House of Representatives


In 1941, Whitten was elected as a Democrat to the United States House of Representatives in a special election to represent the state's 2nd District, in the northern part of the state. The seat had come open as a result of incumbent Congressman Wall Doxey's election to the United States Senate. He was elected to a full term in 1942 and was re-elected 25 more times.

In 1966, Whitten faced a challenge from Seelig Wise, a cotton and soybean farmer from Coahoma County, the first Republican to be elected to the Mississippi State Senate since Reconstruction. Whitten won easily, and Wise was defeated for reelection to the state Senate in 1967, as the second Rubel Phillips gubernatorial campaign went down to crushing defeat statewide.[1]

Whitten's district was renumbered as the 1st District after the 1970 Census.


His service from November 4, 1941, to January 3, 1995 set a record for length of service in the House, which remained unbroken until February 11, 2009, when Michigan Congressman John Dingell surpassed it. Whitten is also the 5th longest-serving Congressman (House and/or Senate) behind Daniel Inouye, Carl T. Hayden, Robert Byrd and John Dingell.

Whitten was originally a segregationist, as were many of his colleagues from Mississippi and the rest of the South. He signed the Southern Manifesto condemning the U.S. Supreme Court decision Brown vs. Board of Education, which desegregated public schools. Along with virtually the entire Mississippi congressional delegation, he voted against the Civil Rights Acts of 1957, 1960, 1964, 1965 and 1968. Whitten later apologized for these votes, calling them a "mistake" caused by severe misjudgment. He voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1991.

As a champion for industrial agriculture, he fought against the FDA's early 1970s recommendation of restricting the use of antibiotics in livestock. The FDA was under pressure to enact reforms similar to those in the United Kingdom to restrict antibiotics used as growth promoters. It has been well-established that sub-therapeutic levels of antibiotics in livestock cause the evolution of antibiotic resistance in dangerous food-borne pathogens like Salmonella. Whitten threatened to pull budgets if the FDA attempted to enact restrictions.[2] He continued to hold the FDA budget hostage, requiring that scientists prove the danger of antibiotic use to his personal satisfaction. This continued until his retirement, and the United States has yet to implement strict regulation of antibiotic use in agriculture.[3]

He supported a number of liberal issues and later in his career frequently clashed with the Reagan administration on policy matters. He voted against Reagan's economic plans, tax cuts, increased defense spending, balanced budget initiative, tort reform, welfare reform, abortion restrictions, missile defense system, and the Persian Gulf War. Although Whitten represented a district that grew increasingly suburban and Republican from the 1970s onward, his opposition to Reagan's program did not affect him at the ballot box. Indeed, his seniority and popularity resulted in his facing only "sacrificial lamb" opponents on the occasions he faced any opposition at all, even in years when Republican presidential candidates carried the district in landslides. Nonetheless, it was taken for granted that he would be succeeded by a Republican when he retired.

Declining to run for reelection to a historic 28th term in 1994, Whitten retired from the House as America's longest-serving Congressman (53 years and two months). He retired to his home in Oxford, Mississippi and died there on September 9, 1995, aged 85, eight months after he was indeed succeeded by a Republican, Roger Wicker. Proving just how Republican this district had become, Whitten's replacement as Democratic candidate only won 36.9 percent of the vote. The Democrats would not tally even 40 percent of the vote in the district again until Travis Childers won it in a 2008 special election. Childers was defeated in 2010, and since then no Democrat has crossed the 40 percent mark.

Committee assignments

Throughout most of his tenure in the House, Whitten served on the Appropriations Committee, ultimately serving as Chairman from the 1979 retirement of George H. Mahon until newly-elected Democrats in the House Democratic Caucus removed him in favor of William Huston Natcher after the 1992 election.

In 1985, when then-junior Appropriations Committee member Dick Durbin spoke with Chairman Whitten about possibly sitting on the Budget Committee, Whitten told him, "Well, if you want to be on that committee, you can be on that committee, but I want you to remember one thing, the Budget Committee deals in hallucinations and the Appropriations Committee deals in facts."[4] While on the floor of the Senate on March 21, 2018, now Senator Durbin referred to that quote from Whitten as "Whitten's Law," which implies that the Budget Committee is a political branch that makes budget promises while the Appropriations Committee is obliged to either make or break those promises during the budget-making process.


Whitten authored That We May Live, written largely as a pro-development, pro-chemical pesticide answer to Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, the seminal 1962 book that helped spur the modern environmental movement.[5]


The Jamie Whitten Historical Site is located at the bridge of the Natchez Trace Parkway over the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, two projects that Whitten had successfully fought to fund over his house tenure, overcoming strong opposition from conservatives to their construction using federal funds.

In June 1995, Congress renamed the main headquarters building of the United States Department of Agriculture in Washington, DC the Jamie L. Whitten Building in his honor.[6]

The Beta Beta chapter of Beta Theta Pi fraternity at the University of Mississippi has named their leadership award after brother Whitten. Each year one graduating brother is selected to receive the award based on his leadership and commitment to the chapter, university, and community.


  1. ^ Billy Hathorn, "Challenging the Status Quo: Rubel Lex Phillips and the Mississippi Republican Party (1963-1967)", The Journal of Mississippi History XLVII, November 1985, No. 4, p. 262
  2. ^ "FDA, farmers still debate the use of antibiotics in animals". Washington Post. Retrieved 14 April 2015.
  3. ^ McKenna, Maryn (2017). Big Chicken. National Geographic. ISBN 9781426217661.
  4. ^ 164 Cong. Rec. S1881 (daily ed. March 21, 2018) (statement of Sen. Durbin)
  5. ^ "Jamie L. Whitten Collection, Series 23: That We May Live" (PDF). University of Mississippi Library and Archives. Retrieved 2019-09-20.
  6. ^ "Histories of the USDA Headquarters Complex Buildings". U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2004. Archived from the original on 2009-04-25. Retrieved 2009-05-10.

External links

U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
Wall Doxey
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Mississippi's 2nd congressional district

Succeeded by
David R. Bowen
Preceded by
Thomas G. Abernethy
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Mississippi's 1st congressional district

Succeeded by
Roger F. Wicker
Honorary titles
Preceded by
George H. Mahon
Dean of the House
Succeeded by
John Dingell
This page was last edited on 17 September 2020, at 22:54
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