Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Theodore R. McKeldin (1900-1974)
MSA SC 3520-1484


The following essay is taken from Frank F. White, Jr., The Governors of Maryland 1777-1970 (Annapolis:  The Hall of Records Commission, 1970), pp. 285-291.

"ON NOVEMBER 7, 1950, Maryland voters elected their fourth Republican governor because of dissatisfaction with the unpopular sales tax, growing dissension within the State’s Democratic Party, and increasing opposition to that party’s long tenure in national office. Theodore Roosevelt McKeldin, the Republican candidate with a large following, was able to capitalize on the people's irritation with the Democrats to win a personal victory. Born on what is today Ostend Street in Baltimore on November 20, 1900, he was the son of James A. McKeldin, a stone cutter turned policeman, and his wife Dora (Grief) McKeldin. After he completed his elementary education in the Baltimore City public schools, he took his high school courses at night at the Baltimore City College while he worked during the day, because of his family’s poor financial circumstances.

"As his first job, McKeldin was employed as an office boy in a bank at a salary of twenty dollars a month. He stayed with the bank for five years, during which time he met Honolulu Manzer, who worked in the bookkeeping department. She taught him how to keep a ledger and they became friends, remaining so even after he left the bank’s employ to work for Alexander Brown and Sons, and later for the Fidelity and Deposit Company. They were married on October 17, 1924 and had two children, one son, Theodore, Jr., and one daughter, Clara Whitney Ziegler.

"McKeldin continued his education by taking his law course at night, at the University of Maryland, where he earned his bachelor of laws degree in 1925. He also won the honors case and the gold key awarded to the prize student. He took graduate work in economics at The Johns Hopkins University, following which he began the practice of law.

"In 1927, McKeldin volunteered his services to William F. Broening, the Republican candidate for Mayor during that year. Having started speaking for pay during his tenure with the Fidelity and Deposit Company, McKeldin built his reputation during this period as a prominent orator during the campaign. After Broening was elected Mayor, McKeldin became his Executive Secretary, a post he held until 1931 when Broening’s term expired. During that four-year period of his life, McKeldin is best [p. 286] remembered for the numerous political speeches he made throughout Baltimore.

"McKeldin went back to his law practice as he had planned in 1931. For the next several years, he was active in politics, making his plans for his first campaign to win public office. This opportunity came in 1939, when he decided to become his party’s candidate for Mayor of Baltimore. In his first try for public office, he was unsuccessful, but he did manage to hold down the usually huge Democratic majority to about 24,000 votes. In 1942, the Republicans persuaded him to oppose incumbent Governor Herbert R. O’Conor. This time McKeldin lost by less than 18,000 votes, in his first unsuccessful bid for the governorship.

"In 1943, McKeldin made his second attempt to become Mayor of Baltimore. In an off-year almost apathetic contest, he was successful, defeating the Democratic incumbent, Howard W. Jackson, by over 20,000 votes.

"McKeldin began his first term as Mayor while World War II was in progress, and as the result, he spent most of his administration in preparing for improvements to be commenced after the war’s end. These included the construction of the Friendship International Airport, the big Patapsco River addition to the city’s water supply system at Liberty Dam, the new tuberculosis wing at the City Hospital, and the construction of the Civic Center in the City Hall area. He also commenced construction on new health centers, and embarked on a school construction program, all of which were designed to improve the city’s physical plant.  He also inaugurated Baltimore’s plan of slum clearance, a scheme which attracted considerable attention throughout the world. During his first administration, McKeldin was responsible for the initiation of several governmental reforms and improvements. Among these was the revision and modernization of the antiquated City Charter, the overhaul of which was long overdue.

"In 1946, McKeldin was for a second time his party’s choice to become Governor of Maryland. As in 1942, he lost again, being defeated by William Preston Lane, Jr., by approximately 47,000 votes, though Maryland did not follow the national lead in switching to Republican leadership for the first time in sixteen years.

"When his first term as Mayor had ended in May of 1947, McKeldin did not seek re-election. Instead, he returned to his law practice, continued his speaking engagements, and prepared for the 1950 gubernatorial election. The year 1950 was one of Republican successes both in Maryland and throughout the nation. In Maryland, the Democrats had engaged in a bruising party primary in which Governor Lane failed to receive a popular majority, even though he had defeated his challenger, George P. Mahoney, in the unit vote. The Democrats were unable to hind up their wounds. McKeldin waged an aggressive campaign against Governor Lane, capitalizing on the unpopular sales tax with its slogan 'pennies for Lane.' Nationally the Democrats were in trouble because of the unpopular Korean War, the issue of communists in the federal govern- [p. 287] ment, and the party’s long tenure in office. All these national issues affected the conduct of the campaign in Maryland. On November 7, 1950, McKeldin defeated Lane by over 93,000 votes, one of the largest majorities any Governor had received up to that time. The Sun described his victory as 'a personal one to an unusual degree.'1 The paper attributed Lane’s defeat primarily to the sales tax 'because it is so ubiquitous; people are reminded of it every day and do not necessarily see—perhaps they do not want to see—the connection between the tax and the benefits received.'2

"McKeldin took office on January 10, 1951, pledging his administration to a program of cost-cutting and ridding the State of what he termed 'wasteful undertakings.'3 He also called for a closer examination of the expansionist plans of the Princess Anne branch of the University of Maryland, and a firmer control over the finances of the University of Maryland. He insisted on a review of Governor Lane’s road-building program and a reorganization of the State government, together with a civilian defense program, new school construction and the improvement of institutions for the mentally defective, the tuberculous and the mentally ill.

"During his two terms, the State made significant advances in many fields. In 1953 he presented his Twelve-Year Program by which Maryland’s highways were to be modernized by 1965. This program also recommended the control of access on new roads, on bypasses around cities and towns, and a study of new toll roads. He also visualized the John Hanson Highway between Washington and Annapolis, the levelling of hazardous mountain roads, the building of beltways around Washington and Baltimore, a tunnel under the Patapsco River and the improvement and dualization of roads in the two metropolitan areas. He financed the program by new bond issues, an increase in the gasoline tax, and an increase in the motor vehicle registration fees. When he left office, many of these projects were a reality, or were well underway, so that for the first time in many years, Maryland had one of the best highway systems in the nation.

"During his first administration, Governor McKeldin appointed the Commission on Administration Organization headed by Simon E. Sobeloff, Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals, to examine the State’s administrative structure and procedures and to make recommendations to increase its economy and efficiency. The Commission submitted a series of reports which recommended the overhaul of the State’s antiquated budget system. more home rule to incorporated municipalities and the improvement of local governmental financial reports to the State. The Legislature subsequently enacted most of the Commission’s proposals.

"Governor McKeldin made other significant accomplishments during his first term. He began the construction of the new State Office Buildings both in Baltimore and Annapolis. He expanded the State system of hospitals, inaugurated advanced methods of treatment for mental illness, tuberculosis and other chronic ailments and established new clinics for alcoholics.

[p. 288] "During his first term, Governor McKeldin received nationwide fame, when at the Republican National Convention held in Chicago in 1952, he delivered the address placing in nomination the name of Dwight D. Eisenhower for President of the United States. Previous to the convention, McKeldin had to quell an attempted party revolt to make sure that General Eisenhower received the bulk of the State’s votes, even though a majority of the delegation favored Senator Robert A. Taft for the nomination. Because of that speech, McKeldin was considered for the vice presidency, but in the end, Senator Richard M. Nixon of California received it.

"In 1954, McKeldin declared his intentions of seeking a second term, which no Republican had been able to win up to that time. In addition, because McKeldin represented a minority party, he had to get along well with the opposition party and to overcome an overwhelmingly Democratic voter registration majority. McKeldin qualified on all these points, even though he had to face the same problems as his Republican predecessors.

"The Democrats meanwhile, again faced party dissension in the primary election. Harry Clifton Byrd, President of the University of Maryland, with whom McKeldin frequently clashed over the University’s appropriations and control over Morgan State College, had long desired to become governor. In 1954, he felt the time was right for him to run.  In the primary, he faced George P. Mahoney, making his third attempt to gain public office, and won the nomination in spite of recounts and lengthy litigation. In the campaign which followed, Byrd was accused of racial intolerance. In addition, the Middle States Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools submitted an unfavorable evaluation report on the University of Maryland which McKeldin requested. When he did not receive it, the University became the central campaign issue, with the Republicans calling Byrd 'a dictatorial and devious administrator.'4 In the general election of November 2, 1954, McKeldin easily defeated Byrd by over 61,000 votes to win re-election. The Sun termed his second victory again 'a personal triumph . . . compounded in part of the folksy low-pressure type of campaigning of which he is a master and in part of satisfaction—or at any rate a lack of real dissatisfaction—with his past performance as governor.'5

"McKeldin began his second term on January 12, 1955, pledging his efforts to strengthening Maryland’s tradition of 'tolerance, brotherhood and human freedom.'6 He devoted most of his second term to the consolidation of the progress and gains he had made during his first term. By 1955, both the nation and Maryland had completed the economic adjustment resulting from the Korean War. McKeldin was free, consequently, to turn his attention to the solution of other pressing problems. Among these was the sponsorship of legislation to create the Patuxent Institution, near Jessup in Howard County, expressing Maryland’s determination to get at the root of one of the more difficult social problems which at that time confronted the nation, that of the treatment of the criminally ill. In [p. 289] addition, the Maryland Port Authority was created in 1956 to administer the physical port facilities of the State, protect and enhance them, and help to develop trade and maritime business. McKeldin also strove for the constant improvement of the educational facilities, hospitals, and training schools.  The result was that by the time his second term had ended, Maryland, according to McKeldin, had 'met the challenge of the 1950’s,' by its 'recovery from the war-necessitated era of neglect which had been inflicted upon the State’s physical plant.'7

"McKeldin’s second term ended on January 14, 1959. Because of a constitutional amendment enacted in 1947, he was ineligible to be a candidate for a third term. By the middle of 1958, the Republican party was in serious trouble because of an economic recession and growing unemployment. In addition, the Democrats in the State, for the first time since the 1946 campaign, presented a united front with their nomination of an unusually popular Comptroller of the Treasury, J. Millard Tawes. This fact together with the normal Democratic registration majority and McKeldin’s inability to transfer his personal popularity to the Republican nominee, James P. S. Devereux, the Marine Corps hero of Wake Island during World War II, spelled disaster for the Maryland Republican Party. In the general election of November 4, 1958, the Republicans were swept from office in landslide proportions. On January 7, 1959, McKeldin delivered his farewell address to the Legislature in which he summarized his administration’s accomplishments. 'Throughout the period the executive branch of the State government has been in the hands of one major party, the legislative branch in the hands of the other. In theory,' he said, 'this could have created a stalemate and the suspension of progress. it did not.'8 On his retirement, The Sun asserted that Maryland would remember McKeldin 'as much for his personality as for his lasting deeds. . . . History should record that Mr. McKeldin gave a creditable performance, overcoming his minority position and achieving a working relationship with a Democratic-controlled Legislature that produced some worthwhile measures.'8

"McKeldin retired from public life, resumed his law practice and his speaking commitments, and continued as Republican National Committeeman. When he was approached to be a candidate for Mayor of Baltimore in 1959, he weighed his candidacy seriously, but after some deliberation, he declined.  In 1963 McKeldin was again approached as a candidate for Mayor. This time, he accepted. After a vigorous campaign, he defeated Philip H. Goodman and was inaugurated for his second term on May 21, 1963. Again his victory was a personal triumph, since he failed to carry into office with him a single Republican candidate for the City Council. Even the newly-elected Comptroller, who ran as a Republican, was an erstwhile Democrat who recently had changed his registration.

"In his second inaugural address as Mayor, McKeldin offered Baltimore new physical improvements. 'Now, in this year of 1963, we find that a Baltimore recently reduced in spirit, to ashes by the smoldering [p. 290] fire of neglect, is once again rising in renewal pride and splendor.' The new building program is 'a proof in mortar and steel that men of foresight and determination are translating the Baltimore spirit of old into a vibrant new hope for tomorrow.'9 McKeldin set as his goals the development of the Inner Harbor area and the construction of a new Municipal Center. McKeldin likened its renewal of that area to 'that revival of that spirit which was Baltimore’s in the days when Charles Carroll was laying the cornerstone of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, when the famous Baltimore Clipper ships were sailing the seven seas, and when Pratt and Peabody were accumulating the money that, planted in the cultural life of the city, was to blossom in music and art and learning.'10 'The people of Baltimore,' commented The Sun, 'are more than ready to respond to a personal call in restoring Baltimore’s formerly gracious qualities.'11

"In the area of civil rights, McKeldin achieved some noteworthy success.  He was instrumental in the passage of a bill directed at insuring equal opportunities in employment, education, accommodations, housing and welfare. Because of this bill, Baltimore was able to escape the bulk of the racial disorders which swept the larger cities of the nation between 1964 and 1967. This law was termed 'the most sweeping package of civil rights legislation enacted at one time by any major municipality within this nation.'12 When his term ended, McKeldin said that he believed 'our city is well in the forefront in the sensitive areas of race and community relations.'13

"McKeldin also continued the war on poverty.  He was instrumental in the establishment of some twenty-odd neighborhood service units so that Baltimore was one of the first cities to implement the anti-poverty program through the establishment of a community action commission. When his term ended on December 5, 1967, he retired a second time from public life and resumed his law practice.

"McKeldin supported Lyndon B. Johnson for the Presidency in 1964. Because of the growing friendship between the two, Johnson appointed him as one of a group of twenty Americans who went to Vietnam in the fall of 1967 to observe that country’s elections. President Johnson also named McKeldin to an interim position on the Indian Claims Commission, but the Senate failed to confirm his nomination. President Nixon withdrew his name shortly after he took office in 1969, and nominated a replacement.

"At Governor Mandel’s request, McKeldin represented Maryland at the funeral of former President Dwight D. Eisenhower in March 1969. Paving tribute to the man he nominated in 1952, McKeldin termed him a great military leader as well as a statesman who 'was deluded more than once, but never did any delusion shake the trust of the people. Somehow they [p. 291] sensed the truth that when he made a mistake it arose invariably from bad advice, never from a bad heart, never because he placed his personal interest ahead of the good of the nation. . . .'14

"He and Mrs. McKeldin make their home in Baltimore where he continues to practice law, to fulfill his numerous speaking engagements, and occasionally undertake assignments both for the State as well as for the nation."

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