Polonia's child: The public life of Clement J. Zablocki

Stephen Michael Leahy, Marquette University

Abstract

To date, no one has documented the lasting legacies of Clement J. Zablocki's forty-one years of public life. I prepared this biography by consulting Zablocki's political papers on deposit at Marquette University. In addition, I consulted relevant collections at the National Archives, the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, the Milwaukee County Historical Society, and presidential libraries throughout the nation. Several of Zablocki's acquaintances were interviewed. Clement J. Zablocki represented the blue collar, heavily Polish-American South Side of Milwaukee County in the Wisconsin State Senate from 1943 to 1948 and in the House of Representatives from 1949 to 1983. Due to his personal popularity and family connections, the church organist won election to the State Senate in 1942. His desire to purge leftists from the local Democratic Party led to his election to Congress in 1948. In that body, Zablocki defended both mainstream liberal and Catholic interests. His overwhelming popularity made him a power broker in Wisconsin, as he helped elect William Proxmire and Gaylord Nelson to state offices and John F. Kennedy to the presidency. Zablocki helped change the House Foreign Affairs Committee from an insignificant panel to an important power base. An ardent internationalist, Zablocki advocated using foreign aid to foster economic development. He strongly supported the Vietnam War--even to the point of chairing Lyndon B. Johnson's doomed 1968 Wisconsin primary campaign. Realizing that the unpopular Vietnam War threatened his position, Zablocki transformed his image from a militant hawk to an arms control advocate. He later secured the passage of legislation designed to restrain the "Imperial Presidency." Most importantly, he was the primary author of the War Powers Resolution of 1973. In subsequent years, Zablocki sought to maintain presidential flexibility with strict accountability after controversial decisions. In 1977, he became the Foreign Affairs Committee chairman despite strong opposition from the supporters of Israel. He attempted to cooperate with President Jimmy Carter, despite Carter's bungling leadership. From 1981 until Zablocki's death in 1983, President Ronald Reagan used the office of the presidency to circumvent many congressional restrictions authored by Zablocki.

Recommended Citation

Stephen Michael Leahy, "Polonia's child: The public life of Clement J. Zablocki" (January 1, 1994). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. Paper AAI9433781.
http://epublications.marquette.edu/dissertations/AAI9433781

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