Few towns the size of Pekin are home to the collective works of so many outstanding political figures in America’s history.
The Everett McKinley Dirksen Congressional Leadership Research Center in Pekin houses and protects the papers and some possessions of Sen. Everett McKinley Dirksen and Congressmen Robert H. Michel, Ray LaHood and Harold H. Velde. The center also has the collection of former Time Magazine Washington Correspondent Neil MacNeil from the late 1950s to the 1970s. The Dirksen Center has 237 pages of MacNeil’s reporting.
The Dirksen Center has commissioned a new book, “Leading the Republican House Minority: The Congressional Career of Robert H. Michel.” The book highlights Michel’s 38-year career in the House of Representatives, 14 years as of which were as Republican leader.
The Robert H. Michel Retrospective will consist of a series of commissioned essays by congressional scholars in history and political science under the direction of co-editors Frank H. Mackaman and California State University Channel Islands Political Science Professor Sean Q Kelly.
The book will cover Michel’s contributions to the nation’s political history. The essays will be published in book form and on the Robert H. Michel website at www.robertmichel.name. The book will be published next year, according to a Dirksen Center press release.
“What is unusual about this book, unlike the Ray LaHood Memoir, for example, is that we’ve commissioned about a dozen political scientists and historians to write chapters about Bob Michel’s leadership career,” said Mackaman. “So it’s not a biography in the conventional sense.
“So the manuscript has been submitted to the University Press of Kansas. It’s now undergoing blind reviews.”
Mackaman is writing two chapters for the book — one on Michel’s early years and his upbringing in Peoria, his military service, his years at Bradley University, his time as a staff member to Velde, and his first election and first term in Congress; and the last chapter of the book, Michel’s decision to retire. Michel did not seek re-election in the 1994 mid-term elections.
Topics covered by other authors include Michel’s advocacy for President Ronald Reagan’s economic program in 1981 and 1982; his relationship with former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich; his style of leadership, which, said Mackaman, greatly differs from today’s style of Republican leadership; his work on various committees of the House from 1980-1995; and his early leadership career in the 1970s. The book illustrates and explains larger themes such as political polarization, congressional gridlock and leadership dysfunction in the Michel era, said Mackaman.
The Michel book will be listed in the publisher's Spring 2019 catalog.
The MacNeil reporter filings published on the Dirksen Center wesbite at www.dirksencenter.org/macneil_reports_emd.pdf consists of the reporting he sent to his editors in New York before they were published in Time Magazine.
Mackaman, in the future, will be adding a compilation of Neil MacNeil’s reporting on Dirksen from 1957-1969. There will be digital samples of the MacNeil papers, including guides to the entire collection, said Mackaman.
“I’ve gone through that and pulled out every reference he made to Everett Dirksen,” said Mackaman. “It’s fascinating!
“MacNeil is an elegant writer. (He) understood the institution of Congress thoroughly and personally. This is a great contribution, not only to the understanding of Dirksen in the Senate, but also of reporting on Capitol Hill.”
According to a 2008 article in the New York Times, MacNeil, “covered Congress for Time Magazine through seven presidential administrations and was among television’s first Congressional correspondents.” His journalism career started at the New York Times. “He went to Washington in 1949 to report on Congress for the United Press, joined Time in 1958 and stayed until retirement in 1987,” according to the New York Times article.
About the center
The center has more than 200 collections in its historical materials, some, said Mackaman, are less than a cubic foot, “But there are some substantial collections among them — Neil MacNeil’s papers would be one; Harold Velde, who was a member of Congress between Dirksen and Michel is a big collection; Ray LaHood’s papers, which is a substantial collection,” said Mackaman.
“It’s more than Everett Dirksen,” said Mackaman. “We document more than the life and times of Everett Dirksen.”
Mackaman said a future project is to write a piece on Velde to recall his importance. Velde was a Pekin lawyer. He served in the House of Representatives from 1949 to 1957.
“He was a fluke of history,” said Mackaman. “The Republicans captured control of the House of Representatives following, I think, the 1954 elections.
“(Velde) ends up as chairman of the House Un-American Activities Committee, that very controversial committee that looked for communist infiltration in labor unions, education and the entertainment industry, the main three — the witch hunts. So Velde was chairman of HUAC, and we have his papers, so I’m going to write a piece about him eventually.”