Decatur, Illinois, Sunday, June 5, 1977 DECATUR SUNDAY HERALD AND REVIEW Championed Agriculture Throughout Career Adkins Rode to Washington on Tenant Farmer Status By Don Brilley Charles Adkins was a U.S. congressman representing Decatur who remembered his roots. He lived his entire life in the midst of farmers and doggedly doggedly fought for their interests on Capitol Hill. Adkins was in Washington from 1924 to 1932, during the bleakest years of the Great Depression. Previously he had served three terms as a state legislator and one stint as speaker speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives. Representatives. Born the eldest of 13 children rear Mount Sterling, Ohio, on FeK . 6, 1863, Adkins soon learned the rigors of farm life in a nation torn by civil war. Vhen his father died 19 years later, the challenge Adkins faced became more formidable. formidable. As head of the family, Adkins wag. responsible for determining determining what type of life they would lead. Adkins gave up his job as a rural school teacher and Ohio farmer to move his family to Piatt County in Illinois, which he felt had more fertile farmland. farmland. Three years later, Adkins married the belle of Piatt County Dora E. Farrow and success seemed to be within within his reach. I ' - w- w- ' ' r .. ! WwwwalM ataEx x Ami.iitirrr Charles Adkins Decatur Diary Within a few short years he was a tenant farmer of more than 500 acres. Using his farming success as a political springboard, Adkins was first elected to county offices. offices. In his early speeches, the fu-t fu-t fu-t u r e congressman proudly claimed that his family got its first adequate supply of bed clothing with $100 he won for raising the best 100 acres of corn in the county. Adkins served his township as supervisor and was later Piatt County Board chairman. He also was a member of the local school board. Adkins found himself in Springfield a few years later, representing Champaign, Piatt and Moultrie counties in the General Assembly. He had campaigned primarily primarily against fellow Republican Julius N. Rodman on the assertion assertion that a tenant farmer was better qualified to represent an agricultural district than a landowner. landowner. Once in the state capital, Adkins Adkins quickly gained the attention attention and respect of his fellow legislators. He became the first tenant farmer ever elected speaker of the House when he won that post as a result of a compromise compromise in 1911. His friendship with U.S. Rep. William B. McKinley is alleged to have been the deciding factor factor in the resolution of great in-traparty in-traparty in-traparty fighting that year. McKinley, without doubt the dominant Republican power in Central Illinois at the time, was close to Adkins because of their shared belief that the railroad system was of vital interest to the area and because of their opposition to highway construction. construction. Nationwide Democratic victories victories in 1912 sidelined Adkins politically for four years. He attempted a return to public life in 1916 when he announced his candidacy for governor. Director of Agriculture He later withdrew from that race and was rewarded by Gov.-elect Gov.-elect Gov.-elect Frank Lowden with an appointment as state director director of agriculture. The primary function of the agriculture director at the time was to oversee the operation of the Illinois State Fair. Adkins had expanded his influence influence in Illinois agricultural and farming circles in 1915 when he was elected president of the Illinois Livestock Breeder's Breeder's Association. Nine years later Adkins once again was elected to public office, office, claiming agricultural expertise expertise as his main qualification. qualification. Adkins represented the 19th U.S. Congressional District, which was composed of Champaign, Coles, Douglas, Shelby, Piatt, Moultrie, DeWitt and Macon counties. While in Washington, Adkins was prominent in the study and promotion of agricultural legislation. legislation. He was a leading proponent proponent of the McNary-Haugen McNary-Haugen McNary-Haugen farm bill. Also a staunch supporter of President Herbert C. Hoover, Adkins cast one of the two votes against giving surplus wheat to poverty-stricken poverty-stricken poverty-stricken Americans during the Depression. Depression. "When the government goes into direct relief work," Adkins explained, "it is starting something something it can never quit." Urged Tariff Legislation Adkins claimed adequate tariff tariff legislation would solve the problems of the depressed American agricultural economy. economy. He also characterized himself himself "as dry as dust" on the Prohibition issue. It was a Democratic landslide landslide in 1932 (20 years after an earlier thrashing had driven him from politics) that retired Adkins and President Hoover from public office. It hardly upset Adkins. He prepared to leave Washington and its vigorous activity for a quiet home in Decatur. "I'm just a lame duck pig stopper from Illinois" he was quoted as saying during one of his last days on Capitol Hill.