Across the room from the desk in Jim Allen's Senate office there was a picture of his former colleague, Sam Ervin of North Carolina. It was inscribed as follows: "If I had to stand with a man at Armageddon and battle for the Lord, I would hope that man would be Sen. Jim Allen of Alabama, whose industry, intelligence and courage make him one of America's finest public servants of all time."
I thought of those words the other day when I heard the news that Jim Allen was dead. I had said to Allen, when I first read them, "That's an astonishing tribute considering you and Sam don't agree on much."
And Allen had chuckled, "You notice Sam didn't say I was with him. He only says he hopes I would be."
That just about sums up Jim Allen's career in the U.S. Senate. Everybody who was battling for the Lord - and many senators regard themselves as so engaged - hoped to enlist Jim Allen. The reason was that he made the Lord's work so terribly difficult whenever he decided that the Lord didn't understand the facts in the case.
And in order to have time to explain the facts, he became the Senate's chief expert at the tactics of delay. He was by all odds the most skillful parliamentarian in that body, his knowledge of the rules far surpassing that of any of his colleagues.
"I don't think that the country wants a filibuster on the Panama Canal treaties," he confided to me one day not long ago. "But I have a number of amendments to propose."
Indeed, he had more than a hundred amendments ready and was prepared to introduce them one by one, and to debate each. It always took a long time to beat Jim Allen.
He was about the closest thing to what we all think of when we use the phrase "Southern gentleman," and, in that respect, he was the successor to the late Richard B. Russell of Georgia for, like Russell, he could take positions so far to the right as to madden both liberals and moderates, yet take them with such courtesy, such courtliness, as to make it impossible for anybody to stay mad.
When he first came to the Senate, he volunteered frequently to take the presiding officer's chair, a dull and boring job that the vice president is supposed to perform but hardly ever does. So the chore gets passed around from one senator to another as in a family with many children.
Everyone was glad to yield his term of service to the eager freshman from Alabama, and none of them guessed that his purpose was to so master the Senate's rules that he would become very nearly able to master the Senate.
It was a tough regimen he set for himself. Day after day he sat there, guiding the often desultory and dull debate, studying the rules and how to use them against an opponent. By the time he finished, he had become a kind of third force in the Senate. There was the majority leader to negotiate with; the minority leader to negotiate with; and then there was Jim Allen.
Except on the sterling qualities of homemade vanilla ice cream, I don't think there was anything on which Jim Allen and I agreed. But I liked nevertheless to lunch with him because I learned from him what seemed to be very reactionary positions could be very reasonably maintained.
When Allen was a boy, he read all of Calhoun and all of Webster, and it bothered him greatly that Calhoun, whose position he thought unassailable, lost out to the more persuasive Webster.
Allen's mind, like that of Calhoun, was dry, factual, lacking in vision and breadth. But it was very effective and must have reminded many colleagues of that remark of Whitman: "Have you never learned great lessons from those who dispute the passage with you?"