Biographical Sketch

William “Bill” Moore McCulloch was born on November 24, 1901 near Holmesville in Holmes County, Ohio to James H. and Ida M. McCulloch.  Raised on his family’s farm, McCulloch attended the local public schools, and then graduated from the College of Wooster in nearby Wooster, Ohio.  In June 1925, he received a law degree from The Ohio State University College of Law and passed his bar examination in August.  After obtaining his license to practice law, McCulloch moved to Jacksonville, Florida, but returned to Piqua, Ohio in 1928 and established a law firm with George Berry.  On November 8, 1927, McCulloch married Mabel Harris in Covington, Kentucky.  The couple had two daughters, Nancy Jane McCulloch and Ann McCulloch Carver.

In 1932, William McCulloch entered the political arena as a member of the Republican Party when he won the first of six subsequent elections to the Ohio House of Representatives.  He served as Minority Leader from 1936 through 1938.  In 1939, he was elected Speaker of the Ohio House.  McCulloch served three terms as Speaker, during which time he was instrumental in passing balanced budgets for Ohio at a time when the state still struggled with the effects of the Great Depression.

McCulloch left the Ohio General Assembly in December 1943 and enlisted in the U.S. Army during World War II.  He served twenty months in the army as a captain in the Military Government Forces in Europe.

Returning to his law practice in Piqua following the end of the war, McCulloch joined the 80th Congress in November 1947 by winning a special election held to fill the vacancy in the 4th Ohio Congressional District caused by the resignation of Robert F. Jones.  Located in west-central Ohio during McCulloch’s time in office, the 4th Ohio Congressional District included the counties of Allen, Hardin, Mercer, Auglaize, Darke, Shelby, Miami, Preble and a part of Montgomery.  Predominately rural in nature, the district is noted for containing some of the most fertile soil in the Midwest.  The district also was home to many small to midsized businesses and manufacturers, mainly located in the county seat towns of Lima, Piqua, Troy, and Sidney.

Beginning in 1948, McCulloch won twelve succeeding elections without serious opposition by candidates from the Democratic Party.  Over this twenty-four year time period he averaged 64.3 percent of the votes cast.  His largest margin of victory was 70.3 percent in 1962, but it dropped to a low of 55.7 percent in 1964 following his pivotal role in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  McCulloch rebounded by winning 63.6 percent of the vote in 1966 and ran unopposed in 1968.  Due to ill health, McCulloch declined to run for reelection in 1972 and retired from Congress on January 3, 1973.

From January 1959 until his retirement, William McCulloch served as the ranking Republican member on the House Judiciary Committee.  He also held seats on the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, the Joint Committee on Immigration and National Policy, and the Select Committee on Small Business.  In conjunction with his committee assignments, he was a Congressional member to the Intergovernmental Commission on European Migration, attending many of the commission’s meetings in Geneva, Switzerland. 

Although a political conservative who believed in smaller government and continually criticized federal spending programs, William McCulloch’s years in Congress are best known for the central role he played in the historic civil rights legislation enacted into law during the 1960s.  He firmly supported President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s 1957 and 1960 civil rights bills, and from his leadership position on the House Judiciary Committee he introduced his own civil rights bill in January 1963.  Later that year, in reaction to a series of racial incidents in the South, President John F. Kennedy proposed a wide-ranging civil rights bill designed to end segregation in education, voting, and public accommodations.  Faced with stiff opposition from the Democratic South, Kennedy required the support of the Republican Party in order to pass the bill through Congress.

Accordingly, the president sent Assistant Attorney General Burke Marshall to meet with William McCulloch to solicit the congressman’s support.  McCulloch agreed to back the bill in the House Judiciary Committee and later on the House floor under two conditions.  First, the bill must be perceived as a strictly bipartisan measure, with both parties claiming equal credit for its passage.  Secondly, and most importantly, the Kennedy administration must agree not to drop key provisions in the bill in order to get it passed through the Senate.  McCulloch had faced a similar situation with the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960 when amendments brought forth by Southern Democrats in the Senate significantly weakened this legislation. 

After President Kennedy agreed to these terms, McCulloch joined with Emanuel Celler (D-NY), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, in successfully managing the bill through the House, securing its passage in February 1964.  Due to President Kennedy’s pledge, during the Senate debate on the bill every proposed amendment brought before the Senate had to be first cleared by McCulloch.  As a consequence, during the Senate debate McCulloch, even though he was a House member, became known as the “Czar of the Senate.”  The result was a strengthened bill that added a provision prohibiting employment discrimination.  Another provision provided the means for the U.S. Attorney General to become involved in discrimination cases filed by individuals.  The Senate passed the bill on June 19, 1964. 

When the revised bill returned to the House for a final vote before being sent to President Lyndon B. Johnson, McCulloch received a rare standing ovation and a round of floor speeches in recognition of his leadership.  President Johnson publicly recognized McCulloch as "the most important and powerful force" in the enactment of the bill.  President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law on July 2, 1964, the one-year anniversary of Burke Marshall’s initial visit with McCulloch.

The following year, William McCulloch was instrumental in the passage of another major piece of civil rights legislation, the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  McCulloch, who once pointed to this bill as his proudest legislative achievement, successfully defied attempts by President Richard Nixon and Attorney General John Mitchell to significantly weaken the bill when it came up for extension during the 91st Congress in 1969-1970. 

From his seat on the House Judiciary Committee, William McCulloch also proposed and helped pass major crime bills, including the Electronic Surveillance Control Act of the 1967 and the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968.  In addition, he took an active interest in Electoral College reform, legislative reapportionment, and in legislation aimed to strengthen the federal judiciary. 

In July 1967, in recognition of McCulloch’s expertise in race relations and his commitment to strong anti-crime laws, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed McCulloch to the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (Kerner Commission).  The president charged the 11-member commission with investigating the causes of the race riots afflicting the nation over the previous three years and to provide recommendations to prevent riots in the future.  Following the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, Johnson again selected McCulloch to serve on the Presidential Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence (Eisenhower Commission).

Following ratification of the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1967, which clarifies the succession to the Presidency, McCulloch was one of four members of Congress honored for their work in the amendment’s writing and passage.  Other significant honors and recognitions William McCulloch received during and after his career in public service include the following.

  • Industrial Union Department of the AFL-CIO Award for “approving the most far-reaching civil rights legislation of the past 100 years,” 1964
  • American Political Science Association Distinguished Service Award, 1964
  • Council for United Civil Rights Leadership Award, 1964
  • Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Award, 1964
  • State of Ohio Governor’s Award, 1971
  • American Bar Association Special Award for Distinguished Public Service, 1972
  • Americans for Constitutional Action Distinguished Service Award, 1972
  • Ohio State University Most Distinguished Alumnus Award, 1972
  • American Civil Liberties Union Award, 1974

William M. McCulloch died in Washington, DC on February 22, 1980.  He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

A constitutional lawyer, the following quote best illustrates William McCulloch’s political philosophy.  It is an excerpt from his floor statement on October 12, 1971 supporting passage of the Equal Rights Amendment as amended by the House Judiciary Committee.

We are a nation of many people and views.  In such a nation, the prime purpose of a legislator, from wherever he may come, is to accommodate the interests, desires, wants, and needs of all our citizens.  To alienate some in order to satisfy others is not only a disservice to those we alienate, but a violation of the principles of our Republic. Lawmaking is the reconciliation of divergent views.  In a democratic society like ours, the purpose of representative government is to soften tension – reduce strife – while enabling groups and individuals to more nearly obtain the kind of life they wish to live. 

The function of Congress is not to convert the will of the majority into law, rather its function is to hammer out on the anvil of public debate a compromise between polar positions acceptable to a majority.