Time Capsule: American Party Candidate Calls Jimmy Carter ‘A Wild Man’

The American Party’s Thomas J. Anderson called Democratic presidential nominee Jimmy Carter “a wild man and phony” on this day in 1976.

Speaking at a news conference in Merrillville, Indiana, the 64-year-old Anderson — a longtime member of the John Birch Society and one of nearly a dozen independent and minor-party presidential hopefuls in the year of America’s Bicentennial — also took a swipe at President Gerald R. Ford, calling the Republican incumbent “a fumbler at best.”

Anderson, who appeared on the ballot in eighteen states that autumn and received write-in votes in several others, acknowledged that he had little chance of winning the White House, telling reporters in the Hoosier State that the real objective of his long-shot candidacy was to call the country back to the ideals on which it was founded.

Promising to “turn this country around,” the longtime farm magazine publisher and right-wing author from the small tourist town of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, had been nominated at his party’s national convention in Salt Lake City a few months earlier, easily defeating a crowded field that included Baptist preacher Billy Bowler and imprisoned tax protestor Marvin Cooley, both of Arizona.

Described as “a modern-day Will Rogers,” Anderson had a marvelous sense of humor.  “Abortion is murder and I’m against it,” he told a cheering crowd of more than 260 delegates in accepting his party’s nomination earlier that summer, “but Henry Kissinger makes me wish birth control were retroactive.”

Rufus E. Shackelford, a millionaire tomato grower from Wauchula, Florida, who owned his own plane and promised to spend lavishly on behalf of the American Party ticket, was named as Anderson’s vice-presidential running mate.  Operating extensively in California, Florida and Texas, Shackelford was believed to be the largest tomato grower in the United States.

Don L. Lee of Indianapolis, a 36-year-old auto worker who was waging his second campaign for the U.S. Senate, also participated in the Merrillville press conference on October 1 and — like Anderson — took a few barbs at his major-party opponents, incumbent Democrat Vance Hartke and Republican challenger Dick Lugar.

“If Hartke had been around when there were stage coaches,” declared Lee, “he would have subsidized them.”  Lugar, he added, was “nothing more than a corporate socialist.”

Lee, who died of accidental carbon monoxide poisoning about a year after the 1976 election, had polled more than 49,000 votes as the American Party’s U.S. Senate nominee in 1974.

Fighting over the remnants of George Wallace’s third-party movement, the ultra-conservative Anderson found himself competing against the American Independent Party’s Lester Maddox, the scrappy and colorful former governor of Georgia, for ballot lines and publicity throughout the summer and fall of 1976.

Though conservatives envisioned the party that grew out of Wallace’s 1968 third-party candidacy as a permanent structure to offer a serious alternative to the Democrats and Republicans, the weak bond holding the American and American Independent parties together became unglued in December 1972, shortly after California’s William K. Shearer lost a floor fight to Anderson for the party’s national chairmanship at a convention in Dallas.

By the autumn of 1973, the split had become irreparable, with the two factions effectively evolving into two separate parties. 

During the 1976 campaign, both organizations claimed to be the party that delivered more than a million votes for lame duck congressman John G. Schmitz in the 1972 presidential election.  Anderson had been Schmitz’s vice-presidential running mate in that contest.

A past president of the American Agricultural Editors Association and recipient of the Liberty Award of the Congress of Freedom every year since its inception, Anderson insisted that he was the only serious conservative in the 1976 race and accused Maddox of running solely to make life miserable for fellow Georgian Jimmy Carter, his longtime nemesis.

While Maddox managed to grab headlines by engaging in such antics as offering “Jimmy Carter” sandwiches consisting of “a little bit of peanut butter and a lot of bologna” in the suburban Atlanta restaurant that he owned, Anderson complained bitterly that his own candidacy was being ignored by the mainstream media.

When all the votes were counted, the conservative publisher finished sixth nationally with 160,773 votes, approximately 10,000 votes behind his better-known rival from Georgia. 

Anderson may have had the last laugh, however, when he finished ahead of his American Independent Party rival in Maddox’s home state of Georgia, garnering 1,168 write-in votes to a mere 1,097 cast for the former governor.

6 Comments

  1. Mr. Tom Anderson is not and has not been affiliated with the John BIrch Society
    for over a decade. Your reporter needs to get the facts right and not sensationalize the reporting.

    Lionel Terzi
    Tri-State Coordinator, John Birch Society

  2. Darcy G. Richardson says:

    There is nothing sensational about this story. At the time of his 1976 candidacy — the period covered in the above “Time Capsule” — Mr. Anderson had been a longtime member of the John Birch Society and, in fact, had served on its council for a number of years.

    Moreover, Mr. Anderson passed away more than ten years ago, so you’re right in asserting that he is not currently affiliated with the JBS — something that was never suggested in the article.

  3. Lionel Terzi’s comment is typical of the way the Birch Society attempts to suppress factual data about JBS history.

    What Mr. Terzi does not mention is that Tom Anderson was an important member of the JBS National Council — the purported governing body of the JBS.

    Furthermore, Mr. Anderson frequently spoke at JBS events and he was a major participant in JBS policy-making discussions for a very long period of time.

    Lastly, although the JBS never wants to acknowledge this, Mr. Anderson was a life-long segregationist who believed that African Americans were inferior beings. Several other JBS National Council members were also segregationists — such as T. Coleman Andrews (VA), Dr. Thomas Parker (SC), A.G. Heinsohn (TN). In addition, many prominent JBS members were involved in the White Citizens Councils movement and several were major officers of the Citizens Councils.

    The following reports present a factual summary of what the JBS believes and they include scanned copies of FBI documents plus personal correspondence by JBS officials.

    FBI FILES ON BIRCH SOCIETY AND ITS ASSERTIONS:
    This 197-page report explains why J. Edgar Hoover and senior FBI officials within the Bureau’s Domestic Intelligence Division concluded in FBI memos that the JBS was “extremist”, “irrational” and “irresponsible”
    http://sites.google.com/site/ernie124102/jbs-1

    CONSERVATIVE CRITICS OF ROBERT WELCH and BIRCH SOCIETY:
    Contrary to claims made by the Birch Society about the alleged “left-wing” origins of JBS criticism, the most potent adverse comments about the JBS have always originated from the right-side of the political spectrum. This report presents a representative sample of such comments.
    http://sites.google.com/site/ernie124102/jbs-4

    DOCUMENTARY HISTORY OF THE JOHN BIRCH SOCIETY:
    This report presents documents which, generally, have never been previously publicly available — including private correspondence between Robert Welch and numerous individuals and correspondence by JBS National Council members during the formative years of the Birch Society. This report is a work-in-progress and considerable new material will be added over the next few months.
    https://sites.google.com/site/ernie1241/Home

  4. The JBS always touted Tom Anderson as one of its more prestigious COUNCIL members. Rightfully so, I might add: he was an influencial spokesman in the 50s/60s for conservatives, inside and out of the John Birch Society.
    Mr. Terzi, if you really are a Birch Society employee, you don’t seem to have a good grasp of your organization’s history … nor of its current publications. See this prominent item on the JBS’s website:

    http://www.jbs.org/commentary/it-s-time-to-stop-the-trashing-of-america

    • Peter Gemma is, of course, correct in his observations.

      In April 1964, JBS founder Robert Welch asked Tom Anderson to become Southern District Governor for the Birch Society. Anderson declined — but Anderson was certainly one of the most important figures in JBS history.

      If one reviews the private correspondence between Robert Welch and JBS National Council members during the 1960’s and 1970’s which is archived at various colleges and universities, it is self-evident that Welch corresponded with Anderson more than with almost any other National Council member.

      Anderson was also one of the few JBS National Council members who was listed on the Birch Society’s “American Opinion Speakers Bureau” roster.

  5. I studied a lot about Tom Anderson and the old American Party of that time.

    Tom and a few others that were part of the extreme faction in the JBS ruined the American Party because they both thought the party had to be more “pure” in its views and not extreme enough for their taste. They also didn’t like the Blue-Collar populist elements left over from the Wallace campaign in the AP (Which one William K. Shearer was a part of), and sought to purge these elements from the AP, which resulted in the split.

    Tom Anderson is a moronic bastard that destroyed, what could’ve been a permanent third party on the American political landscape, and his “American Party” is very much defunct and dead now.

    Amen.

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