The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers


Jacob Koppel Javits (1904-1986)

Jacob K. Javits, a liberal Republican who represented New York in the Senate from 1957 to 1981, was born to Jewish, immigrant parents in a tenement in New York City's Lower East Side. Working part-time during the day, he attended night school at Columbia University and then earned a law degree from New York University Law School. In 1927, he and his brother, Benjamin Javits, formed a law firm, Javits and Javits, specializing in bankruptcy cases and suits by minority stockholders.
Javits joined the Ivy Republican Club in 1932 and began his political career by actively supporting the reform agenda of New York City Mayor Fiorello La Guardia. As a young man, Javits had been appalled by political corruption brought about by Tammany Hall, the Democratic political machine for which his father worked. As a result, he rejected Democratic party politics, joined the Republican party and backed the mayor's reform efforts and pro-New Deal policies.
In 1946, after returning from four years combat service with the U.S. Army's Chemical Warfare Department, Javits became the first Republican to represent the heavily Democratic Twenty-first Congressional District in twenty three years. A liberal Republican in the tradition of Theodore Roosevelt, Javits championed federal responsibility for social welfare programs, insisted that business and government cooperate to improve the economy, and supported the creation of a Jewish homeland in Israel and strengthening the Marshall Plan.
In 1954, largely because of his ability to attract votes from a broad base of support, Javits defeated Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jr. to become state attorney general. In 1956, he defeated New York City Mayor Robert F. Wagner, Jr. to begin a twenty-four year career in the U.S. Senate. As the spokesman for the liberal Republican agenda, Javits wielded considerable influence in both domestic and foreign policy. He was a leader in civil rights legislation, supported Johnson's Great Society legislation, helped write the Pension Reform Act of 1974, helped create the Public Service Jobs Program, and supported legislation to provide for child care, bilingual education, and federal aid to education. A fierce critic of American involvement in Vietnam during both the Johnson and Nixon administrations, he sponsored the War Powers Act limiting presidential control over military decisions. His temperate position on Watergate led to a narrow reelection in 1974. He spent his last term concentrating on foreign issues, especially the crisis in the Middle East and helped President Jimmy Carter arrange the Camp David discussions between Israel and Egypt. In 1980 conservative Republicans nominated Alfonse D'Amato, forcing Javits to campaign on the Liberal party ticket.
After his defeat, Javits remained active in the political arena. A recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, he died in 1986 in Palm Beach, Florida.
Sources: American National Biography Online. Internet on-line. Available From http://www.anb.org; Kenneth T. Jackson, ed., The Encyclopedia of New York City (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995), pp. 614, 651; Dennis Kavanagh, ed., A Dictionary of Political Biography: Who's Who in Twentieth Century World Politics (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), pp. 241-242.