Joseph Martin Hernon: Historian of Congress, was 70

Historians in the News

Joseph Martin Hernon, a history professor and author of a study of character in the U.S. Senate, has died of cancer in Boston. He was 70.

Mr. Hernon, who died June 29, was a professor of Irish history at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst for more than 25 years. He attracted attention with the publication of his 1996 book "Profiles in Character: Hubris and Heroism in the U.S. Senate, 1789-1990."

"Too much of our history centers on presidencies," he wrote, "yet some senators who served unbroken terms for two or three decades were more politically significant than many presidents."

He contrasted pairs of senators serving in the same era (Hubert Humphrey and Strom Thurmond for the 1950-1990 period) in what Donald Ritchie, then the associate historian of the Senate Historical Office, in a 1997 review in Roll Call called "a sprightly account of the personalities who wielded political power on Capitol Hill."

Before Mr. Hernon taught at UMass, he was Catholic University's most prominent critic in the mid-1960s. He spoke out publicly on several matters, most notably when he claimed that the university refused to hire a professor because he was not Catholic. The university said the candidate was turned down not because of his religion but because he was divorced and remarried....

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