Harlan Mathews

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Harlan Mathews
Senator Harlan Mathews (D-TN).jpg
United States Senator
from Tennessee
In office
January 2, 1993 – December 1, 1994[1]
Appointed byNed McWherter
Preceded byAl Gore
Succeeded byFred Thompson
Deputy to the Governor of Tennessee
In office
January 1987 – January 1993
GovernorNed McWherter
Succeeded byJim Kennedy
38th Tennessee State Treasurer
In office
March 31, 1974 – January 1987
Preceded byThomas A. Wiseman, Jr.
Succeeded bySteve Adams
Commissioner of Finance and Administration
In office
Personal details
Born(1927-01-17)January 17, 1927
Sumiton, Alabama, U.S.
DiedMay 9, 2014(2014-05-09) (aged 87)
Nashville, Tennessee, U.S.
Resting placeHarpeth Hills Cemetery, Nashville, Tennessee
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)Pat Jones
ChildrenStanley Mathews
Lester Mathews
Richard Mathews
Alma materJacksonville State University
Vanderbilt University
Military service
Allegiance United States
Branch/serviceUnited States Navy
Years of service1944–1946

Harlan Mathews (January 17, 1927 – May 9, 2014) was a Democratic United States Senator from Tennessee from 1993 to 1994. He had previously served in the executive and legislative branches of state government in Tennessee for over 40 years beginning in 1950.[3]

Early life and education[edit]

Harlan Mathews was a native of Walker County, Alabama. He was born January 17, 1927 in Sumiton, Alabama, the son of John William Mathews and Lillian (Young) Mathews. In 1944, after high school, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and served until 1946. Returning to Alabama, he graduated from Jacksonville State College (now Jacksonville State University) with a B.A. degree in 1949.[3]:404

He came to Nashville and obtained a master's degree in public administration from Vanderbilt University in 1950.[5]:41 He began work on Governor Gordon Browning's planning staff. When Frank G. Clement was elected in 1954 Mathews moved to the state's budget staff. A year after beginning his service as Commissioner of Finance and Administration in 1961, he completed his law degree in 1962 from the YMCA Night Law School, now Nashville School of Law.[2][3]:404

Early political career[edit]

Mathews joined Tennessee state government in 1950,[5] becoming part of the staff of the governor of Tennessee, successively serving governors Gordon Browning, Frank G. Clement, and Buford Ellington. In 1961 he was named to the Cabinet as Commissioner of Finance and Administration, a position he held until 1971.

With the accession to office of Republican Winfield Dunn in January 1971, Mathews left the Cabinet and entered the private sector for two years, working for Amcon International in Memphis.[5] In 1973 he became the legislative assistant to the longtime Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury, Bill Snodgrass. In 1974 he was elected state treasurer by the Tennessee General Assembly when his predecessor, Tom Wiseman, resigned to run for governor. The Tennessee General Assembly elected him to his first full two-year term as treasurer in 1975,[5] and he served in this office until January 1987, when he became deputy to the newly elected governor, Ned R. McWherter.

U.S. Senate[edit]

Mathews served as deputy to the governor until January 1993. Al Gore, who had been Tennessee's junior Senator since 1985, was elected Vice President of the United States as Bill Clinton's running mate in November 1992, and resigned his position as Senator in preparation for his inauguration as Vice President on January 20, 1993. McWherter then appointed his deputy as Gore's successor in the Senate.

From the beginning, it was understood that Mathews' role in the Senate would be one of caretaker; he had no ambition of running for election to the Senate.[6] The appointment served two purposes; firstly, to reward a longtime government insider who had served his state and his party faithfully for many years, largely out of view of the general public, and secondly, to allow McWherter to remain above the fray in the scramble to succeed Gore in the Senate and not identify himself with any particular party faction.

Mathews' service in the Senate was of a decidedly low-key nature; he largely supported the Democratic agenda of President Clinton and the then-majority in the Senate. The passion for the contest for the Democratic senatorial nomination to succeed him was quelled somewhat when it became apparent that the Republican nominee would be attorney and prominent actor Fred Thompson. The highest-profile Democrat to enter the primary was Representative Jim Cooper, who was the eventual nominee and lost to Thompson in a landslide.[citation needed]

Thompson was sworn into office in December 1994 in order to give him a slight advantage in seniority over other Senators elected in that year, as is traditionally done when someone is elected to the balance of an unexpired term. Mathews left office as quietly as he had served in it and then practiced law in Nashville, Tennessee.


Mathews died of brain cancer on May 9, 2014 at a hospice in Nashville.[7] He is survived by his wife, Pat Mathews and two sons. A third son, Richard Mathews, had preceded him in death.[2]


  • United States Congress. "Harlan Mathews (id: M000236)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.
  • Tennessee Blue Book, 2001-02 Edition
  1. ^ https://www.senate.gov/states/TN/senators.htm#
  2. ^ a b c Cass, Michael (May 9, 2014). "Former U.S. Sen. and Deputy Gov. Harlan Mathews dies". The Tennessean. Retrieved May 11, 2014.
  3. ^ a b c d Langsdon, Phillip (2000). Tennessee: A Political History. Hillsboro Press. ISBN 978-1577361251.
  4. ^ Tennessee Blue Book 1987-1988. Nashville, Tennessee: Secretary of State. 1987. pp. v.
  5. ^ a b c d Harlan Mathews, State Treasurer, Tennessee Blue Book 1975-1978
  6. ^ Gore's Senate replacement named
  7. ^ CAVENDISH, Steve (May 9, 2014). "Former Senator Harlan Mathews Dies at 87". Retrieved May 11, 2014.

External Links[edit]

U.S. Senate
Preceded by
Al Gore
U.S. Senator (Class 2) from Tennessee
Served alongside: Jim Sasser
Succeeded by
Fred Thompson