John Little McClellan (1896-1977) was a Democratic member of the United States Senate from Arkansas, with service extending from 1943 until his death, He was generally considered a conservative member of his party though he voted to censure his colleague, Joe McCarthy of Wisconsin, in 1954 in opposition to the investigations of communist infiltration of the U.S. government. McClellan is the longest-serving senator in Arkansas history.
A native of Sheridan in Grant County, McClellan was named for former Arkansas Governor John Sebastian Little. He graduated from high school at the age of twelve and studied law in his father's office and was admitted to the Arkansas bar when he was only seventeen. He served during World War I and thereafter practice law in Malvern in Hot Spring County. From 1935 to 1939, McClellan was a member of the United States House of Representatives from Arkansas' since disbanded 6th congressional district. As a House member, he voted against U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt's attempt in 1937 to enlarge the composition of the United States Supreme Court. In 1938, he challenged incumbent Senator Hattie Carraway, but he lost by some eight thousand votes in the Democratic primary. From 1939 to 1943, he practiced law in Camden in Ouachita County, Arkansas. He rebounded politically in 1942 to win his state's other Senate seat, which he held until his death. For much of his tenure, his senatorial colleague was J. William Fulbright of Fayetteville. In 1956, he and Fulbright joined other southern colleagues in signing the Southern Manifesto, which opposed racial integration.
McClellan served as chairman of the Senate Committee on Government Operations for twenty-two years and as chairman of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations for eighteen years. When he became chair in 1955, he hired Robert F. Kennedy as the Committee's chief counsel. McClellan conducted more investigations than any other Senator including in areas such as organized crime, labor racketeering, fraudulent defense contracting, and campus unrest in the 1960s. McClellan's investigation of entrepreneur Billie Sol Estes drew national headlines.
McClellan was the co-author of the 1976 Copyright Act, which was the first revision to that law in many decades.
McClellan rarely faced a serious challenger. He was unopposed in 1966. In his last election in 1972, he defeated U.S. Representative David Pryor, also of Camden, in a closely-contested party primary. McClellan then dispatched a rare Republican challenge from the veterinarian Wayne Babbitt of North Little Rock, a protege of Governor Winthrop Rockefeller. Oddly, Pryor, who was elected governor in 1974 and 1976, named the interim senator in 1977 to succeed his former rival McClellan. Pryor then won the former McClellan seat in the 1978 election.
In 1955, McClellan was a "mystery guest" on the CBS game program What's My Line?.
McClellan suffered many personal tragedies in his life, having lost to death his second wife and his three sons. He is interred at Roselawn Memorial Park in Little Rock.