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William L. Spicer

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William Leach Spicer

Chairman of the
Arkansas Republican Party
In office
Preceded by Ben C. Henley
Succeeded by John Paul Hammerschmidt

Born October 10, 1918
Yell County
Arkansas, USA
Died September 23, 1991
Spouse(s) Freda Cowell Spicer (died 1983)
Children David Spicer

Michael Spicer
Sarah Spicer

Residence Fort Smith, Arkansas
Occupation Businessman:
Owner of a chain of drive-in theaters
Religion United Methodist

William Leach Spicer (October 10, 1918 – September 23, 1991),[1] a businessman from Fort Smith, Arkansas, was from 1962 to 1964 the embattled state chairman of the Arkansas Republican Party. Originally supported for the position by Winthrop Rockefeller, Spicer soon broke with Rockefeller, the party's key financial backer, over matters of policy issues and party function. Spicer declined to seek reelection, but he had resisted intraparty calls that he resign before his term end in August 1964. He also suggested that he could support then Governor Orval E. Faubus, a Democrat against Rockefeller's gubernatorial bid in 1964, but he remained committed to Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater of Arizona, who supported Winthrop Rockefeller supporter.[2]


Spicer was born in Herring in Yell County in west central Arkansas, the only child of William Jacob Spicer (1893-1979), a Methodist minister for sixty-four years, and the former Ora Leach (1896-1989). The parents married in 1917 in Logan County, Arkansas.[1] William J. and Ora Spicer are interred at Oak Hill Memorial Cemetery in Booneville in Logan County.[3]

Spicer's paternal grandparents were Monroe Moses Spicer (1876-1926) and the former Delia C. Cummings (1873-1957); they are interred at Stony Point Cemetery in Logan County.[4][5]

In the 1930 census, Spicer was living with his parents in Woodruff County in eastern Arkansas.[1] In the 1940 census, Spicer, then twenty-one, was listed as residing still with his parents in Wynne in Cross County, also in eastern Arkansas, where his father, then forty-six, was a pastor.[6]

In 1946, Spicer married the former Freda Cowell in Sydney in New South Wales, Australia, possibly while having been on military duty during World War II. The couple had three children, David, Michael, and Sarah Spicer. Mrs. Spicer died in Australia in 1983.[7]

The owner of a chain of drive-in theaters, Spicer in 1956 challenged the incumbent Democrat James William Trimble of Berryville for Arkansas' 3rd congressional district seat and received 34,318 votes (38.7 percent) to Trimble's 54,281 (61.3 percent). Spicer carried Newton and Searcy counties, once the most Republican of Arkansas counties, but he lost his own Sebastian County, in which he polled 46.7 percent. Spicer finished six percentage points behind the 1952 Republican congressional candidate, John H. "Jack" Joyce, an attorney from Fayetteville and a fighter pilot in World War II who in that campaign opposed the continuation of the Korean War.[8][9]

Spicer's fellow Republican, Ben C. Henley, a lawyer from Harrison in Boone County in northwestern Arkansas, ran that year against U.S. Senator J. William Fulbright but finished with only 17 percent of the votes cast.[10]

Spicer as chairman

When Ben Henley, stepped down in 1962 as the state Republican chairman, Rockefeller publicly endorsed Spicer for the position. At the time Spicer faced opposition in the central committee from Henry M. Britt of Hot Springs, the party's 1960 gubernatorial nominee, an attorney, and later a state court judge. Upon his election as chairman in a bid for party unity, Spicer named Britt as the Republican general counsel. Though in the 1950s, Spicer and Britt had supported Dwight D. Eisenhower, by 1963 they were early backers of Barry Goldwater, who would enter the race for the 1964 Republican presidential nomination. Spicer called himself a "conservative Republican. I am opposed to socialism and these liberal pinkos in every form and fashion."[11]

Spicer and Britt expected to control federal patronage through the state party committee, and both were unwilling to cede authority to Rockefeller, who had been since 1961 the state's Republican national committeeman. Within months of his becoming chairman, Spicer was engaged in bitter attacks on the character, power, and politics of Winthrop Rockefeller. The cause of the disagreement between and the Spicer-Britt forces was related to both partronage and differences in party philosophy. Spicer wanted Rockefeller's party-building activities to be coordinated through what he called the "state organization."[12]

Spicer particularly quarreled with Rockefeller's paid assistant Everett Ham. According John L. Ward, a Rockefeller biographer,[13] Ham "could be -- and frequently was -- quite heavy-handed, excusing it in the name of building a two-party system. Ham knew how to roll heads, and he did it. You could go with Rockefeller, or get out of the way. The old mossback Republicans did neither."[14] There was hence constant feuding in 1963-1964. Ham derided the intraparty rivals as "Post Office Republicans" who concentrated on local patronage over the rigors of running political campaigns in a one-party state.[15] As the tensions with Ham escalated, Spicer wrote Rockefeller to request that Ham be placed in another position in Rockefeller's organization, one in which Ham would not clash with Spicer. William Spicer also feuded with Marion Burton, an attorney from North Little Rock hired by Rockefeller to act as Spicer's own and unwanted executive assistant.[16]

In 1963, Spicer wrote to George Hinman, the Republican national committeeman from New York State, a friend of both Winthrop and Nelson A. Rockefeller, the New York governor who was challenging Goldwater for the presidential nomination, to discuss the intraparty friction underway in Arkansas. Spicer told Hinman that he found it interesting to observe "the activities of some of the boys operating in Arkansas. I have never seen so many moves being made by the wrong people in the wrong manner at the wrong time."[17] Spicer also contacted Ab Herman, the national GOP director of political organization, to complain that the Republican National Committee was showing favoritism to Winthrop Rockefeller: "It is most unfortunate to experience this disunity and turmoil in the Republican Party in Arkansas. Every effort has been made to work as a team."[17]

On January 13, 1964, Spicer wrote to John Paul Hammerschmidt of Harrison on Boone County and Eugene "Gene" Holman of DeQueen, Arkansas, to explain that he was aware of efforts underway to remove him from the chairmanship. It was Hammerschmidt who succeeded Spicer in the fall of 1964 when Spicer resigned, having vowed "to wash my hands of the whole thing."[18]

In 1963, at Spicer's request the Arkansas Republican executive committee criticized Rockefeller's retaining of his own staff men to conduct a political drive. In March 1964, however, the same committee reversed itself and approved Rockefeller's hiring of four men at his own expense to enlist party members to build a stronger organization. A Little Rock businessman explained that the GOP under Henley and Spicer had been "sort of a small, closely held corporation here, and the members of the clan didn't want it to get too big."[19] Spicer partisans said that the Rockefeller associates had "kicked the old Republicans out ... imagine the reaction of a 50-or 60-year old Republican who's been spending his own time and money working at this to have some two-bit employhee come in and tell him what to do to win an election."[20]

Winthrop Rockefeller said that he had letters from new arrivals in Arkansas who had insisted that Spicer had made them fell "not welcome" in the GOP.[21] G. Thomas Eisele, a veteran Rockefeller advisor and a United States District Court Judge for the Eastern District of Arkansas in Little Rock, admitted that Ham had employed "ruthless tactics" against party conservatives. Rockefeller stressed the two-party theme, established a United Republican Fund that was raising nearly $8,000 per month by 1966, and worked to establish a permanent Republican committee in each county. In 1972, not long before his death, Rockefeller reflected on his fight with the Spicer partisans:

The basic problem was political philosophy coupled with enormous ego. His following was politically antagonistic to my basic philosophy. They were the right-wingers up to and including sometimes Birchers, and they were power-crazy.[22]

Presidential politics, 1964

Spicer accused Winthrop Rockefeller of dividing the small party organization by politicking behind the scenes for Nelson Rockefeller's presidential campaign. Though Spicer preferred Goldwater, he suggested that to maintain unity the party send unpledged delegates to the national convention which met that year in San Francisco, California. "It is inappropriate for the national committeeman or the state chairman to be campaigning for any candidate," Spicer said.[20] Spicer admitted that Winthrop Rockefeller "sees the policies of the Republican Party in one direction, and I see them 180 degrees in the other direction."[23]

Coupled with Rockefeller's disputes with Spicer and Britt, the presidential divisions within the Arkansas GOP also worked to undermine Winthrop Rockefeller's own plans to run for governor in 1964, when he lost to Democratic Governor Orval Faubus, who ironically in 1955 had appointed Rockefeller to the highly visible chairmanship of the Arkansas Industrial Development Commission.[24]

Eisele and Ham disagreed on how to promote Rockefeller in the 1964 gubernatorial race against Faubus. Eisele urged the formation of a moderate coalition that would appeal to supporters of U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson, who was supporting Faubus. Ham urged the party in Arkansas to embrace Goldwater to increase conservative support for Rockefeller, who was expected also to receive some moderate and liberal support among independent voters.[25] Ultimately both President Johnson and Governor Faubus won Arkansas with 57 percent of the vote despite the likelihood of many split tickets.

After two years as chairman, Spicer was succeeded in 1964 by Rockefeller's choice, John Paul Hammerschmidt, a World War II Medal of Honor winner and a businessman from Harrison. On November 8, 1966, in a sudden upsurge for the Arkansas GOP that attracted national attention, Rockefeller, after having lost to Orval E. Faubus in 1964, was elected governor, and Hammerschmidt became the first member of his party to represent the state in the United States House of Representatives since Reconstruction. Hammerschmidt hence won the same seat that Spicer had sought a decade earlier and held it for twenty-six years.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 William Leach Spicer. Retrieved on July 25, 2012.
  2. Northwest Arkansas Times, May 20, 1964, p. 20
  3. The Reverend William Jacob Spicer (1893-1979). Retrieved on August 9, 2012.
  4. Descendants of William Henry Spicer. Retrieved on August 24, 2012.
  5. Stony Point Cemetery. Retrieved on August 24, 2012.
  6. William L. Spicer in the 1940 census. Retrieved on November 19, 2012.
  7. Penny Spicer, Spicer family genealogical research
  8. Arkansas Gazette, November 5, 1952
  9. Arkansas Secretary of State, Arkansas general election returns, November 4, 1952 and November 6, 1956
  10. Arkansas Secretary of State, Election returns, November 6, 1956
  11. Cathy Kunzinger Urwin, Agenda for Reform: Winthrop Rockefeller As Governor of Arkansas, 1967-71, p. 37. Fayetteville, Arkansas: University of Arkansas Press. Retrieved on June 19, 2012. 
  12. Urwin, pp. 37-38
  13. John L. Ward, The Arkansas Rockefeller, (Baton Rouge, Louisiana: Louisiana State University Press, 1978)
  14. Urwin, p. 40
  15. Urwin, pp. 40-41
  16. Urwin, p. 41
  17. 17.0 17.1 Ward, The Arkansas Rockefeller, p. 11
  18. Ward, The Arkansas Rockefeller, pp. 12-13
  19. Wall Street Journal, March 31, 1964
  20. 20.0 20.1 The Wall Street Journal, March 31, 1964.
  21. Wall Street Journal, May 31, 1964.
  22. Ward, The Arkansas Rockefeller, p. 14.
  23. The Wall Street Journal, May 31, 1964
  24. Northwest Arkansas Times, February 15, 1964
  25. Ward, The Arkansas Rockefeller, p. 22