Williams, Harrison A., Jr., 1919-2001

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Harrison Arlington Williams, Jr. (1919 - 2001) represented New Jersey in the U.S. Senate from 1959 until 1982. He also served in the House of Representatives as Congressman from New Jersey's Sixth Congressional District (Union County) from 1953 through 1956. Known since infancy by the nickname "Pete," Williams was a member of the Democratic Party during a period when Democrats held a majority in the Senate. Consequently, until a Republican majority took office in 1981 toward the end of his career, Williams held the Chairmanships of a number of committees and subcommittees over the years. Further, Williams played important roles as a leader within the Democratic Party, notably as a member of the Democratic Senate Steering Committee, the group responsible for committee assignments.

Williams was born in Plainfield, NJ, on December 10, 1919, son of Harrison A. Williams, Sr. and Isabel Lamson Williams. He attended the Plainfield public schools, then studied economics and political science at Oberlin College, graduating in 1941. After a short stint as a reporter with the Washington Post and beginning graduate work at Georgetown University Foreign Service School, Williams, a Naval reservist, was called to active duty when the U.S. entered WWII. He served on a minesweeper for a year and as a Navy pilot for three years. After his discharge, Williams worked in an Ohio steel mill for a year before attending Columbia University Law School, from which he graduated in 1948. Williams practiced law in New Hampshire for one year before returning to New Jersey to join the firm of Cox and Walburg in Newark and, in the early 1950s, the Elizabeth firm that became Pollis and Williams.

Williams began his political career with unsuccessful runs for the New Jersey Assembly in 1951 and for Plainfield city councilman in 1952. His first victory came against George F. Hetfield in a special election held on November 3, 1953, to fill the Sixth Congressional District vacancy that opened when Clifford Case resigned his seat in the House of Representatives. Williams was re-elected to the House in 1954, defeating Fred Shepard, but lost in 1956 to Florence P. Dwyer. Remaining active in politics, Williams played a leading role in Robert Meyner's 1957 successful gubernatorial bid, earning Meyner's support for Williams's successful 1958 Senate campaign. Williams would win four consecutive Senate races—unprecedented for a Democrat in New Jersey—defeating Robert W. Kean (1958), Bernard M. Shanley (1964), Nelson Gross (1970), and David F. Norcross (1976).

In his short House tenure, Williams was involved principally with oversight of American overseas diplomatic operations. He served on the Committee of Foreign Affairs' Subcommittee on Inter-American Affairs and on the Committee on Government Operations' Subcommittee on International Operations. As a member of these subcommittees, Williams traveled to Europe and to Central America.

Throughout his Senate career, Williams was a member of the Committee on Labor and Human Resources. (This was the name of the Committee beginning in 1978.The Committee was called the Committee on Human Resources in 1977 and, prior to 1977, the Committee on Labor and Public Welfare.) One of Williams's first achievements as a Senator was gaining the approval in 1959 of then-Chairman Lister Hill to create a Subcommittee on Migratory Labor, which HAW chaired until 1968. Williams was successful at publicizing the poor living and working conditions of agricultural laborers and their families, leading to legislative advances, especially for the improvement of migrant health (1962) and education (1964). Williams's concern with working conditions led to at least two other major legislative initiatives in the 1960s: the Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969 and the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSHA). Connecting his interest in labor with his longtime advocacy of civil rights, Williams sponsored the Equal Employment Opportunity Act Amendments of 1972, which provided the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission with the enforcement powers to pursue discrimination cases.

Ascending to the Chairmanship of the Committee on Labor and Human Resources for the entire decade of the 1970s, Williams continued at the forefront of legislative reforms in the areas of occupational safety, pension protection, access to education, equal employment opportunity, women's rights, health initiatives, minimum wage, and much more. The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975, the Federal Mine Safety and Health Amendments Act of 1977, and the Home Energy Assistance Act (1980) are just a few of the significant pieces of legislation sponsored by Chairman Williams and reported by his Committee. Himself a victim of alcoholism, as he informed the public in 1970, Williams was also a supporter of legislation aimed at the prevention and treatment of drug and alcohol abuse; his initiative created the Subcommittee on Alcoholism and Narcotics in 1971 to focus on the issue.

Williams also spent his entire Senate career on the Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs (known as the Committee on Banking and Currency before 1971). As Chairman of the Securities Subcommittee throughout the 1960s and most of the 1970s, Williams sought to increase the regulatory oversight of the Securities and Exchange Commission, to improve disclosure in securities offerings and in corporate takeover attempts, to enforce equitable lending practices, and to implement other market reforms. The reporting requirements of the so-called Williams Act of 1968 remain important features of equity market regulation. As a member of the Select Committee on Small Business for over a decade, Williams sought ways to strengthen the effectiveness of the Small Business Administration, and much of his constituent project work centered on connecting small firms with SBA opportunities. Williams's appreciation of commercial interests—including those of New Jersey's agricultural, pharmaceutical, and other industries—often involved Williams in matters of royalty and patent protection, import/export restrictions, and other matters of importance to business.

Additionally, Williams's place on the Banking Committee and his interest in housing was part of a broader vision of a Federal role in managing the natural and built environment of the U.S., particularly with respect to urban centers and their greater metropolitan areas. Mass transportation was an essential part of Williams's vision. Beginning with his Mass Transportation Act of 1961 and continuing throughout his career, Williams sponsored legislation aimed at reducing traffic congestion and air pollution, while increasing the availability and efficiency of commuting options. Similarly, Williams sought to protect open space (or at least find a well-planned balance between conservation and development) within these metropolitan areas, leading him to pursue conservation initiatives at Sandy Hook, the Delaware Water Gap, the Great Swamp, and other New Jersey areas. Williams's legislation designating the Pinelands a "national reserve" was an innovative approach to finding a means of achieving this conservation/development balance where competing interests where at stake. Williams's legislative efforts to regulate ocean dumping, to eliminate inhumane animal trapping, to preserve endangered species, to identify alternative energy sources, and so forth linked into his efforts to create a sustainable economy and a pleasurable, socially-responsible way of life.

Williams's overall efforts on the housing front dovetailed with his participation on the Special Committee on Aging. Here, Williams was principally concerned with housing and health care (including his Preventicare program) for senior citizens. Additionally, Williams was concerned about the extent to which the elderly were often victims of fraud. For example, he pressed for legislation over several Congresses to regulate the disclosures required for interstate land sales, culminating in the passage of such a law in 1968.

Despite the domestic orientation of Williams's Committee assignments, foreign affairs—including the Vietnam War and the Cold War—were issues that he retained interest in. In the 1950s, Williams was an ardent anti-Communist. Nevertheless, while he recognized the importance of military defense, he perceived the United State's confrontation with the Soviet Union as principally one of ideology, which could be won by building allies through diplomacy, cultural engagement, and economic development. As a Congressman, his committee assignments involved him in foreign operations administration, and through this work Williams pressed for enhancements in foreign aid, trade activities, and support for foreign service personnel. By the 1960s, Williams's view of the Cold War translated into his initial support for the Vietnam War, though he eventually came to oppose it, supporting or sponsoring various legislative efforts pressing for a resolution. Williams was also a strong supporter of Israel, at least in part because of his perception of that country as a democratic ally and bulwark against Communist influence in the Middle East. Williams's sponsored legislation included efforts to break the Arab embargo on companies doing business with Israel.

With an appreciation for intellectual activity as a national resource, Williams pursued funding for a wide range of initiatives in the sciences, arts, and humanities. He lent his name to a number of institutions; at various times he was, for example, a director for the New York Lyric Ensemble, a member of the Steering Committee of the National Academy of Sciences, and a trustee of the John F. Kennedy Performing Arts Center. Perhaps most notable in this connection was Williams's sponsorship of legislation in the early 1960s forming a Woodrow Wilson Memorial Commission with the objective of creating an appropriate memorial to the former President. Williams's involvement as a leader of the Commission led to the founding of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in 1971.

Williams's career began to close in February 1980 when the press reported that he was a target of a FBI undercover operation, known as Abscam. The Abscam operation had snared several businessmen and politicians, but Williams was the most prominent and highest-ranking official involved. In October 1980, a nine count indictment against Williams was announced which included bribery, receipt of an unlawful gratuity, conflict of interest, and conspiracy to defraud the United States, among other charges. Williams's trial started on March 30, 1981 and, on May 9, Williams was found guilty on all counts. The Senate Committee on Ethics then opened its own hearings into the matter, which led to a recommendation in September 1981 that Williams be expelled from the Senate. As the Senate neared the end of its deliberations on this recommendation, Williams resigned in March 1982. Though continuing to pursue various avenues for fighting the charges in court, Williams was sentenced, and he entered the penitentiary at Allenwood, Pa. in January 1984. Throughout the ordeal, Williams argued that he was innocent and that the FBI had abused its power. Williams's contentions were important ones that resulted in fierce debate in the news media and in Congress where hearings were held on the FBI's investigative tactics.

After his release from prison in 1986, Williams returned home to retirement in Bedminster, NJ, where he had lived since 1974 with his wife, Jeanette. Williams died of heart disease on November 17, 2001.

(An overview of Williams's committee and subcommittee assignments is included as Appendix D. A list of personnel from HAW's Senate office is included as Appendix E. Below is a link to a more comprehensive biographical sketch of Harrison Williams' Senate career, written by Anthony Manganaro, a Rutgers University public history intern, in December 2007.)

Harrison Williams Senate Career Biographical Sketch

From the guide to the Harrison A. Williams, Jr. Papers (01): Introduction, 1862-2001 (bulk 1953-1982), (Rutgers University. Special Collections and University Archives.)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Williams, Harrison A., 1919-. [Letter] 1972 July 12, Washington [to] William P. Thompson, Philadelphia / Harrison Williams. Presbyterian Historical Society, PHS
referencedIn Thomas J. Dodd Papers, undated, 1919-1971. Archives & Special Collections at the Thomas J. Dodd Center.
creatorOf Harrison A. Williams, Jr. Papers (02): Case Files-Part 1, 1862-2001 (bulk 1953-1982) Rutgers Special Collections and University Archives
referencedIn Stellanova Osborn papers, 1907-1988 Bentley Historical Library
referencedIn Gore Vidal papers, 1850-2020 (inclusive), 1936-2008 (bulk) Houghton Library
referencedIn Philip A. Hart papers, 1949-1976, 1959-1976 Bentley Historical Library
creatorOf Harrison A. Williams, Jr. Papers (01): Introduction, 1862-2001 (bulk 1953-1982) Rutgers Special Collections and University Archives
creatorOf Records of the U.S. Information Agency. 1900 - 2003. Records Relating to the Appearances of Carl Thomas Rowan National Archives at College Park
referencedIn George W. Pray Papers, 1844-1890 Bentley Historical Library
referencedIn Records of the National Organization for Women, 1959-2002 (inclusive), 1966-1998 (bulk) Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
creatorOf Harrison A. Williams, Jr. Papers (11): Photographs, Miscellaneous Formats and Other Sub-Groups, 1862-2001 (bulk 1953-1982) Rutgers Special Collections and University Archives
referencedIn Papers, 1884-1998 (inclusive), 1929-1988 (bulk) Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Records of the Office of the Staff Secretary. 1976 - 1981. Presidential Files. 1977 - 1981. 2/8/78 Jimmy Carter Library
creatorOf Harrison A. Williams, Jr. Papers (12): Appendices, 1862-2001 (bulk 1953-1982) Rutgers Special Collections and University Archives
referencedIn Margaret Bayne Price Papers, 1918-1969, 1947-1968 Bentley Historical Library
creatorOf Harrison A. Williams, Jr. Papers (07): Correspondence-Part 3, 1862-2001 (bulk 1953-1982) Rutgers Special Collections and University Archives
referencedIn Inventory to the Records of the Rutger University Office of University Librarian (Donald F. Cameron), 1925-1971 Rutgers Special Collections and University Archives
creatorOf Harrison A. Williams, Jr. Papers (08): Legislation, 1862-2001 (bulk 1953-1982) Rutgers Special Collections and University Archives
referencedIn Records of the Women's Equity Action League, 1966-1979 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
creatorOf Harrison A. Williams, Jr. Papers (03): Case Files-Part 2, 1862-2001 (bulk 1953-1982) Rutgers Special Collections and University Archives
creatorOf Harrison A. Williams, Jr. Papers (06): Correspondence-Part 2, 1862-2001 (bulk 1953-1982) Rutgers Special Collections and University Archives
creatorOf Harrison A. Williams, Jr. Papers (05): Correspondence-Part 1, 1862-2001 (bulk 1953-1982) Rutgers Special Collections and University Archives
creatorOf Harrison A. Williams, Jr. Papers (04): Special Projects Files, 1862-2001 (bulk 1953-1982) Rutgers Special Collections and University Archives
creatorOf Harrison A. Williams, Jr. Papers (09): Subjects, 1862-2001 (bulk 1953-1982) Rutgers Special Collections and University Archives
referencedIn Harvard Law School Forums Records Harvard Law School Library Langdell Hall Cambridge, MA 02138
creatorOf Harrison A. Williams, Jr. Papers (10): Public Relations, 1862-2001 (bulk 1953-1982) Rutgers Special Collections and University Archives
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Amtrak corporateBody
associatedWith Anthony P. Miller, Inc corporateBody
associatedWith Atlantic Human Resources corporateBody
associatedWith Beverly National Cemetery (Beverly, N.J.) corporateBody
associatedWith Cape Human Resources corporateBody
associatedWith College of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey corporateBody
associatedWith ConRail corporateBody
correspondedWith Dodd, Thomas J. (Thomas Joseph), 1907-1971 person
associatedWith Drug Abuse Resistance Education (Program) corporateBody
associatedWith ESTHER (EGGERTSEN) PETERSON, 1906-1997 person
associatedWith GAF Corporation corporateBody
associatedWith Gateway National Recreation Area (Agency : U.S.). Sandy Hook Unit corporateBody
associatedWith Glassboro State College corporateBody
associatedWith Hart, Philip A. (Philip Aloysius), 1912-1976 person
correspondedWith Harvard Law School Forum corporateBody
associatedWith NARCO, Inc. corporateBody
associatedWith National Aviation Facilities Experimental Center (U.S.) corporateBody
associatedWith National Organization for Women corporateBody
associatedWith New York Shipbuilding Corporation corporateBody
associatedWith NJ Transit corporateBody
associatedWith Ocean Community Economic Action Now corporateBody
associatedWith Osborn, Stellanova, 1894-1988 person
associatedWith Picatinny Arsenal corporateBody
associatedWith Port Authority of New York and New Jersey corporateBody
associatedWith Pray, George Washington, 1825-1890 person
associatedWith Price, Margaret Bayne, 1912-1968 person
associatedWith Puerto Rican Congress of New Jersey corporateBody
associatedWith R. H. Pines Corp corporateBody
associatedWith Rutgers University corporateBody
associatedWith Rutgers University. Office of University Librarian corporateBody
associatedWith United States. Congress—Private bills corporateBody
associatedWith Vidal, Gore, 1925- person
correspondedWith Women's Equity Action League corporateBody
associatedWith Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars corporateBody
Place Name Admin Code Country
United States—Foreign relations—Panama
Panama—Foreign relations—United States
Hunterdon County (N.J.)
United States—Commerce
Gloucester County (N.J.)
Delaware River (N.Y.-Del. and N.J.)
Ellis Island (N.J. and N.Y.)
United States—Foreign relations—Vietnam
Hackensack Meadowlands (N.J.)
United States—Moral conditions
Cape May County (N.J.)
Passaic River (N.J.)
Vineland (N.J.)
Burlington County (N.J.)
Cumberland County (N.J.)
United States—Politics and government—1961-1963
Toms River (N.J.)
Delaware Bay (Del. and N.J.)
Newark Bay (N.J.)
Trenton (N.J.)
United States—Officials and employees—Pensions
Plainfield (N.J.)
Saudi Arabia—Foreign relations—United States
Union County (N.J.)
Morris County (N.J.)
Mercer County (N.J.)
Panama Canal (Panama)
Essex County (N.J.)
Monmouth County (N.J.)
New Brunswick (N.J.)
Newark (N.J.)
Salem County (N.J.)
East Orange (N.J.)
Vietnam—Foreign relations—United States
Elizabeth (N.J.)
Raritan River (N.J.)
Somerset County (N.J.)
Naval Air Station (N.J.)
United States—Emigration and immigration
Camden (N.J.)
Princeton (N.J.)
Passaic County (N.J.)
Bergen County (N.J.)
Bayonne (N.J.)
Fort Monmouth (N.J.)
United States—Foreign relations—Middle East
Middlesex County (N.J.)
Pine Barrens (N.J.)
United States—Social conditions—1960-1980—Public opinion
Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area (N.J. and Pa.)
Paterson (N.J.)
United States—Politics and government—1974-1977
Asbury Park (N.J.)
United States—Foreign relations—Saudi Arabia
Hudson County (N.J.)
United States—Politics and government—1969-1974
United States—Officials and employees—Salaries, etc
Ocean County (N.J.)
Fort Dix (N.J.)
Atlantic City (N.J.)
Israel—Foreign relations—United States
United States—Politics and government—1963-1969
Hackensack River (N.Y. and N.J.)
United States—Economic conditions—1971-1981
Atlantic County (N.J.)
United States—Foreign relations—Israel
United States—Politics and government—1977-1981
Jersey City (N.J.)
Middle East—Foreign relations—United States
Abscam Bribery Scandal, 1980
Agricultural credit
Laboratory animals
Animal traps
Animal welfare
Armed Forces
Arms transfers
City planning
Civil rights
Communication policy
Community colleges
Community development, Urban
Conservation of natural resources
Conservation of natural resources
Consumer complaints
Consumer protection
Defense contracts
Drug addicts
Economic assistance, American
Economic conversion
Economic development projects
Educational law and legislation
Education, Higher
Energy conservation
Energy consumption
Energy development
Environmental law
Environmental policy
Environmental protection
Federal aid to alcoholism programs
Federal aid to community development
Federal aid to drug abuse treatment programs
Federal aid to health facilities
Federal aid to law enforcement agencies
Federal aid to services for people with disabilities
Federal aid to small business
Federal aid to the arts
Federal aid to water resources development
Federal aid to youth services
Flood control
Foreign trade regulation
Gun control
Veterans' hospitals
Housing authorities
Housing policy
Import quotas
Industrial hygiene
Job creation
Labor laws and legislation
Labor unions
Legislative bodies
Local transit
Manpower policy
Medicare beneficiaries
Mental health laws
Migrant labor
Military assistance
Military bases
Military pensions
Mine safety
Natural resources conservation areas
Occupational training
Older people
Older people
Open spaces
Professional education
Public housing
Public housing
Public works
Right to labor
Sewer districts
Social security
Social security beneficiaries
Tocks Island Reservoir Project
Urban policy
Urban renewal
Urban transportation
Vietnam War, 1961-1975
Vocational education
Wildlife conservation


Birth 1919-12-10

Death 2001-11-17




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