Widely known for his work in Congress and for famously introducing legislation that implemented Social Security in the United States, the political career of Western Maryland’s David John Lewis began in the Maryland Senate.
Born in Centre County Pennsylvania in 1869, Lewis was a coal miner before graduating from law school and setting up practice in Cumberland in 1892. He’d seek election to the Maryland Senate in 1902 and would serve for one-term. His political career would go on a brief hiatus, but quickly return as he would be elected to the United States Congress representing Western Maryland (Maryland’s 6th Congressional District) in 1910. He’d serve in Congress from 1911-1917, then be appointed a member of the United States Tariff Commission in 1917 and serve there until 1925.
After failed electoral pursuits for the United States Senate in both 1916 and 1922, Lewis would ultimately return to the United States Congress in 1931 upon his election to the same seat that he held from 1911-1917. His second stint in congress would last until 1938 and it would foster his greatest political achievement.
A staunch New Deal Democrat and ally of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Lewis became an expert on social insurance during his second tenure in Congress. That expertise would lead him to introduce the revolutionary Social Security Act in 1935 and in turn set the wheels of the greatest social program in American History in motion.
Although the bill that Lewis introduced would not become law because of a courtesy dispute with House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Robert Doughton, Lewis was widely regarded by his House colleagues as the true leader on the issue and ultimately Lewis gracefully ceded credit for the legislation in order to successfully move forward.
Lewis would again make an unsuccessful bid for the United States Senate in 1938, but would remain in public life afterward serving as a member of the National Mediation Board from 1939-1943. After ending his tenure on the National Mediation Board, he’d return to his legal practice in Cumberland until his passing on August 12, 1952.
Not only is David John Lewis remembered fondly for his contribution to the lives of those he represented in Western Maryland but also because of his contribution to the lives of all Americans through his work in Congress on the quintessential social program in American history.