Senator Sam Ervin, Last of the Founding Fathers

By Karl E. Campbell

448 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 36 illus., notes, index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-1458-8
    Published: April 2014
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-6921-0
    Published: November 2007
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-0-8078-8474-4
    Published: November 2007

Buy this Book

To purchase online via an independent bookstore, visit

Awards & distinctions

2007 North Caroliniana Book Award, North Caroliniana Society

Many Americans remember Senator Sam Ervin (1896-1985) as the affable, Bible-quoting, old country lawyer who chaired the Senate Watergate hearings in 1973. Ervin's stories from down home in North Carolina, his reciting literary passages ranging from Shakespeare to Aesop's fables, and his earnest lectures in defense of civil liberties and constitutional government contributed to the downfall of President Nixon and earned Senator Ervin a reputation as "the last of the founding fathers."

Yet for most of his twenty years in the Senate, Ervin applied these same rhetorical devices to a very different purpose. Between 1954 and 1974, he was Jim Crow's most talented legal defender as the South's constitutional expert during the congressional debates on civil rights. The paradox of the senator's opposition to civil rights and defense of civil liberties lies at the heart of this biography of Sam Ervin.

Drawing on newly opened archival material, Karl Campbell illuminates the character of the man and the historical forces that shaped him. The senator's distrust of centralized power, Campbell argues, helps explain his ironic reputation as a foe of civil rights and a champion of civil liberties. Campbell demonstrates that the Watergate scandal represented the culmination of an escalating series of clashes between the imperial presidency of Richard Nixon and a congressional counterattack led by Senator Ervin. The issue central to that struggle, as well as to many of the other crusades in Ervin's life, remains a key question of the American experience today--how to exercise legitimate government power while protecting essential individual freedoms.

About the Author

Karl E. Campbell is associate professor of history at Appalachian State University.
For more information about Karl E. Campbell, visit the Author Page.


"Contributes to the growing scholarship on the southern white response to the civil rights era. . . . [An] excellent study."--Journal of American History

"A persuasive and fresh perspective on southern and North Carolina politics. . . . Well organized and crisply written... the most important book on Sam Ervin."--North Carolina Historical Review

“Campbell’s gripping biography of Ervin uncovers the road to Watergate from his Senate appointment in 1954 and explains how this Bible-quoting country lawyer from North Carolina became the leading defender of civil liberties in the Senate.”--Our State

"Campbell succeeds splendidly in threading the historical needle. . . . A sophisticated, clear-eyed and evenhanded biography . . . that is likely to stand the test of time as the best work on one of North Carolina's most famous sons. . . . Adds immeasurably to our understanding of the state and its politics."--The News and Observer

"A welcome addition to the understanding of Ervin’s southern mind. . . . Highly recommended."--Choice

“Campbell covers . . . Ervin’s career admirably.”--Metrobooks