April 11, 1955: Former U.S. Rep. John Nelson, a Colby College trustee, dies in Augusta at the age of 80.

While in Congress, Nelson, a Republican, drew notice for refusing to sign a committee report calling for denying citizenship to naturalized communists.

A China native and Colby College and University of Maine School of Law graduate, Nelson worked four years as principal of Waterville High School before being admitted to the bar and practicing law.

U.S. Rep. John E. Nelson Biographical Directory of the United States Congress

He represented Maine’s Third Congressional District from 1922 to 1933. He gained the seat by winning a special election to replace John A. Peters, whom President Warren Harding had appointed to be a federal judge.

In 1931, Nelson served on a special House panel that conducted an eight-month study of communism in the United States. Most on the panel recommended outlawing the Communist Party, that all noncitizen communists in the U.S. be deported and that no others be allowed to enter the country. Nelson, while condemning communism, disagreed with his committee colleagues’ notion of what to do about it.

“The solution to this problem,” he wrote in a minority report, according to the Kennebec Journal, “lies in the wisdom of our legislators and the unselfishness of our industrialists. In proportion as we work our economic justice here in America and so order our social system that labor shall share in the economic life of the (nation) as fully and fairly as it now shares in its social and political life, in just that proportion will radicalism fail of its own inanition and the threat of communism cease to disturb us.”

At the time of Nelson’s death, his son Charles P. Nelson (1907-1962) occupies his old House seat in Washington. A Colby graduate and Republican lawyer like his father, the younger Nelson serves four two-year terms, from 1949 to 1957.

John Nelson’s longtime home on Winthrop Street in Augusta was the 19th century home of another prominent political leader – Lot Morrill (1813-1883), who was Maine’s governor, a U.S. senator from Maine, and U.S. treasury secretary.

Joseph Owen is a retired copy desk chief of the Morning Sentinel and Kennebec Journal and board member of the Kennebec Historical Society. He can be contacted at: [email protected]


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