Born at the end of the nineteenth century into a farming family of modest means in southeastern Missouri, Rush Hudson Limbaugh Sr. led a distinguished professional life as an attorney, legislator, and special ambassadorial representative of the United States. Today his descendants benefit from his reputation for integrity and public-spiritedness as a lawyer and member of his community, a legacy that lives on in his family in the careers of two federal district court judges, Stephen Limbaugh Sr. and Jr., and David Limbaugh, a practicing attorney and a nationally known author and political commentator. Moreover, Limbaugh’s character and life has gained wider renown on the radio talk show of his grandson and namesake.
In this biography, Dennis K. Boman recounts Limbaugh’s legal career, which spanned most of the twentieth century and included a number of important events in Missouri history. His legal prowess first came to wider public notice when he managed the impeachment trial of state treasurer Larry Brunk, who was accused of misconduct in office. Among his later achievements was presiding over the infamous 1935 case Ware vs. Muench, in which a young woman sued for the return of her infant son. The case gained widespread attention, and the daily courtroom proceedings were reported in detail by newspapers across the United States. His legal opinion in the case was widely quoted and upheld by the Supreme Court of Missouri.
In the midst of the Great Depression, as a state legislator, although a member of the minority party, Limbaugh led the effort to pass significant legislation, including the more fair distribution of the state tax burden, the founding of the Missouri state highway patrol, and the construction of state roads. In the late 1950s, President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed Limbaugh to represent the United States as a goodwill ambassador to India.
As a respected lawyer, Limbaugh was selected to serve on different civil rights commissions. First a member of the American Bar Association’s Special Committee on the Bill of Rights, he later was appointed its chair. This committee investigated the circumstances of African Americans, especially in the South, and sought to find practical ways to end racial discrimination and segregation. Moreover, he served as a member of the Special Committee on Civil Rights and Social Unrest in 1964 and 1965, as well as a commissioner on the Missouri Commission on Human Rights and Responsibilities, which examined violations of civil rights and led to legislation to protect non-whites from discrimination.
Boman conducted personal interviews with many members of the Limbaugh family, whose candid answers add invaluable insights into Limbaugh’s character and career. Boman delves into Limbaugh’s memoirs, family correspondence, and personal papers, as well as newspaper accounts, to chronicle the life of a man who served his state and country until his death at the age of 104.
About the Author
Dennis K. Boman is Assistant Director of the Center for the Interdisciplinary Study of Law at Saint Louis University Law School and is the author of several books, including Lincoln and the Citizens’ Rights in Civil War Missouri: Balancing Security and Freedom. He lives in St. Louis, Missouri.
The Missouri Biography Series, edited by William E. Foley
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The Original Rush LimbaughLimbaugh Lawyer, Legislator, and Civil Libertarian
By Dennis K. Boman
University of Missouri PressCopyright © 2012 The Curators of the University of Missouri
All right reserved.
Chapter OneFarm Boy
During the nineteenth century, many advancements in technology, energy, and communications revolutionized the production of goods and transportation. These innovations, however, scarcely affected the lives of Americans living in isolated rural communities throughout the country. During the last decade of the 1800s, the georgic rhythms and methods of cultivation continued very much as they had when Thomas Jefferson was president. To break the soil one still guided a plow behind draft animals and planted seed by hand. Most travel was on foot or horseback, although longer distances could be traversed by railroad or boat. Into this world, on a small farm in southeastern Missouri, Rush Hudson Limbaugh was born on September 27, 1891 to Joseph and Susan Limbaugh. While the particulars of his birth are unknown, without a hospital nearby and with only a few doctors in the region, a local woman probably assisted Susan when her time came. Whatever the circumstances of his birth, the boy was the last of the couple's children. While by today's standard the family was large, Rush being the seventh surviving child, the size of their family was not unusual for the era. The boy was named in part to please his maternal grandmother, whose maiden name was Hudson, and in part because his father Joseph liked the sound of Rush Hudson, a name borne by a distant relative.
The family, although poor, was well-respected and hardworking, maintaining a farm of just over 400 acres. While half the land was arable, the bottom land was the most fertile and was situated "in parcels along the creek" amounting to a little more than 30 acres in all. On this and other less productive land, "row crops" such as beans, wheat, and corn, were cultivated. The rest of the farm was composed of "ridge land," which was used as pasture to graze stock, and of timber along the Little Muddy Creek. This small waterway, which sometimes flooded the bottom land, cut through the middle of the farm in a northwesterly to a southeasterly direction. At different times it had been called Anthony or Limbaugh Creek as well. Rush lived his first fifteen years upon this farm learning to cultivate crops, tend livestock, and to accomplish many other tasks necessary for the family's livelihood. His father, Joseph, had bought out his brothers' stakes in the farm, and while still a bachelor lived with his mother in the log cabin constructed by Rush's paternal grandfather, Daniel R. Limbaugh.
Apparently, until two generations before Rush's birth, the line of the Limbaugh clan from which he descended had filled important judicial, political, and military positions in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Missouri. The first of the clan to journey to North America was Johannes Michael Limbaugh—who originally spelled his surname Limbach. Born in Germany in 1708, Johannes was the great-great-great grandfather of Rush. Johannes had immigrated with his wife Maria Margaret and their son Frederick, arriving in Philadelphia on the ship Brothers probably in 1752. Unfortunately, little is known about Johannes, who settled in Pennsylvania and died in 1769 at Upper Milford and was followed in death five years later by his wife. More, however, is known about Frederick, who had been born in Baden-Baden, Germany in 1737. He became a prominent member of his community, serving as a justice of the peace, a major in the second battalion of the Northampton County Militia, was elected to the state assembly, and was a judge in the county court. In the late 1780s he moved to Mecklinburg County, North Carolina. Later Frederick with his son Michael, at the urging of Frederick Bollinger, moved west crossing the Mississippi River into Missouri, then part of French territory, on January 1, 1800. Other family members followed them settling nearby in the Whitewater region of southeastern Missouri. At the town of Cape Girardeau, situated on the Mississippi River, Frederick served as one of the territorial judges with Louis Lorimier, the town's founder. Thus in Frederick began a family tradition of employment in the law in different capacities, which was resumed by Rush and is continued by some of his descendants to this day. Frederick died in 1815.
Frederick's son Henry, born in 1775, remained in North Carolina until 1811 when he followed his father to southeastern Missouri. Little is known about Henry's circumstances in North Carolina and why he had not relocated with his father and brother eleven years earlier. As his great-grandson Rush later noted, Henry and his wife were "evidently very poor" and traveled "in an ox-drawn covered wagon with their five children ... establishing their residence on a tract of land where I was born." According to family lore, they arrived a short time before the New Madrid fault earthquakes and aftershocks, which began on December 16, 1811, and continued for several months afterward. This unusual seismic activity manifested in a series of powerful quakes, three of which exceeded an 8.0 magnitude, with aftershocks that numbered in the thousands. From the epicenter, located in southeastern Missouri and northeastern Arkansas, the most violent quakes were felt as far away as Québec City, Canada, a distance of over 1,300 miles. According to eyewitness accounts, the first of the three most powerful earthquakes began around two o'clock in the morning, awakening the inhabitants in the region with a tremendous boom and violent shaking, a nightmare which was followed by a number of lesser aftershocks that morning.
In 1973 a seismologist estimated this first earthquake at 8.6 on the Richter scale—a magnitude of great power. The next severe earthquake on January 23, 1812, was 8.4, and the most powerful of all was an 8.7 on February 7. According to eyewitnesses along the Mississippi River, many of its vertical banks collapsed, water levels rose and fell dramatically, and the channels were altered. The most dramatic effect, however, was the temporary reversal of the river's current for a few hours on February 7. This event was probably caused by the violent upheaval of the riverbed, creating a back current which swept away "whole groves of cottonwood trees" and left behind two sets of falls, one a mile above the town of New Madrid and the other eight miles below. In a few days these falls disappeared as erosion quickly leveled the riverbed. Moreover, land in the epicenter collapsed in some places and was lifted in others forming ponds and lakes. In some regions rich agricultural land was turned into marsh, leading Congress to pass legislation allowing its owners to apply for New Madrid land grants to swap their ruined farms for unsettled public lands. Considering the trauma these events must have caused the family, it is not surprising that stories of their experiences were passed down through the generations and are vaguely remembered today by some members of the family two hundred years later. After such an experience, Henry and his family no doubt questioned the wisdom of settling in such a place, although perhaps other inhabitants assured them that nothing like this had happened before. In the end they remained and were the first of the family to settle upon the homestead where Rush was born and raised.
Henry and his wife Maria raised five children, four of whom were boys. All of them settled nearby while the second oldest, Daniel R., Rush's paternal grandfather, took over his father Henry's place. After his first wife had died, Daniel married Delilah Shell, the "daughter of Michael Shell, a soldier of the Revolution, who was in the Battle of Lookout Mountain." Rush remembered his paternal grandmother well, for when he was a boy she lived in a log cabin located a short distance from their home. Before her death, which occurred when Rush was only five years old, his grandmother left behind stories of her father's Revolutionary War adventures and hardships, which Rush remembered the details of many years later. Moreover, Rush and the rest of the family were told of the sad details of his paternal grandfather's death on their farm in September 1862. Different versions of this tragedy have come down through the family. These all agree, however, that Daniel had become embroiled in a dispute with another man, either a local teacher who boarded at their home or a rejected suitor to one of his daughters, and that he had been killed in the fight that ensued.
Joseph took over his father's farm and apparently remained in the log cabin with his mother until at some unknown time, perhaps before his first marriage, when he built the home in which Rush and his siblings were born. Joseph's first wife died from smallpox only four months after their marriage and Joseph, who also contracted the deadly disease, almost succumbed to it as well. The two-story home was rectangular in shape and had no running water, plumbing, electricity, or any of the other conveniences often taken for granted today. A large fireplace in the west room on the first floor provided the Limbaughs with their primary source of heat and was the main gathering place of the family in the evenings. At night when the weather was cool, this fire supplied the chief source of light as well. While lamps were also available, the expense of coal oil probably limited their use given the Limbaughs' modest income. A smaller fireplace was located on the east end of the house. No fireplaces or stoves were available on the second floor of their home. The kitchen was joined to the west end of the house where heat from its stove would not intensify their discomfort during the hot summer months. Rush remembered sleeping with his parents until he was three and then joining his brothers, Roscoe and Burette, who were closest to him in age, in the trundle bed which was stored under their parents' bed during the day. Later this trio removed to the upstairs and joined their older brother Arthur who slept in one room and where in another the three girls Jennie, Hattie, and Lillie stayed.
The front porch looked out upon the yard where fruit and nut trees provided welcome variety to the Limbaughs' diet during the summer. From the west end of the house a foot path led some 200 feet to the log cabin where "Granny" remained until she could no longer take care of herself and moved the short distance to her son's home. This path also led to a cistern, where the family's water supply was located. Other outbuildings and structures near the house included a chicken house, goose nests, a smokehouse, a wheat house, and a barn surrounded by a horse lot. Draft animals and the milk cows were stabled in the barn where hay and corn were stored. In the surrounding fields and woods roamed cattle, pigs, and sheep. When it was time to feed the hogs, Rush remembered his father calling them with "a deep voice that carried far." These animals provided meat and homemade sausage for the family, a good portion of which was preserved in the smokehouse where the kraut and sorghum barrels were kept as well. In the cellar beneath their home was stored the milk, the hand-churned butter, and canned fruits and vegetables which came from the family garden.
Although he died when Rush was only seven years old, Joseph had a profound impact upon his youngest son. His first memory of his father was of a tall man "nearly 6 feet, [who] had thick dark hair, gray eyes, and wore a mustache. He [had] ... a stern countenance, stood erectly as a soldier, and walked rapidly. He was slim in figure, agile in movement, and determined in purpose." Many years later, Rush remembered how he had felt as "a boy, small, walking in his shadow, subject to his will, dependent upon his guidance." Because he was too small to labor on the farm and could not attend school until he was six, Rush spent a great deal of time with his father as soon as he was old enough to accompany him around the farm. As was the custom of the time, and out of necessity, all the members of a farm family worked long days in all kinds of weather. Rush remembered that everyone worked at an early age and "the large part of our time for both men and women was spent on the outside, in the garden, in the fields, sowing, cultivating and harvesting the things that provided for our existence."
Rush's father usually arose around four o'clock in the morning to start the fire and feed the livestock, and then awakened the oldest children first, who attended to their morning tasks. As the youngest, Rush remembered waiting until the last possible moment, especially on very cold mornings, to leave his warm bed to begin the day. Everyone was up early to eat "a hearty breakfast," and was expected to be in the field before the sun had risen, "for my father never let the sun beat him to the field." While together, which was most of the day, Rush's father taught him "how to count, the names of the domestic animals, the names and purposes of tools and utensils," and much other useful information. Rush also learned by observing his father and the others as they plowed the fields; planted, tended, and harvested crops; built fences; sawed lumber; broke horses and mules; and accomplished other tasks around the farm. While everyone worked hard, they also shared camaraderie and a sense of fun, sometimes playing jokes on other members of the family. Of course, Rush was not exempt from this, even at the age of three. Inquisitive at that age, Rush remembered walking alone to a field where his father and brother Arthur were plowing straw into the soil to prevent erosion. As a joke, and probably to see how he would react, Joseph tossed some straw in the direction of the curious lad, who beat a quick retreat to avoid the straw from falling on him. The two laughed, enjoying the young boy's reaction, a welcome momentary break from their work.
Not long after this incident, Rush learned of just one of the many dangers which might befall a small boy on the farm when, while playing near a hot pot of soup, he lost his balance and placed his foot directly into it, scalding himself severely. Fortunately, Rush's mother Susan was "an expert in home remedies." She made a poultice of baking soda but the pain of the burn was too great for Rush to tolerate it. She then sprinkled baking soda directly on his injured foot, along with some sorghum molasses, which soon relieved the pain.
Other memories from this period, however, were happier, and Rush recalled them many years later with nostalgia, for as the youngest he was often indulged by his parents and siblings and encouraged in his desire to make contributions to the family. Thus, when young Rush desired to gather a goose egg for breakfast one morning, his oldest brother Arthur kindly agreed to accompany him to the goose nests. Because they would need to steal the prize before breakfast, Rush gained the privilege of sleeping with his brother upstairs, which he remembered made him feel "unusually important as [he] cuddled next to him in the warm bed." The anticipation and thrill of this adventure caused Rush to awaken early and to begin fidgeting until Arthur awoke also. Anxious to discover whether the goose had laid an egg, Rush suggested that they go immediately. Although it was before his regular time to rise, Arthur indulgently helped his youngest sibling to dress, readied himself, and then quietly escorted Rush out of the house to the goose nest. When he attempted to reach under the goose, she clucked a warning, causing him to withdraw his hand. However, Arthur reassured him and directed that he try again. In the end, Rush was able to remove the egg and return home with it in triumph to show his parents, who were then just rising for the day. Reflecting upon this incident ninety years later, Rush was impressed that his fourteen-year-old brother "had gone through this night and early morning venture to please me and during the time had not scolded or shown impatience or spoken other than in brotherly happiness to help me attain one of my early childhood joys."
As he grew older, Rush was expected to do what he could around the farm and at first was given simple tasks to perform which, nevertheless, were important and beneficial to the family. At the age of five, his mother directed him to carry a bucket of water to his brother Roscoe, who, while only ten himself, was plowing alone in a field a half mile away. The field could not be seen from the house and Roscoe had been working there all morning in the summer heat without a drink of water. Already physically strong and inured to long hours of labor, Roscoe was doing the work of a man, although it seems probable that his progress would have been slower than that of most adults. Rush followed a path from the house to the field, and because he never wore shoes in the summer, felt the heat radiating from the ground as he moved swiftly along. Unfortunately, he encountered "a sleek blue racer," a variety of non-venomous but aggressive snake. Despite his shouts, the blue racer refused to abandon the path to Rush, who out of desperation went into the grass to avoid it. Imagining that the snake was after him, and that indeed the field was full of them, he began to run and stumbled losing most of the water he was carrying. Crying and screaming as he made his way to the field, Roscoe abandoned his work and ran to the frightened boy. While "still crying and sobbing," Rush explained what had happened and requested that his brother save some water for him as he "was utterly starved for drink." Although still of a tender age and very thirsty himself, Roscoe demonstrated much maturity and kindness in reassuring Rush and drank but a little of that which remained in the bucket, leaving the rest for his younger sibling.
Later that fall in 1896, while the other children attended school, Rush accompanied his father to the town of Jackson, a trip of some fourteen or fifteen miles from their home. They traveled by wagon behind a team of mules with sacks of wheat to sell to the mill located on the west side of the town. While in Jackson, Joseph, a staunch Republican and supporter of William McKinley for president, attended a gathering and flag raising with other Republicans at a park. Several men together raised a pole with its flag around which everyone gathered. Then speakers harangued the crowd, a band played, and the crowd sang. On the return home, Joseph spoke to Rush about what had happened and his desire to see McKinley elected president.
Excerpted from The Original Rush Limbaugh by Dennis K. Boman Copyright © 2012 by The Curators of the University of Missouri. Excerpted by permission of University of Missouri Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Farm Boy 1
Chapter 2 Intellectual Development and Courtship 14
Chapter 3 Student at the University of Missouri 30
Chapter 4 The Great War and Growing Law Practice 42
Chapter 5 State Legislator 65
Chapter 6 The Brunk Impeachment 98
Chapter 7 The Muench Kidnapping Trial 127
Chapter 8 The Second World War 155
Chapter 9 Limbaugh & Limbaugh 173
Chapter 10 Civil Libertarian 190
Chapter 11 Twilight Years 219