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When George Aiken died in 1984, he was remembered as a man of integrity and simplicity whose voice of common sense was heard throughout the world. In the U.S. Senate, where he served for 34 years, he fought countless battles for rural America. He was the prime architect of the food stamp program; he was responsible for U.S. participation in the creation of the St. Lawrence Seaway and he could take credit for much of the farm legislation on the books today, covering such areas as rural electrification, flood control and crop insurance.

By the time Aiken retired from the Senate in 1975 he had acquired the status of a Vermont institution. In his last re-election bid, in 1968, the Republican reported spending $17.09, mostly for postage to thank people for circulating his nominating petitions, "which I didn't ask them to do," he said.

He had come a long way in nearly half a century of public service. In the 1930s he was the radical outsider whom the chairman of the state Republican Party criticized as "that Communist." Countless battles pitted Aiken against the Republican establishment. Every step of the way, people recognized the battles for what they were: struggles for Vermont. Aiken was the champion of the common man. The old guard knew it and feared him; Vermonters knew it and loved him.

By fighting that fight and winning Aiken did more to shape Vermont in the 20th century than any other single person. Today's Vermont stands as a legacy to Aiken and the fights he fought.

The banks, the railroads, the marble companies and the granite companies lost their monopoly on Vermont government when Aiken became governor. The forgotten farmer, Vermont's silent and suffering majority, was dealt a new hand as Aiken gave rural residents the will and the way to survive. Farmers banded together to market their goods, and formed electric and insurance cooperatives, all of which gave them new clout and new hope. "On farm after farm, whether the owner had been ready to give up, he received renewed hope, faith and income, after he obtained electricity," Aiken recalled decades after the cooperatives he helped create brought power to the rural reaches of the state.

Aiken was so unassuming and so easy-going that it hard to imagine he accomplished all he did. His success stemmed in part from timing: Vermont's farmers were ready to rebel. However, the key to victory was Aiken: his style, his integrity, his cunning and his unwavering belief in the principle of fairness.

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Aiken | Bailey | Davis | Fisher | Beard | Gibson | Hard | Merrill | Hoff | Packard

 

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