Tucked away in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Northwestern North Carolina, Alleghany County is the state’s fifth smallest county, but it is home to one of the most powerful political dynasties the state has ever known.
Jonathan Doughton might have had some local fame as a county commissioner, but his sons Rufus and Robert became towering figures in state and national politics.
Named after the famous Confederate General, Robert Lee Doughton may have been a major player on the national stage, but never strayed from his farming roots. He felt the call to serve and began public life as a member of the state board of Agriculture, seven years later he was in Congress, a body he would not leave for 43 years, having never been defeated.
He was known affectionately as “Farmer Bob” for obvious reasons, but also as “Muley Bob” for being stubborn, rugged, frugal and flinty…I like this guy already! Standing 6-foot-2 and a sturdy 215 pounds, Doughton was not above trading blows with opponents-sometimes literally. North Carolina Republican congressman J.S. Blalock made the mistake of punching him after a speech and the then 71-year old Doughton hit back and then chased Blalock down the street shouting, “Come back and finish this thing!”
Legend has it that Doughton, chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means committee, was instrumental in having the Blue Ridge Parkway come through North Carolina and not Tennessee by striking a bargain with President Franklin Roosevelt to support his New Deal legislation. Doughton served with seven different presidents, but called FDR the “Finest man to work with I ever saw.” Roosevelt knew an ally when he saw one and talked Doughton out of running for governor of North Carolina in 1938!
While a lifelong democrat, Doughton was a fiscal conservative and once led the fight against a national sales tax. In keeping with his shrewd farming background, he explained that his tax philosophy was to “get the most feathers you can with the fewest squawks from the goose” and once admonished his democrat colleagues by explaining “you can shear a sheep every year, but you can only skin it once.”
In Congress he was famous for rising before daybreak and being at his office before anyone else and he credited his regimen of an apple with every meal to be one of the reasons he lived to be 90 years old.
His older brother Rufus, was known in North Carolina state politics as the Grand Old Man of the West and the Old Tiger of Alleghany as he served 46 years in the House of Representatives. The Raleigh News and Observer said that Rufus shaped more legislation than any man of his generation. The Doughton tradition carried on as his son Kemp later became Speaker of the State House. Bottom line, do not doubt the Doughtons of Alleghany County!
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