Carl Vinson was a distinguished member of the U.S. House of Representatives for more than 50 years. Vinson's early years were spent in the middle Georgia area. He was one of seven children born to Edward S. and Ann Vinson on a farm near Milledgeville in 1883. Vinson attended Georgia Military and Agricultural College, earned a law degree from Mercer University in 1902, and began practicing law in his hometown as a junior partner for Judge Edward R. Hines.
Vinson's political career also began in Milledgeville. He served a stint as a state legislator, rising to the position of speaker pro tempore, until he lost his seat in 1912 due to his hand in the redistricting process, in which Baldwin County moved from Georgia's Sixth Congressional District to Georgia's Tenth Congressional District. Vinson lost reelection by five votes to J.H. Ennis, the only election he would ever lose in his career.
Vinson's service in the U.S. House of Representatives began on November 3, 1914, just days before his thirty-first birthday, which made him the youngest member of the 63rd Congress. He had been elected to the seat in a special election to replace Thomas W. Hardwick, who left the House to run for an open Senate seat. During his five decades in Congress, Vinson faced only token opposition with the exception of the 1918 election, where he narrowly defeated populist leader Thomas E. Watson to retain his seat. Vinson served in the House under nine Presidents, from Wilson to Johnson.
During his distinguished career, Vinson was responsible for the expansion of the U.S. military, particularly the Navy. He was referred to as the "Father of the Two-Ocean Navy." He also helped to ensure the continued existence of the U.S. Marine Corps and kept funding for the Department of Defense intact despite legislative efforts to reduce it. He is credited for advocating military preparedness and his efforts to expand the Air Force, Marines, and the Navy pre-dated the attack on Pearl Harbor and the American entrance into World War II. After the end of the war, Vinson continued to work for a strong military. Vinson authored several notable pieces of legislation during his time in Congress, including the Naval Act of 1938 and the Two-Ocean Navy Act of 1940. During the Cold War, he continued to push for military buildup, asserting that "the most expensive thing in the world is a cheap Army and Navy."
In 1956, Vinson signed the Declaration of Constitutionalist Principles (informally known as the Southern Manifesto), along with 100 other politicians from Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia, to counter the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Brown vs. the Board of Education, accusing the Court of abusing its power and vowing to overturn the decision through legislation.
Vinson served as both Ranking Member and Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, depending on which party controlled Congress, until his retirement in 1965. When he retired in January 1965, Vinson was then the longest-serving member of the House of Representatives. To date, his service record of 50 years, 61 days is still the seventh-longest time served in Congress. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom with Special Distinction in 1964, and in 1973, the USS Carl Vinson was named in his honor.
Vinson married Mary Green in 1921. They had no children. His great-nephew, Sam Nunn, served as a U.S. Senator from Georgia from 1972 to 1997. Vinson died in Milledgeville on June 1, 1981.