Forrest C Donnell (August 20, 1884 – March 3, 1980) was a United States Senator and the 40th Governor of Missouri. He was a Republican.
Donnell was born in Quitman, Missouri. Donnell graduated from Maryville High School (Missouri) in 1900, where his father was once mayor ironically living in the same home as Albert Morehouse who had also been governor.
At the University of Missouri he was a member of the Kappa Sigma and Phi Delta Phi fraternities and was elected to member in Phi Beta Kappa, Theta Kappa Nu and QEBH societies. He was valedictorian of the 1904 class and received a law degree in 1907.
In 1907 he moved to St. Louis, Missouri. In October 1911 he and future Senator Selden P. Spencer formed the law firm of Spencer & Donnell. Donnell married Hilda Hays in 1913. They would have two children: Ruth and John Lanier. In 1917 he was president of the Association of Young Republicans of Missouri; in 1918-1920 as a member of the executive committee of the Republican State Committee of Missouri; and in 1919 as president of the 28th Ward Republican Club of St. Louis.
He was the city attorney of Webster Groves, Missouri, a suburb southwest of St. Louis City.
He was elected Governor of Missouri in 1940 and served one term from 1941 and 1945.
Donnell was the first Republican governor after the collapse of the Thomas Pendergast political machine and the only major Republican elected statewide in the 1940 election; Democrats were to delay seating him for six weeks until being forced to do so by the Missouri Supreme Court in what would be called the “Great Governorship Steal.”
Donnell had defeated St. Louis politician Lawrence “Larry” McDaniel by 3,613 votes out of nearly 2 million cast thanks largely to votes cast in rural areas.
Donnell’s predecessor Lloyd C. Stark had wrested control of federal appointments in the state from the Pendergast machine in 1936. Consequently there was unease with a Republican taking over the appointments.
Within hours of the election several members of the Democratic party met at the DeSoto Hotel in St. Louis to plot strategy. Among those attending were Senator Bennett Champ Clark, St. Louis Mayor Bernard F. Dickmann, Democratic Party Chairman Robert Hannegan, Attorney General Roy McKittrick and state Democratic Chairman C. Marion Hulen.
Their strategy was to charge that Republican votes were fraudulently bought and to use a provision of the Missouri Constitution that provided the Speaker of the House "would count – tabulate – the votes and proclaim to the general public who won".
Donnell was refused to be seated while the Speaker investigated the votes. Governor Stark urged that he be seated. The Missouri Supreme Court ultimately seated him.
Donnell was a Mason and would be elected Grand Master of the Missouri chapter during his term as governor. Ironically, Democrat Harry S. Truman was to imply that Donnell helped Truman win the 1940 Senate election because of their Mason bond.
I had a Catholic friend in St. Louis by the name of James E. Wade. He attended a meeting [where] Davis made his usual charges. Forrest Donnell, who afterwards became [Republican] Governor and Senator, was speaking from the same platform. Donnell was just behind me in the Grand Lodge line and would be Grand Master in a year or two.
So Jim Wade went up to him . . . and asked him if I could be the low sort of fellow that Davis charged and still be Grand Master of Masons of Missouri. Mr. Donnell said: 'No, Jim, he could not.' That ruined Mr. Davis—I won by 276,000 votes."
Donnell's ambitious plans as governor were largely thwarted, despite the Republican party gaining control of the house of representatives and an equal share in the senate in 1942.
Donnell was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1944. In that race, he defeated state Attorney General Roy McKittrick by 1,988 votes out of nearly 1.56 million cast . McKittrick had unseated incumbent U.S. Senator Bennett Champ Clark in the Democratic primary. He served from 1945 to 1951. As senator, Donnell supported the Taft-Hartley Act, other antilabor measures, and lower income taxes. He opposed an excess-profits tax and most foreign aid. He lost to former U.S. Representative Thomas C. Hennings, Jr. by 53.6%-to-46.4% in the United States Senate elections, 1950.
He returned to practicing law and retired in 1956. Donnell served as president of the University of Missouri Alumni Association and as a trustee of the State Historical Society of Missouri. He died in 1980 at the age of 95 in St. Louis. He is buried in Bellefontaine Cemetery.