|Table of contents|
2 Early political career
3 US Senate service
4 Personal life
McClellan was born in Sheridan, Grant County, Arkansas. He came from a Democratic family who named him after Democratic Governor and Representative John Sebastian Little.
McClellan studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1913 at the age of 17, becoming the youngest lawyer in the United States. He started private law practice in Sheridan.
Early political career
After returning from the Army in 1919, he moved to Malvern, Arkansas where he served as prosecuting attorney in the 7th judicial district from 1927 to 1930.
In 1935, McClellan was elected as a Representative of the Democratic Party from the 6th District of Arkansas to the 74th Congress. He was re-elected to the 75th Congress in 1937. He did not run for re-election in 1938 to pursue an unsuccessful candidacy for the Senate against the first elected female senator in US History, Hattie Caraway. In 1940, 1944, and 1948, McClellan was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention from Arkansas. During this period, he moved to Camden, Arkansas to practice law.
US Senate service
McClellan served as Senator from Arkansas from 1943 to 1977, when he died in office.
During his tenure, he served as chairman of the Appropriations Committee and served 22 years as chairman of the Committee on Government Operations.
McClellan was the longest serving United States Senator in Arkansas history.
During the later part of his Senate service Arkansas had, perhaps, the most powerful Congressional delegations with McClellan as chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Wilbur Mills as chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, and Senator J. William Fulbright on foreign relations.
McClellan also served for eighteen years as chairman of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (1955 – 1973). He was a participant of the famous Army-McCarthy Hearings and led a Democratic walkout of that subcommittee in protest of Senator Joseph McCarthy's conduct in those hearings. Under his leadership, the committee conducted the famous Valachi Hearings investigating Teamsters head Jimmy Hoffa. During this period, he hired Robert F. Kennedy as chief counsel and vaulted him into the national spotlight. McClellan investigated numerous cases of government corruption including numerous defense contractors and Texas financier Billie Sol Estes.
McClellan experienced many personal tragedies in his life.
McClellan's second wife died of spinal meningitis in 1935 and his son Max died of the same disease while serving in Africa during World War II in 1943.
His son John L. Jr. died died in 1949 in an automobile accident.
His son James H. died in a plane crash in 1958.
McClellan died in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1977 and was buried at Roselawn Memorial Park in Little Rock.