SWEENEY, MARTIN L. (15 Apr. 1885-1 May 1960), congressman and politician, was born in Cleveland to Dominic and Anna Cleary Sweeney. At the age of 12 he found work to support himself while attending St. Bridget's Parochial School, and later worked as a longshoreman and construction worker while attending Cleveland Law School part-time, graduating and being admitted to the Ohio bar in 1914. After one term (1913-14) in the Ohio legislature, Sweeney entered private practice until 1923, when he became a Municipal Court judge. On the bench he vocally opposed Prohibition.
In 1931, Sweeney won election to the U.S. Congress. Attending the 1932 Democratic National Convention as a delegate pledged to Al Smith, Sweeney instead supported Franklin Roosevelt, resulting in a split with county party chairman BURR GONGWER. After losing Cleveland's 1933 Democratic mayorial primary, the split widened when Sweeney supported the Republican candidate. In mid-1936, he turned against President Roosevelt's policies, supporting the Catholic priest Charles Coughlin. Reelected in 1934 and 1936 without Democratic party support, Sweeney considered his victories as mandates for independent action. During the late 1930s his politics became increasingly isolationist. Sweeney reconciled with Gongwer in 1937, but RAY T. MILLER broke with Sweeney and Gongwer and won the county party leadership. Sweeney failed to oust Miller as party chairman in 1940 but successfully defended his congressional seat against Miller-supported Michael Feighan, then lost to Feighan in 1942. After failing to win the governor's nomination in 1944, Sweeney returned to private practice with his son Robert.
Sweeney married Marie Carlin in 1921 and had four children: Martin, Jr., Anne Marie, Robert, and Eileen.