Marian Anderson was a singer whose raw talent, honed over years of passionate dedication to her art, made her famous in Europe and America and brought her, in the spring of 1939, to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. There the African American contralto delivered an open-air concert of surpassing beauty and dignity, throwing into sharp relief the puniness of segregationists who would have denied her a venue. In championing the performance on national hallowed ground, Franklin D. and Eleanor Roosevelt had signaled to the country their embrace of racial integration and equality—despite the grip of southern Democrats on the legislative process in Congress.
Anderson was born in Philadelphia the oldest of three girls, her father an ice and coal purveyor who died when she was twelve, her mother a former teacher and childcare worker. Members of the Union Baptist Church where Anderson sang in the choir from the age of six recognized her gifts and, dubbing her “Baby Contralto,” raised funds to help pay for her schooling and voice training. After high school, she auditioned for the renowned voice coach Giuseppe Boghetti. At first distracted on a busy day, Boghetti soon took notice of the young woman pouring out an African American spiritual with eyes closed. “When she finished singing ‘Deep River,’” he recalled, “I just couldn’t move.” Under his tutelage Anderson made great strides and during the 1920s pursued an increasingly full and exalted concert schedule. In the late 1920s she began working in Europe to great acclaim.
In 1935, when Anderson was in Washington to perform in a Howard University concert series, Eleanor Roosevelt invited her to sing for the first couple and their guests after dinner at the White House. This began a long friendship between the two women. In 1939, Anderson was due to perform again in the Howard series, but this time, given Anderson’s increasing celebrity, her manager sought to book Constitution Hall, an appropriately large venue owned by the patriotic group Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). The group refused to accept the booking; in 1932 it had adopted a policy banning nonwhite performers. The Washington, DC, public school system also refused to make available the large auditorium of a white high school.
Outraged Washingtonians, along with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and other activists, pushed back. Eleanor Roosevelt stepped boldly to the fore, publicly resigning her membership in the DAR in February 1939. Harold Ickes, the pro-civil rights secretary of the interior, eventually secured FDR’s assent to open the Lincoln Memorial to Anderson. Terribly nervous at first—Anderson was not an activist by temperament or background—she performed the concert on Easter Sunday 1939 before a mixed-race audience of seventy-five thousand, enrapturing critics and stirring the national conscience.
Anderson went on to become the first African American to perform at the New York Metropolitan Opera in 1955. In 1961 she sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” at John F. Kennedy’s inauguration, and in December 1963 President Lyndon Johnson awarded her the Medal of Freedom. She died at the home of her nephew in Portland, Oregon, in 1993, at the age of ninety-six.
Real Estate Magnate
Real Estate Magnate
Vincent Astor was a millionaire real estate developer, publisher, racecar driver, philanthropist, and grandson of Caroline Schermerhorn Astor, the creator and grande dame of the New York “Four Hundred,” the elite of Gilded Age society. Astor inherited his family’s real estate empire when his father died aboard the luxury ocean liner the Titanic as it sank in the North Atlantic in 1912.
Astor himself rejected New York high society, preferring to spend his free time racing cars and airplanes and managing his family’s real estate holdings. Although he built the world’s largest luxury yacht, the Nourmahal, when both world wars erupted, he quickly turned his beloved pleasure craft over to the U.S. Navy for military use.
A political independent, Astor supported Franklin D. Roosevelt for president in 1932 and the independent Joseph V. McKee over Republican Fiorello LaGuardia in the 1933 New York City mayoral race. Yet when LaGuardia launched his campaign against slum housing—and Astor realized that he had not liquidated all his slum holdings—the real estate magnate sold his remaining property to LaGuardia’s newly formed Municipal Housing Authority for a very low price, required almost no down payment, and arranged an extended long-term, low-interest mortgage.
Astor’s early enthusiasm for the New Deal waned by 1934, and he turned his attention to buying news magazines, securing ownership of New York City’s St. Regis Hotel, and developing an office building on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, the Astor Plaza, which never came to fruition. He also served as trustee of various New York City institutions, including the New York Public Library. He died of a heart attack at age sixty-seven, leaving the bulk of his estate to the Astor Foundation, which he established “to alleviate human misery.”
Educator, Presidential Advisor, Civil Rights Leader
Mary McLeod Bethune
Educator, Presidential Advisor, Civil Rights Leader
Born in rural poverty in the Reconstruction South, Mary McLeod Bethune became a noted educator and spent her life building institutions to support the social and political strength of African American communities across the country. She advised Franklin D. Roosevelt on minority affairs and in 1935 formed the Federal Council of Negro Affairs—the so-called Black Cabinet—to advocate for African American interests inside the Roosevelt administration.
Bethune began life near Mayesville, South Carolina, the fifteenth of seventeen siblings. Her parents, former slaves, had managed to buy five acres to farm in cotton and to build a small cabin, but the stark absence of opportunity oppressed young Bethune. She later recalled an incident when, as a child of nine or ten, she had accompanied her mother to work in a white family’s home and been sharply instructed by the daughter of the house to put down a book she’d been inspecting. “You can’t read!” the girl exclaimed. “It just did something to my pride and my heart that made me feel that some day I would read just as she was reading,” Bethune said in a 1940 interview. Soon after, a Presbyterian missionary school opened nearby, and Bethune’s memory of the words “you can’t read” fired her determination to excel there, the only one of her siblings the family could afford to send. Sponsorship by a white Colorado teacher allowed Bethune to attend Scotia Seminary in Concord, North Carolina, then the Bible Institute for Home and Foreign Missions (later the Moody Bible Institute) in Chicago.
After graduating in 1893, Bethune taught in various places before founding a tiny school of her own in Daytona Beach, Florida: the Daytona Educational and Industrial School for Training Negro girls. It had six students—five girls and Bethune’s small son, Albert. (In 1898 she had married school teacher Albertus Bethune, but they parted after several years.) Thanks to Bethune’s gift for both teaching and fundraising, the school expanded quickly and in 1923 merged with a Jacksonville boys’ high school, the Cookman Institute, in 1931 becoming Bethune-Cookman College. Bethune served as president for many years and maintained lifelong ties to Daytona Beach.
Bethune met Eleanor Roosevelt in 1927, the start of an enduring friendship. She supported Franklin D. Roosevelt in his 1932 campaign for the presidency. At ER’s suggestion, Bethune moved to Washington, DC, in 1935 to work for the newly created National Youth Administration (NYA). In 1936 FDR named Bethune director of its Division of Negro Affairs, in which capacity she ensured that African American youth would share in NYA educational and job-training benefits. Bethune brought together top African American federal officials in the Black Cabinet, which pushed for equal treatment of African Americans across New Deal programs, with mixed success. Also shortly after moving to the nation’s capital, Bethune founded the National Council of Negro Women, joining black women’s groups in a coalition that would find strength in unity and have a voice on the national stage.
In 1945 she attended the San Francisco Conference that founded the United Nations, the only woman of color to do so. She returned to Daytona Beach in 1949 and died there of a heart attack at age seventy-nine.
Joseph Wellington Byrns
Joseph Wellington Byrns was a Nashville lawyer who went on to become a fourteen-term United States congressman, serving from 1909 until his death in 1936. As House majority leader from 1933 until early 1935, he helped the newly elected president Franklin D. Roosevelt marshal the powers of a Democratic-dominated Congress to pass a raft of New Deal legislative initiatives.
Byrns was born to a prosperous farm family in the tobacco country of north-central Tennessee. He was elected to the Tennessee House of Representatives in 1894, won a seat in the state senate in 1900, and, after a failed 1902 run for district attorney in Nashville’s Davidson County, unseated the district’s incumbent U.S. congressman in 1908 by promising to build a dam for the Cumberland River—a promise he kept after gaining the seat.
In Congress Byrns established a track record of evenhanded service to constituents, unswerving party loyalty, and skillful and painstaking work on budgetary matters. He was committed to government efficiency. In 1910 he joined the powerful House Appropriations Committee, and it was here that he first came into contact with FDR, who as Woodrow Wilson’s assistant secretary of the navy came before Byrns’s committee to testify about navy appropriations.
In 1928 Byrns assumed the chairmanship of the Democratic National Congressional Committee, responsible for promoting the election of Democrats to Congress. Three years later, the Democrats regained control of the House. With his party now in the majority, in 1931 Byrns became chairman of the Appropriations Committee. The suffering of the Great Depression caused him to moderate his insistence on balancing the federal budget. As Appropriations chair he proposed merging the army and navy to save money but he also defeated a bill to institute a federal sales tax, concerned about the effect this regressive tax would have on struggling Americans.
Following the election of 1932, newly robust Democratic majorities allowed Byrns, who was plagued by heart trouble, to step down as Appropriations chair and take the more manageable position of House majority leader. Although his politics were less progressive than those of newly elected FDR, Byrns’s tradition of supporting Democratic leaders would benefit FDR’s agenda as it had Woodrow Wilson’s before him. “I expect to do what I can to put through the plans and policies of President Roosevelt,” he said upon accepting the position of majority leader. Byrns loyally championed each piece of New Deal legislation, sponsoring the Civilian Conservation Corps bill that put the jobless to work in conservation jobs around the country.
In January 1935, although FDR had favored other candidates, Byrns’s colleagues in the House elected him Speaker. He appointed fifteen deputy whips to keep him apprised of his members’ actions and preferences. While chairing a session of the House in June 1936, Byrns died unexpectedly of a stroke. As tradition dictated upon the death of a sitting Speaker, his funeral was held in the Capitol and was attended by FDR, legislators, and a host of other leaders. Byrns was remembered for his kindness, patience, and diligence, qualities that had won the allegiance of colleagues and constituents alike. FDR traveled by overnight train to attend Byrns’s burial in his hometown of Nashville.
Alphonse “Al” Capone—bootlegger, racketeer, and crime syndicate boss—was America’s most notorious criminal. He began his gang life in 1913 in Brooklyn’s Coney Island, where, four years later, an opponent in a barroom brawl slashed Capone’s face with a knife—leaving a jagged wound that prompted the press to dub him “Scarface.”
By 1920 Capone had moved to Prohibition-era Chicago, where he helped his criminal syndicate kill a rival crime boss, seize control of the city’s prostitution ring, and take over the highly lucrative black market in alcohol. In 1924 his armed troops not only dominated an election in nearby Cicero, Illinois, but also killed a bootlegging competitor. By 1928, Capone was a major crime boss who had ordered the assassination of the state attorney, attacks on the homes of those opposing his political cronies, and, finally, the infamous Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre, in which Capone’s hirelings gunned down seven key members of a rival group, the North Side gang.
In June 1931, while lawman Eliot Ness and his Prohibition bureau team investigated Capone’s bootlegging activities, the Internal Revenue Service indicted him for tax fraud. In May 1932, Capone began his eleven-year sentence in the Atlanta federal penitentiary, only to be transferred to Alcatraz, the new maximum-security prison outside San Francisco, eighteen months later. By November 1939, syphilis had entered his brain and he was released from prison to seek medical treatment. He spent the last seven years of his life in increasing mental decay before he died of a stroke in 1947.
Supreme Court Justice
Supreme Court Justice
Benjamin Cardozo, the homeschooled son of a disgraced jurist, was orphaned at the age of fifteen, passed the bar exam in his home state of New York without earning a law degree, and became an influential legal scholar, lecturer, appellate court chief justice, and justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. He was a quiet, reserved, and brilliant man who preferred writing appellate briefs and legal tomes to arguing property and civil cases before a jury.
Yet in 1913, when anti–Tammany Hall Democrats asked him to be their candidate for the New York Supreme Court, he agreed to campaign, winning by less than 1 percent of the vote. Scarcely a month after Cardozo assumed the seat Governor Martin Glynn appointed him to the state Court of Appeals, where he rose to the rank of chief justice before being tapped by President Herbert Hoover in February 1932 to fill the vacancy Oliver Wendell Holmes’s retirement left on the U.S. Supreme Court. The Senate, impressed by both Cardozo’s jurisprudence and his leadership of the American Law Institute, unanimously and rapidly confirmed him.
Cardozo’s commitment to judicial restraint influenced many of his opinions and helped guide his interpretation of New Deal legislation. In his 1935 dissenting opinion in the Stewart Dry Goods case, in which department stores and other retailers had challenged a Kentucky state law imposing a tax on gross sales, Cardozo argued that a state did have the power to tax a business’s gross receipts rather than net profit as long as “a perverse or vengeful spirit” did not motivate the policy and the state sought “legitimate ends by means honestly and rationally chosen.” In 1936 Cardozo disagreed when a conservative majority of the justices overturned legislation establishing maximum working hours and a minimum wage and a statute allowing states and localities to seek bankruptcy protection.
The following year, Cardozo crafted the majority opinion in Helvering v. Davis, rejecting the argument that the government’s plan to fund the old-age pensions established by the Social Security Act was unconstitutional. The plan’s constitutional support, he argued, lay in a clause giving Congress the power to collect taxes to provide for the “general welfare” of the United States. “The hope behind this statute is to save men and women from the rigors of the poor house as well as from the haunting fear that such a lot awaits them when the journey’s end is near,” Cardozo wrote. A few months after issuing this decision, he suffered a heart attack, followed in July 1938 by a fatal stroke.
Anton Joseph Cermak
Anton Cermak, whose life would be cut short in an assassination attempt on Franklin D. Roosevelt, immigrated to Illinois from Prague when he was one year old. His family’s dire economic straits forced him to leave school at age eleven and follow his father into the coal mines—a job he lost almost two years later when management fired him for asking for a raise. After finding work as a deliveryman, young Cermak branched out in a variety of successful business ventures ranging from selling chicken feed to coal hauling and real estate.
He served in the Illinois General Assembly, where he focused on mining legislation until 1912, when he joined the Chicago City Council. His ability to unite immigrants, Republicans, social workers, and Democrats in a majority Republican town led to his election as president of the Cook County Board of Commissioners in 1922. In that position, Cermak developed an impressive reputation as an efficient manager who erased Chicago’s debt, developed an unprecedented variety of outdoor sports facilities, created the office of public defender, and improved the city’s health services to the poor. In 1931 Chicago responded by overwhelmingly electing him mayor.
As mayor during the Depression, Cermak reduced the city’s payrolls, secured federal Reconstruction Finance Corporation loans, and worked to keep essential social services afloat. An uncompromising opponent of Prohibition, Cermak had supported anti-Prohibition candidate Al Smith’s 1928 presidential campaign. But when the 1932 Democratic Convention came to Chicago, he backed a series of Illinois-related candidates—and refused to throw his support to New York candidate Franklin D. Roosevelt when the nomination lay within his grasp. Thus, when Smith forces crammed the balconies to boo, hiss, and, they hoped, sideline FDR’s selection, convention chair Thomas Walsh had to order Cermak to go quiet Smith’s cronies.
In February 1932, Cermak traveled to Miami to make amends with FDR. There, an assassin’s bullet meant for FDR struck him instead. Cermak died from complications less than a week after FDR assumed the presidency.
William Alfred Comstock
William A. Comstock, a University of Michigan graduate who developed a successful career in real estate and railroad construction, had more success as a Democratic Party leader than he did as a Democratic candidate. He served several terms as chair of the party, first at the county and then on the state level. Michigan party leaders tapped him to represent them on the Democratic National Committee from 1924 to 1930.
During that same period, he ran for governor of his home state three times and lost each election. In 1932, after finally winning the governorship, he implemented the state’s first sales tax and, after automobile magnate Henry Ford refused to bail out endangered Detroit banks, imposed an eight-day bank holiday across the state—an action that precipitated a panicked overture by outgoing president Herbert Hoover to newly elected Franklin D. Roosevelt to explore ways he could shut banks nationwide should the situation worsen. FDR would take the step himself within days of his inauguration.
Comstock lost his reelection campaign in 1935 and returned to politics only in 1942, when he was elected to serve on the Detroit City Council, a position he held until his death in 1949.
Calvin Coolidge, the thirtieth president of the United States, served as Warren Harding’s vice president and assumed the presidency when Harding died of a cerebral hemorrhage his third year in office. In many ways, most notably temperamentally, administratively, and ethically, Coolidge was the polar opposite of Harding.
Raised in the tiny rural village of Plymouth Notch, Vermont, Coolidge settled in Northampton, Massachusetts, after graduating from Amherst. He began his career in state and local government, where he developed a reputation as a thrifty (if not parsimonious), effective, and honest administrator who did not shy away from controversial decisions. As a state senator, he mediated the textile strike crippling Lawrence, Massachusetts, and as governor, he supported the Boston police commissioner’s decision to fire striking police officers, famously declaring in 1919, “There is no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anytime, anywhere.”
But as vice president, Coolidge took such a backseat to Harding that the country barely noticed him until he assumed the presidency. As president, he instituted no major reforms—other than introducing regular press conferences—and focused on effectively implementing the Republican priorities of reducing federal taxes and the national debt. Dubbed “Silent Cal” by the press for his terse remarks, he summed up his governmental philosophy in the succinct pronouncement that “the chief business of America is business.” Thus, he opposed those who wanted to spend surplus revenues on public service projects, who proposed revitalizing the dams at Muscle Shoals on the Tennessee River to generate public power, and who wanted to pay World War I veterans a bonus.
Yet he did not hesitate to address corruption and hold members of his administration accountable for their actions. He appointed both a Republican and a Democratic special counsel to investigate a Harding-era bribery scandal known as the Teapot Dome affair, and dismissed his attorney general when he refused to let Senate investigators review his files, telling the attorney general that he could not serve simultaneously as his own defense counsel and the nation’s chief law officer.
In foreign affairs, Coolidge supported U.S. membership in the World Court (with the reservation that its rulings would not override American law), embraced the ineffective Kellogg-Briand Pact renouncing war as a political tool, and failed to resolve the issue of European repayment of war debts.
He did not seek reelection in 1928 and returned to his Northampton, Massachusetts, home, where he died two months before Franklin D. Roosevelt’s inauguration.
Edward Prentiss Costigan
Edward Prentiss Costigan, a Denver lawyer who championed Prohibition, urban reform, and unions, began his political career as a progressive Republican before winning election to the U.S. Senate as a Democrat.
While in Colorado, Costigan served as president of the Civil Service Reform League, chair of the Dry Denver Campaign, and legal counsel to the United Mine Workers. Although he endorsed Robert La Follette for president in 1912, he switched his allegiance to Theodore Roosevelt when La Follette’s campaign folded, and in 1916 he stood with Democrat Woodrow Wilson, passionately defending his record as a progressive reformer.
In 1917 Wilson appointed Costigan to the Tariff Commission, where he led an unsuccessful fight to decrease sugar production in 1924. When Republican appointees disagreed and worked to raise tariffs, Costigan successfully urged the Senate to investigate the commission and the sugar issue.
In 1930 he joined the Democratic Party, was elected to the Senate, and, with La Follette, drafted legislation authorizing federal funds to support state relief efforts. When Franklin D. Roosevelt assumed the presidency, Costigan became an avid New Dealer while he challenged FDR to support more liberal legislation. He worked to prevent the National Labor Relations Board from recognizing company-sponsored unions, partnered with Robert Wagner to introduce antilynching legislation, and amended the Agricultural Adjustment Act to limit sugar production. Outraged when an investigation revealed millionaires who paid no taxes, he urged the publication of their tax returns.
Costigan, weakened by a series of heart-related issues, retired at the end of his first term, depriving the Senate of one of its most progressive voices. He died in Denver in 1939.
James Couzens, a bookkeeper who assisted in securing and managing the investments that helped build Ford Motor Company, became one of Detroit’s leading public servants and philanthropists, as well as its mayor and U.S. senator.
In 1915, questioning Ford Motor Company founder Henry Ford’s business practices and unhappy over his opposition to American involvement in World War I, Couzens resigned from Ford and sold his company stock. On the strength of his reputation as an impeccably honest businessman, the city of Detroit made him chair of its police commission and, in 1918, elected him mayor. Couzens used the position to secure public ownership of the city’s transportation system.
When scandal forced the resignation of Senator Truman Newberry, Couzens, who had campaigned for mayor on the slogan “I will reward no friends and punish no enemies,” was appointed to fill Newberry’s Senate seat. A moderate Republican, Couzens opposed the wealthy Henry Ford’s proposal to purchase government-owned nitrate plants and an unfinished dam in the Tennessee River Valley, facilities that instead would be used to generate publicly owned power as part of the Tennessee Valley Authority created by the New Deal. Couzens also criticized Andrew Mellon, President Herbert Hoover’s secretary of the Treasury, for proposing tax cuts for the wealthy.
In early 1933, as the Great Depression reached its nadir and the country awaited the inauguration of newly elected president Franklin D. Roosevelt, Detroit banks teetered toward failure. Couzens, a member of the Senate Banking Committee, frantically searched for a solution—but found none. Michigan governor William A. Comstock ultimately ordered the temporary closure of banks statewide—a so-called bank holiday—and many citizens held Couzens responsible for the banking collapse. They faulted him for not exerting enough pressure on the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, a federal lending agency, to induce the agency to rescue Detroit banks.
A pro–New Deal Republican, Couzens would support most of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s initiatives, a position that led to his defeat in the 1936 Michigan Republican primary—and pressure from Democrats to switch parties. In 1934 he gave $30 million of his wealth to establish the Children’s Fund of Michigan and insisted that his name be left off all its activities. He died in Detroit on October 22, 1936.
Homer Stillé Cummings
Homer Stillé Cummings, mayor, Democratic Party leader, and Connecticut state attorney, was Franklin D. Roosevelt’s choice for governor general of the Philippines until the man he had selected to be his attorney general, Thomas Walsh, died en route to FDR’s first inauguration in 1933. FDR turned to Cummings to fill the attorney general post. Cummings served in the role from 1933 until his resignation in 1939.
A populist Democrat, Cummings supported inflationary monetary policy to ease the burden of debtors, lower tariffs, an income tax, and the regulation of trusts and monopolies. Cummings, however, had more success as a party leader than as an elected official. Although he served as mayor of Stamford, Connecticut, for three terms, he lost (by narrow margins) elections to enter the U.S. House and the Senate. In 1916 he became the state’s attorney for Fairfield, a position he held for a decade.
At the same time, his party stature increased. From 1914 to 1920, he served as chair of the Democratic National Committee, and he delivered the keynote address at the party’s 1920 convention. At the 1924 convention in New York City, Cummings strove (although unsuccessfully) to mediate an intense intraparty dispute over whether the Democratic platform should condemn the Ku Klux Klan by name (the measure was narrowly defeated). In 1932 FDR asked Cummings to manage the party’s delegate selection process and to second his nomination for president.
Although it was Walsh’s death that catapulted Cummings into leadership at the Department of Justice, Cummings energetically embraced his new responsibilities. He immediately ruled that the Trading with the Enemy Act could be used to embargo the flow of gold and close the nation’s banks, stemming a disastrous nationwide bank panic. He promptly began reorganizing the Department of Justice both to make it more efficient and to expand its criminal jurisdiction into fighting crime. He led a successful effort to convince Congress to increase the penalties for kidnapping, bank robbery, crossing state lines to avoid arrest and prosecution, and the illegal possession of certain firearms. He also approved the expansion of powers granted to J. Edgar Hoover’s Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Cummings was not as successful defending New Deal legislation before the Supreme Court, partly because his solicitor general’s office was staffed with mediocre attorneys selected more for their political affiliations than prosecutorial abilities. In 1937 FDR asked Cummings to draft controversial legislation to add seats to the Supreme Court (giving FDR the opportunity to make new appointments), which the Senate killed with strong bipartisan support.
Cummings left the Department of Justice in 1939 and lived in Washington, DC, until his death in 1956.
Secretary of War
George Henry Dern
Secretary of War
George Henry Dern, inventor, company treasurer, and progressive western governor, chaired the National Governors’ Conference before Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed him secretary of war.
Dern began his political career in the Utah State senate, where he served from 1914 until 1923, when he resigned to challenge the Republican incumbent governor, Charles Mabey. Campaigning on progressive issues (and the slogan “We want a Dern good governor, and we don’t mean Mabey”), Dern defeated Mabey by ten thousand votes while Republicans swept other electoral contests.
As governor, Dern focused on natural resources, education, and tax reform, securing a graduated state income tax and a corporate franchise tax to offset a regressive sales tax that demanded as much from the poor as the wealthy. In 1928 Utahans reelected Dern by a thirty-thousand-vote margin.
Although FDR initially wanted to appoint Dern secretary of the Interior, he ultimately selected Dern, despite his lack of military experience, to be secretary of war. Despite rumors that Dern might be a pacifist, he quickly secured the strong backing of the army by launching a five-year campaign to update weaponry, planes, and tanks and by prosecuting corrupt officers. He also oversaw the army’s distribution of food, clothing, and medical care to three hundred thousand enlistees in the Civilian Conservation Corps, FDR’s New Deal program putting unemployed men to work on conservation projects.
Dern died from complications of influenza in August 1936, just as FDR began his reelection campaign.
King of England
King of England
George VI became king of England after his older brother, Edward VII, abdicated the throne to marry the American divorcee Wallis Simpson in December 1936.
As a prince, George served in the British Royal Navy and Air Force during World War I and worked diligently to overcome a bad stammer so that he might represent the royal family more effectively. In 1939, after he and his wife, Elizabeth, accepted an invitation from Franklin D. Roosevelt, they became the first British royals to visit the United States. Upon their return to Britain from their highly successful visit, the royals would spend the next six years enduring the war with their subjects. They remained in London as the Germans attacked the city and bombed Buckingham Palace and traveled around Great Britain visiting troops and factories. George visited battlefronts abroad. These were dramatic symbolic acts that bolstered British morale.
The royal couple hosted Harry Hopkins, President Roosevelt’s close advisor, when he came to London in 1941 to assess the war situation and meet with Prime Minister Winston Churchill. They hosted Eleanor Roosevelt in the fall of 1942 when she visited Britain and stayed at the bomb-damaged Buckingham Palace with them, sharing wartime rations. They supported Churchill’s leadership during the conflict and, when peace returned, watched as British colonies became independent, one after another.
When George VI died in 1952 at the age of fifty-six, Great Britain mourned his death deeply, as Churchill noted, “because of his courage and his simple way of living and of his tireless devotion to duties.” His oldest daughter succeeded him as regent and rules the British Commonwealth today as Elizabeth II.
Democratic Congressman & Budget Director
Democratic Congressman & Budget Director
Lewis Douglas, World War I combat veteran, businessman, state representative, and congressman, would become Franklin D. Roosevelt’s director of the budget.
A fierce proponent of balanced budgets and limited federal spending, Douglas dedicated his Arizona state legislative career to battling union-sponsored labor legislation and the development of the Colorado River. As a U.S. congressman (elected in 1926) and member of the House Appropriations, Military Affairs, and Irrigation and Reclamation Committees, he opposed the construction of Boulder Dam (later renamed Hoover Dam), the investment in dams that would bring public power to the Tennessee River Valley, and a bonus for his fellow World War I veterans.
A small-government Democrat, Douglas supported FDR for president in 1932 after hearing FDR pledge that he would trim the federal budget by a quarter. After FDR won that presidential election, Douglas devoted his energies to drafting legislation that FDR could submit to fulfill that campaign promise. As the March 1933 inauguration drew near, Douglas resigned from Congress to accept appointment as FDR’s budget director.
Douglas quickly joined FDR’s intimate circle of advisors—the “Bedside Cabinet” with whom FDR conferred while he planned his day. In that capacity he helped draft FDR’s messages to Congress and the budget-trimming Economy Act of 1933. But as FDR moved away from cutting federal expenditures and instead began promoting heavy spending on New Deal relief and public-works projects, Douglas grew disenchanted with FDR. He resigned his position on August 31, 1934, and promptly criticized FDR’s policies in public lectures, articles written for the Atlantic Monthly, and a statement outlining political principles for conservative Democrats.
After a two-year term as principal and vice chancellor of Canada’s McGill University, Douglas moved to New York to lead the Mutual Insurance Company. During World War II, he strongly advocated FDR’s Lend-Lease program offering generous war aid to Allies against the Nazis, and he lent considerable energy to the Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies.
In 1947 FDR’s successor as president, Harry Truman, rewarded Douglas’s service by appointing him U.S. ambassador to Great Britain, a position Douglas used to help shape the Marshall Plan, a program created to help rebuild the economies of postwar Europe.
In 1950 Douglas returned to Arizona, where he bought the Southern Arizona Bank and Trust Company and dedicated his energy to managing his various business investments. By the late 1950s, despite his outrage with communist-baiting McCarthyism and his opposition to the Vietnam War, he supported Republican presidential candidates. He died in Tucson in 1974.
Stephen Tyree Early
Stephen Tyree Early, a reporter for both the Associated Press (AP) and United Press International news services, became the first official presidential press secretary when Franklin D. Roosevelt asked him to serve in that position the day after he won the 1932 presidential election. Early, who first met FDR while covering the World War I–era Navy Department, served FDR throughout his long presidency.
Early first became associated with FDR when he left AP to act as advance man in FDR’s 1920 vice-presidential campaign. In that position, he reviewed FDR’s schedule daily to avoid double bookings, provided FDR with local statistics and personal anecdotes to fold into his speeches, and helped mediate tensions between local politicos and FDR’s scheduling team. FDR rewarded Early’s work with gold monogrammed cuff links, thus welcoming him into the “Cuff Links Club,” the inner circle upon which FDR depended during that ill-fated campaign. After the election Early returned to AP, where he broke the news of President Warren Harding’s sudden death in 1923. In 1927 he left print journalism when Paramount Newsreel hired him to be its Washington, DC, news editor.
After he joined FDR’s administration, Early worked closely with the president in creating a highly effective press operation to combat intense opposition by Republican-affiliated publishers. Early sat in on all presidential news conferences, identifying reporters FDR did not know and, when FDR was not clear or misspoke, asking FDR to clarify his remarks. Early managed FDR’s appearances on newsreels and orchestrated video coverage of FDR’s fireside chats.
Determined to have his side of the story covered in ways that reached a wide readership, Early wrote general interest articles on White House operations for the nation’s leading magazines. Yet he rejected all offers to write a biography, telling a friend, “If a man gives me his confidence in life, I see no reason to violate it after death.”
Once war erupted in Europe in 1939, Early thought it more important than ever that FDR’s remarks be reported accurately, and he insisted that three stenographers take down the president’s every word verbatim. He convinced FDR to let three wire-service reporters accompany him on all his travels and refused all pressures to resurrect the ultranationalist propaganda machine, the Committee on Public Information, created by President Woodrow Wilson under journalist George Creel during World War I.
When Early learned of FDR’s death, he helped arrange presidential successor Harry Truman’s swearing-in ceremony and the return of FDR’s casket to Washington, DC. Although he wanted to resign, he remained for a few months to assist Truman. He then assumed the vice presidency of the Pullman Company, a position he held until his death in 1951.
Queen of England
Queen of England
Queen Elizabeth II, the oldest child of King George VI and his heir apparent, spent her teenage years in wartime London. In 1945 she joined the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service, where she trained as a mechanic, drove military trucks, and achieved the rank of honorary junior commander.
In 1947 she married Philip Mountbatten, with whom she had four children: Charles, Anne, Andrew, and Edward. She assumed the throne when her father died in February 1952, and her June 1953 coronation—the first-ever to be nationally televised—buoyed a nation mourning the death of the beloved George VI.
Over the next decade, she and her husband, Prince Philip, visited many parts of the British Commonwealth, of which she was the titular head, as well as many countries to which she had no formal obligations. Family issues in the 1990s, including divorces among her children, the death of Princess Diana (former wife of Prince Charles), and a fire at Windsor Castle challenged her personally and tarnished the reputation of the monarchy. But Queen Elizabeth’s steadfast commitment to her ceremonial duties, her willingness to pay income taxes and open her houses to the public, and the Diamond Jubilee honoring her sixty years on the throne all endeared the queen to Britons and helped restore the image of the monarchy.
Democratic Campaign Manager
James Aloysius Farley
Democratic Campaign Manager
James “Jim” Farley was a small-town clerk whose skills as a political operative and campaign planner carried him to the top leadership position in both the New York State Democratic Committee and the Democratic National Committee. He served as Franklin D. Roosevelt’s campaign manager in two gubernatorial and two presidential campaigns.
Farley was born to Irish Catholic working-class parents in Rockland County, New York, along the western shore of the Hudson River some fifty miles north of New York City. He began his political career in 1911 as town clerk of his hometown, Stony Point, New York. After holding a series of state and party offices, he was elected chair of the New York State Democratic Committee in 1928. A close ally of New York governor Al Smith and Brooklyn political boss Ed Flynn, Farley agreed to a request by both men that he manage FDR’s 1928 campaign for governor of New York. In that capacity, Farley worked closely with Eleanor Roosevelt, the Women’s Division of the Democratic Party, and FDR confidant Louis Howe to orchestrate FDR’s narrow victory. In 1930 FDR again turned to Farley to manage his campaign for reelection, which FDR won by a landslide.
Despite Farley’s sometimes tense rivalry with Howe, FDR selected Farley to manage his 1932 presidential campaign, including managing four ballot contests at the 1932 nominating convention. FDR appointed Farley U.S. postmaster general and Democratic Party chairman in 1933, and he became one of FDR’s closest political advisors.
Farley’s vast national network helped FDR secure state and federal legislative support for New Deal policies, especially in ending Prohibition and defeating the Ludlow Resolution, a 1939 attempt by Congress to limit the foreign-affairs powers of the president. Farley also orchestrated FDR’s resounding reelection in 1936, famously revising the traditional political axiom “As Maine goes, so goes the nation” with the quip “As Maine goes, so goes Vermont.” These two states were the only ones to go against FDR in the election.
But Farley’s close relationship with FDR deteriorated in 1940 when Farley opposed FDR’s pursuit of a third term and FDR intuited that Farley had presidential ambitions of his own. Indeed, that year Farley resigned his positions as postmaster general and party chairman and unsuccessfully sought to win the party’s nomination over FDR. Eleanor Roosevelt, who was close to Farley and whose political skills Farley respected, flew to the convention to try to achieve a rapprochement between Farley and FDR. Although Farley remained close to ER, the dispute over FDR’s third term drove such a wedge between the two men that Farley refused to join FDR’s winning 1940 campaign team.
After leaving the administration, Farley worked for the Coca-Cola Export Corporation of New York until his retirement in 1973. Remembered as one of America’s greatest campaign managers, Farley remained active in state and national politics until his death on June 9, 1976, in New York City.
Legal Advisor & Supreme Court Justice
Legal Advisor & Supreme Court Justice
Felix Frankfurter, whom fellow Supreme Court justice Louis Brandeis called “the most useful lawyer in America,” immigrated to New York City from Vienna, Austria, in 1894. After graduating from public schools, Frankfurter entered Harvard Law School, where he heard Brandeis, also a Jewish immigrant, argue that law students should enter public service to prevent Wall Street and giant corporations from preying on the weak and defenseless.
Brandeis’s appeal changed Frankfurter’s career. In 1906 he joined a prestigious New York firm only to resign soon after when a senior partner urged him to change his Jewish-sounding name and told him that he would never make partner. Frankfurter joined Henry Stimson, U.S. district attorney for the Southern District of New York, investigating corrupt practices in the customs and immigration bureaus. His work impressed Stimson, who asked Frankfurter to manage his unsuccessful 1910 gubernatorial campaign.
The following year, when Stimson joined the Taft administration as secretary of war, Frankfurter came as his special assistant and managed all legal matters related to U.S. protectorates. In 1917 he endorsed Woodrow Wilson for president, and after a brief stint teaching at Harvard Law School, Frankfurter returned to Washington, DC, as special assistant to Stimson’s successor, Newton D. Baker, who asked Frankfurter to act as secretary and legal counsel to the wartime Mediation Council.
In this capacity, Frankfurter publicly condemned a corporation that seized striking workers and dropped them in the New Mexico desert without food and water, urging prosecution of the company and its law enforcement partners. Frankfurter’s subsequent targeting of convictions obtained by warrantless searches, violent interrogations, sensational press coverage, and doubtful testimony—along with his plea for a new trial for Italian-born anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, convicted of murder despite equivocal evidence—made him one of the nation’s most visible and controversial lawyers.
After World War I, Frankfurter returned to Harvard, where he mentored many of the lawyers who would be critical in shaping the New Deal: James Landis, Thomas Corcoran, Benjamin Cohen, and David Lilienthal. Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had met Frankfurter when the latter chaired the World War I–era War Labor Policies Board, turned to Frankfurter for legal advice throughout his two terms as governor.
The consultations continued during FDR’s presidency. Frankfurter helped shape the Securities Act of 1933 (requiring disclosure of information about securities for sale), the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (establishing the Securities and Exchange Commission), the Social Security Act of 1935 (creating Social Security and unemployment insurance), the Revenue Act of 1935 (raising taxes on the wealthy), and the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (establishing a federal minimum wage and maximum work hours).
In 1939 FDR appointed Frankfurter to fill Justice Benjamin Cardozo’s seat on the Supreme Court. Confirmed after a contentious Senate battle, Frankfurter decided cases in favor of New Deal economic policy but failed to meet the expectations of those who hoped he would continue to be a bold defender of protest and free speech. In his 1943 dissent in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, for example, he declared that First Amendment guarantees of religious freedom did not extend to those whose religious beliefs prevented them from saluting the American flag.
Frankfurter nonetheless continued to be a stalwart foe of racial and ethnic discrimination. He hired the Supreme Court’s first African American clerk and helped Chief Justice Earl Warren build unanimous support for Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, ending racial segregation in the pubic schools. He retired from the bench in 1962 and died three years later.
Democratic Vice President
John Nance Garner
Democratic Vice President
John Nance Garner, attorney, Texas state legislator, congressman, and political rival to Franklin D. Roosevelt, served as FDR’s vice president from 1933 to 1940.
For most of Garner’s congressional career, the Democrats were the minority party. Garner, as historian Otis Graham observed, “was not expected to have legislative ideas or formulate programs, only to refrain from mistakes and keep his word to other members.” His collegial relations with fellow Democrats assured his election in 1928 as minority leader and as Speaker of the House in 1931.
In 1932, with strong backing from publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst, Garner tried to secure the Democratic presidential nomination. When the convention deadlocked and Garner’s campaign stalled after three ballots, businessman and Democratic operative Joseph P. Kennedy convinced Hearst to throw Garner’s delegates to FDR. Garner released the delegates to FDR and thus started the momentum necessary to secure FDR’s nomination. Garner would run as his vice president.
As vice president, a position Garner famously described as “not worth a pitcher of warm spit,” he had no influence on New Deal policies. A small-government southern Democrat, Garner was never comfortable with New Deal policies, and his frustration with the administration increased throughout the first term.
After 1936, when the New Deal moved to address the concerns of African Americans and FDR attempted to enlarge the Supreme Court and defeat conservative Democrats, Garner’s opposition, which he kept to himself, intensified. In 1940 FDR tapped Secretary of Agriculture Henry Wallace to replace Garner, who eagerly left the administration and returned to his home state, where his banking, ranching, and real estate ventures made him a wealthy man.
British Parliamentarian & Prime Minister
David Lloyd George
British Parliamentarian & Prime Minister
David Lloyd George, a lawyer and Liberal Party member of Parliament for fifty-four years, served as British prime minister during World War I.
Raised in poverty-stricken Wales, Lloyd George used his seat in the House of Commons to improve conditions for the working class and to prevent the unelected upper house of Parliament, the House of Lords, from vetoing acts passed by the elected members of the House of Commons. His success led to a rapid rise up the ranks of the British government.
He became chancellor of the Exchequer (the second most powerful position in the British government) in 1909, and in 1915 he became minister of munitions, a position he used to improve Britain’s production of weapons and ammunition. In 1916, after a brief service as secretary of state for war, Lloyd George formed a coalition government, which elected him prime minister.
Under his leadership, the British nationalized shipping, established a unified command over the wartime British and French armies, and recognized women’s right to vote. At the close of World War I, Lloyd George headed the British delegation to the Versailles Peace Conference, where he hoped to punish Germany by making it reimburse Britain for the cost of both the war and wartime reconstruction. In 1921 he reached an agreement to create the Irish Free State within the British Commonwealth system after a bitter uprising there. He resigned as prime minister in 1922 but continued to serve in Parliament until 1944.
In this second phase of his career, he attacked Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s foreign policy. In particular, he held Chamberlain responsible for Russia’s dramatic 1939 alliance with Germany and Adolf Hitler’s invasion of Czechoslovakia. When Poland fell and German armies dominated France, Lloyd George thought that England should consider Hitler’s offer of peace “to avoid the slaughter.” Yet when Parliament refused to negotiate, ousted Chamberlain, and made Winston Churchill prime minister, Lloyd George stood behind the Churchill government. Although he declined Churchill’s invitation to join his government and often criticized his policies, the two remained friends.
Lloyd George died in March 1945, a few weeks before the Allies defeated Germany, and was eulogized for his leadership of World War I Britain and the broad social and economic policies he fostered.
Carter Glass left school at thirteen to apprentice as a printer in his father’s newspaper, the Lynchburg Daily Republican. Before entering politics—Glass would become one of the U.S. Senate’s most influential voices on banking and currency policy—he learned the newspaper business from the bottom up, rising from journeyman printer and compositor to reporter, editor, and publisher at newspapers in his hometown of Lynchburg and elsewhere, in the process becoming one of Virginia’s most influential Democrats.
Coming of age in the post–Civil War South made Glass into a staunch advocate for states’ rights, and he used his newspapers to support state regulation of corporations and to rail against corruption. He had continued his education by reading the classics and worried that uneducated, selfish voters damaged democracy by putting their whims before the good of the state. As a result, he championed poll taxes and literacy tests for Caucasian and African American voters alike. He joined the state senate in 1899 and two years later had those requirements added to the Virginia Constitution.
In 1902 he began the first of his seven terms in Congress, where, in 1913, as a member of the House Banking and Currency Committee, he led the drafting of the legislation creating the Federal Reserve System—although the system he envisioned was a banker-managed decentralized system rather than the twelve district banks controlled by a central board appointed by the president and Congress. He served as Woodrow Wilson’s secretary of the Treasury from 1918 to 1920, when he was appointed to fill the Senate seat held by the recently deceased Thomas Martin.
For the next twenty-six years, Glass fought deficit spending and federal appropriations for relief and voted against Franklin D. Roosevelt 81 percent of the time. He did, however, support the Emergency Banking Act of 1933 and with Henry Steagall cosponsored the Banking Act of 1933, which separated investment banking from commercial banking and introduced federal insurance for bank deposits. But by 1936, he so objected to FDR’s domestic policies that he opposed his renomination and refused to campaign for him when the Democrats ran FDR for a second term.
By 1939, Glass embraced FDR’s foreign policy as fervently as he had rejected FDR’s domestic policy. He called for the repeal of the neutrality laws, scathingly attacked isolationists, wanted America to enter World War II in January 1941 (well before Pearl Harbor), and used his position as chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to give FDR the funds he sought to fight the war. During the war Glass’s health declined rapidly, and although he did not resign his seat, he rarely entered the Senate for the last four years of his life. He died in May 1946 in Washington, DC, at the age of eighty-eight.
Democratic Congresswoman & Roosevelt Friend
Democratic Congresswoman & Roosevelt Friend
Isabella Greenway was a businesswoman, an inn operator, a veterans’ advocate, an Arizona congresswoman, and Eleanor Roosevelt’s dear childhood friend. She was, as the New York Times put it, “one of the more colorful personalities who flashed to national prominence during the national political upheaval that brought Franklin D. Roosevelt to the presidency.”
As a two-time widow whose deceased husbands had both been Rough Riders (members of a cavalry regiment heroized for its role in the Spanish-American War), Greenway developed an intense devotion to veterans. From the 1920s on, she ardently promoted the prompt distribution of a cash bonus promised to World War I veterans in the distant year of 1945.
By the midtwenties, after her second husband’s death from tuberculosis, Greenway increased her work with the Arizona Democratic Party. As the state’s Democratic National Committeewoman, she marshaled the Arizona delegates to endorse her old friend Franklin D. Roosevelt for president in 1932, an act FDR rewarded by asking her to second his nomination before the Democratic National Convention.
When FDR appointed Arizona’s only congressman, Lewis Douglas, to be his director of the budget, Greenway ran for the vacant House seat. Crisscrossing the state in a small aircraft, she campaigned before large city crowds as well as small groups standing alongside the state’s isolated, rural dirt roads. She told both groups, “The Roosevelts have thousands of friends not qualified to be congressmen. I am not asking for votes on that basis, but on the basis that I am qualified to do the work.”
Greenway entered the U.S. House of Representatives in March 1933 and within two weeks had secured appropriations from the Department of the Interior to support irrigation and flood-control projects and the construction of a new post office in Phoenix, creating nine thousand jobs for her constituents. Yet she did not hesitate to oppose FDR’s policies; for example, she took to the floor to fight a cut in veterans’ benefits included in the Economy Act of 1933.
She retired from Congress in 1936 and returned to Arizona, where she focused her energies on managing the Arizona Inn. In 1940, increasingly concerned that the United States might enter the war in Europe, she endorsed Republican Wendell Willkie for president instead of FDR. Yet once America entered the war, she played a lead role in providing civil defense training to women. She died in Tucson in 1953.
Warren Gamaliel Harding
Warren Harding, a small-town publisher who became the twenty-ninth president of the United States, began his political career as a member of the conservative Old Guard of the Ohio Republican Party. His four years in the state senate left no legislative mark but showed his peers that he could transcend the political turf battles that dominated Ohio Republican politics. This ability, more than his record, led the party to encourage him to run for governor in 1910. He lost that election only to be elected to the U.S. Senate in 1914.
As World War I approached, Harding supported Democratic president Woodrow Wilson’s defense initiatives, including the draft and the espionage acts, which criminalized various forms of speech that might damage the U.S. armed forces or aid its enemies. But Harding became a fierce critic of Wilson’s peace and postwar policies. He voted against the Treaty of Versailles, which set terms for the peace, and urged that separate treaties be negotiated with Germany, Britain, and France.
In 1920, as the Republican National Convention entered its tenth round of balloting, the party tapped Harding to be its presidential nominee, hoping that he once again could navigate the rival wings of the party. In the months that followed, Harding’s “front porch” campaign and overtures to the media swamped the Democratic ticket of James Cox and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Harding won 61 percent of the popular vote, sweeping every region of the country except the South.
President Harding cut federal spending, increased federal appropriations for state maternal and infant health clinics, adopted anti-immigration policies targeting “new immigrants” from southern and eastern Europe, unsuccessfully promoted U.S. affiliation with the World Court, and rejected U.S. membership in the League of Nations.
Yet Harding’s administration is most remembered for the scandals that plagued his Justice and Interior Departments—most notably the secret, self-enriching leasing of navy oil reserves by the secretary of the Interior, known as the Teapot Dome affair. The record is unclear as to how much Harding knew about the corruption, but the public revelations took their toll. He collapsed while delivering a speech in Seattle in late July 1923 and, while hospitalized for that collapse, suffered a fatal cerebral hemorrhage on August 2.
Tōgō Heihachirō, a leading admiral in the Japanese Imperial Navy and one of Japan’s most beloved war heroes, began his naval career when he enlisted in the Japanese navy after his hometown was attacked during the Boshin War of 1868-9, a civil war that restored imperial rule in Japan.
After serving aboard a variety of combat ships, Tōgō traveled to Britain in 1871 to study naval warfare, serve as an apprentice officer on British ships, and manage the construction of warships Japan had ordered from British shipyards.
When he returned to Japan in 1878, the navy assigned him a series of combat commands. In 1903, to reward his victorious battle record, the Imperial Navy appointed him commander in chief of the Combined Fleet of the Japanese Navy. As commander of the Japanese fleet, he directed Japan’s May 27, 1905, crushing defeat of the Russian fleet at the Battle of Tsushima—the battle that ended the Russo-Japanese War. That same year, Tōgō wrote in his diary that he believed he was “the reincarnation of Horatio Nelson,” a British naval hero famous for his successes against the French in the Napoleonic Wars of the early nineteenth century.
Tōgō also oversaw the education of future emperor Crown Prince Hirohito, who would be Japan’s nominal leader throughout World War II. When Tōgō died in 1934, Japan honored him with a state funeral in Tokyo Bay that featured Japanese, American, British, French, Italian, and Chinese naval vessels.
Journalist & Confidant of Eleanor Roosevelt
Lorena Alice Hickok
Journalist & Confidant of Eleanor Roosevelt
Lorena Hickok, nationally syndicated journalist, astute observer of politics, and Eleanor Roosevelt’s intimate friend and mentor, resigned her position with the Associated Press in 1933 when she thought her growing affection for ER prevented her from remaining objective in her coverage of the First Lady.
ER recommended that New Deal relief administrator and presidential advisor Harry Hopkins hire Hickok to travel the country investigating the travails Americans were facing in the Great Depression. Over the course of three years, Hickok crisscrossed the nation observing Americans’ living conditions and the local effects of New Deal policy and sending vivid, feeling dispatches on these matters to Franklin D. Roosevelt, ER, and Hopkins.
In addition to informing the White House about the experience of average Americans, Hickok helped the First Lady adjust to the extraordinary and highly visible life she would lead in the nation’s capital. Hickok urged ER to use her position and talents by holding regular press conferences for female reporters, and resuming her writing career—most notably ER’s monthly column, Mrs. Roosevelt’s Page, and her daily column, My Day. Hickok often served as ER’s first reader. She was a careful editor and a trusted sounding board, a role that became particularly vital to ER after her close advisor Louis Howe died in 1936.
After going to work for the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in 1940, Hickok became executive secretary of its Women’s Division for four years. Ever devoted to ER, Hickok lived in the White House from 1941 until March 1945, when complications from diabetes forced her to retire from her DNC position. In 1947 she joined the staff of the Women’s Division of the New York State Democratic Committee.
In 1954 Hickok, partially blind and in failing health, moved to Hyde Park, New York, to be near ER. The two women collaborated on a book profiling women political leaders—Ladies of Courage. Meanwhile ER tried to help Hickok stabilize her finances. Hickok continued to write, publishing the biography Eleanor Roosevelt: Reluctant First Lady and six children’s biographies before her death in 1968.
Dynastic Leader of Japan
Dynastic Leader of Japan
Dynastic Leader of Japan
Hirohito, emperor of Japan from 1926 to 1989, tacitly supported Japan’s ambitious expansion into Asia, a move that would eventually incite World War II. Although constitutional reforms stripped the emperor of any political power, Hirohito, whose dynasty spanned over a hundred generations, wielded significant cultural power. Japanese citizens revered him and most saw him as a godlike figure possessing special qualities.
Historians still debate how much Hirohito wanted to invade China in 1937 and start a war with the United States in 1941. Once his government declared war, he supported its plans and celebrated its victories. Yet as Japan suffered defeat after defeat in early 1945, Hirohito proved receptive when some proposed that Japan initiate peace negotiations. The Japanese government did not. Hirohito could convince his military to surrender only after Americans dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.
On August 15, Hirohito went on the radio to announce Japan’s surrender—the first time Japanese citizens had ever heard his voice. General Douglas MacArthur, head of the Allied occupying forces in Japan, thought Hirohito would support a more democratic government in Japan and thus argued against indicting Hirohito for war crimes. In return, Hirohito assisted Japan’s transition to a more open government by attending public events in Japan and relinquishing his divine status. As the New York Times reported in his obituary, Hirohito helped his nation see the emperor not as a monarch “blessed by the gods” but as “an emblem of the state under a democratic constitution.”
Adolf Hitler was a frustrated artist, embittered World War I corporal, author of the autobiography-cum-reactionary political tract Mein Kampf, hypnotic orator, and ultranationalist who became chancellor of Germany in 1933 and dictator (under the title führer, or “leader”) in 1934. As the instigator of World War II and architect of the Holocaust, Hitler ranks as one of history’s most notorious mass killers.
He was born in the northern Austrian town of Branau am Inn along the border with Germany; a decade later the family moved to the nearby city of Linz. As a child Hitler resisted the will of his domineering father, Alois, a customs official who insisted his son follow him into the Austrian civil service. Alois died when Adolf was thirteen, leaving the boy free to dream of becoming an artist. Adolf Hitler was a mediocre student who, despite signs of talent, failed to apply himself, harbored an inflated sense of his own abilities, and responded with peevish indignation to any hint of criticism; he dropped out of school at sixteen. At eighteen, he lost his beloved and indulgent mother, Klara, to breast cancer. Shortly after her death, Hitler moved to Vienna. Although he had been refused admission to the prestigious Vienna Academy of Fine Arts, he planned to pursue the life of an artist in the cultural and political capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
In Vienna, Hitler was once again rejected by the arts academy, spent down his modest inheritance, and ended up living in a men’s hostel, eking out a living at odd jobs and selling his renderings of city landmarks as postcards. After five unhappy years there, in 1913 Hitler moved to Munich and, at the outset of World War I in 1914, volunteered for the German army. He served with distinction in the dangerous role of message runner and was decorated for bravery. Recuperating in the hospital from a poison gas attack in the autumn of 1918, Hitler was profoundly incensed at news of the German surrender. He observed with growing fury as Germany was dismembered, disarmed, and required to pay huge war reparations to former enemies under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. In the early 1920s, runaway inflation impoverished the German people, so reducing the value of their currency that they had to shop for groceries with suitcases of cash.
It was in this context that Hitler, as a member of a tiny extreme nationalist group called the German Workers’ Party, began attracting attention with high-flown, empassioned speeches about how Germany could reclaim its former glory. The group was anti-capitalist, anti-communist, and expressly anti-Semitic. In 1920 Hitler and his associates renamed it the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (with the German Nationalsozialist often abbreviated as Nazi) and presented a program that called for the restoration of a Greater Germany. “We demand land and territory (colonies) for the maintenance of our people and the settlement of our surplus population,” it said. “Only those who are our fellow countrymen can become citizens. Only those who have German blood, regardless of creed, can be our countrymen. Hence no Jew can be a countryman.” Hitler was imprisoned in 1924 after leading a failed attempt to overthrow the German government, beginning with an effort to seize control of Bavarian provincial officials gathered in a beer hall in Munich. It was during his nine months in prison that he composed Mein Kampf.
In the early 1930s, deteriorating economic conditions accelerated the rise of the Nazi Party, with Hitler as its charismatic leader deploying a paramilitary wing (the Sturmabteilung or storm division) to terrorize and attack opposing parties. However the Nazis controlled only a third of seats in the German parliament (Reichstag) when, on January 30, 1933, the German head of state, President Paul von Hindenburg, named Hitler chancellor in an attempt to stabilize a restive and bitterly divided Reichstag. In February, a fire of mysterious origin in the Reichstag building allowed Hitler to convince Hindenburg to suspend civil liberties, and in March, he pushed through an enabling act that gave him absolute authority.
The reins of power in hand, Hitler soon discarded the restrictions of the Treaty of Versailles, repudiated Germany’s membership in the League of Nations, rearmed the country, and began a program of territorial expansion that eventually culminated in Germany’s invasion of Poland in September 1939. World War II had begun. As the Nazi conquest of Europe proceeded, Hitler and his associates developed a genocidal plan, building upon the theory of “Aryan” racial superiority he had promoted in Mein Kampf. He and his followers attempted to rid central Europe of Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, communists, and others they deemed undesirable, murdering some twelve million noncombatants.
By 1942 Hitler faced defeat by the Soviets in Stalingrad and the British in North Africa. A British and American invasion force landed in France in the spring of 1944 and drove eastward to meet a Soviet force advancing from the east. On April 28, 1945, the Nazis’ final defeat clearly imminent, Hitler married his longtime mistress, Eva Braun. On April 30, in a bunker beneath the chancellor’s offices in Berlin, the two committed suicide. The Soviets secured the German capital on May 2, and on May 7 Germany surrendered unconditionally to the Allies.
Social Welfare Administrator
Social Welfare Administrator
In 1933 William Hodson, Harvard-educated lawyer, Minnesota child welfare advocate, and foundation director, replaced Iowa-born social worker Harry Hopkins as director of New York State’s Temporary Emergency Relief Administration (TERA), a novel aid program for the jobless of the Great Depression established under the governorship of Franklin D. Roosevelt. FDR and Hopkins would go on to create similar programs on a national scale in the White House.
Before joining TERA, Hodson managed the social welfare division of the Russell Sage Foundation, a social-sciences research organization, and directed the Welfare Council of New York, a coalition of seven hundred relief-related groups.
A skilled and compassionate administrator who streamlined the delivery of state relief at a time of crushing need, Hodson drew the attention of FDR’s successor, New York governor Herbert Lehman, who soon promoted Hodson to commissioner of welfare for New York State.
In 1943 Hodson volunteered to manage relief programs for North African communities recently liberated from Nazi camps. He died when his plane crashed en route. His colleagues at the State Charities Aid Association mourned him as a masterful leader who “lived the life of a crusader and died a crusader’s death.”
Supreme Court Justice
Oliver Wendell Holmes
Supreme Court Justice
Oliver Wendell Holmes, son of a cofounder of the Atlantic Monthly magazine, spent three years fighting with the Massachusetts militia in some of the fiercest battles of the Civil War, during which he was wounded three times. After the war, he graduated from Harvard Law School and hoped to support himself as an independent legal scholar rather than as a practitioner of the law. When he could not, he joined a Boston law firm and taught one semester at Harvard Law School before accepting appointment to the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts in 1899.
In 1902 President Theodore Roosevelt appointed Holmes to the U.S. Supreme Court, where Holmes would serve nearly thirty years under four chief justices and craft a record 873 opinions. As a justice, Holmes argued that the federal government should defer to state law, except in specific areas in which the Constitution clearly designated power to the federal government. His most famous—and controversial—decisions involved constitutional law, especially the Constitution’s guarantees of the right to a fair trial and due process.
In Lochner v. New York (1905), which set an influential precedent barring the government from regulating economic activity, Holmes forcefully dissented from the majority opinion, which claimed the state’s law setting maximum work hours for bakers violated due process by arbitrarily robbing workers of their right to sell their labor on any terms.
Holmes resigned in 1932, as his poor health began to interfere with his work. He died in 1935.
A passionate defender of free political speech, Holmes nevertheless ruled that the Constitution’s guarantee had limits. Free speech was protected unless it was pronounced with the clear intention to do bodily harm and posed a “clear and present danger”—as when a person maliciously cries fire in a crowded theater.
Holmes resigned in 1932, as his poor health began to interfere with his work. He died in 1935.
Herbert Hoover never held elected office before winning the 1928 presidential election. Born in Iowa, the son of a blacksmith and a seamstress, Hoover was orphaned by the age of ten. Shy but ambitious, he worked his way through Stanford University, graduating with a degree in geology in 1895. By the time he was forty Hoover had made a modest fortune as a mining engineer and mining company owner. When World War I broke out in Europe, Hoover, dissatisfied with merely making money, plunged into humanitarian relief. He organized evacuation of U.S. citizens stranded in war-ravaged Europe and distributed food to civilians on the brink of starvation in German-occupied Belgium. Later he managed disaster relief after the great Mississippi River flood of 1927. From 1921 to 1928 Hoover served as secretary of commerce in the cabinets of Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge, promoting efficiency, standardization, and mutual cooperation in the private sector.
When Hoover entered the White House in 1929, he commanded respect for his compassion as well as his administrative efficiency. A strong proponent of American individualism, as president Hoover continued to espouse policies that fostered voluntary cooperation among businesses, government agencies, and professional associations—his recipe for a rising prosperity that would benefit all Americans. When the stock market crashed in October 1929, Hoover argued that the American economy was fundamentally sound.
Indeed, throughout the rest of his term, he insisted that the roots of the Depression lay outside the United States—most notably with the World War I debt Allied nations owed the United States, and the war reparations Germany owed the Allies. Besides instituting a one-year moratorium on Allied war debt payments to the United States, Hoover rejected calls for federal economic intervention. But as bank failures increased, he encouraged bankers to form the National Credit Corporation as a vehicle to lend money to member banks at risk of insolvency. When bankers resisted and bank failures increased, he promoted the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, created in 1932 to lend federal money to banks and industry. Hoover also urged the Federal Reserve banks to loosen credit and, reluctantly, offered short-term loans to desperate farmers.
As the Depression intensified, many Americans interpreted Hoover’s reserve as aloofness in the face of their suffering and turned on him decisively. The public’s bitterness turned to hatred in the summer of 1932 when Hoover ordered the military to forcibly dislodge homeless World War I veterans and families (the “Bonus Army”) from the tents and shanties they had erected in Washington, DC, to lobby for benefits.
After Franklin D. Roosevelt beat Hoover in the landslide presidential election of 1932, Hoover returned to his home in Palo Alto, California, dumbfounded that a man he thought an intellectual lightweight and radical political upstart could defeat him. Hoover became a vocal critic of the New Deal. In 1947-9 and 1953-5 he chaired advisory commissions to streamline and reorganize the federal government. He died in 1964 at the age of ninety.
Relief Administrator & Wartime Counselor
Harry Lloyd Hopkins
Relief Administrator & Wartime Counselor
Harry Hopkins, social worker, relief administrator, and diplomatic emissary, served in key roles throughout Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency, becoming his most trusted advisor and a close friend.
Hopkins first met FDR in 1931 when then governor Roosevelt hired the Iowa-born social worker, who was running the New York Board of Child Welfare, to direct the New York Temporary Relief Agency, providing desperately needed aid to the state’s unemployed. Early in FDR’s presidency, Frances Perkins, FDR’s newly minted secretary of labor, took Hopkins to the president to present his proposals for a national relief program. It was 1933, the worst year of the Great Depression, and FDR quickly asked Hopkins to launch and direct the Federal Emergency Relief Administration.
Advocate for federal job relief
Hopkins’s action-oriented efficiency and distaste for bureaucratic red tape impressed FDR. Hopkins urged FDR to expand work relief—jobs for the unemployed—and when FDR created the Civil Works Administration (CWA) to provide that relief over the terrible winter of 1933–34, he again turned to Hopkins to manage it. When the CWA ceased operations in late 1934, Hopkins continued to press FDR for additional appropriations for work relief.
In 1935 FDR turned to Hopkins to launch an unprecedentedly massive program of work relief, the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Hopkins, who now viewed gainful employment as a right, insisted that federal work relief funds be spent locally to hire the largest possible number of unemployed workers to take part in a vast array of projects, from building schools to recording the personal narratives of former slaves. The WPA became the New Deal’s biggest program, putting millions of jobless Americans to work and leaving a lasting legacy all across the country. In this work Hopkins collaborated closely with political operative Louis Howe and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who helped solidify his closeness to FDR.
But as criticism of Hopkins intensified in 1938—some considered him too radical, his WPA too sprawling and expensive—FDR appointed him secretary of commerce, a position he was forced to leave the following year due to stomach cancer. Hopkins, having no income and no home of his own, moved into the White House after resigning his position. He devoted his energies to helping FDR. In 1940 he led the fight at the Democratic National Convention to secure Henry Wallace’s nomination as vice president and FDR’s nomination for an unprecedented third term.
As war with Germany loomed, Hopkins, despite chronic ill health, played a key role as FDR’s personal emissary to British prime minister Winston Churchill and Soviet premier Joseph Stalin. He would also be an indispensible advisor to FDR during his negotiations with these leaders at the wartime conferences.
After FDR’s death, President Harry Truman sent Hopkins back to Moscow to press Stalin about aiding the other Allies in the war against Japan and to confer over the Allied occupation of Germany and other matters. Hopkins returned convinced that if the United States adopted a patient, straightforward approach that recognized Russia’s legitimate interests, Russia and the United States could get along. By the fall of 1945, however, Hopkins feared that Truman’s aggressive stance toward Moscow would end the wartime alliance, a concern ER shared.
As his health failed and his financial situation worsened, Hopkins resigned from government service on July 2, 1945. He accepted a position as mediator between labor and management in the coat and suit industry and planned to write his memoirs. But his health grew even more fragile and he died at the age of fifty-five on January 29, 1946.
Supreme Court Chief Justice
Charles Evans Hughes
Supreme Court Chief Justice
As chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Charles Evans Hughes presided over Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1933 and 1937 inaugurations as well as the Supreme Court decisions that invalidated landmark New Deal legislation, including the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA), the federal Home Owners’ Loan Act of 1933, the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA), and the Frazier-Lemke Farm Bankruptcy Act.
Born and raised in central New York State, Hughes worked as a lawyer and law professor before being elected governor of New York in 1906. President William Howard Taft appointed him to the Supreme Court in 1910 and, after a failed presidential bid in 1916 (he lost to Democratic incumbent Woodrow Wilson), Hughes served as secretary of state under President Warren Harding from 1921 to 1925.
President Herbert Hoover appointed Hughes chief justice of the Supreme Court in 1930. Hughes left a mixed judicial record. He helped extend the Bill of Rights to protect individual civil liberties. For example, he crafted a 1935 majority opinion in the case of the Scottsboro defendants—nine black teens accused of rape and, with one exception, sentenced to death in Alabama—deeming the convictions unconstitutional because Alabama had deliberately excluded African Americans from juries.
That same year Hughes, “after some hesitation,” marshaled a unanimous decision that struck down the NIRA, ruling that its authorization of government-approved, industry-wide voluntary codes setting wages, hours, and other matters represented an unconstitutional delegation of power to the president. In 1936 Hughes corralled enough votes to invalidate the AAA, ruling that the government’s control of private acreage (the law paid farmers subsidies to limit production) violated the general welfare clause of the Constitution.
The following year, when FDR tried to expand the Supreme Court with his court reorganization plan, Hughes wrote Congress, refuting the bill’s premise that the court was behind in its work, thus killing any chance the plan had to pass Congress. One week after submitting that letter to Congress, Hughes, for reasons legal scholars hotly debate, began upholding New Deal lawmaking by ruling in favor of a Washington State minimum wage law and the establishment of the National Labor Relations Board. By 1940 he would rule the Social Security Act of 1935, the Public Utilities Act of 1935, the Bituminous Coal Act of 1937, the amended AAA, and the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 constitutional.
Hughes retired from the Supreme Court in 1941. He died in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, in 1948.
Secretary of the Interior
Harold LeClair Ickes
Secretary of the Interior
Harold Ickes, a Pennsylvania-born, University of Chicago-educated progressive reformer, civil rights activist, and secretary of the Interior, began his career as a progressive Republican associated with the urban reform movement in Chicago. After Ickes managed the Western Independent Republican Committee for Roosevelt during Franklin D. Roosevelt’s successful 1932 bid for the presidency, FDR appointed him secretary of the Interior. In that post Ickes won a reputation as a hardworking—indeed painstaking, sometimes to the point of being difficult—administrator who was also effective and incorruptible.
Ickes served as secretary of the Interior from 1933 until early 1946, longer than any other leading official in the Roosevelt or Truman administrations. In this capacity he administered the education program of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), FDR’s initiative putting the unemployed to work on conservation jobs. Ickes helped create the massive Public Works Administration (PWA) and directed its nearly $6 billion construction program building large-scale public facilities across the country (while helping to create jobs in the Depression). Ickes also implemented many conservation initiatives.
A strong advocate of civil rights for African Americans, Ickes had served as director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Chicago in 1923. He desegregated the Department of the Interior, made William Hastie the first African American federal judge (in the Virgin Islands, which came under the jurisdiction of the Interior), and worked with Eleanor Roosevelt to organize a performance by the celebrated black singer Marian Anderson at the Lincoln Memorial after the Daughters of the American Revolution denied her access to Constitution Hall in Washington, DC.
After FDR’s death, Ickes remained in the Truman administration, partly because of his belief in the urgent need to establish a coherent policy to protect domestic oil reserves and ensure U.S. access to foreign oil. But Ickes stayed for only ten months, resigning over Truman’s nomination of Edwin W. Pauley, a California oilman and Democratic fund-raiser, as undersecretary of the navy.
In retirement, Ickes wrote a syndicated column for the New York Post, contributed frequently to the New Republic, and continued to keep his diary, which remains an important source of insight into the Roosevelt administration. Ickes died on February 3, 1952, in Washington, DC.
Hiram Johnson, California governor and U.S. senator, founded the national Progressive Party in 1912, leaving the Republican Party over its selection of William Howard Taft rather than Theodore Roosevelt as its presidential candidate. As the Golden State’s governor from 1911 to 1915, Johnson racked up an unparalleled record of progressive reforms, securing railroad and utility companies regulation, workers’ compensation, women’s suffrage, and nonpartisan elections for judges, school board members, and county officials.
When Johnson joined the Senate in 1915 and the Progressive Party folded, he rejoined the Republican Party. Although he cast his first vote as a senator in favor of declaring war on Germany, he soon became a fierce critic of internationalist president Woodrow Wilson. As an “irreconcilable,” Johnson not only rejected U.S. involvement in the League of Nations, which was formed in the wake of World War I, but also opposed the very creation of the league. Johnson went so far as to shadow Wilson as he traveled the country to promote the international body, telling Americans that membership in the league would “pledge your sons and your sons’ sons to maintain and preserve for all time the present governments of the little nations we are setting up in Europe and the present governments and boundaries of the British and Japanese empires.”
In 1920 and 1924, Johnson failed to secure the Republican presidential nomination, and his animosity toward California Republican rival Herbert Hoover increased. In 1932 Johnson endorsed Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt over Hoover and actively campaigned for FDR, prompting the victorious FDR to offer Johnson a cabinet position as secretary of the Interior.
Johnson’s qualifications for the post included pushing through 1920s legislation to authorize the construction of electricity-generating Boulder Dam (later called Hoover Dam). But Johnson preferred to stay in the Senate, where he resolutely supported New Deal legislation until 1937, when, outraged by FDR’s plan to enlarge the Supreme Court, he began consistently opposing New Deal initiatives.
As Europe moved closer to war, Johnson became a more strident isolationist. In 1937 he helped lead the fight against revising the U.S. Neutrality Act barring aid to foreign nations at war, and he opposed FDR’s call to reinstate the draft. In 1940 he supported Republican presidential candidate Wendell Willkie over FDR and, now chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, organized Senate opposition to Lend-Lease, FDR’s plan to provide generous war aid to Britain and other Allies confronting the Nazis. However, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Johnson voted to declare war. A series of two strokes in 1943 limited his work in the Senate, but he returned to the Foreign Relations Committee in July 1945 to cast the committee’s only vote against ratification of the United Nations Charter. He died soon after in Bethesda Naval Hospital.
Robert Marion La Follette Jr.
Robert Marion La Follette Jr., the son of a progressive Wisconsin governor and U.S. senator, wanted to be a journalist or a businessman rather than a politician. But his father pressured the young La Follette to serve as his key aide in the Senate. When La Follette Sr. died unexpectedly in 1925, “Young Bob” dutifully entered the special election Wisconsin held to select his father’s replacement. His victory made the thirty-year-old Republican the youngest man to serve in the Senate since Kentucky’s Henry Clay in the early nineteenth century.
As a senator, La Follette continued his father’s campaign against corporate trusts and isolationist objection to “foreign entanglements.” He championed a progressive income tax and urged decisive government action to combat the Great Depression. La Follette worked with colleagues Edward Costigan of Colorado and David Lewis of Maryland to introduce the first legislation calling for federal appropriations to state relief programs (legislation that, despite its defeat, set the stage for FDR’s Federal Emergency Relief Act). He argued that the nationwide decline in purchasing power caused the Depression and insisted that government appropriations for public works and unemployment relief, coupled with long-range economic planning, must be instituted for the devastating economic downturn to end.
FDR respected La Follette enormously, and as FDR campaigned for the presidency in 1932, he eagerly sought the senator’s endorsement. Indeed, leading Brain Truster Rexford Tugwell remarked that if FDR “had not been born a Roosevelt, I am quite certain he would have liked to be a La Follette.” La Follette liked FDR in return. He embraced the New Deal and played a pivotal role in the drafting and passage of the Federal Emergency Relief Act providing states with relief monies for the jobless, the Wealth Tax Act of 1935 raising income taxes on the well-off, and the Social Security Act of 1935 establishing old-age pensions and unemployment insurance.
Yet La Follette wanted FDR to do even more. Indeed, he frequently criticized FDR for not taking bolder action to address income inequality. After he became chair of the Senate Civil Liberties Committee, La Follette used his position to investigate corporations that interfered with collective bargaining efforts and to expose the often brutal tactics employers utilized to thwart unionization.
When war broke out in Europe in 1939, La Follette, remembering the apparently vain loss of life and destructive aftermath of World War I, criticized FDR’s efforts to relax American neutrality laws so as to aid Allies. La Follette also opposed U.S. entry into the war—changing his position only after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941. He did not stop urging the White House and the Senate to oppose the “expansionist” goals of war allies Great Britain and the Soviet Union.
La Follette loved the Senate and its legislative process as much as he loved working Americans and their labor unions. In 1946 this “senator’s senator” sponsored and ensured the adoption of the Legislative Reorganization Act, streamlining the Senate’s committee structure and legislative procedures. However, La Follette hated to campaign; that same year, he exerted only a token effort in his reelection campaign. He lost the Republican nomination to conservative Senator Joseph McCarthy, who attacked La Follette for not serving in the war (he was too old) and leveled spurious charges of war profiteering. McCarthy went on to beat his Democratic challenger and would become famous for his anticommunist crusade of the 1950s. After his defeat, La Follette grew depressed and committed suicide in 1953.
Thomas William Lamont
Thomas William Lamont, a banker, diplomat, and international financier, played a key role in negotiating the financing of World War I. He helped negotiate the loans Britain and France assumed to defeat Germany, the reparations Germany had to pay Britain and France after losing the war, and the terms Britain and France had to follow in repaying war loans from America. As a partner at the powerful banking house J.P. Morgan & Co., Lamont also helped streamline the delivery of goods purchased by the Allies by consolidating their orders and servicing them through a single corporation.
President Woodrow Wilson appointed Lamont as a representative of the U.S. Department of the Treasury at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference that closed World War I. There, Lamont was tasked with determining Germany’s ability to pay war reparations to Britain and France. He returned from Paris an avid supporter of Woodrow Wilson and his proposed League of Nations, championing the international peace organization throughout intense debates in the U.S. Senate over the founding of the league itself and U.S. membership in it. Lamont’s commitment to the league was so strong that in the 1920 presidential contest he voted for James Cox and vice-presidential candidate Franklin D. Roosevelt over Warren Harding and his running mate Calvin Coolidge—the only time the Republican Lamont would ever vote Democratic.
Lamont helped craft the 1924 Dawes Plan that reduced German reparations and offered new loans to Germany, as well as its 1929 revision, the Young Plan. J.P. Morgan & Co. formed and directed the syndicate that offered the bonds that underwrote the loans. Germany ultimately repaid only $4.5 billion of the $33 billion in reparations it owed to the United States and the Allies.
Also in his capacity at J.P. Morgan, Lamont negotiated loans for China. After an earthquake leveled key Japanese communities, he became Japan’s chief banker, remaining with Japan through three governments (formed in the wake of assassinations) and the Japanese invasion of Chinese Manchuria in 1931. He finally dropped Japan as a client in 1934.
A generous philanthropist, Lamont donated significant funds to alma maters Phillips Exeter Academy and Harvard University and sat on the schools’ governing boards. He also helped restore England’s Canterbury Cathedral when German bombs destroyed its infrastructure, and he left a significant bequest to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, where he died in 1948.
New York Governor & International Relief Administrator
Herbert Henry Lehman
New York Governor & International Relief Administrator
Herbert Lehman, a wealthy investment banker and socially minded settlement house volunteer, became one of New York’s leading public servants. He first met Franklin D. Roosevelt during World War I, when Lehman, who had worked for a textile manufacturer, helped the navy secure contracts to buy fabric.
After the war, Lehman supported Al Smith’s political campaigns. When Smith received the 1928 Democratic presidential nomination, he asked Lehman to chair the Democratic National Finance Committee. FDR, who was running for governor of New York and wanted a lieutenant governor capable of running the state during his absence, insisted that Lehman run for the job. Lehman was elected lieutenant governor in 1928 and 1930. When FDR became president in 1933, Lehman succeeded him in the governorship of New York. He served as governor of the state until 1942.
As governor, Lehman pursued the policies of the New Deal at the state level, enacting a “Little New Deal” to help New Yorkers struggling to survive the Great Depression. This included regulating public utilities and reforming labor laws. Lehman’s fiscal policies eliminated the state’s debt and left a surplus for his Republican successor, Thomas Dewey, who took office in 1943.
In December 1942, the Jewish Lehman, a philanthropist who had supported African American civil rights and advocated for White House actions to secure safe haven for more of Adolf Hitler’s victims, accepted FDR’s request to head the State Department’s new Office of Foreign Relief and Rehabilitation Operations, created to help refugees in war-torn Europe and Asia. The following year, Lehman helped the Roosevelt administration create the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA), a forty-four-nation relief agency. The UNRRA council elected Lehman its first director general. He refused a salary for the position, which he held until March 1946, when he resigned to campaign for the U.S. Senate.
After losing that election, Lehman devoted himself to philanthropic and public campaigns, including numerous child welfare organizations and the campaign for a Jewish state. He would win a special senatorial election in 1949 and serve in the U.S. Senate until 1957. In the late 1950s, he joined Eleanor Roosevelt in a campaign against political bosses. President John F. Kennedy selected Lehman as a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. Lehman died December 5, 1963, the night before the medal ceremony.
Democratic Senator & Populist Activist
Huey Pierce Long
Democratic Senator & Populist Activist
Huey Pierce Long, a self-educated, complex Louisiana populist who controlled the state so thoroughly that no one could be hired without his support, electrified America with his masterful use of radio and print media, his dramatic demands to “Share Our Wealth” amid the poverty of the Great Depression, and his unabashed political ambition.
Long, a lawyer, first came to fame in 1918 when he successfully defended S. J. Harper, a Louisiana state representative and socialist whose vocal opposition to U.S. involvement in World War I had led to charges of treason under the Sedition Act. Quickly capitalizing on his newfound celebrity, later that year Long ran for a seat on the Louisiana Railroad Commission (soon renamed the Public Service Commission), a position he used to enhance his image as the common people’s champion and a rabid foe of corporate oil and utility interests.
Although he lost his 1924 bid for governor, in 1928 the voters, especially those in rural Louisiana, overwhelmingly elected him to lead the state. As governor Long revitalized Louisiana, spending vast sums on roads, bridges, schools, Louisiana State University, and hospitals. He revised the state tax code to increase corporate taxes and personal income taxes on wealthy Louisianans. The poor, overlooked, and traditionally discarded voters flocked to him.
Yet Long was unscrupulous in his use of political muscle to implement these reforms. He developed an unprecedentedly powerful political machine, which inspired his supporters to nickname him “Kingfish” and his detractors to call him a dictator. He made sure only his supporters were elected to the state legislature, filled state jobs with his political allies, and repeatedly persuaded the legislature to transfer power to his office. Efforts to impeach him failed in 1929, and the following year Long won election to the U.S. Senate. He refused to resign the governorship until 1932, when his handpicked successor could replace him.
As a U.S. senator, Long railed against President Herbert Hoover and in 1932 enthusiastically supported Franklin D. Roosevelt for president. Yet he quickly becomes disenchanted with FDR’s New Deal. He thought it did too little to redistribute wealth and found its federal bureaucracies oppressive and, in the case of the National Recovery Administration (which administered industry-wide “fair competition” codes), “potentially tyrannical.” In 1934 Long shifted his focus away from the Senate and into building a national network of local clubs dedicated to his “Share Our Wealth” plan, which proposed to tax wealthy Americans heavily to finance a $5,000 distribution to each family. He also devoted himself to publishing his national newspaper, the American Progress.
By the Depression year of 1935, Long’s national following had so burgeoned that polls showed he could draw 10 percent of the vote in a three-way presidential race, enough to help a Republican defeat FDR in a close election. FDR, who regarded Long as “one of the two most dangerous men in America,” did not discount the threat Long posed to his reelection. FDR made sure Long got no patronage appointments or funds, encouraged the Federal Bureau of Investigation to investigate him for tax evasion, and introduced his own Wealth Tax Act. Long, however, did not live to challenge FDR. He was assassinated in the Louisiana capitol in June 1935.
Douglas MacArthur, graduate and superintendent of West Point, army chief of staff, and commander of the Southwest Pacific Area in World War II, was one of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s fiercest critics and one of America’s most controversial generals.
MacArthur had completed two tours of duty in the Philippines when President Herbert Hoover appointed him army chief of staff in 1930, and MacArthur devoted his energies to trying to preserve a core fighting force despite deep budget cuts. In 1932 he led the military team charged with evicting by force the “Bonus Army” veterans and their families who were encamped in Washington, DC, to press for benefits in dire financial times. MacArthur’s role in the incident permanently damaged his national reputation and his relationship with veterans. He remained army chief of staff under FDR, helping to implement the Civilian Conservation Corps, which put unemployed men to work across the country on conservation projects.
MacArthur left Washington, DC, in 1935 to become military advisor to the Philippines, a position he kept after his retirement in 1937. However, his inability to shape the Philippine fighting force frustrated him, and in the summer of 1941 he planned to return to the United States. When Japan invaded Indochina, FDR asked him to return to service as commander of U.S. Army Forces in the Far East, and he joined FDR and Secretary of War Henry Stimson in hoping that a strong combined U.S.-Philippine fighting force supported by B-17 bombers and the Asiatic fleet would inhibit and, ultimately, defeat Japan. Indeed, he famously boasted that Japan would not attack until late spring 1942 and when it did, his command would “crush Japanese troops on the beaches.” Yet when Japan struck the Philippines eleven hours after it struck Pearl Harbor, MacArthur, despite warnings, had not prepared for the attack, and his command suffered similar damage.
In March 1942, FDR, who considered MacArthur “one of the two most dangerous men in America,” ordered MacArthur to go to Australia to command the Southwest Pacific Area, partially to assuage those Republicans who insisted upon a “Pacific first” approach to the war. In that position, MacArthur publicly criticized the Joint Chiefs of Staff and FDR, gave greatly inflated accounts of his actions to anti–New Deal newspapers, and encouraged conservative Republicans to nominate him for president in 1944. Yet FDR had awarded MacArthur the Medal of Honor, an act General George C. Marshall, MacArthur’s supervisory officer, said was done to “offset any propaganda by the enemy.”
In fall of 1944, MacArthur received orders to repel the Japanese from the Philippines, and although he expected this to be a relatively fast battle, it not only became the most casualty-intensive battle in the Pacific front, but also dragged on until Japan surrendered after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. President Harry Truman ordered MacArthur to oversee Japan’s surrender and he served as occupation commander.
MacArthur returned to the United States in 1948, where he failed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. In 1951, while commanding U.S. forces in Korea, he defied Truman’s orders and Truman relieved the general of his command. He returned home, determined to galvanize anticommunists and win the presidency. Americans instead chose another general, Dwight D. Eisenhower, to lead them. MacArthur died in Washington, DC, in 1964, shortly after advising President Lyndon Johnson that a ground war in Vietnam would be unwinnable.
Secretary of the Treasury
William Gibbs McAdoo
Secretary of the Treasury
William Gibbs McAdoo was born in Georgia but as a teen moved to Tennessee, where he would launch his opening salvo in the transportation field—a railroad company that failed. Then he relocated to New York City, selling railroad bonds before managing to develop the first two railroad tunnels under the Hudson River connecting Manhattan with New Jersey, still in use for commuter trains today. McAdoo’s game-changing transportation success, coupled with his commitment to service before profit and his innovative management (he paid men and women equal wages), made him one of the most popular and respected businessmen in New York.
He actively supported Woodrow Wilson for president in 1912 and managed his nomination battle at the Democratic National Convention. Upon winning the Oval Office, Wilson appointed McAdoo secretary of the Treasury.
As the nation’s chief financial officer, McAdoo implemented the establishment of the Federal Reserve System authorized by Congress in 1913 to control interest rates (and thus the supply of money and availability of credit). He established a federal farm loan program, as well as the federal income tax.
During World War I, McAdoo coordinated the precedent-shattering loans the United States made to its European allies, created the U.S. Shipping Board to expedite and protect transatlantic shipping, and served as director general of the railroads. Strapped by his government salary, McAdoo kept his promise to stay through the war but returned to the private sector in 1918.
McAdoo wanted to be president, but he had married Woodrow Wilson’s daughter, Eleanor, in 1914, and refused to consider a campaign until his father-in-law’s second term ended in 1921. In 1924, having moved to California, he was the presumptive favorite to be the Democratic presidential nominee. He campaigned as an antiliquor, anti–Wall Street, and anti–city boss politician who promised to ferret out corruption.
But when news broke that McAdoo had done legal work for one of those involved in the Warren Harding–era Teapot Dome scandal involving public officials who improperly leased the navy’s oil reserves to private interests, his popularity plummeted. McAdoo further alienated many Democrats by refusing to disavow the racist Ku Klux Klan, and the party leaned toward New York Democrat Al Smith as its nominee. After sixteen days of deadlock and 103 ballots, Democrats turned to compromise candidate John W. Davis.
In 1932 California sent McAdoo to the U.S. Senate, where he strongly supported Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. Voters refused to reelect him in 1938, but he remained in Washington, DC, where he died in 1941.
Democratic Congressman & Judge
Democratic Congressman & Judge
John McDuffie, an Alabama Democrat, served four years in the state legislature and eight years as a prosecutor for Alabama’s First Judicial Court of Appeals before being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1918.
During the administration of Herbert Hoover, McDuffie’s congressional colleagues elected him minority whip in 1929, and in 1931, when the Democrats once again controlled the House, selected him as their majority whip.
During the first term of Franklin D. Roosevelt, McDuffie chaired the Committee on Insular Affairs, a position he used to coauthor the Philippine Independence Act granting the islands self-government and, after a period of ten years, independence from the United States.
In 1935 FDR appointed McDuffie to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama, a federal judgeship he held until his death in 1950.
Banker & Secretary of the Treasury
Banker & Secretary of the Treasury
Andrew Mellon—investment banker; corporate titan; Republican Party benefactor; and secretary of the Treasury to Presidents Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert Hoover—masterminded the tax and investment policies that fueled the dramatic rise and fall of the 1920s economy. Born in Pittsburgh, Mellon’s father was an enterprising Scots-Irish immigrant lawyer who become a judge and founded a private bank. His mother hailed from a long-established and well-to-do Pittsburgh family. Showing financial acumen from an early age, Mellon became the third-richest American of his era through his shrewd management of his family’s bank and the development of the Gulf Oil Corporation and the Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa).
A fierce critic of Woodrow Wilson, Mellon in 1919 donated significant sums to a campaign to prevent U.S. membership in the League of Nations. The following year, he underwrote the National Republican Committee’s $1.5 million campaign debt, an act that spurred Harding to appoint him secretary of the Treasury. In that position, Mellon championed high tariffs, lower taxes on corporations and the wealthy, and reductions in federal spending and debt; he fought against using tax policy to help redistribute wealth. When Congress embraced his principles and passed legislation reducing tax rates in 1921, 1924, and 1926, the stock market vigorously rallied and many financial and political leaders celebrated Mellon as the greatest secretary of the Treasury since Alexander Hamilton.
He hoped to be the 1928 Republican presidential nominee but lost to Hoover, who asked him to continue as secretary of the Treasury. Although Mellon helped establish the Home Loan Banks that offered financing to member establishments for housing mortgages, the World War Foreign Debt Commission that renegotiated payment schedules with European debtor nations, and other financial-relief agencies instituted by the Hoover administration, Mellon’s handling of the Depression, especially his cutting the federal budget and his prediction that the economic downturn would end quickly, prompted huge outcries against him. In 1932 Congress tried to impeach him but failed. Hoover then forced him to become the U.S. ambassador to Great Britain and appointed Ogden Mills secretary of the Treasury.
Economic Manager & Newspaper Publisher
Eugene Isaac Meyer
Economic Manager & Newspaper Publisher
Eugene Meyer, banker, broker, and newspaper publisher and editor, served Presidents Woodrow Wilson, Warren Harding, and Calvin Coolidge before being tapped by Presidents Herbert Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt to serve key roles in managing the economy.
Meyer first joined the federal government as a “dollar-a-year man” (he accepted only a nominal salary) in 1918, when Wilson sought his advice on nonferrous metals and appointed him managing director of the federal War Finance Corporation (created to finance war industries during World War I) and a member of the War Industries Board. Coolidge appointed him to the Federal Farm Loan Board, and when his service there ended in 1929, Hoover appointed Meyer to the Federal Reserve Board, which implements U.S. monetary policy. Meyer served as chairman of the Federal Reserve until FDR appointed his replacement in 1933.
As one of Hoover’s main economic advisors during the Great Depression, Meyer played a key role in convincing Hoover to create the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC) to provide government loans to distressed industries. Hoover responded by asking Meyer to serve as the RFC’s first chairman.
Meyer left government service after FDR’s inauguration, when he bought the struggling Washington Post at a bankruptcy auction. He then invested millions of his own fortune in the Post and with his wife, Agnes, greatly enhanced its reputation and circulation.
Meyer returned to government service in 1941 when FDR asked him to accept a position on the National Defense Mediation Board, charged with settling labor-management disputes to accelerate war-related production. FDR’s successor, Harry Truman, appointed Meyer first director of the World Bank, a position he held for six months.
In 1947 Meyer turned the management of the Post over to his son-in-law, Philip Graham, who had married his daughter, Katharine. After Philip’s 1963 death by suicide Katharine Graham took the helm at the Post and would make it one of the nation’s premier newspapers.
Journalist & Philanthropist
Agnes Ernst Meyer
Journalist & Philanthropist
Agnes Ernst Meyer, the daughter of German immigrants, was born in New York City and grew up there and in the village of Pelham Heights, New York. She attended Barnard College over her father’s objections, paying for her studies in philosophy and literature by piecing together scholarships and wages from odd jobs. After her 1907 graduation, Meyer became one of the first women reporters hired by the New York Sun. As a journalist she met modernist art photographer Alfred Stieglitz, her introduction to the modern art world in which she would play a part as poet, model, collector, and critic. A year later, she resumed her literary studies at the Sorbonne in Paris, where she became friends with writer Gertrude Stein and art photographer Edward Steichen.
She returned to New York in 1909 and married the multimillionaire financier Eugene Isaac Meyer. They had five children (one of whom, Katharine Meyer Graham, would make historic decisions in the 1970s as editor and publisher of the Washington Post, breaking the story of the Watergate scandal that led to President Richard Nixon’s downfall). In 1917 the Meyers moved to Washington, DC, where for the next sixteen years Eugene held a series of influential financial positions within the federal government.
When the Hoover administration ended in 1933, Eugene purchased the struggling Washington Post, to which Agnes frequently contributed articles criticizing the Works Progress Administration work-relief initiative and other New Deal programs. World War II, however, radicalized Agnes’s politics as she traveled Britain and the United States to investigate home front conditions and was stunned by the failure of government to meet its citizens’ basic needs.
She began writing stories examining the problems confronting veterans, migrant workers, students in overcrowded schools, and African Americans. She lobbied for integration, expanded Social Security benefits, and an end to racial discrimination in employment. She relentlessly promoted federal aid for education and the creation of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. Indeed, President Lyndon Johnson later said that Agnes Meyer was the person who most influenced his education policies.
In 1956 she supported Democrat Adlai Stevenson for president and in 1960 she formally left the Republican Party and registered as a Democrat. Her philanthropic activities included extensive support for the New School for Social Research and the creation of the Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation, which distributed millions of dollars to a variety of health and education projects. Throughout the 1960s, Agnes Meyer concentrated her intense energies on improving public education and created and financially supported the Urban School Corps and the National Committee for Support of the Public Schools. She died of cancer at the age of eighty-three.
Republican Congressman & Treasury Official
Ogden Livingston Mills
Republican Congressman & Treasury Official
Ogden Livingston Mills, the heir to a multimillion-dollar banking and railroad fortune, served as New York State senator, Republican congressman, and undersecretary of the Treasury under financier Andrew Mellon before President Herbert Hoover promoted Mills to secretary of the Treasury in 1932. Mellon, his predecessor, had resigned to accept appointment as the American ambassador to Great Britain.
As a progressive state senator, Mills campaigned against party bosses and supported legislation calling for workers’ compensation, widows’ pensions, separate courts for juvenile and domestic cases, and the establishment of a state parole commission. When the United States entered World War I, he resigned from the New York legislature and enlisted in the army. After the war, he returned to New York and served as president of the New York State Tax Association, an advisory group. In 1920 he successfully ran for Congress, where he quickly developed a reputation as a tax and budget expert. He then challenged Democrat Al Smith in the 1926 race for New York governor; when he lost, Mills accepted Mellon’s invitation to be his undersecretary of the Treasury.
As Treasury undersecretary in both the Coolidge and Hoover administrations, Mills served as the department’s liaison to the press and to congressional committees. He is credited with convincing Hoover in 1931 to declare a one-year holiday on the debt payments foreign nations owed the United States, an attempt to slow the economic downturn spreading around the world. As Hoover’s secretary of the Treasury, Mills agreed with Hoover that by summer 1932, the worst of the Great Depression had passed.
Yet, as the banking crisis escalated in the weeks prior to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s March 1933 inauguration, Mills urged Hoover not to wait for FDR’s approval to close at-risk banks being depleted of cash by panicked depositors. When his lobbying failed, Mills spent inauguration weekend working with his Democratic successor to develop a system to close and assess all the nation’s banks.
After leaving the government, Mills became a vehement critic of the New Deal and turned to book writing (What of Tomorrow?, The Seventeen Million) to recommend actions against its policies and candidates. In 1937 he died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of fifty-three.
Charles E. Mitchell
Charles E. Mitchell, bank president, securities underwriter, and chair of a Wall Street investment firm, shocked America when he admitted to the Senate Banking Committee in 1932 that he had paid no income taxes in 1929 and that he had sold his stock to his wife at a loss to prevent paying them. Six days later he resigned as president of the National City Bank. Soon after that, he was arrested for tax evasion, but after a fierce defense, he was acquitted of all criminal charges. The Department of the Treasury then filed a civil suit against him to recoup the unpaid taxes and penalties.
That trial revealed that Mitchell had spent most of his private funds and had borrowed significant funds from J.P. Morgan in a desperate attempt to keep National City Bank afloat. He refused to declare bankruptcy, preferring to work for years to pay back the debt and his taxes. In 1935, after a year of running his own small company, a Wall Street investment firm, Blyth and Company, hired Mitchell to be its chair.
Mitchell remained chair of Blyth and Company for twenty years and, in the process, paid off his debts, settled his taxes, and amassed another multimillion-dollar fortune. He died in 1955 in his home on Sutton Place in Manhattan after a prolonged illness.
Brain Trust Advisor
Brain Trust Advisor
Raymond Moley, school superintendent, mayor, political scientist, and assistant secretary of state, led Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Brain Trust,” the small group of intellectuals and scholars FDR regularly consulted on policy matters, beginning with his days as New York’s governor.
Moley initially wanted to study law but became so impressed with President Woodrow Wilson that he focused on political science instead. After a brief stint in Berea, Ohio, city government, Moley traveled to New York’s Columbia University, where Charles Beard, a legendary liberal scholar of American history, directed Moley’s graduate work. Moley returned to Ohio to direct the philanthropic Cleveland Foundation, where he led a landmark study of the city’s judicial system. That work inspired Columbia to offer him a professorship in government and public law in 1923.
Moley’s study of criminal and judicial procedure impressed FDR advisor and confidant Louis Howe, who asked Moley to advise FDR’s 1928 gubernatorial campaign and urged FDR to appoint Moley director of the New York State Commission on the Administration of Justice. Two years later, as FDR prepared for his first presidential campaign, Sam Rosenman, FDR’s speechwriter, asked Moley to help with speechwriting and to assemble a small group of advisors to brief (and debate) FDR on pressing national economic and social issues. The press dubbed this group FDR’s “Brain Trust.”
A gifted speechwriter, Moley coined the phrase “the new deal” and helped draft FDR’s stirring April 1932 campaign speech promising to fight for “the forgotten man.” Moley was responsible for major parts of FDR’s first inaugural address and his first fireside chat (on the nation’s banking crisis).
As assistant secretary of state from March until September of 1933, Moley advised FDR on federal economic regulation, including major agricultural legislation. It was he who recommended businessman Joseph P. Kennedy be appointed chair of the newly formed Securities and Exchange Commission.
Moley exerted such influence in FDR’s whirlwind first one hundred days in office that Washington, DC, insiders joked that one of FDR’s closest friends had asked the president, “Do me one favor. Can you get me an appointment with Moley?” But Moley left the administration in fall 1933, after sparring with his boss, Secretary of State Cordell Hull, and being disappointed by FDR’s rejection of his advice to control inflation by relinking the U.S. dollar to the gold standard. Although Moley continued to advise FDR after the first one hundred days, by 1936 he had grown disenchanted with FDR’s social policy. In 1940 he endorsed Republican Wendell Willkie’s unsuccessful bid for the presidency, and Moley spent the rest of his life championing conservative Republican policy.
George William Norris
George Norris, a Republican congressman and senator from Nebraska whose political career spanned the first half of the twentieth century, became the Senate’s most outspoken progressive and Franklin D. Roosevelt’s indefatigable champion. He played pivotal roles in promoting FDR’s nomination for and election to the presidency in 1932, and in his reelection to an unprecedented third term in 1940.
A moral maverick in a seniority-dominated Congress, Norris challenged Speaker Joseph Cannon’s leadership and opposed U.S. entry into World War I. Throughout the 1920s, he championed farm relief, conservation, labor rights, and efficient use of natural resources. By 1925 Norris was the Senate’s most influential progressive.
He helped launch FDR’s presidential hopes in 1930 when he announced that FDR was the Democrat who could secure the support of western progressives, and again in 1932 when he told a national gathering of progressives that “the country needs another Roosevelt.” Norris rejected calls that he seek the presidency on a third-party ticket (although he would become an independent in 1936), and instead became the first progressive Republican to endorse and campaign for FDR. He then organized the National Progressive League for Roosevelt and campaigned steadily for FDR through the last month of the 1932 campaign. FDR so respected Norris that when he campaigned in Norris’s hometown, FDR turned to the senator and proclaimed, “I honor myself by honoring you,” praising Norris as the “gentle knight of American progressive ideals.”
After the election, FDR asked Norris to accompany him to the Tennessee River Valley, where FDR pledged to make Norris’s lifelong crusade to revitalize the region a reality. When FDR introduced legislation to create the Tennessee Valley Authority, it was the only nonemergency legislation he proposed during his first one hundred days in office. Norris continued to champion New Deal legislation for relief, agricultural, and public-works programs, and he supported FDR’s efforts to prepare America to fight World War II.
Too ill to campaign for FDR in 1944, Norris served as honorary chair of the National Citizens Political Action Committee and once again threw his weight behind FDR’s reelection. He died from complications of a cerebral hemorrhage in the fall of 1944, six months before a cerebral hemorrhage felled FDR.
Mary Teresa Norton
Mary Teresa Norton, Democratic congresswoman from the working-class Twelfth District of New Jersey and the first Democratic woman elected to Congress in her own right, championed labor and argued for equal treatment for women and African American workers. When she entered Congress in 1925, she strove to be treated as a politician rather than as a token, often telling her colleagues and the press, “I’m no lady. I’m a member of Congress.”
As a beginning congresswoman, she worked to repeal Prohibition and argued that taxes should not be levied on workers making less than $5,000 a year. She concentrated on issues related to work and labor. A fierce advocate for the minimum wage, Norton helped push minimum wage from forty to seventy cents an hour during her service in the House. When the Democratic landside of 1936 made Norton chair of the House Labor Committee, she led a long, successful struggle to pass the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which established a minimum wage and maximum hours for nonunion workers and did away with differential pay scales based on sex and region. When conservatives, southerners, and Republicans tried to prevent the bill from leaving committee, Norton secured the 218 signatures necessary to override their actions in two hours—a congressional record for a discharge petition.
Committed to equal opportunity for people of all races, Norton introduced legislation in every session of Congress from 1944 until 1951 to make permanent the Fair Employment Practices Commission, which banned discriminatory hiring under federal contracts. During World War II, she backed federal support for day care centers, and after the war she argued for continued government support. Although a strong proponent of equal pay for equal work, she opposed the Equal Rights Amendment codifying equality of the sexes because she felt it would eliminate protective legislation for women workers.
As a stalwart ally of labor, Norton worked unsuccessfully in 1947 to defeat the antilabor Taft-Hartley Act, which allowed the president to seek a federal injunction against strikes deemed a threat to the nation’s safety or health.
Norton was the first woman to head a state party organization: she became chair of the New Jersey Democratic Committee in 1932. In 1944 she joined the Democratic National Committee, and in 1948 she served as chair of the Credentials Committee at the Democratic National Convention. She retired from Congress in 1951 but remained an advisor to the secretary of labor and her dear friend Eleanor Roosevelt. Norton died in 1959.
Endicott Peabody, Episcopal priest, school chaplain, and educator, founded the Groton School in northern Massachusetts in 1884, serving as its headmaster for fifty-five years.
Peabody was born in Salem, Massachusetts, to a prosperous New England family. His father was a merchant and banker. The Peabodys moved to England when Endicott was thirteen, and he attended the English prep school Cheltenham College and later Trinity College, Cambridge, returning to the United States to study at the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Ordained in 1884, that same year Peabody founded the Groton School, where he hoped to train sons of the well-to-do in a “muscular Christianity” that would guide them to moral rectitude, philanthropy, and public service.
The Roosevelts of New York were among Groton’s early supporters. Theodore Roosevelt sent his four sons there. Peabody had an especially important influence on Theodore’s distant cousin, young Franklin D. Roosevelt, who attended Groton as a teenager in the 1890s. “As long as I live,” FDR would recall, “the influence of Dr. and Mrs. Peabody means and will mean more to me than that of any other people next to my father and mother.”
Though exacting, Peabody was well liked and much admired by his students. At Groton, study of the classics and vigorous athletic activity composed the austere daily routine that Peabody believed would help his young charges cultivate “a manly Christian character.”
FDR was keen to follow Peabody’s prescription to take up what the headmaster called “the active work of life.” As a student he attended Peabody’s confirmation class, joined a society that helped underprivileged boys at summer camp, and one winter was responsible for bringing fuel and food to a local African American woman. No doubt Peabody’s emphasis on the importance of assuming leadership in public life also had an impact on young FDR. “If some Groton boys do not enter political life and do something for our land,” Peabody had written in 1884, “it won’t be because they have not been urged.”
FDR kept up a lifelong connection to his former headmaster. Peabody officiated at his marriage to Eleanor Roosevelt in 1905 and at the private religious services FDR held before his inaugurations and other major events.
Peabody died January 20, 1945, the day of FDR’s fourth inauguration.
Prosecutor & Senate Investigator
Prosecutor & Senate Investigator
Ferdinand Pecora, assistant district attorney, counsel to the U.S. Senate Banking and Currency Committee, and commissioner of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), immigrated to the United States from Sicily when he was five years old. A devout Catholic, Pecora considered joining the priesthood but went to night law school instead.
After seven years in private practice, he joined the New York district attorney’s office, where he won more than 80 percent of his cases—including a famous prosecution of illicit stock-trading operations known as “bucket shops.”
In January 1933, Peter Norbeck, the Republican chair of the Senate Banking and Commerce Committee, hired Pecora as chief counsel to the committee’s investigation of Wall Street transactions. For the next year, Pecora’s withering cross-examination revealed a startling series of questionable and illegal acts by the titans of Wall Street, including Charles E. Mitchell of the National City Bank, Richard Whitney of the New York Stock Exchange, and J. P. Morgan. In 1934 Pecora tried to become district attorney of New York but lost the election, largely because his committee work limited his campaigning to weekends.
Pecora faced disappointment again that year when Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed Pecora commissioner rather than chair of the SEC. Yet Pecora left the SEC after six months when Governor Herbert Lehman appointed him to the New York Supreme Court, a position he held until 1950 when he unsuccessfully ran for mayor of New York City. After this defeat, he returned to private practice and remained an active leader of his church until his death in 1971.
Secretary of Labor
Secretary of Labor
Frances Perkins headed the labor department of New York State under Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt and, when he became president in 1933, became United States secretary of labor. She not only broke ground as the first woman to win a federal cabinet-level appointment but also held the post throughout FDR’s administration, becoming the nation’s longest-serving secretary of labor. Perkins was a driving force in establishing the social safety net and worker rights Americans known today. “Every man and woman who works at a living wage, under safe conditions, for reasonable hours, or who is protected by unemployment insurance or Social Security, is her debtor,” then secretary of labor Willard Wirtz said of Perkins after her death in 1965.
Born in Boston and christened Fannie Coralie Perkins, she later legally changed her name to Frances Perkins (and retained the name in 1913 when she married Paul Wilson, an economist). Perkins studied chemistry and physics at Mount Holyoke College, but also took economics courses that exposed her to the experience of workers in nearby factories. As a college student she was deeply affected by Jacob Riis’s account of urban poverty, How the Other Half Lives, and met National Consumers League secretary Florence Kelley. In 1904 she accepted a teaching position in Lake Forest, Illinois. In her free time she became active at Hull House and other Chicago settlement communities devoted to helping the poor and reforming social policy. Reform work became her life’s passion.
In 1907 Perkins moved east to pursue, at the University of Pennsylvania, the academic credentials she needed to address exploitative working and living conditions. In 1909 she received a Russell Sage Foundation fellowship that enabled her to move to New York to survey child malnutrition and living and working conditions in the West Side neighborhood of Hell’s Kitchen, and to complete Columbia University’s graduate program in economics and sociology. The following year, the National Consumers League elected Perkins its executive secretary.
By coincidence, Perkins was walking in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village on a Saturday afternoon in March 1911 when a fire broke out in the Asch Building on Washington Place. Doomed by locked doors and inadequate fire escapes, nearly 150 young workers in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory occupying the building’s top floors died in the fire, one of the nation’s most notorious industrial tragedies. Perkins would never forget watching the workers, many of them teenage girls, say a prayer before leaping from window ledges into the streets below.
Perkins’s grassroots advocacy for maximum-hours and worker-safety legislation encouraged New York State legislator Al Smith to appoint her to the Committee on Safety of the City of New York, under whose authority she visited workplaces, exposed hazardous practices, and championed legislative reforms. As governor of the state, Smith rewarded Perkins’s work by appointing her to the New York State Industrial Commission in 1919.
When FDR succeeded Smith as governor in 1929, he named Perkins New York State industrial commissioner, the state’s top labor post, a position she used to champion a forty-eight-hour work week, a ban on child labor, unemployment insurance, and old-age pensions. When President Herbert Hoover misused statistics to declare the worst of the Great Depression had passed, Perkins publicly refuted his claims, producing accurate statistics to support her position.
When FDR became president, Democratic Party operative Molly Dewson, celebrated reformer Jane Addams, and others campaigned for Perkins to be secretary of labor and urged Eleanor Roosevelt to help secure the position for her. After winning FDR’s promise that the administration would propose policies to abolish child labor and implement unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation, old-age pensions, and a minimum wage, Perkins took the job. Labor leaders objected, arguing that she had no experience with unions and few ties with the labor movement, but she defused their opposition by downplaying her position and praising American Federation of Labor President William Green.
As a key labor advisor to FDR, Perkins had a wide-ranging part in designing the New Deal. She helped shape the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, the National Labor Relations Act, the Social Security Act, and the Fair Labor Standards Act. She also shepherded the U.S. entry into the International Labor Organization and remained its active supporter throughout her life. As the Department of Labor was then in charge of immigration issues, Perkins also attacked corruption in the federal Immigration Bureau and refused to staff the department with unqualified friends of politicians. In 1938, when Perkins refused to deport the radical leader of the West Coast longshoreman’s union on charges he was a Communist, one congressman urged that she be impeached.
After FDR’s death in 1945, his successor in the presidency, Harry Truman, denied Perkins her request for an appointment to the Social Security Board, naming her instead to the Civil Service Commission charged with ensuring fairness in government employment, a position she held until 1953. Though not an uncritical FDR booster, Perkins was devoted to Roosevelt and defended his record in her 1946 memoir The Roosevelt I Knew and in public lectures. In 1957, at the age of seventy-seven, Perkins joined the faculty of Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations. She taught there until her death on May 14, 1965.
Though Perkins did not seek the spotlight, she possessed a rare talent for cobbling together coalitions that would push forward the ambitious projects in which she passionately believed. “She had pungency of character,” as the historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. has written, “a dry wit, an inner gaiety, an instinct for practicality, a profound vein of religious feeling, and a compulsion to instruct.”
John Elliott Rankin
John Elliott Rankin, the son of a Mississippi schoolteacher who served four years as a county prosecuting attorney, ran for Congress three times before finally winning in 1920. Once elected, he served fifteen consecutive terms, setting a record for the longest continuing service in the House.
Rankin devoted his tenure as congressman to bringing electricity to his district, promoting veterans’ benefits, and championing white supremacy and anticommunism.
A Democrat who initially supported the New Deal, Rankin partnered with progressive George Norris of Nebraska to introduce the legislation creating the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) to generate public hydroelectric power in 1933 and, in 1936, goaded his colleagues to authorize the Rural Electrification Administration to help distribute electricity to farms and homes—all the while ensuring that his Tupelo, Mississippi, constituents became the first people to receive TVA-generated electricity.
From 1931 to 1953, as chair of the House Committee on World War Veterans’ Legislation and subsequently the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Rankin consistently supported increasing veterans’ benefits. He led the floor fight to override FDR’s veto of a veterans’ bonus bill and again broke with FDR when, fearful that certain employment provisions of the G.I. Bill would challenge segregation, Rankin objected to that section of the bill as vocally as he objected to allowing soldiers to vote absentee.
Rankin filibustered against antilynching legislation, declaring its adoption would increase rape, and, from 1945 to 1950, used his seat on the House Un-American Activities Committee as a platform for his diatribe against Jews, African Americans, and liberals.
In 1948 he tried to enter the Senate, only to be handily defeated by Mississippi Democrat and segregationist Theodore Bilbo. When the 1950 census decreased Mississippi’s congressional delegation, the Mississippi legislature merged Rankin’s district with that represented by Thomas Abernathy, who defeated Rankin in 1951. Rankin returned to Tupelo, where he practiced law. He died in 1960.
Civil Rights Activist
A. Philip Randolph
Civil Rights Activist
Asa Philip Randolph was a key figure of the modern civil rights movement. With roots in labor organizing and socialist ideals, Randolph rose to perhaps his highest prominence in public life as planner of the historic 1963 March on Washington in which Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.
Randolph was born in Crescent City, Florida, the son of a Methodist minister. He graduated from the Cookman Institute in Jacksonville, Florida, and, frustrated by the limited options open to African Americans in the South, moved in 1911 to New York City, where he attended classes at City College, participated in Harlem Renaissance theater, and met Columbia University student Chandler Owen. The two founded an employment agency that attempted to unionize black workers and, convinced that to achieve economic and racial justice required militant action, joined the Socialist Party. In 1917 they launched a political and literary journal, the Messenger, which the State Department soon labeled “the most able and most dangerous of all the Negro publications.”
In 1925 Randolph founded the union that would secure his reputation as a tough leader ready to exert the power of many against a seemingly intractable establishment. The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP) represented the exploited African American porters, maids, and other workers of the powerful Pullman Company, which operated its sleeping cars on rail lines across the country. After a decade of organizing—and with the help of New Deal-era legislation banning sham company unions—the BSCP was certified as Pullman workers’ bargaining unit in 1935. In 1937 the African American-led union won a contract from Pullman.
Randolph went on to play the preeminent role in pressing President Franklin D. Roosevelt to sign a 1941 executive order barring discrimination in the burgeoning defense-industry jobs that, as America went to war, were lifting the country out of the Great Depression. FDR had met with Randolph and other African American leaders in September 1940 and been sympathetic but ultimately unresponsive to their demands for integration of the U.S. military and fair access to federal war-related employment. Randolph began planning a massive march on Washington, which persuaded FDR to sign the order in June 1941. Randolph called off the march.
Similarly, in 1948, Randolph established the League for Non-Violent Civil Disobedience Against Segregation in the Military, telling President Harry Truman that if he did not sign an order integrating the armed services (in which African Americans had served so ably during the war), black Americans would resist the draft. Truman signed the order on July 26, 1948.
In the early 1960s, as president of the Negro American Labor Council he had founded in 1960, Randolph reached out to Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders, who together planned an unprecedented demonstration in the nation’s capital for “jobs and freedom.” The 1963 March on Washington drew some two hundred thousand participants, a watershed event in the movement for racial justice that profoundly affected attitudes and helped win passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Elizabeth Brandeis Raushenbush was born in Boston to the prominent liberal attorney Louis Brandeis, who in 1916 would begin long service on the U.S. Supreme Court, and his wife, Alice Goldmark Brandeis, an activist in progressive causes from women’s suffrage to the creation of a Jewish state.
Elizabeth earned an undergraduate degree from Radcliffe before moving to Washington, DC, where she worked for five years as secretary of the city’s Minimum Wage Board. The board was responsible for researching the cost of living and prevailing wages and setting minimum pay in jobs for women and minors, under a law passed in 1918 to protect these workers from being exploited on starvation wages. In performing the requisite investigations and reporting to the board, Raushenbush began the work in labor economics and reform that would be the principal focus of her long career.
From the nation’s capital Raushenbush headed to the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where, under the mentorship of John R. Commons, an economist who had helped make the state a laboratory for Progressive Era workplace and labor-rights reform, she earned a PhD in economics in 1928. In the meantime she had married a fellow Commons protégé, Paul Raushenbush, and the two were hired to teach at the university. Elizabeth Raushenbush would continue Commons’s tradition there, teaching for forty-two years. In 1934 Paul Raushenbush began a long tenure as head of the Wisconsin Unemployment Compensation Division.
The Raushenbushes, along with Commons, were instrumental in crafting a model unemployment insurance law in Wisconsin—the first in the nation—and led the fight for its adoption in 1932. The law required each employer to maintain an unemployment benefits fund, an incentive to limit the worker layoffs that would draw down the fund and require more contributions. It became an important basis for the federal unemployment insurance program launched with the Social Security Act of 1935.
Elizabeth and Paul Raushenbush also played a part in the crafting of that landmark law. In 1933 Elizabeth’s father, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, relayed to the couple an idea to impose a federal payroll tax that would be substantially waived in states that instituted an unemployment compensation plan. This funding mechanism would prevent states without unemployment benefits laws from gaining an economic advantage by attracting more business. Its use of incentive rather than mandate might also protect the law from being invalidated as an unconstitutional extension of federal power. Elizabeth Raushenbush recounted the plan to Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins and Senator Robert Wagner, the Democrat from New York who would introduce the Social Security bill in the Senate.
After World War II, Elizabeth Raushenbush, in addition to teaching at the university, threw herself into work for the protection of child and migrant agricultural workers. As a member of the Wisconsin Governor’s Committee on Migratory Labor, she advocated the enforcement of laws limiting maximum work hours and restricting child labor in agriculture, brought workmen’s compensation to migrant workers, and worked to establish summer schools and Spanish-speaking teachers for the laborers’ children. Elizabeth Raushenbush died in April 1984, survived by her son, Walter, a longtime professor of law at the University of Wisconsin.
Milo Reno, an Iowa farmer, union president, insurance executive, and founder of the Farmers’ Holiday Association, challenged state governments and the administrations of Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, and Franklin D. Roosevelt to ensure that the retail price of farm products covered farmers’ costs to produce and transport the crops.
In 1921 he served as president of Farmers’ Union Life Insurance, the Farmers’ Mutual Automobile Association, and the Iowa Farmers’ Union (IFU), a position he held until 1931. As IFU president, he shepherded the union’s adoption of a resolution “to secure for the farmers the industrial cost of production plus a reasonable profit.” In 1932, bitterly opposed to Hoover and his Federal Farm Board, which had failed to buoy plunging farm prices in the Great Depression, Reno founded the National Farmers’ Holiday Association. It called for farmers to protest current prices by refusing to ship their crops to market, and it also called for a moratorium on farm foreclosures, mortgage payments, and tax bills. As one supporter poetized in the newspaper the Iowa Union Farmer, “Let’s call a ‘Farmers’ Holiday’ / A Holiday let’s hold / We’ll eat our wheat and ham and eggs / And let them eat their gold.”
Although Reno supported FDR in 1932, he turned against Roosevelt in early 1933 because his farm bill, the Agricultural Adjustment Act, rejected riders pegging farm prices on the cost of production; the act instead relied on the destruction of crops to raise prices. In August 1933, at the Iowa Farmers’ Union convention, Reno led the campaign to adopt a platform demanding collective bargaining for farmers, federal approval of farm price codes set by farmer boards, and an end to crop destruction as a way to sustain prices. When FDR refused to endorse these proposals, Reno again called a national strike, which forced some midwestern governors to support cost of production riders and place a moratorium on farm foreclosures.
Reno spent the last three years of his life attacking the New Deal as a threat to American individualism and exploring relationships with FDR’s fierce critics, the populist Louisiana senator Huey Long and anti-Semitic radio personality Father Charles Coughlin.
Entertainer & Satirist
Entertainer & Satirist
Will Rogers, cowboy, radio entertainer, film star, and columnist, was one of the most popular entertainers of his era. His skillfully crafted folksy cowboy persona allowed him to roast politicians, mock current events, and rail against selfishness without attacking a person’s character or demeaning his personality.
Born on a ranch in Oklahoma, Rogers dropped out of school in 1898, ran away from home, and spent four years roping cattle in Texas. In 1902 he moved to Argentina to ride with the cattle-herding gauchos. Becoming bored, he traveled on to South Africa, where he performed with a traveling Wild West show. By 1916 Rogers had become a “Talkin’ Fool” member of the vaudeville variety show the Ziegfeld Follies in New York, and he began to gently tease personalities who came to see the show. When President Woodrow Wilson laughed at Rogers’s teasing, the entertainer’s career took off.
The McNaught Syndicate newspaper wire service hired him to cover the 1920 presidential convention, an assignment he repeated for every convention through 1932. In 1926 he began a daily, nationally syndicated column entitled Will Rogers Says. He now reached forty million readers a day. Soon after he appeared in print, his movie career took off, and the Saturday Evening Post hired him to write a series of columns about life and politics in Europe, Russia, and the Far East.
Until the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Rogers took great care to refrain from siding with one party or another, lampooning Republican president Herbert Hoover, the idolized aviator and antiwar activist Charles Lindbergh, salty New York Democrat Al Smith, and automobile mogul Henry Ford alike. When people asked if he belonged to a political party, Rogers happily joked that he belonged to no organized party because, after all, he was a Democrat.
As for FDR, Rogers did his best to promote the president’s programs, even as he mocked his “Brain Trust” (as the press dubbed FDR’s circle of academic advisors). On his January 20, 1935, radio show Rogers attacked the “nine old men” on the Supreme Court who seemed intent on derailing FDR’s social and economic plans by overturning New Deal laws. When FDR introduced his Wealth Tax Act imposing steep income taxes on the rich, Rogers told his listeners that anyone who compared this to the Soviet Union was silly: “There’s no income tax in Russia, but there’s no income.”
On August 25, 1935, Rogers died suddenly when the plane taking him to the Far East crashed in Alaska.
First Lady & Social Reformer
First Lady & Social Reformer
Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, a shy child orphaned at ten, overcame sadness, disappointment, and self-doubt to lead an unparalleled public life. Although most well-known for her work as the nation’s longest-serving First Lady (1933–45), ER also had a remarkable political career in her own right before and after her life in the White House.
ER was born in New York City, the child of two patrician New York families. Her father, Elliott Roosevelt, was a younger brother of the famous Theodore, and her mother, Anna Hall, was a Livingston. ER’s childhood was a lonely one. Her mother died of diphtheria when she was eight and she went to live with her maternal grandmother in Manhattan and Tivoli, New York. Two years later her charming but troubled father died of complications from alcoholism. At fifteen ER departed for the Allenswood Academy, a girls’ boarding school in England, where she would spend the happiest years of her youth. She adored its formidable but caring headmistress Marie Souvestre, who challenged the shy ER to develop into the strong, independent-minded woman she would become.
Three years after returning to New York in 1902, ER married her dashing and gregarious distant cousin, Franklin D. Roosevelt. In the ensuing two decades, in addition to helping raise five children, supporting her husband’s political career, and encouraging his determination to conquer polio, ER helped guide state and national reform organizations, founded a business, taught school, managed and edited Democratic Party publications, campaigned for progressive candidates, and inspired other women to become politically active. Her discovery in 1918 that FDR was having an affair with her social secretary, Lucy Mercer, was intensely painful, but it also impelled ER to carve out a new life for herself, following her own ideals and interests within an unorthodox marriage based more on shared political conviction than romance.
During the 1920s, ER served as vice president and finance chair of the state Democratic Women’s Committee, legislative vice president of the League of Women Voters, and cochair of the Bok Peace Prize Committee, a nationwide effort to secure congressional support for American involvement in an international peacekeeping organization. She developed close ties with the National Consumers Union, the Women’s Trade Union League, and labor organizations. She testified before the U.S. House of Representatives, served as New York Democrat Al Smith’s liaison to women voters, and, in 1926, crisscrossed New York State endorsing the progressive Robert Wagner’s campaign for the U.S. Senate. By 1928 Redbook and other popular magazines published her articles. Major reporters publicized her clout, praising her as a woman who spoke her political mind.
When New Yorkers elected FDR governor in 1928, ER tried to balance her commitment to social reform with her husband’s political agenda. Although she stopped giving “political speeches” on specific issues, she regularly challenged women “to learn to play the game as men do,” stayed in constant contact with a vast social-reform network, and often brought key reform leaders to brief and argue with FDR. Her greatest joy, however, came from teaching at the Todhunter School for girls in New York City. ER wanted very much to inspire curiosity and confidence in her students, as Souvestre had done for her.
After FDR won the 1932 presidential election, ER confronted a different kind of balancing act. FDR asked her to resign from all organizations, stop teaching and writing, and focus on White House–centered hostess activities. She wanted to help her husband tackle the fierce pain the Depression inflicted.
Less than a week after FDR’s inauguration in March 1933, ER signaled she would not be a typical First Lady. She announced she would hold regular press conferences with women reporters. A few weeks later, she started to travel the nation (without Secret Service protection), covering many thousands of miles to talk with citizens, investigate living conditions, and see for herself how the New Deal worked. In August ER began a monthly column for Woman’s Home Companion. That first year in the White House, ER also began to read and answer the tens of thousands of letters she received from Americans who were becoming convinced that the First Lady cared about their struggles.
Her audience expanded, ER began to promote her own version of the New Deal. She worried that the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) programs did not meet enough of people’s needs and urged administrator Harry Hopkins to hire the former journalist Lorena Hickok, a close friend, to tour different parts of the nation, observe FERA programs, and report to him on the programs’ effectiveness. She pressured leaders of FDR’s relief programs, Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes and Hopkins, to address those most marginalized by FDR’s policies. In particular, she criticized the Economy Act for penalizing federally employed women (who were made to relinquish their jobs if married to another federal employee); urged the Civil Works Administration to hire unemployed women; carefully monitored the construction of the Arthurdale model subsistence homestead at Morgantown, West Virginia; facilitated the creation of the National Youth Administration; and spurred the development of the Federal Project Number One programs for writers, artists, and actors. Disappointed that Social Security did not cover the majority of Americans and include health coverage, she reinvigorated her call for a living wage, the right to organize, and safe working conditions. Working closely with National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Executive Secretary Walter White and National Youth Administration head Mary McLeod Bethune, a noted African American educator, ER pressed the administration to address the needs of black Americans.
Though the positions she took were often controversial, ER, like her husband, was a winning and tireless communicator who was able to use the media to reach out directly to the American public. In 1936 she began her nationally syndicated column My Day, in which, six days a week, she informed, inspired, and persuaded readers, meanwhile creating a portrait of herself as a First Lady of unflagging compassion and varied enthusiasms. She devoted four weeks each year to a nationwide lecture tour. She launched a monthly question-and-answer magazine column and had her own radio show. By the end of FDR’s second term, ER was recognized as a political force in her own right.
When World War II erupted, ER dedicated her considerable energy to refugee, civil defense, and home front issues. She cochaired the Committee to Save European Children and the Office of Civilian Defense. In the immediate aftermath of Pearl Harbor, she tried to prevent the internment of Japanese Americans. She visited war-torn London in 1942 to bolster Britons’ morale and to see how their civil defense programs worked. The next year she flew through war zones to tour seventeen combat-ravaged islands in the Pacific, comfort wounded sailors and soldiers, and thank those still engaged in the battle. She helped convince FDR to end discrimination in the defense industries and championed the Tuskegee Airmen—the first African American military pilots in the U.S. armed forces—by going on a statement-making flight with their black instructor in 1941. She asked Americans why they cursed Adolf Hitler but supported Jim Crow. And she served as women’s voice in the White House.
FDR’s sudden death in April 1945 threw ER into an arena she never expected to enter—international diplomacy. She had rejected all invitations to run for office or suggestions that she serve in President Harry Truman’s cabinet. She just wanted to write and speak on issues she cared about and continue lending her support to the NAACP and other social justice organizations. But in December 1945, Truman appointed her to the first American delegation to the United Nations (UN), a position she would hold until January 1953.
ER chaired the UN Human Rights Commission and its subcommittee charged with drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. She helped create the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA), and she pressured the Truman administration to recognize Israel. When her appointment to the UN ended, she traveled the nation as the most skilled and enthusiastic ambassador of the American Association for the United Nations.
ER continued to write and appear on radio throughout her time at the UN. After 1953 she expanded her journalism activities and wrote thirteen books and more than one hundred articles. She even turned to the newest medium, television, and hosted her own talk show, Prospects of Mankind, for public television. In the late 1950s, she returned to teaching, offering a seminar in foreign policy for Brandeis University graduate students.
Until she died in November 1962, ER remained an active, blunt, and committed Democrat. She campaigned with candidates, raised funds for the party, worked on platforms, and challenged the party to lead rather than follow.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Franklin D. Roosevelt was America’s longest-serving president. Historians also rank him as one of the country’s strongest and most important chief executives. He led the nation from March of 1933, the direst year of the Great Depression, until his death in April 1945, the eve of victory in World War II.
Though a member of the social and economic elite, FDR’s warmth, curiosity, and prodigious energy allowed him to connect with people from every walk of life. He was not a particularly avid reader but a nimble conversationalist who constantly gleaned information from those around him. Some have called FDR agreeable to a fault—he “had the habit of saying he was in agreement with whoever he was with,” reported one military aide. But in the end he did not hesitate to disappoint his associates by taking firm and independent decisions, as in his embrace of massive work relief to stem the Great Depression and his insistence on opening a second front against the Nazis in World War II. Though reviled by opponents of the expanded federal government he created, FDR was driven less by ideology than by an astute sense of the historical forces at work in current events and a pragmatic approach to towering national problems.
He was born on January 30, 1882, at Springwood, his parents’ verdant estate in Hyde Park, New York, where he enjoyed a privileged and peaceful if somewhat solitary childhood. His father, James, a railroads and coal magnate, was weakened by heart problems during FDR’s childhood and died when he was only eight. Though FDR had a much older half-brother from his father’s first marriage, he was the only child of his adoring and strong-minded mother, Sara. Her steady and intense devotion is often credited as a source of FDR’s unassailable confidence. In the Hudson Valley setting of his early years, FDR developed a love of nature, farming, and rural life. He always considered Springwood his home.
As a teenager FDR attended Groton, a private boarding school in northern Massachusetts, where he was much influenced by headmaster Endicott Peabody’s prescription for a “muscular Christianity” emphasizing public service. FDR also admired his older distant cousin, Theodore Roosevelt, and watching TR give a speech at Groton was a high point of FDR’s time there. FDR went on to Harvard, where he was president of the Harvard Crimson, the campus newspaper.
In 1902, FDR began to take notice of Eleanor Roosevelt, his distant cousin and Theodore Roosevelt’s niece. The two had come into contact occasionally as children. Eleanor was tall and willowy, serious, and rather shy, FDR handsome and charming. They married in the New York City home of ER’s cousin on March 17, 1905. Theodore Roosevelt, then president of the United States, was in town to lead the New York City St. Patrick’s Day parade; he escorted his niece, an orphan, down the aisle.
After their honeymoon in Europe, FDR and ER moved into one half of a New York City double townhouse given to them as a wedding present by Sara Roosevelt, FDR’s mother. Sara occupied the other half. FDR resumed his studies at Columbia University Law School, begun in the fall of 1904. He never completed his law degree, but after three years he passed the bar examination and began a law practice in New York.
Early political career and family life
In 1910, FDR won a seat in the New York State Senate, the first and only time he would carry the Republican-dominated New York county (Dutchess) from which he hailed. As a senator he worked primarily on conservation and farming issues but attracted attention for his defiance of Tammany Hall, New York City’s powerful Democratic machine, when he opposed its candidate for the U.S. Senate.
In the 1912 presidential election, FDR supported the Democrat, Woodrow Wilson, over his relative and idol, Theodore Roosevelt, who ran as a Progressive. After Wilson won the presidency he appointed FDR assistant secretary of the navy, and the Roosevelts moved to Washington. A sailor and lover of the sea and ships since early childhood, FDR lobbied his resistant superiors to build up the United States Navy in the face of growing international tensions. When the America entered World War II in 1917, he made sure the Navy played a vital role in the fight. FDR was a firm believer that the U.S. must engage in world affairs for its own protection among other reasons. He was sharply disappointed by the failure of Wilson’s post-war campaign to bring America into the newly formed League of Nations.
During these years, FDR and ER were building their family. Their first child, Anna, was born in 1906, and five sons (one of whom died in infancy) followed over the next decade. Whether based in Washington, DC, or New York City, the family vacationed at Springwood in Hyde Park, New York, and spent part of each summer on the island of Campobello off the coast of Maine, where FDR had summered as a child.
In the autumn of 1918 a painful event forever altered the Roosevelt domestic scene: ER discovered a bundle of passionate love letters written to FDR by her secretary, Lucy Mercer. The affair was serious enough that FDR considered accepting ER’s offer of divorce. In the end he chose to remain married and preserve his career, promising never to see Mercer again. The Roosevelts’ marriage endured and developed into an extraordinary political partnership, if not a romantic bond.
In 1920, FDR went on the road in his first national campaign—as the vice-presidential running mate of the Democratic nominee for president, James Cox of Ohio. Though the ticket lost the election, Democrats took note of FDR’s talent as a campaigner. Amid this auspicious buzz, FDR returned to New York City to practice law and plan his next move.
Polio and Warm Springs
His plans, however, were devastatingly derailed the next summer. While vacationing with his family on Campobello in August, FDR contracted a severe case of polio. Now paralyzed from the chest down, FDR, at the age of 39, dedicated his characteristic optimism to regaining as much movement and independence as possible. With ER’s full support, he began a strenuous exercise routine and would constantly explore new medical treatments. Although he increased his strength, particularly in his upper body, he would never walk unaided again.
His plans, however, were devastatingly derailed the next summer. While vacationing with his family on Campobello in August, FDR contracted a severe case of polio that paralyzed him from the chest down. At the age of 39, the once physically impressive and athletic FDR would never walk again. But with ER’s persistent support, he summoned the eternal optimism for which he would become famous, plunging into a grueling exercise routine and trying a variety of medical treatments in an effort to improve his mobility. Though FDR’s legs remained paralyzed, he did regain his constitutional vigor, greatly strengthening his upper body in the process.
In 1924, he discovered the restorative powers of the mineral waters at Warm Springs, Georgia. Exercising in the buoyant 88-degree waters felt wonderful, a balm to the mind as well as the body. He soon launched a new project, buying the old resort hotel at Warm Springs and in 1927 establishing the Warm Springs Foundation. Under his leadership, Warm Springs offered cutting-edge rehabilitation programs to polio patients, along with camaraderie and training on how to live independently. Throughout his life FDR would return on an almost annual basis to Warm Springs, where he enjoyed a rare privacy and true rest.
Even as he sought to overcome his new disabilities, FDR stayed in the political game through correspondence and with the help of his canny and wholly devoted political aide Louis Howe. In 1924, he returned to the national stage when—using crutches to “walk” to the podium—he nominated New York Governor Al Smith for president at the Democratic Convention. Four years later, FDR once again nominated Smith, but this time, Smith persuaded FDR to run for governor of New York. Although Smith lost his bid for the presidency, FDR won the governorship.
Rise to leadership in troubled times
When FDR became governor of the populous state of New York, the Great Depression was beginning. Rather than simply follow Smith’s policies, FDR innovated, gaining a nationwide reputation as an administrator who was both competent and progressive. He began a precedent-setting relief program for New York’s unemployed and advocated for federal old-age pensions and unemployment insurance.
In 1932, with the nation’s economic woes at their worst and Herbert Hoover, the incumbent president, unable to effect change or inspire hope, the American people elected FDR president by a wide margin. The people wanted to try a bolder approach to the Depression and valued FDR’s leadership experience and ideas. But the asset of FDR’s that appealed to them perhaps more than any other was the incandescent optimism that had helped him face sudden paralysis and that, they hoped, would lead them to better days. “First of all, ” FDR told the crowd on Inauguration Day, “let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
The New Deal
FDR’s first one hundred days in office made history for the swiftness and scope of the legislative reform his administration achieved. With a strong mandate from the people and working with a Congress that was likewise eager for action, FDR saw the passage in those first hundred days of sixteen important New Deal initiatives. These included bills to stabilize and regulate the nation’s banking system, initiate work relief, stimulate the farm economy, and expand access to affordably priced electricity. By mid-1935, FDR’s team secured passage of the New Deal’s second major legislative package, which introduced Social Security and protected a worker’s right to join a union.
Meanwhile, FDR’s acumen as a communicator transformed the office of the presidency by making the president a visible figure who spoke directly to citizens. On March 12, 1933, shortly after his inauguration, he gave the first of his famous “fireside chats ” informal but carefully prepared radio talks that explained his initiatives in a warm tone and plain language. His listeners felt almost as if FDR were in the room with them and had the impression that he understood and cared about their problems—a vital buoy to the spirit of a people weighed down by the despair of unemployment or, later, terrified by the uncertainties of war.
In 1936, FDR was reelected in an unprecedented landslide, winning every state except Maine and Vermont. The New Deal hadn’t ended the Depression, but most people thought the country was making progress.
During his first administration, however, the Supreme Court had struck down as unconstitutional key pieces of New Deal Legislation, notably the National Industrial Recovery Act, which sought to stabilize wages and prices through voluntary “codes of fair competition. ” Frustrated by a conservative Court dominated by obstructionist “old men ”—and believing his 1936 landslide victory indicated an overwhelming mandate for change—FDR proposed expanding the number of justices on the court, diluting the power of the conservative jurists. Many Americans, however, saw the “court packing ” plan as an attempt to upset the balance of powers so integral to American government. The plan immediately faced determined opposition in Congress, which killed the intitiative, handing FDR a humbling defeat.
The so-called Roosevelt recession was another political setback for FDR. By 1937, the Depression having eased somewhat, he sought to balance the federal budget by cutting government spending. But in the fall and winter of 1937-38, conditions worsened again, partly because of these cuts, and FDR had to seek additional funds to meet the crisis.
But these domestic troubles formed only part of the context in which FDR decided to seek an unprecedented third term as president in 1940. Nazi Germany had conquered Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, France, and the Low Countries, leaving Great Britain to stand alone against German aggression. FDR believed his country needed him. Although his hands were tied by the deep isolationism of most Americans, the Neutrality Acts barring aid to endangered allies, and restrictive immigration laws, FDR worked cautiously to build up the nation’s defenses, to generate sympathy for Great Britain, and to prepare the nation for the eventuality of war.
After his reelection in November 1940, FDR pressed these initiatives harder. He secured congressional support for his Lend-Lease program funneling war supplies to a besieged Britain and challenged America to become an “arsenal of democracy. ” In a famous speech in January 1941, FDR insisted that what was at stake in the world war was the survival of four fundamental human freedoms—freedom of expression, freedom of religion, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.
When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, FDR rallied the nation. His confidence, ability to communicate with ordinary people, and close working relationship with his military commanders proved important assets in his role as commander in chief during a terribly destructive and complex war.
Though the American people showed great strength and public spiritedness on the home front, responding to FDR’s stirring call to work day and night producing munitions and other needed war supplies, the advent of war also heightened their suspicion of those they saw as outsiders. In March 1942, with many on the West Coast panicky about possible Japanese subversion or invasion, FDR signed an executive order authorizing the forced relocation and internment of Japanese Americans living on the West Coast, many of whom were American citizens.
In addition, though war refugees had been seeking asylum in the United States since 1939, the combined pressure of United States immigration laws, a hostile Congress, a wary citizenry, and stark divisions within the administration itself kept many out. As the war progressed and news of the Holocaust spread, pressure mounted to help the victims of Adolf Hitler before it was too late. In January 1944, FDR issued an executive order establishing the War Refugee Board, which helped rescue Jews and other refugees from Nazi-occupied territory.
Even before America entered World War II, FDR had begun to envision the tolerant, democratic order marked by individual freedom that he hoped would prevail in the world after an Allied victory. In January 1941 he made his important Four Freedoms speech asserting that human rights must be established “everywhere in the world. ” In August 1941, he met British Prime Minister Winston Churchill for the first time off the coast of Newfoundland and they drew up the Atlantic Charter, a set of democratic principles that, symbolically at least, allied the two nations in the same struggle. Toward the end of the war, FDR worked with Churchill, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, and other Allied leaders to plan the United Nations organization. Although he did not live to see its charter ratified in October 1945, the UN’s creation was one of FDR’s enduring achievements.
In 1944, World War II was not yet won, though the tide had turned in the Allies’ favor. Determined to see the war through, FDR ran for president again and won a fourth term. Unknown to the public and apparently not fully recognized by himself, he was already seriously ill. After his return from Yalta, the last of his wartime conferences with Allied leaders, his health deteriorated further, and on April 12, 1945, FDR died of a cerebral hemorrhage while trying to recover his strength at his cottage (the Little White House) in Warm Springs, Georgia. He was buried in Hyde Park, New York.
Democratic Congressman & Son of FDR
Democratic Congressman & Son of FDR
James Roosevelt, businessman, Democratic Party leader, five-term congressman, and the oldest son of Franklin D. and Eleanor Roosevelt, took an active part in his father’s political career. After managing the Massachusetts wing of FDR’s 1932 presidential campaign, James worked alongside his father in the White House during the 1930s as an unofficial, and sometimes official, aide, despite ER’s fear that his involvement in FDR’s administration would raise suspicions of nepotism.
James left the White House in 1938 when internal and congressional objections arose over his increased responsibilities, and he moved to California to work as a motion picture executive. He joined the U.S. Marines in 1940, volunteering for combat duty after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941. He received the Navy Cross and the Silver Star for distinguished service in the Pacific theater.
After leaving the Marines in 1945 at the rank of colonel, James returned to California, where he opened the West Coast branch of his insurance company, Roosevelt and Sargent, and began his own career in politics. He joined the California State Democratic Central Committee, serving as its chair in 1946 and as one of its Democratic National Committeemen from 1948 until 1952. In 1950 he sought the governorship but lost to popular incumbent Earl Warren.
James began his ten-year career as a United States congressman in January 1955. In September 1965, he resigned his position to serve as the U.S representative to the United Nations Economic and Social Council. Upon completion of his service on the council, he returned to California and built a successful career as a public relations consultant.
As twenty-sixth president of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt strengthened the authority of the executive, curbed corporate power to protect consumers and the middle class, preserved the continent’s natural landscapes, and espoused an engaged foreign policy based on indisputable American strength. TR was a fifth cousin to Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was twenty-five years his junior, and uncle to Eleanor Roosevelt, who married FDR in 1905 while TR was president. An energetic, larger-than-life figure, TR had enormous influence on both his younger relatives.
He was born in New York City to a well-to-do family with roots in Dutch New York. A fragile child, nearsighted and severely asthmatic, “Teedie,” as he was called, was privately tutored at home. Determined to grow more robust, he adopted an exercise regimen that became the basis for a lifetime of strenuous outdoor pursuits. TR went to Harvard College and briefly attended Columbia University Law School, leaving his studies to enter politics, to the chagrin of his patrician family.
He began his political career in 1880 as a member of the New York State Assembly, where he served three years. In 1884, TR’s young wife, Alice Hathaway Lee Roosevelt, died days after giving birth to their first child; his mother died within hours of his wife. Grief-stricken, he left the East for the Dakota Territory, where he took up a life of cattle ranching and hunting. In 1886, he returned to New York to run for mayor of New York City, fully expecting to lose in that Democratic stronghold. Shorty after the election he remarried, to childhood friend and neighbor Edith Kermit Carow, with whom he would have five children and a happy family life. TR brought good-government reform to the U.S. Civil Service Commission as its chair from 1889 to 1895 and determinedly scoured out corruption in the New York City Police Department as its top official from 1894 to 1896.
In 1897, President William McKinley appointed him assistant secretary of the navy, in which capacity he built up United States naval power and agitated for war against Spain to loosen its dominating hold on Cuba. Indeed, when the Spanish-American War broke out in 1998, TR left Washington and organized Western cowboys and Eastern bluebloods into the First U.S. Volunteer Calvary Regiment. These “Rough Riders” distinguished themselves in the decisive Battle of San Juan Hill. TR returned home a national war hero, and was elected governor of New York. In that job TR supported an active government, regulation to protect women and children in the workplace, and taxes on utility and insurance interests. Rivals and critics hoped to neutralize him by nominating him as President McKinley’s new vice president in 1900. But when McKinley died from an assassin’s bullet six months into his second term, TR moved into the White House.
Roosevelt used the presidency as “a bully pulpit,” pushing ambitious reforms aimed at a more just society—a “Square Deal,” as he put it, for all Americans. He persuaded Congress to strengthen the Interstate Commerce Commission and established the federal Department of Commerce and Labor in 1903 (later split into separate departments). Under TR’s leadership the government attacked corporate monopolies by bringing dozens of suits under the Sherman Antitrust Act. Perhaps most notable among these was the break-up of a holding company that controlled railroads across the northern U.S.
TR was also instrumental in passing the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, for the first time bringing federal regulation to bear against unsafe, adulterated, and mislabeled foods and medicines. A longtime naturalist, he supported the Newlands Reclamation Act of 1902 to promote federal construction of dams to irrigate small farms. He also created new national parks and established the first federal wildlife refuge, placing 230 million acres of wild land under federal protection.
His record on race relations was more equivocal. He invited Booker T. Washington, a noted African American educator and author of Up From Slavery, to dine with him at the White House in 1901, provoking considerable controversy at a time when segregation was the legal and social norm. But in 1906, TR ordered the dishonorable discharge of three companies of black soldiers who had been stationed near Brownsville, Texas, and accused by local whites of responsibility for a shooting incident that left one man dead and another injured. (The soldiers’ claims that they knew nothing of the incident were dismissed as a “conspiracy of silence.”)
In the conduct of foreign affairs, TR’s maxim was “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” He maintained military preparedness, especially of the navy, but worked assiduously for peace. Convinced that a U.S.-constructed canal should link the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, he aided Panama’s revolt against Colombia in 1903 and actively supported the construction of the Panama Canal that followed.
TR inaugurated the so-called Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, the 1823 U.S. policy stating that Europeans should not seek to colonize or otherwise intervene in the Americas. TR’s caveat, which presaged repeated American armed interventions in Latin America, asserted that the U.S. itself had the right to intervene in the Western Hemisphere in cases of “chronic wrongdoing or an impotence which results in a general loosening of the ties of civilized society.” On the other hand in the Far East TR supported eventual independence for the Philippines, then an American protectorate. In 1906 he won the Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating an end to the Russo-Japanese War of 1905.
TR won a second term in 1904, but soon announced he would not seek a third. His successor and friend, William Howard Taft, turned away from progressive ideals once in office, bitterly disappointing TR and motivating him to challenge Taft for the presidency in 1912. Denied the Republican nomination, TR ran on the Progressive “Bull Moose” Party ticket. This split the Republican vote and helped usher Democrat Woodrow Wilson into the presidency.
Cast into the political wilderness, TR traveled on safari and wrote his autobiography. When World War I broke out in 1914, he campaigned for military preparedness, disdaining Wilson’s call for neutrality. Returning to the Republican Party, he supported Wilson’s unsuccessful opponent, Republican Charles Evans Hughes, in 1916. Upon U.S. entry into the world war, TR hoped to once again raise a regiment, but ill health and Wilson’s opposition made it impossible. He lost his youngest child, Quentin, in the war. Still active in Republican politics, TR died in his sleep at Sagamore Hill, his home in Oyster Bay, Long Island, in 1919.
Charles Michael Schwab
Charles Michael Schwab, the son of a Pennsylvania weaver and a stable owner, became the most influential steel executive in the United States. At seventeen, eager to be on his own, he dropped out of the Catholic day school he attended and moved to Braddock, Pennsylvania, the home of Andrew Carnegie’s Edgar Thomson Steel Works. While clerking in a store, he met Thomson Superintendent William R. “Captain Bill” Jones, who offered Schwab a job on a surveying crew. Jones quickly found Schwab so useful that he introduced the young man to Carnegie, who, sensing Schwab’s potential, sent him to Europe to study steelmaking.
After Jones died in an industrial accident, Carnegie tapped twenty-seven-year-old Schwab to manage the Thomson plant—making him the youngest steel plant manager in the nation. In 1897, after Schwab helped Carnegie recover from the bloody Homestead Steel strike and congressional investigations into the allegedly defective armor plating Carnegie Steel had sold to the navy, Carnegie appointed Schwab president of the Carnegie Steel Company.
Four years later, Schwab had convinced Carnegie to sell his interests in the company, and J. P. Morgan to finance the streamlined production and distribution of steel products—giving rise to the company that would be founded as U.S. Steel, the nation’s first billion-dollar corporation. After assuming the corporation’s presidency, Schwab quickly gained notoriety for lavish spending, gambling, and opulent living. Carnegie was furious but Morgan continued to support Schwab.
In 1903 Schwab resigned from U.S. Steel and, within a year, began remaking the Bethlehem Steel Corporation. Under his leadership, the company gambled on a new steel beam that helped launch the era of the skyscraper, and sales increased from $10 million in 1904 to $230 million in 1920. When the United States entered World War I, Woodrow Wilson asked Schwab to lead the Emergency Fleet Corporation, which oversaw, with effectiveness and fanfare, a dramatic increase in production of troop and cargo ships.
After the war, Schwab retired, served as president of the Iron and Steel Institute, and devoted most of his time to promoting the American steel industry. Yet his business acumen failed him when he invested outside steel, and, although his personal fortune had once been more than $200 million, in 1939 he died a poor, bankrupt man.
Bertrand Hollis Snell
Bertrand Hollis Snell, an upstate New York Republican who worked as a bookkeeper and lumberjack before becoming a successful entrepreneur and mill owner, was elected to the House of Representatives in 1915.
During his twenty-four years in the House, Snell consistently opposed federal regulation of business and big spending initiatives (unless they benefited his constituents). In 1923 Snell assumed the chair of the House Rules Committee, a position he used to fend off any challenges to the cuts in spending and taxes proposed by President Calvin Coolidge, whom Snell had befriended since their college days at Amherst. He also served as the quiet Coolidge’s intermediary with Congress.
Saddened that Coolidge did not seek reelection in 1928, Snell reluctantly backed Herbert Hoover. In 1930, when the Democrats regained control of the House, Snell won a contested election to serve as minority leader. He warily supported President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s initial economic plan, voting for the Emergency Banking Act of 1933 and the Economy Act of 1933; however, he strongly opposed other New Deal legislation, including the Agricultural Adjustment Act that paid farmers subsidies to limit production and legislation giving the president power to negotiate reciprocal trade agreements to hasten economic recovery.
Emboldened by the furor over FDR’s plan to reorganize the Supreme Court in 1937, Snell led Republicans to prevent the Fair Labor Standards bill (which set a minimum wage and maximum work week) from coming to the floor for a vote (although it passed the next year) and to reject FDR’s plan to reorganize the executive branch. By 1939, battling fading eyesight and depressed by the assumption that Republicans would not win control of the House in the 1940 elections, Snell resigned from Congress to edit the Potsdam Courier-Freeman. He died in Potsdam, New York, in 1958.
Henry Bascom Steagall
Henry Steagall was a county prosecutor and state legislator in his home state of Alabama before going on to serve nearly three decades in the U.S. House of Representatives, where he introduced important banking reform legislation. Steagall flirted with populism as a young man before deciding to join the Democratic Party. He first sought election to Congress in 1914 but lost to incumbent congressman Henry Clayton; ironically, however, when Clayton was appointed to the federal bench the following year, Steagall won the special primary to fill his term and never faced a serious challenger again.
In Congress, Steagall devoted his tenure on the House Banking and Currency Committee as much to the financial needs of farmers as to banking regulation. He championed adoption of the McNary-Haugen farm bill to support farm prices by authorizing the government to buy surpluses (the bill was never signed into law). He strongly opposed banking proposals that promoted branch rather than local banking, insisting that any policy that allowed large banks to open branches in different communities favored the East and penalized the South and the West. In 1928, despite some misgivings, he supported New York Democrat Al Smith for president.
When the Democrats won back the House in 1930, Steagall became chairman of the House Banking and Currency Committee. Yet rather than use his position to blame President Herbert Hoover for the declining economy, he supported efforts to stem the Depression by expanding the authority of the Federal Reserve to increase the amount of money circulating in the economy.
In 1932 Steagall eagerly campaigned for Franklin D. Roosevelt and after his victory helped him adopt many of the New Deal’s banking reforms. He cosponsored with Carter Glass of Virginia the Banking Act of 1933, which separated investment banking from commercial banks that hold depositors’ money, and established federal deposit insurance. The two senators also cosponsored the Banking Act of 1935, which made the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation a permanent feature of the federal government.
Despite his affection for FDR, Steagall effectively challenged the president to create the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and also to sign the inflationary Silver Purchase Act of 1934.
In FDR’s second term, Steagall cosponsored legislation that created the United States Housing Administration to provide funds to states for construction of public housing. He also lent very solid support to the Farm Tenant Act of 1937, which made small loans to tenant farmers to purchase land. Yet Steagall challenged FDR once again when he vehemently opposed the administration’s policy to roll back rising consumer food prices during wartime through subsidies to processors, concerned about the effect this would have on farmers. In 1943 Steagall collapsed on the House floor as he railed against the administration’s plan, and he died a few days later in a Washington, DC, hospital.
Statesman & Secretary of War
Henry Lewis Stimson
Statesman & Secretary of War
Henry Stimson, attorney, cabinet official, progressive Republican, and statesman, began his political career under the tutelage of Elihu Root, who served as secretary of war from 1899 to 1904, and Theodore Roosevelt, the progressive Republican president.
In 1911 President William Howard Taft named Stimson secretary of war, a position he used to enhance the power of the secretary of war and his staff, increase departmental efficiency, and promote military preparedness. He volunteered for artillery duty when World War I began and, after leaving the army in 1919, returned to his legal career on Wall Street.
In 1927 Stimson accepted President Herbert Hoover’s request to mediate a political crisis in Nicaragua, drafting an agreement for U.S. supervision of the country’s 1928 election and training a national police force. That same year, Hoover appointed him governor general of the Philippines, where Stimson implemented policies based on the prevailing notion of “the white man’s burden,” a phrase taken from a Rudyard Kipling poem that referred to the burden of empire.
A year later, Hoover summoned Stimson back to Washington, DC, as secretary of state to help manage the crisis in Manchuria, a province in northeastern China that had been invaded by the Japanese. In 1932 Stimson communicated to both countries the policy soon to be called the Stimson Doctrine: the United States would not recognize territorial changes or treaties achieved by force or the threat of force.
Stimson returned to his legal practice when Franklin D. Roosevelt defeated Hoover in 1932. However, in 1940, with war once again raging in Europe and Asia, FDR brought Stimson out of retirement to oversee the buildup of America’s army as secretary of war. In that capacity, Stimson urged the implementation of the draft, became a leading advocate for Lend-Lease war aid to Britain and other Allies, and oversaw the secret Manhattan Project, whose goal was to build the first atomic bomb.
After FDR’s sudden death in April 1945, Stimson informed the president’s successor, Harry Truman, of the bomb project. Stimson’s influence helped lead Truman to authorize the use of the bomb on Japan in August 1945.
Stimson also played a key role in planning the future of postwar Germany. He convinced FDR to reject a proposal by Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau Jr. to divide Germany into several agrarian states, and Stimson persuaded Truman to instead assist Germany’s reindustrialization. Opposed to hard-line anti-Soviet sentiments, Stimson encouraged mutual trust with the Soviet Union, telling Truman, “The chief lesson I have learned in a long life is that the only way you can make a man trustworthy is to trust him; and the surest way to make him untrustworthy is to distrust him and show your distrust.”
Yet throughout his long career, Stimson’s racial and socioeconomic prejudices shaped his views on foreign and domestic policy. When First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt offered public support for the equal rights of African Americans and questioned the military’s policy of limiting them to segregated units, for example, Stimson protested her advocacy as “intrusive and impulsive folly. ” In 1948, two years before his death, Stimson published his memoirs, entitled On Active Service in Peace and War.
Department Store Magnate & Democratic Supporter
Jesse Isidor Straus
Department Store Magnate & Democratic Supporter
Jesse Isidor Straus was born in New York City in 1872, the eldest child of German-born parents who had immigrated to the United States as children; both of Straus’s parents died on the Titanic in 1912. Straus became a philanthropist and, like his father, Isidor, successful co-owner of the New York landmark department store R.H. Macy & Co. Straus strongly supported Franklin D. Roosevelt’s gubernatorial and presidential campaigns.
In 1930, soon after voters reelected FDR governor, Straus sponsored a poll of delegates to the 1928 Democratic National Convention that provided critical insight into whom they wanted as their presidential candidate in 1932.
In the fall of 1931, the Great Depression intensified. In New York as elsewhere, local agencies could not address the needs of the increasing numbers of unemployed, hungry, sick, and homeless people. FDR convinced the state legislature to create the Temporary Emergency Relief Administration (TERA) to distribute $20 million dollars in relief aid, reimbursing local governments for a portion of the monies they spent to assist those in need. FDR asked Straus to organize and administer the program. Straus then tapped Harry Hopkins, a social worker who had already been working in state government, to serve as TERA’s executive secretary. The two men built an effective agency that Hopkins and FDR would replicate on a national scale in the first one hundred days of the New Deal. Business pressures forced Straus’s return to Macy & Co., and in the spring of 1932, he left TERA in Hopkins’s hands.
As FDR planned his presidential campaign, Straus mobilized the business and professional community to support FDR, and served as finance chair of the Democratic National Committee. On assuming the presidency in March 1933, FDR, grateful for Straus’s administrative and political skills, appointed him U.S. ambassador to France. Straus spoke French fluently and had strong ties to leading French businessmen. He negotiated several trade agreements with the French and provided the Roosevelt administration with accurate assessments of French politics, economics, and military preparedness. Straus served FDR until August 1936, when his increasingly fragile health forced him to return to New York. He died two months later of pneumonia.
Brain Trust Advisor
Rexford Guy Tugwell
Brain Trust Advisor
Rexford Tugwell was an economist, professor, agricultural expert, and city planner. As a key member of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s circle of scholarly advisors (his “Brain Trust”), Tugwell became an influential shaper of New Deal policies.
By the late 1920s, Tugwell had become a full professor of economics at Columbia University, where he championed innovative proposals to stimulate the nation’s ailing farm economy. He outspokenly criticized “overseas dumping” of excess farm products as a way to raise prices (an approach proposed in the ill-fated McNary-Haugen bill), instead strongly endorsing voluntary reduction in acreage farmed. These positions brought Tugwell to the attention of the 1928 presidential candidate and New York Democrat Al Smith—and of fellow Columbia professor Raymond Moley, who later assembled FDR’s Brain Trust.
Taken with Tugwell’s insistence that government planning and regulation were essential to balancing production and consumption, Moley brought Tugwell to meet FDR in March 1932. FDR immediately liked and trusted Tugwell. They shared a commitment to innovation and a socially managed economy, as well as a keen appreciation of the farm economy’s impact on the industrial sector. Also, the two men liked farmers. Tugwell quickly became FDR’s agricultural policy advisor.
In 1933 FDR asked Tugwell to join his administration as assistant secretary of agriculture. In that position, Tugwell joined Secretary of Agriculture Henry Wallace in shaping the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA), which limited farm production voluntarily via subsidies, and the National Industrial Recovery Act, which authorized voluntary price and wage codes in the industrial sector. Tugwell also worked on policies related to conservation, and food and drugs.
When the AAA adversely affected tenant farmers and sharecroppers, often driving them from land taken out of production, Tugwell fought to amend the act to address their issues. When he lost that battle, he encouraged FDR to create the Resettlement Administration (RA), which, under Tugwell’s leadership, rehabilitated depleted land, helped poor farmers relocate to planned model communities called subsistence homesteads, and made small loans to help struggling farmers make a new start.
He left the administration after FDR won reelection in 1936 and returned to New York, where he chaired the city’s planning commission from 1938 until 1940. In 1940 Tugwell accepted the University of Puerto Rico’s offer to be its chancellor, and the following year, he began a five-year service as governor of Puerto Rico. In 1947 Tugwell returned to the United States, where he held a series of senior academic positions before becoming senior fellow at the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions in 1964, a position he held until his death in 1979.
President of Germany’s Weimar Republic
Paul von Hindenburg
President of Germany’s Weimar Republic
Paul von Hindenburg, Austro-Prussian War veteran, German field marshal during World War I, and avid monarchist, reluctantly served as the second president of the Weimar Republic, the representative state that emerged in Germany following World War I. Elected in 1925, after the death of President Friedrich Ebert, von Hindenburg tried to adhere to the new parliamentary system, but when the Depression struck Germany, its coalition government dissolved.
Von Hindenburg then appointed his own cabinet rather than turn to the Reichstag, the German parliament, to form a new government. He authorized Chancellor Heinrich Bruning to dissolve the Reichstag if it objected to von Hindenburg’s actions, and promised to issue emergency proclamations rather than rely on laws proposed by the Reichstag. When his term expired in 1932, the eighty-four-year-old von Hindenburg ran for a second term as the only candidate who could defeat Adolf Hitler and his National Socialist German Workers’ Party. He was reelected; however, Bruning’s government failed, as did its two replacements.
Hitler, whom von Hindenburg disliked and distrusted, insisted that he be made chancellor if the Nazis were to join the government. Von Hindenburg’s advisors persuaded him that Hitler could be best controlled inside rather than outside of the government, and von Hindenburg appointed Hitler chancellor on January 30, 1933. Hitler promptly sidelined the increasingly senile von Hindenburg, who died on August 2, 1934. To solidify his control of Germany, Hitler then merged the offices of president and chancellor and appointed himself führer (“leader”).
Kurt von Schleicher
Kurt von Schleicher, a general in the German army, served as a key aide to Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg during World War I. After Germany lost the war, Schleicher devoted his energies to the Freikorps, the private paramilitary forces dedicated to crushing leftist uprisings and antimonarchist organizations. He kept in close contact with von Hindenburg and, in 1925, helped his former commander become the second president of Germany’s Weimar Republic. Von Hindenburg then asked Schleicher to serve as his political advisor, a position Schleicher used to promote Heinrich Bruning and his successor, Franz von Papen, as chancellor.
When von Papen embraced right-of-center politics, Schleicher helped force von Papen from office and replaced him as chancellor. In that position, Schleicher tried to limit the Nazi rise to power, only to be displaced by a von Papen–Adolf Hitler alliance. When Hitler took control of the government after von Hindenburg’s death, Schleicher was targeted as an enemy of the state. On June 30, 1934, in the midst of the bloody purge known as the Night of Long Knives, members of Hitler’s paramilitary squad (the SS) murdered Schleicher in his apartment.
Robert Ferdinand Wagner
Robert Wagner spent his formative years as a poor immigrant child in New York City, peddling newspapers in the street to help support his large family. He went on to become a state senator, a state judge, and finally a long-serving U.S. senator. Representing New York in the Senate from 1927 until 1949, Wagner took a lead role in fashioning some of the New Deal’s most important legislation. He was a dogged advocate of poor and working people who devoted his career to creating a social safety net in America.
After emigrating in 1885 from the German city of Nastätten to New York City at the age of nine, Wagner lived with his family in Yorkville, a German enclave on the Upper East Side, where his father worked as a janitor in tenement buildings. He attended public schools, graduating from the College of the City of New York in 1898 and New York Law School in 1900. He launched a successful law practice.
In 1904 Wagner won a seat in the New York State Assembly as a member of New York City’s immigrant-friendly (but often corrupt) Democratic political machine, Tammany Hall. As assemblyman he campaigned ferociously for a measure that reduced the subway fare to Brooklyn’s Coney Island from ten cents to five cents so that the poor could go to the seashore for rest and recreation.
Once elected to the state senate in 1905 (he served there with a young Franklin D. Roosevelt, who served from 1911 to 1913), Wagner gained a reputation as a serious reformer. After a fire killed 146 young workers in half an hour in Manhattan’s Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, Wagner pushed the state to establish the Factory Investigating Commission to examine conditions in workplaces around the state. The commission, which Wagner chaired, produced thousands of pages of testimony and passed thirty-six bills promoting humane, safe, and sanitary conditions in factories. In 1918, at the close of Wagner’s service in the state legislature, the New York Times called him a scrupulous and hardworking friend to the laboring masses. “All the gold in the world could not buy him,” it said.
Wagner was a justice of the New York Supreme Court from 1919 until 1926, when he was elected to the U.S. Senate. There, Wagner, a longtime associate and natural ally of FDR, became a key sponsor of New Deal programs. He helped draft and pass the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933, which authorized voluntary, industry-wide wage, working hours, and price codes in order to ensure buying power for workers and lift the economy. When a provision of that law establishing workers’ right to form unions proved difficult to enforce, Wagner drafted the landmark National Labor Relations Act (or Wagner Act) of 1935, which barred employers from engaging in various antiunion activities and set up penalties for those that violated the prohibitions.
Wagner also was a major sponsor of the 1935 law that established Social Security and unemployment insurance, and he proposed the Housing Act of 1947, which established the United States Housing Authority to provide federal loans to build some of the nation’s first public housing.
In some cases, Wagner’s efforts to expand the federal social safety net did not succeed. His National Health Act of 1939 was an early attempt at establishing a comprehensive health care program in America. And his 1945 Full Employment bill would have proclaimed a right to “useful, remunerative, regular and full-time employment ”—and charged the federal government with creating jobs when the private sector failed to do so.
Wagner, who, born to Lutheran parents, converted to the faith of his Irish Catholic wife in 1946, was a committed defender of racial and religious minorities. He introduced legislation in 1935 that would have penalized law enforcement agencies that tolerated the lynching of African Americans (it never came to a vote). He also cosponsored legislation to waive immigration quotas in order to admit twenty thousand Jewish children in flight from Adolf Hitler’s Germany; it failed in the Senate in 1939.
Wagner resigned from the Senate in 1949 due to failing health. He died in 1953 in New York City. Later that year, his son, Robert Wagner Jr., was elected as the city’s mayor. He served until 1965, promoting many of the policies his father had supported as senator.
Secretary of Agriculture & Vice President
Henry Agard Wallace
Secretary of Agriculture & Vice President
The Iowan Henry Wallace took over editorial responsibility for the family agriculture magazine, Wallaces’ Farmer, when his father left to serve as President Warren Harding’s secretary of agriculture in 1921. He broke with the Republican Party in 1928, unhappy over the party’s rejection of a federal plan to boost farm prices by buying surpluses as well as its support for high protective tariffs. In 1932 Wallace endorsed Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt for president and, following in his father’s footsteps, joined FDR’s cabinet as secretary of agriculture. Wallace would become an enthusiastic New Dealer.
He gained national attention as head of the Department of Agriculture. He expanded the department’s commitment to research. He helped draft and implement the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA) of 1933, which gave the government new power to limit farm production by offering farmers subsidies, thus lifting the prices that had spiraled downward in the Great Depression. Wallace also helped design and implement the Commodity Credit Corporation, which allowed farmers to use their AAA-supported crops as collateral for loans. In 1937 he turned his attention to poorer farmers. Using the New Deal’s Farm Security Administration, Wallace worked to improve the working and living conditions of small farmers, helping some to buy the land they worked and assisting others in relocating to more fertile ground.
Together, these three programs helped raise farm prices and stem the tide of farm foreclosures. In 1940 FDR appointed Wallace to replace the disgruntled John Nance Garner as vice president. Wallace, one of the administration’s most liberal officials, was a controversial choice that threatened to split the Democratic National Convention. Eleanor Roosevelt flew to the convention in Chicago to plead Wallace’s case; her dramatic appearance salvaged his nomination, deepening a politically complex relationship with the First Lady that would continue to evolve in the years ahead.
Although he distinguished himself as a loyal, hardworking wartime vice president over the next four years, Wallace ran afoul of an increasingly conservative Democratic Party. In a famous 1942 speech he repudiated publisher Henry Luce’s vision of an “American Century”—in which the United States would spread its democratic values and material progress around the world—in favor of a “Century of the Common Man ” that emphasized a more humble and nonexploitative egalitarianism. This thinking endeared Wallace to party liberals but alienated him from rank-and-file Democrats, who succeeded, with FDR’s assent, in dumping Wallace from the ticket in the presidential election of 1944. FDR wanted Wallace to remain in his cabinet, however, and Wallace accepted an appointment as secretary of commerce in 1945.
He remained at the Department of Commerce until September 1946, when he was forced to resign after publicly criticizing the foreign policy of FDR’s successor, President Harry Truman, in a speech at Madison Square Garden. The left-leaning secretary of commerce had been troubled by Truman’s rightward drift in foreign affairs throughout much of that year, regarding the president’s militarism as a precursor to another world war.
After leaving the Department of Commerce, Wallace returned to editing, but this time at the New Republic, a liberal publication that he used as a platform for the Democratic Party’s left wing. At the end of 1946, Wallace went even further in his pursuit of progressive change when he helped found the Progressive Citizens of America. Wallace’s outspoken support of progressive causes made him the target of accusations that he was a communist sympathizer in a time when the American public was quite hostile to socialist ideas. In fact Wallace was the victim of more “red-baiting” than just about any other 1940s politician.
Given these circumstances, Wallace understood that his chances at capturing the Democratic presidential nomination in 1948 were marginal at best. He chose instead to run as the candidate of the Progressive Party against President Truman, Republican Thomas Dewey, and southern Democrat Strom Thurmond.
Wallace’s break from the party also signaled his final break with ER, his old political champion, who had originally wanted him to succeed FDR but increasingly felt uncomfortable with his “political naivete” and his desire to deepen relations with the Soviet Union. Wallace would ultimately reach a rapprochement with the Truman administration’s foreign policy when he endorsed its firm stance against the communists of North Korea. But in 1950, when North Korea invaded its Western-supported neighbor, South Korea, sparking the Korean War, Wallace retired from political life and the Progressive Party that had rebuked him for voicing assent to the war. Wallace would continue to write about politics and agriculture until his death in 1965.
Thomas James Walsh
Thomas James Walsh, lawyer, mining expert, and four-term senator from Montana, was not eager to become attorney general. The senator accepted the post from soon-to-be-president Franklin D. Roosevelt only after FDR assured him the job of solicitor general, responsible for representing the federal government before the Supreme Court, would not go to the fiery Felix Frankfurter (who lacked practical experience according to Walsh, but whom FDR would later appoint to the Supreme Court).
FDR so respected Walsh that he never considered another candidate to lead the Department of Justice. Walsh’s sudden death from a heart attack while traveling to Washington, DC, to attend FDR’s inauguration added to the sense of urgency surrounding the day; out of respect, Eleanor Roosevelt cancelled the White House luncheon planned in celebration.
Walsh had loved the Senate and wanted to end his career in its chambers. He began his service there in 1913 and quickly developed a reputation as an honest broker and skilled progressive legislator. He led Senate efforts to exempt unions and farm organizations from the Clayton Antitrust Act, which limited anticompetitive corporate behavior, such as price discrimination. He steered the intense battle to secure confirmation to the Supreme Court of the progressive prolabor “people’s lawyer” Louis Brandeis, the high court’s first Jewish justice. And he led Senate investigations into the Teapot Dome affair, the corrupt leasing of navy oil reserves to private interests by the secretary of the Interior under Warren Harding.
When FDR learned of Walsh’s death the Saturday before Inauguration Day, he asked Homer Cummings, Democratic Party leader and FDR supporter, to serve as attorney general.
As attorney general designate, Walsh had already given FDR a crucial, but controversial, piece of advice. He had argued that pertinent sections of the Trading with the Enemy Act, a World War I–era war powers law giving the president authority to regulate certain financial transactions, were still valid and could be used to justify FDR’s order to close the nation’s banks and embargo the selling, hoarding, and transfer of gold. FDR would take these emergency steps to stem the nation’s banking crisis in the opening days of his presidency.
Burton K. Wheeler
Burton K. Wheeler, lawyer, Democrat, and long-serving senator from Montana, supported the New Deal but opposed Franklin D. Roosevelt on judicial reform and foreign policy.
A Massachusetts native who settled in Butte, Montana, to practice law, Wheeler started his public career at age twenty-eight in the Montana legislature. His reputation as a friend of labor helped him secure appointment as the U.S. Attorney for Montana (1913–18). In 1922 he won the first of his four elections to the U.S. Senate, where his investigation of the Harding Administration’s Teapot Dome scandal (which took its name from a naval oil reserve in Wyoming) revealed corrupt practices in the administration’s handling of oil leases on public lands.
He supported FDR for president in 1932, remained an active supporter of the New Deal, and took a lead role in the passage of the Public Utilities Holding Company Act of 1935 breaking up sprawling utilities monopolies. However, Wheeler strongly opposed FDR’s 1937 proposal to reorganize the Supreme Court. “I was flabbergasted,” he would write in a memoir. “Here was an unsubtle and anti-Constitution grab for power which would destroy the court as an institution.” In spite of Wheeler’s very public criticism, FDR still respected Wheeler and even considered him for the vice-presidential slot in the 1940 election.
But soon Wheeler once again disagreed vehemently with FDR, this time on foreign policy. By mid-1940, Wheeler, who did not want to see the United States become involved with the war in Europe, allied with Senate isolationists and agreed to lead the antiwar America First Committee. As the Germans attacked England in 1941, Wheeler spoke against Lend-Lease, FDR’s program to provide war supplies to Britain, famously declaring during the Senate debates that if Lend-Lease were enacted, it would “plow under every fourth American boy.” However, when Japan attacked the United States, Wheeler endorsed going to war, “to lick the hell out of them.”
In 1946 his opposition to Lend-Lease tainted his progressive credentials and he was defeated in the Democratic senatorial primary. In 1947, when his twenty-four-year career in the Senate ended, he established a corporate law practice in Washington, DC, and became a defender of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s attempts to purge from government and public service those who he suspected held communist sympathies. Wheeler’s memoir, Yankee from the West, was published in 1962 and he died at age ninety-two in 1975.
Civil Rights Activist, Writer
Civil Rights Activist, Writer
As executive secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) from 1930 until his death in 1955, Walter White was one of most important civil rights leaders of the early twentieth century, working to rally public opinion and wield political power against the scourges that most afflicted African Americans of the era: segregation, exclusion from the vote, and mob violence. White grew the NAACP, founded by mainly white liberals in 1909, into a major organ of African American political will with some six hundred thousand members. Also a writer of note, White became a prominent national figure. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, a trusted associate and eventually a good friend, more than once interceded to help White gain the president’s ear on issues of racial justice. ER joined the board of the NAACP in 1945.
White was born in Atlanta, Georgia, to a postman and a former schoolteacher, educated members of an emergent black middle class. His large family had mixed-race ancestry; blond and blue-eyed, White himself looked Caucasian. But the Whites lived in a black neighborhood and identified as Negro. A defining moment for White came in 1906, when, a boy of thirteen, he and his family narrowly escaped attack by marauding whites in the deadly Atlanta Race Riot of 1906. “In the flickering light the mob swayed, paused, and began to flow toward us,” White wrote in his autobiography. “In that instant there opened up within me a great awareness; I knew then who I was. I was a Negro, a human being with an invisible pigmentation which marked me a person to be hunted, hanged, abused, discriminated against.”
White graduated from Atlanta University (later Atlanta Clark University) in 1916, went to work for the black-owned Standard Life Insurance Company, and joined in organizing an Atlanta chapter of the fledgling NAACP. In 1918, at the behest of the NAACP’s first African American executive secretary, the writer James Weldon Johnson, White moved to New York City to take up a job as assistant secretary. His ability to pass for white allowed him to conduct dangerous undercover investigations of lynchings, race riots, and Ku Klux Klan cross burnings, interviewing white participants and sympathizers as well as African American witnesses. In 1924 he published his first novel, Fire in the Flint, and in 1927 he used a Guggenheim Fellowship to spend a year in France writing a study of lynching, Rope and Faggot: A Biography of Judge Lynch (1929). Johnson stepped down as NAACP executive secretary in 1930, and White followed him in the post.
White was a tireless advocate of federal anti-lynching legislation that, introduced repeatedly during the 1920s and ‘30s, faced insurmountable opposition by senior southern Democrats in the Senate. During the 1930s he urged President Franklin D. Roosevelt to speak out against lynching and support a bill. In a 1935 meeting orchestrated by ER, FDR told White that he could not risk the ire of southern Democrats whose support was critical for passage of New Deal laws to address the Great Depression. Though a bill never passed, through their investigations, writings, and organizing, White and other advocates succeeded in rousing public opinion against racially motivated killings.
Also in the 1930s, White hired Charles Houston, a dean of Howard University’s law school, to take on NAACP cases. In 1935 Houston began to assemble a legal strategy to defeat segregation in education, a strategy that culminated in the Supreme Court’s 1954 invalidation of “separate but equal” public schools in Brown v. Board of Education, argued for the NAACP by White’s protégé, Thurgood Marshall.
White also took a hand in planning the 1939 concert at the Lincoln Memorial by African American contralto Marian Anderson, and worked with activist A. Philip Randolph to push FDR to issue an executive order in 1941 banning racial discrimination in defense-industry jobs. He was instrumental in persuading FDR’s successor, Harry Truman, to support a strong civil rights agenda in 1948, prompting conservative southern Democrats to walk out of the party’s convention that year to form the Dixiecrats.
Throughout his career White opposed black nationalism as well as the Communist Party, a rival of the NAACP in organizing African Americans. He traveled around the world extensively investigating racial discrimination and served as a consultant to the United States delegation at the founding of the United Nations in 1945 and at its 1948 General Assembly meeting in Paris. On his death in 1955, the New York Times called White “the nearest approach to a national leader of American Negroes since Booker T. Washington.”
Woodrow Thomas Wilson
Woodrow Wilson, twenty-eighth president of the United States, won the 1919 Nobel Peace Prize for his fourteen-point plan for international peace and efforts to establish a League of Nations in the wake of World War I, the “war to end all wars.” He held the nation’s highest office from 1913 to 1921.
From 1913 to 1916, Wilson championed the “New Freedom,” a government regulatory policy designed to attack privilege and restore competition. His administration saw the lowering of protectionist tariffs, the establishment of the Federal Reserve System to manage the money supply and credit conditions, the creation of the Federal Trade Commission to investigate unfair trade practices, and the inauguration of farmers’ loan banks and loan associations to supply credit to agriculturists.
As World War I threatened American maritime and economic interests, Wilson strove to maintain the appearance of neutrality. When the war began, he sent a close aide to broker a truce between Great Britain and Germany, and when that failed, he appeared before the League to Enforce Peace, an American group advocating the establishment of an international peacekeeping body, to call for a global organization of nations dedicated to collective security and “peace without victory.”
When Wilson finally asked Congress to declare war on Germany in 1917, he presented a postwar vision of a world defined by his Fourteen Points, among them national self-determination; “open covenants of peace, openly arrived at”; effective disarmament; free trade; and the establishment of a League of Nations. In January 1919, he led the American delegation to the Paris Peace Conference to work for inclusion of the Fourteen Points in the treaty that set the terms of peace.
While in France, Wilson’s commitment to the concept of an organization dedicated to global governance only increased, and he insisted that the creation of the League of Nations be included in the treaty. The league, he declared, was “not merely an instrument to adjust and remedy old wrongs under a new treaty of peace,” but humanity’s “only hope,” which had “come about . . . by the hand of God.” But with the controversial league included in the treaty, securing support for the treaty in the U.S. Senate proved difficult. Many were concerned that membership in the league would compel America to go to war in defense of other members. Wilson refused any attempt at compromise.
When an October 1919 stroke left him paralyzed, the campaign for the league lost its most effective advocate. The Senate twice rejected the treaty, and with it, American membership in the league. In March 1921, his second term at an end, a recuperating Wilson retired to his Washington, DC, home and continued to promote his view that democracy, capitalism, self-determination for nations, and an organization promoting collective security would “make the world safe.” He died in Washington, DC, on February 3, 1924.
U.S. Ambassador to Britain
John Gilbert Winant
U.S. Ambassador to Britain
John Gilbert Winant, a progressive Republican from New Hampshire and friend of Franklin D. Roosevelt, served as ambassador to Great Britain during World War II.
After teaching history at St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire, and serving in the state house and senate, Winant won the New Hampshire governorship in 1924. Defeated for reelection in 1926, he won again in 1930 and served two terms during the Great Depression. He adopted an activist, experimental approach to the economic crisis, promoting, for example, a four-day week so that employers could use the hours of the fifth day to hire the unemployed.
When FDR instituted the New Deal in 1933, Winant strongly supported it, making New Hampshire the first state to fill its enrollment quota for the Civilian Conservation Corps (a program putting the jobless to work on conservation projects) and becoming the first governor to work with the National Planning Board, which coordinated public-works investments.
In 1935 FDR appointed Winant assistant director of the International Labor Organization (ILO) in Geneva. Winant described the ILO’s mission as working with governments, employer associations, and organized labor toward “the realization of social justice.”
In 1936 FDR called Winant to Washington, DC, to direct the Social Security Board, established by the Social Security Act of 1935. He soon resigned, however, feeling that the nonpartisan position did not allow him to effectively rebut attacks on Social Security by Alfred M. Landon, the Republican candidate for president. In 1939 Winant resumed his work with the ILO, this time as director, and served until FDR appointed him ambassador to Great Britain in 1941.
As wartime ambassador, Winant walked the streets during air raids, limited his household to the same rations allowed to British civilians, and spoke at gatherings throughout the country, winning the affection of the British people. He signed the Lend-Lease agreement in 1941, which furnished Britain with its first American aid. In 1942 he helped arrange Eleanor Roosevelt’s wartime visit to Great Britain. He assisted in organizing the conference of foreign ministers in Moscow in 1943, where diplomats pledged themselves to creating a postwar peace organization. As a member of the European Advisory Commission (EAC), Winant participated in planning for postwar Germany.
Following the war, President Harry Truman appointed Winant U.S. representative to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). He held that post until December 1946 when he retired to his home in Concord, New Hampshire, to write his memoirs.
Financial difficulties plagued Winant throughout his career. Poorly managed investments in Texas oil fields in the 1920s, ill-advised stock purchases before the 1929 stock market crash, unwillingness to cut household staff and expenses during the Depression, and unrestrained philanthropic giving left him bankrupt by 1935. By 1946 he owed creditors about three-quarters of a million dollars, and despair over his indebtedness contributed to his suicide in 1947.
William Hartman Woodin
William Woodin, a lifelong Republican businessman and corporate director, advised Franklin D. Roosevelt both in Albany, New York, and in Washington, DC.
The two men first met at Warm Springs, Georgia, where FDR went in the 1920s to relax, recuperate, and exercise his polio-shrunken limbs away from the glare of public attention. There they discovered a mutual love of stamp collecting and a long family connection to and personal fascination with the railroad industry. They became close friends, with Woodin supporting FDR’s rehabilitation center, the Warm Springs Foundation, as well as his 1928 bid for the governorship of New York.
After FDR won the election, the Pennsylvania-born Woodin, who had worked his way up from iron molder to board chairman of the American Locomotive Company, advised Governor Roosevelt on state finances and served on FDR’s committee to revise state banking laws. In 1932, as FDR campaigned for the presidency, Woodin supported him with gusto and helped raise funds for the Democratic National Committee.
After Virginia senator Carter Glass, somewhat to FDR’s relief, refused an appointment as secretary of the Treasury, the newly elected president instead turned to the ever-optimistic Woodin, knowing that he could help reassure the conservative business community. Woodin promptly accepted.
As inauguration approached, Woodin worked closely with outgoing president Herbert Hoover’s Treasury executives to manage the escalating banking crisis. As secretary of the Treasury, he supervised the closing, assessing, and reopening of American banks to address the widespread bank failures of 1933, the worst year of the Depression. He also oversaw the nation’s gradual abandonment of the gold standard to peg the value of a dollar.
In late 1933, when a congressional investigation revealed that Woodin had received preferred customer status by the banking house J.P. Morgan, liberals, who questioned how a corporate executive could implement necessary banking reform, pounced. FDR supported Woodin, but Woodin’s health had declined dramatically. He resigned in December 1933 and died a few months later.
Federal Reserve Lawyer
Federal Reserve Lawyer
Walter Wyatt, a University of Virginia Law School graduate who edited the Virginia Law Review, spent his legal career advising the federal government.
Upon graduating law school, he joined the wartime Selective Service Bureau (the World War I–era draft board) as its legal advisor, a position he held until the Federal Reserve Board hired Wyatt as its law clerk in 1922. He remained at the Federal Reserve until 1946, ultimately rising to the position of general counsel to its Board of Governors and counsel to the Federal Open Markets Committee.
On March 7, 1933, three days after the inauguration of Franklin D. Roosevelt, new secretary of the Treasury William Woodin summoned Wyatt to the White House and assigned him the task of drafting the Emergency Banking Act of 1933 in less than two days. A stunned Wyatt, who later said that “there wasn’t anybody in the entire Brains Trust [FDR’s circle of advisors, sometimes referred to as the Brain Trust] apparently that had given any thought . . . or any real study to the problem created by this banking situation,” completed his assignment in the allotted time. Congress ratified his bill within hours. The emergency law authorized the president to close the nation’s banks so that they could be examined and reopened—a move aimed at restoring confidence in a system being drained of funds by panicked depositors.
Wyatt remained at the Federal Reserve until 1946 when he was appointed as the official responsible for publishing Supreme Court decisions in bound volumes. Wyatt retired from the court in 1963 after having edited volumes 322 through 376 of the United States Reports, summarizing the critical point of each case. He died in Washington, DC, in 1978.
Guiseppe Zangara, a World War I veteran, unemployed bricklayer, and anarchist, immigrated to the United States from Ferruzanno, Calabria, Italy, on September 1, 1923, and six years later became a naturalized American citizen. In the late 1920s, Zangara found it increasingly difficult to work. Not only did the depressed economy generate fewer construction jobs, but also Zangara battled such constant, intense abdominal pain (which an autopsy later attributed to a botched appendectomy) that when he could find work, he often had trouble keeping his job. His physical pain contributed to his mental instability.
By 1933 he had relocated to Miami and lived off wages from whatever odd job he could find. When Zangara heard that Franklin D. Roosevelt was scheduled to speak in Bayfront Park, he bought a .32-caliber pistol at a local pawnshop and waited for an opportunity to kill the president-elect.
On February 15, 1933, as FDR finished addressing the crowd that had come to the park to welcome him back from a fishing trip, Zangara took aim and fired one shot. At the same moment, the woman who stood in front of him, Lillian Cross, grabbed his arm, changing the bullet’s course. However, before the crowd could subdue Zangara, he fired four more shots—one of which struck Chicago mayor Anton Cermak in the stomach.
Zangara confessed to the shootings, telling police, “I have the gun in my hand. I kill kings and presidents first and next all capitalists.” He pled guilty to four counts of attempted murder and was sentenced to eighty years in prison. However, after the hospitalized Cermak developed an abdominal infection that proved fatal, Zangara was convicted of murder and promptly sentenced to death. He was executed at Florida State Prison in Raiford, Florida, on March 20, 1933, ten days after his sentencing.