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the lion and the 

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Roosevelt : the lion and the fox* 


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FEB 1 5 1975 west Q r 






A Harvest Book 


New York 

! 95^ by James MacGregor Burns 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced 

in any form or by any mechanical means, including mimeograph 

and tape recorder, without permission in writing from the publisher* 

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 56-7920 

Printed in the United States of America 

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A prince, wrote Machiavelli, must imitate the fox and the lion, 
for the lion cannot protect himself from traps, and the fox cannot 
defend himself from wolves. One must therefore be a fox to recog- 
nize traps, and a lion to frighten wolves. Those that wish to be only 
lions do not understand this. Therefore, a prudent ruler ought not 
to keep faith when by so doing it would be against his interest, and 
when the reasons which made him bind himself no longer exist. If 
men were all good, this precept would not be a good one; but as 
they are bad, and would not observe their faith with you, so you 
are not bound to keep faith with them. 



.A HIS BOOK is, first of all, a political biography of 
Franklin D. Roosevelt. It treats much of his personal as well as 
his public life, because a great politician's career remorselessly 
sucks everything into its vortex including his family and even his 
dog. How did Roosevelt become what he was? Why was he so 
effective in winning power? How strong a leader was he in the 
long run? Where did he fail, and why? What meaning does his life 
hold for Americans and for American statecraft today? 

This book is also a study in political leadership in the American 
democracy. It focuses chiefly on the man, but it treats also the po- 
litical context in which he acted, for my approach is based on the 
central findings of social scientists that leadership is not a matter 
of universal traits but is rooted in a specific culture. We can un- 
derstand Roosevelt as a politician only in terms of his political, 
social, and ideological environment, the way he shaped his society 
and in turn was shaped by it. 

Roosevelt was one of the master politicians of his time, certainly 
the most successful vote getter. His political artistry grew out of 
long experience with the stuff of American politics: men's ambi- 
tions, fears, and loyalties operating through conventions, primaries, 
elections, offices, constitutions, opinion agencies. Hence this book 
is concerned with political methods in the United States. 

But methods are not enough. What are the ends to which die 
methods are geared? This is a central question in regard to Roose- 
velt. Politics is, among other things, the art of compromise; but 
should the democratic politician compromise with questionable 
forces to attain a high good? The democratic politician must win 
elections; but what if he makes concessions in seeking votes that 
gravely imperil his chance of putting through his program? In this 
era of Machiavellians, must the democratic politician act as the 
fox? To what extent can he take the posture of the lion? 

x Preface 

Roosevelt won brilliant victories yet during his second term he 
became ensnarled in forces he could not control and thwarted by 
men he could not master. That term is, I think, by far the most 
significant phase of his career. It not only throws light on Roose- 
velt's personality, on his improvising and the implications of that 
improvising, but it raises the more fundamental question of 
whether the American political system can meet the crises imposed 
on it by this exacting century. So this book, finally, is an effort to 
probe the inner workings of personality and politics in order to 
throw some light on current problems of political leadership. 

Any biographer undertaking at this time to treat Roosevelt's 
whole life faces a dilemma. The war years represented the culmina- 
tion for both Roosevelt and his country of so much that went be- 
fore that they deserve full attention; unhappily, scholars as yet do 
not have the records, memoirs, and other data necessary for a full 
account and analysis. I have tried to meet this dilemma by treating 
the war years synoptically and by presenting in the Epilogue and 
elsewhere an estimate of Roosevelt's character that may help ex- 
plain his handling of certain war problems as well as the nature of 
his earlier leadership. The full account of the war years must wait. 

A note on footnotes: there are none in the text itself; references 
are in the Bibliographies at the back of the book. The reason simply 
is that to list every reference to the thousands of letters and other 
documents consulted at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and else- 
where would have meant a book half again as long. But the reader 
may wish to know sources of some of the main conclusions, the gen- 
eral nature and scope of the material used, the author's evaluation 
of it, and his methods of analysis. I hope that the Bibliographies will 
serve this purpose. 

I have so many debts for help received that these, too, must be 
acknowledged in the back of the book. But two persons deserve spe- 
cial mention. One is my fellow political scientist at Williams, Wil- 
liam H. Brubeck, who undertook a great deal of research with me 
at Hyde Park, helped shape many of the ideas in this volume, and 
gave the various drafts searching criticism. The other is my wife, 
Janet Thompson Burns, who did all these things, and who also 
managed to perform clerical and stenographic chores and, with 
the help of the children, to create at home those conditions in 
which hard and sustained work was possible. To my colleague and 
to my wife I am profoundly grateful. 

J. M. B. 





I A Beautiful Frame 3 



n Albany: The Young Lion 22 





m Washington: The Politician as Bureaucrat 47 


iv Crusade for the League 67 



v Interlude: The Politician as Businessman 83 




xii Contents 

vi Apprenticeship in Albany 105 


vir Nomination by a Hairbreadth 123 


vni The Curious Campaign 139 




ix A Leader in the White House 161 



x President of A II the People? 1 83 





xi The Grapes of Wrath 209 




xii Thunder on the Right 227 


xni Foreign Policy by Makeshift 247 


Contents xiii 



xiv 1936: The Grand Coalition 264 






xv Court Packing: The Miscalculated Risk 291 





xvi The Roosevelt Recession 316 




xvn Deadlock on the Potomac 337 


xvni Fissures in the Party 358 


xix Diplomacy: Pinpricks and Protest 381 




xx The Soundless Struggle 407 



xiv Contents 

xxi An Old Campaigner, a New Campaign 431 


EPILOGUE The Culmination 457 






INDEX 539 


following pt/gt* 270 

(Cartoons depicting the Roosevelt era, interspersed throughout the book, are not 
listed here. All of the photographs are from the archives of the Franklin D. 
Roosevelt Library at Hyde Park, N. Y.) 

Franklin D. Roosevelt and his father, 1883 
Mother and .son, 1893 

Young Franklin with his grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, Newburgh, 
N. Y., July 13, 1890 


Three-year-old Franklin and his dog preparing for a ride at Hyde Park 
Fourth-string football player at Groton, 1899 


Cousin Eleanor (fifth cousin once removed) in 1906, one year after their 

Cousin Jean Delano, sailing at Campobello, around 1910 


Franklin Roosevelt with his wife, his mother, and his daughter, Anna, on 

Daisy, the pony, 1911 
The family in Washington, 1916 Elliott, James, Franklin Jr., John, Anna 

Eleanor, with their mother and father 


His first political post, in the New York Senate, 1911 

Assistant Secretary of the Navy at the Navy Yard, New York, 1913 


Roosevelt with Charles F. Murphy, his old Tammany adversary, and John A. 
Voorhis at Tammany Hall, July 4, 1917 


The rising politician campaigning for Vice- President on the 1920 Democratic 
ticketat Dayton, Ohio 

On crutches in 1924, xvith John W. Davis, who won the presidential nomina- 
tion, and Al Smith, who lost it, after Roosevelt's "happy warrior" speech 


The Democratic nominee for President arriving by plane in Chicago with his 
family, July 2, 1932, to address the convention 


xvi Illustrations 


At ihe Democratic convention, July 4, 1932, with Louis McHenry Howe and 

his campaign manager, James A. Farley 
The President and his First Lady after arrival in Washington, D. C., March, 

1933, before his first inauguration 


F.D.R. at a dinner for James A. Farley, Feb. 15, 1937, with Henry A. Wallace, 

Corclell Hull, and Henry A. Morgenthau 
A dismal fishing cruise off Miami during the recession, with Robert H. Jackson, 

Harry Hopkins, and Harold Ickes, Nov. 29, 1937 
After hot dogs and a picnic at Hyde Park, President and Mrs. Roosevelt wave 

farewell to the King and Queen of England at the railroad station, June 11, 



The President and his secretaries: Marguerite Le Hand, Marvin H. Mclntyre, 
and Grace Tully, Hyde Park, Nov. 4, 1938 

The President and his cabinet: Henry A. Morgenthau, Secretary of the Treas- 
ury; Homer S. Gummings, Attorney General; Claude Swanson, Secretary of 
the Navy; Henry A. Wallace, Secretary of Agriculture; Frances Perkins, 
Secretary of Labor; Harry H. Woodring, Secretary of War; Cordell Hull, 
Secretary of State, Sept. 27, 1938 

The campaign, 1932 

The press, aboard campaign train, Sept. 13, 1932 
The crowds, at Newburgh, N. Y., Nov. 4, 1940 
The polling booth, with his wife and mother at Hyde Park's Town Hall, Nov. 

8, 1938 
The inauguration, Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes administering the oafh 

of office, Jan. 20, 1937 

A drought yearbut when Roosevelt spoke, it rained Charlotte, N. C., Sept. 

10, 1936 

Roosevelt laughing at his crippled legs to put others at ease, Hollywood Bowl, 
Sept. 24, 1932 

At Warm Springs, Ga., Dec. i, 1933 


The President reviewing the fleet from the U.S.S. Houston at San Francisco, 
July 14, 1938 

PART JL The Education of a Politician 

ONE A Beautiful Frame 

.BOUT HALFWAY from Albany to New 
York the Hudson River flows into a narrow channel, crooks slightly 
leftward, and then resumes its promenade toward the Atlantic. 
East of this bend lie a railroad and a siding; from the siding a dirt 
road climbs steep slopes, through dense woods, to a gently rolling 
plateau. On a knoll of this plateau, commanding the sweep of the 
river south, stands today a spacious mansion topped by a widow's 
walk and breasted by a long porch and balustrade. 

In 1882 the middle part of this mansion stood alone, without its 
present wings a roomy, clapboarded house with shutters and a 
narrow veranda. January 30 of that year dawned cold and windy, 
with a hint of snow in the air. Inside the house all was tenseness and 
anxiety: servants bustled to and fro; kettles of water steamed in the 
kitchen. Attention centered on the mistress of the house lying in a 
small room upstairs. In this room late in the day, after hours of 
agony and heavy doses of chloroform, Sara Delano Roosevelt gave 
birth to a child. That night in her diary her husband James wrote: 
"At quarter to nine my Sallie had a splendid large baby boy. He 
weighs 10 Ibs., without clothes." 

Crowing and chortling in his large carved bassinet, Franklin 
Delano Roosevelt seemed a happy child from the outset. Life in the 
sunny upstairs room went on at a tranquil pace. Sara breast-fed her 
baby for almost a year; she recalled later with a shade of satisfac- 
tionthat "Nurse and I used our own discretion about his feed- 
ings," and that no formula was used. To the baby, the moving blur 
above him slowly changed into his mother's face serene, harmoni- 
ous features, dark hair combed back into a bun, heavy eyebrows, 
deep chin. Often in the room was his father, a man slender in face 
and body, of medium height, with side whiskers, strong hands, gentle 
touch and voice. 

Franklin was an only child. His mother did not "pamper" him 
indeed, James thought she nagged him but the household seemed 
to revolve around the little boy. There were no brothers or sisters 
to compete for attention, to wrest toys from him, or to bring the life 


of school or playground to him outside his parents' ken. The serv- 
ants doted on him. Family quarrels, jarring words, harsh discipline 
he never knew. Sara and James agreed exactly on what they wanted 
to do with their son: to shape him gently but firmly in the mold of 
a Hyde Park gentleman. A governess said, "He was brought up in 
a beautiful frame." 

Parents and child formed the focal point of a large establishment. 
House and grounds were peopled with nurse, maids, cook, gardener, 
coachman, stable boys, farm hands. The estate spread over several 
hundred acres, embracing fields and forests, gardens, greenhouse, 
grapery, icehouses, barns, and stables. Timidly Franklin explored 
the world of Hyde Park. At first he was excessively shy with people 
outside his family, but he liked to accompany his father as the 
squire, booted and spurred, bowler on his head and riding crop in 
hand, made his inspections. 

Slowly, reluctantly, Sara let Franklin go on his own. Until he was 
five he wore dresses and long blond curls; he left skirts only for kilts 
and Lord Fauntleroy suits; and he was almost eight and a half 
when he wrote his father: "Mama left this morning and I am going 
to take my bath alone." But soon he was making the estate his king- 
dom. He coasted on the slopes below the house; roamed the woods 
with bow and arrow; watched while huge cakes of ice were hauled 
up from the river; snowshoed across the fields (most memorably 
after the blizzard of '88); skated and iceboated on the river; built a 
crow's-nest in a hemlock near the house; rode his pony Debby and 
cared for his red setter Marksman; swam in the Hudson, bobbing 
in the wake of the heavy river traffic; shot birds for his collection. 
In the house he played steeplechase, deployed his toy soldiers, 
started a stamp collection. 

Often Sara and James shared these activities with him. He had 
the companionship of his father to a much greater extent than the 
average American child. The boy's affection for his parents is re- 
flected in his letters. Thus, on May 18, 1888, at the age of six he 

My dear mamma 

I went fishing yesterday after noon with papa we caught a dozen of 
minnows we left them on the bank P a P a to ld me it would frighten 
the fish to put them in the pond how is dear grandpapa I hope he 
is better dear mamma I send you a kiss your loving son 


Of course Franklin played frequently with the children of other 
prominent Hyde Park families. But he was with adults much more 
than with other children. And virtually all his associates, young and 
old, were joined tight in the Delano or Roosevelt clans or came from 
a handful of Hudson River families. 

A Beautiful Frame 5 

The strongest loyalty was to the family, and this loyalty fused with 
a pervasive sense of community. Parents and child often took trips 
to Fairhaven, Massachusetts, to Campobello in the Bay of Fundy, 
to England and the Continent yet travel simply meant new places 
but the same kind of people. When the Roosevelts went by rail, they 
traveled in a private car. On the ship, as Sara said, there were always 
"people one knows." Places they visited swarmed with cousins and 
aunts. Franklin saw the world through the eyes of his family -and 
they presented the world to him as they saw it. And always, at the 
beginning and the end, was Hyde Park, the little imperiurn under 
his parents' scepter. 

It was a secure world. The nation was at peace; by the iSSo's it 
had largely bound up the deep gash of civil war. The real capital of 
the United States was seventy-five miles down the Hudson in New 
York. Here the capitalists thought big and acted big; they were 
building America as generals fight wars, recruiting immigrant 
Swedes, Germans, Bohemians at the docks, throwing masses of men. 
into action at strategic points, establishing railroads, mines, fac- 
tories, whole cities. These men, it has been aptly observed, spoke 
little and did much; in Washington were politicians who did little 
and spoke all too much. On Capitol Hill the congressmen bickered 
over patronage, tariffs, reform, states' rights, while the big decisions 
were made on Wall Street. Parties alternated in power-in 1889 the 
stout, dependable Cleveland was succeeded by the stout, respectable 
Harrison but the party battle seemed often a sham battle. 

Across the sea, Victoria, a tiny figure on a huge throne, ruled 
majestically in the fifth decade of her seemingly endless reign. The 
Queen's navy policed the oceans of the world. Europe, too, was at 
peace; the "Concert of Europe" may have given forth few notes of 
harmony, but the powers felt safe enough to fight little wars at 
home and to build big empires abroad. Weekly, the Illustrated 
London Neivs brought to Hyde Park a picture of this Europe-of 
Hohenzollerns and Hapsburgs secure on their thrones, of parades 
and palaces, of international society moving from Paris to London 
to Vienna, to spa to fox hunt to fancy ball. 

Hyde Park knew little of the hates and conflicts simmering just 
under the surface of affairs-of Mary Lease telling farmers to "raise 
less corn and more hell," of strikers and finks locked in murderous 
little battles, of immigrants packed in grimy tenements, bewildered 
by this strange new world. Certainly Hyde Park knew nothing of 
some of the men these forces would help thrust above the surface of 
twentieth-century affairs. Alfred E. Smith, born in a Manhattan 
tenement, the son of a teamster who died when Al was thirteen, 
spent the iSSo's as an altar boy, newsboy, fishmonger. In the hills of 
Pennsylvania, Tom Lewis, blacklisted for leading a strike, wandered 


from pit to pit, holding a job until the dreaded list caught up with 
him, trying to feed his family; his son, a pugnacious boy named 
John, would soon leave school for the mines. In West Branch, Iowa, 
Herbert Hoover was swimming under the willows down by the 
railroad bridge, catching sunfish on a butcher-string line, picking 
potato bugs for a penny a hundred. 

In Romagna in central Italy-a classic land of political turbu- 
lence-Benito Mussolini slept on a sack of corn leaves; born a year 
after Franklin, the son of a socialist blacksmith, he was sent away 
to school, ate at third-class tables, and was expelled at the age of 
eleven. Toward the end of the decade, in a small town on the 
Bavarian border, a man in his fifties, who had the square face of 
a Hindenburg but who was only a petty civil servant, fathered a 
child whose strange dreams and artistic bent he could not under- 
stand; at fifteen Adolf Hitler was orphaned and soon cast loose to 
become a vagrant. In the i88o's, in Georgia, Josef Djugashvili, 
later Joseph Stalin, was a swarthy, pock-marked boy three years 
older than Franklin; the son of a peasant cobbler, he lived in a 
leaky adobe hut and grew up in a land seared by national and 
racial hatreds. 


Someday, in some political arena, Roosevelt would come to grips 
with all these men, and he would overcome, in some way, all but 
the last of them. Here lies the first paradox of his paradoxical life. 
There are reasons why an Adolf Hitler or a John L. Lewis should 
acquire a lust to dominate. Anxious, insecure, adrift in their early 
years, they made of life an insatiable quest for power. 

But what about Roosevelt? He was no product of a broken home 
or of a ruined land. He knew nothing of family strife, physical 
want, contemptuous glances. His father "never laughed at him/' 
Sara once remarked. He adored his parents, and as an only child 
he never suffered even the common experience of dethronement 
by younger children taking over the center of the family circle. 
His environment laid no stress on competitive achievement in busi- 
ness or politics. He was to be a Hyde Park gentleman. 

Was the pursuit of power in Franklin's genes? His mother always 
set great store by heredity, and she thought that she saw much of 
the "Delano influence" in him. On the Roosevelt side there is the 
striking fact that, after six generations of unremarkable men, "in 
the seventh generation, this dynasty of the mediocre suddenly 
blazed up with not one but two, of the most remarkable men in 
American history." Is there some clue to Franklin D. Roosevelt the 
politician in the Roosevelts who went before? 

A Beautiful Frame 7 

The common progenitor of both Franklin and Theodore Roose- 
velt was Nicholas Roosevelt, whose father had sailed to New Am- 
sterdam from Holland in the 1 640*8. Nicholas had two sons, Jo- 
hannes (1689-?) and Jacobus (1695-1776). From the first of these 
issued the line that was to produce Theodore, from the second, 

Only one of Franklin's forebears was a politician of any impor- 
tance. This was Jacobus* son Isaac (1726-1794), a prosperous sugar 
merchant with no love for the British trade laws that discriminated 
against his business. Siding with the patriots, he helped draft New 
York's first constitution after the outbreak of the Revolutionary 
War and won membership to its first senate. As a Federalist member 
of the state convention he voted under Alexander Hamilton's bril- 
liant leadership to ratify the new federal Constitution in opposition 
to the great landowners along the Hudson. 

Then the line veered steadily away from politics. Isaac's son 
James (1760-1847) went to Princeton, became a sugar refiner and 
banker, was a Federalist member of the New York State Assembly 
for one term, bred horses, and bought land along the Hudson near 
Poughkeepsie. His son Isaac (1790-1863) had no interest in poli- 
tics: he was a Princeton man, a student of medicine and botany, a 
breeder of cattle and horses, and became a Dutchess County squire. 
Meanwhile, as the generations passed, the Dutch blood blended 
with English, German, and other strains. Isaac's son James (1828- 
1900) Franklin's father was of mainly Anglo-Saxon inheritance. 

"My son Franklin is a Delano, not a Roosevelt at all," Sara used 
to say. If so, any clue to Roosevelt's political development is still 
missing. To be sure, the Delano family liked to trace its ancestry 
to William the Conqueror, and a Delano held a cabinet seat under 
Grant. But most of the Delanos passed politics by; they were ship- 
owners, merchants, speculators, philanthropists, industrialists, and 
country gentlemen. They were proud of their derivation from 
Philippe De La Noye, who arrived in Plymouth in 1621. Sara's 
father, Warren Delano, as a young man won a fortune in the China 
trade, lost much of it in the depression of 1857, returned to Hong 
Kong to recoup his losses, and retired to an estate on the west bank 
of the Hudson with his wife and eleven children. Warren was a 
lifetime Republican who liked to say perhaps not wholly in jest 
"I will not say that all Democrats are horse thieves, but it would 
seem that all horse thieves are Democrats." He carefully kept his 
children insulated from his business cares and from people outside 
his class. 

"The Delanos," it has been said, "carried their way of life 
around them like a transparent but impenetrable envelope wher- 
ever they went." 


The riddle remains. One looks in vain for any foretoken of 
Franklin D. Roosevelt the politician in these Delano and Roose- 
velt lines. Political skills cannot, of course, be inherited as such; 
genes cannot transmit specific traits and attitudes. But biological 
inheritance cannot be ignored. It supplies the stuff from which 
personality is shaped; it sets limits within which variation is con- 
strained. Basic traits, such as motor skills and reaction speed, are 
certainly influenced by heredity, while temperamental traits, such 
as stability of mood and emotionality, may be as well. And heredity 
might have particular importance in a family as prone to inter- 
marriage as the Roosevelts, 

Roosevelt at birth was simply a cluster o possibilities. In his 
forebears the seeds of personality, such as they were, had issued in 
seafaring, money-making, gaining social prestige. In another gen- 
eration they were to emerge in vote-getting and power-holding. The 
seed was there, but what about the soil? The first of Franklin's en- 
vironments was that created by James and Sara Roosevelt, them- 
selves influenced by the environments of Roosevelts and Delanos 
who went before, Was it in this soil that Roosevelt's political per- 
sonality and drive began to grow? ; 

"i i." 

Graduating from Union College in 1847 and from Harvard Law 
School four years later, James Roosevelt had moved steadily into 
the life of squire and businessman except for one remarkable 
occasion in his youth when he and a mendicant priest, on a walk- 
ing tour in Italy, joined Garibaldi's army, wore red shirts for a 
month or two, and then resumed their walking trip. Through his 
mother's family James became involved in coal and transportation. 
Eventually he became vice-president of the Delaware and Hudson 
Canal Company, president of some smaller transportation enter- 
prises, and a director in a number of other companies. Most of the 
earnings of the Delaware and Hudson came from its heavy invest- 
ments in anthracite coal. These activities gave James Roosevelt a 
secure base on which to maintain his expensive but unostentatious 
home in Hyde Park. 

Yet James wanted to be moie than a railroad executive. Three 
times he gambled for high stakes in money and powerand each 
time he lost He helped build a huge bituminous coal combination, 
but the company took heavy losses in the 1873 panic, and the stock- 
holders voted Roosevelt and his friends out of control. He and 
other capitalists tried to set up a holding company to gain control 
of an extensive railroad network in the South, but this venture 
failed too. He helped form a company to dig a canal across Nica- 
ragua, won an act of incorporation from Congress and President 

A Beautiful Frame 9 

Cleveland, raised six million dollars, started constructionand then 
the depression of 1893 dried up the sources of funds. 

James's unlucky plunges, it has been said, forever turned his son 
against successful businessmen and speculators. This is unlikely. 
For most of his life Roosevelt displayed no animus against money- 
makers. He seemed to regard his forebears' mishaps as joking mat- 
ters. Moreover, James would not have allowed his setbacks to dis- 
turb the family home. He had a striking capacity to compartmental- 
ize his life, moving easily from the quiet of his Hyde Park estate to 
the rough and tumble of the business world, and back. In later 
years his son would look longingly toward home at the very time 
he was launched on daring political ventures. 

Although they were sixth cousins, James and Sara did not meet 
until 1880, at the New York City home of the Theodore Roosevelts. 
James was fifty-two years old. His first wife had died four years 
earlier; their only son, James Roosevelt Roosevelt, was now twenty- 
six years old the same age as Saraand had married an Astor, a 
good beginning for the life he would lead as sportsman, trustee, 
philanthropist, and minor diplomat. 

Tall, gracious, beautiful, Sara was the product of an upper class 
of international scope. As a girl she had sailed to Hong Kong on a 
square-rigger; she had been educated abroad; she had moved in so- 
ciety in New York, Boston, London, and Paris. Sara was irresistibly 
attracted by the widower's courtly ways, hearty good humor, and 
tenderness. She overcame the objections of her father, who knew 
and liked James as an old business associate but deemed him too 
old for his daughter. James Roosevelt and Sara Delano were mar- 
ried in October 1880. After a long tour abroad, they retired to 
James's Hyde Park estate. 

The family, it has been said, is "the psychological broker of so- 
ciety" the chief agent in molding people's life habits and life atti- 
tudes. Did James and Sara Roosevelt, by design or by chance, fash- 
ion a world for their son that would encourage an interest in poli- 
tics? One looks in vain for any such evidence. It was not a world 
of envy, ambition, or power. It was a world of benevolent authority, 
with class lines separating the close little family of three at the top 
from the nurses and governesses, and these in turn from the maids 
and cooks indoors, and these in turn from the stableboys and farm 
hands outside. It was a world with the sound and smack of the 
sea, carried in Sara's rendering of the sea chanteys she had learned 
on the long voyage to China. It was a world of broad horizons, 
where Paris and London and Nauheim were familiar places one 
visited almost every year. Socially it was an insulated world, which 
looked with equal distaste on the squabbling Irish politicians in 
Poughkeepsie, the closefisted tradesmen in Hyde Park, the vulgar 


millionaires at the new resorts. It was a world with deep roots in 
the American past, asking nothing for the future except a gracious 
life and a secure estate on the banks of the Hudson. 


Sara kept her son in this insulated world as long as she could. 
Under her watchful eye Franklin's formal education began in the 
family; in a sense it never passed outside it. James took an active 
interest in the Hyde Park public school, but it probably never oc- 
curred to Sara to send Franklin there. The boy's only taste o public 
school came one summer in a German Volksschule. His mother 
thought this "very amusing/' but doubted that he learned much. 
Franklin seemed to enjoy going to school with "a lot of little mick- 
ies/' as he called them. 

Sara herself gave the boy his first schooling. At six he went to a 
kind o kindergarten under a German governess at the house of 
some family friends nearby. Then began a succession of governesses 
and tutors at home. One of these, Mile. Jeanne Sandoz, had a 
sense of social justice that probably influenced the boy to an ex- 
tent. But her main job was to drill Franklin in Latin, French, Ger- 
man, penmanship, and arithmetic; a little European history was 
thrown in. Sara remained in active charge of her son's education, 
and a governess either deferred to her wishes or left. 

But Franklin could not be schooled at home forever, and Sara 
had long before laid plans against the time when he would leave* 
The year after their son's birth she and James had visited friends 
in Groton, Massachusetts, a small town forty miles northwest of 
Boston. These friends had given land nearby to a young clergyman, 
Endicott Peabody, to found a school for boys. Peabody's idea at- 
tracted Sara. Resolving to keep his school small, he saw it as simply 
a large family, with himself as paterfamilias. The headmaster and 
the trustees including Phillips Brooks, William Lawrence, and 
J. Pierpont Morgancame from eminently respectable families. 

Sara clung to her son until he was fourteen. Although Peabody 
was reluctant to admit boys except for the whole six-year period, 
Franklin began school as a third former. His Hyde Park neighbor 
Edmund Rogers entered with him, and his nephew Taddy Roose- 
veltgrandson of James and his first wife was a class ahead. When 
in September 1896 the Roosevelts deposited their son at Groton, 
Sara wrote plaintively in her diary: "It is hard to leave our darling 
boy. James and I feel this parting very much," 

Here were the makings of a real trial if not a crisis for the 
fourteen-year-old boy. He was out, very late, from under his moth- 
er's sheltering wing. He had been the center of attention, even 

A Beautiful Frame n 

adoration, at Hyde Park; now he was but one of no boys. He had 
had many comforts; now he lived in a cubicle, almost monastic, 
with a cloth curtain across the doorway, and he washed with a 
tin basin in soapstone sinks. At home his tempo had been his own; 
now he had to conform to a rigidly laid out day, from chapel in 
the morning to study period in the evening, and punctuality was 

Every new boy at Groton faced such problems, but Franklin had 
others. Joining his form in the third year, he had to break through 
the icy crust that his classmates put up against "new boys." He 
spoke with the trace of an English accent. Having a nephew older 
than he was a source of embarrassment; soon he was dubbed "Uncle 
Frank." Moreover, Taddy was a "queer sort of boy" a reputation 
that could easily spread to a relative. Franklin, in short, was a 
trifle unorthodox, and unorthodoxy at Groton could encounter 
harsh penalties at the hands of the older boys. One of these penal- 
ties was the "bootbox" being shoved forcibly, doubled up, into a 
small locker, and being left there. Another, also permitted by the 
faculty, was "pumping" sixth formers would call out the name 
of an offender in study period, drag him quailing and shaking to a 
nearby lavatory, bend him face upward over a trough, and pour 
basins of water over his face and down his throat until he went 
through the sensations of drowning. 

But Franklin Roosevelt was never bootboxed, never pumped 
and he won the Punctuality Prize his second year. He got few 
black marks from his masters; indeed, he was almost relieved when 
he did, "as I was thought to have no school-spirit before." If the 
boys called him Uncle Frank, "I would sooner be Uncle Frank, 
than Nephew Rosy as they have been calling Taddy!" Franklin 
quickly sided with the dominant majority, not the rebellious few. 
He was a bit contemptuous of the "new kids" who arrived at school. 
"The Biddle [Moncure] boy is quite crazy, fresh and stupid, he has 
been boot-boxed once and threatened to be pumped several times," 
he reported with relish. 

If stresses and strains were concealed behind this easy adapt- 
ability, they found no reflection in Franklin's chatty letters to his 
parents. "I am. getting on finely both mentally and physically," he 
wrote in his first letter home. He conformed fully with Groton 
mores he played intramural football on a fourth-string eleven, hap- 
pily endured numerous scrapes, bruises, and lacerations, cheered 
himself hoarse at varsity football games, sang in the choir, got into 
little mischief, criticized the food, and begged for goodies from 
home. "He strikes me as an intelligent & faithful scholar, 8c a good 
boy," Peabody reported to the parents. 

How explain this smooth passage from home to school? The rea- 


son in part was that Franklin found himself among boys of the 
same social-economic class that he had known in Hyde Park. His 
shift was geographical, not social. Of the other boys in his form, 
nine were from New York City, seven from Boston, two from Phila- 
delphia. Blagden, Chadwick, Greenough, Peabody, Ramsford, 
Thayer the names in his form, including his own, were those of 
wealthy, socially established families from a few centers on or near 
the eastern seaboard. A random sampling of Groton classes during 
the early years, according to one authority, showed that over 90 
per cent of the boys were from families listed in social registers. 

Another reason was the Rector. Doubtless Peabody came to serve 
as something of a substitute for Franklin's own father, who was en- 
tering his seventies and ailing. This remarkable headmaster seems 
to have put the stamp of his personality on every Grotonian, and 
not least on young Roosevelt. 

A large, vigorous, uncomplicated man with blond hair and an 
athletic frame, Peabody was thirty-nine when Franklin arrived at 
Groton. He was a dull teacher, a stuffy preacher, and he had little 
interest in intellectualism, religious or otherwise. An autocrat, he 
had a withering "look" that could quell the most bumptious boy* 
"You know," Averell Harriman once said to his father, "he would 
be an awful bully if he weren't such a terrible Christian." When a 
defiant boy told the headmaster in front of the school that he had 
been unfair, Peabody gave him six black marks and told him that 
"obedience comes before all else." Peabody believed in religion, 
character, athletics, and scholarship, seemingly in that order. "In- 
stinctively he trusted a football-player more than a non-football- 
player, just as the boys did/' according to his biographer. He was 
as puritanical as his forefathers, forbidding the boys to skate on 
Sunday, chiding Groton alumni for their moral lapses long after 
they had left the fold. 

But Peabody had big virtues that dwarfed his failings. His sense 
of dedication and warmth of personality enveloped the whole 
school. He knew precisely what he wantedto cultivate "manly 
Christian character, having regard to [the] moral and physical as 
well as intellectual development" of his charges, and he was the 
living embodiment of these purposes. Striding solidly through 
classrooms, in his blue suit, starched collar, and white bow tie, or 
taking part energetically in the boys' games, he dominated the 
campus and personified the lusty Christianity in which he believed. 
The boys loved and feared him; they could not ignore him. One 
alumnus, otherwise critical of the Rector, said that from Peabody 
the boys learned determination and to be unafraid, 

Roosevelt needed this kind of example. Despite the easy transi- 
tion from Hyde Park, at times he felt insecure and uncertain of 

A Beautiful Frame 13 

himself at Groton. Often he feared that he would not pass examina- 
tions. He submitted a story to the school magazine; "there is 
precious little chance of its being accepted/' he wrote home. 

Actually, Franklin's occasional feelings of inadequacy were not 
without cause: he had much to feel inadequate about. Despite his 
excellent tutoring at home as a child and his oral facility, his 
grades in his first years at Groton averaged about C (D was failing), 
and in the later years he brought them up barely to the B level. 
Despite his enthusiastic participation in football, baseball, hockey, 
golf, tennisPeabody required group sports for all boys and merely 
tolerated individual sports-he was distinguished in nothing but the 
"high kick/* In this he set a school record significant only because 
his successful kicks of over seven feet meant landing painfully on 
his left side and arm, and suggested an intense drive on Franklin's 
part to excel in some arena. 

Franklin's life at Groton followed an inexorable routine: chapel 
and classes took up the morning, sports the afternoon, and chapel 
and study hall the evening, until the boys, all in Eton collars, blue 
suits, and pumps, filed past the Peabodys, shook hands, and saicl 
good night. Autumns were filled with football excitement; then 
came the Christinas season, with the unforgettable reading of 
Dickens 's Christmas Carol by the Rector's father. In winter the 
short afternoons were taken up with coasting, tobogganing, and 
skiing. With spring came boating, swimming, golf, and drilling for 
the Memorial Day parade. Absorbed in this routine, Groton had 
little interest in the outside world. The dramatic events of 1898, 
however, broke through with a thunderous roar. Franklin was im- 
mensely excited by the war with Spain. Indeed, he and two boys 
planned to decamp from Groton in a pieman's cart and enlist, but 
at the crucial moment he came down ingloriously with scarlet fever. 

At vacation time, a Grotonian later recalled, the boys reacted to 
the close, monastic life of the school like sailors taking shore leave. 
But not Franklin. If he got into escapades, or even mischief, there 
is no hint of it. During short vacations he joyously threw himself 
back into the life of Hyde Park. Summers he spent usually at Gam- 
pobello, where his greatest pleasure was in sailing his twenty-one- 
foot sailboat, New Moon, which his father had given him. He still 
showed little interest in girls. While he duly observed the social 
amenities, he spent a good deal of time evading certain girls whom 
he called "pills" or "elephantine." 

As the four years at Groton carne to an end, Roosevelt was show- 
ing more maturity and assurance. He had gained more independ- 
ence from his mother, who had frequently visited him at school. 
His schoolwork improved, he became a dormitory prefect and man- 
ager of the baseball nine. Some of his schoolmates considered him 


self-assertive and quarrelsome. Others liked him strongly; one re- 
membered him as "gray-eyed, cool, self-possessed, intelligent/' with 
the "warmest, most friendly and understanding smile." But there is 
evidence that Roosevelt did not consider himself a success at Groton. 
He did not win the prized position of senior prefect, and he felt 
bitter toward the Rector for his "favoritism" in choosing others. In 
his senior year he still patronized the "new kids," but he himself 
was a tall, gangling youth with pince-nez and with braces on his 

"He was a quiet, satisfactory boy/' the Rector summed him up 
many years later, "of more than ordinary intelligence, taking a 
good position in his Form but not brilliant. Athletically he was 
rather too slight for success. We all liked him." 

What influence did Groton have on Roosevelt as a future politi- 
cian? The question takes on special interest because Peabody made 
much of his eagerness to educate his boys for political leadership. 
Himself a graduate of Cheltenham and Cambridge, he was im- 
pressed by the fact that the English public (i.e., private) schools had 
been recruiting stations for British leadership; Eton had supplied 
half a dozen prime ministers in the nineteenth century, and some 
cabinet meetings seemed like reunions of old Harrovians. Could 
Groton serve the same high purpose in America? "If some Groton 
boys do not enter political life and do something for our land/' 
he said, "it won't be because they have not been urged." And he 
exhorted them. 

Exhortation but little else. Certainly Groton did not equip her 
youths with any kind of political expertness. In a democracy the 
indispensable political skill is facility in dealing with all sorts of 
people. Grotonians, one of them remarked, could "gaze fixedly two 
inches over the head of a slight acquaintance while they carried on 
a conversation." Ten years after Groton, during his early political 
life, Roosevelt was still throwing his head up and looking down his 
nose at people. The only political skill Franklin seems to have 
learned at Groton was an effective debating style, but this kind of 
argumentation was of little use in his later political battles. 

Nor was the Groton curriculum likely to quicken a boy's interest 
in the politics of his own country. Languagesespecially the dead 
languages of Greece and Romemade up much of the program. 
History was European history. No course dealt directly with the 
United States. The Rector and most of his masters taught by rule 
and by rote; the students were drilled rather than educated. "I 
studied Sacred Studies for six years at Groton/' said one of Frank- 
lin's schoolmates. "I never heard of Renan or of Tom Paine; and 
I was never told that the Old and the New Testament are full of the 

A Beautiful Frame 15 

most potent contradictions/' Franklin's hundreds of letters during 
his four years give hardly a hint o any intellectual excitement. 
Classes were obstacle courses to be run. 

It has been said that Roosevelt's concern for the underprivileged 
was born at Groton. This is true only in a special sense. Peabody 
was something of a Christian Socialist. He worried about the needy, 
and Groton maintained a summer camp for poor boys, where 
Franklin sometimes helped out. But the Rector's socialism some- 
what resembled that of his Cambridge teacher Charles Kingsley, 
who ended up more interested in better sanitation than in eco- 
nomic or social reform. The Rector's humanitarianism never went 
much beyond a concern for the cleanliness and morals of the masses. 
Franklin's main interest in the poor was to give charity to them. As 
for specific public issues, Roosevelt in his debates argued for a 
larger navy, against the annexation of Hawaii and for the inde- 
pendence of the Philippines, against guaranteeing the integrity of 
China taking sides that were probably assigned rather than chosen 
but he displayed no interest in the developing economic and so- 
cial problems of a rising industrialism at home. 

In one way, at least, Groton failed the future politician com- 
pletely. Politics to Peabody was a kind of crusade in which Gro~ 
tonian knight-errants, presumably dressed in Eton collars, would 
charge eagerly into the political arena and clash noisily with the 
forces of evil. Politics must be "purified," he told Franklin and his 
schoolmates. But his exhortations ignored the cruel questions fac- 
ing the American politician bent on success. Never lie, the Rector 
said without taking up the further question whether in politico 
lies are sometimes necessary to reach "good" ends. Never compro- 
mise with evil, the Rector said without arguing whether politicians- 
must work with corrupt forces to carry out popular mandates. Pea- 
body's goals were good ones for a humanitarian politician, but his. 
artless homilies were simply irrelevant to the harsh lesson of Amer- 
ican politics, the lesson Lincoln Steffens finally learned, that "hon- 
esty is not enough/' that effective politics in a democracy requires, 
knowledge, courage, will power, humor, leadership. 

To be sure, Peabody was struggling with an old and formidable 
problem. For at least two millenniums societies have struggled with 
the problem of discovering and educating political talent. In 
Greece, in the spirit of Paideia, young men were tested to see who- 
possessed the essential qualities of leadership common sense, intel- 
lectual capacity, devotion to the public welfare. For centuries print- 
ing presses flooded Europe with books on how princes should be 
educated and how rulers should behave Machiavelli's Prince is the 
best-known example. The English public schools educated genera- 
tion after generation for political leadership. Groton and other 


American private schools borrowed Etonian and Harrovian forms, 
just as they aped the athleticism of Greece and the monasticism 
of the middle ages. But they borrowed only forms and the forms 
were meaningless in a different culture, in the unique democratic 
politics of America. 

"I count it among the blessings of my life that it was given to me 
in formative years to have the privilege of your guiding hand," 
Roosevelt wrote to Peabody forty years after he graduated from 
Groton. The Rector came to stand as a unique personal compound 
of Christian ideals. Groton, too, became a bundle of precious 
memories-memories of walking to town for cider and apples, of 
youthful voices floating across the soft May evenings, of the sun 
streaming through the chapel windows, of the Rector stabbing the 
air with taut fingers as he strove to drive home his simple precepts. 
Peabody and the school helped shape Roosevelt's basic attitudes 
toward social problems, but they throw little light on the emergence 
of Roosevelt as a politician. None of his political battles was won 
on the playing fields of Groton. 


"My dearest Mama and Papa," Franklin Roosevelt wrote home 
in September 1900, "Here I am, in Cambridge and in twelve hours 
I shall be a full registered member of the Class of 1904." His room 
looked as if it had been "struck by sheet Lightning," his sitting 
room lacked curtains and carpets, the bed looked "inhabitable" 
but he was happy. He was about to become a Harvard man. 

The transition from Groton was an easy one. Many of his old 
classmates were entering Harvard with him. He immediately began 
eating at a Groton table rather than in one of the large common 
dining halls. Some evenings he went to Sanborn's billiard parlor 
where he could see most of the "Groton, St. Marks, St. Pauls and 
Pomfret fellows/' His roommate, Lathrop Brown, was a Grotonian. 
Together they shared a suite of rooms in Westmorly Court, amidst 
Harvard's "Gold Coast" of high-priced dormitories and select clubs. 

Unlike Groton, Harvard was not isolated from the world. Across 
the Charles River lay Boston, basking in its golden afternoon. The 
"Hub of the Universe/' the "Athens of America" boasted of its 
Brahmin families, of its Bulfinch State House, of the Athenaeum, 
its outstanding private library, and now that it was getting used 
to her of beer-drinking, Buddha-worshiping Mrs. Jack Gardner, 
whose fabled art palace was opened in young Roosevelt's junior 
year. For this Boston, Harvard was a kind of genteel brain trust. 
The relation between city and gown was a close but not always 
happy one. Boston, said a Harvard historian, was a "social leech" 

A Beautiful Frame 17 

on the college; Beacon Hill hostesses "Boston mammas/' he called 
them wanted to entertain Harvard's "appetizing young men" and 
balked all efforts to make a "social democracy" of the college. 

Roosevelt was immediately engaged on the Boston-Cambridge 
social circuit. With Proper Bostonians he got along very well; their 
families, while socially far grander, were much like those he had 
known at Hyde Park: rich, wellborn, and inbred. Hardly a week 
went by during his four years at Harvard that he did not conduct 
a round of social calls, duly handing his card to formidable butlers. 
"My dress-suit looked like a dream and was much admired/' he 
reported home. His height, his almost-handsome head hair parted 
in the middle, close-in, deep-set eyes, long, lean nose and chin, 
sensitive lips his ready smile, no longer showing braces, his easy 
ways, stood him in good stead. 

But on the athletic field his physique failed him. As at Groton 
he wanted desperately to make good in a big sport. He weighed only 
146 pounds, however, and he was not athletically skillful. Trying 
out for end on the freshman football team, he lasted only two weeks. 
There was consolation in winning the captaincy of one of the scrub 
teams after the first day of practice. He also worked hard for crew 
but here again he could rise no higher than stroke on intramural 

Roosevelt made up for his athletic frustrations by plunging into 
extracurricular activities. He was pleased at being elected secretary 
of the Freshman Glee Club. Most important was the Crimson. The 
day he reported home that he had "left" the freshman team he 
added that he was trying out for the undergraduate daily, "& if I 
work hard for two years I may be made an editor." Work he did 
often several hours a dayand in his junior year he won the top 
post of editor in chief. Luck, or connections, played a part; upon 
calling Cousin Theodore Roosevelt in Boston to ask to see him, 
Franklin discovered that the vice-president was to lecture in a 
Harvard course and thereby he won a scoop for his paper. But 
his success was due mainly to doggedness. 

Obviously Roosevelt wanted to make good at Harvard. What was 
the source of this ambition? Doubtless it lay largely in his anxiety 
to gain the respect of his classmates in general, and of the social 
elite in particular. Throughout his college career Roosevelt was 
a joiner. But some organizations one did not join one was asked. 

The club system that Roosevelt encountered at Harvard was one 
of the most harshly exclusive in the country. Sophomores were first 
sifted out by the "Hasty Pudding," which gave special social promi- 
nence to the first group chosen. Then came the real testelection to 
one of the "final" clubs. At one time affiliated with national fra- 
ternities, the chapters at Harvard had not enjoyed brotherhood with 


provincials in Ohio and points west and had gladly given up their 
charters. They had become a direct link between Harvard and Bos- 
ton society. Behind their elegantly dowdy exteriors lew activities of 
any importance went on; the important thing was to belong to 
them, not to be active in them. 

Delightedly Franklin entered the social lists. "I am about to 
be slaughtered, but quite happy, nevertheless/' he wrote home after 
hearing that he had been picked for a sophomore club. As a Roose- 
velt and as a Grotonian, he was almost sure of membership in a 
final club. But which one? At the top of the hierarchy stood Porcel- 
lian, which years before had tapped Cousin Theodore. Franklin 
made a high-ranking club, the Fly, but was passed over by Porcel- 
lian. This blow gave him something of an inferiority complex, 
according to Eleanor Roosevelt; it was the bitterest moment of his 
life, according to another relative. Evidence is conflicting on this 
point, but one thing is certain: social acceptance was of crucial im- 
portance to the young Roosevelt. 

There was time for classes too. Roosevelt took the liberal arts 
course; his program included English and French literature, Latin, 
geology, paleontology, fine arts, and public speaking; but he con- 
centrated on the social sciences, enrolling in a dozen history courses 
and in several courses each in government and economics. These 
were European history, English history, American history, American 
government, constitutional government, tendencies of American 
legislation, international law, currency legislation, economics of 
transportation, of banking, and of corporations. As at Groton he 
was only a fair student, attaining a "gentleman C" average. He 
had anticipated several courses at Groton, however, and hence was 
able to meet his requirements for a bachelor's degree in three years. 
He stayed a fourth year at Harvard in order to edit the Crimson, 
registering in the graduate school, but he did not take his courses 
too seriously and was not granted a master of arts degree, 

During much of the college year he saw his mother frequently. 
James Roosevelt died at the age of seventy-two, during his son's 
freshman year, after a long struggle with heart disease. "I wonder 
how I lived when he left me," Sara said afterward. She managed 
to endure one lonely winter at Hyde Park; after that she took an 
apartment in Boston only a few miles from her son. Franklin's re- 
lation with her was close but relaxed. He dealt with her tactfully 
and affectionately and made a brave effort to shoulder some of the 
responsibilities of Hyde Park and Campobello. He saw a good deal 
of his mother during the summers, which took the old easy pattern. 
Following his freshman and junior years he made trips to Europe, 
touring the Norwegian coast, Germany, Switzerland, France, and 

A Beautiful Frame 19 

England. But these trips left time for golf, tennis, and sailing at 

Roosevelt's activities at Harvard spilled over into many fields. 
At the suggestion of a Boston bookseller he began a collection, start- 
ing with Americana in general, narrowing this down to "ships" and 
finally to United States warships. He became head librarian of the 
Fly Club, but his duties were light. He continued his charitable 
activities, teaching occasionally at a club for poor boys in Boston. 
He even led the cheers at a football game, though he "felt like a 
D . . . F . . . waiving my arms 8c legs before several thousand amused 
spectators!" But much of his college career is summed up in a line 
written to his mother: ". . . am doing a little studying, a little 
riding 8c a few party calls." 

Half a century before Roosevelt finished Harvard, Henry Adams, 
descendant of two presidents, had entered there. The Harvard of 
his day, Adams said later, was a mild and liberal school which sent 
young men into the world as respectable citizens. But "leaders of 
men it never tried to make. ... It taught little, and that little 
ill, but it left the mind open, free from bias, ignorant of facts, but 
docile." Much had happened to the college since Adams's years 
there, especially during Charles W. Eliot's presidency, but the re- 
mark aptly states Harvard's effect on Franklin Roosevelt. 

His courses seemed admirably suited for educating a future 
statesman, but they lacked meaningful content. Roosevelt's govern- 
ment courses, for example, stressed constitutional formalities and 
legal abstractions rather than political realities. His program, Roose- 
velt himself complained, was "like an electric lamp that hasn't any 
wire." He wanted a "practical idea of the workings of a political 
system of the machinery of primary, caucus, election and legisla- 
ture." His first course in government was taught by one of the dull- 
est lecturers in Harvard's history. 

The fault was not merely that of the college. Roosevelt was 
largely indifferent to his studies and might have been indifferent 
even if the courses had been far more exciting. Not one of his letters 
home reflects interest in the intellectual side of Harvard beyond 
meeting course requirements and cramming for examinations. When 
a myopic lecturer bored him he had no compunction, along with 
most of the rest of the class, in escaping from the hall by a rear 
window and stealing down the fire escape. 

Certainly the doctrines taught Roosevelt at Harvard had little 
relation to the views of the politician of the 1 930*5. The man who 
as president would dominate Congress and try to "pack" the Su- 
preme Court learned in college about the eternal verity of a nice 
and fixed balance among the branches of government. The man 


who as president would try "crazy" economic experiments and cur- 
rency schemes received a solid grounding in classical economics 
("I took economics courses in college for four years, and everything 
I was taught was wrong," he said later). The man who would be 
called the "master political psychologist of his time" took no psy- 
chology and quit his only philosophy course after three weeks. He 
might have learned a good deal about the role of the West in 
American history and politics from Frederick Jackson Turner, but 
he missed the first six weeks of Turner's lectures. 

His professors ranged from extreme right wing to moderately 
liberal. He became close friends with only one of them, a hand- 
some socialite economics teacher named Abram Piatt Andrew, who 
later went into politics and won appointment as assistant secretary 
of the treasury under Taft. Abbott Lawrence Lowell might have 
taught him something about practical politics Lowell had won 
office as member of the Boston School Committee though neither 
party would nominate him for a second term but Roosevelt seems 
to have had only occasional contact with him. Lowell and at least 
two others of Roosevelt's teachers who were still alive during his 
presidency would later hotly oppose most of the New Deal. 

What was Roosevelt's own social outlook during his college days? 
To the extent that he had one, it was a mixture of political con- 
servatism, economic orthodoxy, and anti-imperialism, steeped in a 
fuzzy altruism and wide ignorance. "Yes, Harvard has sought to 
uplift the Negro/' he wrote in his junior year, "if you like, has 
sought to make a man out of a semi-beast/' After Theodore Roose- 
velt helped settle the great coal strike of 1902 Franklin criticized 
his cousin for interfering in the affair and for his "tendency to 
make the executive power stronger than the Houses o Congress." 
Although he had heard the great historian Edward Channing de- 
bunk hero worship and historical humbug, Roosevelt as a senior 
wrote a most adulatory and inaccurate essay on Alexander Hamil- 
ton. On the other hand, he helped establish a "Boer Relief Fund," 
and in a thesis on the Roosevelt family before the Revolution he 
lauded his forebears for their "very democratic spirit" and their 
sense of responsibility. 

Perhaps the best measure of Roosevelt's views at Harvard lies in 
his Crimson editorials. In the fall, obsessed by football problems, 
he wrote indignant editorials about weak cheering at the games, 
smoking in the grandstand, lack of enthusiasm by the spectators, 
poor spirit in the team. When winter came he moved right on to 
problems of winter sports. Interspersed were editorials on matters 
that have occupied student editors for decades: inadequate fire 
protection in the dormitories, the need for board walks, overly con- 
gested college calendars, and the like. He went to some pains to 

A Beautiful Frame 21 

draw attention to political speakers at the university. He showed 
absolutely no interest in matters outside Harvard. 

Roosevelt met little success in campus politics. When in his fresh- 
man year some of the "outlanders" in the class broke the Groton 
grip on the class presidency, Roosevelt was on the sidelines. Senior 
year he was nominated for the prized office of class marshal but 
lost out at the hands of an organized slate. He did win office, how- 
ever, as permanent chairman of the class committee, thanks largely 
to his prominence as editor of the Crimson. But he showed none 
of the political craft at Harvard that Herbert Hoover had displayed 
ten years earlier at Stanford in leading the "barbarians" in a 
triumphant attack on fraternity control of the campus. 

About the time Roosevelt was at Harvard a Tammany district 
boss named George Washington Plunkitt, seated on his favorite 
bootblack stand, was explaining how to get ahead in politics. You 
must study human nature, he said, not books they were just a 
hindrance. "If you have been to college, so much the worse for 
you. You'll have to unlearn all you learned/' The secret? "You have 
to go among the people, see them and be seen/' Roosevelt's early 
education violated all Plunkitt's time-tested precepts. Yet the young 
man from Hyde Park would vanquish the Plunkitts in the years 
to come. How he stuck to boyhood ideals nurtured at Hyde Park, 
Groton, and Harvard, and tried to realize these ideals by plunging 
into the rough and tumble of American politics was to be the 
theme of the life ahead. 

TWO Albany: The Young Lion 

JL.T IS A STRIKING fact that some of the great 
popular leaders of our time have risen to power from outside the na- 
tional "heartland." Lloyd George came not from England but from 
Wales, Hitler not from Prussia but from Austria, Stalin not from 
Mother Russia but from Georgia, MacDonald not from England 
but from northern Scotland, just as Napoleon earlier was not a 
Frenchman but a Corsican. In a geographical sense Roosevelt was 
no outlander, but in a cultural sense he was. His shift from Hyde 
Park, Groton, and Harvard to New York City was a journey be- 
tween two worlds-from the class-bound gentility of home and 
school to the bustling, bawling urban America of the i goo's. 

This urban America was in economic and political ferment. Be- 
tween the time young Franklin Roosevelt first looked out at side- 
wheelers straining against the Hudson current and the time on that 
June day in 1904 when he sat in cap and gown on the commence- 
ment platform, important changes had taken place. In that year an 
economist found that two mammoth groupsthe Morgan and the 
Rockefeller combinations had come to "constitute the heart of the 
business and commercial life of the nation/ 1 In the four years that 
Roosevelt studied classical economics at Harvard, over 150 trusts 
had been formed. Ten of these combinations were capitalized at 
one hundred million dollars or more; trusts were pyramiding into 
supertrusts. Despite depressions, despite the Sherman Anti-Trust 
Act of 1890, despite populist and socialist attacks, the capitalists 
bore their power with bland assurance. 

The system had not gone unchallenged. In 1896 young William 
Jennings Bryan, his face impassioned under the prairie sun, his 
voice in turn imploring, commanding, lashing out, had aroused 
the West against Wall Street and the forces of gold. But the chal- 
lenge had come to naught. Outwardly unruffled, William McKinley 
had sat the campaign out on his front porch. The Boy Orator lost 
every electoral vote in the East, every county in New England. 
Four years later he did even worse. To many Easterners Bryanism 
seemed a far-off western trouble, supported in the East only by the 

Albany: The Young Lion 23 

flotsam and jetsam of the larger cities. To Franklin Roosevelt, 
starting at Groton in the middle of Bryan's first campaign and at 
Harvard during his second, it meant nothing: the cries of the 
Bryanites were muffled by the academic walls around him. 

But in the early i goo's things were different. Suddenlyovernight, 
it seemed later the intoxicating aroma of reform was everywhere. 
A host of pushing, sharp-eyed journalists began reporting on the ills 
of twentieth-century America. These ills had little to do with the 
stale complaints of horny-handed farmers or grubby socialists. These 
evils were hurting respectable people too. Patent medicines, it was 
revealed, were often poisonous and they could kill anyone. Life 
insurance companies gambled with other people's moneyincluding 
that of the middle class. Canned goods on sale just around the 
corner at the grocery store might be filthy or even poisonous. Courts 
were crooked; the Senate was corrupt. And in many a city the black 
trail of wrongdoing, the muckrakers reported, ran straight from fat 
madams and grafting policemen through politicians and mayors to 
churchgoing traction magnates and utility executives. 

These revelations were not buried in obscure Marxist journals 
or in populist weeklies. Mass-circulation magazines Colliefs, Me- 
Glure's, American, Cosmopolitan screamed them forth. Time was 
when a magazine "was very ca'ming to the mind," said Mr. Dooley, 
the Archey Road philosopher-bartender. "But now whin I pick me 
fav-rite magazine off th' flure, what do I find? Ivirything has gone 
wrong." Reformism stirred not only bartenders but barbers, house- 
wives, ministers, professors, young people. 

Muckraking was well under way when Roosevelt graduated from 
Harvard in 1904. During the next six years the revolt of the Ameri- 
can conscience, as Frederick Lewis Allen called it, came into full 
tide. These years Roosevelt spent in New York, first as a student 
at Columbia Law School, then as a young lawyer. He could not 
have been in a more strategic place to absorb the atmosphere of 
reform. For the New York of the i goo's embodied both the portent 
and promise of the time: it was the city of a million immigrants, 
of the unspeakable Hell's Kitchen, of Tammany and Boss Murphy, 
of corruption on a colossal scale, but it was also headquarters for 
most of the muckraking magazines, the seat of numerous reform 
movements, the place where Cousin Theodore had been a swagger- 
ing police commissioner and unsuccessful candidate for mayor. 

How much effect did this environment have on Roosevelt? The 
direct and immediate impact was not profound; as in the past, 
Roosevelt tended to be sensitive to people rather than doctrines. 
But the ultimate, indirect impact was important. In the long run 
Roosevelt could no more escape the pervasive atmosphere of re- 
formism than he could shut out the air around him. And there 


were two people who served as vital links between the new America 
and himself. Significantly they were both members of his social 
class, and both members of his family. 


On one occasion when he was five years old Franklin Roosevelt 
cavorted around his nursery floor with Eleanor Roosevelt on his 
back; she was then two years old and a member of the Oyster Bay 
Roosevelts. But they met only occasionally during following years. 
The first member of the Oyster Bay branch to make an impression 
Dn Franklin was his fifth cousin Theodore. 

Twenty-four years older than Franklin, Theodore was always 
just far enough ahead of him to assume heroic proportions in the 
boy's eyes. During Franklin's childhood "Cousin Theodore" or 
"Uncle Ted" was out West capturing desperadoes. While Franklin 
was at Groton, Theodore was successively in New York bossing the 
police, in Washington helping run the navy, a hero in the war with 
Spain, and then governor of New York. The Rough Rider loved 
to impart his energetic fervor to youth, "Tor a man merely to be 
good is not enough/' he told his admiring cousin and a dazzled 
audience of Grotonians, his teeth and spectacles gleaming, ''he must 
be shrewd and he must be courageous/' 

Theodore met the Groton ideal perfectly: he was a bold crusader 
{or "clean government," against corruption, graft, and obvious types 
of political sin. As governor of New York he attacked the bosses, 
and they were delighted to help ease him out of the state and into 
the vice-presidency. Who could anticipate a crazed anarchist's bul- 
let? Another boss the head of the Republican party was aghast. 
"I told William McKinley it was a mistake to nominate that wild 
man at Philadelphia," Mark Hanna exclaimed. "Now, look, that 
damned cowboy is President of the United States!" And to T.R. he 
wrote, "Go slow." 

"I shall go slow," the President had answered. But physically 
and temperamentally he seemed unable to go slow. Seven months 
after taking office he demanded dissolution of the Northern Securi- 
ties Company in the face of J. P. Morgan's suave reply that if the 
company had done anything wrong "send your man [the attorney 
general] to my man and they can fix it up." In the following years 
the President advocated workmen's compensation and child-labor 
laws, pure food and drug laws, stronger national regulation of rail- 
roads, income and inheritance taxes, sweeping conservation meas- 
ures. To be sure, he was not a consistent or thoroughgoing reformer. 
As a student of reform has said, "He could be brutally militaristic, 

Albany: The Young Lion 25 

evasive about trusts, compromising on social legislation, purblind 
to the merits of reformers who did not equate reform with Theodore 
Roosevelt." But he dramatized reform, and even gave it an air of 

Franklin Roosevelt could not escape this "condition of excite- 
ment and irritation in the public mind," as Uncle Ted once de- 
scribed it. The man who had won the boy's admiration as a Rough 
Rider kept it as a reformer. Franklin saw the President at the White 
House on a number of occasions both before and after his marriage 
to the President's niece. He must have speculated on the parallels 
between his career and his cousin's early one: Theodore had gone 
to Harvard, had failed there to win election as class marshal, had 
gone on to Columbia Law School and then into politics. Franklin 
could hardly miss the potential parallel. One day in 1907 he told 
his fellow law clerks that he had his career well in mind: first a 
seat in the state assembly, then assistant secretary of the navy, then 
governor of New York-and then the presidency. His friends did 
not laugh at him; he seemed in earnest, and had not Cousin 
Theodore had just such a career? 

But one great parallel was missing. Theodore had always been a 
Republican, but Franklin- what was Franklin? His father, believing 
that the national government should be honest, frugal, and limited 
in scope, had been a Cleveland Democrat, and so was the son. But 
these were difficult times for a Roosevelt who was a Cleveland 
Democrat. In 1896 James, an eastern capitalist, certainly could not 
have supported Bryan; he probably voted for McKinley. In 1898 
James campaigned for Theodore for governor of New York, and 
Franklin wrote from Groton that "we were all wild with delight 
when we heard of Teddy's election." In 1900 Franklin joined the 
Harvard Republican Club and marched miles through Boston in 
a torchlight procession for the McKinley-Roosevelt ticket. In 1904 
he cast his first ballot for Theodore. Again family ties were strongest. 

Was Franklin a Democrat during his early years? By inheritance 
yes, but when it came down to specific cases he supported Republi- 
cans. Actually his party leanings were as amorphous as his ideologi- 
cal ones. Why did he not enter politics as a Republican? He then 
could have put himself directly in line for Theodore's political 
inheritance. The most likely explanation seems to be that Theo- 
dore's power in the Republican party, thanks partly to his flat state- 
ment in 1904 that he would not run for another term, was waning 
when Franklin finished law school, and so was progressivism in the 
Republican party. In 1910 Franklin, probably by chance more than 
by design, was in a position to run for office on either major party 
ticket. It was less by conviction that he became a Democrat than 


by virtue of the fact that the Democratic party needed him and 

went to him. 

Eleanor Roosevelt was the daughter of Theodore Roosevelt's 
younger brother, Elliott, and of Anna R. Hall. Franklin was her 
fifth cousin once removed. It was by no means unimportant to 
Franklin that she was the niece of Uncle Ted, with all the glamour 
that went with membership in the presidential family. But this was 
the least of it. Growing up she had been a gawky, pensive girl, with 
a brace and the prominent Rooseveltian teeth. Suddenly, during his 
later college years, Franklin saw a tall willowy girl with a sweet, 
expressive face under a great mass of hair. He fell in love, and late 
in 1903 proposed to her. She accepted. Franklin was only twenty- 
two years old and Eleanor only nineteen, but, she said later, "it 
seemed an entirely natural thing and I never even thought that we 
were both rather young and inexperienced." 

But Sara did. She was stunned by her son's sudden announce- 
ment. Having lost her husband only three years before, she had 
looked forward to companionship with her son, who, she hoped, 
would settle down at Hyde Park. They were far too young to get 
married, she told Franklin. But her son was firm-and diplomatic. 
"I know my mind . . ." he wrote her. "And for you, dear Mummy, 
you know that nothing can ever change what we have always been 
& always will be to each otheronly now you have two children to 
love & to love you. . . /' And from Eleanor came a plaintive note 
that was also a truce offer: "... I do so want you to learn to love 
me a little. You must know that I will always try to do what you 
wish for I have grown to love you very dearly during the past 

Sara tried to delay things by taking Franklin on a Caribbean 
cruise early in 1904 to think things over. When he returned he was 
as determined as ever to marry Eleanor. Sara gave in. She did not 
object to Eleanor as a person. Indeed, she was pleased at Franklin's 
choice, if he had to choose so early. The engaged couple, carefully 
chaperoned, spent a few weeks together at Carnpobello getting to 
know each other better. 

Franklin and Eleanor were married March 17, 1905. Endicott 
Peabody officiated, and Uncle Ted, just inaugurated president in 
his own right, came up from Washington to give his niece away. 
Inevitably T.R. stole the show; guests clustered around the genial 
chief executive, leaving the newlyweds standing quite alone, "When 
he goes to a wedding he wants to be the bride, and when he goes 
to a funeral he wants to be the corpse," remarked a relative sourly 
as he watched the proceedings. Franklin and Eleanor had a Euro- 
pean honeymoon in the grand tradition: Brown's hotel in London, 

Albany: The Young Lion 27 

art galleries in Paris, moonlight gondola rides in Venice, a leisurely 
trip north through the Alps, visits with family friends on estates 
in England and Scotland. 

The woman Franklin married had had as unstable and unhappy 
a childhood as his had been sunny and secure. Her early life in 
gloomy brownstone houses in New York City was of the stuff of an 
Eclith Wharton novel. Her mother, a somber unsympathetic person 
racked by violent headaches, died when Eleanor was eight. A 
brother died a few weeks later. She adored her father, a radiant, 
warmhearted man who called her "Little Nell" and became the ob- 
ject of her dreams. But he was an alcoholic who spent long periods 
in sanitariums, and he died in Eleanor's tenth year. "My aunts told 
me, but I simply refused to believe it," she remembered, "and while 
I wept long and went to bed still weeping, I finally went to sleep 
and began the next day living in my dream world as usual." She 
was reared by her mother's family, who made no effort to build up 
the child's self-confidence. Her mother, annoyed by Eleanor's solemn 
face and graceless ways, had called her "granny" to her face; an 
aunt said that she was an old maid who could never hope to marry. 
To make matters worse, another aunt had a series of desperately un- 
happy love affairs, an uncle drank heavily, and the whole Hall 
family carried on a dizzy social life that was far beyond their means. 

In her mid-teens Eleanor had three years of schooling in England, 
and she came back to New York a far more secure and poised per- 
son. But her early years had given her a sympathetic interest in 
fellow sufferers that she was never to lose. She was haunted for 
months by the face of a wretched-looking man who had tried to 
snatch a purse from a woman sitting near her. She was interested 
in the ragged little newsboys to whom she had helped her father 
serve Thanksgiving dinner. By the age of nineteen she was teaching 
in a settlement house and investigating working conditions of 
women for the Consumers' League. Inevitably her qualities of com- 
passion and sensitivity added a new dimension to Franklin's social 

But this was a long-term process, and the couple were concerned 
with more immediate things when they returned from their honey- 
moon in the fall of 1905. They moved into a house on East 36 th 
Street, which had been rented and furnished by Sara, and they 
lived here for two years until Sara had finished building two ad- 
joining houses on 65th Street, one for herself and one for her son 
and daughter-in-law. Their first child, Anna, was born in May 1906. 
Five more children would be born during the next ten years, in- 
cluding one who died in infancy from the flu. These were hard 
years for Eleanor. She was not ready for many domestic responsibili- 
ties. She reproached herself bitterly over the baby who died, al- 


though she was not at fault. Her mother-in-la\v cried to plan her 
life for her, and often succeeded. 

Wanting desperately to share in her husband's activities, Eleanor 
tried to learn to drive Franklin's little Ford car and to ride Frank- 
lin's horse Bobby. But she ran the car into a gatepost, and Jie 
could not control Bobby. She practiced golf by herself for days and 
then ventured on the green with her husband, who, after watching 
her cut at the ball for a few minutes, said that she might just as 
well give it up. She did. 

Franklin seemed insensitive to his young wife's feelings of in- 
adequacy, her restlessness under Sara's maternal domination, her 
wish to share more of his life. When he found Eleanor once weep- 
ing at her dressing table at their or Sara's house on 65th Street, 
he reacted more with bewildered dismay than with anxious corn- 
passion. "'What on earth is the matter with you?" he demanded. 
Though he gave his wife and family warm affection and plunged 
into family picnics and yacht trips with zest and vigor, he could 
spend many a Saturday afternoon playing poker at the University 
Club in New York City. Like his father, he seemed able to com- 
partmentalize his life with ease. 

Roosevelt had begun Columbia Law School in the fall of 1904 
and he entered his second year soon after returning from his honey- 
moon. Here he repeated the pattern of Harvard, minus the extra- 
curricular activities. Although the Columbia faculty included a 
distinguished group of law professors, the courses failed to interest 
Franklin. His grades once again averaged C. He failed two courses 
one of them Pleading and Practice I and had to take make-up 
examinations. After passing the New York bar examinations before 
the end of his third year he promptly dropped his courses, thus 
failing to win his LL.B. degree. Clearly the study of the law did 
not challenge young Roosevelt. 

Law practice was something else. Through his connections he 
got a clerkship at the old Wall Street law firm of Carter, Ledyard, 
and Milburn. It was an unpaid job the first year and his work was 
rather routine. But cases came his way many of them from his 
rather litigious family and he enjoyed the practical higgle and 
haggle of legal negotiation. He was surprised and depressed at the 
gap between legal education and legal practice. He saw little con- 
nection between legal "grand principles" and the problems of a 
relative's trunk destroyed on a Le Havre dock, the interpretation 
of a will, or a deed of transfer of land. 

Roosevelt was not excited by the broader points of law. J[ he had 
been, his future at Carter, Ledyard, and Milburnand his whole 
career might have been much different. The firm defended such 
clients as Standard Oil of New Jersey and the American Tobacco 

Albany: The Young Lion 29 

Company against the government's attacks on the trusts; it was 
saturated with the spirit of sober, responsible defense of corporate 
interests in the face of progressivism. As it turned out, Roosevelt 
was influenced far more by his everyday contacts with clients, 
lawyers, claimants, and the politicians and would-be politicians 
around the courts than he was by office ideology. 

Alter a time, however, he was bored by the law. Something in- 
side him was pushing him to wider fields of action. 

The six years after Harvard were outwardly uneventful ones for 
Roosevelt, aside from family affairs. They were years of intellectual 
latency. But beneath the surface was a flux and flow, stirred by the 
nature of the times, by his wife and associates, and by the demands 
o his work. The year 1910 brought this period to a close and 
found Roosevelt ready for any opportunity that lay ahead. 


The average American politician follows a well-nod path to elec- 
tive office. He strikes deep roots in a likely community, He joins 
countless organizations where he can make useful contacts: Masons, 
Grange, Elks, veterans' groups, and the like. He is active in his 
church, in charities, in civic affairs. Carefully skirting controversies 
that divide people, he quickly puts himself at the head of any move- 
ment that commands wide community backing. Above all he makes 
a point of being a good "mixer" with all classes of people. 

Roosevelt did virtually none of these things. He may have 
dreamed of running for office, but certainly he made little prepara- 
tion for it. In 1910 he had not lived the year round in Hyde Park 
since leaving for Groton fourteen years before. He stayed at his 
mother's house many week ends and summers, but he saw little 
of the townspeople. He became vice-commodore of the Hudson 
River Ice Yacht Club and vestryman of the St. James Episcopal 
Church activities hardly calculated to bring him in touch with a 
cross section of the people. To be sure, he joined Hyde Park's 
Eagle Engine Company No. i and Rescue Hook and Ladder Com- 
pany No. i but only after he was elected senator. 

Roosevelt did not create his first great opportunity. That op- 
portunity came to him. 

It first came to him early in 1910 in New York City when John 
E. Mack, district attorney of Dutchess County and a leading Pough- 
keepsie Democrat, visited Roosevelt on a legal errand. It seemed 
possible, Mack said, that Lewis Stuyvesant Chanler, a prominent 
socialite politician, might quit his current post of state assembly- 
man. Would Roosevelt be interested in running? Roosevelt was 
highly responsive. At party functions later in the year Dutchess 


County Democrats looked over the young man. They had mixed 
feelings about him. His patrician and somewhat supercilious bear- 
ing and speech, his slight acquaintance with the district, his youth 
and inexperience, above all his unpredictability were a source of 
worry. On the other hand, he bore the magic name of Roosevelt. 
And he had money-money for his own campaign and perhaps 
enough left over for the party treasury. 

Roosevelt had few qualms. He wanted to try his hand at politics. 
He was eager to return to Hyde Park to live. Most important, he 
had a good chance to win. Poughkeepsie with its Irish and other 
Democratic forces made up much of Chanler's district. To be sure, 
his mother was dubious about the idea, and so were a number of 
friends and relatives. It struck them a bit like an English gentle- 
man's going "into trade." But Uncle Ted was pleased, even though 
Franklin was entering politics on the Democratic side. As for 
Eleanor, now pregnant for the fourth time, she merely acquiesced; 
it never occurred to her that she had any part to play. By early 
summer Roosevelt was intent on running. 

Then came a blow. Chanler, it seemed, had no intention of giving 
up his assembly post. Elected lieutenant governor in 1906, and un- 
successful Democratic candidate for governor in 1908, he was not 
ready to quit the political arena. In vain Roosevelt took Chanler 
out to dinner and urged him to run for state senator. Embracing 
several agricultural counties, the senatorial district was traditionally 
Republican. Only once since 1856 had the Democrats won the dis- 
trict, and that occasion had been a three-cornered contest. Chanler 
would not take the risk. 

What was Roosevelt to do? His alternatives were to try for state 
senator himself or to back out altogether. He hesitated to take on 
what seemed a hopeless contest. On the other hand, his enthusiasm 
was now pushing him on. Even an unsuccessful campaign would be 
good political experience, and it might put him in line for the 
assembly seat whenever Chanler gave it up. The district, moreover, 
was not hopelessly Republican; Senator John F. Schlosser, the in- 
cumbent, had won in 1908 only by 18,366 to 16,294. The party 
leaders pressed him; they "told me it was my duty to accept," 
Roosevelt said shortly afterward, "and thinking it over for twenty- 
four hours, I felt inclined to agree with them in as much as there 
was such a dearth of material." 

Once Roosevelt had made up his mind, the party leaders managed 
things easily. They gave him formal standing in the party by ap- 
pointing him a delegate to the senatorial district convention that 
was to nominate him. They steered his nomination through with- 
out difficulty. Roosevelt benefited from the ease with which the 
leadership could control the convention; if the state senatorial 

Albany: The Young Lion 31 

nominee had been chosen in party primaries in those days as he 
is today, some zealous young attorney looking for publicity or law 
business might have run against Roosevelt and damaged his chances 
in the election. But no one did. 

"As you know," said Roosevelt in his acceptance speech, "I ac- 
cept this nomination with absolute independence. I am pledged to 
no man; I am influenced by no special interests, and so I shall re- 
main," He pledged himself to the cause of good government and 
asked the aid of "independent thinking voters." 

Then he struck a T.R. note. "We are going to have a veiy 
strenuous month," he said. 

A strenuous month it was. More important, it was a highly success- 
ful one. By design or by chance Roosevelt fashioned precisely the 
correct strategy for his district in the light of the national and state 

By late 1910 deep fissures were cleaving the Republican party. 
The stewing and simmering of the past decade, brought to a boil 
by muckrakers and rabble rousers, had aroused passions too strong 
for the easygoing man in the White House to subdue or divert. 
President Taft had signed a high tariff bill, had allowed most of 
Theodore Roosevelt's cabinet to resign and had appointed more 
conservative men, and had generally lined up with the Republican 
Old Guard in Congress. Lost from sight was Taf t's progressive side, 
his sober trust busting, his conservation program. The people wanted 
a man who looked like a reformer. "There is no use trying to be 
William Howard Taft with Roosevelt's ways . . ." the President 
said wistfully. T.R. was back from Africa, not yet fifty- two, and job- 
less. Republican insurgents in Congress had disarmed Speaker 
Joseph G. Cannon and were training their guns on the portly figure 
in the White House. 

The national situation was reflected in New York State. Farmers 
and dairymen were disturbed by the tariff, which seemed to raise 
the cost of overalls, gingham, and hardware but not the price they 
got for milk. The Old Guard in the state was led by a group of 
bosses whose reputation was little better than Tammany's. In an 
open onslaught against the conservatives in his party, Theodore 
Roosevelt, still powerful in the state, picked Henry L. Stimson as 
the Republican candidate for governor; the issue, said T.R., was 
"bossisrn," control of the party by Old Guard leaders. This situa- 
tion played directly into Franklin Roosevelt's hands. Ordinarily, 
an upstate Democratic candidate had to answer charges of Tammany 
control of his party. Now Roosevelt could point to bossism in 
the opposition party, and cite his Republican cousin to prove his 
case. Even better, young Roosevelt had a convenient target in his 


own district a local Republican boss who had been called by the 
noted Republican leader Elihu Root "a stench in the nostrils of 
the people" of New York. 

Otherwise the district presented formidable difficulties. The 
farmers-dairymen, poultrymen, and fruit and vegetable raisers- 
were unhappy over bossism and corruption but at the same time 
they were orthodox Republicans. Most of the press was stoutly 
Republican. Senator Schlosser, a candidate for re-election, was a 
man of substance and reputation. Born in Poughkeepsie and a 
graduate of Union, he had opened a law office in Fishkill Landing 
and steadily climbed the political ladder. His extensive activity 
in local volunteer firemen's associations had given him strategic 
contacts in every locality, But he had one crucial weak point. In 
his two terms in the senate he had generally lined up with the 
Old Guard. 

Faced with this situation, Roosevelt decided to make bossism 
versus clean government the issue. It was easy for him to do this; 
he was equipped to do little else. At Groton and Harvard, politics 
had been pictured for him as a battleground of good men against 
bad. Clean government rather than progressive government had 
been the battle cry of his father and other Cleveland Democrats. 
What could be more natural than to pitch his campaign on this 
note? To be sure, Roosevelt exploited the Republican cleavage be- 
tween standpatters and progressives. But even though this was 1910, 
progressivism was not the issue on which the young politician 
based his campaign. 

Quite the contrary. Roosevelt's essential strategy was to blur over 
the progressive-conservative split and to direct his appeals as much 
to Republicans and independents as to Democrats. This non- 
partisan strategy took these forms: 

He denounced Democratic and Republican bosses with equal 

He talked in generalities, avoiding specifics that might leave him 
in a partisan posture. 

He virtually ignored the state Democratic ticket and party re- 

He played up his relationship with Uncle Ted. "I'm not Teddy/' 
he started off at one meeting. "A little shaver said to me the other 
day that he knew I wasn't Teddy I asked him 'why' and he re- 
plied: 'Because you don't show your teeth.' " 

He shunned national issues that might split the voters along 
party lines. "I have personally never been able to see that the 
National politics of a candidate for a State or local office makes 
very much difference," he wrote later to a Republican. 

He allied himself with "good" Republicans. After Roosevelt had 

Albany: The Young Lion 33 

denounced Schlosser for blocking the reform measures of Charles 
Evans Hughes, Republican governor of New York at this time, 
Roosevelt was asked if he favored Hughes's policies. "You bet I do/" 
he shot back. 

This strategy was pointless, however, unless Roosevelt solved the 
basic problem facing all campaigners getting through to the 
people, establishing contact with them. He began with the handi- 
cap of not being well known even in his home town of Hyde Park. 
To cover his huge, 25,ooo-square-mile district by horse and buggy 
would be hopeless. He met the problem head on in Rooseveltian 
fashion. There was only one automobile in the area a big red 
Maxwell, with shining brass lamps but lacking windshield or top. 
This Roosevelt hired and decorated with flags and bunting. Cars 
at the time were unpredictable and they scared farmers' horses, but 
the Maxwell covered much of the area at twenty-five miles an hour 
and attracted a good deal of attention. So successful was this method 
that a charge by Representative Hamilton Fish (father of Roose- 
velt's New Deal opponent) that Roosevelt was not even a bona fide 
resident of the district fell rather flat. 

Roosevelt was not yet an orator. "He spoke slowly/' his wife 
remembered later, "and every now and then there would be a 
long pause, and I would be worried for fear he would never go 
on." But he quickly picked up political gimmicks. He remembered 
to speak a good word for the particular town he was in. He learned 
quickly to adapt his arguments to his audience. Like a good sales- 
man he brought up his own candidacy only after establishing a 
bond between his audience and himself on other matters. Already 
he was using the phrase "my friends." Sometimes there were traces 
of the oratorical techniques to come, such as his use of the repetitive 
phrase when he said that he did not know whether Schlosser 
(Roosevelt had not yet learned the importance of ignoring his op- 
ponent's name) represented the local boss or represented only 
Schlosser, but "I do know that he hasn't represented me and I do 
know that he hasn't represented you." In general, however, his 
speeches were earnest and plain spoken rather than eloquent. 

Actually, not platform oratory but talking with people face to 
face was the main job in a local campaign. Talk Roosevelt did 
to teamsters passing on the road, to men idling in stores, to farmers 
picking apples and husking corn. Roosevelt was on the road long 
hours every day. "I think I worked harder with him than I ever 
have in my life," said a companion many years later. As he cam- 
paigned the quick smile and handshake became automatic. "Call 
me Franklin I'm going to call you Tom," he said to an astonished 
house painter. Touring with experienced Democratic politicians 
who knew voters by name in every locality helped Roosevelt con- 


siderably; despite his nonpartisanship he leaned heavily on his 
Democratic fellow candidates, who knew hundreds of voters in the 
district. It was no one-man campaign, 

The opposition at the beginning made the fatal mistake oE dis- 
counting the twenty-eight-year-old candidate's chances. A Republi- 
can newspaper doubted that Schlosser would be "greatly disturbed/' 
Too late the Republicans sensed the drift of affairs. At the last 
minute an opposition newspaper played up Roosevelt's connection 
with a New York firm of lawyers "for some of the great trusts which 
are being prosecuted by President Taft's administration. . . ," 
This was a clumsy move, for it simply strengthened Roosevelt's 
position with Republicans as a Democrat not tainted with Bryanism. 

Roosevelt gave his final talk in Hyde Park. After paying tribute 
to his home town, he expressed his wish to follow in his father's 
footsteps by keeping in close touch with Hyde Park affairs. He 
denounced Schlosser once more for being "a member of that little 
ring of Republican politicians who have done so much to prevent 
progress and good government." The issues remained the same- 
honesty and economy in the state government. 

Election Day in November 1910 was cold and wet. The returns 
came in slowly, but the trend soon became clear. Roosevelt defeated 
Schlosser 15,708 to 14,568, a plurality of 1,140. He won Hyde Park 
by 406 to 258, Dutchess County by a margin of 850, Columbia 
County by 469, and lost Putnam County by 179. His victory was 
part of a national trend. Democrats won almost three-fifths of the 
seats in the national House of Representatives, the governorship 
and both houses of the legislature in New York. Woodrow Wilson 
won in New Jersey. Tally sheets across the nation showed the re- 
sults of a decade of protest: a tidal wave against Taft, a trend to- 
ward the Democrats. 

Was Roosevelt merely a chip on this wave? Certainly to some 
extent. But his victory cannot be explained simply in terms of a 
lucky year. He ran in his district nearly 700 votes ahead of John A. 
Dix, the Democratic candidate for governor. To be sure, Dix's op- 
ponent, Henry L. Stimson, was more formidable than Schlosser, 
but Roosevelt also ran generally ahead of the Democratic candi- 
dates for assembly in his district. An important reason for this mar- 
gin was his nonpartisan strategy, which had clearly paid off. It 
seems likely that Roosevelt would have won by a thin majority in 
any "average" year. 

But the senator-elect probably spent little time on such specula- 
tion. It was enough that he had won. He rented a large, expensive 
house in Albany, conveniently near the capitol. At the end of the 
year 1910 he moved there with his wife and family. For a young 

Albany: The Young Lion 35 

man not yet twenty-nine, he had a large establishment. Following 
his first child, Anna, two sons had been born: James in December 
1907 and Elliott in September 1910. There was the usual retinue 
of nurses and servants. Eleanor was still weighted down with fam- 
ily worries: James had a heart murmur and had to be carried up 
steps; she had a wet nurse for the infant Elliott, and she went 
through agonies of fear that the wet nurse's own baby would suffer 
when the mother went with the Roosevelts to Albany. Her husband 
was sympathetic toward her difficulties, but he was mainly absorbed 
in the job that lay ahead. On the threshold of his political career, 
the state senator-elect looked forward to his new role with high 
hopes and excitement. 


There is a story, perhaps true, that Big Tim Sullivan, lounging in 
an Albany hotel with another Tammany boss early in January 1911, 
watched a tall young man stride across the lobby. To some at this 
time Roosevelt, with his spare figure and lean face, gold bowed 

First published sketch of Roosevelt, Jan. 19, 1911, 
J. Norman Lynd, New York Herald , New York 
Sun, Inc. 

spectacles and frock coat, looked like a student of divinity. Others 
noted his well-modeled features, lithe figure, and slightly curling 
hair enough to "set the matinee girl's heart throbbing with subtle 
and happy emotion," one reporter said. But to Big Tim that day 
he looked like a cocky, bumptious "college kid,' 7 still wet behind 
the ears. 

So that was Roosevelt? "You know these Roosevelts," Big Tim. 
growled. "This fellow is still young. Wouldn't it be safer to drown 
him before he grows up?" 


Within a few weeks Big Tim must have wished that he had fol- 
lowed his own advice. The young politician who had assailed boss- 
ism in his campaign was to seize a superb opportunity to lead a 
pitched fight against Tammany before he hardly had time to warm 
his senatorial chair. 

At this time United States senators from New York were chosen 
not directly by the voters but by the state assembly and senate meet- 
ing in joint session. The Democrats had won control of both houses 
in the 1910 election; if they stuck together they could name the next 
senator. When Roosevelt first arrived in Albany the field seemed 
open and a number of candidates were lining up support in the 
legislature. Suddenly the whole situation changed. Charles F. Mur- 
phy, boss of Tammany, passed the word down that the Democrats' 
man would be William F. Sheehan. "Blue-eyed Billy," as he was 
called, did not represent the worst of Tammany, but not the best 
either. Originally a Buffalo politician, he had savagely fought the 
rising Grover Cleveland. Later he had won riches and influence in 
New York City as a traction and utilities magnate. Now he yearned 
for a place in the Senatethe "most exclusive club in the world" 
to bring his career to a grand finale. 

Everything about the case Sheehan's early opposition to Cleve- 
land, his later record, Boss Murphy's easy assumption that the Dem- 
ocrats would fall in line, Tammany's influence in general was cal- 
culated to goad the young senator into action. Besides, an excellent 
"honest government" candidate was available in Edward M. Shep- 
ard of Brooklyn, counsel for the Pennsylvania Railroad and a civic 
leader. "Shepard is without question the most competent to fill the 
position," Roosevelt wrote in his diary on January i, "but the 
Tammany crowd seems unable to forgive him his occasional inde- 
pendence and Sheehan looks like their choice at this stage of the 
game. May the result prove that I am wrongl There is no question 
in my mind that the Democratic party is on trial, and having been 
given control of the government chiefly through up-State votes, can- 
not afford to surrender its control to the organization in New York 

Tammany showed its power at the first Democratic caucus that 
Roosevelt attended. Senator Torn Grady, leader of the Democrats 
in the senate, was occasionally given to independence and to alco- 
hol. In the caucus Murphy easily deposed him. Roosevelt was 
pleased with the development. Grady's ability was unquestioned, 
he noted loftily in his diary, but "not so his habits or his character." 
Indeed, if Tammany had not ditched Grady, Roosevelt might have 
bolted the party then and there. Robert F. Wagner, a steady young 
senator from Manhattan's upper East Side, took Grady's place. 
Alfred E. Smith, another young Tammanyite, who in seven terms of 

Albany: The Young Lion 37 

office had shown himself a dexterous, trigger-swift legislator, be- 
came majority leader in the assembly. The method of party control 
was simple. The Democrats commanded a majority in each cham- 
ber. Tammany commanded a majority of the Democrats. Thus, if 
all went according to party custom, a minority of Tammanyites 
could control the whole legislature, including the election of a 
United States senator. 

During early January rumblings of opposition to Sheehan reached 
Murphy's ears. His response was in character: no patronage or com- 
mittee appointments would be given out until the Democrats toed 
the line. This was too much for a small group of assemblymen led 
by Edmund R. Terry of Brooklyn. They decided to boycott the 
caucus in order not to be bound by the caucus decision; by joining 
with the Republicans they could deny Tammany the necessary 
votes for Sheehan's election. 

Roosevelt got wind of this development and immediately joined 
the rebel group. On the night of January 16, while most of the 
Democrats went to their caucus to choose Sheehan, Roosevelt and 
Terry met in their headquarters. Both were nervous. Murphy was 
bringing pressure on the rebels, and Governor Dix was standing by 
the Tammany boss. Slowly the rest of the Insurgents, as they were 
called, arrived, and it became clear that the Democratic caucus 
could not command enough votes to put Sheehan over. Hopefully 
the rebels waited for a truce offer from Tammany, but none came. 
Murphy had only begun to fight. 

Schooled in the politics of the Gas House district of New York 
City, Murphy had fought his way up through the Tammany hier- 
archy with his fists and wits. A big, glum, taciturn man who liked to 
receive his satraps at Delrnonico's, he was used to rebellions and he 
knew how to handle them. His moves against the Insurgents were 
ingenious and ruthless. From Boss William Barnes, who was de- 
lighted at the rupture in Democratic ranks, he got a promise that 
the Republicans would stand firm for their own man, incumbent 
Senator Chauncey M. Depew, until Murphy could overcome the 
rebels. Fie lined up state committeemen in the Insurgents' districts 
to exert pressure on their most vulnerable flank: the next election. 
Insurgents' appointees in government jobs were fired, their law 
firms boycotted, and other reprisals were threatened. Finally and 
most harassing of all Tammany whispered that the attack on Shee- 
han was simply an attack on Catholics and Irishmen. "Every con- 
ceivable form of pressure" had been brought to bear on the group, 
Roosevelt told the press with some exaggeration. 

Although not the initiator of the revolt, Roosevelt gradually be- 
came its leader. He was informally chosen chairman at an early 
meeting and he usually spoke for the group. Acting essentially as a 


presiding officer rather than a dominant chieftain, he conducted 
diplomatic negotiations with the Tammany forces. His leadership 
was partly due to the proximity of his home, and to the fact that he 
was a senator and the others virtually all assemblymen. It was also 
due to his resoluteness, good humor, and resourcefulness. 

As the struggle deepened the Insurgents won nationwide atten- 
tion. The fight against bossism struck a popular note. Progressives 
had long denounced the United States Senate as a "millionaires' 
club" packed with hirelings of the trusts. The national Senate was 
under a drumfire of criticism for holding up a proposed constitu- 
tional amendment to require direct election of senators. Woodrow 
Wilson, just installed in the governor's mansion in Trenton, was 
battling a move in the New Jersey legislature to send a noted boss 
to the Senate, and Theodore Roosevelt, who had come out in 1910 
for direct primaries, seemed to favor popular election of senators. 
These changes, along with the initiative and referendum, were key 
parts of the Progressives' apparatus of reform- 
Newspapers throughout the country featured the fight that this 
new Roosevelt was making against bossism. Even more gratifying 
to the young senator were the hundreds of letters he received from 
his constituents. "Stand firm," most of them urged. A few letters 
were hostile. "You know what they done to your Uncle Teddy," he 
was warned. But his mail from the district ran heavily in favor of 
the Insurgents. 

Early in the fight Sheehan warned Roosevelt to his face that he 
would go into the Insurgents' constituencies and "show up their 
characters." The Tammany politician carried out his threat, but 
his invasion of Dutchess County was a conspicuous failure. Regular 
Democratic leaders in Poughkeepsie, seeking to keep on friendly 
relations with the powerful Tammany elements in the party, gave 
a dinner for Sheehan and collected 265 names on a petition de- 
manding that Roosevelt go along with the caucus decision. The 
petition did not worry Roosevelt. The more opposition from regu- 
lar Democrats, the more popularity he gained with independents 
and Republicans. 

On January 30 Murphy himself sought out Roosevelt. Was there 
any chance the Insurgents would change their minds? "No, Mr. 
Murphy," Roosevelt answered. The Insurgents held strategic 
ground. They would not give in. 

To hand out statements to the press, to deal with Murphy on equal 
terms, to assume heroic proportions in the eyes of voters back home 
all this was heady stuff for the twenty-nine-year-old Roosevelt. 
But before the end his appetite for the fight palled. 
For one thing, the struggle became unduly protracted. Week 

Albany: The Young Lion 39 

after week went by with no break in the deadlock. Staying in ses- 
sion these extra weeks was expensive and inconvenient for the legis- 
lators, who received only $ 1,500 a year and ordinarily were in Al- 
bany only one or two days a week during the first three or four 
months of the year. They tended to blame the Insurgents. Pressures 
on the small group steadily built up, and Roosevelt and Terry had 
trouble holding their cohorts in line. Moreover, the struggle be- 
came increasingly complex as time passed. As Sheehan's chances 
dwindled, more and more candidatesat least a score of them en- 
tered the lists. Every new candidate changed the pattern of pres- 
sures and loyalties amid which the Insurgents were operating. 

Even more important, at least for Roosevelt, was the change in 
the moral climate of the struggle. It was easy to soar on a high eth- 
ical plane, to be on the side of righteousness against wickedness. 
But was the issue this simple? Tammany was not a monolithic evil. 
Roosevelt could not but respect the honesty and integrity of men 
like Wagner and Smith. The machine, he discovered, was not really 
a machine, but a collection of men with crisscrossing loyalties and 
motivations. Revolts against Murphy flared in the strongest Tam- 
many districts. Even more surprising, Murphy himself was not a 
dead-ender for Sheehan; as the deadlock continued and Sheehan's 
chances faded, Murphy quietly began to line up support for Dan 
Cahalan, his lieutenant and son-in-law. Boss Barnes and his Re- 
publican minions played a crafty game, negotiating at one point 
with Tammany, at the next with the Insurgents. Instead of a grand 
rally between clean-cut opposing forces, the struggle began to look 
like Tolstoi's picture of war as a confused scramble of men and 

Strange maneuverings took place on the Insurgent side too. Un- 
able to make headway with Barnes, Roosevelt tried to arrange a bi- 
partisan deal with influential Republicans through a group of 
eminent and conservative Cleveland Democrats, most notably Fran- 
cis Lynde Stetson, attorney for J. P. Morgan. Roosevelt hoped to 
win over Republican support for a conservative, clean-government 
Democrat for senator. But some of the Stetson group apparently 
wanted a quid pro quoan understanding that the anti-Tammany 
Democrats would continue as an anti-Progressive group pledged to 
oppose bills such as the then pending income-tax amendment. When 
Samuel Untermeyer looked like a possible compromise candidate, 
this same group, remembering Untermeyer's antitrust and anti- 
Morgan activities, helped destroy his chances. Murphy did not miss 
his opportunity. He charged that the Insurgents were but a front 
for the reactionary Stetson group. 

By late March the struggle had become a bitter war of nerves. 
Roosevelt and Terry were losing control of their small group; "we 


came near going on the rocks several times/' Roosevelt said later. 
Tammany was still uneasy about a possible deal between Republi- 
cans and Insurgents. At this point Murphy staged an ^ elaborate 
maneuver. He suggested a compromise candidate in Justice Victor 
J. Bowling. Knowing that the Insurgent tail could not wag the 
Democratic dog, Roosevelt and his group agreed. But a day later, 
as the Insurgents met just before going to the caucus they had boy- 
cotted so long, \vord came that Bowling had refused the nomina- 
tion and Murphy had substituted the name of Justice James A. 
O'Gorman, formerly Grand Sachem of Tammany Hall. 

Could the Insurgents swallow O'Gorman? Could they afford not 
to? O'Gorman, despite his Tammany connections, had shown in- 
dependence from the machine. Moreover, he was ex-president of 
the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick and beloved by the Irish. Some of 
the Insurgents had previously said they would accept O'Gorman. 
Two of the group left immediately to enter the caucus and vote for 
O'Gorman. The rest, badly divided, debated the matter for hours 
during that afternoon. Finally a majority, with Roosevelt and a 
few others still opposed, decided to go along with O'Gorman, after 
Smith and Wagner promised that there would be no reprisals. 
Roosevelt's little band was deserting him. 

The end was inglorious. Hoots, groans, and hisses greeted the In- 
surgents as they filed into the chamber for the final vote. They 
had done their duty as they saw it, Roosevelt said lamely. "We are 
Democrats-not irregulars, but regulars," The press felt that the 
Insurgents had been outgeneraled. Roosevelt maintained that the 
Insurgents had won, but a defensive note crept into his letters to 
his constituents. And he was wary about future Insurgent strategy. 
4< I believe it will be a mistake for us to try to get all of the former 
Insurgents together again," he wrote to a friend, "but there are ten 
or twelve of us who can form a pretty good nucleus to work." 

Roosevelt could mark up some gains from the struggle. He had 
won national attention, he had strengthened his position in his dis- 
trict, and Progressives probably remembered his lengthy fight against 
Tammany long after they forgot the anticlimactic ending. Perhaps 
more important in the long run, the young politician had been 
given a telling education in the tactics of pressure and intrigue. 

But he had suffered losses too. Midway in the struggle Stunner 
Gerard had urged him toward moderation. "If you go too far, need- 
lessly, you run the danger of impairing your future political ef- 
fectiveness." Roosevelt knew what Gerard meant by his "future po- 
litical effectiveness." An aroused Tammany would spike any state- 
wide ambitions the senator might have. But Roosevelt was in no 
mood to compromise. When a constituent warned him of the Tiger's 

Albany: The Young Lion 41 

long memory, Roosevelt said, "No, right is right, no matter who it 

He was not willing to let the issue die. Months after the Sheehan 
fight he told a Buffalo audience that Murphy "and his kind" must 
be destroyed, that the "beasts of prey have begun to fall." Tam- 
many lashed back. The "silly conceits of a political prig/' said a 
Murphy lieutenant. The party should not tolerate these fops and 
cads, these political accidents who "come as near being political 
leaders as a green pea does a circus tent." The Tammany man 
compared Roosevelt's education and background with his own lead- 
ership, which, he said, depended on "human sympathy, human in- 
terest, and human ties among those with whom I was born and 
bred. . . ." 

The struggle between the high-minded patrician and the earthy, 
human bosses was to go on a long time. But perhaps the last words 
in the Sheehan struggle were uttered by Roosevelt to Frances Per- 
kins many years later when he was President: "You know/' he said, 
"I was an awfully mean cuss when I first went into politics." 


The fight against Sheehan over, the senate settled down to the busi- 
ness of legislating. Senator Roosevelt threw himself into the work. 
Years later Frances Perkins remembered him on the floor of the 
senate: ". . . very active and alert, moving around the floor, going 
in and out of committee rooms, rarely talking with the members, 
who more or less avoided him, not particularly charming (that came 
later), artificially serious of face, rarely smiling, with an unfortunate 
habit so natural that he was unaware of it of throwing his head 
up." During his two years in the senate Roosevelt seemed to be 
looking down his nose at people, but he was learning the craft of 
parliamentary politics with remarkable speed. 

Roosevelt's early legislative activities were not all of one pattern. 
Much of the time he was fighting a running battle with Tammany; 
on occasion he would go along with a dubious project of the bosses. 
He noisily held aloft the banner of clean government, yet he filled 
many minor positions with patronage appointments carefully 
cleared with Democratic leaders in his district; making appoint- 
ments in this way, he said privately, was "vitally necessary if there 
is to be any organization in the party." He paid special attention to 
the interests of his constituents, yet on one occasion he moved to 
strike out of an appropriation bill a bridge-repair item for his dis- 
trict. He hewed close to the local farm interests, yet in October 1912 
the New York State Federation of Labor said that Roosevelt's rec- 
ord on their bills was "excellent." Roosevelt's record as state sena- 


tor was compounded in parts of insurgency, orthodoxy, and trial 

and error. 

When "moral" issues arose he could still vault onto his ^ white 
charger and attack the enemy with vim, to the delight of his con- 
stituents. Although occasionally he himself gambled in a small way, 
Roosevelt opposed legalizing race-track gambling. He criticized 
prize fighting and Sunday baseball. He drew laudatory letters from 
clergy in his district by working hard for the "one day of rest in 
seven" bill. He hedged on Prohibition through the time-honored 
device of the state politician: coming out for "local option/' which 
would allow voters to decide the issue for their own local areas. He 
favored a national uniform divorce law, and won unanimous sup- 
port from the legislature-and from the National Christian League 
for Promotion of Purity. 

In his early months Senator Roosevelt's progressivism was politi- 
cal in content rather than economic or social. He introduced a well- 
received resolution urging New York State congressmen to work 
for direct election of senators, he supported municipal home rule, 
and, after some vacillation, he came out for woman suffrage. The 
direct primary for party nominations was the kind of reform that 
enlisted his full energies. Considered but not adopted by previous 
legislatures, endorsed by both parties in 1910, direct primaries for 
party nominations came before the legislature not long alter the 
"Sheehan business" and touched off another angry brawl. Roose- 
velt, so uncompromising in the Sheehan fight, was more willing to 
negotiate with the bosses in this matter, although some of his In- 
surgent colleagues were not. After holding out strenuously for a 
strong primary bill in July 1911, two months later he voted for a 
weak primary bill, riddled with concessions to Tammany; the fol- 
lowing year, after helping to arouse the voters, he worked with a bi- 
partisan group of Progressives to bring about changes that would 
cut down the party organization's influence in the primaries, but 
he made little progress against the regulars. 

Labor legislationthe dull and grimy side of progressivism was 
something else. When Roosevelt first came to Albany his views on 
labor, to the extent he had any, were benevolently paternalistic. 
He favored help for foreign seamen coming into New York City; 
he wanted purer milk for needy children. He flatly opposed legis- 
lation to legalize boycotts by unions, and took an evasive stand on 
workmen's compensation and on measures to forbid working boys 
of sixteen to twenty-one more than fifty-four hours per week. But 
in the next two years his attitude changed sharply. He not only 
backed the fifty-four-hour bill but during the debate on this bill 
held the senate floor with a talk on birds until none other than 
Big Tim Sullivan himself could be routed out of bed to supply a 

Albany: The Young Lion 43 

vitally needed vote. He came out for workmen's compensation legis- 
lation despite opposition from some constituents. By February 1913 
he was willing to speak at a legislative hearing in favor of the 
whole batch of thirty-two bills drawn up by the Factory Investi- 
gating Commission. 

How account for this change? The cause did not lie in a shift in 
Roosevelt' s basic social outlook, for he had not developed a philoso- 
phy of government. Partly, no doubt, Roosevelt was influenced by 
his cousin Theodore, who by rnid-igis was vociferously supporting 
workmen's compensation, limited injunction in labor disputes, and 
social welfare legislation for women and children. Partly it was the 
climate of the times: America was moving toward a climax of pro- 
gressive debate and action in the election of 1912. Partly it was the 
realization that his Tammany colleagues, whatever their failings, 
had a concern for social justice that rivaled his own. Most impor- 
tant, the investigations, reports, and debates in the senate gave him 
a vivid, harsh lesson in how the "other half" lived. 

Indeed, the whole senate experience was a political education for 
Roosevelt. Fie learned quickly from old Albany hands like Smith 
and Wagner, from newspapermen, lobbyists, and state officials. He 
mastered knacks of the political trade: how to avoid taking a stand 
on issues and becoming involved in destructive local squabbles, how 
to deal with local party leaders, how to handle patronage without 
making an undue number of enemies, how to attract publicity, how 
to answer importunate letters. Above all, he learned the lesson that 
democratic politicians must learn: that the political battle is not a 
simple, two-sided contest between opposing parties, or between 
right and wrong, or between regulars and irregulars, but, as in 
the Sheehan episode, a many-sided struggle that moved over broad 
sectors and touched many interests. A simple farm bill, for ex- 
ample, involved not merely individual farmers but county agricul- 
tural societies, canneries, university professors, merchants, railroads, 
and government officials, and divisions over policy might occur not 
merely between such groups but within them. 

Sometimes education came at painful cost. Tammany could still 
outmaneuver the young senator when it had a mind to. Backed by 
reformers, Roosevelt late in 1911 attacked a charter for New York 
City that was sponsored by Tammany. Senate lines were closely 
drawn and Roosevelt was in a position to kill the charter, but Tam- 
many closed in on him from the rear: it threatened to reshuffle con- 
gressional districts and put Dutchess County into a hopelessly Re- 
publican area. Under pressure Roosevelt faltered. He came out for 
the charter, then, after progressive outcries, again took a stand 
against it. This was not the only time that Roosevelt vacillated as 
he tried to balance the perversely conflicting factors of his own po- 


litical ambitions, his various principles about the right thing to do, 
the complex relationships of state leaders in both parties, the wel- 
fare of his constituents, and the multifarious strands of public opin- 
ion in district, state, and nation. 

Climbing the political ladder to the presidency, according to one 
theory, is essentially a matter of luck; the winner has simply won 
an incredible run at throws of the dice. This theory can easily be 
applied to Roosevelt; his wealth, name, family connections, appear- 
ance were bestowed upon him, and he had the good luck to run for 
office during two Democratic years. Yet he had bad luck too. In 
1912, in the middle of his campaign for re-election to the state 
senate, he was stricken by typhoid and put out of action for the 
rest of the contest. 

In this emergency he called in Louis McHenry Howe to run his 
campaign. Albany correspondent for the New York Herald and a 
kind of minor political operator around the capitol, Howe, with his 
dwarfish body, ferret-like features, and untidy clothes, looked like 
a troll out of a Catskill cave. He was out of a job in 1912 and 
glad to work for a man who, he felt, seemed likely to have a shining 
political future. To the little man Eleanor Roosevelt took an im- 
mediate dislike that lasted many years, but her husband saw his 
many uses. While Roosevelt lay in bed, on occasion despairing of 
the outcome, Howe managed the fight with verve, imagination, and 
guile. Armed with substantial funds, he sent thousands of "per- 
sonal" letters from Roosevelt to farmers throughout the district. 
He published large advertisements in the newspapers. Fie played 
up specific measures that Roosevelt had proposed or would pro- 
posefor his constituents, including lower license fees for shacl fish- 
ermen along the Hudson and legislation for standard-size barrels 
for apple growers. He dealt with complaints from regular Demo- 
crats about Roosevelt's handling of patronage and his attitude to- 
ward Tammany. 

Howe had some twists of his own, such as his denunciation of 
Roosevelt's opponent, a banker and utility president named Jacob 
Southard, for not visiting Columbia County during the campaign; 
his rather free distribution of five-dollar checks to scores of cam- 
paign workers; and his crafty ways of arousing discord within the 
Republican ranks. But his strategy was essentially that of his chief 
two years before: to proclaim Roosevelt's agrarian progressivism, 
his bipartisanship, his antibossism, and his concern for the specific 
needs of his constituents. 

Once again the strategy worked. Roosevelt got 15,590 votes to 
13,889 for Southard and 2,628 for George Vossler, the Bull Moose 
candidate. He ran in his district 800 votes ahead of the Demo- 

Albany: The Young Lion 45 

cratic candidates for president and for governor. Vossler received 
1,400 fewer votes in the district than Theodore Roosevelt. To 
be sure, the young senator won about a thousand fewer votes 
than his opponents combined, but it seems likely that at least half 
of Vossler's vote would have gone to Franklin Roosevelt in a straight 
party fight. A close observer estimated that, on the average, eight 
Democrats in every election district deserted Roosevelt but thirty 
Republicans swung over to him. 

To Fruit Growers! 

I am convinced after careful investigation that the present law making a 
17 1-8 inch barrel the legal standard for fruit is unjust and oppressive to 
fruit growers. 

/ pledge myself to introduce and fight for the passage of 
an amendment to the law making a Standard Fruit Barrel 
of 16 1-2 Inches. 

This barrel to be the legal standard for fruit and to be marked, "Standard 
Fruit Barrel" 

The justice of this seems so plain that I feel assured of the passage of the 

I wish to acknowledge my indebtedness to Mr. Alexander Hoover, the 
Democratic candidate for Assembly, from Columbia County, who is himself a 
practical fruit grower, for the clear and convincing presentation of the facts in 
this matter which led me to the conviction that this law mu*t be changed. 

With Mr. Hoover's practical knowledge and the experience in overcoming 
the parliamentary obstacles that the commission men's lobby will use to ob- 
struct the passage of the bill that I have acquired through two years' service 
in the Legislature, I feel certain that this wrong can be righted. 

Franklin D. Roosevelt, 

Candidate For State Senator. 

When Franklin Roosevelt says he will fight for a thing, it means he won't quit 
until he winsyou know that. 

Political poster issued by Roosevelt in 1912 campaign for re-election to the New 
York State Senate 

In the new senate, convening in January 1913, Roosevelt moved 
with his usual vigor. In their 1912 sweep the Democrats had won 
majorities in both chambers as well as the governorship, and Roose- 
velt was now chairman of the Committee on Agriculture. One o 
his first moves was to redeem a promise made during the election: 
that he would do something about the wide margin between what 
the New York City commission merchants paid the farmers for 
produce, and what the merchants sold it for. Roosevelt promptly 
introduced a measure providing for the regulation of commission 


merchants through licensing, inspection, and publicity. While Howe, 
now employed as a lobbyist, built fires under the state Grange in 
behalf of the bill, Roosevelt held hearings at the capitoL He re- 
ceived a vivid lesson in interest-group politics: 250 commission mer- 
chants showed up in Albany, but practically no farmers. While 
Roosevelt took a firm stand for his bill, he was willing to make a 
number of concessions to the merchants. 

Roosevelt introduced several other agricultural bills that he had 
drafted in collaboration with the Grange and with agricultural ex- 
perts. These bills would give backing by the state government to 
farmers' co-operative associations, both marketing and purchasing; 
would allow agricultural credit banks to lend money for farm im- 
provements; would provide state aid to county farm bureaus. On 
conservation matters, too, the senator took advanced positions. He 
sided with Hughes and other Republican progressives on state de- 
velopment of water power, and he vainly fought to extend state 
control of forestation, in the face of intense opposition from lumber 

The sweep of Senator Roosevelt's farm and conservation bills was 
impressive. Considered with his position on labor legislation, these 
bills sharply raise the question whether Roosevelt moved essentially 
to a "New Deal" position on farm and labor matters twenty years 
before the New Deal was to be inaugurated. In major respects he 
did. But this shift came not in response to a new philosophy of 
government but to specific problems that seemed to him to call for 
specific action. "He probably could not have formulated his politi- 
cal philosophy very well at this time," Eleanor Roosevelt said later. 
He was interested less in the philosophy than in the "science of 
government," as he called it how to understand people, how to 
influence them. 

By the time the farm bills came up for a vote, Roosevelt was no 
longer in the state senate. A wider field of action had beckoned him. 

THREE Washington: 

The Politician as Bureaucrat 


.OLITICAL affairs swept along pell-mell on the 
national scene during State Senator Roosevelt's years in Albany. 
Early in 1912 Theodore Roosevelt, steadily swinging to the left, 
began a strenuous campaign for the Republican presidential nom- 
ination. "I don't want to fight," said Taft, but "even a rat in a cor- 
ner will fight/' Although T.R. won most of the presidential pri- 
maries, Taft's power over office-holding delegates and the party 
machinery brought him the Republican nomination late in June 
1912. The Rough Rider promptly bolted, and the presidential 
chances of a Democrat soared. 

Who was this Democrat to be? Franklin D. Roosevelt had al- 
ready made his choice. During 1911 he had watched admiringly 
as Woodrow Wilson, the new governor of New Jersey, split with 
the political machine that had ushered him into politics, shoul- 
dered Boss Jim Smith out of a United States senatorship, and com- 
manded the progressive forces of the state in a successful fight for 
public-utilities regulation, workmen's compensation, a corrupt- 
practices act, primary and elections legislation, municipal reform- 
Wilson was Roosevelt's kind of Democrat clean, cultivated, and 
progressive but not too progressive. Late in 1911 Roosevelt visited 
the governor in New Jersey to tender him his support. 

Wilson's spare frame, lean, bespectacled face, and grave bear- 
ing gave him a scholarly, almost austere look, but his attitude was 
not academic. After some friendly conversation he went straight to 
the point. How many New York delegates to the Democratic na- 
tional convention would be for him? About thirty out of the dele- 
gation of ninety, Roosevelt replied, but Murphy would control 
most of the delegates, and under the unit rule (by which the whole 
delegation vote is cast for the candidate who has the majority vote 
of the delegation) the whole ninety would be anti-Wilson. 

Despite the odds, Roosevelt was so enthusiastic for the New Jer- 
sey progressive that he went home ready to work with other pro- 
Wilson Democrats in the state. He hoped to arouse enough Wilson 
sentiment in New York to weaken Murphy's hold on the delegationi 



to the convention. Once again Roosevelt ran head on into massed 
Tammany power. Of a score or more upstate Democrats he invited 
to a Wilson dinner, only three accepted. At the Democratic state 
convention Murphy easily put through his slate of ninety delegates. 
Roosevelt was not even able to become an alternate delegate. He 
and his friends set up the New York State Wilson Conference, or- 
ganized some Wilson clubs, and hired Howe to spread propaganda, 
but it was hardly more than a gesture. Murphy sat tight with his 
batch of convention votes. 

Late in June 1912 Democrats swarmed into Baltimore to nomi- 
nate "the next President." The air was electric, battle lines were 
fluid and confused. Roosevelt made up in energy for what he lacked 
in office and influence. With others he opened a Wilson conference 
headquarters near the convention hall, bombarded the delegates 
with arguments, and, after the nominating speech for Wilson, set 
ofi a demonstration of upstate Wilson men while Murphy's dele- 
gates sat stonily in their places. But he was far from the centers of 
po w er-the smoke-filled rooms where Champ Clark's men and Wil- 
son's men battled each other desperately for votes. When Murphy, 
to Roosevelt's despair, suddenly threw New York's votes to Clark, 
William Jennings Bryan redressed the balance by switching to Wil- 
son. Day after day the interminable ballots continued. Slowly Wil- 
son picked up strength; on the forty-sixth ballot he won, 

DID TRIUMPH, Roosevelt wired his wife in Campobello. His plans 
were not vague for long. His own position was suddenly changed; 
now he was an "original Wilson man" in a state whose delegation 
had stuck to Clark until the end. Fie had no doubt that Wilson 
would win New York over the split opposition. Tammany was 
boxed in; its leaders might not give Wilson enthusiastic support, 
but they would not dare knife him. To Roosevelt the time seemed 
ripe for a jolting blow against Tammany's influence in the state. 
He and his friends quickly organized the "Empire State Democ- 
racy" made up of pro-Wilson progressives and constituting virtually 
a party within the Democratic party. 

The strategy was impressive, at least on paper. "This is the year 
to go ahead and strike," Roosevelt told two hundred Democrats at 
an organization meeting late in July, "and we've got the club. We 
hope we won't have to use it. . . ." What was this club? It was the 
threat to introduce a whole separate state ticket and thereby upset 
Murphy's plans to win the governorship easily with a mediocre 
Tammany slate over the T.R. and Taft candidates. To be sure, 
this was a dog-in-the-manger approach; the slate of the Empire 
State Democracy would not win either. But the threat would be 

Washington: The Politician as Bureaucrat 49 

enough, it was calculated, to force Murphy to accept a "good" 

Bad luck, poor management, and Murphy's astuteness sent the 
plans awry. The anti-Murphy movement was racked by warring 
splinter groups, the Empire State Democracy ran out of funds at 
the crucial moment, and Roosevelt came face to face with the need 
to win renomination and re-election for state senator in his own 
district. In September he bolted the sinking Empire State Democ- 
racy. To Roosevelt's delight Wilson asked Murphy for an unbossed 
state convention; to Roosevelt's dismay the Tammany leader was 
perfectly agreeable. Certainly the convention would be unbossed, 
he said and promptly demonstrated his point by dropping his 
choice for the nomination, lackluster Governor Dix, and leaving 
the nomination wide open. Amazed and delighted, the anti-Murphy 
forces let their guard down and Murphy helped switch the con- 
vention to a man with whom he felt he could do business, William 
("Plain Bill") Sulzer of Tammany Hall. The insurgents had no 
choice but to endorse Sulzer. 

By now Roosevelt was fighting his own battle for re-election to 
the senate. While he lay sick in bed and Howe scurried round the 
district, the national campaign roared to a tumultuous climax. "I 
am fighting," proclaimed Woodrow Wilson, "not for the man who 
has made good, but for the man who is going to make good the 
man who is knocking and fighting at the closed doors of oppor- 
tunity." "We are for liberty," shouted Theodore Roosevelt, "but we 
are for the liberty of the oppressed. . . ." When an an ti- third- term 
fanatic shot him in the breast as he was leaving for a speech, he 
treated the country to old-time Teddy Roosevelt heroics; "I will 
make this speech or die," he said, and he made the speech. Taft 
and Eugene Debs, the Socialist candidate, scouted for votes to the 
right and to the left of the main stars. On Tuesday November 5 
the voters gave the verdict: Wilson 6,293,019; Roosevelt 4,119,507; 
Taft 3,484,956; Debs 901,873. 

The Wilson administration had every reason to make a place for 
Senator Roosevelt. In January he got an appointment with the Pres- 
ident to discuss patronage matters, and at this time Roosevelt may 
have expressed an interest in going to Washington. Shortly before 
Wilson's inauguration, William Gibbs McAdoo, the prospective 
Secretary of the Treasury, had sounded out the young state senator 
on a place in his department. But Roosevelt had his eye on some- 
thing else. On the morning of Inauguration Day he ran into Jo- 
sephus Daniels, the new Secretary of the Navy. The North Caro- 
lina editor-politician liked the stamp of Roosevelt's progressivism, 
his reputation as a Tammany-baiter, his bubbling enthusiasm, and 
the fact that he came from a different part of the country from 


Daniels and thus would lend geographical balance to the navy of- 
fice. Roosevelt congratulated him on his appointment as Secretary 
of the Navy. "How would you like to come to Washington as As- 
sistant Secretary of the Navy?" Daniels asked. 

Roosevelt beamed. "How would I like it? I'd like it bully well 
It would please me better than anything in the world/' An old 
hand at congressional protocol Daniels cleared the appointment 
with Senator O'Gonnan. The Senator consented, but without en- 
thusiasm. As a courtesy Daniels also consulted Elihu Root, Repub- 
lican Senator from New York. 

A queer look came over Root's face. "You know the Roosevelts, 
don't you?" he asked. "Whenever a Roosevelt rides, he wishes to 
ride in front." 


From the start, the new Assistant Secretary did try to ride in front. 
Two days after his installation, when Secretary Daniels was out of 
town, he told reporters half -jokingly, "There's a Roosevelt on the 
job today. You remember what happened the last time a Roosevelt 
occupied a similar position?" a gratuitous reminder of T.R.'s bel- 
ligerent orders to Dewey two months before the Spanish-American 
War. Often during the next seven and one-half years Franklin 
Roosevelt differed with his chief, and made little effort to conceal 
his feelings. The surprising thing was Daniels' willingness to put up 
with the brash young man. Even more surprising was Roosevelt's 
quick mastery of the political dimensions of his job. 

Traditionally the Assistant Secretary's job was a management job. 
Even in 1913 it was a big one. Most federal agencies of the time 
were small and somewhat sleepy operations; less than two decades 
previously, a Vanderbilt was spending more money on farming and 
forestry than was the United States Government. The United States 
Navy, however, had heavy and far-flung responsibilities; it em- 
ployed civilians in scores of yards and installations and maintained 
a sizable fleet of battleships. Roosevelt, the only Assistant Secretary 
in the department, had charge of civilian personnel, handled awk- 
ward relations between military and civilian officials, helped pre- 
pare the navy's budgets. But his interests were far-ranging. "I get 
my fingers into everything," he used to say, "and there's no law 
against it." 

A bureaucracy, it has been said, is no testing field for heroes. It 
can smother a man in a blanket of rules, customs, formalities, in 
endless ribbons of influence and deference. It might have smoth- 
ered Roosevelt, who had had no experience in a large organization. 
But it did not. He never gained from his job the dramatic effecte 

Washington: The Politician as Bureaucrat 51 

that his Uncle Ted had, but from the startwith one exception- 
he showed a capacity for political administration that was to serve 
him well in later years. 

The exception involved his chief. Josephus Daniels was a man 
the young Dutchess County patrician took many years to under- 
stand. Born in North Carolina during the Civil War, Daniels had 
grown up among farmers and politicians who were struggling 
against tobacco and railroad interests. Editor of a small-town news- 
paper most of his life, he was a Bryanite, a pacifist, a prohibition- 
ist, an agrarian radical. His black string tie, homespun face, and 
rustic courtliness were the perfect cover for a full grasp of the art 
of politics and the arts of politicians. 

Daniels was the only administrative superior Roosevelt ever had 
in his political career. The young man chafed at the older man's 
ways: he thought Daniels "the funniest looking hillbilly" he had ever 
seen, he mimicked the Secretary before society friends, and he wrote 
him amazingly tactless memorandums. Only Daniels' large-mind- 
edness and his love for Roosevelt "love at first sight," the older 
man said saved the Assistant Secretary. It was Daniels, moreover, 
who handled the main job that faces any department head the job 
of getting along with Congress. Roosevelt dealt with Senators and 
Representatives on a host of secondary matters, but Daniels did the 
slow, stubborn work of negotiating with the powerful men on 
Capitol Hill who appropriated money for the navy. 

The admirals, of course, liked Roosevelt, just as they disdained 
the puritanical Methodist whom Wilson, by some grim joke, they 
felt, had made their chief. The young Assistant Secretary loved 
ships, he spoke nautical lingo, he dealt with them as social equals, 
and his wife was nice to their wives. They may have chuckled a 
bit at young Roosevelt's enjoyment of the seventeen-gun salutes 
fired in his honor, and at his designing an Assistant Secretary's 
flag to fly when he was aboard ship. But they respected, too, his 
ability to pilot a high-speed destroyer through the narrow strait 
between Campobello Island and the mainland. 

The chief link between Roosevelt and the admirals, however, 
rose above personalities. He was from the start a "big navy" man. 
"I hope when you 'put this uniform on' you will not, like the Right 
Honorable Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty, be 
carried away by the zeal for a big navy which has eaten up so many 
Secretaries," a friend wrote him shortly after he took office. But 
Roosevelt came out immediately for a 'large and efficient navy." 
Daniels himself favored naval expansion, but Roosevelt's enthusi- 
asm outran his chiefs. 

The heaviest organized pressure for a big navy came from the 
Navy League of the United States, which was run largely by steel, 


shipping, and financial magnates. Roosevelt gave a "big navy" 
speech to the League's convention before he had been in office a 
month. "This is not a question of war or peace," he said. "I take it 
that there are as many advocates of arbitration and international 
peace in the navy as in any other profession. But we are confronted 
with a condition-the fact that our nation has decided in the past 
to have a fleet, and that war is still a possibility." The speech fell 
within the bounds of Wilsonian ideology. But behind the scenes 
Roosevelt showed a cordiality toward the League that was in 
marked contrast with the pacifism of Secretary of State Bryan and 
even of Daniels himself. For example, a general meeting to discuss 
plans for the League's convention was held in Roosevelt's office, and 
the League asked him to preside. 

The largest and potentially most difficult group Roosevelt had to 
deal with was organized labor. Relations with the thousands of 
civilian workers in the yards and depots offered plenty of snarls and 
pitfalls. Many of the men were organized in craft unions of the 
American Federation of Labor, an organization of importance to 
the Wilson administration and to any political ambitions Roose- 
velt might have. At the same time the voters wanted naval econ- 
omy, the admirals wanted a disciplined labor force, departmental 
engineers wanted more efficiency in the yards, and congressmen 
wanted special favors for constituents employed by the navy. 

Roosevelt skirted these formidable shoals in impressive fashion. 
Typical was his handling of problems involved in "scientific man- 
agement/' The Taylor "stop-watch" system of timing, standardiz- 
ing, and routing jobs had been hailed by management as the road 
to productive efficiency; the unions, however, saw the system as 
scientific exploitation leading to wage cuts and layoffs. Eager to 
establish a record for efficiency, Roosevelt became highly interested 
in the possibilities of the Taylor system. But he was quick to see 
the objections of the workers. In the end he did not push the sys- 
tem; while there must be authority and discipline, he said, he was 
impressed with the findings of a congressional investigating com- 
mittee that "neither the Taylor system nor any other should be 
imposed from above on an unwilling working force." 

Some of Roosevelt's administrative decisions represented com- 
promises that, from a narrow management viewpoint, were de- 
fective. But the great lesson he learned during these years was that 
bureaucrats, workers, and sailors were human beings with human 
problems and failings. He saw that people wanted recognition as 
well as promotions or better wages; he tried, for example, to have 
labor representatives appointed to wage boards. "I want you all to 
feel," he told a group of machinists, "that you can come to me at 
any time in my office and we can talk matters over." His labor 

Washington: The Politician as Bureaucrat 53 

policies worked. After his years as Assistant Secretary Roosevelt was 
able to boast, with only slight exaggeration, that the navy had not 
had a single strike during the previous seven and one-half years. 

In Washington, Roosevelt entered a world of far broader per- 
spectives than he had known at Hyde Park, Harvard, or Albany. 
Pie came to know Oliver Wendell Holmes, Louis D. Brandeis, Felix 
Frankfurter; important foreigners like the British ambassador, Sir 
Cecil Spring-Rice, the French Ambassador, Jean Jules Jusserand; 
and, of course, the leaders in the Wilson administration, including 
Secretary of the Interior Franklin K. Lane and First Assistant Post- 
master General Daniel C. Roper. He saw much of the younger dip- 
lomatic set. When Joseph E. Davies organized a small Common 
Counsel Club to promote principles of "progressive Democracy" 
Roosevelt became one of the members. 

It was by peopleall sorts of people that he continued to be 
educated in the tough, knotty ways of government. "Young Roose- 
velt is very promising, but I should think he'd wear himself out 
in the promiscuous and extended contacts he maintains with peo- 
ple/' Secretary Newton Baker said to Frances Perkins. "But as I 
have observed him, he seems to clarify his ideas and teach himself 
as he goes along by that very conversational method/' Roosevelt at 
times seemed like a sponge soaking up information and ideas in- 
discriminately. But some reactive organism was at work; he w r as 
more than a sponge. One night in June 1913, for example, after 
dining with Colonel George Harvey, the eminent editor and ama- 
teur politico, Roosevelt wrote in his diary: "Col. Harvey is bril- 
lianttoo much so to argue he changes the battle front or else 
closes debate with a final statement. I want to see more of him, but 
have a feeling we shall clash." 

Absorbed in the navy, Roosevelt was only on the fringe of the 
main action of the Wilson administration. "No one can mistake," 
the new President said in his inaugural address, "the purpose for 
which the Nation now seeks to use the Democratic Party." He soon 
was demonstrating that purpose. In the next nine months he steered 
through Congress the Federal Reserve Act, which reshaped the na- 
tional banking and currency system, and a tariff act that dropped 
duties to the lowest point since the Civil War. Attached to the 
latter was a graduated federal tax on incomes, potentially the most 
radical measure of all. Other important legislation ground through 
Congress during following years: acts to prevent unfair competi- 
tion, to improve the lot of seamen, to develop vocational educa- 
tion, to require the eight-hour day on railroads. 

The atmosphere of Washington was the atmosphere of Wilsonian 
reform. Roosevelt supported the President's proposals; indeed, they 


represented on a national level the kind of thing he had fought for 
in Albany. Not that he had yet developed, however, a rounded phi- 
losophy of government, although he did try to have one. Once, for 
example, while state senator, he had bravely advanced the thought 
at a People's Forum in Troy, New York, that the new idea in poli- 
tics must be "cooperation," which began "where competition leaves 
off." Co-operation was the "struggle for liberty of the community 
rather than liberty of the individual . . . and by liberty, we mean 
happiness and prosperity. ..." On the surface, his argument fell 
somewhere between T.R.'s New Nationalism and Wilson's New 
Freedom; analyzed closely it was pretentious nonsense. The only 
merit his argument had was in the realm of semantics: co-opera- 
tion, he assured his audience, was a more acceptable term politi- 
cally than "community interest" (too socialistic), "brotherhood of 
man" (too idealistic), or "regulation" (would alarm "old fogies"). 
He evidently felt he ought to think out a philosophy of govern- 
ment, but his heart was not in it. 

But a philosophy of government, after all, was not necessary to 
run the navy. As it turned out, Roosevelt's pragmatic, undoc- 
trinaire approach to governmental matters often brought him to a 
"progressive" policy in Washington just as it had in Albany. A 
case in point was the Navy Department's handling of monopoly. 
Roosevelt and Daniels had to tussle with steel manufacturers who 
handed in identical bids on armor plate, with mine owners who 
had a monopoly of high-grade coal, with high-cost middlemen and 
block bidders. Daniels saw the problem from the point of view of 
an agrarian foe of the trusts, Roosevelt from that of a bureaucrat 
trying to stretch his funds to buy as many ships as possible. Differ- 
ent motives brought the two men to a common posture of opposing 

With Wilson himself Roosevelt had only sporadic contacts, but 
the relationship was cordial. The Assistant Secretary was able to 
view at close hand Wilson's masterly handling of Congress. And he 
remembered years later how the President said to him on one oc- 
casion: "It is only once in a generation that a people can be lifted 
above material things. That is why conservative government is in 
the saddle two-thirds of the time." 


"You can rest assured," Roosevelt wrote to a former constituent 
soon after arriving in Washington, "that I am not through with 
politics or public affairs in the State of New York." His navy job 
gave him excellent political leverage in more than one direction. 
The navy itself hired thousands of civilian workers in New York 

Washington: The Politician as Bureaucrat 55 

State alone. His Poughkeepsie friend John Mack said later that 
Roosevelt "took care" of every job seeker Mack wrote him about 
during the navy years; the Brooklyn Navy Yard was well sprinkled 
with political appointees of the assistant secretary. In Washington, 
Roosevelt also could keep in touch with Postmaster General Albert 
S. Burleson and Secretary of the Treasury McAdoo, and other ad- 
ministration chiefs who controlled hundreds more federal positions 
in the state. 

Roosevelt's political administration of naval affairs, moreover, 
gave him valuable publicity and contacts in key places In the na- 
tion. He conducted numerous inspections of navy yards, and he 
made a point of talking about expanding the facilities; bettering 
conditions for navy personnel, including enlisted, commissioned, and 
civilian; improving housing; stabilizing employment; and the like. 
His inspections were well staged: guns boomed salutes, Marines 
stood at attention, brass bands blared out marches. Reporters played 
up his appeals to local interests and civic pride. Years later Louisi- 
ana politicians were remembering that he had got the New Orleans 
navy yard reopened. 

Doggedly helping Roosevelt in all these political activities was 
Louis Howe. Officially, as Roosevelt's assistant, Howe worked on 
procurement, contracts, construction, labor relations, and he spent a 
good deal of time on such matters. Actually he was assistant in 
charge of politics a congenial job for a man who had made his 
chiefs advancement his own life aim. Day after day Howe coached 
Roosevelt on the fine points of political thrust and parry. A typ- 
ical bit of advice involved a letter from one Frank Cooper, an of- 
fice seeker, which Roosevelt had marked to be answered. Don't an- 
swer it, counseled Howe. "Clute [a rival to Cooper] has now been 
confirmed by the Senate and if you should write Cooper expressing 
your regrets he would be the first to show the letter to Clute some 
fine day when he wanted something of Clute or in case you did not 
do something he wanted you to do for him." Howe was instinctively 
hostile toward any politician who might stand in Roosevelt's way- 
a trait that was often vindicated by events but one that gained 
Howe a good many enemies. 

Howe's chief service to Roosevelt was curbing his young chiefs 
impetuosity when conditions called for a policy of watchful waiting. 
Unhappily, Howe was not around to advise him when Roosevelt 
made the decision to run for United States Senator-a decision that 
led to the only real election defeat of his career and to a resounding 
victory for Tammany. Informing Howe of his decision, Roosevelt 
was almost apologetic. "My senses have not yet left me," he said. ^ 

Perhaps Roosevelt's political sense had left him. The story of his 
try for the Democratir nomination for United States Senator in 


1914 is a story of improvisation, faulty intelligence work, and bad 


The political situation in New York in 1913 had taken a dramatic 
turn. The new governor, "Plain Bill" Sulzer the instrument of 
Murphy's defeat of Roosevelt and the Empire State Democracy in 
igi2-had turned on Tammany even before taking office. From the 
executive mansion-renamed by Plain Bill the "People's House" 
issued a torrent of denunciation of the bosses. Murphy hit back 
hard. Tammany started impeachment proceedings against Sulzer 
on the grounds of misusing campaign funds; in October 1913 Sulzer 
was convicted and removed from office. Lieutenant Governor Martin 
H. Glynn, an Albany politician close to Murphy, took his place. 
The divided Democrats lost heavily in the assembly elections the 
following month. 

To Roosevelt this seemed the golden opportunity to strike a 
demolishing blow against Murphy. In the election, Tammany had 
lost control of New York City and much of its patronage; the na- 
tional administration regarded it with distaste; if the Tiger's grip 
on the state government was severed it might starve to death. 
Roosevelt himself was under much pressure, especially from the 
old Empire State Democracy group, to run for governor the next 

Everything depended on President Wilson. Armed with adminis- 
tration backing and patronage, Roosevelt could take a commanding 
position in state affairs. Without Wilson's permission the assistant 
secretary, as a member of the administration, could take no decisive 
action at all. Months went by, but Wilson did not give him the 
signal. On the contrary, the President continued to dole out pa- 
tronage to Tammanyites and independent Democrats alike. When 
in March 1914 Roosevelt asked Wilson for "five minutes" to see 
how far he might go in speaking out on New York politics, Wilson 
wrote in reply: "My judgment is that it would be best if members 
of the administration should use as much influence as possible but 
say as liule as possible in the politics of their several states"; particu- 
larly in this case, the President added, for in New York "the plot 
is not yet clear." 

Roosevelt wanted to make the plot clear. Barred from open ac- 
tion, he flirted briefly with the New York Progressive party. He 
evidently hoped to gain the Progressive as well as the Democratic 
nomination for governor, unless, of course, the Progressives nomi- 
nated Cousin Theodore; "I will not run against him," said Franklin. 
"You know blood is thicker than water." But Cousin Theodore 
neither ran himself nor helped turn Progressive support to Franklin. 
The latter then redoubled his efforts to strengthen the anti- 
Tammany Democrats through patronage. He was assisted in this 

Washington: The Politician as Bureaucrat 57 

by McAdoo, who had long-term interests of his own in building 
up the independent Democracy. Together they managed to get 
some appointments for anti-Tammany men and rumors spread that 
soon there would be more. 

Stung on its most tender flank, Tammany was quick to retaliate. 
The chairman of the important Committee of Appropriations of 
the House of Representatives warned Wilson that he and the other 
Democratic congressmen from New York City would not stand 
being slandered by persons professing to be authorized spokesmen 
for the President. The Democratic state chairman of New York said 
that the party upstate had become so demoralized as a result of 
the patronage situation that he doubted if the Democrats could 
elect a single congressman. 

Wilson saw the danger signals. He put out a conciliatory state- 
ment toward Tammany. And Roosevelt, who had been making 
formal disavowals of his candidacy, issued an announcement on 
July 23 that sounded as though he really meant it. 

Wilson's strategy was as careful as Roosevelt's was clumsy. The 
President liked the young assistant secretary, but he knew that more 
important matters were at stake than Rooseveltian efforts to purify 
New York State. To put his program through Congress he needed 
a united party. Several Tammany representatives held key chairman- 
ships as a result of their seniority. Patronage was important; only 
after Wilson appointed an acceptable person to the prized New 
York City customs collectorship did Senator O'Gorman vote for 
the Federal Reserve bill. The President, moreover, had to keep in 
mind his own prospects for re-election in 1916. His chances in the 
key state of New York would be forlorn if the party should be 

Roosevelt had been rebuffed. Three weeks after he gave up hope 
for the governorship, however, he suddenly announced that he was 
a candidate for Senator. Why? 

Despite Roosevelt's coyness he was eager throughout the latter 
part of 1913 and the early part of 1914 to make a statewide run for 
an important office in New York. Partly it was the example of Uncle 
Ted, who had entered the executive mansion in Albany two years 
after becoming assistant secretary of the navy. Partly it was Franklin 
Roosevelt's feeling that he must strike out in state politics while 
memories of his anti-Sheehan fight were still warm, or while the 
Republicans and the Bull Moosers were still divided. Perhaps, too, 
it was a fear that rising men in New York Democratic politics would 
take the center of the stage if he stayed too long in the wings. It is 
certain that even while he was giving up his gubernatorial ideas he 
was thinking of the senatorship; "I might declare myself a candidate 
for U.S. Senator in the Democratic and Progressive Primaries," he 


wrote on July ig to his wife, who was waiting the arrival of a 
child. "The Governorship is, thank God, out of the question. . . . 
I really would like to be in the Senate just so as to get a summer 
really with my family once in every three or four years!" 

Roosevelt did not clear his candidacy with Wilson. His tactic was 
to get into the race fast since "this would necessarily place any 
other candidate who may be put forward by Charles F. Murphy 
in the position of opposing me/ 7 as he wrote to a friend. "I want to 
throw the burden of proof on the other attorney/' Also, if he was the 
first man in the race, he could ask prominent New York leaders for 
support without embarrassing them. After a series of conferences he 
teamed up with John A. Hennessy, who would be the anti-Tammany 
candidate for the gubernatorial nomination. 

For a while it seemed that Roosevelt might have no opponent, 
or that if he did it would be William Randolph Hearst. Either 
prospect delighted Roosevelt; he felt he could beat the notorious 
publisher "in spite of his wad and his papers/' But Roosevelt made 
no effort to keep a Murphy man out of the race; on the contrary, 
his denunciations of the Tammany boss were so sharp, as Howe 
himself admitted, that it would "almost force them to put someone 
in the field against him/' 

Once again Roosevelt underestimated Murphy's resourcefulness. 
Reports soon were spreading that Tammany would back James 
Gerard, ambassador to Germany, for the nomination. An upright, 
well-liked member of Tammany, Gerard was a Wilson man who 
at the moment was enjoying a good deal of notice for helping 
Americans stranded by the outbreak of the European war. For days 
Roosevelt refused to believe that Gerard would accept the tempting 
bait Murphy held out for him. Howe had confidential information 
that there was not the "slightest chance" Gerard would run. Neither 
Roosevelt nor Howe knew that Gerard cabled Bryan and Wilson 
to clear Ms acceptance and the President made no objection. 

Gerard threw his hat in the ring but from a distance. Fie said 
that his duties would not permit his return to campaign. Fie knew 
he could afford to leave his affairs in Murphy's hands. Roosevelt 
demanded of Gerard whether he would be controlled by Murphy 
if elected senator; the ambassador did not reply. The assistant 
secretary said that a man who would leave his military post of 
duty was not fit to be a senator; he said nothing about his own 
absence from his navy post while the conflagration was blazing up 
in Europe. 

Despite this blow, and despite his pessimism as to the outcome, 
Roosevelt conducted a strenuous campaign. Ranging through up- 
state New York, he repeatedly attacked Murphy and demanded that 
Gerard stay at his post. Securing labor endorsements from his union 

Washington: The Politician as Bureaucrat 59 

friends in Washington he had tens of thousands of copies of the 
endorsement some uphappily lacking the union labelhanded out 
at plant gates. Under Howe's guidance he wrote friendly letters to 
dozens of newspaper editors, at the same time arranging for ad- 
vertising. But he rarely could find mass audiences; the primary, 
which took place late in September 1914, during the first great 
battles of the war, did not attract much attention. 

"He is quiet and unassuming," one editor wrote, "has the de- 
meanor and poise of the student, and with his youthful scholarly 
face and soft accent, he gives no indication of the stubborn attitude 
that his friends claim he can assume on occasion. . . . Some of his 
utterances were planned with the skill of an old campaigner. . . ." 
But the editor a Republican was not overly impressed. Roosevelt 
had not made his position on the "great questions of the day" at 
all clear in his speech, he said, and compared to retiring Senator 
Elihu Root he cut a sorry figure as a great statesman. 

Back in headquarters Howe was fighting the patronage battle. 
By a last-minute manipulation of jobs he hoped to hold friends 
firm and win over recalcitrants among the small bands of Democrats 
who would bother to vote. When Roosevelt asked one of his ap- 
pointees, John B. Judson, for support and Judson replied candidly 
but pleasantly that he could not back him, Howe was ruthless. He 
could not "too strongly urge the importance of sudden and swift 
reprisal in this case." Wherever possible Judson's friends must lose 
their appointments and his "bitterest enemies" be given jobs. An 
influential Democrat might be induced to break with Judson if 
given control of some patronage, and anti-Judson newspapers must 
be used. Roosevelt agreed that the deserter should be punished. 

All in vain. On primary day the absentee Gerard beat Roosevelt 
210,765 to 76,888, with 23,977 votes going to a third candidate. 
Murphy's candidate, Glynn, defeated Hennessy by a somewhat 
heavier vote. Roosevelt had the consolation of winning over a 
third of the state's sixty-one counties, including Dutchess County 
by a sweeping vote, but Democrats were sparse in most of these 
counties. Tammany had shown its strength even upstate, where 
Gerard ran better than two to one. All in all, it was a bad beating 
for the young politician. 

Roosevelt promptly cabled Gerard his congratulations, adding 
that he would campaign for him if the ambassador would declare 
his unalterable opposition to Murphy's leadership. Gerard smoothly 
replied that of course he would represent the whole party and 
people and no faction or individual if elected, and Roosevelt made 
some speeches for him. In the November elections, however, both 
Gerard and Glynn lost to their Republican rivals. "I am sorry 
. . ." said Roosevelt, "but not entirely surprised." 


Roosevelt could not have been surprised at his own defeat in 
the primaries. As a state senator he had argued with keen insight 
that direct nominations in primaries would not destroy party 
organizations. Differing with ardent supporters of the primary who 
viewed it as the cure for democracy's ills, he predicted that few 
would vote and that the organization would get its own people to 
the polls. He favored direct nominations, however, for at least 
they would arouse greater interest in candidates. His own experience 
in 1914 amply justified his reasoning. 

His drubbing hurt Roosevelt keenly for a time, but defeat is a 
stringent educational process. He discovered that it took more than 
federal patronage to beat a strong state machine; he experienced 
the problems of a state-wide campaign, husbanding voice and 
energy; and he learned how to take defeat. 

More important, the young politician got another harsh lesson 
in the power of Tammany. He could win a rural upstate district 
against the organization, but not the whole state. And a general 
election in November could rarely be won unless the Democracy 
was united. Much as they hated each other, the machine and the 
independents needed each other. The moral issue, moreover, was 
still a fuzzy gray rather than black and white. Tammany was 
headed by Murphy, but it was also made up of honest men like 
Gerard and rising young progressives like Al Smith. 

Roosevelt learned his lesson. Never again did he talce on Tammany 
in a knightly onslaught. 

The Assistant Secretary's political setback was quickly swallowed 
in epochal events on the international stage. The assassination of 
an archduke in far-off Bosnia had been almost forgotten by Ameri- 
cans when suddenly the European powder keg exploded. On 
August i, 1914, Germany declared war on Russia. Roosevelt got 
the news while he was on the way to Reading, Pennsylvania, to 
dedicate an anchor of the battleship Maine as a memorial. "A com- 
plete smash up is inevitable," he wrote his wife on the train. "It 
will be the greatest war in the world's history," 

Roosevelt had long been psychologically prepared for the smash 
up. He had, indeed, been through one or two dress rehearsals. 
During a Japanese- American war scare in 1913 he had drawn up 
a hypothetical war plan and had put the submarine torpedo flotilla 
at Newport through an emergency mobilization. When American 
forces occupied Vera Cruz, Mexico, early in 1914, Roosevelt had 
said, "I do not want war/' but he had thought the United States 
must "go down there and clean up the Mexican political mess 
. . . right now." During his months in office he had ridden far 
ahead of Daniels in his efforts at naval preparedness. 

Washington: The Politician as Bureaucrat 61 

Now war had come and his impatience spilled over. On arriving 
in Washington, Roosevelt went straight to the department, "where 
as I expected I found everything asleep and apparently oblivious 
to the fact that the most terrible drama in history was about to be 
enacted." He was doing the real work, he wrote his wife again a 
few days later; Daniels was "bewildered by it all, very sweet but 
very sad." Daniels and Bryan, he said, had as much conception of 
what a general European war means as four-year-old Elliott "has 
of higher mathematics." 

These remarks foreshadowed Roosevelt's role during the months 
of "neutrality" that lay ahead. He sided with the admirals in pressing 
for stepped-up expansion of the navy, urged Wilson to set up a 
Council of National Defense, came out for universal military train- 
ing. His zeal led him onto dubious ground: he maintained contacts 
with Theodore Roosevelt, Henry Cabot Lodge, and other critics 
of Wilson's policies, and even passed on naval intelligence informa- 
tion to Republicans who used it in attacking Daniels for naval 

If Roosevelt was zealous to the point of insubordination, his at- 
titude stemmed in part from a realistic grasp of the difficulties 
ahead. At the outbreak of the war he realized it would probably 
be a long one. In contrast to some of his banker friends, he saw 
that lack of money would not shorten the war for any determined 
nation. He had a sure sense of the implications of world war for 
naval strategy; he held a long correspondence with Admiral Alfred 
Thayer Mahan, who warned him against splitting the fleet between 
the Atlantic and the Pacific. He understood the need for great re- 
serve strength in men and materiel if war should come. Week after 
week he toiled with the tough, irksome details of rearmament. 

"We've got to get into this war," Roosevelt was telling his chief 
by the fall of 1916. Daniels did not need to ask on whose side. 
Roosevelt had been pro-Ally from the start. "Rather than long 
drawn-out struggle I hope England will join in and with France 
and Russia force peace at Berlin!" he had written on hearing that 
Germany had invaded France. He was elated by the Belgians' 
"glorious resistance." Wilson had asked Americans to be neutral 
in thought as well as action, but early in 1915 Roosevelt lamented 
to his wife, "I just know I shall do some awful unneutral thing 
before I get through.!" 

Roosevelt's aggressive stand for preparedness might have left 
him in an exposed position, but events came to the rescue. Follow- 
ing the sinking of the Lusitania in May 1915 Secretary Bryan re- 
signed his office rather than go along with Wilson's protests against 
German submarine policyprotests he feared might have to be made 
good by war. A year later preparedness was in full swing; the Naval 


Appropriation Act of that year would have made the United States 
Navy in time the largest in the world. In the 1916 election the 
administration closed ranks. Whatever his private doubts o the 
past, Roosevelt hotly defended Wilson and Daniels against the 
Republican accusation of unpreparedness. ''Misquotations and mis- 
representations-yea, lies-have been used by the President's op- 
ponents," he declared in a speech in Providence. "I say lies because 
this is a good 'Roosevelt' word to use." 

Furious at Wilson's "tame" policy toward Germany, Theodore 
Roosevelt ditched the Progressives in June 1916 and came out for 
the Republican nominee, Charles Evans Hughes. Their ranks re- 
united, the Republicans seemed sure to win the presidency as 
Election Day neared. The first returns bore out such predictions, 
and Franklin Roosevelt, like Wilson, went to bed sure that Hughes 
had won. But the next day the returns from the West told a 
different story: it was the "most extraordinary day of my life," 
Roosevelt wrote his wife excitedly. Final returns gave Wilson 9,129,- 
606 popular votes over Hughes's 8,538,221, making a difference in 
the electoral college of 277 to 254. 

"It is rumored/' joked the happy and relieved Assistant Secre- 
tary of the Navy a few days later, "that a certain distinguished 
cousin of mine is now engaged in revising an edition of his most 
noted historical work, The Winning of the West." 


On January 9, 1917, the Kaiser presided nervously over a fateful 
crown council at his headquarters in a Silesian castle. During the 
previous year the war had gone badly for Germany and her allies: 
the Allied lines had sagged under the massive blow at Verdun, but 
held; after Jutland the German navy did not dare to risk another 
heavy encounter with the British; the Allied blockade was sapping 
Germany's economic strength. There was only one way out, the 
military chiefs argued: unrestricted submarine warfare* For over 
two years the diplomats had fought successfully against this drastic 
policy on the ground that it would drive the United States into 
the war. At this meeting the military won. Shortly, orders were 
flashed to U-boat commanders to start unrestricted warfare Feb- 
ruary i. 

Roosevelt was in Santo Domingo early in February 1917 when 
the radio reported Germany's announcement. Daniels called him 
home immediately. Anxious weeks followed as the country moved 
indecisively toward war. Roosevelt pressed for action. Early in 
March he asked Wilson's permission to have the fleet fitted out 
for war. "No," said the President, as Roosevelt remembered it later, 

Washington: The Politician as Bureaucrat 63 

". . . I do not want the United States to do anything in a military 
way, by way of war preparations, that would allow the definitive 
historian in later days ... to say that the United States had com- 
mitted an unfriendly act against the central powers." But soon 
reports were coming in of American ships torpedoed, and a united 
cabinet advised Wilson to ask Congress to declare war. 

On a rainy April night Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt listened 
to Wilson's eloquently solemn war message. Eleanor went home 
"still half dazed by the sense of impending change." The address, 
said her husband to the press, "will be an inspiration to every true 
citizen no matter what his political faith, no matter what his creed, 
no matter what the country of his origin." 

The die cast, Roosevelt plunged into war administration with 
vigor and aplomb. Much had to be done vast extension of pro- 
curement and recruitment, stepped-up naval construction, quick 
defense measures, the fashioning of a naval plan of action, co- 
ordination with the merchant marine, careful arrangements with 
the British and French on deployment of ships, and a host of other 
matters. Handling big jobs in a big way inspirited him. He liked 
to act quickly, even if it meant not always acting wisely. Emory S. 
Land's comments about his suggestions on ship design "He was 
a great trial and error guy, but he did have some good ideas" 
characterized his activities in general. 

War mobilization did not end the need for Roosevelt's political 
approach to administration. Seeking to gain a discount on copper 
from Daniel Guggenheim late in 1916, Roosevelt won his goal by 
warning Guggenheim that a price cut would show the public that 
businessmen were not interested in preparedness simply for selfish 
reasons. When wage disputes arose during the war he talked face 
to face with union chiefs. Contracts were awarded efficiently but 
not always on a strictly nonpolitical basis. 

One of Roosevelt's attempted political maneuvers would have 
rendered unnecessary a historic episode during the breathless weeks 
before Wilson's call for war. Wishing to provide navy guns for 
merchantmen crossing submarine-infested waters, Roosevelt dis- 
covered that he could not sell guns to private owners, but he de- 
cided that under an old law he could lease them. He so informed 
Wilson through Daniels, but the President would not exploit the 
loophole. Instead he asked Congress for the necessary authority- 
only to have the bill killed by a filibuster on the part of a "little 
group of willful men," as Wilson called them. Roosevelt must 
have watched with wry satisfaction when the President later ordered 
guns on merchantmen without congressional authority and he 
could hardly have forgotten the incident in preparing his Len< 
Lease step in 1940. 


Roosevelt needed all the political craft he could muster to put 
through some of his proposals. One of these was to lay a mine 
barrage between Scotland and Norway to keep U-boats out of the 
Atlantic. The cost was so staggering and technical difficulties so 
formidable that Roosevelt ran into opposition from both the British 
Admiralty and Admiral William S. Sims in London. However, the 
invention of an electric antenna firing device, the dispatch of a high- 
ranking admiral to pilot the project through naval channels in 
London, and Roosevelt's continual pressure finally broke the log- 
jam. The project finally proved wholly practical, although it was 
started too late to have more than a minor role in antisubmarine 

In the months before the war Roosevelt's impatience with Daniels' 
deliberate ways reached a new height. "J. D. is too damned slow 
for words," he wrote to his wife in November 1916. The Assistant 
Secretary did not, however, lend any support to an organized cam- 
paign spearheaded by the Navy League to make Roosevelt Secre- 
tary during Wilson's second term. He had no use, he said, for a 
subordinate who was constantly thinking up ways of stepping into 
his boss's shoes; he knew, too, that Daniels was personally and 
politically close to Wilson. After hostilities started, conflict tended 
to revolve more around methods than objectives, but in private 
Roosevelt still was sharply critical of his chief. At one point he 
helped the American novelist Winston Churchill draft a series 
of criticisms of naval administration which Churchill presented 
personally to Wilson. Roosevelt's idea of getting a job done was 
to grab scissors and slash away at red tape; he did not fully realize 
that much of the red tape was simply the complicated line of clear- 
ance and consultation that Daniels, dealing with a multitude of 
decision-makers, had to wind up before effective action could be 

"1 am trying to forget that there is such a thing as politics," Roose- 
velt said early in 1918. But he could not. Friends kept urging hint 
to run for governor. More important, Tammany was making over- 

This surprising development was largely a result of a change in 
Roosevelt's own approach to Tammany. He had not forgotten the 
lessons of 1914 and the years before. Quietly he had adopted a 
policy of live and let live. In 1915 he did patronage favors for some 
of the very Tammany congressmen who had attacked him so bitterly 
the previous year. In 1916, taking his cue from Wilson, he followed 
a party harmony policy in both the state and national election. He 
showed the utmost cordiality toward Smith, Wagner, and other 
progressive-minded Tammany men. Peace was consummated on 

Washington: The Politician as Bureaucrat 65 

the Fourth of July, 1917, when Roosevelt, at Tammany's invitation, 
gave the main talk in the Wigwam and was photographed with his 
old adversary Murphy. By the spring of 1918 he had received re- 
ports that at least a dozen New York City leaders were for him, 
perhaps even Murphy himself. Actually, Tammany had no sudden 
love for Roosevelt, but saw him as a man who could win upstate 

Roosevelt quite likely could have had the nomination and the 
election. But in June 1918 he indicated decisively that he did not 
want to run. 

His heart lay somewhere else. He was keenly aware that one vital 
element was missing in his political career. At a time when hun- 
dreds of thousands of men were in uniform, he was not. He was not 
even overseas. Uncle Ted, desperately eager himself to fight in 
France, had urged him to get into the war, but Daniels would not 
let him go. The next best thing was to get near the fighting, if 
only as a civilian. He finally induced the Secretary to send him 
on an official mission to inspect navy bases and confer with Allied 
leaders. Eager for adventure, Roosevelt departed early in July 1918 
on a destroyer bound for Europe. 

It was an exciting and satisfying trip. Zigzagging across the 
Atlantic Roosevelt's destroyer experienced nothing more than a 
few false alarms, but even these furnished the basis for future yarns. 
In England he met and talked with Lloyd George ("What impressed 
me most was his tremendous vitality," he said later), Lord Balfour, 
Winston Churchill (neither made much impression on the other at 
the time), Clemenceau, Orlando, and a host of famous admirals 
and generals. It was no mere junket. He spent a good deal of time 
going into humdrum details of contracts, supplies, and personnel. 
He tried, none too successfully, to straighten out a ticklish diplomatic 
and military tangle over the operations or lack of them of the 
Italian navy. 

And finally he saw war. This was his main goal in the trip; it 
is significant that the only time he lost his poise was when a naval 
attache tried to detour him around the fighting areas; Roosevelt 
persecuted the poor man for months afterward. He toured the 
sector where Marines had fought, describing the war-torn area 
with a vivid eye for detail. He saw fighting at a distance. Most 
exciting of all, he came under sporadic artillery fire. 

It was exciting but he still was not in uniform. He left for 
home in September determined to ask Daniels for a commission. 
Exhausted by his trip, however, he fell ill with influenza and 
pneumonia, and had to be taken ashore on a stretcher. He took 
weeks to recover, and time was running out. Around the end of 
October he went to Wilson with Daniels' permission to request a 


commission. It was too late, the President told him he had re- 
ceived the first overtures for an armistice, and he hoped the war 
would be over soon. 

Roosevelt was keenly disappointed but he tried to make the best 
of it. "Though I did not wear a uniform," he wrote later to a 
Grotonian who was preparing a World War tablet at the school, 
"I believe that my name should go in the first division of those 
who were 'in the service/ especially as I saw service on the other 
side, was missed by torpedoes and shells. . . /' 

He was not nearly as disappointed as a young Austrian soldier 
who on November 11, 1918, lay weeping on a hospital bed in 
Prussia weeping for the first time, he said later, since the death 
of his mother. He wept not because he had missed the war (he had 
fought bravely for four years, had been gassed and wounded) but 
because Germany was defeated and prostrate. At this time, Adolf 
Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf, "I resolved I would take up political 

FOUR Crusade for the League 


JLHE WAR YEARS had a maturing effect on 
Roosevelt. Long hours, tough decisions, endless conferences, ex- 
hausting trips, hard bargaining with powerful officials in Washing- 
ton and abroad turned him into a seasoned politician-administrator. 
Much of the time he was aggressively pushing forward, spurring his 
superiors and subordinates to action. This was easy for him the 
hard part was patiently following the circuitous path that led to 
action. Much of the work was painstaking and inglorious. 

Physically the years showed their marks. Faint lines appeared on 
his forehead; the smooth, almost soft face of the Albany years was 
a bit leaner and more furrowed. His hair was thinning above the 
temples. Dark shadowsa family characteristic showed under his 
blue eyes. Yet he kept his essentially youthful appearance. Still lean 
and supple, he could play fifty-four holes of golf on a hot summer 
day; he could vault over a row of chairs with ease. "A beautifully 
built man, with the long muscles of the athlete," said Walter Camp, 
the celebrated Yale coach whom Roosevelt brought to Washington 
to set up a physical fitness program for the navy. 

His family responsibilities had increased too. His children now 
numbered five. Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jr., had been born in August 
1914 and John Roosevelt in March 1916. The family lived in Wash- 
ington most of the year, with the invariable sojourns in Campobello 
during the summer and frequent visits to Hyde Park in between. A 
flock of servants sometimes as many as ten attended the family. 
Roosevelt's salary and investments together brought him about 
|27,ooo a year, but life was expensive, and occasionally his mother 
helped him out. 

Public life also exacted another toll. He was away from the fam- 
ily much of the time away when children came down with semi- 
serious illnesses, away when one of them was burned in a picnic 
fire. His anxiety only increased at a distance; during a polio epi- 
demic he badgered Daniels unmercifully until the secretary al- 
lowed him to dispatch a destroyer to Campobello to take his chil- 
dren home by sea. His personal life, like that of other public fig- 


ures, was fair game for rumor-mongers. A story went the rounds 
that lie had fallen in love with another woman and that Eleanor 
had offered him his freedom. At best the long separations were the 
source of difficulty. "You were a goosy girl," he wrote his wife from 
Washington, "to think or even pretend to think that I don't want 
you here all the summer, because you know I do! But honestly you 
ought to have six weeks straight at Campo, just as / ought to, only 
you can and 1 can't. ..." 

The image Roosevelt presented to the world during the immedi- 
ate postwar period was that of the brisk young executive. His job 
now called for a multitude of immediate "practical" duties rather 
than the glamorous actions of war, and much of the supervision of 
this work fell to the assistant secretary. He now became highly in- 
terested in improving the organization and administration of the 
federal government. Showing a keen grasp of the political context 
of public administration, he repeatedly urged that the President be 
given more control of budget-making, that Congress put its own 
houses in order by consolidating its appropriations activities in one 
general committee, that promotion be based on efficiency rather 
than length of service, that existing agencies be reorganized and 
functions redistributed, and that heads of executive departments 
be given more authority. 

Toward politics he was cautious. "Quite frankly/' he wrote a sup- 
porter in February 1920, "I do not personally intend to make an 
early Christian martyr of myself this fall if it is going to be a 
strongly Republican year." Yet this was precisely what he was to do. 


Roosevelt spent the first few weeks of 1919 on navy business in 
Europe. While he helped tidy up the debris of war, Woodrow Wil- 
son in Paris tried to lay the foundations of peace. The President 
was at the peak of his career; his tour of Europe had been that of 
an uncrowned monarch. "No one has ever had such cheers," an 
observer said. "I saw Foch pass, Clemenceau pass, Lloyd George, 
generals, returning troops, banners, but Wilson heard from his 
carriage something different, inhuman or superhuman." 

On a wintry day in mid-February Wilson left France for home. 
He carried with him triumphantly a draft of the Covenant of the 
proposed League of Nations. On the same ship was the Assistant 
Secretary of the Navy, returning to Washington with his wife. One 
day the Roosevelts lunched with the Wilsons and their party. The 
talk was mostly an exchange of stories, but at one point the Presi- 
dent spoke of the League of Nations. "The United States must go 

Crusade for the League 69 

in," he said, "or it will break the heart of the world, for she is the 
only nation that all feel is disinterested and all trust." 

After their ship docked in Boston, the Roosevelts rode in the tri- 
umphal parade that escorted the President to his hotel. An esti- 
mated 200,000 Bostonians roared a welcome to the President, and 
even Governor Calvin Coolidge was moved to "feeling sure the 
people would back the President." Watching the crowds cheer the 
President wildly at every station on the way to Washington, Elea- 
nor Roosevelt felt sure that they had "grasped his ideals." 

Perhaps they had. But the Covenant was part of a treaty that 
had to win the votes of two-thirds of the Senate of the United 
States. And the Senate numbered men as proud and stiff-necked as 
Wilson himself, men jealous of senatorial prerogative in foreign 
relations, sensitive to large national-origin groups at home, keenly 
aware of the presidential election that lay ahead. The Senate, more- 
over, was under Republican management; despite Wilson's plea to 
the people in 1918 for Democratic control of Congress for the sake 
of "unified leadership," the voters had put the opposition party in 
control of both houses by slim margins. 

Roosevelt watched with dismay as the President's foes in the Sen- 
ate outmaneuvered the administration in skirmish after skirmish. In 
February 1919 the Republicans, still a minority, filibustered vital 
appropriations bills to death in the last weeks of the Democratic- 
controlled Congress, thereby forcing Wilson to summon, months 
ahead of the normal session, an extraordinary session of Congress 
which the Republicans would control. Just before the short session 
ended, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge by a parliamentary stratagem 
presented the Senate with the "Round Robin" a pronunciamento 
that the Covenant was unacceptable "in the form now proposed" 
to thirty-nine Republican senators or senators-elect. In July, after 
weeks of hard negotiating with Lloyd George and Clemenceau in 
Paris, Wilson laid the treaty before the Senate. In August the Presi- 
dent expressed willingness to accept mild Senate reservations to the 
treaty stated in a separate resolution, but the Senate Foreign Rela- 
tions Committee proceeded to rip the treaty. In September Wilson 
went to the country, gave forty passionate speeches, suffered a break- 
down, and returned spent and stricken. In November the President 
urged Democratic Senators to vote against the Lodge reservations 
to the treaty, and these were defeated, but unconditional ratifica- 
tion failed by a vote of 38 for to 53 against. 

What had happened? Early in 1919 Wilson's fight for a League 
had been applauded by American and European alike; at the end 
of the year his hopes were in ruins. Many explanations were put 
forward. Italo-Americans were aroused by the refusal to let Italy 
have Fiurne, Irish-Americans by England's control of "six seats" in 


the Assembly, German-Americans by Allied treatment of the old 
country. Other Americans were simply tired of Europe and its 
troubles; they were distracted by labor troubles, high prices, the 
Red Scare. The League question was caught in a bitter battle be- 
tween parties. Above all, Wilson continued to talk about idealism 
after the cynical men at Versailles had produced a treaty of real- 
politik; he continued to insist on the Covenant as he framed it 
long after concessions were in order. 

Whatever the truth, it is notable that Roosevelt's approach to the 
matter was somewhat different from the President's. The Assistant 
Secretary was, of course, pro-League, but his speeches lacked Wil- 
son's fine moral fervor. While Wilson talked about following "the 
vision/' about "destiny," about "lifted eyes," about America's duty, 
about Americans' dreams, Roosevelt was more pragmatic, more ex- 
perimental. "It is important not to dissect the document," Roose 
velt said in March 1919. "The important thing is first to approve 
the general plan." Unless the United States came in, he warned, the 
League would become simply a new Holy Alliance. "The League 
may not end wars, but the nations demand the experiment." 

He was more willing to compromise than Wilson seemed to be. 
As early as March 29, 1919, he favored an amendment recognizing 
the Monroe Doctrine, but he thought the League should be tried 
even if desired amendments were not forthcoming. Other reserva- 
tions to the League Covenant would be necessary, he warned at the 
end of the year. He had little hope that the League, even with 
United States membership, would prevent all future wars; several 
months after the war he still wanted compulsory military training. 

"I have read the draft of the League three times," he said in July, 
"and always find something to object to in it, and that is the way 
with everybody. ... Personally I am willing to make a try on the 
present instrument." Only once during this period did Roosevelt 
talk grandiloquently in Wilsonian terms. This was in a speech to 
a meeting sponsored by the League to Enforce Peace, when he put 
the League of Nations on a plane with the Magna Charta and the 
Constitution. He knew what his audience wanted. 

Unlike Wilson, who became more and more obsessed with the 
treaty and League alone, Roosevelt during the postwar period 
seemed concerned with a variety of issues, great and small. During 
1919 and early 1920 he gave a remarkable number of speeches on 
a remarkable variety of subjects. He delivered over a score of talks 
describing and defending the navy's record in World War I. He 
repeatedly advocated peacetime universal military training as the 
fairest way of maintaining an army. He called for administrative 
and legislative reorganization. He even had time to take a politi- 

Crusade for the League 71 

clan's straddle on a minor but touchy subject: vivisection was neces- 
sary for scientific research, he told a meeting of humane societies, 
but the medical profession should stop abuses of it. 

Some of his ideas were simply fatuous. He expressed the hope on 
one occasion that state and national governmental affairs would be 
as "free from politics" after the war as during the war. Some of his 
talks were of the spread-eagle type, filled with references to "good 
Americanism," "clean living," "straight thinking." But certain 
threads ran through many of his speeches: nationalism ("Ameri- 
canism") rather than localism or sectionalism, internationalism 
rather than nationalism, the use of government to solve problems, 
the improvement in governmental machinery to handle heavier 

He was still a Wilson man. "The progressive movement within 
the Republican Party has been dying ever since 1916 yesterday it 
died," he said late in May in a speech before the Democratic Na- 
tional Committee in Chicago the day after conservative Republi- 
cans had won a victory in the Senate. The Republican party was 
still the party of "conservatism and reaction," of "little American- 
ism and jingo bluff." He predicted a party realignment with Re- 
publican liberals joining the Democrats while the Tories in his own 
party shifted to the opposition. He lambasted the new Republican 
Congress, just convened, for its concern over restoring the "old 
form of preferential tariff for pet groups of manufacturers," for 
truckling to the returned soldiers but doing very little for them, 
for revising the income tax to benefit millionaires, for mudslinging 
and slander. 

It was a rousing speech a "humdinger," said a local editor. He 
was simply trying, Roosevelt commented afterward, "to go back to 
certain fundamentals as old as the country itself." 


With the advent of election year, Roosevelt's friends as usual pressed 
him to run for governor or Senator. And as usual he was evasive. 
Much would depend, he told his supporters during the early months 
of 1920, on the type of candidate nominated at the Democratic na- 
tional convention in July. 

The Democrats were in an awkward position. Their party chief 
was an invalid in the White House. The Republicans, no longer 
riven by Progressive secession, were turning Congress into an anti- 
administration sounding board, and were exploiting the crop of 
domestic and foreign problems that followed the war. Opposition 
to the League seemed to be increasing not only among conserva- 


tives but also among progressive elements on whose support the 
Wilsonian Democracy had come to rely. 

Many Democratic leaders wanted to discard the League as a 
major campaign issue. City bosses of the North, at odds with the 
President over patronage matters, wanted to shake off Wilson as 
party leader and symbol. But it could not be done. As tightly as he 
could, Wilson had tied his party to his League. Convinced that the 
people were with him, he told his party publicly that the election 
must be a "great and solemn referendum" on the settlement of the 
war and the shape of the peace. Sick at heart over the prospects 
of the League in the Senate, thousands of Democrats looked to the 
election as a means of breaking the deadlock. 

One of these Democrats was Roosevelt. In sharp contrast to his 
status in 1912 he enjoyed a good deal of influence in the 1920 Demo- 
cratic convention in San Francisco. He was both an important mem- 
ber of the administration and a full-fledged delegate, elected by 
fellow Democrats in his congressional district. His one vote, more- 
over, would count. He tried unsuccessfully to induce the New York 
Democrats to drop the unit rule, under which a majority of the 
New York delegates (under Murphy) could control the votes of the 
whole delegation, as they had in 1913. The rules committee of the 
convention, however, came to his rescue by holding, over the pro- 
tests of Tammany, that the unit rule did not apply to delegations 
selected by primary elections. 

Roosevelt grasped a chance to dramatize his support of Wilson 
on the opening day of the convention. The unveiling of a huge oil 
portrait of the stricken President touched off a noisy demonstration. 
Delegation after delegation poured into the aisles and waved their 
placards. But not the New York delegates they sat conspicuously 
in their seats. "Get up, New York!" the paraders shouted, but in 
vain. This was too much for Roosevelt. Fie ran over to a bulky 
Tammany leader who was tightly grasping the state standard, 
grabbed with such force as to pull the indignant Tammany ite to 
his feet, wrestled with him for a moment, and then bore the stand- 
ard triumphantly down the aisle. 

For several days and two-score ballots the convention was dead- 
locked in a seesaw race among Governor James M. Cox of Ohio, 
Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, and William G. McAdoo, 
former secretary of the treasury and now a son-in-law of the Presi- 
dent. Roosevelt seconded the nomination of Governor Alfred E. 
Smith of New York, but after Smith and other favorite sons had 
dropped out, he and most of the other upstate New Yorkers voted 
several times for McAdoo. McAdoo, however, was not an avowed 
candidate and he was scornfully labeled the "Crown Prince" by 

Crusade for the League 73 

those who feared Wilson's influence over the convention. Wilson 
himself was silent. 

Cox won on the forty-fourth ballot. It was as logical for the 
Democrats to nominate him as it had been earlier for the Repub- 
licans to choose another Ohio editor-politician, Warren G. Harding, 
after a conference of party leaders. Cox was a compromise candi- 
date. Sufficiently pro-Wilson not to have alienated the administra- 
tion, he still did not suffer the handicap of being a "Wilson man." 
He had made a progressive and efficient record in the guberna- 
torial office a place where he could sidestep some of the more 
ticklish national issues. On liquor he was wet, but not excessively 

As usual, choosing the vice-presidential candidate was a conven- 
tion afterthought. By long tradition he must balance the ticket. 
Geographically he must come from a different part of the country 
from the presidential candidate. Politically he must represent dif- 
ferent interests in the party. In contrast to Cox, Roosevelt was 
identified with the Wilson administration, he was a moderate dry, 
and he was considered an independent in the party. Moreover, he 
had a good record in government, and his name might bring over 
some progressives from the Republican camp, T.R. having died the 
previous year. 

The nomination was accomplished easily. Presented with a list 
of available candidates, Cox expressed a preference for Roosevelt, 
but as an experienced politician he wanted to clear the matter with 
Tammany, which had gone down the line for him in the conven- 
tion. When Cox's manager, Edmund H. Moore, called Murphy out 
of bed, the Tammany chief was blunt. 

"I don't like Roosevelt," he said. "He is not well known in the 
country, but, Ed, this is the first time a Democratic nominee for 
the Presidency has shown me courtesy. That's why I would vote 
for the devil himself if Cox wanted me to. Tell him we will nomi- 
nate Roosevelt on the first ballot as soon as we assemble." 

Murphy as usual was as good as his word. Several other candi- 
dates were put in nomination, but word traveled quickly through 
the hall that Cox and Murphy wanted Roosevelt. When Al Smith 
seconded the nomination of the assistant secretary, Tammany's po- 
sition was made clear. The other nominations were withdrawn, and 
Roosevelt was nominated by acclamation. He had had no part in 
his selection. 

Viewed in retrospect, Roosevelt's nomination seemed wholly nat- 
ural if not inevitable. But it was not. Other candidates met the eli- 
gibility requirements. Roosevelt had no organized machine work- 
ing in his behalf, although some of his friends had started a small 
boom for him. He had been a McAdoo man, and Cox had never 


met him. Roosevelt himself was caught somewhat by surprise at 
the outcome. I his nomination was due in part to fortuitous cir- 
cumstances, such as his name and place of residence, it was due also 
to his improved relations with Tammany, a political reputation 
that had spread outside New York, and to his record in the navy. 

Roosevelt and Cox at the outset faced a critical question of strat- 
egy. To what extent should they base their campaign on the League 
issue? Obviously they could not be rid of it, but they could soft- 
pedal it and play up a number of domestic matterstried and 
tested issues such as the tariff or "Republican reaction." This was 
precisely what many Democratic leaders urged them to do. It was 
pointed out quite accurately, as it turned out that the Republi- 
cans, not being committed to the Covenant, could hold both sup- 
porters and opponents of the League in line for Harding, while 
large elements of the Democratic party especially the Irish and 
Italians would desert. 

The decision of Cox and Roosevelt, however, was to make the 
League the central issue of their campaign. Together they visited 
the President to symbolize this intention. Wilson sat on the White 
House portico, gray and gaunt, a shawl covering his paralyzed left 
arm. Cox said, as Roosevelt later remembered it, "Mr. President, we 
are going to be a million per cent with you, and your Administra- 
tion, and that means the League of Nations/' The President seemed 
to come to life. "I am very grateful" was all he could manage to 

The Democratic candidates also decided on an aggressive cam- 
paign, despite advice that, as the representatives of the party in 
power, they should allow the Republicans to carry the election to 
them. Harding, on the other hand, elected to conduct a front-porch 
campaign in McKinley fashion. Roosevelt was itching to take to the 
road. Between mid-August and Election Day he traveled almost 
ceaselessly, usually in a car attached to regular trains, sometimes by 
auto, and once by airplane. He took a wide swing through the 
Northwest in August, then into New England and New York in 
September, then swung west again by a more southerly route as 
far as Colorado, and campaigned intensively in his home state 
again during the last days of the campaign, winding up in Mad- 
ison Square Garden at the end of October. He probably made 
more than a thousand speeches. 

Ahead of him ranged a Democratic party publicity agent, named 
Stephen Early; with the candidate was a general assistant, Marvin 
Mclntyre; Howe helped out in Washington and New York and later 
on the campaign train. Early' s staccato reports gave the candidate 
the political lay of the land. "Washington state is DRY," he tele- 

Crusade for the League 75 

graphed to Mclntyre from Spokane. "Interest centers on reclama- 
tion of lands and destruction of Non-Partisan League. The Boss 
will be asked to express himself on Non-Partisan League and their 
kind of radicals. This section of country vitally interested. . . . Ad- 
vise strongly that you do not hit the NPL directly. Lumber is the 
big industry. Wheat is the big crop. Agricultural development is 
the aim of all. . . ." 

There was little interest in the League of Nations, Early con- 
cluded. Wilson had failed to arouse interest in it on his tour. As 
Roosevelt moved on, the reports on League sentiment were even 
more discouraging. Almost everywhere, it seemed, the situation 
varied between apathy and downright opposition. "New Hamp- 
shire is hopeless/' Early reported, "the Irish are rampant" In 
Minneapolis, Mclntyre found a lack of interest in the League- 
people were thinking of their "breadbaskets and not of their war 

But Roosevelt stuck to the League issue. Desperately he tried to 
put the opposition on the defensive with a direct question to the 
Republican candidate. "If the United States can enter the existing 
League of Nations in such a way that the will of the League can- 
not be imposed on us against our will, and if it is made clear that 
our Constitutional and Congressional rights regarding war are in 
every way preserved, would you then, Senator Harding, favor our 
going in?" Roosevelt knew that he would get no answer, that Hard- 
ing would remain silent for fear of alienating either the anti-League 
Republicans headed by Senator Hiram Johnson or the pro-League 
Republicans led by ex-President Taft. In his maddening way Hard- 
ing continued to utter banalities on his porch. 

Roosevelt did not spend all his ammunition on the League issue, 
however. He touched on a variety of subjectsthe tariff, Harding' s 
reported espousal of dollar wheat for the farmers, excessive cam- 
paign spending by the Republicans, control of Harding by a small 
gang of men. He advanced a program that in a rough way ante- 
dated later ones: better marketing facilities and living conditions 
for farmers, a billion-dollar conservation and development program, 
higher labor standards, improved relations with Latin America, 
and closer economic relations with all nations. He endorsed the 
legislation passed under the Wilson administration. 

Most of the time Roosevelt waged a skillful, aggressive campaign 
which drew attention without stealing the show from the star, 
Governor Cox. He also committed mistakes, the worst of which oc- 
curred at Butte. Stung by Republican charges that Britain would 
control six votes in the League Assembly, Roosevelt said that the 
United States would control a dozen namely those of her little 
brothers to the South. Indeed, he went on, he and Daniels really 


controlled two of these votes, for they "had something to do with 
the running of a couple of little republics." He added with a smile 
that while in the navy he had written Haiti's constitution himself. 

It was a dreadful boner. Republicans pointed with alarm, Latin 
Americans felt insulted, and the State Department was upset. Roose- 
velt took the politician's way out-he claimed he was misquoted and 
"clarified" his remarks. 

The Roosevelt name continued to exert its spell. Pressing up to 
the candidate people would say, "I voted for your father" and 
"You're just like the Old Man/' To offset this annoying misappre- 
hension the Republicans sent young Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, 
Jr., on his cousin's trail. "He is a maverick," the colonel said of his 
distant cousin; "he does not have the brand of our family." More 
important, Harding finally left his porch and delivered some stump 

Although he knew that a candidate tends to be carried away by 
his cheering audiences and well-wishers, Roosevelt was in high 
hopes the day before the election. His hopes were soon dashed. The 
Republicans won the presidency by over seven million votes, 16,- 
152,220 to 9,i47553 o ne the most sweeping victories in presiden- 
tial history. Republicans would control the House 300 to 132, the 
.Senate 59 to 37. Harding polled more than twice as many votes as 
Cox in Roosevelt's own state. 

Wilson was bitter. "We had a chance to gain the leadership of 
the world/* he said. "We have lost it, and soon we shall be wit- 
nessing the tragedy of it all." Cox accepted defeat with the grace 
of a veteran. So did Roosevelt, but he looked forward. The mo- 
ment of defeat, he said to a friend, was the best time to lay plans 
for Democratic victories in the future. 


One Sunday evening late in 1917 Sara Delano Roosevelt sat, book 
in hand, in the living room that she had recently added in the new 
south wing of her Hyde Park home. She enjoyed this gracious, com- 
fortable room, with the Gilbert Stuart portrait of James's great- 
grandfather, large windows, marble fireplaces, high bookshelves. 
But this evening her heart was heavy. Pranklin and Eleanor had 
been up for the week end and there had been a long talk that 
ended in something unusual at Hyde Parka family argument. In 
part it was a disagreement that had at its core a devoted mother's 
attempt to keep her son at home in the safe arms of his family 
estate, an attempt that was doomed to failure. But more than that 
it was based on her inability to understand why a man born to 
aristocracy should wish to identify himself with the crowd and 
with the crudities and compromises of political life. The young 

Crusade for the League 77 

couple had just left, and she thought of them as they neared their 
home in New York. At length she closed her book, walked to her 
Snuggery next to the living room, and sat down at her writing 
desk to pour her thoughts out to her son and daughter-in-law. 

". . . Perhaps dear Franklin/' she wrote, "you may on second 
thoughts or third thoughts see that I am not so far wrong. . . . 
One can be democratic as one likes, but if we love our own, and 
if we love our neighbor, we owe a great example." She deplored 
the trend to shirt sleeves, she said, to the giving up of the old- 
fashioned virtues of family life, of tradition and dignity, to the 
tendency of some to be "all things to all men." "I cannot believe 
that my precious Franklin really feels as he expressed himself." 
For Sara Delano Roosevelt, it was the duty of the aristocrat to 
be better than others, to serve as an example for the less fortu- 
nate to follow. To her and to many others like herwelfare was 
more personal than public and the past was more precious than 
the future. But her son, though understanding and affectionate, had 
moved beyond the perimeter of Hyde Park. 

The letter was a mother's despairing effort to keep a hold on 
her son; it was, even more, a forlorn cry from the Hyde Park of 
old to the rising political man who had to be "all things to all 
men." In hardly a dozen years Roosevelt had moved from the nar- 
rowly circumscribed life of Hyde Park, Groton, and Harvard into 
the varied and strenuous roles of politician, legislator, bureaucrat, 
and war leader. The descendant of country squires, of Hudson Val- 
ley aristocrats, was dealing on equal terms with the shirt-sleeved 
men of labor, with the derby-hatted men of Tammany. No wonder 
the mother wondered why her son had journeyed so far from Hyde 
Park. But the journey had begun many years ago. 

The family has been well called a miniature political realm in 
which habits relating to later political life are ingrained. In child- 
hood, the most striking trait apparent in young Franklin's per- 
sonality was his responsive receptivity to his family and, after a 
time of shyness, to servants. He was usually willing to come to 
terms easily with the dominant forces in his environment. It was not 
merely the ability to adjust but to find ways of getting along with a 
variety of dissonant groups and personalities at the same time with- 
out upsetting the delicate equilibrium that made him into the man 
he was. At Groton he had so little trouble with the masters that he 
had to redress the balance by deliberately incurring a penalty at 
the hands of "Old Nutty" to keep in favor with his mates. At 
Harvard, he managed to keep one foot in the exclusive clubs with 
the other in class political affairs. At Albany he won and kept the 
backing of farm groups even while establishing close relations with 
labor and other groups important to his political future. In the 
navy, he was on good terms simultaneously with admirals, labor 


leaders, "big navy" men, local politicians, and leaders of the Wilson 
administration, as well as some groups hostile to Daniels and the 

The breadth and ease of Roosevelt's associations apply in a class 
sense as well. Born a patrician, he never gave up his class associa- 
tions and activities. Even in the busiest days of the war he took time 
and pains to sponsor friends' admissions to exclusive New York clubs, 
to maintain relations with leading Dutchess County families, to 
participate in Washington social life. His friendships rf ached across 
party lines; he kept on friendly terms with Henry Cabot Lodge, 
Augustus P. Gardner, and other Republicans even when they vig- 
orously attacked Wilson and Daniels. His class contacts were of 
enormous help to him: they provided entree to a remarkable va- 
riety of important people. Indeed, his class, cutting across political 
parties, had something of the power and influence of a city ma- 
chine, except that it was bound together by personal ties of family 
and social rank rather than by patronage and food baskets. 

Sara Roosevelt was probably troubled more than she needed to 
be that Sunday night at Hyde Park. For, in the supreme sense, 
Roosevelt never left home. Somehow he traversed almost a cross 
section of American life, moving ever into new groups and ac- 
tivities, without tearing his roots from Hyde Park. The general 
precepts and values he had learned from his parents and from 
Peabody were always very much part of him. His mother sometimes 
could not see in him the hard deposit of Hyde Park simply because 
Roosevelt could move out into other worlds with such outward 

Outward assurancebut with a good deal of inward assurance 
too. The latter was another product of his formative years. Roose- 
velt was born with security, position, status. He had a powerful 
sense of belonging; he "knew who he was/' He had no reason to 
feel loss of identity or a cutting of roots when he launched into new 
fields. He could shift roles with ease because he never doubted 
where he had come from and where some day he would return. 
There was ever continuity in change. So too, Roosevelt had no need 
of an elaborate social philosophy; unlike the intellectual, who con- 
structs an ideology and then throws himself into it for the security 
it offers, he had a home of his own. He was content with its simple 
moralities, duties, and benevolence. 

Roosevelt's later career was so dazzling that it has tended to ob- 
scure his earlier political attainments. Actually his rise before No- 
vember 1920 was a spectacular one. He had made a notable record 
and drawn considerable attention both in Albany and Washington. 

FI> had wnn thp viYp-rvrf^iHpritial nnminatinn of z rnainr -nsirtv at 

Crusade for the League 79 

the age of thirty-eight; even T.R. had been four years older when 
the Republicans nominated him for vice-president in 1900. 

It is easy to explain all this away. Only a chain of fortuitous cir- 
cumstances, it can be argued, could be responsible for the early 
career. // the Dutchess County Democrats had not needed a candi- 
date in 1910, if 1910 and 1912 had not been good years for upstate 
New York Democrats, if the Sheehan incident had not occurred, 
Roosevelt would have remained a respectable New York corpora- 
tion lawyer. One trouble with this "if" approach is that it can be 
completely turned around. If Roosevelt had played his cards dif- 
ferently in the Sheehan fight if, for example, he had acted as inter- 
mediary between Tammany and the rebels instead of leader of the 
latter he would have been a likely compromise choice for state- 
wide office in 1912 or 1914 or 1916. If he had won such office he 
probably would have entered the cabinet or gone into uniform 
during the war; and in either case he would have been a leading 
contender for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1920. 

Such an "if approach is a fruitless one. On the contrary, Roose- 
velt's early career can be understood only as the dynamic interac- 
tion of an emerging political personality and a responsive environ- 
ment. Despite his outward coyness during the decade between 1910 
and 1920, Roosevelt almost constantly had his eye out for the main 
chance. If on occasion the situation was hostile to his ambitions, 
as in 1914, most of the time it was favorable. The political environ- 
ment was not merely passively receptive to his ambitions; it was 
not simply a static backdrop; it had a life and momentum of its 
own. Both in 1910 and 1920, for example, the Democracy turned to 
Roosevelt, just as he had turned to the party in 1914. Time and 
place, prevailing ideology, and political configuration all played 
their part. Maturing in a time of social flux and flow, living in a 
strategic place in a strategic state, exploiting prevailing hostility to 
bossism and corruption, attaching himself to a party that enjoyed 
a decade of success after a half-century of repeated defeat, Roosevelt 
was in a favorable position from the start. 

Roosevelt's success, however, was not simply a matter of sheer 
luck. Luck there was, of course in his name, in his family and 
class connections, in his comfortable income, and in the assurance 
that he gained from all these. But these elements of good fortune 
would not have been enough without two other qualities of his; 
keen ambition and a capacity to learn. 

Compared to his Uncle Ted's fierce drive to excel as boxer, cow- 
boy, soldier, politician, and big-game hunter, the younger Roose- 
velt's ambition might have looked puny indeed. But it was there, 
and the more he became involved in competitive relationships the 
more it seemed to grow. The fact that Roosevelt could try for 
United States Senator from the most populous state in the union onty 


four years after entering politics and at the age of thirty-two was a 
measure of that ambition. t 

To some extent Roosevelt's drives fed on his inadequacies. He 
could adiust quickly to new situations, he could act with assurance 
-but he' could not always excel. At Groton he was neither an ad- 
mired athlete nor a notable scholar. At Harvard he [ailed to make 
Porcellian. In New York City he made no special mark as a lawyer. 
When he aspired too high in state politics he came down with a 
bad jolt. In the navy he was not top dog; more important, lie was 
not in uniform at a time when his country and his class expected 
its able-bodied young men to go to war. 

Roosevelt's request, following the war, that Groton put him on 
the first division of the school's war tablet was ludicrous, yet highly 
revealing too. Clearly he wanted the kind of recognition that Uncle 
Ted had tasted so fully after his exploits as a Rough Rider. Follow- 
ing the war Franklin Roosevelt applied for membership in the 
American Legion. As the years passed his stories of his military ex- 
periences and risks overseas became more and more expansive-to 
the point where he was claiming that he had probably seen more 
of the war than anyone else. 

But directing Roosevelt's ambition was a capacity to learn quickly 
from experience. In two major instances in his early political career 
he did not come quickly to terms with his environment, and in 
both cases his failure furthered his political education. The first 
of these was his attack on Tammany: it brought happy immediate 
returns in publicity and applause but only at the cost of endanger- 
ing his hopes for state-wide political office. His response was to 
bury the hatchet with Tammany, although doing so discreetly 
enough not to antagonize much of his good-government support. 
The campaign on the League of Nations issue in 1920 was another 
example of defying political realities without avail Cox and Roose- 
velt knew that the League was a dangerous issue, but by a combina- 
tion of circumstances they campaigned largely on this plank. It was 
a gallant gesture and it failed. Indeed, the result was worse than 
failure: actually the election had been lost for many other reasons 
besides the League, but the Republicans could interpret the result 
as an endorsement of isolationism. 

Roosevelt never forgot these lessons. He was to show keen ap- 
preciation throughout his later career of the principle that politics 
is the art of the possible. He profited from Uncle Ted's warning at 
Groton that being good was not enougha man must be shrewd and 
he must be courageous. He had learned at first hand the wisdom of 
Machiavelli's advice to princes that they must act at times with 
great valor and at times with great prudence- that they must be 
something of a lion and something of a fox. 

PART ZA The Rise to Power 

FIVE Interlude: 

The Politician as Businessman 


N A WARM autumn afternoon in the 1920*8, 
at the height of what Charles and Mary Beard later called the 
summer solstice of Normalcy, the head of Burns Bros., coal deal- 
ers, embarked on the Berengaria for a vacation in Europe. Halfway 
up the gangway he turned and looked down at a group of his 
clerks assembled on the pier to see him off. With a cry, "Here's 
luck, boys!", he pulled from his pocket a handful of silver and gold 
coins and sent them clattering on the cobblestones. He watched for 
a moment with relish as his clerks grabbed for the coins, and then 
turned and disappeared into the ship. 

Reading about the incident in the next day's Herald Tribune, 
Louis Howe was shaken out of his usual hard-boiled attitude to- 
ward his fellow man. Grown-up men scrambling like so many starv- 
ing children in the dirt this, he exploded in a letter to Roosevelt, 
was a perfect example of the business attitude of the day. More, it 
was an illustration of the Republicans' economic philosophy of 
money trickling down from rich to poor. He urged his boss to use 
the story in future speeches. 

If this was normalcy to Howe, others looking back on the 1920*8 
had their own memories of something that seemed to symbolize the 
decade. Perhaps it was the monkey trial in Tennessee, or mah- 
jongg, or bathtub gin, or Teapot Dome, or the Lone Eagle, or Al 
Capone, or the expulsion of five socialists from the New York State 
Assembly as "traitors," or the frenetic chattering of stock market 
tickers late on an October day in 1929. Historians looking back 
noted more basic facts the low level and instability of farm in- 
come, the slow decline of labor unionization during the decade, 
the spread of crime. Business boomed: automobiles, radios, refrig- 
erators, cosmetics, telephones. Stocks climbed erratically upward; 
profits soared. Advertising became a big industry. It was a decade 
given over to Business, without muckrakers. 

As for Roosevelt, he adjusted to the business decade with ease. 
He became a businessman. Shortly after his defeat in the fall o 
1920 he took a job as vice-president of a large surety bonding firm, 



the Fidelity and Deposit Company of Maryland, in charge of its 
New York office at $35,000 a year (five times his navy salary), and 
he returned to the practice of law. During the next eight years he 
took part in a variety of business ventures. The most important of 
these involved foreign investments. Roosevelt backed a Canadian 
corporation that was buying up devalued German marks to pur- 
chase stock in various German corporations, and which later liqui- 
dated with high profits. He bought shares in another company that 
invested in German securities, and he was an incorporator of the 
Federal International Investment Trust, designed to help American 
investors take securities guaranteed by foreign banks in payment 
of credit balances due for American exports. Of these speculations, 
only the Canadian venture brought Roosevelt any profit. 

These investments were conservative compared with some of 
Roosevelt's other speculations, however. He bought two thousand 
shares of stock in a company that unsuccessfully wildcatted for oil 
in Wyoming. He lost over $25,000 in a scheme to buy lobsters and 
hold them oft the market until prices rose; lobster prices failed to 
rise. With Owen D. Young and others he started an enterprise to 
run dirigibles between New York and Chicago, but this soon proved 
to be, technologically, a misguided enthusiasm. A chain of resort 
hotels, the harnessing by General Electric of tidal power at Passa- 
maquoddy Bay, vending machines, commercial forestry, selling ad- 
vertising space in taxicabs these and other schemes Roosevelt con- 
ceived with the enthusiasm and imagination of an old-time invest- 
ment plunger. 

A plunger Roosevelt was. To some at the time, this behavior 
seemed entirely out of character, yet it showed a side of the man that 
came into view many times in his career. As war administrator, as 
businessman, as President, he liked to try new things, to tke a dare, 
to bring something off with a flourish. Taking a plunge, moreover, 
was easy for him. He had the security his and Eleanor's inherited 
income and the availability of Sara's help in case of need that al- 
lowed it. There was an interesting parallel between his business 
and his intellectual ventures. He could speculate with money be- 
cause he had a financial heritage; he could speculate with ideas 
because he had a vague but deep-rooted ideological heritage to 
fall back on. 

Even so, many of his business activities had more of a political 
than a commercial tinge. If he exhibited the daring of the specu- 
lator, he displayed, too, the cautiousness of a politician who refuses 
to gamble all on one election. Roosevelt in the end neither lost nor 
gained heavily because he seldom invested very much at a time. 
The political atmosphere was thickest at Roosevelt's Fidelity and 
Deposit Company office. The bonding business was a key part of 

Interlude: The Politician as Businessman 85 

the company's activities, and city and state politicians controlled a 
good deal of bonding. Roosevelt not only boasted of how he got 
business through his political connections in Albany and Washing- 
ton but criticized associates for failing to cultivate the "big men" 
who had contracts to give out. He could later contend quite rightly 
that he had made a success of this business. 

The most curious of Roosevelt's business activities was a post he 
took early in the 'so's as a "czar" of the building industry. During 
the war and postwar years builders had lost the confidence of the 
public as a result of profiteering, shoddy work, and high prices. 
Their aim in setting up the American Construction Council was to 
form an organization embracing 250 national organizations, includ- 
ing architects and engineers as well as contractors and building 
trades laborers, and capable of policing itself. The builders wanted, 
also, to head off further demands for forthright prosecution of 
building trades associations under the antitrust laws. Roosevelt 
served as a respectable figurehead; more than that, he took a keen 
interest in gathering data and in long-range planning to iron out 
sharp seasonal fluctuations in the industry. 

To some extent Roosevelt absorbed the political attitudes of the 
businessmen and promoters who surrounded him in the 1920*5. 
Just before taking his building industry post he struck out at gov- 
ernment regulation: it was too unwieldy and expensive, he said. 
Education, rather than protective legislation, he asserted on an- 
other occasion, was the only way to stop investors from losing 
money on securities. When he denounced governmental subsidies to 
the merchant marine as being too costly, he was probably reflecting 
the antagonism that other small shippers like himself had toward 
the big shippers who were getting most of the favors from Wash- 

On the other hand, Roosevelt did not adopt all the root postu- 
lates that governed the business approach. He never accepted the 
idea that the businessman should make the essential decisions in 
society, or that government should pursue a strictly hands-off pol- 
icy toward business, or that popular government was dangerous. 
Even as a businessman he was still something of a Wilsonian. He 
did accept, especially in his building-industry job, the doctrines of 
a basic harmony of interests among economic groups and of a 
measure of self-regulation by business. These ideas would crop up 
again after he became President. 

One reason that Roosevelt spurned business doctrine was his 
aversion to any kind of sweeping theory; he thought and acted in 
terms of immediate problems, not of eternal absolutes. Another rea- 
son was his distaste for the cardinal goal of most of his business 
friends: money-making. He was more absorbed in the game of spec- 


ulation itself than the financial outcome. Above all, even as a busi- 
nessman he was keeping his eye on the main chance, which to him 
was politics. 

And well he might, for no one fades from the limelight faster 
than a defeated vice-presidential candidate. Roosevelt's situation 
could have been especially vexing, since now another Roosevelt- 
Theodore, Jr. was Assistant Secretary of the Navy, was inspecting 
navy yards and receiving salutes. But Franklin had no intention of 
fading away. He became president of the Navy Club, chairman of 
the New York organization of Boy Scouts, and a trustee of Vassar; 
he raised money for the American Legion and for the (Episcopal) 
Cathedral of St. John the Divine; he remained active in Harvard 
affairs, and he took a leading part in organizing the Woodrow 
Wilson Foundation, to help commemorate his old chiefs ideals. 

This period was to be but an interlude in his political career. 
He would lie low for a while until "this bunch in Washington 
show either that they can make good or that they are hopeless 
failures/' he wrote to a friend. He told Stephen Early that he looked 
to him for many things in the days to come "Thank the Lord we 
are both comparatively youthful!" But his prospects were suddenly 


The summer of 1921 was an unpleasant one for Roosevelt. In line 
with American political tradition, Republicans were raking through 
the ashes of the preceding administration in a search for political 
ammunition. They felt they had a good case in a situation at New- 
port, Rhode Island, where after the war immoral practices in- 
volving liquor, drugs, and homosexuality had sprung up. Roose- 
velt had looked into the situation and appointed an investigating 
squad to get evidence. The investigators themselves, however, had 
used improper and revolting methods; when he discovered this 
Roosevelt had ordered them to stop. Republican members of a 
Senate investigating committee accused him of direct responsibility 
for the improper methods, which he denied. Roosevelt went to 
Washington in July 1921 to present his case, only to find that the 
committee majority was publishing its report unchanged before he 
could present his testimony. He was galled by what he felt was a 
breach of faith. He looked tired when he finally left New York for 
his vacation at Campobello. 

Then on a sunny day in mid-August Roosevelt slipped and fell 
overboard while cruising off Campobello. He suffered a slight chill, 
but the next day resumed his usual vigorous vacation life. That day,. 

Interlude: The Politician as Businessman 87 

spying a forest fire from their small boat, he and his family landed 
and spent several hours beating out the flames. Then in rapid suc- 
cession Roosevelt went for a swim in a nearby lake, dogtrotted a 
mile and a half, took a dip in the piercingly cold waters of the Bay 
of Fundy, and sat in a wet bathing suit for half an hour reading 
some mail. 

Suddenly feeling chill, he went to bed. The next day he had se- 
vere pain in his back and legs and a high fever. Mrs. Roosevelt 
sent for a doctor, who diagnosed simply a cold. One more day and 
Roosevelt could not walk or move his legs. Another doctor an 
"expert diagnostician" who happened to be in the vicinity thought 
it was a blood clot that had settled in the lower spinal cord, and 
then changed his mind and decided it was a lesion in the spinal 
cord. Only after two weeks of illness did another specialist make a 
correct diagnosispoliomyelitis. 

During much of the time Roosevelt was in agony. His bladder 
and the rectal sphincter were paralyzed and he had to be catheter- 
ized. At one time his arms and back were paralyzed. His tempera- 
ture varied from very high to subnormal. He suffered also from 
acute mental depression, heightened by the indecision of the doctors 
and his failure to improve. All this timeand for weeks afterward 
he was flat on his back. 

Sleeping on a couch in her husband's room, Mrs. Roosevelt 
nursed him night and day during the first month of illness. "The 
jagged alternations between hope and despair; the necessity of giv- 
ing blind trust to a physician even when the physician, cruelly 
pressed, could scarcely trust himself; the fearsome responsibility in- 
volved; above all the unpredictable oscillations of mood in the pa- 
tient himself, which had to be ministered to with the utmost firm- 
ness, subtlety, and tenderness" were part of the ordeal she went 
through, as described by John Gunther. Sara Roosevelt had been 
in Europe and arrived home at the end of August to get a carefully 
written letter from Eleanor: "Franklin has been quite ill and so 
can't go down to meet you on Tuesday to his great regret. . . ." 

Howe had gone to Campobello earlier in the summer and was 
fortunately still there when Roosevelt was stricken. His first instinct 
was to keep the public from knowing the extent of the attack. He 
issued vague announcements to the press, and he and Eleanor told 
the less immediate members of the family that Roosevelt was ill 
from the effects of a chill and was recovering. Howe finally let out 
the dread word poliomyelitis only when he could quote doctors as 
saying that there definitely would be no permanent effect. When 
Roosevelt was finally able to be taken to New York in mid-Sep- 
tember, Howe managed to get him moved in his stretcher from a 


launch onto a luggage dray and then into a private railway car 
while the hopeful onlookers, by a ruse, were gathered elsewhere, 

Roosevelt spent six weeks in Presbyterian Hospital in New York. 
After the first week there his specialist, Dr. George Draper, re- 
ported that he was ''much concerned at the very slow recovery both 
as regards the disappearance of pain, which is very generally pres- 
ent, and as to the recovery of even slight power to twitch the mus- 
cles/' The lower extremities, he found, presented a depressing pic- 
ture. There was a little motion in the toes of each foot, but the 
patient could not extend his feet. Roosevelt could not sit up; only 
by pulling himself up by a strap over his head could he even turn 
in bed. When he was discharged from the hospital at the end of 
October the medical record reported, "Not improving." 

Dr. Draper was most concerned about Roosevelt's psychological 
condition. "He has such courage, such ambition, and yet at the 
same time such an extraordinarily sensitive emotional mechanism/' 
he reported, "that it will take all the skill which we can muster to 
lead him successfully to a recognition of what he really faces with- 
out crushing him." Partly because of careful handling by Eleanor 
ind the doctors, partly because of some inner strength and sta- 
bility, he became cheerful once the initial period of nervous collapse 
was over. 

It took Roosevelt years to realize that he would never walk again. 
He was eternally hopeful. In the hospital he was convinced that he 
would leave in two or three weeks on crutches. Soon he was stating 
in cheery letters that he would completely recover. Repeatedly dur- 
ing the following years he told friends that he would soon walk in- 
dependently on crutches, and eventually with nothing more than 
canes. Almost six years after his attack he wrote to one of his doc- 
tors: "My own legs continue to improve," but "I cannot get rid of 
the brace on that left leg yet. It is still a mystery as to why that left 
knee declines to lock. . . ." 

Roosevelt spent seven years searching for a cure. He found a 
doctor in Marion, Massachusetts, who taught him some exercises. 
He spent parts of four winters on a houseboat off Florida; some- 
times he swam and crawled around lonely beaches for hours. His 
great discovery was Warm Springs, Georgia, where warm waters 
heavy with mineral salts allowed extended exercise without over- 
tiring or enervating the patients. He went there winter after winter 
and from a rather seedy resort developed it into a leading hydro- 
therapeutic center. 

So much for the medical story. What effect did polio have on Roose- 
velt the politician? 
A vast legend has grown up on this subjectnamely, that his ill- 

Interlude: The Politician as Businessman 89 

ness converted Roosevelt from a rather supercilious young socialite 
and amateur politico into a political leader of ambition and power 
and democratic convictions. The reason for this legend is clear. 
Roosevelt's battle with polio has all the drama and plot of a mod- 
ern folk saga. The young man who had strode down convention 
aisles "looking like a Greek God" now had to be carried around 
like a baby, or pushed in a wheel chair. The man of only forty 
who had struck everyone with his animation and vitality spent 
hours crawling on the floor as he tried to learn to walk again. Peo- 
ple jumped from the fact of physical change to the fiction of per- 
sonality transformation. 

The evidence is that Roosevelt's illness did not alter but strength- 
ened already existent or latent tendencies in his personality. 

Polio, for example, did not teach him patience. He had already 
shown this trait to a marked degree in his lengthy maneuverings 
in state politics, in his dealings with local politicians, in his han- 
dling of the endless trivia of patronage and position. Nor did his 
illness give him a sudden new confidence in himself. His confidence 
in his capacity to win battles, political or otherwise "cockiness/' 
his political rivals called it had steadily expanded as his public 
activities broadened. 

There was no basic change in his political ideas. Those who see 
a new humanitarian rising from the sickbed ignore Roosevelt's 
decade of immersion in Wilsonian progressivism. Actually, he 
showed himself after his illness, just as he did before it, as a 
shrewd politician who kept his eye on the main chance and who 
was willing to bend his own views in adjusting to political realities. 
His position on the political spectrum remained the same a little 
left of center. While insisting that he was a good liberal or pro- 
gressivehe used the terms interchangeably he insisted, too, that 
his position was one of "constructive progress" between conservative 
Republicanism and the "radicalism" of La Follette and the Pro- 
gressives. On matters like the League of Nations and prohibition, 
too, he took a politician's straddling position. 

Doubtless his illness gave him opportunity for thinking out 
some of his ideas, but he took little advantage of this opportunity. 
He started two rather ambitious intellectual and creative projects 
a history of the United States and an analysis of the practical work- 
ings of American government. In each case he wrote a dozen or so 
pages and then dropped the project. Neither fragment reflects any 
new or original ideas, although the few pages of the history reveal 
a marked socio-economic interpretation, as against the "great man" 
theory of history. He did a good deal of reading during his long 
convalescence some biography and history, practically no econom- 


ics, poetry, or philosophy, but both before and after his illness he 
liked books of travel and adventure best. 

He was a man of many thoughts, not a man of trenchant ideas. 
A talk he gave at Milton Academy a talk he considered of some 
importance and which was published in 1926 as a book with the 
pretentious title Whither Bound? shows a wide-ranging mind in 
action but only a grab bag of thoughts. He skipped along, touching 
dexterously on the revolution of science, the need to accept change, 
the importance of equality of opportunity, the tendency of the 
majority to be progressive in outlook but divided over means. Ut- 
terly lacking was a central idea or unifying thread. Columns he 
wrote later for newspapers in Georgia and New York show the 
same tendencies. 

Was there ever a time during this period when Roosevelt's future 
as a politician trembled in the balance? Clearly a conflict rose be- 
tween Eleanor and Sara Roosevelt as to whether Franklin should 
carry on an active political career, as his wife hoped, or retire to 
the ease of Hyde Park, as his mother wanted. However intense the 
struggle between wife and mother, it was of little long-run signifi- 
cance. There was never the slightest chance of Roosevelt's retiring 
from politics. If anything, his illness made him want to be more 
active, more involved. "You are built a bit like me," he wrote to 
a close friend within a year of the attack, "you need something 
physically more active, with constant contact with all kinds of 
people in many kinds of places." In 1924 he left the law firm of 
Emmet, Marvin and Roosevelt, which he had helped form in 1920, 
mainly because estates and wills and the like "bored him to death/' 
for a new firm of Roosevelt and O'Connor, where he would be 
working with "live people" directly involved in more active ven- 

All this does not mean that polio had no major consequences for 
Roosevelt and his political career. Physically he went through a 
transformation; as if compensating for his crippled legs, he de- 
veloped heavy, muscular shoulders and chest which, he exclaimed 
delightedly, "would make Jack Dempsey envious." His disablement 
meant that he could move about only in a wheel chair or on people's 
arms Howe ruled that he must never be carried in public but 
his attendants became adept in these arrangements. His legs be- 
came, actually, something of a political asset. They won him sym- 
pathysomething he might never have had otherwise. Millions of 
Americans were electrified in later years by Roosevelt's public ap- 
pearancesthe tense, painfully awkward approach to the center 
of the stage, the bustle of aides and politicians around him, climaxed 
with Roosevelt's radiant smiles and vigorous gestures. 

His handicap was also a convenience. Since he was perfectly na- 

Interlude: The Politician as Businessman 91 

tural about the state of his legs, he was able again and again to 
use his disability as an excuse for not taking part in political activi- 
ties he wished to avoid. It was an excuse no one could contradict, 
until Al Smith did so successfully in pressuring him to run for 
governor in 1928. His illness also had the highly advantageous ef- 
fect of bringing Eleanor Roosevelt more actively into politics than 
might otherwise have been the case. She joined the Women's Trade 
Union League and became a leader in Democratic women's or- 
ganizations in the state. She often brought her Democratic and 
trade-union "girls" to see her husband. Howe, too, who had planned 
to go into business in 1921, stayed on with his chief during and 
after the crisis. 

The chief political importance of Roosevelt's illness was simply 
in the realm of time. While it interrupted his vast political contacts 
and correspondence for only a few weeks, it postponed for years the 
day when he might run for office; he did not want to seek office 
until he had made as full a recovery as possible. This was something 
of a blessing, since the mid-igso's were not auspicious years for 
many Democrats. As it turned out, his return to politics was de- 
layed until he was much closer to the years of the flood tide of 
Democratic strength. 


Right after the November 1921 election victorious Democrats in 
the state assembly races got letters of congratulation from Roose- 
velt. This was the signal that he was not through with politics. A 
few months more, and he was deeply involved in the maneuvers 
that preceded Al Smith's attempt to recapture the governorship in 

Events of the 1920*5 were to throw Roosevelt and Smith into a 
tight political embrace. When their careers first intertwined, during 
the Sheehan shenanigans, they were ranged on opposite sides: Smith 
was a regular and Roosevelt a rebel; their alliance was to fall to 
pieces years later with Roosevelt in power and Smith in rebellion. 
But beginning in 1920, when each seconded the other's nomination 
at the Democratic national convention, until 1928, when Smith 
drafted Roosevelt for party duty, they worked in unison, with Smith 
as the senior partner. 

The reason for the alliance was simple: each needed the other. 
Together they spanned, geographically, religiously, and socially, 
the breadth of the Democratic party; to win elections each needed 
the support that the other could command. Personally they were 
friendly and respected each, other's political talents. Reporters could 
draw elaborate contrasts between the patrician and the plebeian, 


between the upstater and the New Yorker, between the Episcopalian 
and the Catholic, but both men were too big-minded, too worldly 
wise, to be concerned with such matters. On the surface during 
this period their relations were impeccable. Underneath they both 
had a seasoned tough-minded understanding of the complex me- 
chanics and dynamics of intraparty politics; doubtless they both 
knew that theirs was essentially a political friendship. 

Al's candor had impressed Roosevelt in the Sheehan fight: Smith 
as majority leader in the assembly had told the rebels frankly that 
if they attended the caucus they would have to vote for the caucus 
candidate. Roosevelt had been something less than candid with 
Smith in respect to the gubernatorial campaign in 1918; the as- 
sistant secretary later proclaimed that he had backed Al for the 
Democratic nomination, while actually he and Howe had been 
exceedingly cagey on the matter. He probably expected Smith to 
lose in 1918 and thus leave the way clear for himself in 1920, but 
Al won. In 1920 Smith lost his bid for re-election but he won over 
a million more votes in New York than did Cox and Roosevelt. 

Even in defeat Smith remained the leading Democrat in New 
York. Roosevelt could no longer oppose or evade him, so he had 
to "join" him. Events of early 1922 gave Roosevelt his opportunity. 
William Randolph Hearst wanted the Democratic nomination for 
governor, and Murphy was letting him line up delegates. Smith did 
not want to leave his profitable trucking business, but he could 
never forget that the publisher had accused him during his first 
administration of allowing poisoned milk to be distributed to chil- 
dren in New York City. At the last minute Smith agreed to a draft 
and Roosevelt was chosen to issue the call. A cordial exchange of 
"Dear Al" and "Dear Frank" letters followed. 

Murphy now wanted Hearst to run for the Senate. Despite tre- 
mendous pressure Smith steadily refused to accept the publisher as 
his running mate, and Hearst pulled out of the race. Roosevelt 
could probably have had the senatorial nomination, but he did not 
yet feel ready. Finally, Murphy and Smith compromised on Dr. 
Royal S. Copeland, a Hearst protege, for senator. Roosevelt worked 
for the ticket and served as honorary head of Copeland's campaign. 
Smith defeated incumbent Governor Nathan L. Miller, and swept 
Copeland in with him. 

Smith's victory marked him as a leading candidate for the presi- 
dency in 1924. Although Roosevelt carefully maintained good re- 
lations with Bryan and other national leaders of the Democracy, 
he had no alternative but to support his fellow New Yorker. He 
was keenly concerned, however, that Smith might command in- 
sufficient national appeal. Several times he urged Smith to speak 

Interlude: The Politician as Businessman 93 

out on national questions. But the governor wanted to stick to his 
New York problems. 

Most of all Roosevelt feared that Smith would become irretriev- 
ably branded as a "wet" and lose all hope of gaining votes from 
the dry forces in the party. When the governor was faced with the 
awkward choice of signing or vetoing a liquor bill, Roosevelt wrote 
him, "I am mighty sorry for the extremely difficult position in which 
you have been placed over this darned old liquor question/' and 
proceeded to outline an elaborate stratagem whereby Smith could 
veto the bill without alienating either side, and then call the legis- 
lature into special session to pass new legislation. Smith rejected 
the advice. He took a more direct and honest line of action, but 
one that left him more vulnerable to attacks from the drys. 

"If I did not still have these crutches I should throw my own 
hat in the ring," Roosevelt wrote a friend in the late summer of 
1923. Within a few months, indeed, Howe was lining up compli- 
mentary first-ballot votes for his chief among several delegations to 
the national convention. But this was not a serious gesture. At the 
end of April 1924 the governor announced that Roosevelt would 
head the New York Smith-for-President committee. There was talk 
that the Smith forces wanted Roosevelt for the sake of his name 
only, but immediately he plunged into the job of winning delegate 
votes for the governor. 

This was no easy task. Democrats everywhere agreed that Smith 
had been an honest, efficient, progressive governor. But Democratic 
candidate for president? Impossible. At this time the Ku Klux Klan 
was not merely a band of nightshirters, it was a powerful subter- 
ranean influence that reached into governors' mansions and state 
assemblies. Even those Democrats who feared no "popish" control 
of the White House if Al won were reluctant to gamble on victory 
with a Catholic and a wet. Nevertheless, Roosevelt set to work. 
Through a massive correspondence and an elaborate intelligence 
system he acquired information on the personalities and politics of 
state delegations. For the first time in his life he saw in detail and 
on a national scale the confused currents and crosscurrents, the 
rival personalities and factions, the electoral law and machinery, 
that lay behind the pushing and hauling in the convention. He won 
few delegates for Smith but he added a course in his own political 

Smith, after trying out several other speakers, asked Roosevelt to 
make his nominating speech. It was Roosevelt's first important ad- 
dress since 1920, and he rose above the occasion. He won the atten- 
tion of the delegates with a speech free from claptrap and stentorian 
phrases, and when he called Smith the "happy warrior of the politi- 
cal battlefield" the phrase was so apt that it galvanized Smith's 


rooters and the last few sentences of the speech were drowned out. 
Mark Sullivan termed the speech a "noble utterance." Walter 
Lippmann called it "moving and distinguished." Ironically, when 
the "happy warrior" phrase was first suggested to Roosevelt, he was 
afraid it was too poetic, and, as it turned out, he used it prematurely, 
instead of waiting for the climactic final sentence. Nevertheless, the 
speech won him the spotlight and Democrats remembered it for 
years. Possibly Roosevelt was really drawing a picture of himself 
in the phrase happy warrior; certainly it was another case of his 
furthering his own career in the process of aiding Al. 

But no speech could affect that convention. Ballot after ballot 
dragged on in the smoky heat of Madison Square Garden until it 
became clear that neither the forces centered in the East supporting 
Smith nor the forces centered in the South and West behind M cAdoo 
could muster the vital two-thirds. Roosevelt took part in the con- 
ferences that, on the io$rd ballot, gave John W. Davis the nomina- 
tion. Davis was a saddlemaker's grandson who had become ambas- 
sador to Great Britain and had been called "one of the most perfect 
gentlemen I have ever met" by the King himself. The kind of con- 
servative who believed in civil liberties, Davis was a lifelong Demo- 
crat and a distinguished lawyer. But he was a lackluster compromise, 
without Al's color or McAdoo's Wilsonian background. As a weary, 
cynical gesture to progressivism the delegates chose the Peerless 
Leader's brother, Charles W. Bryan, for the vice-presidency, and 

The convention was a disaster for the Democratic party and a 
setback for Smith, but it was a personal victory for Roosevelt. His 
eloquent, moderate speeches, his gay, gallant air that made people 
forget his crutches, his loyalty to Al combined with his friendliness 
toward other factions, all left a deep imprint on the rank and file 
of the Democracy. Lippmann congratulated him on his service to 
New York, and Tom Pendergast, Democratic boss of Kansas City, 
told a mutual friend that Roosevelt had the most magnetic per- 
sonality he had ever encountered. Praise from two men near the 
opposite poles of political life was a tribute to Roosevelt's broad 

But his triumph was short lived. In accordance with political 
tradition, Davis men quickly moved in after the convention to take 
over the machinery of the national Democratic party. Roosevelt was 
left on the sidelines. Smith ran again for governor, but Roosevelt 
played little part in the state campaign. Indeed, the whole month 
before the election he spent in Warm Springs, His pessimism about 
the Democrats' chances was amply justified. Coolidge beat Davis 
by over seven million votes, and the Republicans won decisive 
majorities in both House and Senate. But Smith in New York 

Interlude: The Politician as Businessman 95 

breasted the Republican tide. His victory over Theodore Roosevelt, 
Jr., marked the end of the latter's political career and laid the 
ground for the reappearance of Franklin Roosevelt four years later* 

The dreary convention fight and the dismal election results of 1924 
left the Democrats divided and leaderless. "Something must be 
done, and done now/' Roosevelt wrote in December 1924, to re- 
store the voters' confidence in the party. But what? His almost 
singlehanded effort to rejuvenate the party in 1925 gave him a harsh 
lesson in the internal power arrangements of the Democratic party. 

He had long worried over the condition of the party. His cam- 
paign in 1920 had confirmed his suspicions that the party's ma- 
chinery was archaic and outgrown, as he wrote to Cordell Hull, 
national chairman of the party, late in 1921. Hull agreed but could 
do nothing. Three years later the picture seemed blacker. There 
was room, Roosevelt said, for but two parties. The Republican 
party was conservative; "the Democratic Party is the Progressive 
Party of the country," he insisted. The progressives had been badly 
divided in 1924. But there must be no overtures to the La Follette 
party; all progressives must get together in the Democratic party. 

So much was clear to him. But could the Democratic party be 
made into an instrument for winning elections and governing the 
country? Not unless it was reformed, he felt. He was appalled by the 
lack of national organization the national headquarters consisted 
of "two ladies occupying one room in a Washington office building," 
he said impatiently. The man Davis had bequeathed as national 
chairman, Clem Shaver, was out visiting millionaires asking them 
to endorse notes for the party. "Could anything be more of a farce?" 
Roosevelt demanded. "We have no money, no publicity, no noth- 
ing!" He wanted the party to unite more closely, to get rid of its 
"factionalism" and "localism," to do a better publicity job, to get 
on a firmer financial basis. 

Roosevelt laid his plans artfully. He feared that the national com- 
mittee would stymie any reform effort because the committee, con- 
sisting largely of old party work horses from each state, was the 
seedy fruit of the existing arrangements. He decided to bypass the 
national leaders and appeal directly to local party leaders, including 
delegates to the recent national convention. To 3,000 of these leaders 
he wrote a letter that asked for their advice on improving the party 
but consisted mainly of a statement of Roosevelt's views on what 
should be done. "I take it that we are all agreed on certain funda- 
mental truths," he said casually, and he proceeded to name them: 
the national party organization should be more active and work 
more closely with state organizations; publicity should be improved; 
party leaders should meet more often to plan for united action. 


His letters aroused all the ancient vexations among the rank and 
file: Southerners complained about the party's liberalism, West- 
erners about the city bosses, Easterners about Bryanism and the 
anti-Catholic and antiliquor forces. Bui most of the several hundred 
respondents, doubtless taking their cue from Roosevelt's letter, 
called for drastic party reform. They wanted more unity, better 
organisation, more leadership, more discipline, less factionalism 
and localism, "The Democrats are just a mob/' an lowan said 
disgustedly. Most, but not all, wanted the party to become or re- 
main a liberal organization. 

Fortified by these opinions, Roosevelt proposed a small national 
conference of the party to discuss issues and organization. At first, 
prospects for the plan seemed bright. Well-known Democrats in- 
cluding Davis, Cox, Hull, and Daniels backed it, and there was much 
favorable publicity. Since some elements in the party suspected that 
the project was a bid by Roosevelt for party leadership on Smith's 
behalf or his own, it seemed imperative to Roosevelt and Howe 
that Shaver as national chairman issue the call for the conference. 
But this Shaver would not do. The party's first job, he said, was to 
cut its organization to the bone and pay off its debt. The harder 
Roosevelt tried to force Shaver's hand the clearer it became that 
the national chairman was following party leaders who opposed 

Who were these leaders? Roosevelt had little trouble finding out. 
They were the Democratic chieftains in Congress, who were far 
more concerned about keeping their seats from their own states 
and districts than in re-forming ranks for a presidential victory in 
1928. Many of the Democratic leaders were Southerners who had 
piled up committee seniority as representatives of one-party areas 
that monotonously returned them to office in election after election. 
Although these congressmen maintained a congressional campaign 
committee, they had little unity or organization. Their real {"ear 
was that a concerted national effort by the party might jeopardize 
the position of some congressmen who could survive politically 
only by deserting- the party platform and taking a position con- 
genial to local interests. They would do nothing positive, Howe 
observed, unless driven to it by a purely local situation but their 
districts were usually not of the type to reflect national trends or 
conflicts. The Democratic congressmen could hardly have been 
pleased, either, by Roosevelt's admitted plan of inviting only half 
a dozen Democratic members from each House. 

"We have practically no leaders in a National sense at all/' 
Roosevelt concluded; it was an "unspeakable groping about in the 
darkness." Howe undoubtedly reflected Roosevelt's feelings when 

Interlude: The Politician as Businessman 97 

he remarked that the selection of the donkey as the Democratic 
emblem was prophetic. 

Roosevelt was also unsuccessful in reforming methods of party 
finance. He was indignant that Jesse Jones was raising money from 
big contributors. When Jones heard of this he wrote Roosevelt a 
surprised letterhe was paying off the party's debt, said the Texan, 
wasn't this enough? Roosevelt replied that the party should be 
financed from small contributions. He had estimated that if every 
election district of one thousand people contributed only five 
dollars per district, the Democrats could raise half a million dollars. 
Nothing came of this proposal either. 

Nationally the Democratic party remained a divided, leaderless 
aggregation of state factions and sectional groupings. It followed 
precisely the policy Roosevelt feared most a policy of opportunism, 
or as he described it, a posture of waiting with hands folded for 
the Republicans to make mistakes. The weaknesses of the party 
were to affect his plans for re-entering politics; years later they 
would plague the Democrats as the party in power and Roosevelt as 
president and party leader. 


Seemingly Roosevelt's political influence sank to its nadir during 
the mid- 1920*8. Then, in the space of six weeks, he vaulted into 
the governorship of the nation's largest state and became auto- 
matically a leading presidential possibility. The remarkable thing 
was not the feat itself but the way it came about. The sudden 
change in Roosevelt's political fortunes was initially less an act 
on Roosevelt's part than a summons by his party. 

The collapse of his party reform efforts in 1925 left him as im- 
potent politically as the party itself. He had no position in the 
party he was now only the defeated vice-presidential candidate 
once removed and some anti-Smith Democrats felt that the whole 
reform enterprise had been an artifice to promote the Happy War- 
rior's candidacy in 1928. Actually, if the project was intended to 
promote the interest of any one Democrat, it was that of Roosevelt 

His position in the state was ambiguous. For a time after the 
1924 election he professed to be neutral toward Democratic candi- 
dates. "A plague on all individuals who would like to be President!" 
he wrote. Smith's capture of a fourth gubernatorial term in 1926, 
however, confirmed the governor's power both in New York and 
in the Democratic presidential race. During the pre-i928-convention 
period Roosevelt campaigned for Smith, even to the extent of 
spending two weeks in the Midwest trying to round vjp delegates. 


He was politically close to Smith but not one of the inner circle 
who confabbed endlessly with their chief in the famous "Tiger 
Room" in the penthouse of a wealthy Manhattan contractor. During 
this period-indeed, during all the period between 1913 and 1938- 
Roosevelt had no office in the state aside from an unpaid position 
as chairman of the Taconic State Park Commission. 

The American politician clings to power by keeping a foothold 
in one level of party or government even when he is dislodged from 
some other level. Ironically, Roosevelt's influence dwindled in his 
local Dutchess County party during the igso's. One reason was his 
long absences from Hyde Park. He tried to break the grip o the 
old "courthouse gang" on the party, but with no success. He had 
about given up on the Dutchess County Democracy by 1928. There 
were "too many local leading Democrats/' he complained, "tied 
up for financial reasons with the Republicans." 

In view of all this, what is the explanation of Roosevelt's con- 
tinued, political standing a standing so great that the Democratic 
leaders of New York hoped he would take the nomination for 
United States Senator in 1926 and drafted him for governor two 
years later? 

Part of the answer is that Roosevelt continued to work hard at 
politics during this period. He wrote thousands of letters-letters 
of congratulation to winning Democrats, of commiseration to losers, 
of inquiry and advice to friends throughout the state and nation 
dating from his senatorial and navy days. Passing through Wash- 
ington he made a point of meeting Democratic congressmen. Even 
in the South he managed to cultivate political friendships: he in- 
vited AFL officials to his houseboat in Florida, visited Bryan in 
Miami (before the latter's death in 1925), conferred with Southern 
political leaders at Warm Springs. 

His position on party issues helped him politically. He was 
moderately liberal in a moderately liberal party. He believed the 
party should stand for "progressivism with a brake on," not "con- 
servatism with a move on." He followed closely and commented 
knowledgeably on a variety of international and national issues, 
such as war debts, banking, conservation, the one-party press, and 
Mississippi River flood control. On touchy matters like prohibition 
he took a position midway between the party extremes. He managed 
in a state convention keynote speech for Smith to tread the liquor 
tightrope so adroitly as to win from Daniels, a dry, the encomium: 
"I think you took only a light bath and came out in fine shape. 
From that speech nobody would call you an immersionist like Al 
Smith; they would rather think you took yours by sprinkling or 
pouring. . , ." 

It was easy for Roosevelt to turn down the senatorial nomination 

Interlude: The Politician as Businessman 99 

in 1926. He had just begun his Warm Springs cure and he hoped 
for rapid progress in the next years. Moreover, he did not feel cut 
out to be a Senator. Most important were considerations of his 
career. If he ran for senator and lost, he would have accumulated 
a string of three consecutive defeats. If he ran and won, he must, 
perforce, take positions in the Senate that would antagonize some 
wing of the divided Democratic party. 

But the situation in 1928 was different. In that year Smith went 
to the Democratic convention with a commanding lead. Roosevelt 
again nominated the governor, in a speech notable chiefly for the 
fact that it was written with the radio audience specifically in mind; 
Roosevelt already had sensed the future political importance of 
this new medium, and he made effective use of it at Houston. "A 
model of its kind," the New York Times commented, "limpid 
and unaffected in style and without a single trace of fustian." He 
also served as Smith's floor manager, but the show was largely in 
the hands of Smith's immediate associates. The affair for a Demo- 
cratic convention was rather tranquil. Smith easily won the nomi- 
nation on the first roll call. 

Knowing of Roosevelt's business contacts, Smith asked him to 
organize business and professional men for the campaign, while 
Eleanor Roosevelt, who had become increasingly active in state 
Democratic affairs, helped run the Bureau of Women's Activities. 
Roosevelt did not participate too actively in the campaign; Howe 
usually represented him at headquarters. Roosevelt, in fact, was 
not happy over the way the campaign was managed. He objected 
to Smith's choice of John J. Raskob for national chairman, for 
Raskob was a wet, a Catholic, and a wealthy General Motors ex- 
ecutivefactors, Roosevelt feared, that would only intensify the 
already strong anti-Smith feeling in the Protestant South and the 
Progressive West. 

"Smith has burned his bridges behind him," he wrote his close 
friend Van Lear Black late in July. "My own particular role will 
be that of the elder statesman who will not be one of the 'yes men' 
at headquarters." He felt that Smith's lieutenants were excluding 
him from the top campaign councils. He was unhappy about the 
publicity program, which was being handled by a Smith underling 
with the help of the General Motors advertising experts. "In other 
words, it is a situation in which you and I can find little room for 
very active work, but we shall be in a more advantageous position 
in the long run. . . ." 

What did Roosevelt mean by "in the long run"? Perhaps these 
words give some clue to his motives in the confused situation that 
shortly developed. 

In mid-September Roosevelt went to Warm Springs. He knew 


before leaving New York that party leaders wanted him to run tor 
governor; Smith had already approached him. Why was Roosevelt 
so unwilling? First of all, there was his health. In one brief ex- 
hilarating moment at Warm Springs he had taken a few steps with- 
out canes. Two more years of Warm Springs, he felt, and he might 
discard them entirely (but not, of course, his braces, which he must 
have accepted by then as permanent). He was also concerned about 
the success of Warm Springs, in which he had invested a large sum 
of money. 

But his main motives were those of a politician. He had long 
been pessimistic about the Democrats' chances in 1928 and his hopes 
had not risen after the convention. The country was prosperous; 
Hoover was a strong candidate for the Republicans; and Smith's 
vulnerability as a Catholic and a wet became increasingly evident as 
the campaign progressed. To run in 1928 might mean going down 
with the ship; but if Smith lost, all sorts of possibilities would open 
up for the future. 

Late in September the state Democratic convention met in Roch 
ester. Smith and his lieutenants anxiously canvassed the guberna- 
torial prospects. How much Smith himself wanted Roosevelt to run 
is uncertain. Most of the pressure came from state leaders who 
feared that the Republicans, with Al out of the way, would regain 
control in Albany. Howe, who was dead set against his chief's 
running in 1928, wired Roosevelt that only the jobholders really 
wanted him. He warned: "Beware of Greeks bearing gifts." 

Whatever his own feelings, Smith took the lead in pressuring 
Roosevelt. Roosevelt made himself inaccessible during the first day 
of the convention, but Smith finally got him on the telephone. 
One by one the governor pushed Roosevelt's objections aside. 
Raskob would help finance Warm Springs. The governor's duties 
were not arduous enough to interfere with his program of recovery. 
Above all, the party needed him; it wanted to draft him. 

Undoubtedly it was this last argument that moved Roosevelt. 
His long-term political hopes clearly limited his personal choice in 
the matter. Smith and the other leaders pressed their demands to 
the point where further refusal would appear as an act of disloyalty, 
an act thai in itself might cause a bitterness in the party toward 
Roosevelt that would jeopardize his future prospects. 

Smith seemed to sense the weakness. Would Roosevelt decline to 
run if the convention nominated him? 

Roosevelt hesitated. This was a situation that he could not control. 
Smith saw his advantage and hung up. On October 2, 1928, the 
Rochester convention nominated Roosevelt for governor of New 
York. Thus it happened that Roosevelt, against his own intentions 
and the advice of Howe and with his wife unsure of her own mind, 

Interlude: The Politician as Businessman 101 

took the first direct step to the presidency. It was significant that 
his return to politics, like his original entrance eighteen years be- 
fore, came about chiefly at the behest of his party. 

When news of Roosevelt's nomination by acclamation reached 
Warm Springs the little cottage had an air more of gloom than 
of triumph. From Howe came a sour wire: BY WAY OF CONGRATULA- 

PRIMARIES a reminder of Howe's opposition to his chief's ill-fated 
effort against Gerard in 1914. Soon Roosevelt's cheerful voice rang 
out: "Well, if I've got to run for governor, there's no use in all of 
us getting sick about it!" 

The Republicans promptly took the line that the crippled Roose- 
velt was a sacrificial offering to Smith's presidential ambitions. The 
drafting was pitiless and pathetic, one newspaper said. Smith met 
the attack head on. "We don't elect a Governor for his ability to 
do a double back flip or a handspring," he said. "The work of the 
Governorship is brainwork." Roosevelt's answer was a bit more 
calculated. He had not been dragooned into running, he asserted. 
Smith had been willing to abide by his reluctance to run. "I was 
drafted because all of the party leaders when they assembled in- 
sisted that my often-expressed belief in the policies of Governor 
Smith made my nomination the best assurance to the voters that 
these policies would be continued." But the best answer, Roosevelt 
felt, would be a vigorous campaign around the state. 

Both party tickets mirrored the New York melting pot. Roose- 
velt's Republican opponent was Albert Ottinger, a prominent Jew 
and an experienced politician who had won the state attorney 
generalship despite Smith's hold on the governorship. Running 
with Roosevelt for lieutenant governor was Herbert Lehman, also 
a Jew, head pf a lucrative private banking firm and a heavy con- 
tributor to Smith's campaigns. Senator Gopeland was up for a 
second term. 

Roosevelt already had the nucleus of the staff that would go on 
with him to the White House. Recognizing his limited knowledge 
of current state problems, he asked Maurice Bloch, his campaign 
manager and the Democratic leader in the assembly, to find some- 
one to help him. Bloch recommended Samuel I. Rosenman, a 
young former state legislator who had served on the legislative bill 
drafting commission for the past three years. In charge of the Roose- 
velt headquarters in New York City was James A. Farley, a con- 
tractor and state boxing commissioner who had recently been ap- 
pointed secretary of the state Democratic committee. Edward J. 
Flynn, boss of the turbulent Democracy in the Bronx, worked for 
Roosevelt in New York. Howe, quickly overcoming his pique, had 


his hand in everything; one of his main jobs was setting up a num- 
ber of "independent" committees for Roosevelt that catered to spe- 
cial groups such as businessmen and professional men. 

Lugging suitcases filled with red Manila envelopes neatly marked 
"Labor," "Taxes/' and other state issues, Rosenman met Roosevelt 
on the Hoboken ferry as the campaign party left for the i,3<>o-mile 
campaign around New York. It was mid-October, with three weeks 
to election. Rosenman had heard stories that Roosevelt was some- 
thing of a playboy, that he was weak and ineffective. "But the 
broad jaw and upthrust chin, the piercing, flashing eyes, the firm 
hands" these, Rosenman said later, did not fit the picture. 

For three days Roosevelt ignored Rosenman. The campaign 
seemed to be a curiously unplanned affair. At first Roosevelt con- 
centrated on national issues to such an extent that Bloch wired 
DENT BUT FOR GOVERNOR. . . . Roosevelt, however, enjoyed little 
freedom of action. He had to run on Smith's record as governor an 
excellent record, but one that did not enable Roosevelt to proclaim 
bold new plans. And he had to run in the midst of the anti-Catholic, 
anti-Irish prejudice that was strong in New York State as well as 
the rest of the country. 

This bigotry Roosevelt denounced in his first major talk, and he 
did so in a city Bingham ton that had been a Ku Klux Klan 
stronghold earlier in the century. He told of the printed handbills 
he had seen in Georgia stating that if Smith became president 
Protestant marriages would be void and children made illegitimate. 
"Yes, you may laugh/' he said, but it was a serious problem. "I be- 
lieve that the day will come in this country when education and, 
incidentally, we have never had a Governor in the State of New 
York who has done more for the cause of education than Alfred E. 
Smithwhen education in our own State and in every other State, 
in the cities and the hamlets and the farms, in the back alleys and 
up on the mountains, will be so widespread, so clean, so American, 
that this vile thing that is hanging over our heads in this Presiden- 
tial election will not be able to survive/' 

For two days the campaign train chugged through the tier of 
agricultural counties above the Pennsylvania line. In Jamestown, 
Roosevelt endorsed the state platform's pledge to name a commis- 
sion to study the problem of farm taxes and distribution, but he 
openly went beyond the platform to say that he wanted to see "the 
farmer and his family receive at the end of each year as much for 
their labor as if they had been working ... as skilled workers 
under the best conditions in any one of our great industries/' In 
1928 this was an extreme version of "parity" more extreme than 
Roosevelt probably realized. 

Interlude: The Politician as Businessman 103 

By the time he reached Buffalo he was using Rosenman's meaty 
envelopes of facts on state legislation. He showed Rosenman the 
art of converting a dull sheaf of facts into a political speech how 
to make a speech sparkle with wit and irony, how to turn statistics 
into a broadside without seeming to use statistics, how to gird de- 
tails around a central dramatic theme. Not that Roosevelt himself 
had become the accomplished speaker he was later to be. Many of 
his speeches had the air of improvisation, lacking any central theme. 
He made the mistake of repeatedly mentioning Ottinger's name. On 
the other hand, he knew and used such devices as attacking the 
Republican leadership especially the leaders in the state legisla- 
turerather than the Republicans as a whole. Generally his speeches 
ran the register nicely from cheery good will to indignation at the 
promises and "misrepresentations" of the enemy. 

Because he wanted close contact with the voters, the candidate 
switched to an automobile for the campaign in the western counties 
and for the long trip through the Mohawk Valley in central New 
York to the Albany area, and then down to New York City. Be- 
hind lurched two buses, one for newsmen and the other for ste- 
nographers, mimeographers, and their equipment. Traveling by car 
enabled Roosevelt to shake hands at the crossroads. Speaking in 
halls was difficult; sometimes the candidate had to be carried up fire 
escapes and back stairs. Watching one of these entrances, Frances 
Perkins realized that this man had accepted the ultimate humility 
that comes from being helped physically, and accepted it smiling. 
"He came up over that perilous, uncomfortable, and humiliating 
'entrance/ and his manner was pleasant, courteous, enthusiastic. 
He got up on his own braces, adjusted them, straightened himself, 
smoothed his hair, linked his arm in his son Jim's, and walked out 
on the platform as if this were nothing unusual." 

Roosevelt delighted in telling his audiences of his strenuous cam- 
paignof the seven speeches in one day, the side trips, being "kid- 
napped" to make extra appearances. "Too bad about this unfortu- 
nate sick man, isn't it?" 

Batavia, Rochester, Canandaigua, Syracuse slowly the caravan 
wound its way through country brilliant with fall colors. In Roches- 
ter the candidate advocated a broader state health program, a 
better old-age pension law, and repeal of the state's archaic poor 
law. In Syracuse, one hundred miles south of the outlet of the St. 
Lawrence into Lake Ontario, he declared that the people wanted 
"their" power sites like the Long Saulte Rapids on that river de- 
veloped by a state power authority and not by a private corpora- 
tion. In Utica, a center of dry feeling, he came out flatly against a 
"baby Volstead act" that would establish state enforcement of pro- 
hibition side by side with national a position that made him al- 


most as wet as Smith himself. Back in Manhattan he promised that 
the Democrats would enact a "real 48-hour law." In the Bronx he 
outlined an ambitious program of judicial reform. In Yonkers he 
mentioned scornfully that a leading magazine had featured an ar- 
ticle under the title, "Is Hoover Human?" No one in his wildest 
dreams, he proclaimed, could ask the same question about Al Smith. 

Did liis campaign win votes for Roosevelt? Undoubtedly but it 
was probably no more important an element than others hidden far 
below the surface of events. Ottinger was badly knifed in Erie 
County by a Republican faction there. In New York City some 
whispered that he was not a "good Jew"-and the candidate had to 
state publicly that he was "bar mitzvah [confirmed] in the Central 
Synagogue." But it was Smith who suffered real desertions. Thou- 
sands of New Yorkers who had given him their votes for governor 
failed to support him for the presidency. His Bowery mien, his 
harsh resonance over what he called the "raddio," his natty dress 
with the bright pocket handkerchief-all these clashed with their 
idea of the man who should occupy the White House. 

On election eve Smith and Roosevelt glumly listened to the elec- 
tion returns in a New York armory. By midnight it was clear that 
Smith had lost both New York and the nation. "Well," Al is re- 
ported to have said, "the time just hasn't come yet when a man 
can say his beads in the White House." The race for governor was 
close, and returns came in slowly. Knowing the reputation of some 
Republican election officials upstate for holding back returns until 
they could estimate their party's needs, Roosevelt and Flynn tele- 
phoned warnings to upstate sheriffs that a "staff of 100 lawyers" 
would leave the next morning to hunt for election frauds. This 
was partly bluff, but it may have helped. Roosevelt went to becl. 
Flynn told him in the morning that he had won. Final returns were 
2,130,193 for Roosevelt to 2,104,629 for Ottinger-a margin of 
25,564 votes. 

It was a hairbreadth victory for Roosevelt and an ironic defeat 
for Smith in his own state. The former ran about 73,000 votes ahead 
of the latter upstate, but only 33,000 behind him in New York City. 
Thus Roosevelt's tactic of nursing his upstate strength while at the 
same time keeping friendly with Tammany seemed to pay off. On 
the whole he emerged relatively unscathed from the maelstrom of 
factional desertions and party shifts. Even so, Roosevelt's showing 
was not impressive. He ran behind Lehman and Copeland; the lat- 
ter had had the backing of Hearst, who openly opposed Roosevelt. 

The Republicans won the presidency on the prosperity as well as 
the religious issue. The day after the election a 'Victory boom" in 
Wall Street roared the stock exchange to the second biggest day up 
to that time. 

six Apprenticeship in Albany 


.MID POMP and circumstance and the boom- 
ing of guns Roosevelt took the oath as governor of the state of 
New York on the first day of 1329. An audience of notables watched 
the ceremony in the brightly draped assembly chamber in Albany. 
Making his farewell speech, Al Smith described the progress of the 
state in the quarter-century since he had first come to Albany. Then 
he turned and looked up at the man standing next to him. 

"Frank, I congratulate you/' Smith said earnestly. "I hope you 
will be able to devote that intelligent mind of yours to the prob- 
lems of this state." 

Roosevelt responded in kind. The day was significant, he said 
in beginning his inaugural address, less for the inauguration of a 
new governor than for the departure of the old. He spoke of Smith's 
"wise, efficient, and honorable" administration of the state's af- 
fairs. The new governor handled skillfully the problem of giving 
Smith credit for past achievements while showing at the same time 
that great tasks lay ahead. "To secure more of life's pleasures for 
the farmer; to guard the toilers in the factories and to insure them 
a fair wage and protection from the dangers of their trades; to 
compensate them by adequate insurance for injuries received while 
working for us; to open the doors of knowledge to their children 
more widely; to aid those who are crippled and ill; to pursue with 
strict justice, all evil persons who prey upon their fellow men; and 
at the same time, by intelligent and helpful sympathy, to lead 
wrongdoers into right pathsall of these great aims of life are more 
fully realized here than in any other State in the Union. We have 
but started on the road, and we have far to go; but during the 
last six years in particular, the people of this State have shown 
their impatience of those who seek to make such things a football 
of politics or by blind, unintelligent obstruction, attempt to bar 
the road to Progress. ..." 

The ceremony symbolized a turning point in the closely entwined 
careers of the two politicians. Until the fateful election of 1928 
their relation had an ordered pattern: Smith was the senior part- 


ner, Roosevelt the junior, and each gained political strength in the 
strengthening of the other. Roosevelt was eight years younger than 
Smith; if the latter had gone to the White House in 1928, Roosevelt, 
as governor or perhaps as cabinet member, would have been the 
likely Democratic nominee eight years later-in 1936, the year Howe 
had long slated for the capture of the White House. 

As it happened, the political bond between the two men was 
snapped by the tiny percentage in New York State who voted for 
Roosevelt but against Smith in 1928. Roosevelt became the kingpin 
of New York politics, Smith the titular head of the national De- 
mocracy but, like all defeated presidential nominees, actually lack- 
ing office, authority, and title. 

The new situation bristled with potentialities for misunderstand- 
ing. Smith had talked Roosevelt into running and could justifiably 
feel that Roosevelt owed much to him; Roosevelt could contend, 
with equal justification, that he had discharged the debt by work- 
ing hard for the Happy Warrior in the campaign upstate. It was a 
bitter fact for Smith that many New Yorkers had voted for Roose- 
velt and against him; but it was a fact, too, that the new governor 
had jeopardized such support by identifying himself closely with 
Smith's cause. Finally, Smith not only wanted to remain active in 
state governmental affairs but thought that Roosevelt needed in- 
deed, wanted his help. He did not realize that Roosevelt felt fully 
capable of taking over the reins and was eager to strike out on 
his own. 

Sharpening the situation were the groups around the two men. 
Smith hoped his department heads would be kept in office by 
Roosevelt, and the new governor did retain many of them. But 
the immediate staff was another matter. Belle Moskowitz had served 
Smith with masterful talent and zeal, but Roosevelt did not keep 
her on. Nor did he retain Robert Moses, another official close to 
Smith, as secretary of state; in his place he installed Flynn of the 
Bronx. Farley took command of the state party; Rosenman became 
counsel to the governor; Howe looked after his chiefs interests ia 
New York City. One inner circle, intensely devoted, loyal, ambi- 
tious for its chief, took the place of another. 

There was no open break between Smith and Roosevelt, only a 
growing strain and conflict that would come to a head when greater 
matters were at stake. 

Any doubts about Roosevelt's ability to bear the burden of the 
governorship on his own shoulders quickly disappeared. For one 
thing, the burden was not unduly heavy. Smith had left a well- 
functioning state government; he had bequeathed no pressing 
problems calling for dramatic action or all-night conferences. 
Roosevelt, moreover, was able to handle the job without changing 

Apprenticeship in Albany 107 

the pattern of his life significantly. Three or four winter months 
in Albany, April and May in Warm Springs, summer in Albany 
punctuated by long week ends at Hyde Park and travels inside and 
outside the state, several more weeks in Warm Springs in the late 
fall, Christmas at Hyde Park, and then back to Albany this was the 
rhythm of the gubernatorial years. 

In all these places Roosevelt lived amid a pleasant whirl of af- 
fairs in which political activities seemed to merge gracefully with 
domestic. His four sons and their friends, back from school or 
college, filled the air with endless chatter and clatter, whether at 
the ugly old executive mansion or in Hyde Park. Eleanor Roose- 
velt, still active in Democratic party and educational affairs, brought 
a variety of friends and associates to the family meals. Secretaries 
hurried in and out. Visitors to Hyde Park were struck by the pic- 
turelike a Currier and Ives print, Frances Perkins saidof the 
family sitting on the terrace: Sara Roosevelt reading in her wicker 
chair, Eleanor knitting, Roosevelt, an unopened book in his lap, 
looking at the Hudson where it came to view toward the south. 
Even Sara was drawn into the political orbit, entertaining his po- 
litical allies and reminding him of the wedding anniversaries and 
birthdays of old friends. 

Roosevelt moved amiably and deftly among the concentric worlds 
of politics, family, and statecraft. Ernest K. Lindley, a young re- 
porter close to the official family in Albany, could not forget a 
scene at the executive mansion: 

"The tea things are taken away. . . . One of Roosevelt's secre- 
taries arrives from the Capitol with two brief cases filled with let- 
ters dictated earlier in the day. Roosevelt reads and signs the let- 
ters, occasionally altering one and putting it aside for retyping. As 
he does so he answers questions at length. It is St. Valentine's Day. 
In the adjoining dining-room, behind drawn curtains, one gathers 
that the table is being prepared for a dinner for the Governor's 
office staff. Louis Howe, the diabolic impresario of such occasions, 
has been busy all afternoon with cardboard and scissors and paints 
making a fancifully humorous centerpiece and valentines pecul- 
iarly appropriate to each guest. Occasionally a shriek of laughter 
comes through the curtain. One overhears a voice in the hall re- 
porting that Howe's masterpiece is an excruciatingly funny valen- 
tine for the Governor, Roosevelt looks up for an instant, smiles 
knowingly, and returns to the dual business of editing his letters 
and answering questions. Mrs. Roosevelt slips in, hands him a piece 
of paper with a head pasted on it and whispers that he will have 
to draw the valentine for Howe. He puts aside his correspondence 
for a second, swiftly sketches an absurd picture of a man in a long 
nightgown, holding a candle, and puts on a nightcap for a finish- 


ing touch. He puts some caption beneath it which makes them both 
burst into laughter. Mrs. Roosevelt exits and he returns to his work 
again. He is finished in a few minutes and ready to go up-stairs to 
dress for dinner. Just then another visitor arrives, a department 
head of sober demeanor. 

" 'Come along and talk to me up-stairs/ says the Governor. They 
start down the hall, conversing very seriously. At the entrance to 
the dining-room, Roosevelt turns aways for an instant, draws back 
the curtains, shouts triumphantly, 'I've seen it.' Shrieks and moans 
from within are his reply. He turns back to his visitor and, con- 
tinuing their conversation, they enter the elevator." 


The state over which Roosevelt was to preside for four years is a 
proving ground for national leadership. Six presidents have grad- 
uated from its strenuous political life: Van Buren, Fillmore, Ar- 
thur, Cleveland, and the two Roosevelts. Other New Yorkers have 
been presidential candidates of distinction: Greeley, Tilden, 
Hughes, Smith, Dewey. Still others-men like Root, Stimson, Wag- 
ner, Lehman, Harriman, Dulles have gained national leadership in 
cabinet and Congress. 

The reasons for this prominence are severalfold. For one thing, 
New York is a big state big in population, big in industry, finance, 
commerce, and agriculture, and, for the East, big in area. The Em- 
pire State has something of the might and majesty of the nation 
itself. New York City is the financial, commercial, artistic, and in- 
tellectual hub of the country and of much of the world. Its polyglot 
citizenry resembles less a melting pot, one politician has said, than 
a boiling pot. Stretching to the north alongside three New England 
states, New York embraces mountain chains, magnificent farm land, 
and the long valleys dropping down to the St. Lawrence River. 
The "peninsula" of the state that juts west is a little subculture of 
its own, with important industrial and transport centers like Buffalo 
and Rochester, a half-dozen colleges and universities, and strong 
political traditions. 

To win statewide office in New York, a politician must court a 
medley of groups that are almost as multifarious as those through- 
out the nation. Not only does New York City have "more Irish than 
Dublin, more Italians than Rome, more Greeks than Athens/' as its 
mayors like to boast, but an upstate city like Buffalo has dozens of 
groups of different national origin. The large Jewish and Catholic 
minorities are well organized; so are the main economic groups of 
farmers, workers, and businessmen. 

The struggle for political power in this rich, variegated land has 

Apprenticeship in Albany 109 

produced a robust two-party system, and the sharp competition be- 
tween the two parties has prepared local politicians for national 
leadership. In this century no other state has surpassed New York 
in thoroughness of party organization or vigor of party leadership. 
Each party is virtually statewide in scope, based on county com- 
mitteemen in the great majority of the state's nine thousand dis- 
tricts. Formally, each party constitutes a pyramid, every layer of 
which is a cluster of party committees organized for the conquest 
of elective offices, running from the precinct, ward, and city com- 
mittees at the base, up through assembly districts to the state party 
committee at the top. Actually, each party has been led by small 
but shifting coalitions of state officials and city and rural bosses. 

The party struggle in New York is often pictured in terms of New 
York City Democrats versus upstate Republicans, but this is an 
oversimplification. Republicans have run up slim majorities in 
Queens and Richmond in the city, and heavy majorities in the 
growing suburbs outside. The Democrats are strong in the indus- 
trial belt that cuts across the middle of the state from Troy to Buf- 
falo. To be sure, the political issue of "who gets what, when, and 
how" sometimes does break down to a clean-cut tug of war between 
New York City and the rest of the state. With well over half the 
state's population, New York City has usually paid about three- 
quarters of the state's taxes each year, and has got back little more 
than half in the form of state aid. The state, moreover, holds sov- 
ereign power over the city, which legally is merely its instrument. 
"New York City," proclaimed Boss George Washington Plunkitt 
mournfully, "is pie for the hayseeds." 

New York City, despite its voting majority, is unable to control 
the state government because the system of legislative representa- 
tion in the historic American pattern gives representation to rural 
areas at the expense of urban. Long ago each of the state's sixty-two 
counties (except for two sparsely populated counties) was guaran- 
teed at least one member of the assembly, and the membership of 
this lower house was fixed "forever" at 150, leaving New York City 
with a minority. Representation in the Senate was also rigged 
against the city. Thus the stage was set in New York for the classic 
tug of war between governor and lawmakers. The New York legis- 
lature has been called "Republican by constitutional law"; the 
Democrats have carried both houses only twice in this century, 
while they have won the governorship twelve times. A Democratic 
governor elected by an urban-based majority must deal with a sen- 
ate and assembly responsive to pressures from rural areas and small 

All these factors were present in 1929 when Roosevelt took office. 
Elected mainly by city voters, he confronted a Republican legisla- 


ture. Pledged to face up to some of the looming problems of in- 
dustrialism and urbanism, he had to deal with men representing 
areas far removed from the tensions of modern life. Given Roose- 
velt's temperament and the power and pride of the legislators, it 
was doubtless inevitable that the two forces would soon collide. 

He hoped, Roosevelt had said in his inaugural address, that his 
administration would mark an "Era of Good Feeling." He pledged 
that he would not let state business become involved in partisan 
politics and that he would not claim undue credit for accomplish- 
ing things on which he and the legislators agreed. This pledge was 
only a gesture. Roosevelt had written to Mrs. William Jennings 
Bryan less than two weeks before: "Eleanor and I are getting ready 
for a strenuous two years. I expect to be the target of practically 
all of the Republican artillery, but, as you know, I am a little like 
my dear friend, Mr. Bryan, in liking a good fight/' Government 
business is inseparable from politics, and politicians win votes by 
taking credit for the things voters like and disclaiming responsibil- 
ity for things they do not like. Smith had made great political capi- 
tal by appealing over the heads of balky Republican legislators to 
the voters. 

Given the conditions dividing Roosevelt and lawmakers, the era 
of gcod feeling could not last long, and it did not. It collapsed sud- 
denly in April 1929 in. a sharp quarrel over the power of governor 
and legislature to control the budget. 

The exact issue was complex. After years of agitation the people 
of New York through a constitutional amendment had adopted the 
so-called "executive budget," intended to center immediate decision- 
making on the details of spending in the governor while keeping 
general control in the senate and assembly. The legislature could up- 
hold or strike out the governor's items, but it could not add new 
items without his approval. Both Roosevelt and the Republican 
leaders flouted the new procedure. The governor's budget was not 
clearly itemized, and when the legislators brought the revised budget 
out of committee, it did not show just what items had been changed. 
Moreoverand this was especially galling to Roosevelt the legis- 
lators ruled that itemization of certain lump sums had to be ap- 
proved by the chairmenRepublicans, of course of the two house 
committees as well as by the governor. 

Behind the cloak of legal technicalities was the scuffle of politi- 
cians. The executive budget aimed to free the legislature of budg- 
etary detailbut it was precisely in the details that politicians 
were interested. Legislators had debts to those who helped them 
gain office, debts that could be paid off in the currency of state 
contracts, jobs, purchases, and the like. Every legislator had a par- 

Apprenticeship in Albany 111 

ticular stake in state spending in his own district. Budget-making 
in the legislature inevitably became a game of logrolling, umpired 
by the two finance chairmen who, through their power to itemize, 
bolstered their legislative leadership by judicious awarding and 
withholding of budgetary favors to the rank and file of Republican 

Each side assumed a lofty posture of constitutional righteousness. 
"I raise the broad question/' Roosevelt said, "affecting the division 
of governmental duties between the executive, the legislative, and 
the judicial branches of the government/' The legislators retorted 
that "the rights of the people must be preserved from the arrogance 
and presumption of an overzealous executive/' Roosevelt seemed to 
enjoy the fight. "I am in one continuous glorious fight with the 
Republican legislative leaders/' he wrote a friend happily. 

When the legislature handed him the amended budget the gov- 
ernor pondered for two weeks and then vetoed the whole $56,000,- 
ooo bill. He admitted that this was drastic action, but, he said, 
"Either the State must carry out the principles of the Executive 
Budget, which embody fifteen years of effort to place the affairs of 
the State on a modern efficient business basis, or we shall drift into 
a hopeless situation of divided responsibility for administration of 
executive functions/' Roosevelt resubmitted the bill in the same 
form as his first budget. The Republicans made the same changes 
and promptly adjourned. They were fortified in their position by 
a legal opinion from the attorney general, a Republican who by 
an election quirk had won office in 1928 and who now, of course, 
was siding with his fellow partisans in the legislature. 

What could Roosevelt do now? His advisers were divided. Some 
felt that he had demanded a too rigid construction of the execu- 
tive budget amendment, that he should now retire gracefully by 
signing the law, or call the legislature into what all knew would be 
a futile special session. Others held that he had a sound legal posi- 
tion and that he should submit the question to the courts. Roose- 
velt decided on the latter step. The Republicans chose as counsel 
none other than former Governor Nathan L. Miller, a Republican 
who had never been troubled by having to share power with the 
two finance chairmen, since, as Roosevelt commented privately, "the 
group of three constituted a little family tea party which Miller 
was able to dominate/' In June 1929 a decision of the Appellate 
Division of the New York Supreme Court sustained the legislature's 
position, but several months later the Court of Appeals upheld the 
governor's case on the major points. 

Roosevelt had won the fight, but in a curiously un-Rooseveltian 
way. He had appealed to the courts rather than to the people, per- 
haps out of a conviction that the issues were too technical for popu- 


!ar understanding or arousal. The position he had taken both in 
public and private that he was fighting for "Constitutional Gov- 
ernment, carrying out the original American theory of separation 
of powers between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches" 
was a remarkable stand for a politician who in Albany and later 
in Washington would try to bypass some o the ancient barriers be- 
tween the three branches of government. 

In any event, the budget fight was only a skirmish in a larger 
political battle that Roosevelt was not to win. 


The trouble was that Roosevelt could find no way to overcome the 
stubborn fact that the legislature shared governmental power with 
him but mirrored a different pattern of political power. He tried 
the formula of nonpartisanship, but pious gestures could not wave 
away the realities of politicians* conflicting loyalties and ambitions. 
He tried appealing to the people over the heads of the Republican 
leaders, but the latter gave enough ground to take the sting out of 
public resentment and then took up another obstructive position. 
He knew that he could carry his case to the voters in the 1930 elec- 
tion, but the Republicans would probably still retain their grip 
on the legislature. And always he labored under the difficulty that 
even the Empire State was not strong enough to cope with prob- 
lems that were national or international in character. The fight 
over St. Lawrence power an issue closer to Roosevelt's heart than 
any other during his governorship illustrated the intractable na- 
ture of the political stalemate. 

After piling up in the Great Lakes water flows into the St. Law- 
rence River and then races down through a narrow gorge to the 
Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Atlantic. "In the brief time that I 
have been speaking to you/' Roosevelt said midway through his 
inaugural address, "there has run to waste on their paths toward 
the sea, enough power from our rivers to have turned the wheels 
of a thousand factories, to have lit a million farmers' homes. . . ." 
Much of this unused power was spilling through the St. Lawrence. 
Roosevelt knew the background of the situation how the legisla- 
ture years before had given and then rescinded a free grant to a 
private company to develop the power of the Long Saulte Rapids, 
how Smith had conducted a long running battle over water power 
with the Republican leadership, how strongly represented the utility 
interests had always been in the Republican legislature. By 1929 the 
private power interests seemed as potent in New York Republican 
circles as before; H. Edmund Machold, the former speaker of the 
assembly and soon to be chairman of the Republican state commit* 

Apprenticeship in Albany 113 

tee, was a partner of Floyd L. Carlisle, the "power baron" of north- 
eastern New York, as his enemies called him. 

Campaigning in central New York State, Candidate Roosevelt 
had solemnly preached "Thou shalt not steal" and proceeded to 
belabor the Republican leaders as schemers and thieves. Now Gov- 
ernor Roosevelt told the legislature that it was intolerable that the 
use of the "stupendous heritage" of water power should be longer 
delayed by "petty squabbles and partisan dispute." The Republi- 
cans were not impressed. The next day, in his message to the legis- 
lature, the governor reiterated that the people's control of their 
water power could not be alienated by long-term leases; then he 
looked up at his audience and added with a smile, "This is one of 
those questions on which I hope we can reach agreement/' 

Skeptical laughter rippled through the assembly chamber. It was 
clear that agreement was impossible. But at least Roosevelt was able 
to define the central issue: How much should be done by the state 
in both developing and distributing electricity from the people's 
water power, and how much by private enterprise? 

What was Roosevelt's answer to the question? Fie had no detailed 
program when he came to office, but he learned quickly. He learned 
mainly from experts in the field. Leland Olds, a student of utility 
regulation, was one of those invited to the executive mansion. He 
arrived on a late afternoon in February and got a warm welcome 
from the governor. Olds watched Roosevelt and Rosenman splash 
in a heated pool built in an old hothouse behind the mansion, sat 
wonderingly during dinner while every subject except the business 
at hand was batted briskly around the table. After dinner Roose- 
velt reminisced about Hyde Park history and the farmers in Dutch- 
ess County who could not get electricity. Then came questions to 
Olds until after midnight long, searching questions about ac- 
counting methods, the valuation theory, court decisions, a people's 
counsel for rate cases. Watching these proceedings, Rosenman felt 
that the governor had exhausted both Olds and the subject. 

By March 1929 Roosevelt was ready with a plan for the St. Law- 
rence. The power should be developed by the state, he said, but 
transmitted and distributed by private enterprise. The rub lay in 
the rates charged by the companies. Rate regulation by the state 
Public Service Commission, Roosevelt told the legislature, had be- 
come ineffective, largely because the courts had allowed high profits 
based on inflated valuations. Frankly proposing the theory of con- 
tract rather than the theory of regulation, he urged that the state 
be authorized to make contracts with transmitting and distributing 
companies, "under which a fair price to the consumer will be guar- 
anteed, this price to make allowances only for a fair return to the 
companies on the actual capital invested in the transmitting and 


distributing o this particular power energy." This proposal was a 
departure from Smith's reliance on rate regulation by the Public 
Service Commission. 

Roosevelt's only specific request o the legislature was for the 
creation of a body to submit a specific plan for St. Lawrence de- 
velopment to the lawmakers. To give the bills a bipartisan charac- 
ter the governor asked the Republican leaders to introduce them, 
but they refused to do this or even to let the Democrats bring the 
bills on the floor. The 1929 session ended with the measures quietly 
stifled in committee. 

The next session saw a different outcome, largely because 1930 
was an election year. Roosevelt had asked Howe to get comparative 
bills for New Yorkers using private power and Canadians using 
publicly developed electricity, and he was ready to use the findings 
in his fight with the utilities. The opposition was divided; W. 
Kingsland Macy, a rising young Republican leader in Suffolk 
County, demanded the resignation of the new head of the state 
Republican committee, an associate of former chairman Machold, 
on the ground that it was issues like water power that the "party is 
licked on." In January 1930 the water power bill was introduced 
in the legislature along the lines Roosevelt had asked. *'A complete 
triumph," Walter Lippmann wrote the governor. 

But this was only a first step. During late 1930 the St. Lawrence 
Power Development Commission appointed by the governor made 
a study of the situation, and Roosevelt kept the issue alive in his 
re-election campaign. The report of the commission in January 
1931 was highly favorable to the project from both the engineering 
and financial standpoints. The commission majority followed Roose- 
velt's previous stand on state development of the power and pri- 
vate distribution through the contract method. Two months later 
a bill was introduced embodying these recommendations. 

Then another altercation flared up and once again it was over 
the power of the governor and legislature. Senator John Knight, 
Republican leader of the senate, introduced an amendment can- 
celing the right of the governor to appoint the members of the 
power authority, and specifying five individuals by name. Roose- 
velt was indignant. He had warned the Republican leaders in a 
conference that he would not accept such a provision; he was forced 
to the conclusion, he announced, that the Republicans were trying 
to insure a veto. Power development, he said, fell under the gover- 
nor's powers "Executive responsibility must be armed with Execu- 
tive authority." Both sides knew that the right to name the new 
authority meant control over the actual use of the vast power of 
the St. Lawrence. 

Roosevelt's tactic was a direct appeal to the people. He dramar 

Apprenticeship in Albany 115 

tized the Republican move as a play by the utilities to balk the 
people's development of their own power. He announced his plan 
to go on the air a few days later, but just before the scheduled talk 
Knight and his followers surrendered. The governor used his radio 
time to sermonize that the influence of "Mr. and Mrs. Average 
Voter" was stronger than that of private corporations and a hand- 
ful of political leaders. 

Perhaps it was. Yet even with the bill finally passed and a Roose- 
velt-minded power authority appointed, the whole project was to 
fail. For now it ran into a configuration of stubborn facts the fact 
that only the national government could make a treaty with Can- 
ada involving the St. Lawrence, the fact that President Hoover was 
sensitive to the opposition of private power and railroad interests, 
the fact that by late 1931 Roosevelt was already emerging as Hoo- 
ver's likely opponent the following year. A week after Roosevelt ac- 
cepted the Democratic nomination in July 1932 he asked for a con- 
ference with Hoover to discuss, prior to completion of negotiations 
with Canada, New York's share of the cost of development. In a 
sullen reply Hoover said that it would not "be necessary for you 
to interrupt your cruise by a visit to Washington/ 1 

As it turned out, more than a quarter-century was to pass before 
the swift-running waters of the St. Lawrence would light the homes 
and run the separators for the farmers of northern New York. 

The flaccid hand of stalemate lay over all Roosevelt's major pro- 
grams during his governorship. The legislature's response to his 
proposals wavered near a point of unstable equilibrium between the 
dislike of the rural-based legislators for Roosevelt's progressive rec- 
ommendations and their fear of writing a record of negation and 
obstruction on which the next Republican statewide ticket would 
ride to defeat. Since for the most part they had little fear for their 
own seats and their concern for the ticket was not profound, the 
point of equilibrium was much nearer do-nothingism than action. 
And if Roosevelt somehow spurred the legislature to legislate, he 
confronted the bleak fact that even the Empire State was still but 
one of forty-eight, and its legal and material powers were sharply 

<Do-nothing government had become a far more critical problem 
during Roosevelt's second year of office than ever before, for in that 
year the Depression began to bite deep into the flesh and bone of 
the state's economy. Production dwindled, prices shrank, wages de- 
clined, farm income fell off sharply. New York City's Bank of the 
United States collapsed in the largest bank failure in American his- 
tory. Thousands of jobless were soon walking the streets. As in- 
come from taxes diminished, the state's responsibility to prevent 


sxiffering increased. So did the need for drastic action but the 
need ran head on into the stalemate in Albany. 

Farm policy was a case in point. Roosevelt knew the plight of 
the farmers, who had suffered eight years of high industrial prices 
and somewhat depressed agricultural markets even before the ad- 
vent of the Great Depression. He knew, too, that the difficulties were 
deep-reaching, involving factors of supply and demand, middlemen's 
costs and profits, tariffs, farm abandonments, urbanization, and 
others. "The ultimate goal," he said in his annual message to the 
legislature in 1929, "is that the farmer and his family shall be put 
on the same level of earning capacity as his fellow American who 
lives in the city." He understood specific aspects of agricultural 
economics transportation costs, the national interrelationships of 
farming, the tendency of milksheds to cut across state lines, land 
misuse, the haphazard planlessness of much farm production and 

His speeches impressed farmers and farm politicians outside New 
York State as well as inside. "We thought you were acquainted only 
with Wall Street magnates/' wrote a Wisconsin official after Roose- 
velt had described vividly the gap between the prices farmers got 
and the prices consumers paid. 

But the actual legislation passed was almost trifling compared 
with the immensity of the problem. More state aid for highway 
construction, for snow removal, for grade crossing elimination, and 
for agricultural research met some of the farmers' specific com- 
plaints but hardly changed the economic dimensions of their lives. 
As the Depression deepened in 1930 and 1931 more basic measures 
were adopted, such as a bill providing more credit facilities for crop 
production. The obstacle to more drastic action did not lie mainly 
with the legislature, which was fairly responsive to farm needs and 
anxious to stop the governor from capturing farm leadership. It 
lay in the iron fact that a single state could not cope with a na- 
tional situation. 

In the case of labor legislation Roosevelt faced both a hostile 
legislature and a nationwide problem. During his first term he won 
from the legislature measures providing a half-holiday a week for 
women working in factories and stores, changes in the use of labor 
injunctions, and a slight expansion of workmen's compensation. 
Only in 1931 did the legislature pass a bill limiting women and chil- 
dren to a six-day, forty-eight-hour week. More sweeping proposals, 
such as minimum-wage measures, met the inevitable and often in 
some cases unanswerable argument that the resulting higher costs 
might force industry to leave the state. 

Thus the limited nature of the state program was a gauge of 
hard political circumstances, not of Roosevelt's own philosophy. 

Apprenticeship in Albany 117 

Operating even then a "little left of center," to use his later term, 
he anticipated many of the New Deal programs in his continuous 
search for specific ways to meet specific problems. As the severity of 
the problems broadened during the Depression, so did the scope 
of his solutions. In his thinking he was ranging somewhat ahead of 
most politicians in the Northeast. "Is there any possible device to 
be worked out along volunteer lines," Roosevelt wrote a Nebraska 
bank president early in 1930, "by which the total wheat acreage of 
the nation could gradually be exhausted to the point of bringing 
it in line with the actual national consumption figure?" Long be- 
fore TVA he was talking about the need of public competition with 
private utilities, "at least as a yardstick." 

The outlook of his major appointees was further testament to 
Roosevelt's general liberalism. His industrial commissioner was 
Frances Perkins, the slim, pretty, serious-minded woman who had 
been a social worker when she first met Roosevelt in his senate 
years, and who for ten years had served as a member, and then 
chairman, of Smith's Industrial Board. In making her commis- 
sioner, Roosevelt put her in an administrative post with supervi- 
sion over many menat the time a move that caused some lifting of 
eyebrows and he left her free rein in running the agency. His ad- 
visers on water power and utilities included men who were later 
to become prominent in the New Deal: Morris L. Cooke, Leland 
Olds, James C. Bonbright, and, unofficially, Felix Frankiurter, a 
professor at Harvard Law School. Other future New Dealers ad- 
vised him on farm policy, social security problems, and relief. 

On the whole, Roosevelt made an impressive record as governor. 
Considering that brilliant achievements were impossible in the wake 
of Smith's eight productive years in the office, considering, too, that 
the legislature stood ready to spike any ambitious effort at reform, 
Roosevelt made the most of what opportunities he had. He won no 
single striking victory, but he operated with telling results in a 
wide range of state activities, including social welfare, government 
efficiency, prison reform, and utility regulation, as well as in the 
face of more serious problems stemming from the crisis in field and 
factory. And as the Depression deepened and state problems multi- 
plied, Roosevelt showed growing power and vigor in meeting them. 

Above all, the governor possessed the indispensable quality of ac- 
cepting the need Cor change, for new departures, for experiments. 
He recognized that government was not a bogy but an instrument, 
for meeting the problems of change. And he had the capacity to 
learn. It was these things that made his governorship truly an ap- 
prenticeship in politics and statecraft. 



Early in his first term Roosevelt discovered that the state had a 
small boat for inspecting canals. Why not take it over for his own 
inspection trips? This was just the kind of innovation he liked. It 
was a comical sight the large figure of the governor and his ample 
family and crew perched on the small craft as it poked slowly from 
lock to lock, with the official car ancl chauffeur and a horde of state 
police tagging along on the nearest highway. But it was also, po- 
litically, a shrewd move, dramatizing Roosevelt's interest in upstate 

These excursions were genuine inspection trips for the governor, 
even though Mrs. Roosevelt had to serve as his eyes and ears. Car- 
ried from the barge to a car, he could do little more than drive 
around the grounds of hospitals, asylums, and other state institu- 
tions, but she quickly learned to find out the things her husband 
wanted to know: Did the inmates actually get what the menus 
listed? Were beds too close together, or folded up during the day, 
indicating congestion? How did the patients seem to feel and act to- 
ward the staff? "We have got to de-institutionalize the institutions/' 
Roosevelt wrote to Howe in the summer of 1929. 

Roosevelt also began his famous "fireside chats" during his first 
term. Direct and pleasing in tone, these radio talks were aimed es- 
pecially at upstate New Yorkers, who got most of their information 
through the Republican press. Radio still faced a host of technical 
difficulties, and Farley had to send questionnaires throughout the 
state asking local Democrats how good the reception was from vari- 
ous stations. Roosevelt, of course, began the first of his talks with 
the claim that they would be nonpartisan reports. Actually, most of 
them were highly partisan thrusts at the Republican legislators. 

Indeed, Roosevelt played politics expertly and tirelessly through- 
out his gubernatorial days. While he occasionally donned the cloak 
of nonpartisanship, he was essentially a party politician. The Amer- 
ican governor is usually the leader of his state party, operating 
through lieutenants of his choice. Such was Roosevelt But in lead- 
ing the New York State Democracy he ran into the same weaknesses 
that he had found and vainly tried to solvein the national party 
in previous years. 

An investigation by Farley confirmed Roosevelt's worst suspicions. 
"There is no such thing as a Democratic organization upstate/* 
Farley reported bluntly. The few militant local organizations to be 
found were interested only in local elections; in some cases they 
traded votes with the enemy, backing Republicans for state and na- 
tional office in exchange for local offices, Farley found much apathy 

Apprenticeship in Albany 119 

and discouragement; there was little sense of "being part of a tri- 
umphant state organization." The state committee was moribund. 
Its lists of upstate workers were almost useless; its chairman, Wil- 
liam Bray, installed by Smith, was an aged politico, lacking energy 
and imagination. 

Together, Roosevelt and Farley worked out a scheme to bypass 
Bray and the committee and to strengthen the Democracy's roots 
upstate. The scheme bore the earmarks of Roosevelt's earlier think- 
ing. A new organization the Union of Democratic Clubswould be 
constituted, not out of committeemen, but directly out of rank-and- 
file Democrats with energy and enthusiasm. With the help of the 
Union, stagnant local leadership would be weeded out and aggres- 
sive young Democrats put in command. 

Crucial in the plan was the election of Farley as secretary of the 
Union; since he was already secretary of the Democratic state com- 
mittee he could co-ordinate all party activities. This role Farley 
performed brilliantly. In endless trips about the state he patched 
up local factional quarrels, invigorated dead committees, hunted 
out political talent. Local leaders got used to receiving almost daily 
his urgently written letters, signed in green ink, imploring their 
ceaseless attention to the vital minutiae of political campaigns: reg- 
istration, absentee ballots, first voters, election inspectors, literacy 
tests, endless lists of names. In 1930 Roosevelt eased Bray out of the 
chairmanship and Farley took his place. 

Roosevelt tackled another problem he had long worried about 
the Republican-dominated rural press. "I am not concerned about 
prejudice, personal stupidity or wrong thinking," he wrote to his 
friend Henry Morgenthau, Jr., after looking over a survey of opin- 
ion in rural areas, "so much as by the sheer, utter and complete ig- 
norance displayed by such a large number of farmers/' On Morgen- 
thau's suggestion a press bureau was set up in Albany mainly to 
feed Democratic material to upstate rural newspapers. 

Frequent tours of the state, radio talks, press handouts, and, above 
all, stepped-up party activity this kind of intensive activity lay 
behind what was to be, statistically at least, Roosevelt's greatest 
election triumph. 

"You and I have the same kind o sense of obligation about going 
through with a task once undertaken," Roosevelt wrote to Lehman 
in May 1930. The thought of not running probably never occurred 
to him. A confident state convention at Syracuse heard Smith laud 
the governor's "clear brain" and "big heart"; it unanimously renom- 
inated him. His doctrine, the governor said in accepting the renomi- 
nation, was the same as two years before: "that progressive Govern- 
ment, by its very terms, must be a living and a growing thing, that 


the battle for it is never ending and that if we let up for one single 
moment or one single year, not merely do we stand still but we fall 
back in the march of civilization." 

The Democrats had good reason for confidence. The deepening 
Depression was tying the Republicans into a political noose of their 
own making: having claimed credit in 1928 for past prosperity, 
now they had to take the blame for current hard times. Roosevelt 
had used Republican obstructionism skillfully to dramatize his pro- 
gram, and he was far better known than anyone the Republicans 
could nominate. Despite his protestations of nonpartisanship, his 
governorship had been a continuous campaign for re-election. 

Two possible danger areas loomed for the Democrats. One of 
these was prohibition. Roosevelt had long hedged on this issue; he 
had expressed the fervent hope that it would disappear from poli- 
tics. It did not, but it changed in a direction favorable to the Demo- 
crats. By the end of the 1920*8 a decade of speakeasies, raids by 
Treasury men, gang wars, and intemperance New York Republi- 
cans were finding prohibition to be a political liability. Roosevelt 
had no intention of running as a wet. But when he heard that the 
probable Republican nominee was about to come out for repeal, 
the governor moved fast to outflank him on the wet side. In a let- 
ter to Senator Wagner in September 1930 he favored outright re- 
peal and the restoring of liquor control to the states. 

It was a potent move. The Republicans failed to pick up much 
wet support, yet they outraged the drys upstate. The outcome was 
nomination of a prohibitionist candidate, which threatened to split 
off a sizable segment of the Republican vote. 

The other problem was not so easily managed. The corruption 
issue, which had been seething for over a year, erupted a month 
before the election, after evidence had come to light of traffic in 
judicial offices. Roosevelt turned the case over to the state's attorney 
general, a Republican, and designated a Republican Supreme Court 
justice to convene an extraordinary grand jury. He also asked the 
Appellate Division of the Supreme Court to make a general investi- 
gation of the magistrates' courts. Roosevelt was directly involved in 
the situation because he had made a routine short-term appoint- 
ment of a Tammany man to a General Sessions judgeship, and the 
judge was alleged to have bought his place from Tammany for 
thirty thousand dollars. 

The Republicans saw a grand opportunity to force Roosevelt 
into a political trap: if he cracked down on Tammany, they fig- 
ured, he might lose election support from the organization, and if 
he failed to act he could be dubbed a Tammany pawn. Staking 
most of their hopes on this move, they nominated for governor the 
United States attorney for the southern district of New York, a 
pugnacious redhead named Charles H. Tuttle, who had nosetf 

Apprenticeship in Albany 121 

along the labyrinthine trail between Tammany and the judges and 
had won some well-publicized indictments. 

Roosevelt evaded the net by the tactic of compromise. He took 
formal steps to enable the Republicans to investigate Tammany, 
but he never allowed a situation to arise where he was arrayed di- 
rectly in an investigatory attack on Tammany. This awkward pos- 
ture took considerable explaining, especially to friends who won- 
dered why a man who had a reputation for acting quickly and 
firmly in some fields should stand on legal niceties in this one. 
The situation, Roosevelt wrote to an anxious Harvard classmate 
and rector in New York City, was not one between Tammany and 
himself; "it is one between constitutional government and a politi- 
cal campaign. More than that, it is one between the retention of 
constitutional government and a breaking down of the safeguards 
of liberty in the same way that they have been broken down both 
in the Italy of Mussolini and in the Russia of Lenin." He went on 
to describe the limitations on the power of the governor to inves- 

"In thinking this over, for the love of Mike/' Roosevelt ended his 
letter, "remember that I am just as anxious as you are to root out 
this rottenness, but that on January ist, 1929, I took a certain oath 
of office." Undoubtedly Roosevelt's stand lost him the support of 
some independent Democrats in New York City. While the Demo- 
cratic New York Times and the independent Republican Sun 
backed him, the World, which was strongly pro-Smith, withheld its 
support and the News came out for Tut tie. 

The campaign revolved around Tuttle's ceaseless hammering at 
Roosevelt on the corruption issue and the governor's insistent at- 
tempt to focus the debate on water power, agriculture, labor, public 
works, utility regulation, and other general state matters. Was his 
opponent running for governor or district attorney? Roosevelt asked 
caustically. Following his usual procedure, he devoted each cam- 
paign speech to a defense of a major state program. In Buffalo he 
read a strong letter of endorsement by President Green of the AFL. 
In Rochester he talked about prisons, hospitals, public works. In 
Syracuse he described the high cost of electricity to the housewife in 
terms so vivid and concrete that people around there long after 
were talking about the "waffle iron campaign." 

But people were interested in another issue, too: jobs. Demo- 
cratic candidates throughout the country were taunting the Repub- 
licans for failing to cope with depression after all the talk about 
the "full dinner pail" in 1928. Secure in the White House for at 
least another two years, President Hoover was already beginning 
to play the historic role he was to hold for more than a genera- 
tion: the scapegoat for hard times. In his speech in Buffalo-an es- 
pecially hard-hit city-Roosevelt quoted some of the Republican 


claims of 1928. He looked out at his audience. "Those extracts read 
strangely tonight/' He cited them, he added, not to gain partisan 
advantage but to show that no party had any monopoly on pros- 

The Republicans counterattacked Roosevelt later in the cam- 
paign by bringing up reserves from Washington in the form of 
cabinet members, most notably the Secretary of State, Henry ^L. 
Stimson. By this time Tuttle needed help; his one-issue campaign 
was losing public interest, partly because, busy electioneering, he 
was running low on new revelations. In a radio speech from Wash- 
ington, Stimson said that Roosevelt had "shown his unfitness to 
deal with the great crisis now confronting New York State." 

Roosevelt's reply given in New York City on the eve of the elec- 
tioncarefully played on state pride and resentment against the 
national administration. "I say to these gentlemen: We shall be 
grateful if you will return to your posts in Washington, and bend 
your efforts and spend your time solving the problems which the 
whole Nation is bearing under your Administration. Rest assured 
that we of the Empire State can and will take care of ourselves and 
our problems." 

Roosevelt defeated Tuttle by 1,770,342 to 1,045,341, a margin of 
725,001 votes. More remarkable, he won forty-one out of the fifty- 
seven counties outside New York City, carrying upstate New York 
by 167,784, an unprecedented feat for a Democrat. Most of this 
margin was due to the splitting tactics of the prohibitionist candi- 
date; but even without this helpful intervention, Roosevelt would 
have run close to Tuttle upstate. His half-million plurality in New 
York City vindicated his straddling policy on the corruption issue. 
It was a strikingly personal victory. All the other statewide Demo- 
cratic candidates won by smaller majorities than Roosevelt; more 
important, the Republicans still held majorities in the state senate 
and assembly, and the Democrats failed to capture a single one of 
the twenty Republican congressional seats upstate. Despite all Far- 
ley's work, it was an executive, not a legislative and thus not a 
party victory. 

But it was no time for cavil. A Republican-controlled legislature 
had its uses for Roosevelt. And bigger things lay ahead. Three weeks 
after the election he wrote Farley about the latter's work: "It is 
not merely a fine record, but a great opportunity for us to con- 
solidate the gains. 

"When I think of the difficulties of former State Chairmen with 
former Governors and vice versa (1), I have an idea that you and I 
make a combination which has not existed since Cleveland and 
Lamont and that is so long ago that neither you nor I know any- 
thing about it except from history books." 

SEVEN Nomination by a Hairbreadth 


JLHE DAY AFTER his re-election Farley and 
Howe threw Roosevelt's hat into the presidential ring. "I do not 
see how Mr. Roosevelt can escape becoming the next presidential 
nominee of his party/' Farley proclaimed in a victory statement, 
"even if no one should raise a finger to bring it about." When Farley 
notified the governor of this move, Roosevelt laughed. "Whatever 
you said, Jim, is all right with me." 

Never before this occasion, according to Farley, had he discussed 
Roosevelt's candidacy with his chief. This is not surprising. Even 
with his associates Roosevelt had maintained the fiction of concen- 
trating solely on New York affairs. He had a politician's supersti- 
tion against planning campaigns too far ahead; moreover, he knew 
that a victory in 1930 was the decisive step to victory in 1932. The 
effect of his re-election was to fix the timetable; 1932 was to be the 

"Eddie," the governor said to Flynn a week or two after his elec- 
tion, "... I believe I can be nominated for the Presidency in 1932 
on the Democratic ticket." 

He might have added, "and elected." With every new slump in 
economic conditions in 1930, Democratic hopes for 1932 went soar- 
ing. Rarely has a party been caught so neatly in a cul-de-sac of its 
own making as the Republicans during the Depression. Prosperity 
was safe under the G.O.P., their orators had chanted in 1928; they 
had made it the chief issue of the campaign. HOOVER AND HAPPINESS 


demanded. The position was as intellectually dishonest as it was 
politically dangerous for the Republicans, following in general 
a laissez-faire ideology, shrank from any real commitment to na- 
tional governmental action to prevent depression. But the strategy 
had worked. 

And now breadlines were stretching block after block, soup 

kitchens were handing out thin porridge and coffee, and "Hoover- 

villes" little settlements of shacks, discarded cars, and packing 

boxeswere springing up near the dumps and mud flats of big 



cities. Yet the Depression was a remarkably passive affair. There 
were few riots or even strikes. The American people seemed be- 
numbed. Or perhaps they were simply waiting waiting for the up- 
turn that had always come in past depressions, perhaps waiting for 
their leaders to act. Hoover acted: he organized private relief ac- 
tivities, ordered federal departments to economize, asked business- 
men to maintain wage standards, created the Reconstruction Fi- 
nance Corporation to lend funds to banks and other institutions, 
reluctantly supported federal aid to states for relief. But nothing 
he did seemed to help. 

Roosevelt's first reaction to the stock market crash in 1929 was 
more that of a Republican businessman than a Democratic politi- 
cian. While the market was tumbling on October 24 a newspaper 
asked for his outlook. He did not know detailed conditions, Roose- 
velt wired back, but he firmly believed fundamental industrial con- 
ditions to be sound. Shortly afterward, in a Poughkeepsie speech, he 
assailed speculation. Five weeks later, after stock prices had reached 
their 1929 low point, he told Howe, "It is just possible that the 
recent little Flurry down town will make the prices comparatively 
low," and asked him to check on the condition of certain stocks. 

Curiously, it took Roosevelt some time to realize that finally there 
had come the hard times he had long prognosticated would break 
the Republicans' grip on the White House. By the fall of 1930, 
however, he was exploiting the situation in his campaign speeches. 
In December of that year came a warning to his office from William 
Allen White in Kansas. 

"These are great days for you Democrats but don't be too cagey," 
wrote the editor of the Emporia Gazette. "If the old brig rights 
herself within the next year, whether by reason of good seaman- 
ship or by the chance of wind or wave, the people will forget that 
she ever listed. But what I fear is that if she does not right herself 
soon the crew will come running out of the Fo'c's'le, and throw 
the whole brass colored quarter deck crowd into the sea, Democrats, 
Republicans, and all." 

But the old brig did not right herself. As the "black depression" 
came to grip the urban sections of his state, Roosevelt took in- 
creasingly drastic action. His first major step had been to set up 
In March 1930 an emergency unemployment committee, headed 
by a banker, to consider long-range proposals for stabilizing unem- 
ployment, and later in the year steps were taken for immediate re- 
lief of distress and for expanded public works. At a time when 
the American Federation of Labor was still opposed to compulsory 
unemployment insurance as a "dole or handout," Roosevelt favored 
such a plan, and eventually he proposed a state program. In August 
1931 he got the legislature to create the Temporary Emergency 

Nomination by a Hairbreadth 125 

Relief Administration. Twenty millions were appropriated to tide 
desperate New Yorkers over the melancholy winter of 193 1-32, and 
a sallow, sharp-faced young social worker named Harry Hopkins 
came in to run the agency. 

During most of the early Depression years Roosevelt did not 
differ fundamentally from Hoover over domestic relief and re- 
covery policies. Both opposed direct relief spending by the federal 
government; both favored putting main reliance on state and 
private agencies; both believed that government should cut its 
regular expenses to the bone. Yet each presented a different image 
to the publicRoosevelt, that of a man in motion, Hoover, a man 
stuck fast. Roosevelt, of course, made the most of his position. 
Early in 1931 he called and presided over a well-publicized regional 
conference in Albany of governors of industrial states. And he 
skillfully used opposition in the legislature as a foil. 

"I am glad that you believe with me/ 1 Roosevelt wrote Bernard 
M. Baruch in December 1931, "that issues this coming year will 
be more economic than anything else." The nation demanded, he 
added, a more definite leadership. 


The story of Roosevelt's presidential nomination is the story of 
how a battle almost won in the early stages was almost lost by 
mistake after mistake during the last critical months of the contest. 

Roosevelt began the fight with tremendous advantages. The 
Democrats were hungry for a presidential winner; after the guberna- 
torial victory in 1930 he became a leading choice for 1932. His rural 
appeal impressed a party whose strength in the East was grounded in 
urban areas. His good record as governor, his name, his standing in 
the most populous state, his Wilsonian background, his radio voice, 
and his appearance all gave him a long head start. How could he 

The dangers were threefold. Scenting Democratic victory, a host 
of Democratic candidates, including favorite sons, was entering the 
fray. Roosevelt's lead made him the object of concerted action by 
his rivals. And he had to win not a mere majority but two-thirds 
of the votes in the convention, for the Democrats still had their 
century-old rule requiring a candidate to poll this fraction of votes 
Cor the party nomination. 

Partly to cloak his front-runner position, Roosevelt long kept up 
the pretense that he was not a candidate for President. "I am sitting 
tight, sawing wood, and keeping my mouth shut at least for the 
present!" he said in March 1931. How anyone could want to be 
President in such a period he could not understand, he remarked 


even to friends. His tactic was in sharp contrast to that of Albert 
C, Ritchie, governor of Maryland, who was eying the nomination 
race. Asked by a newspaper if he would like to be President Ritchie 
said, "Of course I would. Who wouldn't?" 

Roosevelt's method was to leave the actual management of the 
campaign to Howe and Farley in New York City and to his friends 
throughout the country, while making the key decisions himself. 
His two lieutenants formed a remarkable combination. Howe- 
more gnarled and hollow-eyed than everserved as the governor's 
adviser, spur, and confidant. Implacably jealous of anyone who 
got too close to his "Franklin/' darkly suspicious of anyone who 
was not i oo per cent for Roosevelt's cause, armed with a Machiavel- 
lian flair for hunting out the complex trails of influence, Howe 
tirelessly played the game of plot and counterplot, working off his 
frustrations in tirades against his rivals and enemies. Quite the 
opposite was Farley, He could get along with anybody, even with 
Howe, which was part of his effectiveness. He had a large limber 
body to insert between warring factions, and a smooth pink face 
that looked as if it were sanded and buffed by his intermediary's 
role. He was a joiner, a mixer, a glad-hander who could remember 
names anybody's name. 

Part of Roosevelt's strength stemmed from the pains he took 
not to alienate any major faction of the party. To be sure, he had 
come out for repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment in 1930, but 
he played down the subject in following years. He had fully re- 
treated from his support in 1920 of American entry into the League 
of Nations so much so as to bring scores of bitter letters from 
disappointed League supporters who remembered his stand in 1920. 
He favored U.S. adherence to the World Court, but refused to come 
out publicly for it. Even on the historic Democratic issue of the 
tariff Roosevelt straddled; he placated high-tariff groups in the West 
by suggesting to them that the tariff was really a local matter. On 
most economic and social matters, however, Roosevelt was ahead 
of the drift of opinion. 

The upshot of this situation was that the South looked on Roose- 
velt as a wet but a reasonable wet, the West saw him as a progressive 
(largely because of his water-power policies), the East rated him 
as mildly wet and reasonably liberal. 

Roosevelt's first real move for the nomination was well disguised. 
In July 1931 Farley set out for Seattle to attend a convention of 
the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, of which he was a 
high dignitary. Armed with a map, he and Roosevelt had laid out 
an elaborate trip through eighteen states, where Farley could stop 
off for chats with state chairmen ostensibly about party affairs but 
actually to sound out sentiment for the New York governor. For 

Nomination by a Hairbreadth 127 

nineteen days Farley shook hands, carefully noted names, and 
warily discussed candidates. Where he found Roosevelt supporters 
he urged them to try to get their state delegations pledged to his 
chief as early as possible. "Have indicated that they must all get 
away from the 'favorite-son' idea/' Farley reported to the governor, 
"on the theory that it is only used for the purpose of tying up 
blocks of delegates to be manipulated." He warned delegates not 
to expect that by plumping for their governors or senators they 
could trade off support for the vice-presidential nomination. 

Farley's findings showed the extent of Roosevelt's strength even 
before his active candidacy. In California he found "no sentiment 
for any one else at the moment except for the Governor." He 
thought everything was "all right in Illinois/* Roosevelt's friends 
in Indiana would have "absolute control of the delegation. . . /' 
In half a dozen more states the situation was at least satisfactory. 
Farley was bubbling over with optimism by the time he returned 
to New York. 

Actually, Farley's reports were generally far too enthusiastic and 
in some cases misleading. A newcomer to national politics, he did 
not realize the extent of factionalism in some states; his one- or 
two-day trips did not give him time to explore the many centers 
of power. Party leaders who promised to deliver solid delegations 
simply were not able to come across. The attachments of delegates 
to presidential candidates were inextricably tied up with conflicting 
loyalties to a variety of candidates for state and local offices. 

This miscalculation was important, for it led Farley to pin his 
hopes and strategy on an overwhelming show of strength at the 
convention and to make repeated predictions of victory on the first 
ballot. To be sure, these predictions helped bring some delegates 
off the fence, but they also helped concentrate the pack in opposi- 
tion to the front runner. And they prompted the question: What if 
Roosevelt does not win on the first ballot? 

All during 1931 trouble was piling up for Roosevelt in his own 
state. The great strength of a New York governor seeking the presi- 
dential nomination lies in the fat bloc of delegates he can take to 
the convention. By all the ordinary rules Roosevelt should have 
commanded such support in 1932. But he did not. 

The trouble arose on his traditionally weak sector, Tammany. 
One of the incidental effects of the Depression was to put severe 
pressure on the Hall for jobs and favors. Boss Murphy had been 
succeeded by men unable to provide leadership or discipline. Most 
of the corruption was petty, but it reached up to the higher Tam- 
many levels and erupted in dramatic incidents the murder of a 
redheaded adventuress, the revelations of Sheriff Thomas Farley 



about graft and his "little tin cup" that helped make news oi cor- 
ruption for months on end. 

Once again Roosevelt had to walk the tightrope, but this time 
he leaned to the anti-Tammany side. He co-operated \vith the 
Republicans in establishing a well-armed legislative investigation 
committee, he appointed the redoubtable Samuel Seabury to look 
into charges against the office of the Tammany district attorney, 
and he gravely considered charges of laxness against Tammany's 

June 1932, William Ireland 
Columbus Dispatch 

beloved jack-a-dandy, Mayor James J. Walker of New York City, 
Roosevelt also was most circumspect in his relations with Tammany 
leaders, often using Howe, Rosenman, or his law partner, Basil 
O'Connor, as intermediaries. 

Mildly spanking Tammany was perfectly safe for Roosevelt as 
long as the Hall had no other candidate to support for the presi- 
dential nomination. There was Smith, of course, but for several 
years Smith's relations with the organization had been cool. But 
toward the end of 1931, as Tammany saw Roosevelt under mount- 
ing pressure from anti-Tammany forces and from Republicans 
eager to split the New York Democracy, the Hall looked around 
for a way out of its predicament. During this very period Smith 
was making up his mind to seek the nomination. A rapprochement 
between Smith and the Hall was in order. 

Smith's entry into the race caught the Roosevelt forces off bal- 
ance; for a long time they refused to believe that he was anything 

Nomination by a Hairbreadth 129 

but a stalking-horse for some other candidate. Farley and Flynn 
had begun working for Roosevelt only on Smith's assurances that 
he would not run in 1932. Sickened by the wave of religious pre- 
judice that had helped beat him in 1928, Smith doubtless meant 
this disavowal at the time. But two things changed his mind. One 
was the increasing indication during 1931 that the Democrats would 
win. The other was the steady deterioration of his relations with 

The smoldering conflict broke out into the open in the Novem- 
ber election of 1931. Roosevelt was sponsoring a $20,000,000 re- 
forestation amendment as Referendum No. 3, which Smith attacked 
in a blistering speech at a Tammany rally. "What a queer thing 
that was for Al to fight so bitterly on No. 3!*' the governor wrote 
to a friend, "I cannot help remembering the fact that while he was 
Governor I agreed with almost all the policies he recommended but 
I was against one or two during those eight years. However, for 
the sake of party solidarity, I kept my mouth shut. . . /' Passage of 
the amendment was seen as proof of Roosevelt's influence in the 

In December Roosevelt got definite word as to the extent of 
Smith's feeling in a letter from Clark Howell, publisher of the 
Atlanta Constitution, who had just visited Smith in his office in 
the Empire State Building. After some preliminaries, Howell had 
asked Smith whether there was any ground for personal hostility 
on his part against Roosevelt. Smith had answered that their per- 
sonal relations were pleasant, but then he rose, stamped his foot, 
according to Howell, and demanded: "Do you know, by God, that 
he has never consulted me about a damn thing since he has been 
Governor? He has taken bad advice and from sources not friendly 
to me. He has ignored me!" Raising his voice and banging his fist 
on the table Smith went on to charge that Roosevelt had refused 
to tell Smith about his candidacy, that he was dodging on prohibi- 
tion, and that his "damn fool friends" were arranging Roosevelt 
dinners and the like. A political friendship had collapsed for 
political reasons. 

Tammany like Boss Plunkitt -saw its opportunity and took it. 
Smith was the lesser of the two evils; moreover, he was still popular 
with the New York City Democracy's rank and file. The New York 
delegation was made up of delegates at large chosen by the state 
committee, and of district delegates elected locally. In open defi- 
ance of Roosevelt, Tammany forces on the state committee chose 
a delegate-at-large slate largely composed of their own men; the 
district delegates were split about equally between Roosevelt and 
Tammany. Shrewdly Tammany left the delegates at large unin- 
structed so that they could be used as a club against the governor 


in the corruption situation. The upshot was that Roosevelt found 
himself in control of less than half of his own state delegation. 


On January 23, 1932 a week before his fiftieth birthday Roosevelt 
formally announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination 
for President by authorizing the Democratic Central Committee of 
North Dakota to enter his name in the preferential primary of that 
state* Two weeks later Smith announced that he would accept the 
nomination if it should be offered to him, but that he would ^not 
conduct an active campaignan announcement that politicians 
correctly interpreted as meaning his supporters would conduct an 
active campaign. Half a dozen other candidates were entering or 
eying the arena. 

By now Roosevelt's campaign had become a major operation. 
Outside the immediate entourage of Howe and Farley and their 
assistants was a circle of old Roosevelt friends and supporters. 
Colonel Edward House, the indefatigable little Texan who had 
served and then left Wilson, was quietly pulling strings with his 
friends throughout the country. Such influential senators as Cordell 
Hull of Tennessee, Alben W. Barkley of Kentucky, and Thomas 
J. Walsh of Montana helped Roosevelt in Washington. No national 
organization could do the job, however; Farley and Howe relied 
mainly on state politicians. The campaign took moneyalmost 
190,000 in the first three months but money was not a serious 
problem. Large donations came from Lehman, Henry Morgenthau, 
Sr., William H. Woodin, Joseph P. Kennedy, Robert W. Bingham, 
and a score of other financiers, merchants, and industrialists. Cen- 
tral in the operation was Roosevelt himself, conducting a huge cor- 
respondence, entertaining prominent out-of-state politicos in Albany 
or Hyde Park, almost daily advising Farley and Howe on their 
activities. Roosevelt was at his best in entertaining visiting national 
politicians. Senator Clarence C. Dili of Washington remembered 
years later how the governor had got wind that he was in Albany 
and invited him to dinner. "I talked with him three hours and 
came away a devoted and enthusiastic booster. . . ." 

Roosevelt's supporters were a remarkably varied lota strange 
assortment of old Harvard friends, city bosses, millionaires, Western 
radicals, Southern Bourbons, opportunistic Midwesterners who knew 
how to jump on the right bandwagon, Ku Kluxers, old Wilsonites, 
old Bryanites, professors, high-tariff men, low-tariff men. Directly 
or indirectly he was dealing with leaders who were then, or later, 
some of the most controversial personalities in American life: 
Hearst, Huey P. Long, Thomas J. Pendergast of Missouri, James 

Nomination by a Hairbreadth 131 

M. Curley of Boston. This diversity of support was a source of both 
strength and weakness strength in that it gave him the appearance 
of nationwide appeal, weakness in that his supporters might lack 
unity and staying power at the convention. 

Presidential nominations are usually won not by one great cam- 
paign through the nation but by a series of guerrilla battles, by 
tortuous, often undercover manipulations in each of the states and 
territories. Grand strategy must give way to petty strategy, and 
petty strategy to the mastery of detail. The network of detail sur- 
rounding a thousand potential convention delegates was Farley's 

Backed by a year's strenuous effort, the Roosevelt forces pulled 
far ahead in the early contests of 1932. Alaska, Washington, North 
Dakota, Georgia, Iowa, Maine, and Wisconsin fell to Roosevelt in 
an impressive demonstration of the wide compass of his support. 
Yet Roosevelt never took a decisive lead. The difficulty was two- 
fold. Running ahead of even the combined opposition was no^ 
enough for the Roosevelt forces; they had to win the magic two- 
thirds. And sensing a possible stalemate ahead, several state delega- 
tions did the precise thing that Farley had been trying so desper- 
ately to avoid they pledged to favorite sons as a means either of 
hoarding their votes for future bargaining purposes or of capturing 
the nomination in a stalemate. Oklahoma instructed its delegates 
to vote for their rustic governor, Alfalfa Bill Murray, whose political 
antics and dripping mustache had become a cartoonist's delight, 
Missouri pledged its thirty-six delegates to prickly Senator James 
Reed, the old anti-Wilson isolationist. Maryland plumped for 
Ritchie, who rivaled Roosevelt in bearing, background, and elo- 
quence, and who had won the Maryland governorship four times 
by ever-increasing majorities. Illinois with its fifty-eight votes went 
to Senator J. Hamilton Lewis, the old Populist spellbinder, whose 
wig, pink whiskers, and gay attire had won him the name the 
"Aurora Borealis of Illinois." 

Late in April 1932 the Roosevelt machine seemed to stall. Smith 
carried the Massachusetts primary by a popular vote of three to one; 
he would have the entire delegation with its thirty-six votes. Penn- 
sylvania gave a majority of its votes to Roosevelt, but Smith showed 
unexpected strength, especially in the wet districts. Early in May 
came the worst blow of all. In a three-way contest for California's 
forty-four votes with Smith and Speaker John N. Garner of the 
House of Representatives, Roosevelt unexpectedly ran second after 
Garner, although ahead of Smith. Prospects of a first-ballot victory 
began to look slim. What had happened? 

The Massachusetts situation was badly bungled. Early in the 


game Mayor James M. Curley of Boston had suddenly jumped on 
the Roosevelt bandwagon. Long the bully boy of Boston politics, 
Curley had often been counted out, but lie always bounced back, 
soothing the crowds with his honey-sweet voice, thwacking the old- 
line, respectable Democrats hip and thigh. Curley's motives were 
simple; he saw Roosevelt as a political comer whom he could use 
in advancing his own ambitions to win the governorship over the 
opposition of Senator David I. Walsh, Governor Joseph B. Ely, and 
the state organization. Curley had some luck, too. Roosevelt's oldest 
son, James, had gone into the insurance business in Boston and 
he was eager to dabble in politics. Curley established a solid alliance 
with him. The father in Albany was touched and pleased at his 
son's interest in politics. Like many another political leader in 
history, he may have allowed a family situation to spoil his good 

Curley simply ran away with Roosevelt's campaign in Massachu- 
setts. But aside from his own faction he made little headway. "No 
attention was paid to the country districts where our strength lay, 
nor was the slightest attempt made to get out the rural vote," Howe 
wrote later in an angry account of Curley's "wretched" management 
of the campaign. "Curley insisted on making it a city fight through- 
out the state with all the organization and voting officials under 
the control of Walsh and Ely. This is on a par with his early agree- 
ment with me to have the campaign run by a committee of six 
mayors with himself only responsible for Boston a promise which 
he failed utterly to carry out and which left at least four [of] the 
mayors somewhat lukewarm to Roosevelt's cause. . . ." The main 
effect of Curley's campaign was to goad the opposition into a strenu- 
ous counteraction, and the availability of Smith, who was idolized 
by Massachusetts Democrats, fell in perfectly with their needs. 

Sensing defeat, Roosevelt at the eleventh hour tried to com- 
promise. A peace conference in Boston that excluded Curley made 
some progress until news came in that Curley had chosen that after- 
noon to lash out at Smith for deceiving the people and wrecking 
the party; the meeting broke up. Curley himself tried to work out 
a deal where Smith would have the whole delegation on early ballots 
if Roosevelt could have it intact later. But Walsh and Ely saw no 
need to compromise. The campaign ended in a typical "Curley- 
Burley" in which Roosevelt was lost in a storm of personal and 
factional invective. 

Part of Roosevelt's difficulty in Massachusetts lay in some un- 
certainty whether Smith actually hoped to win for himself or 
planned to throw his strength at some point to someone else. In 
this sense, too, Roosevelt's early start was a disadvantage; his op- 
ponents knew that he was out for himself, but he could never know 

Nomination by a Hairbreadth 133 

who would emerge as his real opponent out of the makeshift com- 
binations that the "Stop Roosevelt" forces were piecing together. 
He encountered the same difficulty in California. 

In the beginning the Roosevelt forces had been optimistic about 
this state, partly because they discounted both Garner's interest 
and availability. A small-town banker and realtor from western 
Texasthe "goat country/* he liked to call it Garner had risen 
to be the shrewd and militant leader of the Democratic forces in 
the House. Considered an extreme wet and hostile to Eastern busi- 
ness interests, he lacked national appeal, but two factors gave him 
strength in California: a huge "Texas California" association that 
loved any son of the mother state, and backing from Hearst. Garner 
ran far ahead in" Los Angeles, as did -Smith in San Francisco. 

Seeking nationwide support in the party, Roosevelt was at a 
disadvantage facing candidates who could take a position that had 
local appeal. On many matters, such as liquor and Tammany, he 
treaded carefully, or remained silent. But failure to take a position 
also could be politically dangerous. "Do you wish to win for your- 
self the undesirable title of the 4-P's Candidate: Pusillanirnously- 
Pussyfooting-Pious-Platitudinous Roosevelt/' a fellow Harvard alum- 
nus wrote him angrily. Oswald Garrison Villard, editor of the 
liberal Nation, in an open letter addressed to Roosevelt fourteen 
flat questions such as "Are you a protectionist or not? Yes or no?" 
"Are you for repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment? Yes or no?" 
The governor refused to answer; these were "Have-you-stopped- 
beating-your-wife?" questions, he wrote to Villard indignantly and 

On general economic questions, however, Roosevelt took a mili- 
tant stand. "These unhappy times," he said in a radio speech in 
April 1932, "call for the building of plans that rest upon the for- 
gotten, the unorganized but the indispensable units of economic 
power, for plans . . . that build from the bottom up and not from 
the top down, that put their faith once more in the forgotten man 
at the bottom of the economic pyramid." The Forgotten Man be- 
came one of his most remembered phrases. "The country needs and, 
unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent 
experimentation," he told a graduating class at Oglethorpe Uni- 
versity. Almost a year before March 1933 he was proclaiming that 
America was facing an emergency at least equal to war itself. 

Smith was waiting to outflank him on the right. "I will take off 
my coat and vest," he said shortly after Roosevelt's Forgotten Man 
speech, "and fight to the end any candidate who persists in any 
demagogic appeal to the masses of the working people of this 
country to destroy themselves by setting class against class and rich 
against poor." 


While fighting Smith with his right hand, Roosevelt had to hold 
off other candidates with his left. Newton D. Baker was an especially 
worrisome threat. A reform mayor of Cleveland, secretary of war 
under Wilson, an eminent corporation lawyer, Baker had not been 
taken seriously as a possible candidate because of his repeated ad- 
vocacy of United States entry into the League of Nations. In January 
1932, however, he backslid, stating that he would not take the 
country into the League "unless an enlightened majority of the 
people favored the step/' As the convention neared, Farley and 
Howe busily stoked backfires against Baker's possible candidacy, 
warning Westerners that Baker was pro-League and labor leaders 
that he was the candidate of the "financial crowd." 

But all eyes came back to Smith. "I do hope that Al will not make 
a bitter or a mean fight," Roosevelt wrote to a friend in June. "It 
does nobody any good and, though he may block the convention 
and raise cain generally, it would be much better for the country 
if he would forget self and work primarily for the country it- 
self. . . ." 


At Roosevelt headquarters in Chicago Farley posted a gaudy map 
"Field Marshal Farley's map," it was soon dubbed showing his 
chief's strength across the nation. The map also showed Roosevelt's 
weakness. For it was clear when the Democratic convention opened 
on June 27, 1932, that Roosevelt could not win the often predicted 
first-ballot victory unless a stampede was touched off at the end of 
the roll. Who would touch it off? Farley still did not know. He had 
met disappointment after disappointment in trying to win the extra 
one hundred votes that would mean victory. 

The key, he felt, lay in a bloc of three Midwestern states: Ohio, 
Indiana, and Illinois. Earlier Ohio had looked hopeful, but now it 
was holding its delegates behind its favorite son, Governor George 
White, in order, according to reports, to lead a procession to Baker 
later. Indiana was a baffling disappointment; Farley offered a high 
convention post to Paul V. McNutt if he would help negotiate an 
instructed delegation for Roosevelt, but McNutt would not, or 
could not, come across. Illinois was the worst blow of all. Senator 
Lewis withdrew just before the convention and his votes were ex- 
pected to go to the New York governor, but the withdrawal was 
timed too early. The Illinois delegation simply trotted out another 
favorite son, a Chicago banker, amd stood pat. 

Under mounting pressure, the Roosevelt forces at the eleventh 
hour embarked on a risky maneuver that almost lost them the fight. 
This was the repeal of the two-thirds rule. The idea was simple: 

Nomination by a Hairbreadth 135 

Each national convention at the outset adopted its own rules by 
straight majority vote; sure of commanding such a majority the 
Roosevelt men needed only to change the rules and then nominate 
their candidate by a straight majority. 

The tactic might have worked if it had been properly timed. 
But it was not. The issue came up at an organization meeting of 
Roosevelt delegates called by Farley before the convention opened. 
Suddenly Senator Huey P. Long of Louisiana took the floor to 
offer a resolution setting forth that the governor's friends would 
fight for a straight majority rule. Coat open, arms pumping, the 
Kingfish raised his pudgy, pock-marked face in a bellowing call to 
action. Farley dared not restrain the man who held Louisiana's dele- 
gates' votes in his pocket, and who had told Flynn that he backed 
Roosevelt only because he had met the other contenders. The reso- 
lution went through. 

The opposition blazed up in wrathful indignation. A nomination 
won in such a way, said Senator Carter Glass, would be "dairiaged 
goods obtained by a gambler's trick." Roosevelt's opponents, hith- 
erto divided, now had a moral issue around which to unite. Even 
worse, pro-Roosevelt delegations in the South showed signs of de- 
serting on the majority rule issue, for the two-thirds rule had be- 
come a venerable mechanism for protecting the power of the South 
in the party. 

After conferring over the telephone with Roosevelt " in Albany 
and with Howe in Chicago, Farley decided to surrender. He had 
been careful not to implicate his chief in the original decision. Ac- 
tually, Roosevelt had been directly involved in the two-thirds ma- 
neuver just as he was in all major decisions in the nomination 
fight, but he and Farley had lost control of the timing through 
Long's precipitous action. The governor's withdrawal was as grace- 
ful as circumstances allowed. "I believe and always have believed," 
he said, "that the two thirds rule should no longer be adopted. It is 
undemocratic. Nevertheless, it is true that the issue was not raised 
until after the delegates to the convention had been selected, and I 
decline to permit either myself or my friends to be open to the 
accusation of poor sportsmanship or to the use of methods which 
could be called, even falsely, those of a steam-roller. . . ." 

Repairing their fractured ranks, the Roosevelt men now faced the 
first battles over convention organization. In these tests of strength 
only a straight majority was needed to win, and the Roosevelt forces 
mobilized enough votes to seat friendly delegations from Louisiana 
and Minnesota and elect Senator Thomas Walsh of Montana as 
permanent chairman over Smith's candidate, Jouett Shouse. The 
permanent chairman contest aroused new charges of deceit against 
the Roosevelt men, who had indicated earlier in the year that they 


would back Shouse. The 626 to 528 vote on the chairman race sug- 
gested how close the nomination race might be. The Smith forces, 
however, gained heart from a smashing victory for a "dripping wet" 
repeal plank a plank that drew far more attention than the party's 
declarations on economic recovery. 

At last came the roll call on nomination. Farley was everywhere, 
pumping hands, claiming victory, exhorting delegations to get on 
the bandwagon while there was still room. In a hotel room Howe 
was conducting last-minute espionage operations and putting out 
feelers to key men in favorite-son delegations. In Albany, Roosevelt 
waited by the radio, frequently counseling with his lieutenants 
over a private telephone wire. Biting on a cigar, Smith sat amid 
Tammany delegates so hostile to Roosevelt that Farley had diffi- 
culty finding a seat in order to vote during roll calls. It was past 
four o'clock on the morning of July i when the nominating and 
seconding speeches finally came to an end. Exhausted by ten hours 
of turgid oratory, demonstrations, and blaring band music, the dele- 
gates slumped in their chairs. 

The first roll call went according to expectations. Roosevelt 
moved far ahead near the outset and kept a long lead. His final 
tally on the first roll call of 666% dwarfed Smith's 201%, Garner's 
90%, and White's 52, but it was about one hundred short of two- 
thirds. While tellers were making their check, Farley sat back on 
the platform, waiting for the bandxvagon rush to start. 
Nothing happened. 

Farley sprinted down to the floor and pleaded with delegations 
to shift. He had the vice-presidential nomination to offer, but the 
delegations were stalling while they waited to see if the current 
went in another direction. Weary delegates were eager to adjourn 
but the Roosevelt forces wanted another roll call before their own 
delegations weakened. On the second roll call Roosevelt picked up 
11% votes, an increase so small that it dramatized the extent to 
which Farley had staked his hopes on the first ballot. 

Still no delegation came over. Now it was the opposition forces 
that wanted another roll call. Roosevelt, they proclaimed, was 
stopped. On the third ballot Roosevelt crept up five more votes. 
His ranks at least were holding firm but so were the enemy's. At 
9 A.M., after the third roll call, the convention adjourned and the 
delegates tottered out into the sunshine. 

The next few hours would be decisive. Farley had to win a siz- 
able bloc o votes before his own ranks buckled. The breaking away 
of one delegation might start an avalanche toward Garner, who 
had picked up eleven votes on the third ballot. Already Mississippi's 
twenty votes were in jeopardy; this delegation was supporting Roose- 
velt under the unit rule by a 10% to g l / 2 vote > anc * had been barely 

Nomination by a Hairbreadth 137 

saved for the governor on the third roll call. Alabama, Arkansas, 
and Minnesota also had soft spots. 

The only card Farley had left was^a big one. For some time he 
had been in touch with a group of men close to Garner, including 
Representative Sam Rayburn of Texas. Garner was a serious candi- 
date, but he did not want a deadlocked convention, and he person- 
ally opposed the two-thirds rule. Farley had also been in direct 
touch with Hearst, warning him that in a deadlock the prize might 
go to Baker, whose internationalist views the publisher hated. 
Hearst hated Smith even more. Farley had been putting every possi- 
ble form of pressure on Garner's men at the convention. Now 
while Roosevelt leaders were proffering the vice-presidency in a 
dozen different directions Farley was able to make a definitive offer. 
The deal was quickly made. All during the day Smith was trying to 
reach Garner in Washington, but the Speaker would talk to no one 
but Rayburn. Late in the afternoon Rayburn got an official release 
from Garner. It was none too soon. Mississippi had cracked and 
gone over to the coalition. 

Winning Garner's consent to release his delegates was one thing; 
winning his supporters' was something else. The big Texas dele- 
gation had come to Chicago to nominate Jack Garner. Farley, 
moreover, faced a special handicap. Early in the spring the Roose- 
velt forces had tried to capture the Texas delegation; they had 
failed badly, and the Garner forces kept all but a few Roosevelt 
men off the delegation. Now the Texans balked at going to the 
New York governor. Their caucus was tumultuous: last-ditch Gar- 
ner leaders were pleading with the delegates to stand firm; women 
were crying hysterically; and delegates from other states had filtered 
into the room and were busy promising more votes for Garner on 
the next ballot. Ironically, a good many anti-Roosevelt delegates 
were absent trying to win votes for the Speaker in other delegations. 
In the confusion Rayburn barely managed to push the pro-Roose- 
velt stand through, fifty-four to fifty-one. 

Now the Roosevelt avalanche began. The shift of Texas brought 
around California too. On the fourth roll call McAdoo, a victim 
of the two-thirds rule eight years before, came to the rostrum. The 
pro-Smith galleries drowned him out with groans and boos, but 
finally his voice came through. "California came here to nominate 
a President of the United States," he shouted. "She did not come to 
deadlock the Convention or to engage in another devastating con- 
test like that of 1924. California casts 44 votes for Franklin D, 

The frenzied cheering echoed over the radio in Roosevelt's study. 
He leaned back and grinned broadly. "Good old McAdoo." The 


delegations swiftly fell in line all but Smith's diehard supporters, 
who refused to make the nomination unanimous. 

On a roof garden in Washington a little man sat smoking a cigar. 
A reporter recognized him. "You've gone to Roosevelt?" "That's 
right, son." The reporter expressed surprise. The cigar glowed. 
"I'm a little older than you are, son. And politics is funny." In 
Chicago the delegates were asking why Garner had shifted. Even 
as he was giving way, several states were breaking loose for him. 
To be sure, he was duly nominated for vice-president, but exchang- 
ing the certainty of the speakership for the uncertainty of the vice- 
presidency seemed a strange swap for the canny Texan. Was it 
really fear of a deadlock? Was it Hearst? His supporters were at a 
loss. "It's a kangaroo ticket," said a disappointed Texas politician. 
"Stronger in the hindquarter than in front." 

The Roosevelt forces had wonyet they had lost too. They had 
gone for a running mate to a section of the country that was cer- 
tain to vote Democratic in November. They had disappointed 
some of their Western supporters who had worked for Roosevelt 
long before Chicago. They had made some serious mistakes. Yet 
the nomination fight had shown the essential strength of their can- 
didatea strength that could weather his and his lieutenants' er- 
rors. The real test lay ahead. 

EIGHT The Curious Campaign 


.OOSEVELT began his election campaign with 
the kind of dramatic gesture he loved. While the convention waited, 
he flew from Albany to accept the nomination on the spot rather 
than follow tradition and acknowledge it weeks later. Buffeted by 
head winds, the flimsy trimotored plane was hours late, and conven- 
tion chiefs, for once out of Democratic speeches, had to turn to 
bandleaders and songsters to keep the weary delegates in their seats. 
During the flight the governor serenely worked on his speech and 
then fell asleep, while Mrs. Roosevelt, Rosenman, and the others 
shivered, and son John was quietly sick in the tail of the plane. 

The trip from the airport to the convention was a triumphant 
procession. His coming out to accept the nomination, Roosevelt 
told the convention, was a symbol of his intention to avoid hypoc- 
risy and sham. "Let it also be symbolic that in so doing I broke 
traditions. Let it be from now on the task of our Party to break 
foolish traditions and leave it to the Republican leadership, far 
more skilled in that art, to break promises." 

The speech was long and ramblingdue in part to a fierce strug- 
gle that had been waged over its composition by Roosevelt's ad- 
visers and to Roosevelt's willingness while he was bowing and wav- 
ing to the crowds between airport and convention hall--to placate 
Howe by substituting the latter's opening paragraphs for his own. 
The speech was essentially an appeal for an experimental program 
of recovery that would steer between radicalism and reaction, that 
would benefit all the people without falling into an "improvised, 
hit-or-miss, irresponsible opportunism/' The people that year 
wanted a real choice, he said. "Ours must be a party of liberal 
thought, of planned action, of enlightened international outlook, 
and of the greatest good to the greatest number of our citizens." 
Endorsing the party platform "100 per cent/* he lambasted the Re- 
publican leaders for their failures and set out in hazy terms a pro- 
gram on taxes, agriculture, tariffs, and recovery. 

"I pledge you, I pledge myself, to a new deal for the American 
people/' Roosevelt wound up in his peroration. The two words 



nestling in the speech had meant little to Roosevelt and the other 
speech writers; soon they were to be more important than the sum 
of all the other words. Next day a cartoon by Rollin Kirby showed 
a new "man with a hoe'* looking up puzzled but hopeful at an air- 
plane labeled "New Deal/' 


How to get the new program off the ground was the mission of 
Farley, who on Roosevelt's recommendation was elected the chair- 
man of the Democratic National Committee. The new chairman 
inherited a superb publicity man in Charles Michelson, ghost writer 
of scores of speeches that had slashed and pummeled the Hoover 

J& &M I tefe 

May 26, 1932, Elmer Messner, Roches- HELPFUL FARM HINTS FROM HYI>E PARK, 
ter Democrat and Chronicle Oct. 25, 1932, Ding Darling, 1932, 

New York Herald Tribune, Inc. 

administration. Roosevelt's personal organization was quickly con- 
verted into the campaign high command, with headquarters in New 
York. Soon six hundred people were working through a score of spe- 
cialized divisions. Considerable attention was devoted to the 
women's division, which was headed by a group of imaginative and 
indefatigable women workers, including Eleanor Roosevelt. 

On one thing Roosevelt and Farley were insistent: they must by- 
pass the cumbersome pyramid of state and county committees and 
establish a direct personal link with 140,000 local party workers 
whose names had been collected during the preconvention cam- 
paign. Along with millions of buttons and leaflets these committee- 

The Curious Campaign 141 

men received personal letters from Roosevelt and Farley, the lat- 
ter's signed in green ink. Farley saw the campaign as a party battle 
and sought to keep control under the top Democratic regulars. 
"We are going to have every kind of club function we can/' he 
told a meeting of party leaders early in August, "but we don't 
want them running wild." Farley wanted to prevent crossed wires, 
but straight party control had its disadvantages too. Special groups 
did not get full attention; labor especially was handled in a slip- 
shod fashion. 

The softest spot in the Roosevelt forces, however, was Tammany. 
What would the Sachems do? Farley got an answer the day he re- 
turned from Chicago, when he had the temerity to invade the Hall 
during a patriotic ceremony. The gallery hissed; the Sachems on the 
platform sat in stony silence. But Tammany had little freedom of 
action; its course depended largely on two men, Smith and Walker. 

Crushed and bitter, Smith had left Chicago before Roosevelt ar- 
rived. It was nip and tuck for a while whether he would openly 
attack the victor. He did not but when Roosevelt emissaries urged 
him to support the ticket, he balked. "I think he wants to work it 
out in his own way and in his own time/* Roosevelt wrote Frank- 
furter. Al did; in the final weeks before the election he campaigned 
vigorously for Roosevelt in Massachusetts and Connecticut, 

Walker presented a different problem. Seabury's probe of corrup- 
tion in New York City had come to a headas it had been delib- 
erately timed to do in order to embarrass him, Roosevelt suspected 
in the weeks just before the convention with charges against the 
mayor. Walker, who had swaggeringly voted against Roosevelt in 
the convention, shortly afterward filed his answers. During late 
August, with the election campaign under way, Roosevelt presided 
over a series of hearings in Albany. The situation required all his 
political finesse. Some Tammany leaders were in an ugly mood and 
openly talked of bolting the ticket; even Father Charles Coughlin, 
the radio priest, wrote from Detroit asking that Walker be given 
his day in court. The Republicans blew the case into a national 
issue of Roosevelt and Tammanyism. Day after day the governor 
in judicial mien patiently questioned the mayor about his tangled 
affairs. Under mounting pressure, Walker suddenly resigned, accus- 
ing Roosevelt of "unfair, unAmerican" conduct of the hearing. The 
governor had walked the political tightrope expertly. He stripped 
the Republicans of a national issue without losing Tammany, 
which was divided on the matter and in any case did not dare to 
turn against Roosevelt openly. 

With the Walker case disposed of, Roosevelt could begin his 
campaign in earnest. He had received a good deal of advice to the 
effect that (a) the election was already "in the bag/' and (b) a cam- 


paign tour might jeopardize the Democratic lead. Roosevelt spurned 
both ideas. He was cautious almost superstitious about assuming 
victory. He believed that a campaign trip would carry the attack 
to Hoover; moreover, it would demonstrate his physical vigor and 
silence the whispering against his health. Besides he simply wanted 
to go. "My Dutch is up/' he told Farley. 

Never, perhaps, has a candidate had as large and varied a group 
of advisers as Roosevelt collected for his campaign. They ranged 
from idealistic college professors to cynical party politicians, and 
they spoke for almost every political viewpoint of right, left, and 
center. One or two advisers tried to sort out the ideas in logical 
form for the candidate, but it was a trying task. Roosevelt loved to 
juggle ideas, he hated to antagonize people, he was looking for pro- 
posals that would appeal to a wide variety of groups, whatever the 
lack of internal consistency. While the candidate toured the streets 
and talked from the back platform of trains, fierce fights broke 
out in speech-drafting sessions between high-tariff and low-tariff 
men, among advocates of various farm policies, between the budget- 
balancers and public works advocates. 

What did the candidate say? At this critical juncture of the 
nation's affairs, what program did he offer the American people? 

As in past campaigns, Roosevelt devoted each major speech to a 
major topic. In Topeka he promised to reorganize the Department 
of Agriculture; he favored the "planned use of land," lower taxes 
for farmers through tax reform, federal credit for refinancing farm 
mortgages, and lower tariffs; and he came out for the barest shadow 
of a voluntary domestic allotment plan to handle farm surpluses. 
In Salt Lake City he outlined a comprehensive plan of federal regu- 
lation and aid for the floundering railroad industry. In Seattle he 
let loose a thundering attack on high tariffs. In Portland he de- 
manded full publicity as to the financial activities of public utilities, 
regulation of holding companies by the Federal Power Commission, 
regulation of the issuing of stocks and bonds, and use of the pru- 
dent-investment principle in rate-making. In Detroit he called for 
removing the causes of poverty but he refused to spell out the 
methods because it was Sunday and he would not talk politics! 

One speech in particular excited observers on the left. At the 
Commonwealth Club in San Francisco Roosevelt talked eloquently 
about the need for an economic constitutional order, about the 
role of government as umpire, with federal regulation as a last re- 
sort. Although the implications of these ideas for a specific program 
were left vague, the speech was studded with phrases about eco- 
nomic oligarchy, the shaping of an economic bill of rights, the need 
for more purchasing power, and every man's right to life, which 

The Curious Campaign 143 

Roosevelt defined as including the right to make a comfortable 
living. But these ideas seemed to fade away later in the campaign 
as the candidate turned to other notions, some of them more ortho- 
dox than those of Hoover himself. 

It was all very confusing to the close observer. He was sure that 
Roosevelt was against prohibition, reporter Elmer Davis wrote, but 
for the rest "You could not quarrel with a single one of his gener- 
alities; you seldom can. But what they mean (if anything) is known 
only to Franklin D. Roosevelt and his God/' 

Roosevelt found it easier to assail Hoover's policies than to spell 
out clear proposals of his own. The administration, he declared, 
had encouraged speculation and overproduction through its fake 
economic policies. It had tried to minimize the gravity of the De- 
pression. It had wrongly blamed other nations for causing the 
crash. It had "refused to recognize and correct the evils at home 
which had brought it forth; it delayed relief; it forgot reform." 
And Roosevelt and a thousand orators painted President Hoover 
as sitting in the White House inert, unconcerned, withdrawn. 

Hoover launched a vigorous counteroffensive. He concentrated 
his fire on what he called the radicalism and collectivism in Roose- 
velt's proposals. It was perhaps to meet this attack, perhaps for 
other reasons unknown, that Roosevelt toned down the sweep of 
his proposals midway in the campaign. He so modified his tariff- 
reduction stand that his position differed little from that of his 
adversary in the White House. He hoped that governmental inter- 
ference to bring about business stabilization could be "kept at a 
minimum" perhaps limited simply to publicity. He took a weak 
stand on unemployment, pledging that no one would starve under 
the New Deal, that the federal government would set an example 
on wages and hours, seeking to persuade industry to do likewise, 
and would set up employment exchanges, leaving unemployment 
insurance to the states. He promised co-operation with Congress 
and with both parties in Congress. And in one of the most sweeping 
statements of his campaign he berated Hoover for spending and 
deficits, and he promisedwith only the tiniest of escape clauses to 
balance the budget. 

Here was no call to action, no summons to a crusade. Roosevelt 
had no program to offer, only a collection of proposals, some well 
thought out, like the railroad plan, others vague to the point of 
meaninglessness. On the whole he was remarkably temperate; there 
was little passion or pugnacity. Some of his speeches, indeed, had 
the flavor of academic lectures, as Roosevelt led his audience 
through the Hoover policies and then described his own. For a na- 
tion caught in economic crisis, it was a curious campaign. 


What was Roosevelt up to? He was trying to win an election, not 
lay out a coherent philosophy of government. He had no such phi- 
losophy; but he knew how to pick up votes, how to capture group 
support, how to change pace and policy. "Weave the two together," 
he said to an astonished Raymond Moley when the academic man 
presented Roosevelt with two utterly different drafts on tariff pol- 
icy. "I think that you will agree," he wrote to Floyd Olson about 
his Topeka farm speech, "that it is sufficiently far to the left to 
prevent any further suggestion that I am leaning to the right." 

"A chameleon on plaid," Hoover growled. With his orderly en- 
gineer's mind he could not come to grips with this antagonist who 
fenced all around him, now on the left, now on the right, now 
in attack, and now in sudden retreat. Nor could Norman Thomas, 
the Socialist candidate for President, with his elaborate, eloquent, 
detailed platform. It was not 1896, or 1912, or even 1928. In the 
gravest economic crisis of their history the American people, still 
benumbed and bewildered, seemed only to stir lethargically amid 
the tempests of the politicians. 

On. election eve Roosevelt gave a last talk to his neighbors in 
Poughkeepsie, He spoke of the "vivid flashes" of the campaign 
the great crowd under the lights before the capitol in Jefferson 
City, the Kansans listening patiently under the hot sun in Topeka,, 
the "strong, direct kindness" of the people in Wyoming who had 
come hundreds of miles to see him, the sunset in McCook, Ne- 
braska, the children in wheel chairs at Warm Springs, the. stirring 
trip north through New England. 

"A man comes to wisdom in many years of public life. He knows 
well that when the light of favor shines upon him, it comes not, 
of necessity, that he himself is important. Favor conies because for 
a brief moment in the great space of human change and progress 
some general human purpose finds in him a satisfactory embodi- 

The light of favor shone brightly. Election night Roosevelt sat 
happily among Ms friends at campaign headquarters in New York 
City as the returns poured in. He won 22,815,539 votes to Hoover's 
15,759,930, carrying 4.2 states and 472 electoral votes. It was almost 
a nationwide sweep; only Pennsylvania, Delaware, Connecticut, 
Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine went Republican. It was, in 
part, a personal victory for the Democratic candidate: outside the 
South and New England Roosevelt's percentage topped that of the 
Democratic candidates for Representative in four-fifths of the states. 
But it was a party victory too. The new Senate would be Demo- 
cratic by 59 to 37, the new House Democratic by 312 to 123. 

During the night a telegram of congratulation arrived from 

The Curious Campaign 145 

Hoover. The next morning, sitting in bed in the 65th Street house, 
Roosevelt scribbled a reply on the back of Hoover's wire: 

"I appreciate your generous telegram. I want to assure you that 
subject to my necessary executive duties as Governor, I hold my- 
self in readiness to cooperate with you in our" 

Roosevelt stopped and crossed out the last eight words. 

"ready to further in every way the common purpose to help 
our country." 


The place that a great man holds in history, it has been said, is 
largely determined by the manner in which he makes his exit from 
the stage. The same could be said for his entrance. "No cosmic dra- 
matist/' Robert Sherwood said, "could possibly devise a better 
entrance for a new President or a new Dictator, or a new Messiah 
than that accorded to Franklin Delano Roosevelt/' 

The President-elect enjoyed all the advantages, Sherwood noted, 
of having a good act to follow. Hoover was meeting the fate of 
defeated presidents his popularity ebbed even more after the elec- 
tion. Roosevelt's cardinal object was to keep clear of the wrecked 
Hoover administration. The four months between election and 
inauguration saw a dogged, undercover duel between the two 
politicians as Hoover sought to salvage his reputation in the face 
of mounting economic crisis, while Roosevelt warily shied off from 
any involvement. 

The issue was precipitated shortly after the election when the 
foreign debt situation suddenly came to a head. On November 12, 
1932, Hoover had notified Roosevelt that Britain had asked for a 
suspension of payments due the United States and for a review 
of the whole debt situation. Would the President-elect meet with 
him on the matter? Roosevelt saw treacherous ground ahead. Hoover 
viewed the war debt problem in terms of his basic assumption that 
the Depression was foreign-made and could be met best by inter- 
national action an assumption his opponent had assailed during 
the campaign. Roosevelt, moreover, had no firsthand acquaintance 
with the problem. During the 1920'$ he had asked for a construc- 
tive over-all Democratic party position on the matter, and he had 
scoffed at Coolidge's remark, "Well, they hired the money, didn't 
they?" But he had gone little beyond this. 

Whatever the pitfalls, Roosevelt knew that he had to respond to 
the popular demand that he co-operate with the outgoing Chief 
Executive for the sake of national unity. His tactic was to observe 
all the formalities of co-operation to meet with Hoover, to ex- 
change letters and telegrams with him but to refuse to take joint 


action that would imply joint responsibility. His official position 
was that President Hoover had the power to act if action was 
needed, that it was not necessary for the President-elect to appoint 
interim representatives, that he would make no commitments be- 
fore March 4. Unofficially, he told reporters that "it was not his 
baby." After a month of futile sparring Hoover released the whole 
correspondence to the press with the cold comment: "Governor 
Roosevelt considers that it is undesirable for him to assent to my 
suggestions for cooperative action on the foreign proposals out- 
lined in my recent message to Congress, I will respect his wishes." 

The state of the nation in January 1933 formed a fitting back- 
drop to these fruitless negotiations. Farm prices had slid badly 
since summer; factory production, retail trade, stocks and bonds 
were all down. Unemployment rose by one or two million to around 
fifteen million. Farmers were using shotguns to keep homes from 
being foreclosed. In the cities, unemployed white-collar people were 
suddenly on every corner, selling apples. Through financial circles 
trickled underground reports of serious trouble in leading Detroit 

Congress, meanwhile, fribbled and dawdled. Weighted down by 
158 members who had been handed their walking papers by the 
voters in November, divided in party control, surly toward the 
President, unsure of the President-elect, the legislators could find 
no basis for action. Roosevelt made his views known on a few 
matters through Democratic leaders, but he did not emulate Wilson's 
example in 1912-13 of mobilizing his leaders and drafting legisla- 
tion weeks before he took office. Where does the President-elect 
stand? asked a Republican representative. "He is here today and 
there tomorrow." Wearily congressmen squabbled over beer, dead- 
locked over relief, put off action on banking, farm mortgage re- 
lief, bank deposit legislation. Lacking presidential leadership they 
could not act. 

Across the seas crisis glowed and flickered. On January 30, 1933 
Roosevelt's fifty-first birthday a befuddled President Hindenburg 
dismissed the chancellor and put in his place Adolf Hitler, who 
promptly dissolved the Reichstag, ordered an election, arrested op- 
position leaders, and terrorized the voters with a manufactured 
panic. Censured by the League of Nations for its aggression in 
Manchuria, Japan truculently withdrew its representatives from 
the Assembly. Mussolini's Italy, it was disclosed, was shipping arms 
into Austria to arm the fascists there. Latin-American countries were 
seething with discontent* 

During these long weeks Roosevelt remained buoyant and im- 
perturbable. He cleaned up his gubernatorial affairs, shuffled and 

The Curious Campaign 147 

reshuffled appointment lists, conferred on foreign affairs with Sec- 
retary of State Stimson and his own advisers, spent several weeks 
in Warm Springs and on Vincent Astor's yacht, kept in touch with 
congressional leaders, and found time to tour the Tennessee River 
area with Senator George W. Norris. But all his actions were in 
slow waltz time. Despite the pleadings of reporters, despite the 
strictures of editorial writers, he refused to issue statements on the 
sharpening economic crisis or to announce his plans. He merely 

If anything more was needed to heighten the tension of the pre- 
inauguration weeks, it was supplied in mid-February by a short, 
dark man who stood in a crowd around Roosevelt's car in Miami. 
Shouting that "too many people are starving to death/' Zangara 
fired shot after shot at the President-elect; knocked upward by a 
woman's quick move, his gun missed Roosevelt but hit several by- 
standers and mortally wounded Mayor Cermak of Chicago. Moley, 
who was near the scene, was not surprised that Roosevelt's nerve 
held in front of the crowd. But he was amazed to see no letdown 
later on when the President-elect was among his friends. There was 
nothing, Moley said, "not so much as the twitching of a muscle, 
the mopping of a brow, or even the hint of a false gaiety" to indi- 
cate that anything unusual had happened. 

By mid-February the banking situation was approaching crisis. 
On February 17, the day Roosevelt returned from his yacht trip, 
Hoover wrote him an anxious letter in longhand. Confidence was 
steadily degenerating, the President said. He urged Roosevelt to 
assure the country that there would be no "tampering or inflation 
of the currency," that the budget would be balanced even if it 
meant more taxes, that government credit would be maintained. 
The President-elect answered that mere statements would not avail. 
Doubtless Roosevelt suspected as Hoover privately admitted that 
by making such statements he would be approving the Hoover 
policies that he had attacked during the campaign. The President- 
elect kept silent; he had two weeks to wait. 

At the end of February Hoover launched a last despairing effort. 
He wanted to issue an executive order controlling bank withdrawals, 
but he was not sure of his power to do so, and he feared that a 
Democratic Congress might repudiate such action. Would the Presi- 
dent-elect approve such action? Roosevelt would not. The President, 
he said, had the authority to act on his own. Matters were now 
coming to a head. Frantic bankers, sitting late in their offices total- 
ing withdrawals, wondered whether their banks would pull through. 
In the Treasury Department the night before the inaugural, officials 
were pleading with the governors of New York and Illinois to close 
the banks to prevent fatal runs on the banks the next morning. 


Roosevelt did not foresee that the banking situation would reach 
a dramatic climax on Inauguration Day. No man could have. But 
he played his cards perfectly. Despite the pleadings of the adminis- 
tration and the fervent advice of his friends, he refused to tip his 
hand. No untimely action marred his entrance on the great stage. 

Cabinet appointments, too, Roosevelt held off announcing until 
near the end of the interregnum. Their revelation only served to 
throw the figure of the new chief executive into sharper relief. ^ 

His selections comprised a mixed collection that gave little hint 
of Roosevelt's program. Cordell Hull, a spare, graying man of sixty- 
one, was an obvious choice for Secretary of State. Hull's downcast 
eyes, stooped shoulders, and soft voice masked a strength and tenac- 
ity that had marked his long career as a representative and later 
senator from Tennessee, and as chairman of the Democratic Na- 
tional Committee. A Cleveland Democrat and conservative in his 
economic viewpoints, Hull for years had led the fight for lower 
tariffs, clearing the legislative halls with his statistic-studded speeches 
on foreign trade. He would serve as a useful liaison between the 
President and conservative members of Congress. 

Roosevelt's first choice for Secretary of the Treasury was Carter 
Glass, who had served in this post under Wilson. The peppery 
Virginian shied away, partly because of an ailing wife, partly be- 
cause he feared that Roosevelt might try out unorthodox fiscal 
policies. Instead the President-elect picked William Woodin, an 
industrialist who had provided an invaluable combination of ideas 
and money in the presidential campaign. A little man with a heart- 
shaped face and an artless, almost elfin manner, Woodin was head 
of the American Car and Foundry Company. His economic views, 
while not hidebound, were as orthodox as those of Glass; clearly 
Roosevelt was not looking for radicals for the Treasury Department. 

Roosevelt's candidate for Attorney General from the beginning 
had been Senator Thomas J. Walsh of Montana. The skillful and 
relentless exposer of the Teapot Dome scandals, Walsh had ably 
served the Roosevelt campaign as a prominent Rocky Mountain 
politician and as chairman of the 1932 Democratic convention. But 
shortly before the inauguration Walsh married a widow from Cuba, 
and he died suddenly en route to Washington from his honeymoon. 
In his place Roosevelt hurriedly chose "Homer S. Cummings of 
Connecticut, who had been slated for Governor General of the 
Philippines. The replacement of Walsh by Cummings, a seasoned, 
middle-of-the-road Democratic politico, gave a more easterly cast 
to his cabinet than Roosevelt had originally planned. 

The President-elect filled his two military posts in an almost 

The Curious Campaign 149 

cavalier fashion. He had come to like personally Governor George 
H. Dern of Utah, who had been a pillar of strength in the West, 
and he simply wanted Dern somewhere in his cabinet. Roosevelt's 
first place for Dern was Secretary of the Interior, but Dern had local 
antagonisms in Utah, and Secretary of War seemed to be a conveni- 
ent slot. In the navy post Roosevelt installed Senator Claude Swan- 
son, a benign old Virginian who wore high, wing collars and a 
frock coat. Swanson's appointment indicated that Roosevelt would 
be his own Secretary of the Navy; it had the advantage, too, of en- 
abling Roosevelt's old friend, Harry F. Byrd, to be appointed 
Swanson's successor in the Senate. 

A final concession to the Old Democracy came in the choice for 
Secretary of Commerce of Daniel C. Roper, a onetime political 
lieutenant of Wilson's who had later served as a leader in the Mc- 
Adoo faction of the party. A bespectacled South Carolinian, Roper 
had views and associations that made him eminently acceptable to 
business. Symbol of the rising Democracy was Jim Farley, who knew 
of his designation as Postmaster General only when Roosevelt imp- 
ishly commented on a story that "Jim's predecessor" had bought 
a new government limousine to allow more room for his silk hat. 

In filling his labor, farm, and "Western" places Roosevelt moved 
left of center. He chose for Secretary of Labor his New York indus- 
trial commissioner, Frances Perkins, who had learned how to ad- 
vance social-welfare legislation by getting along with the politicians, 
and who enabled Roosevelt to shatter another tradition in naming 
a woman to his cabinet. For Secretary of Agriculture he turned to 
Henry A. Wallace, a leader of the more militant farmers of the 
Corn Belt, son of a Republican Secretary of Agriculture, and a 
rustic, diffident man who had pioneered in developing new strains 
of corn and in breeding hogs and chickens. Roosevelt had offered 
Interior first to Hiram Johnson and then to Bronson Cutting, both 
of whom declined. After one meeting with Harold L. Ickes, Roose- 
velt tendered him the place; Ickes, a Chicagoan, had a reputation 
for independent Republicanism, honesty, and pugnacity. "I liked 
the cut of his jib," Roosevelt said. 

Perhaps the historians of the future would find some underlying 
principle in Roosevelt's selections, Moley (who served as a go-be- 
tween in the process) wrote later, but he could not. Time makes 
the task no easier. To some extent the cabinet met the classical 
American tradition: a collection of party war horses, sprinkled 
with a few independents, drawn from state and national politics, 
somewhat. representative of the nation geographically. Like almost 
all previous cabinets it differed sharply with the British system of 
choosing party leaders who had long trod the political course in 


close harness; indeed, several members of the new cabinet had never 
met one another. 

But even for America, Roosevelt's cabinet was a strange assort- 
ment. Ideologically, it embraced Democratic conservatives and 
Democratic progressives, a Republican conservative and two Repub- 
lican progressives, inflationists and anti-inflationists, an ex-Bull 
Mooser along with old Wilson men, social-welfare New Dealers 
along with Cleveland Democrats, mild nationalists along with in- 
ternationalists, Republicans of various hues along with partisan 
Democrats. Politically, it catered to almost every major group: 
business, industry, farmers, labor; Catholics and Protestants; North, 
South, Midwest, Far West. Yet even this was not an organizing 
principle. Roosevelt did not follow slavishly the wishes of group 
leaders. Wallace was not liked by some farm leaders; President 
William Green of the AFL announced angrily that labor would 
never be reconciled to Miss Perkins's appointment; and there was 
no Jew in the cabinet. Personally, it was an elderly group; the aver- 
age age of fifty-eight suggested both experience and caution; and it 
was the first cabinet to include a woman. 

The only principle in the cabinet's make-up was, in short, its 
lack of essential principle. Roosevelt had no rounded program; 
hence he could not recruit his official family along programmatic 

The real significance of the cabinet lay in Roosevelt's leadership 
role. He could count on loyalty from his associates: almost every 
one was "FRBC"-for Roosevelt before Chicago-and not a single 
one had been an important opponent in the 1932 convention. There 
was not a likely presidential possibility in the lot no one who 
would try to push himself ahead of Roosevelt, at least during the 
first term. It was a cabinet the new President could easily dominate. 
By no means a "ministry of all the talents," it was a body that 
would gain life and meaning through the vigorous overarching 
leadership of Roosevelt himself. 

The President-elect thus made no final commitment to any per- 
son, idea, or program in his cabinet. Nor did he do so in his im- 
mediate entourage. Howe, who was to be the secretary to the Presi- 
dent, had a hand in many policy decisions, but he tended to re- 
flect Roosevelt's own notions rather than to serve as a source of 
original thinking. Moreover, Howe's health was beginning to fail 
badly. Roosevelt chose as his assistant secretaries his old lieutenants 
of the 1920 campaign, Stephen Early and Marvin Mclntyre, the 
former to handle press relations, and the latter appointments with 
the President. Both had a journalist's interest in personalities; both 
were shrewd political operators; but neither was especially con- 

The Curious Campaign 151 

cerned with policy or program. Clearly Roosevelt was not disposed 
to establish a powerful chief of staff or dominating idea man in the 
White House. 

No one stole the show from the main actor. All eyes were on 
Roosevelt as Inauguration Day drew near. 


The presidency, Roosevelt said shortly after his election, "is pre- 
eminently a place of moral leadership." From Washington, who 
personified the ideal of federal union, to T.R. and Wilson, who 
used the presidency as a pulpit, "all our great Presidents were 
leaders of thought at times when certain historic ideas in the life 
of the nation had to be clarified." 

The presidential office is a "superb opportunity for reapplying, 
applying in new conditions, the simple rules of human conduct to 
which we always go back. Without leadership alert and sensitive to 
change, we are all bogged up or lose our way." 

While Roosevelt was extolling the great leaders of the past, 
Americans were wondering what kind of leader he would be. 
There were some who saw him as little more than a Democratic 
Harding. The "corkscrew candidate of a convoluting convention," 
snorted Heywood Broun, the pugnacious liberal columnist. An 
"amiable man with many philanthropic impulses," but with neither 
a firm grasp on public affairs nor very strong convictions, Walter 
Lippmann said. Critic Edmund Wilson probed deeper. He could 
not find a particularly arresting personality Roosevelt seemed es- 
sentially a boy scout with a spirit of cheerful service. There was a 
flatness, a hollowness, Wilson felt, in his ideas about American de- 
mocracy. He was sensible, decent, diplomatic, efficient but politi- 
cally was there anything durable? 

Others saw a different man. Beneath the charm and amiability 
they felt a tough center shrewdness, courage, tenacity, and con- 
viction. His old friends found impressive growth since the war 
years. They remembered him as attractive, eager, and able, but 
somewhat impressionable, immature, and certainly lacking in great- 
ness. The man of 1932, they felt, had gained strikingly in force and 
power. If he had changed so much in a dozen years, would he not 
grow even more in the exacting presidential job? 

The man at the center of this controversy was, in December 1932, 
approaching the end of his fifty-first year. He was tall, weighing 
about 180 pounds, a big man except for his thin, limp legs. His 
endless exercises had given him an exceptionally well-developed 
torso. His abdominal muscles had been entirely regenerated since 


the polio attack and his thigh muscles had come back to some ex- 


He had not conquered the effects of polio on his legs-although 
even in 1932 he hoped he might restore them further-but he had 
compensated for some of the restrictions of his crippled state. He 
had a specially equipped Ford that he loved to drive around the 
Hyde Park estate. He swam a good deal and had developed a 
powerful backstroke; in the Warm Springs pool he liked to give 
his friends a head start and then, turning over on his back and 
dragging his legs after him, overtake them with a few tremendous 
strokes. He could even ride horseback, gripping the saddle with 
the upper part of his legs. 

He was not a whit sensitive or embarrassed about his crippled 
condition. While scores of people around watched in covert em- 
barrassment, he would be bodily lifted into or out of a car or train 
without losing his composure. His only worry about his legs was 
that some might fear he was not strong enough for a demanding 
job. During his second campaign for governor he ostentatiously 
took out over half a million dollars of life insurance through 
twenty-two companies and saw that the highly favorable medical 
report was well publicized. He instructed his staff not to send out 
letters that referred to his health or his crippled condition. 

His composure under stress was remarkable. He had the quality 
of grace under pressure that Ernest Hemingway once called the 
highest form of courage. When tension arose he told a joke, or 
turned quickly to another subject, or launched into a long anec- 
dote. This unruffled quality was evidently more than skin deep, for 
a medical examination following an especially strenuous week 
showed that his heart and blood pressure were normal. Even so, 
one thing could be counted on to upset Roosevelt's composure 
even in the years before the presidency: attacks by the press that he 
considered unfair. 

The main reason for Roosevelt's composure was his serene and 
absolute assurance as to the value and importance of what he was 
doing. Another was his staff, which learned over the years how to 
operate smoothly with their chief. His secretary, Marguerite Le 
Hand, a handsome woman with prematurely graying hair, had a 
superb talent for managing his schedule, his callers, and his im- 
mediate office. Grace Tully, another secretary, took his dictation; 
together they could handle dozens of letters an hour as the Presi- 
dent ordered replies written and sketched out their contents in a 
few short phrases. Louis Howe still acted for Roosevelt through 
the entire range of his affairs, fending off unwanted visitors, carry- 
ing out undercover political missions, arguing with "Franklin" to 
his fae as few other people dared. 

The Curious Campaign 153 

Eleanor Roosevelt managed to work closely with her husband 
and at the same time live some of her life separately. During the 
first part of the week she helped run a school for girls in New York 
City, then caught a train for Albany and resumed her place as of- 
ficial hostess. On the side she made speeches to women's organiza- 
tions, saw that two or three houses were in running order, kept an 
eye on a furniture shop in Hyde Park, and found time to ride 
horseback. The children were rapidly leaving the family circle. 
Anna and James were both married, Franklin, Jr., was entering 
Harvard and John would follow. Elliott, not wanting to go to col- 
lege, had deliberately failed some of his entrance examinations and 
was now earning his own living. 

Outside his family and personal staff w r ere a host of advisers, 
political associates, and correspondents. These men provided some- 
thing of a measure of the President-elect's ideas and purposes. 

Two things were remarkable about the men around Roosevelt in 
1932: the variety of their backgrounds and ideas, and the fact that 
not one of them dominated the channels of access to Roosevelt's 
mind. It was a varied group because Roosevelt's test of a man was 
not his basic philosophy, or lack of one, but the sweep of his in- 
formation, his ability to communicate, and his willingness to share 
ideas. Without any plan, a "brain trust," as reporters came to call 
it, grew up around him. 

One of the chief brain trusters at this time was Raymond Moley, 
a Columbia University professor. Moley's high, domed forehead, 
shrewd, close-set eyes, and thin lips faithfully mirrored the com- 
plexities of the personality underneath: a cultured, widely read 
man of thought who had a passion for action, a subtle, sensitive 
man who liked to knock around with politicians high and low. 
His career had been wide-ranging: an Ohio boyhood, some time in 
local politics, then long periods of teaching and research, a decade 
of close study of the relation between politics and criminal justice, 
and a final climactic year with the Seabury investigation. Essen- 
tially a conservative despite his reputation as one of Roosevelt's 
radical professors, Moley believed in a kind of benevolent partner- 
ship between government and business that would leave capitalists 
with power and status while achieving efficiency through national 
planning, and ending the aimlessness and wastefulness of free com- 
petition and rugged individualism. 

Others around Roosevelt leaned toward national planning, but 
with a less procapitalistic orientation. Rexford Tugwell, a curly- 
haired, good-looking Columbia professor of only forty-two, liked to 
shock friends and enemies with easy talk about "doing America 

154 THE RISE T0 

over/' but his studies of agricultural economics and a visit to Soviet 
Russia had left him with deep concern over the chaos of atomistic 
competition during the Depression. Another professor, Adolf A. 
Berle, Jr., was an authority on corporation law and coauthor of the 
classic study The Modern Corporation and Private Property. A 
child prodigy who, his enemies said, had continued to be a child 
long after he had ceased being a prodigy, Berle was still a brash 
young man of thirty-seven, who could overwhelm banker and bu- 
reaucrat alike with his biting tongue and his vast information on 
financial practices. 

Newspapermen made much of the brain trust and its supposed 
hold on Roosevelt's mind. They still did not know their man.^ If 
the President was excited by the young men and their sparkling 
notions, he was receptive, too, to many others in the host of ad- 
visers around him, among them Professor George F. Warren and 
his monetary theories, James Bonbright, a utilities expert, Frank 
A. Pearson, another monetary theorist, and Schuyler Wallace, a 
student of public administration. 

And professors were only part of Roosevelt's stable of advisers. 
He consulted a good deal with financiers like Bernard Baruch, 
wise old politicos like Cox and Colonel House, labor leaders like 
William Green of the American Federation of Labor, with busi- 
nessmen, farm politicians, state officials, newspaper editors, old 
friends, party leaders. Especially important were a number of sena- 
tors and representatives who had helped line up delegates for 
Roosevelt in their states. In their ideas these legislators stretched 
across the political spectrum, but Roosevelt was under special obli- 
gation to a group of Southerners, most notably the men of Texas: 
Garner, Rayburn, and Senator Tom Connally. 

Roosevelt knew how to use these men for his own purposes; he 
resembled Hawthorne's picture of Andrew Jackson as one who com- 
pelled every man who came within his reach to be his tool, and the 
more cunning the man, the sharper the tool But the process worked 
the other way, too. Through these men Roosevelt was supplement- 
ing his own ideas gained from the Square Deal and the New Free- 
dom, from his state and navy years, with the ideas of men who 
had been immersed in one or another of the great range of Amer- 
ican political traditions. He was sinking taproots into the whole 
American experience. 

For in this group sometimes in the same person mingled and 
jostled ideas stretching back to a variety of thinkers and move- 
ments: back to Democratic heroes like Jefferson and Cleveland who 
preached against big government; back to the state laboratories of 
La Follette and Hughes and their testing out of social reforms; back 

The Curious Campaign 155 

to thinkers like Thorstein Veblen, with his sardonic examination 
of waste under capitalism, or like Herbert Croly and his ideas of a 
national concert of interests under a strong national government, 
or like John Dewey, with his zest for experimentation and prac- 
ticality; back to the populist revolt against the Eastern money 
power; back to Samuel Gompers and his fight for labor's place in 
the sun; back to Louis Brandeis and his passion for hard facts and 
statistics; back to the economic internationalism of the South and 
the nationalism of the Midwest; back to the idea of governmental 
control and development of national resources especially water and 
electric power that had flowered notably in the Northwest; back to 
a host of men and movements hoping for salvation through tinker- 
ing with money and credit; back to the muckrakers and their cam- 
paigns for clean government and civic virtue; back to Theodore 
Roosevelt and his eagerness to use government to curb economic 
power and special privilege; back to Wilson's fight for the little 
man and for his right to compete effectively against the economic 
giants; back to the World War I experience of fighting a war by 
mobilizing and integrating the whole industrial weight of a na- 
tion; back to the idea of the American Construction Council and 
of many businessmen that business must curb excessive competition 
and draw together in larger, more harmonious units. 

Many of these ideas were mutually contradictory, and some would 
be squeezed out in the press of crisis. In any event, Roosevelt did 
not swallow them all equally. He had an order of priority which 
amounted to something of a political creed. He believed most of 
the time that government could be used as a means to human bet- 
terment. He preached the need to make government efficient and 
honest. He wanted to help the underdog, although not necessarily 
at the expense of the top dog. He believed that private, special in- 
terests must be subordinated to the general interest. He sought to 
conserve both the natural resources and the moral values of 

These made up a collection of general concepts rather than an 
operating program, and some of Roosevelt's associates were amazed 
and even frightened by his receptivity to any notion that might fit 
under the broad umbrella of his mind. Usually sparing in his use 
of time, he could spend hours in excited and happy talk with men 
who seemed little more than cranks. Voracious and prehensile in 
his quest for information, Roosevelt had a startling capacity to 
soak up notions and facts like a sponge, and to keep this material 
ready for instant use. He could overwhelm miners with a vast array 
of facts about the dismal coal situation; he could impress business- 
men with a detailed description of the intricacies of their enter- 
prises. He had, observed Tugwell, a flypaper mind. 


Even with this receptivity, though, there was no final commit- 
ment. Roosevelt liked people and he liked their ideas, but just as 
he depended entirely on no one person, he had final trust in 
no single idea. Even his chief adviser, Moley, Roosevelt let it be 
known, was to be a clearinghouse for ideas, not a source of definite 
policy. His mind, Moley noticed, skipped and bounced through 
subject after subject, just as Roosevelt himself could run through 
a series of conferences with a variety of people and emerge fresh 
and relaxed. This lack of final commitment in the long run would 
have its dangerous aspects, but it had high merit in 1932, when 
the old dogmas had helped leave the economy prostrate. 

Not only the needs of the day, not only Roosevelt's intellectual 
make-up, but the American political tradition itself resisted sys- 
tematic doctrines and unified philosophies. There was a real phi- 
losophy neither of the left nor of the right to compel the New 
Dealers of 1932 to examine first principles and shape an integrated 
and consistent program. The Socialists had made heavy compro- 
mises with ideas of reform and melioration, and even so were not a 
threat politically. A coherent body of conservative thought hardly 
existed, except to the extent business philosophers had shaped ab- 
solutist ideas of laissez faire to advance the interests of private en- 
terprise. As for the progressive and liberal traditions, both T.R. 
and Woodrow Wilson had altered their programs in the face of 
stubborn economic and political facts. Everything conspired in 
1932 to make Roosevelt a pragmatist, an opportunist, an experi- 

All in all, it was hardly surprising that observers in 1932 differed 
so much on Roosevelt's capacities. To some he seemed, quite 
rightly, lacking in persistence, conviction, and intellectual depth 
and maturity. Others had seen a different side of the man. To them 
he had a grasp on Jefferson's deeply humane ends and on Hamil- 
ton's creative means; he had Bryan's moral fervor without the 
Great Commoner's mental flabbiness; he had Wilson's idealism 
without his inflexibility; he had some of Bob La Toilette's and 
Al Smith's hardheadedness without their hardness and bitterness; 
he had much of T.R.'s vigor and verve. 

Perhaps no one sized up Roosevelt at this time as trenchantly 
and truly as a picturesque old man was to do. Early the following 
year, shortly after entering the presidency, Roosevelt paid a visit 
in Washington to retired Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. Holmes, 
now ninety-two, remembered Roosevelt from the war years as a good 
fellow but with rather a soft edge. After the President had left his 
study the great jurist sat musing. A friend looked at him inquir- 

The Curious Campaign 157 

''You know/' Holmes said, "his Uncle Ted appointed me to the 

"Yes, Mr. Justice?*' 

The old man looked at the door through which Roosevelt had 
just left. 

"A second-class intellect/' The words flashed. "But a first-clas 



Rendezvous with Destiny 

NINE A Leader in tine White House 


JL.HE EVENING of February 27, 1933, at H Y de 
Park was cloudy and cold. A stiff northwest wind swept across the 
dark waters of the Hudson and tossed the branches of the gaunt 
old trees around the Roosevelt home. Inside the warm living room 
a big, thick-shouldered man sat writing by the fire. From the ends 
of the room two of his ancestors looked down from their portraits: 
Isaac, who had revolted with his people against foreign rule during 
an earlier time of troubles, and James, merchant, squire, and gen- 
tleman of the old school. 

Franklin D. Roosevelt's pencil glided across the pages of yellow 
legal cap paper. "I am certain that my fellow Americans expect 
that on my induction into the Presidency I will address them with 
a candor and a decision which the present situation of our Nation 
impels." The fire hissed and crackled; the large hand with its thick 
fingers moved rapidly across the paper. "The people of the United 
States want direct, vigorous action. They have made me the instru- 
ment, the temporary humble instrument" he scratched out "hum- 
ble"; it was no time for humility "of their wishes." 

Phrase after phrase followed in the President-elect's bold, pointed, 
slanting hand. Slowly the yellow sheets piled up. By 1:30 in the 
morning the inauguration speech was done. 

But not quite done. During the next two days frightening re- 
ports continued to reach Hyde Park. Piece by piece, the nation's 
credit structure was becoming paralyzed. Crisis was in the air but 
it was a strange, numbing crisis, striking suddenly in a Western city 
and then in the South a thousand miles away. It was worse than an 
invading army; it was everywhere and nowhere, for it was in the 
minds of men. It was fear. But at Hyde Park the next President 
was serene, even cheerful. Between conferences with worried ad- 
visers he worked over his inaugural, adding phrases, shortening 
sentences, stepping up the pace. 

On March i the President-elect left Hyde Park for New York 
City, where he spent the night. The news in the morning was 
worse. Twelve more states had closed or constricted their banks. 


The crisis now was nearing Wall Street, the last citadel. That day 
authorities announced that several thousand New York relief work- 
ers would be dropped because funds were running low. Newark de- 
faulted on its payroll. Led by police cars with shrieking sirens, 
followed by a car filled with baggage, Roosevelt was driven to his 
train for the capital. While the train passed through Pennsylvania 
and Maryland where the banks were closed, he talked calmly with 
his advisers. 

Washington was somber under a cold March rain. A crowd 
quietly waited while the train, glistening with its jewellike lights, 
backed into Union Station. Policemen in black raincoats bustled 
around the rear car; secret service men, hands in their overcoat 
pockets, searched through the faces in the crowd. Wearing a gray 
hat and dark overcoat, hardly visible in the gloom, Roosevelt 
walked slowly out on the back platform, his wife at his side. His 
sons James and John helped move him swiftly to a car. He sat 
back confidently, with a smile. Photographers closed in and aimed 
their cameras; the flaming flash bulbs blanketed the big figure and 
his smile in a blaze of light; they faded, and the car pulled away. 

Tension in Washington was mounting. The Federal Reserve 
Board reported that a quarter billion dollars' worth of gold had 
poured out of the system in a week. It seemed likely that the New 
York banks would have to be closed. Word came to Roosevelt's 
suite in the Mayflower from an exhausted, heartsick President: 
Would the President-elect join him in an emergency proclamation? 
After anxious conferences Roosevelt's answer went back: The 
President was still free to act on his own. 

In his hotel room, Roosevelt worked over his speech. Nearby was 
a copy of Thoreau, with the words "Nothing is so much to be 
feared as fear." 

Only one formality remained before the inaugurationthe Presi- 
dent-elect's traditional call on the outgoing Chief Executive. When 
Roosevelt arrived at the White House on March 3 he found that 
Hoover planned to use the meeting for a final plea for joint action 
to stop the bank panic. Sitting stiffly in their carefully spaced chairs, 
the two politicians sparred with each other. Roosevelt still refused 
to act. As he rose to go, the President-elect murmured that since 
the President was so busy, heRooseveltwould understand if the 
President did not return the call. Hoover looked him hard in the 
face: "Mr. Roosevelt, when you have been in Washington as long 
as I have been, you will learn that the President of the United 
States calls on nobody." 

A Leader in the White House 163 


Saturday, March 4, dawned cloudy and cheerless. Almost all the 
nation's banks were closed. "We are at the end of our string/' 
Hoover cried. Roosevelt went to church, where old Endicott Pea- 
body of Groton assisted with the services. President and President- 
elect motored to the Capitol, Roosevelt trying to make conversa- 
tion, Hoover dully acknowledging the cheers of the crowds. As he 
waited impatiently in the Capitol Roosevelt scribbled an opening 
sentence for his speech: "This is a day of consecration/' Out be- 
fore the Capitol rotunda, a vast crowd waited silently. Slowly, 
slowly, Roosevelt, coatless and hatless, moved out on the high 
white platform, between Grecian columns strung with ivy and be- 
decked with flags. 

Chin outthrust, face grave, Roosevelt repeated the oath of office 
after Chief Justice Hughes in a high, ringing voice. The cold wind 
riffled the pages of his speech as he turned to face the crowd. The 
words came clearly to the black acres of people in front of him and 
the millions at their radios throughout the nation: 

"This is a day of national consecration. I am certain that my 
fellow Americans expect that on my induction into the Presidency 
I will address them with a candor and a decision w r hich the present 
situation of our Nation impels. This is preeminently the time to 
speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we 
shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This 
great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will 

The great crowd waited in almost dead silence. 

"So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we 
have to fear is fear itself nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror 
which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In 
every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and 
vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people 
themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you 
will again give that support to leadership in these critical days. . . ." 

The trouble, he said, lay in material, not spiritual, things. 
"Plenty is at our doorstep, but a generous use of it languishes in 
the very sight of the supply." This was mainly because rulers of 
the exchange of mankind's goods had failed and abdicated. "The 
money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of 
our civilization." The task now was to apply social values nobler 
than mere monetary profit. But restoration called not for changes 
in ethics alone. "This nation asks for action, and action now.'' 

The undemonstrative crowd stirred somewhat to the words: "Our 


greatest primary task is to put people to work." This could be done 
by "direct recruiting by the Government itself." Resources must be 
better used, purchasing power raised, homes and farms protected 
from foreclosure, costs of all government reduced, relief activities 
unified, transportation and communication planned on a national 
basis. There must be "an end to speculation with other people's 
money/' and provision for an adequate but sound currency. 

In foreign relations he would dedicate the nation to the policy 
of the "good neighbor-the neighbor who resolutely respects^him- 
self and, because he does so, respects the rights of others. . .y But 
international economic relations, though vastly important, "are in 
point of time and necessity secondary to the establishment of a 
sound national economy." First things must come first. He would 
work to restore world trade, but the emergency at home could not 


Roosevelt's face was stern and set. "If I read the temper of our 
people correctly, we now realize as we have never realized before 
our interdependence on each other; that we cannot merely take 
but we must give as well; that if we are to go forward, we must 
move as a trained and loyal army willing to sacrifice for the good 
of a common discipline. ... We are, I know, ready and willing 
to submit our lives and our property to such discipline, because it 
makes possible a leadership which aims at a larger good. This I 
propose to offer. . . ." 

Roosevelt's voice struck a lower, grimmer note. Leadership and 
discipline were possible under the Constitution, he said, and he 
hoped that the normal balance of executive and legislative power 
would be adequate to meet the task. But a temporary departure 
from normal might be necessary. He would "recommend the meas- 
ures that a stricken Nation in the midst of a stricken world may 
require." He would try to get speedy action on his measures or 
such other measures as Congress proposed. 

"But in the event that the Congress shall fail to take one of these 
two courses, and in the event that the national emergency is still 
critical, I shall not evade the clear course o duty that will then 
confront me. I shall ask the Congress for the one remaining in- 
strument to meet the crisis-broad Executive power to wage a war 
against the emergency, as great as the power that would be given 
to me if we were in fact invaded by a foreign foe." 

The people had asked for direct, vigorous action, for discipline 
and direction under leadership. "In the spirit of the gift I take it." 
He closed with a plea for divine guidance. 

At the end Roosevelt waved to the crowd and suddenly smiled 
his great electrifying smile. Herbert Hoover shook hands and left. 

A Leader in the White House 165 

Roosevelt rode alone before dense crowds back to an immediate 
round of conferences. 

"It was very, very solemn, and a little terrifying," Eleanor Roose- 
velt said afterward as she talked with reporters in the White House. 
"The crowds were so tremendous, and you felt that they would do 
anythingif only someone would tell them what to do." 


It was like a war. While soldiers and sailors marched smartly in 
the long inaugural parade, while couples waltzed gaily in the in- 
augural balls, haggard men conferred hour after hour at their desks. 
In the huge marble buildings along Pennsylvania Avenue the lights 
burned late, dully illuminating the confetti and debris strewn along 
the street below. Democrats newly arrived in Washington and Re- 
publican holdovers sat side by side, telephoning anxious bankers, 
feeling the financial pulse of the nation, drawing up emergency 
orders. Early in the morning they would snatch a few hours' sleep, 
then rush back to their posts. Outside, the reporters waited hour 
after hour, breathlessly interviewing comers and goers for tidbits 
of news. Washington was electric with rumor and hope. 

March 3, 1933, Jerry Doyle, Philadelphia Record 


In the White House now a command post to handle economic 
crisis sat the new President, unruffled and smiling. His own ac- 
count of his busy first day and its crucial decisions he set down in 
his diary (which he kept two days and then abandoned). After at- 
tending church with his whole family and lunching with family 
and friends, he plunged into a round of meetings. "Two-thirty 
P.M. meeting in Oval Room with all members of Cabinet, Vice- 
President and Speaker Rainey, outlining banking situation. Unani- 
mous approval for Special Session of Congress Thursday, March 
ninth. Proclamation for this prepared and sent. This was followed 
by conferences with Senator Glass, Hiram Johnson, Joe Robinson 
and Congressmen Steagall and Byrnes and Minority Leader Snell 
all in accord. Secretary Woodin reported bankers' representatives 
much at sea as to what to do. Concluded that forty-eight different 
methods of handling banking situation impossible. Attorney General 
Cummings reported favorably on power to act under 1917 law, 
giving President power to license, regulate, etc., export, hoarding, 
earmarking of gold or currency. Based on this opinion and on 
emergency decided on Proclamation declaring banking holiday. 
. . . Hurried supper before Franklin, Jr., and John returned to 
school. Talked with Professor Warren in evening. Talked with 
representatives of four Press Associations explaining bank holiday 
Proclamation. Five minute radio address for American Legion at 
1 1.30 p.m. Visit from Secretary of State. Bed." Such was the breath- 
less course of the President's first day as he recorded it. 

The banking crisis dominated Roosevelt's whole first week. The 
President and his advisers sensed that the key problem was one 
of public psychology. The people wanted action. The President 
had promised it. The curious fact was that the important actions 
had already been taken by the states and by the banks themselves: 
the banks had closed. Roosevelt played his role of crisis leader with 
such extraordinary skill that his action in keeping the banks closed 
in itself struck the country with the bracing effect of a March wind. 
His action was essentially defensive, negative, and conservative but 
he made of it a call to action. He even deceived the reporters; the 
President himself complained to them in a press conference that in 
reporting his extension of the bank holiday they played up the ex- 
tension rather than the exceptions he was going to make. 

Summoned by the new President, Congress convened in special 
session on Thursday, March 9. While freshman members were still 
looking for their seats, the two houses hastily organized and re- 
ceived a presidential message asking for legislation to control re- 
sumption of banking. The milling representatives could hardly 
wait to act. By unanimous consent Democratic leaders introduced 
an emergency banking act to confirm Roosevelt's proclamation and 

A Leader in the White House 167 

to grant him new powers over banking and currency. Completed 
by the President and his advisers at two o'clock that morning, the 
bill was still in rough form. But even during the meager forty min- 
utes allotted to the debate, shouts of "Vote! Vote!" echoed from 
the floor. "The house is burning down/' said Bertrand H. Snell, the 
Republican floor leader, "and the President of the United States 
says this is the way to put out the fire." The House promptly 
passed the bill without a record vote; the Senate approved it a 
few hours later; the President signed it by nine o'clock. 

Swift and staccato action was needed, Woodin had said. The very 
next day March 10 the President sent Congress a surprise message 
on economy. It was couched in crisis tones. The federal government 
was on the road to bankruptcy, Roosevelt said. The deficit for the 
next fiscal year would exceed a billion dollars unless immediate 
action was taken. "Too often in recent history liberal governments 
have been wrecked on rocks of loose fiscal policy." He asked Con- 
gress for wide power to effect governmental economies, to trust him 
to use that power "in a spirit of justice to all." The proposed bill 
bore the portentous title "To Maintain the Credit of the United 
States Government." 

Caught by surprise, lobbyists of the American Legion and other 
veterans' organizations wired their state and local bodies that vet- 
erans' benefits were endangered. A deluge of telegrams hit Capitol 
Hill. Defying organized veterans was a stiff dose for Congress, which 
again and again during the past decade had passed veterans' legis- 
lation over presidential vetoes. Revolt erupted among the House 
rank and file, and for a time the Democratic leaders lost control 
of the situation. A caucus of Democratic representatives almost 
agreed to an emasculating provision, and adjourned after heated 
wrangling. On the floor the leaders helped restore discipline through 
free use of the President's name. 

"When the Congressional Record goes to President Roosevelt's 
desk in the morning," one leader warned, "he will look over the 
roll call we are about to take, and I warn you new Democrats to be 
careful where your names are found." The barbed point touched 
off hisses and groans. Despite the parliamentary powers of the 
leaders, the bill passed the House only because sixty-nine Republi- 
cans crossed the aisle to back the President. Ninety Democrats, in- 
cluding seven party leaders, deserted their new chief in the White 
House on his second bill. More trouble was brewing in the Senate, 
as the telegrams from American Legion posts piled up. 

But nothing could stem the President's momentum. On March 
12, at the end of his first week, he established direct contact with 
the people in the first of his "fireside chats." The President's read- 
ing copy of his talk disappeared just before the talk, but he calmly 


took a newspaperman's mimeographed copy, mashed out a cigarette 
stub, turned to the microphone, and began simply, "I want to talk 
for a few minutes with the people of the United States about bank- 
ing. . . ." For twenty minutes or so his warm, reassuring voice 
welled into millions of homes, explaining the banking situation in 
simple terms without giving the impression of talking down to his 
listeners. The speech was a brilliant success. 

The President stayed on the offensive. The next day, when a 
divided Senate was to consider the economy bill, he shot a terse 
seventy- two-word message to Congress on a new subject: beer. He 
recommended immediate modification of the Volstead Act to legalize 
the manufacture and sale of beer and light wines; he asked also for 
substantial taxes on these beverages. The shattered ranks of Demo- 
cratic congressmen quickly solidified behind this popular move, 
which had been promised in their national platform. Roosevelt 
skillfully timed his message for maximum effect. The Senate passed 
the economy bill on the fifteenth, the beer bill the next day. 

A dozen days after the inauguration a move of adulation for Roose- 
velt was sweeping the country. Over ten thousand telegrams swamped 
the White House in a single week. Newspaper editorials were paeans 
of praise. The new President seemed human; he seemed brave; 
above all, he was acting. A flush of hope swept the nation. Gold 
was flowing back to financial institutions; banks were reopening 
without crowds of depositors clamoring for their money; employ- 
ment and production seemed to be turning upward. 

"I will do anything you ask," a congressman from Iowa wrote 
the President. "You are my leader." 

But the President did not deceive himself. The efforts so far, he 
realized, had been essentially defensive. Even with the first three 
measures through, he told reporters, "we still shall have done noth- 
ing on the constructive side, unless you consider the beer bill par- 
tially constructive/' Originally he had planned for Congress to 
adjourn after enacting the first set of bills, then to reassemble 
when permanent legislation was ready. But why not strike again 
and again while the mood of the country was so friendly? The 
leaders were willing to hold Congress in session; a host of presi- 
dential advisers were at work in a dozen agencies, in hotel rooms, 
anywhere they could find a desk, drawing up bills. The result was 
more of the fast and staccato action that would go down in history 
as the "Hundred Days." 

March .r<5-The President asked for an agriculture bill to raise 
farmers' purchasing power, relieve the pressure of farm mortgages, 
and increase the value of farm loans made by banks. Hastily framed 
by Secretary Wallace and his aides, the measure was based partly 

A Leader in the White House 


May 17, 1933 

Ding Darling, 1933, New York Herald Tribune, Inc. 

on recommendations of a conference of farm leaders. It was the 
most dramatic and far-reaching farm bill ever proposed in peace- 
time, the President said later. The House passed the bill by a 315-98 
vote on March 22 after five and a half hours of debate, the Senate 
by an equally lopsided vote five weeks later. In mid-May the Presi- 
dent signed the Agricultural Adjustment Act into law. 

March 2 /The President asked for quick authorization of a civil- 
ian conservation corps for the purposes of both reforestation and 
humamtarianism. This bill interested Roosevelt himself as much 
as any single measure of the Hundred Days. It was designed to put 
a quarter of a million young men to work by early summer, build- 
ing darns, draining .marshlands, fighting forest fires, planting trees. 
Congress pushed the measure through in ten days by voice vote. 

March 21 The President asked for federal grants to the states 
for direct unemployment relief. His move represented a break with 
the previous administration's policy; flatly opposed to giving money 
to the states for relief, Hoover in the end had grudgingly backed 
loans to states and cities. Proclaiming that the nation would see 
to it that no one starved, Roosevelt was prepared to launch the big- 


gest relief program in history. Congress passed the Federal Emer- 
gency Relief Act by heavy majorities and authorized the Reconstruc- 
tion Finance Corporation to make available five hundred millions 
through the Federal Emergency Relief Administration. 

March 29 The President asked for federal supervision of traffic 
in investment securities in interstate commerce. To the old doctrine 
of caveat emptor, he said, must be added the further doctrine, "let 
the seller beware." The essential goal was full publicity for new 
securities to be sold in interstate commerce. In an effort to restore 
public confidence, heavy penalties would be levied for failure to 
lodge full and accurate information about securities with the gov- 
ernment. The bill passed early in May. Another measure, the Bank- 
ing bill of 1933, was intended to impose on banks a complete separa- 
tion from their security affiliates. Early in May the two Houses 
passed the measure to help drive the money-changers out of the 

April jo The President asked for legislation to create a Tennessee 
Valley Authority, charged with the duty of planning for the "proper 
use, conservation and development of the natural resources of the 
Tennessee River drainage basin and adjoining territory. . . ." 
Roosevelt's vision was broad: he saw the project as transcending 
mere power development and entering the wide fields of flood con- 
trol, soil erosion, afforestation, retirement o marginal lands, in- 
dustrial distribution and diversification in short, "national plan- 
ning for a complete river watershed. . . ." The measure had a 
dramatic background: for over a decade George W. Norris of Ne- 
braska and other members of Congress had desperately fought ef- 
forts to sell the government-built Muscle Shoals dam and power 
plant to private interests. They had barely staved off such a sale. 
Now Roosevelt was urging that Muscle Shoals be but a small part 
of a vast program that would tie together and invigorate a huge, 
underdeveloped region. Involving extensive public ownership and 
control, the measure was almost pure socialism, but Congress passed 
it by decisive majorities. The President signed the bill May 18, 
with Senator Norris exultantly looking on. 

April 13 The President asked for legislation to save small home 
mortgages from foreclosure. With foreclosures rising to a thousand 
a day, he wanted safeguards thrown around home ownership as a 
guarantee of social and economic stability. Machinery would be 
provided through which mortgage debts on small homes could be 
readjusted at lower interest rates and with provision for postponing 
interest and principal payments in cases of extreme need. Roose- 
velt had his legislation within a month. 

May 4 The President proposed emergency railroad legislation 
under which a coordinator of transportation would be authorized 

A Leader in the White House 171 

to promote or compel action by carriers to avoid duplications of 
service, prevent waste, and encourage financial reorganizations. He 
recommended repeal of the recapture provisions of the Interstate 
Commerce Commission Act and the regulation o railroad holding 
companies by the ICC. Both Houses passed bills within a month 
of Roosevelt's request. 

May ij The President proposed machinery for "a great cooper- 
ative movement throughout all industry in order to obtain wide re- 
employment, to shorten the working week, to pay a decent wage 
for the shorter week and to prevent unfair competition and disas- 
trous overproduction." He asked also for full power to start a large 
program of direct employment, and estimated that $3,300,000,000 
could be invested in public construction to put the "largest pos- 
sible" number of people to work. The National Industrial Recov- 
ery bill got a severe lambasting in the Senate, especially from the 
left, but it passed substantially intact, and the President signed it 
June 16. 


The display of action was dazzling and heartwarming. But what 
did it all amount to? Where was the country headed? At a press 
conference late in March a reporter admitted to some confusion. 
The President's first actions, he noted, had been deflationary, but 
his later bills, like the farm bill, seemed to mean more government 
spending. Roosevelt's answer was cautious. Local machinery would 
be used and the budget for ordinary governmental running ex- 
penses would be balanced. But "you cannot let people starve,'' the 
President finished. 

Roosevelt was following no master program no "economic pana- 
ceas or fancy plans/' as he later called them derisively. He not only 
admitted to, he boasted of, playing by ear. He was a football quar- 
terback, he liked to tell reporters, calling a new play when he saw 
how the last one turned out. The situation had "moved so fast," 
he wrote Colonel House in mid-May, "that what is a problem one 
day is solved or superseded the next. As you will realize, snap judg- 
ments have had to be made." 

But what lay back of the snap judgments? If Roosevelt's actions 
were frankly experimental, what shaped the experiments? The 
main influences working on Roosevelt were embodied in his party, 
his advisers, and in Congress. 

Americans like to scoff at party platforms and campaign prom- 
ises, but Roosevelt's action during the Hundred Days can be under- 
stood only against the party and election background. He had prom- 
ised economy in government, and the economy bill was a deter- 


mined effort to honor that promise. The party had promised beer, 
and his short message on beer quoted the party plank almost word 
for word. The farm bill had been generally forecast in the Demo- 
cratic platform and in Roosevelt's acceptance and Topeka speeches. 
Virtually every other major action had been outlined in more or 
less detailed form in platform or addresses or both. Never before 
had a President converted so many promises into so much legisla- 
tion so quickly. 

One result, of course, was that the program of the Hundred Days 
reflected the inconsistencies of platform and election pledges. But 
nothing better illustrates Roosevelt's capacity to throw himself into 
a role than the fact that he really believed in the rightness of his 
major actions, however inconsistent with one another. Economy was 
an example. Amid tremendous projects for governmental spending 
Roosevelt prepared plans for parsimonies in governmentfor ex- 
ample, cutting a war veteran totally disabled in civil life from $40 
to $20 a month. And when Daniels wrote him in concern because 
state legislatures were drastically reducing school appropriations, 
Roosevelt in reply complained that teachers' salaries were too high. 
In the White House, meanwhile, Eleanor Roosevelt was instituting 
nineteen-cent luncheons, which the President duly ate. 

Partly by design, partly by chance, Roosevelt had gathered around 
him a group of advisers as diverse in philosophy as the New Deal 
itself. One of the most influential of these during 1933 was tne 
President's budget director, Lewis W. Douglas. His plain, open 
face and lean frame gave Douglas the look of a cowboy rather than 
what he really was, scion of a copper-rich Arizona family, and an 
able politician who had served in the national House of Repre- 
sentatives. So well did he help the President economize that Roose- 
velt was calling him "in many ways the greatest 'find' of the ad- 
ministration" within a month of the inauguration. Keeping a tight 
hold on the purse strings, Douglas quickly won a reputation as a 
do-or-die budget-balancer. 

He had numerous allies. Centered in the Treasury Department 
was a group of men pressing for government economy and orthodox 
fiscal policies. Woodin was ill much of the spring and summer of 
1933, and Dean Acheson, a dapper young lawyer and old Gro- 
tonian, often took his place at the White House. Fussy, scholarly 
looking Henry Morgenthau, Jr., an old friend of the President's, 
advised him on farm credit and other agricultural matters; although 
fundamentally humanitarian in outlook, Morgenthau was cautious 
and conservative in his approach to many economic problems. 
Roosevelt installed his old friend Jesse Jones, Texas banker and 
Democrat, as head of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation. 

A Leader in the White House 173 

Other enclaves of orthodox thinking were the Commerce Depart- 
ment and the Federal Reserve Board. 

But fresh minds and new ideas also had full scope at the White 
House. Roosevelt installed Raymond Moley in the State Depart- 
ment as Assistant Secretary with the understanding that he would 
continue to work closely with the President. Harry Hopkins, ap- 
pointed Federal Relief Administrator, had a voice in many relief and 
recovery decisions. Tugwell, now Assistant Secretary of Agriculture, 
did not confine his advice to farm matters. Berle helped draft sev- 
eral key bills of the Hundred Days. But these were only four of a 
host of zealous, indefatigable lawyers, economists, teachers, social 
workers, some of them amazingly young, who were flocking into 
key staff positions in the old departments and in the new emer- 
gency agencies that were springing up all around town. 

Some of these idea men were more influential than they might 
have guessed, for Roosevelt did not let the weight of his office 
squeeze out fresh notions and projects. Interesting new ideas were 
often relayed to him by Wallace, Ickes, or Miss Perkins, and he 
pounced on them avidly. Sometimes he would winnow them from 
abstracts of the long reports that his secretaries piled on his desk. 
Much advice and information came by mail; the names of his 
correspondents already were beginning to look like a small "Who's 
Who of America/' 

Of incalculable influence was Eleanor Roosevelt. Varied and im- 
posing though her new duties were, the First Lady was not con- 
tent with presiding over the White House. She was so much a 
center of interest and activity that by the end of 1933 s ^ e ^ a< ^ re ~ 
ceived over three hundred thousand pieces of mail. In that year 
she began the trips that would take her to an incredible number of 
places throughout the country, and eventually to many parts of the 
world. A New Yorker cartoon showing a miner at the bottom of 
a deep shaft looking up and exclaiming to his mate "Why, it's 
Mrs. Roosevelt!" nicely captured the popular reaction of surprise 
arid delight at the First Lady's gadding about. 

Roosevelt was still teaching his wife how to observe conditions 
and report back to him. "Watch the people's faces," he told her. 
"Look at the condition of their clothes on the wash line. You can 
tell a lot from that. Notice their cars." As soon as possible after her 
return the President would question her closely. When she got back 
from a trip to the Gaspe Peninsula, for example, he wanted to know 
everything about the lives of the fishermen what they had to eat, 
how they lived, what the farms were like, how the houses were 
built, what kind of education was provided. 

So eager was the President for intelligence, no matter how great 
the ensuing clutter and confusion, that he deliberately organized 


his office to cast as wide a net as possible. Not content with the 
varied advice available in the cabinet, he established in July 1933 
an Executive Council that included all the cabinet members along 
with a dozen or so heads o recovery agencies. Still not content, he 
established later in the year the National Emergency Council with 
many of the same members. These agencies were clumsy affairs: 
they were too big to act effectively; petty difficulties were raised 
along with big problems; they often wasted the time of the busy 
men who attended. Moreover, they undercut the cabinet, which 
dwindled in importance, until eventually Ickes was quietly taking 
cat naps at cabinet meetings and hoping that the President did not 
see him. 

But one great function the cabinet and the two councils did 
serve: week after week they gave Roosevelt a vivid picture of the 
vast array of problems, big and small, that were arising in the first 
headlong, exuberant, haphazard months of the New Deal. And 
more, they exposed the heads of thirty of forty agencies firsthand 
to Roosevelt's contagious drive and enthusiasm. Sitting confidently 
in the midst of his admiring lieutenants, telling stories, making 
jokes, knocking heads together, urging action, demanding quick 
reports and recommendations, Roosevelt almost singlehanded gave 
pace and direction to the New Deal battalions. 

"After spending an hour with the President/' an ordinarily 
rather sober agency chief exclaimed to a friend, "I could eat nails 
for lunch!" 

Supposedly sharing co-ordinate power with the President, even dur- 
ing crises, were 96 senators and 435 representatives on Capitol Hill. 
What would be their relation to the new president? The question 
was partially answered in the House of Representatives as soon as 
Congress convened. As a result of a three-way trade among the 
Tammany, Tennessee, and Texas congressional delegations, Repre- 
sentative Henry T. Rainey of Illinois was elected Speaker, the first 
Northern Democrat so chosen in over half a century. Under the 
deal the floor leadership went to Joseph W. Byrns of Tennessee, and 
a Texan succeeded to the chairmanship of the Appropriations Com- 
mittee. Two other leading party positions went to Northerners. In 
the Senate three friends of Roosevelt were dominant: Vice-President 
Garner, who was attending cabinet meetings, President Pro Tern 
Key Pittman of Nevada, and Floor Leader Joseph T. Robinson of 
Arkansas, a party stalwart. 

Within the two Houses, however, powerful forces were working 
toward both the left and the right. Southerners, generally con- 
servative in outlook, except for their hostility toward Wall Street, 
were chairmen or ranking members of most of the committees as a 

A Leader in the White House 175 

result of storing up seniority during the long years of Democratic 
defeats in the North. Along with the time-honored blocs public 
works, reclamation, farmers, labor, and the like were factional 
groups propelled by depression-sharpened discontent: silverites, in- 
flationists, veterans. A wholly unpredictable factor lay in the scores 
of freshman representatives, some of them stridently offering pana- 
ceas, others silent and bewildered by the capital kaleidoscope. The 
Senate had responded more slowly to political trends, but it too 
embraced a multitude of ideological splits, bipartisan blocs, and 
party factions. 

Left without direction the Democratic ranks in Congress would 
break up into guerrilla armies. Senate Democrats set up a steering 
committee and a policy committee, dominated by old hands friendly 
to the President. The new leadership of the House established a 
hierarchy of committees designed ostensibly to canvas members' 
opinions but actually aimed more at siphoning off protest and hold- 
ing rebels in line. But no congressional strong man was put at the 
top. Who would direct the steering committee, the whips, the cau- 
cus? What program would be followed? The question was not long 
left in doubt. Casually identifying the Democratic party's program 
with the administration, Rainey said, "We will put over Mr. 
Roosevelt's program." 

The Chief Executive was Chief Legislator. It was only at the 
level of the presidential office that party interests, the crisscrossing 
legislative blocs, and the bustling bureaucrats were given some 
measure of integration in meeting national problems. The fact that 
Roosevelt's leadership provided the unifying force did not mean, 
however, that Congress lacked effect on policy. The price of con- 
gressional support was that Roosevelt often yielded unduly to con- 
gressional pressures. And a striking feature of Congress in 1933 was 
the sentiment for more of a New Deal than Roosevelt was willing to 
give. Most of the congressmen wanted more inflation than Roose- 
velt, less economy in government, a more open hand with veterans 
and farmers, larger public works, tougher policies toward finance. 
Divided as it was, Congress had the effect of pushing Roosevelt a 
bit further toward the left. 

If Roosevelt could ride the whirlwind, it was because he himself 
was always in motion. Throughout the Hundred Days he rarely 
lost the initiative. He had promised a leadership of vigor, and he 
was the living incarnation of the phrase. Gay, laughing, confident, 
he dominated the life of the White House. While still in bed in the 
morning, his large torso looming over the shrunken legs that hardly 
ribbed the sheets, he spouted ideas, questions, instructions to his 
aides. Wheeling rapidly through the White House corridors, he 
easily swung into his office chair for long hours of visitors, letters, 


telephone calls, emergency conferences. He did not spare himself. 
Where Coolidge had disposed of visitors by his formula "Don't talk 
back to 'em/' Roosevelt outtalked his advisers, outtalked the cab- 
inet, and even outtalked visiting senators. 

A leadership of vigor and a leadership of frankness too. Appeal- 
ing features of the Rooseveltian personality were his candor and 
his humility. Such was the image projected to the people in his 
second fireside chat. "I do not deny that we may make mistakes of 
procedure/' he said. "I have no expectation of making a hit every 
time I come to bat." He quoted Theodore Roosevelt's remark that 
he would be happy to be right 75 per cent of the time. Economic 
conditions looked a little better, but "we cannot ballyhoo ourselves 
back to prosperity." In his press conferences Roosevelt talked much 
the same way. "Oh, I am learning a lot about banking," he ex- 
claimed early in March, amid laughter. The administration had 
made some ten-yard gains, he said late in April. 

"But it is a long field/' 


Even the rush and roar of breath-taking events at home could not 
drown out offstage sounds of crisis abroad. The international situa- 
tion had taken ominous turns. Once installed as chancellor, Hitler 
had, in a few weeks by terror and by decree, crushed all organized 
opposition, suppressed trade unions, outlawed other parties, and 
proceeded to erect a totalitarian regime. Japanese troops were 
swarming toward the Great Wall of China. So serious was the situa- 
tion in the East that at the second cabinet meeting Roosevelt 
gravely discussed the ultimate possibility of war with Japan. 

Foreign affairs did not seem serious enough to Roosevelt, how- 
ever, to warrant any departure from old ways of choosing men to 
represent the United States abroad. Loyal Democrats were waiting 
for their reward, and the President did not disappoint them. To 
Mexico City was dispatched Josephus Daniels; to the Court of St. 
James's, Robert W. Bingham, editor of the Louisville Courier- 
Journal and a longtime friend of the President; to Paris, Jesse L 
Straus, who had helped finance the campaign. Roosevelt offered 
Berlin to his old running mate of 1920, James Cox, who declined. 
In the State Department, however, was a group of career men in- 
cluding Under Secretary William Phillips, a close friend of the 
President since Wilson days, Herbert Feis, an economist, and Stan- 
ley K. Hornbeck, a Far Eastern expert. Urged by Hull to divide his 
diplomatic appointments about fifty-fifty between career men and 
politicos, the President kept some Republican appointees on in the 
lesser capitals. 

A Leader in the White House 177 

European economic problems were pressing when the President 
entered office, and these he handled with a politician's wariness 
and a Rooseveltian bent for personal diplomacy. High on the 
agenda were the intertwined problems of war debts and monetary 
stabilization. These matters could not be held off long, for a World 
Economic Conference had long been scheduled for spring or sum- 
mer 1933. During April and May 1933 Roosevelt discussed eco- 
nomic problems with a succession of visiting foreign leaders, in- 
cluding Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald and Premier Edouard 
Herriot. Stressing the "exploratory" nature of their talks, the 
President and his visitors issued bland statements filled with pious 

Roosevelt had good reason for his caution. On foreign policy the 
Democratic party platform was vague and platitudinous, and Roose- 
velt had almost ignored foreign affairs during the campaign. He 
had few foreign policy pegs on which to hang his hat. More impor- 
tant, he was shaping domestic policies in order to raise farm and 
industrial prices somewhat. Such a moderate inflation, he feared, 
might be washed out by an inundation of cheap goods from abroad. 
To prevent this the President got power from Congress to raise the 
tariff even higher than Smoot-Hawley levels. Clearly Roosevelt still 
believed, as he had said on March 4, that international trade rela- 
tions, though important, were secondary to recovery at home. 

But pressures from the opposite direction were strong too. Despite 
Roosevelt's own shift to a more nationalist policy in the 1920*8, 
many leaders in his party still prized the internationalist tradition 
of Wilson. If the Democratic party had stood for any traditional 
policy, they pointed out, it was lower tariff walls. Nor could the 
President ignore the strong sentiment, especially along the Eastern 
seaboard, for a positive attack on the jumble and chaos of economic 
affairs among nations. 

These conflicting pressures played on the President through his 
close associates. Hull was making no secret of his expectation that 
the secretaryship would crown his life work for expanded trade and 
economic co-operation among nations. Roper and Swanson in the 
cabinet were old Wilson men, as were some influential congressmen. 
On the other hand, Moley, Ickes, Hopkins, Tugwell, and others in 
the presidential entourage favored priority for the domestic front. 
Some business friends of the President took the same position, and 
Baruch wrote him early in July that "there can possibly be no 
ground for criticism either here or abroad upon the position you 
take that internal matters come first/' Privately Roosevelt struck 
out at international financiers-" the fellows in Amsterdam and 
Antwerp, etc"-whose speculations, he felt, were undermining the 


Given these crossed purpose? and mixed councils, it was inevi- 
table that matters would come to an unhappy climax. This they 
did, in the painfully public arena of the World Economic Confer- 
ence in London. Despite early worries about the gathering, Roose- 
velt had thrown himself into the role of world leader in his recep- 
tion of foreign representatives and his preparations for the confer- 
ence. But his preparations were sadly amiss. He chose for the 
American delegation a group of men, headed by Hull, who had di- 
vergent economic ideas and varying expertness in the field. Made 
up of some of the most eminent political leaders and economists of 
the time, the conference had aroused high hopes that it could point 
the way toward better economic relations among nations. Much 
depended, it was generally agreed, on the attitude of the United 
States delegation. But in London the Americans wandered in a fog 
of confusion, and Moley's arrival with fresh instructions from the 
President only sharpened the tension within the delegation and 
aroused the foreign representatives' hopes. 

Suddenly on July 3 came a sharp message from Roosevelt in ef- 
fect rapping the conference for trifling with efforts for an artificial 
and temporary monetary stability "on the part of a few large 
countries only," and for ignoring fundamental economic ills. The 
message threw the conference into confusion. It went on twitching 
for a few days, as an observer remarked, before it rolled over and 
died, amid savage recriminations and general hopelessness. 

Roosevelt had torpedoed the conference. Why? The answer lay 
largely in the turn of events at home while the conferees were de- 
bating in London. The measures of the Hundred Days seemed to 
be achieving more monetary stability in the United States, and 
Roosevelt, at the height of his popularity at home, was not ready 
to jeopardize this happy condition by trying prematurely to tie the 
dollar to foreign currencies. Economists divided over his position; 
some denounced his "nationalistic" path, while in Britain John 
Maynard Keynes, an advocate of managed currencies, wrote that 
Roosevelt was "magnificently right." Politically the President was 
caught in a cross-fire. Those who favored "putting our own house 
in order" applauded his action; but the internationalists were sur- 
prised and disappointed. Hull returned home indignant over his 
treatment and furious at Moley's intervention. 

Equally abortive was America's participation in the disarmament 
conference that had been dragging along for over a year at Geneva. 
In mid-May 1933 Roosevelt sent an eloquent direct appeal to heads 
of states proposing a "solemn and definite pact of non-aggression" 
among all the nations of the world. But the conference could not 
break out of the deadlock of hate and fear, and Roosevelt, his hands 
tied by his repudiation of the League in 1932, was able to offer no 

A Leader in the White House 179 

more than passive co-operation in any program of collective se- 
curity. The conference finally collapsed in the face of Hitler's with- 
drawal from both the conference and the League. 

On war debts, another gnawing problem of the year, Roosevelt 
was equally cautious. He refused to treat them as part of a general 
international economic problem; he refused even to give the dele- 
gates in London authority to discuss debts. "That stays with Poppa 
right here/' he said. 

If, then, the war for economic recovery was to be waged mainly 
at home, what was the over-all strategy for the prosecution of that 
war? The President was a magnificent leader but along what paths 
were Americans to be led? As the Hundred Days came to an end, 
people searched for a pattern in the rapid-fire actions of the pre- 
ceding weeks. 

That there were orderly continuities with the past could not be 
doubted. The President had grasped the standard of Wilsonian re- 
form in his measures for federal supervision of securities, friendli- 
ness to labor, business regulation. He had trod Cousin Theodore's 
old path in conservation and in the elements of planning in the 
AAA. He had filched a plank from American socialism in the pub- 
lic ownership features of TVA. Most strangely, he had taken over 
indeed sharpened such precepts of the Hoover administration as 
budget-balancing and government economy. And his foreign poli- 
cies were remarkably like the economic and political nationalism 
of the 1920'$. 

Continuities but what of the present? Try as he might, the most 
resourceful political philosopher could not extract consistency from 
the jumble. The Square Deal, the New .Freedom, the New Na- 
tionalism, the associational activities of the igso's, all elbowed one 
another in uneasy intimacy. There was nothing but contradiction 
between the spending for public works and the economy act, be- 
tween the humanitarianism of direct relief and the miserliness of 
veterans' cuts, between the tariff-raising provisions of the AAA and 
the new internationalism of the State Department, between Roose- 
velt's emphasis on the strengthening of government as a tool for 
social betterment and his reducing the cost of government, includ- 
ing the salaries of government workers. 

But Roosevelt was now cast as the man of action, as the experi- 
menter, as the quarterback, and consistency was a small virtue. 
"What are you going to say when they ask you the political philoso- 
phy behind TVA?" Senator Norris asked him shortly before the 
bill went to Congress. "I'll tell them it's neither fish nor fowl/' the 
President answered gaily, "but, whatever it is, it will taste awfully 
good to the people of the Tennessee Valley." 


Nothing better exemplified this pragmatism both in the manner 
it was drawn up and in its major provisions than the National 
Industrial Recovery Act, described by Roosevelt as probably the 
most important and far-reaching legislation ever enacted by the 
American Congress. As the mainspring of the early New Deal, this 
measure for two years embodied its hopes and its liabilities. 

Faintly foreshadowed in Roosevelt's Commonwealth Club speech, 
the NRA had its immediate origin with a number of persons work- 
ing separately in Washington during the interregnum. Several con- 
gressmen introduced bills to modify antitrust laws in order to pre- 
vent "unfair and excessive" competition. Business representatives 
in Washington wanted to bring some order out of anarchy by es- 
tablishing stronger associations or councils in the main sectors of in- 
dustry, trade, and finance, with some power of self-government. 
Others favored more stringent economic planning, with a govern- 
mental board in charge. Labor leaders were pressing for protection 
of collective bargaining and labor standards. Some persons favored 
huge governmental loans to industry; others wanted to step up pub- 
lic works and direct relief. 

At first the President moved slowly. Aware of the ferment of rad- 
ical thinking on over-all economic policy, he preferred to push 
through his crisis bills before turning to reconstruction measures. 
Moreover, he felt that recovery ideas had not crystallized enough. 
It was the Senate that forced the President's hand. On April 16 the 
upper chamber passed, 53-30, a bill introduced by Senator Hugo L. 
Black of Alabama that would forbid interstate commerce in com- 
modities produced by persons working more than five days a week 
or six hours a day. This drastic, rigid thirty-hour bill worried the 
President, especially since it had the backing in Congress of liberal 
and prolabor groups. As the Black bill gained momentum on the 
Hill, Roosevelt began to pay more attention to the possibility of 
an industrial recovery program. He had commissioned several per- 
sons to explore such a program, doing this quietly so that he would 
not jeopardize his friendly relations with Black and his group. On 
May 10 he convened a White House meeting of the leaders of 
groups working on recovery programs. 

For two hours the discussion ranged through a score of proposals. 
Finally the President remarked that the group seemed basically di- 
vided between a large public works program and government-in- 
dustry codes. Why not do both? someone spoke up. "I think you're 
right," the President said quickly, and he designated several present 
to "lock themselves into a room" until they reached agreement. 

The resulting bill did not have easy going in Congress. It was 
beset on all sides by groups asserting that antitrust laws must not 
be relaxed, or that the bill was a "sellout" to industry, or that it 

A Leader in the While House 


regimented industry too much, or that it failed to provide for cur- 
rency inflation. Would Roosevelt's strategy of combining many 
disparate proposals, thereby gaining support from various elements 
in Congress, offset the voting strength of the opposition should the 
dissident groups combine against the bill? His strategy worked, but 
only because the great bulk of congressmen had an almost blind 
faith in him one representative called him a "Moses" leading the 
people out of the wilderness and because ticklish political issues 
were left to the President to decide by delegation of power. The 
Black bill was sidetracked. 

The final act was a compromise among many groups and theo- 
ries. Industrial councils could draw up codes of fair competition, 
but these had to be approved by the President. These codes were 
exempted from antitrust laws, but monopolistic practices were still 
barred. The essence of the measure was voluntary self-government 
by industry, but the government had a rigid licensing power to 
force businessmen in line. In Section 7a labor received a vague 
guarantee of the right to bargain collectively with employers 
through their own representatives, and equally vague provisions for 
wage and hour standards in the new codes. In an entirely different 
title of the bill, over three billion dollars were authorized for a 
huge spending effort through public works. 

With this measure signed and Congress adjourned in mid-June, 
the President left for Groton, where he watched Franklin, Jr., grad- 
uate, then boarded an auxiliary schooner with son James and a 
small crew. He sailed contentedly along the New England coast to 
Maine, even sandwiching in political conferences at stops en route. 
The bright June skies above the little schooner seemed to be 

March 10, 1933, H. M. Talburt, New 
York World-Telegram, Scripps-Howar<i 


smiling on the American people too. A production index had shot 
up from 56 in March to 93 in June. The nation was already feeling 
the effects of stepped-up relief spending, AAA and CGG checks, 
heightened business confidence. One leader, manning the tiller off 
the rocky New England coast, was still the center of public ap- 

"How do you account for him?" William Allen White wrote to 
Ickes that spring. "Was I just fooled in him before the election, 
or has he developed? As Governor of New York, I thought he was 
a good two-legged Governor of a type that used to flourish in the 
first decade of the century under the influence of La Follette and 
Roosevelt. We had a lot of them but they weren't presidential 
size. . . . 

"I thought your President was one of those. Instead of which he 
developed magnitude and poise, more than all, power 1 I have been 
a voracious feeder in the course of a long and happy life and have 
eaten many things, but I have never had to eat my words before. I 
shall wait six months and ... if they are still on the plate, down 
they go with a gusto. And I shall smack my lips as my Adams 
apple bobs/' 

TEN President of All the People? 


U RING the first half of his first term Roosevelt 
tried a Grand Experiment in government. He took the role of na- 
tional father, of bipartisan leader, of President of all the people. 
Playing this role with consummate skill, he extracted from it the 
last morsel of political power and government action. Eventually 
his biparty leadership was to falter, and he would turn in new di- 
rections. But during these first two years, 1933 and 1934, he savored 
the heady feeling of rising above parties and groups and acting 
almost as a constitutional monarch armed with political power. 

The New Deal, the President told a Wisconsin crowd in August 
1934, "seeks to cement our society, rich and poor, manual worker 
and brain worker, into a voluntary brotherhood of freemen, stand- 
ing together, striving together, for the common good of all." Such 
government would not hurt honest business, he said; in seeking 
social justice it would not rob Peter to pay Paul. Government, he 
told a convention of bankers two months later, was "essentially the 
outward expression of the unity and leadership of all groups/' His 
own role as president? It was "to find among many discordant ele- 
ments that unity of purpose that is best for the Nation as a whole." 
Throughout Roosevelt's speeches of 1934 ran this theme of govern- 
ment as conciliator, harmonizer, unifier of all major interests. He 
was the master broker among the many interests of a great and 
diverse people. 

As president of all the people Roosevelt tried to stay above the 
political and ideological battles that raged all around him. Insisting 
that he did not want to be drawn into controversy, he asked his 
supporters to take over the burden of answering attacks on the 
New Deal from the extreme right or left. He was forever acting as 
umpire between warring administrators or congressmen. When his 
advisers differed over policy he time and again ordered: "Put them 
in a room together, and tell them no lunch until they agree!" When 
Tugwell and Senator Copeland were at swords' points over food 
and drug legislation, the President suggested that they battle it 
out together while he sat in and held the sponge. He told his agency 


chiefs that he was operating between the 15 per cent on the ex- 
treme left and the 15 per cent on the extreme right who were op- 
posing him for political reasons or "from pure cussedness." He in- 
sisted that he was going neither right nor left just down the middle. 

The country enjoyed a brief era of good feelings, and presiding 
jauntily over the era was Roosevelt himself. While the New Deal 
came in for some sharp criticism, everybody, it seemed, loved the 
President. William Randolph Hearst was a guest at the White 
House. The Scripps-Howard newspapers lauded his New Deal. 
Pierre Du Pont and other businessmen wrote him friendly letters. 
Farm leaders rallied to the cause. "To us," wrote Ed O'Neal of the 
American Farm Bureau Federation, "you are the Andrew Jackson 
of the Twentieth Century, championing the rights of the peo- 
ple. . . ." Father Coughlin defended him. William Green and other 
leaders of labor had little but words of praise for the man in the 
White House. Across the seas a man who seemed to love nobody 
had a good word for him. "I have sympathy with President Roose- 
velt," remarked Adolf Hitler in mid-iggg, "because he marches 
straight to his objective over Congress, over lobbies, over stubborn 

Some Democrats could not understand Roosevelt's nonpartisan 
line. When one of them naively suggested early in 1934 that the 
President come to a celebration for the Democratic party's patron 
saint, the President gently rebuked him. He would take no part in 
Jefferson Day celebrations that year: "Our strongest plea to the 
country in this particular year of grace/' he said, "is that the re- 
covery and reconstruction program is being accomplished by men 
and women of all parties that I have repeatedly appealed to Re- 
publicans as much as to Democrats to do their part." Much as he 
loved Jefferson, it would be better if "nonpartisan Jefferson din- 
ners" should be held, with as many Republicans as Democrats on 
the banquet committees. He made no objection to a nationwide 
tribute to himself on the occasion of his birthday, in the interest 
of crippled children. 

Republican party leaders were perplexed too. During the first 
months they were content to rnute their protests and to bask in the 
patriotic posture of "country before party." But slowly the party 
emerged from its torpor. Its task was formidable at best. Republi- 
can leadership had been decimated in two national elections. Liv- 
ing almost in oblivion, Hoover was a scapegoat even for his own 
party, and the Republican leaders in Congress seemed pedestrian 
and heavy-footed next to the lustrous, fast-moving figure in the 
White House. By early 1934 they were trying hard to act as a real 
opposition party. 

President of All the People? 185 

18, 1934, Edwin 
Marcus, reprinted 
by permission of 
the New York 

But what were they to oppose? A cardinal aspect of Roosevelt's 
nonpartisanship was his quarterbacking now on the right, now on 
the left, now down the center of the political field. As in the 1932 
campaign, he did not leave an opening at either end of his line 
through which the Republicans could try to carry the ball. Indeed, 
the Grand Old Party itself tended to split into factions to the right 
and to the left of the President's erratic middle-of-the-road course. 
Despite their minority position in the party, the progressive Re- 
publicans like Norris and McNary had the advantage of White 
House smiles and favors. 

A remarkable aspect of this situation was that Roosevelt contin- 
ued in 1934 to take a more moderate and conservative stand on 
policy than did the majority of congressmen. On silver, on infla- 
tion, on mortgage refinancing, on labor, on spending, Congress was 
to the left of the President. In contrast with later periods, Roose- 
velt's main job in 1933 and 1934 was not to prod Congress into 
action, but to ride the congressional whirlwind by disarming the 
extremists, by seeking unity among the blocs, and by using every 
presidential weapon of persuasion and power. 



The classic test of greatness in the White House has been the chief 
executive's capacity to lead Congress. Weak presidents have been 
those who had no program to offer, or whose proposals have been 
bled away in the endless twistings and windings of the legislative 
process. Strong presidents have been those who finessed or bulldozed 
their programs through Congress and wrote them into legislative 
history. By this classic test Roosevelt during his first years in the 
White House was a strong President who dominated Congress 
with a masterly show of leadership. 

If Roosevelt had ever stopped during these turbulent days to 
list his methods of dealing with Congress, the result might have 
looked something like this: 

1. Full use of constitutional powers, such as the veto 

2. Good timing 

3. Drafting of measures in the executive branch 

4. Almost constant pressure, adroitly applied 

5. Careful handling of patronage 

6. Face-to-face persuasiveness with legislative leaders 

7. Appeal to the people. 

But it would have been out of character for the President to cata- 
logue his methods in such systematic fashion. He cheerfully played 
the legislative game by ear, now trying this device and now that, 
as the situation dictated. 

He experimented even with a policy of hands off for a short 
period. Late in March 1934 the President ostentatiously left Wash- 
ington for two weeks of deep-sea fishing off the Bahamas. White 
House pressure was relaxed. Soon Congress was looking like a 
schoolroom of disorderly boys with the master gone. A wrangle 
broke out among Democrats over regulation of stock exchanges. 
Over one hundred representatives, breaking away from their lead- 
ers, lined up in favor of a mortgage refinancing bill so inflationary 
that Roosevelt sent word to Garner and Rayburn from his yacht 
to tell Congress "if this type of wild legislation passed the responsi- 
bility for wrecking recovery will be squarely on the Congress, and 
I will not hesitate to say so to the nation in plain language." Garner 
said that in thirty years he had never seen the House in such ab- 
ject turmoil. 

The hands-off experiment was a dismal failure. Welcomed by a 
group of congressmen on his return Roosevelt remarked pointedly 
that he had learned some lessons from the barracuda and sharks. 
He added with a smile, "I am a tough guy." 

President of All the People? 187 

The presidential reins were tightened, but the President never 
got really tough. He depended mainly on conferences with congres- 
sional leaders to put across his program. He even denied that there 
was such a thing as "must legislation/' 

"The word 'must' is a terrible word," he told reporters. "I would 
not use 'must' to Congress. I never have, have I?" he finished amid 

His formal constitutional powers in legislation Roosevelt ex- 
ploited to the hilt. Reviving Wilson's practice, he delivered his 
reports on the state of the union to Congress in person. He out- 
lined general proposals in well-timed messages, and he followed 
these up by detailed legislative proposals drafted in the executive 
departments and introduced by friendly congressmen. Individual 
legislators were drawn into the executive policy-making process not 
as representatives of Congress nor of their constituencies, but as 
members of the administration. The President met frequently with 
congressional leaders and committee chairmen, and occasionally 
with other members of Congress. In practice he fashioned a kind 
of "master-ministry" of bureaucrats and congressmen with Roose- 
velt at the top. 

The President could say no, too. During his first two years he 
used his veto powers to a far greater extent than the average of 
all the previous presidents. Many of the vetoed bills involved spe- 
cial legislation, which Roosevelt had his assistants scrutinize care- 
fully. More important than the veto was the President's threat to 
use it. Again and again he sent word through congressional leaders 
that he would turn down a pending bill unless it was changed. On 
one occasion in 1934, when Congress passed an immigration bill 
that seemed to Roosevelt filled with inequities, he simply proposed 
that the two Houses pass a concurrent resolution of recall other- 
wise he would veto the bill. Only once did the Seventy-third Con- 
gress override Roosevelt; this occasion followed a legislative revolt 
against the President's economy program. 

Roosevelt played the patronage game tirelessly and adroitly. 
Major appointments were allotted on the basis of lists the Presi- 
dent drew up of "our friends" in various states; an opponent he 
carefully designated simply as "not with me." Routine jobs he 
turned over to Farley. Thousands of applicants besieged Farley in 
his office and hotel until the Postmaster General had to sneak back 
and forth to his office as if he were dodging a sheriff's writ. Farley 
flouted custom by openly accepting and systematizing patronage 
procedures. When his outer office became packed, he calmly went 
about the room followed by a stenographer taking the name of 
each person and the kind of job he wanted. Only because the new 
emergency agencies were hiring employees outside the classified 


civil service (about a hundred thousand such jobs by July 1934) 
was Farley able to take care of the host of deserving Democrats. 

Congressmen wanted jobs too, and the President saw that they 
got them. When a delegation of Democratic representatives com- 
plained to him about the treatment they had got on patronage 
from departments, he promptly asked the cabinet to be as helpful 
as possible with congressmen on this matter. The President was 
shrewd enough, however, to postpone job distribution during the 
first session long enough to apply the test of administration sup- 
port, with the result, it was said, that "his relations with Congress 
were to the end of the session tinged with a shade of expectancy 
which is the best part of young love." 

Roosevelt was not above back-alley horse trades. In the spring 
of 1934 Senator "Cotton Ed" Smith of South Carolina pigeonholed 
the Chief Executive's nomination of Tugwell as Under Secretary of 
Agriculture. But Smith also badly wanted a United States marshal- 
ship for a henchman who had a good reputation except for a slight 
case of homicide. So Roosevelt made the deal, and greeted an aston- 
ished Tugwell with the cheery remark: "You will never know any 
more about it, I hope; but today I traded you for a couple of 

Roosevelt often fell back on his own charm and resourcefulness 
in dealing with congressmen. Ickes watched in admiration one day 
as the President handled a ticklish problem of patronage. Senate 
Majority Leader Robinson was insisting on the appointment as 
commissioner of Indian affairs of a man whom Ickes felt to be 
totally disqualified. When an ugly row seemed in the offing, the 
President had the two antagonists to tea. First he established a 
friendly atmosphere by discussing with Robinson a number of 
pending bills that the President and Senator both favored. Then 
lie let Robinson and Ickes briefly make their cases about the ap- 
pointment. Before an argument could develop, the President turned 
the subject back to general policies. When dinner was announced, 
Roosevelt said pleasantly to Robinson, "Well, Joe, you see what 
I am up against. . . ." Robinson replied that there was nothing 
further he could say, and left. Even so, the President waited a day 
or two, and then sent in the name of another man. 

Roosevelt was a genius at placating his bickering lieutenants. 
Ickes was a chronic grumbler, staying after cabinet sessions to pour 
out his troubles. Sometimes harassed officials, feeling that their 
chief had forgotten them, used the threat of resigning as a means 
of getting their way or, at the least, of getting attention from the 
White House. The President bore these pinpricks with marvelous 
good humor. But he knew how to teach a lesson too. Once when 
he heard that an important administrator was about to resign he 

President of All the People? 189 

telephoned him: "I have just had some bad news, Don. Secretary 
Hull is threatening to resign. He is very angry because I don't agree 
with him that we ought to remove the Ambassador to Kamchatka 
and make him third secretary to the Embassy at Svodia." Quickly 
catching on, the official agreed that his threat to resign was very 
foolish indeed. 

Roosevelt's way with the press also showed his mastery of the 
art of government. He made so much news and maintained such 
a friendly attitude toward the newspapermen covering the White 
House that he quickly and easily won their sympathy. The news- 
papermen were especially pleased that the President had reinsti- 
tuted the press conference, thus enabling them to question him di- 
rectly. No one knew better than Roosevelt, however, that the press 
conference was a two-edged sword: he could use it to gain a better 
press, but the reporters could also use it to trip him. Much de- 
pended on knowing when not to answer a question. 

One day, while instructing his agency chiefs on public relations, 
Roosevelt told them how he had handled an awkward query. A 
reporter had asked him to comment on a statement by Ambassador 
Bingham in London urging closer relations between the United 
States and Britain. If he had done the natural thing of backing up 
Bingham, the newspapers would have made headlines of the 
President's statement, with likely ill effect on naval conversations 
then under way with Japan. If he had said "no comment," he would 
have sounded critical of Bingham's statement. So he simply said 
he had not seen it although in fact he had. 

Roosevelt used his most tactical weapons for dealing with Congress. 
"The coming session will be comparatively easy to handle/' Roose- 
velt wrote to Colonel House in December 1933, "though it may not 
be noiseless." The President did not make the near-perfect score 
in this session that he had the year before, but he got through most 
of his program and staved off bills he disliked. To Hull's infinite 
satisfaction Congress passed the Reciprocal Tariff Act as an emer- 
gency measure to stimulate foreign trade without disturbing any 
"sound" or "important" American interest, as the President put it. 
The Gold Reserve Act was passed in virtually the form Roosevelt 
had asked; he hailed it as a decisive step by which the government 
took firmly in its own hands control of the gold value of the dol- 
lar. Farm benefits were extended to growers of cotton, tobacco, 
and other commodities. The President's requests for stock exchange 
regulation and for two billions in bonds for refinancing farm mort- 
gages were converted into legislation. 

On other issues, however, the outcome was different. Roosevelt 
had to negotiate with the silver bloc for weeks before reaching a 



June 6, 1933, John T. McCutcheon, 
Chicago Tribune 

WON'T BE ENOUGH, March 26, 
1933, Tom Carlisle, Washing- 
ton Star 

bargain under which the Treasury would purchase heavy amounts 
of silver and thus shore up the domestic silver market. On a clear- 
cut sectional issue, the St. Lawrence Waterway Treaty, the Presi- 
dent met defeat, with Democratic senators from states supposedly 
hurt by the waterway voting against the treaty and killing it. And 
both chambers by sweeping majorities overrode a presidential veto 
of an appropriations bill that would have restored part of Roose- 
velt's pay cut for government employees. 

When Congress could not interfere, Roosevelt acted with de- 
cision. Constitutionally the President had exclusive power to grant 
or withhold recognition of foreign governments. On November 17, 
1933, Roosevelt announced the resumption of diplomatic relations 
between the United States and the Soviet Union. This action came 
after lengthy haggling over terms. Moscow promised to refrain 
from abetting revolutionary activity against the American political 
or social order, and to protect the right of free religious worship 
of Americans in Russia. Rosy plans were laid for expansion of 
trade between the two nations. Although some of the President's 
friends (and his mother) opposed recognition, the action seemed 
to be well received by most Americans, including many business- 
men and Republicans. 

Many measures passed by Congress granted sweeping powers to 
the President. By the close of the Seventy-third Congress he held 
unprecedented controls over a peacetime American economy. Yet 
Roosevelt did not seek all the power he got. In several instances 
Congress granted him wide discretion, simply because the factions 

President of All the People? 191 

on Capitol Hill split wide open on thorny political matters and 
could agree only on leaving final decision with the White House. 
This was true of farm relief, the NRA, and the tariff. Power, it is 
said, goes to the power-seeking, but in these cases it was also the 
temper of the times and the divisions in Congress that enlarged 
presidential power. 

The Roosevelt technique with Congress dazzled the country; but 
there were misgivings. One of those who was not enchanted was a 
keen student of national politics at Harvard named E. Pendleton 
Herring. Analyzing the first two sessions of Roosevelt's Congress, 
Herring noted the extent to which presidential control had rested 
on unsteady bases such as patronage, government funds and favors, 
the co-operation of congressional leaders, and the crisis psychology 
of the people. Even so, Herring noted, the administration could 
do little more than "keep order in the bread-line that reached into 
the Treasury/' The more powerfully organized groups got much 
of what they wanted; the weaker groups, such as labor and con- 
sumers, did not do so well. The President had shown himself ^ as 
an astute politician rather than a crusader. Responsible executive 
leadership seemed weak in the face of organized minorities. 

"Can the presidential system," asked Herring, "continue as a 
game of touch and go between the Chief Executive and congres- 
sional blocs played by procedural dodges and with bread and cir- 
cuses for forfeits?" 

It was a good question but the American people in 1933 and 
1934 were more concerned with "bread and circuses" than with aca- 
demic anxieties. 


If the New Deal had circus-like qualities during the first years, the 
center ring was occupied by the National Recovery Administration, 
and the ringmaster presented a fresh new visage on the American 
scene. General Hugh S. Johnson looked like the old cavalry man 
that he was; he had a hard, leathery face, squint eyes, and a rough 
bark of a voice, but underneath, curious qualities crowded one an- 
other: he was a sentimentalist, an old hand with businessmen and 
business ways, a West Pointer, and as mercurial and picturesque 
as a sideshow barker. Although Johnson's long-time boss Bernard 
Baruch rated him as only a "good No. 2 man," the general im- 
pressed the President enough to win the job of running the big- 
gest experiment in peacetime governmental control of the economy 
that America had ever seen. 

Johnson's main task was to induce businessmen to draw up codes 
of fair competition, which on the President's approval had the full 


force of law. Administered under the general's supervision by a 
code authority in each industry, the codes were supposed to stop 
wasteful competition, to bring about more orderly pricing and sell- 
ing policies, and to establish higher wages, shorter hours, and bet- 
ter working conditions for workers. Antitrust policies would be 
softened so that businessmen could co-operate in setting up the 
codes. Johnson had expected to administer the vast public works 
section of the bill too, but at the last minute Roosevelt put this 
under Ickes. So furious was the general that he threatened to 
quit the whole business then and there; the President asked Miss 
Perkins to "stick with Hugh and keep him sweet/' which she did 
by driving him for hours around Washington until he mastered 
himself and promised to go on with his part of the job. 

And a job it was. Within weeks the NRA burst on the American 
people like a national call to arms. The NRA eagle was suddenly 
in every shop window, on magazine covers, in the movies, on girls 
in chorus lines. Rushing from city to city in an army plane, issu- 
ing pronunciamentos at every stop, Johnson orated, politicked, 
wisecracked, coaxed businessmen into signing codes drawn up by 
industry representatives hurriedly collected in Washington. The 
general became the symbol of recovery; for hours he reviewed a 
climactic parade up Fifth Avenue, trying desperately to greet the 
endless river of humanity without appearing to give the despised 
Mussolini salute. Not since 1917 had the whole nation savored 
such a throbbing sense of unity, of marching together. 

But marching where? Almost at the start the President had vir- 
tually lost control of the NRA. He told the cabinet one day how 
Johnson, coattails standing out behind, had rushed into his office, 
and handed the President three codes to sign. As Roosevelt was 
signing the last one, Johnson looked at his watch, said he had five 
minutes to catch his plane, and dashed out, the codes in his pocket. 
"He hasn't been seen since," Roosevelt added brightly. The Presi- 
dent was hardly more than a front man in whose name an elabo- 
rate re-employment agreement was arranged and a thousand other 
actions taken. Johnson himself had to delegate huge policy-making 
powers to hastily summoned businessmen who might or might not 
be representative of the myriad interests in their industries. And in 
the first flush of enthusiasm the NRA coverage was extended so far 
that the machinery was nearly swamped. An extreme case was the 
St. Louis bootblack who signed the re-employment agreement, cut 
his hours to forty a week, and promptly asked the NRA to make up 
his pay. 

The NRA was essentially an expression of the broker state that 
is, of the government acting for, and mediating among, the major 
interest groups. The NRA was the institutional expression of 

President of All the People? 193 

Roosevelt's plan for a partnership of all groups, achieved through 
friendly co-operation between the government and group leaders. 
But who were the leaders? It was not surprising that in the haste 
and confusion Johnson dealt with the business and labor leaders 
closest at hand, those who were most vocal, best organized, most 
experienced in dealing with politicians and bureaucrats. Who 
could speak for that amorphous group, the consumers? A Con- 
sumers' Advisory Board was set up but was eased to one side; a 
member quit indignantly within a few weeks of its establishment. 

By the end of 1933 the NRA eagle was fluttering through heavy 
weather. "N.R.A. is the worst law ever passed/' some disillusioned 
Cleveland grocers wired the President. "N.R.A. means National 
Run Around/' read a labor placard hoisted by a Baltimore picket 
line. Protests rose in Congress. William Connery, chairman of the 
House Labor Committee, asked Roosevelt to tell Johnson to work 
with "true representatives" of labor. Roosevelt answered patiently 
that as one "a great deal older than you" he advised the Congress- 
man not to overstate his case. "Most of us who consider ourselves 
liberals have the same ultimate objective in view. ..." But the 
President could not ignore the protests. In March 1934 he ap- 
pointed a review board under the old reformer and defense at- 
torney Clarence Darrow, which soon was reporting that the codes 
had allowed the more powerful interests to seize control or extend 
their control of industries. Roosevelt trimmed NRA's powers, lim- 
ited its jurisdiction, eased Johnson out, and put a more domesti- 
cated chief, Donald Richberg, in his place. But by the time the 
Supreme Court administered the coup de grace shortly before 
NRA's second birthday, it was near administrative and political 

If NRA was the mainspring of the New Deal in shop and factory, 
the Agricultural Adjustment Act was its counterpart on the farm. 
The object of the measure was to restore farm prices to parityto 
the relationship, that is, they bore to nonagricultural prices in the 
years 1909 to 1914. To reach this goal, processing taxes were to 
be levied equal to the difference between the actual prices and 
parity. The money raised was to finance restriction of production 
either by renting land and keeping it out of production or by pay- 
ing benefits to farmers in return for their agreement to reduce pro- 
duction" to kill every third pig or plow every third row under," 
as the newspapers were soon putting it. But like the NRA, Triple-A 
was soon revealing the insuperable problems of Roosevelt's middle 

The act bore telltale marks of its birth pangs. It was drawn up 
by spokesmen from the larger farm organizations and the farm 
journals, under the direction of Henry Wallace. The viewpoint of 


the larger commercial farmers, organized in the American Farm 
Bureau Federation and the National Grange, had the most weight 
in the early, vital policy-making process, while the Farmers Union, 
generally embracing the smaller farmers on more marginal land, 
and inheriting the old Populist tradition, was scarcely represented. 
Millions of farmers belonged to no organization at all; they could 
not afford the dues, they lacked the time, they could not travel 
fifty miles to meetings. And no real organization even existed for 
countless farm laborers on vast Middle Western farms, southern 
sharecroppers, illiterate farm hands, and migratory workers follow- 
ing the crops in battered Model-T Fords. Dirt farmers, rough in 
speech and countenance, returned from Washington deriding the 
men in neckties and white shirts they had seen testifying for the 
AAA bill. 

Growers of "basic" crops covered by the act, such as wheat, cot- 
ton, corn, and tobacco, got quick benefits from the federal checks 
handed out in return for crop limitation. On other farmers the only 
effect of the program was to raise their hopes and expectations. By 
fall Roosevelt admitted that the West was seething with unrest. A 
letter from a Minnesota farmer named Olson to Eleanor Roosevelt 
poignantly illustrated the agricultural situation. 

Painfully scrawling on cheap scratch paper, Olson described his 
"tradgety." "I am trying to hold my farm and get food for my 
children but it is hard this year. Money is scarce and hard to 
get " 

Eleanor Roosevelt showed her husband this letter. "I am glad 
you wrote . . ." the President replied to him. "You are absolutely 
right that many things which the farmers raise have not by any 
means reached a proper level. ..." He mentioned his own cattle 
raising in Georgia, and expressed the hope that AAA coverage 
would be extended. "All I can ask you to do is to believe that 
we are honestly trying to do our best, and that we think we are 
slowly but surely improving conditions." 

Roosevelt's reassurances were partly justified. AAA benefits were 
extended to new crops in 1934, and farm prices and prosperity ad- 
vanced. But discontent remained. The "big boys" the large com- 
mercial farmers, farming corporations, banks and insurance com- 
panies-seemed to be getting more than their share of the take. 
Even worse, it was charged, AAA checks enabled recipients to buy 
machinery; by "tractoring" hired hands off the land and "plowing 
every third row under" farm managers cut down the need for farm 
labor. Vainly the Farmers Union denounced "scarcity economics" 
and insisted that the trouble with agriculture was not overproduc- 
tion but underconsumption. 

President of All the People? 195 

"The government wouldn't let us plant/' tenant farmers com- 
plained, "so we had to go on relief." 

Roosevelt knew that the acid test of the New Deal was recovery. 
During 1933 and 1934 he watched the ups and downs of the na- 
tion's economic temperature like a doctor following the condition 
of a feverish patient. 

He was delighted when employment rose sharply the first four 
months after he took office. He proudly showed reporters a chart 
from which farm prices had dropped clear off the bottom of the 
sheet the line had now reappeared and was headed up. But in 
July came a stock market crash and, even worse, a drop in pro- 
duction. The President dismissed the crash as due to gamblers: 
"everybody got to speculating and things went too fast; that got 
a perfectly natural corrective," he told reporters. Anyway, he said, 
employment looked good. By fall of 1933 he was worried about em- 
ployment too: "There aren't nearly enough people back at work," 
but he thought things were improving. He wrote Garner about 
this time that business was "not nearly as badly off as the New 
York crowd is howling about, but unemployment is still serious." 

It was all so strange. Things seemed better the NRA was going 
strong; the breath of recovery filled the air yet the prosaic gauges 
of recovery wages, prices, spending, employment were moving up 
erratically and unpredictably where they were moving up at all. 
The situation looked so serious that in September 1933 the Presi- 
dent instructed Secretary of War Dern to make ready army rolling 
kitchens for feeding the needy where local relief was inadequate. 
By the end of 1933 the alarmed and disconcerted President was 
looking for scapegoats. Prices had dropped, he said, because some 
people had not approved of NRA codes and because "some of our 
foreign friends" were deliberately trying to increase the exchange 
value of the dollar. Curiously, the President was almost embracing 
the idea of foreign causes of depression an idea he had lambasted 
when Hoover used it in 1932. 

Casting about for a solution, Roosevelt took up a notion that 
George F. Warren, a Cornell professor, had been pressing for some 
time. Drawn from the old quantity theory of money, the idea was 
that an increase in the value of gold would be the decisive factor 
in restoring higher prices. In October 1933 the President decided on 
this approach. In what has been called probably the "boldest at- 
tempt ever made to give the widest public a brief instruction in 
complicated economic doctrine and maneuver," Roosevelt told the 
people in a fireside chat about his plan to buy gold. "This is a 
policy and not an expedient," he said defensively. But while a 
government market for gold became a lasting policy, the Warren 


theory proved an abortive one; raising the price of gold did not 
boost commodity prices. 

"Our troubles will not be over tomorrow, but we are on our 
way and we are headed in the right direction/' the President said 
in his radio talk. During 1934 employment did improve somewhat. 
The cause lay largely in programs that Roosevelt viewed as es- 
sentially humanitarian rather than recovery-producing. 

The first of these programs was run by Hopkins, more driving 
and sharp-tongued than ever. Told by Roosevelt to get help to the 
people fast, he had sat down at his desk while it was waiting in 
a hallway to be moved into his office, and in a few hours authorized 
millions of dollars of relief. Spurring and goading his subordinates, 
infuriating state politicians while playing his own brand of New 
Deal politics, ignoring bureaucratic protocol, Hopkins spent several 
hundred millions through the states during the early months of 
the New Deal and almost a billion on "quicky" projects through 
the Civil Works Administration in late 1933 and the first half of 

Hopkins' main concern was to act fast. Told of a project that 
would work out in the long run, he answered bitingly that people 
"don't eat in the long run they eat every day." Operating at a 
much slower pace was Ickes and his Public Works Administration. 
Suspicious, cantankerous, stubborn, "Honest Harold," as he was 
called to his discomfiture, authorized projects only after he had 
satisfied himself as to their legal propriety, economic value, and 
engineering practicality. But by 1934 money was moving out 
through PWA into the hands of contractors, manufacturers, engi- 
neers, laborers, truckers, carpenters, architects, and deep into the 
arteries of the economy. 

Other agencies added to this outpouring of money. The Recon- 
struction Finance Corporation, continued from the Hoover days, 
was lending more money than ever. The TVA, beginning its vast 
development program in the Tennessee Valley, was converting an 
area that had been a drain on the economy into a source of eco- 
nomic stimulation. The AAA put into farmers' hands money that 
quickly found its way to Sears, Roebuck and the local hardware 
store, and thence to manufacturers, banks, workers. 

Roosevelt used all these instruments; he put full reliance on nc 
single one of them. As leader of all the people, as broker among 
major organized interests, he would take the middle way. He 
adopted spending policies, but only as a temporary measure until 
the budget was balanced. He favored tariff reduction, but not where 
it hurt major American interests. He wanted a "reflationary" price 
rise, but not an "inflationary" one. He was favorable to organized 

President of All the People? 197 

labor, but only to the point consistent with a partnership of in- 
dustry, labor, and farmers with government. 

Nowhere was the President's role as buffer among major interests, 
as conciliator of rival viewpoints, more sharply revealed than in a 
statement he made to a press conference in December 1933: "Doug- 
las' job is to prevent the Government from spending just as hard as 
he possibly can. That is his job. Somewhere between his efforts to 
spend nothing . . . and the point of view of the people who want 
to spend ten billions additional on public works, we will get some- 
where, and we are trying to work out a program/' 


Every politician tries to win elections by simple "followership" 
that is, by gauging carefully group attitudes, opinion trends, party 
activities, and then taking that position that will reap the most votes 
on Election Day. A leader, by contrast, actively shapes his political 
context; he seeks to change the constellation of political forces about 
him in a direction closer to his own conception of the political good. 

The genius of great party leaders lies in their power to forge a 
majority combination of voters around burning issues of govern- 
ment, and through their personal qualities of leadership to put 
this combination behind some philosophy of government and pro- 
gram of action. Jefferson, for example, built a national following 
out of Southern planters, Western grain growers, Northern laborers, 
frontiersmen, debtors, and other sectional and group elements, and 
this following, roughly organized in the Republican party, put him 
into the White House. Jackson, too, was a broker of sections and 
groups, as all national leaders must be, but he was also a majority 
leader equipped with definite notions about government and able to 
win popularity with the great mass of people. Jefferson and Jackson 
as presidents acted for great popular majorities, and they stand in 
history for a conception of government by a majority working 
through a broadly based political party. 

Roosevelt during 1933-34 was no Jefferson, no Jackson. He did 
not conceive of himself as the leader of a majority on the left, as 
a party leader building a new alignment of political power. His 
job, as he saw it, was to patch up an ailing economic system, to 
rescue human lives, to bring about generally agreed-on reforms, 
and above all to promote economic recovery. These goals especially 
the lastcould be achieved by coaxing and conciliating leaders of 
major interests into a great national partnership. 

Viewed as a matter of political leadership, Roosevelt's Grand Ex- 
periment took the form of what can be called broker leadership. 
During his first two years in office he seemed to conceive of his 


presidential role as one of dealing with and mediating among the 
leaders of organized groups, especially labor, farmers, and business- 
men. If the economics of the broker state meant improvisation, a 
host of energetic and ill-assorted government programs, and eco- 
nomic betterment without real recovery, the politics of broker 
leadership brought short-term political gains at the expense, per- 
haps, of long-term strategic advance. 

Roosevelt was no theorist. It is doubtful that he chose this course 
as a result of a well-defined political philosophy. It simply emerged, 
shaped only roughly by his underlying concept of the public good, 
from the day-to-day projects and improvisations of his regime. It 
probably never occurred to him that the NRA, with its functional 
representation of business and labor groups, and the AAA, domi- 
nated by the big farm groups, showed some likeness to the corporate 
state fashioned by Benito Mussolini, with its syndicates of workers 
and employers. But George Peek, AAA chief, saw that the power 
of special interest groups could not be separated from the state, 
even in a democracy. "The truth is," he said bluntly, "that no demo- 
cratic government can be very different from the country it governs. 
If some groups are dominant in the country, they will be dominant 
in any plan the government undertakes." 

Such an approach had profound implications for Roosevelt's 
political leadership. It meant that he took the more passive method 
of responding to major political and economic pressures, rather 
than the more positive one of deliberately building up some voting 
alignment on the left or right that would recast the basic pattern 
of political power. It meant that he ignored the possibilities for 
the future of a voting alignment of great strength one composed 
of less privileged farm groups, masses of unorganized or ill-organized 
industrial workers, consumers, Negroes, and other minority groups. 
It is significant that the President allowed consumers short shrift 
in NRA and AAA, that he failed to put pressure behind the food 
and drug bill that Tugwell had drawn up for the protection of 
consumers, that he allowed postponement of unemployment and 
old-age pension measures, that he showed little interest at first 
in Wagner's efforts to strengthen labor's right to organize, that he 
was hazy and cool on the subject of a pending antilynching bill. 

From the standpoint of immediate political gains, however, Roose- 
velt's way was most effective. The congressional elections of 1934 
were coming up. In an "off" election year, with no presidential 
contest to give a national orientation to the thousands of state and 
local contests across the nation, American elections tend to break 
up into forty-eight different arenas, and each of these arenas in 
turn presents a jumble of guerrilla contests revolving around per- 
sonalities, patronage, local issues, and hardy election perennials 

President of All the People? 199 

such as corruption and crime. Parties and programs tend to be 
lost in the dust of battle as candidates and their personal factions 
struggle for votes. 

Speaking for "all the people/' unhampered by rigid party control 
or obligations to a set program, the President was able to adjust 
his tactics to the needs of each state. He was all the more effective 
because of his pretense that he was taking no part in state or local 
campaigns, even in state Democratic politics. Actually, he stuck a 
finger into a number of crucial contests. Nothing better illustrated 
his opportunism and flexibility than his handling of the Pennsyl- 
vania situation. 

Pennsylvania in the early 1930*5 presented the materials for 
major political realignment. Governor of the state in 1934 was 
Gifford Pinchot, the onetime chief forester who had been ousted by 
Taft in a cause celebre, and later a Bull Mooser with Theodore 
Roosevelt. Pinchot had long led the progressive elements in the 
Republican party against such regulars as the oldtime bosses Pew 
and Grundy. Coming up for re-election to the United States Senate 
in 1934 was David Reed, a Republican regular. The Pennsylvania 
Democrats, who had lost part of their liberal potential to the Re- 
publican progressives and had not won a Senate seat in sixty years, 
nominated two able, colorless, organization Democrats, Joseph F. 
Guffey for Senator and George Earle for governor. 

Roosevelt and Pinchot were old friends. They had both fought 
the Old Guard in their parties, Pinchot far more bellicosely and 
openly than the other. Although a Republican, Pinchot was vigor- 
ously supporting Roosevelt in 1934, and some kind of political 
tie-in seemed desirable. Early in 1934 the President suggested to 
Pinchot that he run for the Senate and indicated that Democratic 
support might be forthcoming. It soon became clear, however, that 
the Pennsylvania Democrats would not nominate the governor, 
for they expected to win with a man of their own. So Pinchot had 
to run in the Republican primaries, denouncing Old Guard Re- 
publican Reed as a mouthpiece of the Mellons and praising Roose- 
velt. But Roosevelt kept hands off; he would not even allow Ickes 
to speak for Pinchot in the primary, and Reed won. The governor 
and his wife, who was indefatigably ambitious for her husband- 
thereupon tried to work out a new Progressive Republican-Demo- 
cratic ticket on which Pinchot would run for Senator and Earle for 
governor. The Pennsylvania Democracy was not interested, and 
Roosevelt would not help. In the end Pinchot came out for his 
arch-enemy, Reed. 

It was a bitter Pinchot who wrote Roosevelt shortly before the 
election. He wanted to continue to support Roosevelt, Pinchot said, 
but he could not support Guffey and Earle. "The nomination by 


die Democrats of two utterly unfit men for the highest offices of 
this Commonwealth, and my opposition to them, will not make me 
your enemy unless you so elect. . . . The last word is yours." 

Roosevelt's reply was a bit lofty and revealing. He could not 
anderstand why Pinchot would support a reactionary like Reed. 

"Also, my dear Gifford, I know you won't mind my telling you 
that I think you and I have always worked for principles in govern- 
ment above anything else i.e., the purposes and objectives. You 
and I also know from long public experience that time and again 
we cannot get just the men we would select to help us attain these 
principles and objectives. I am not speaking of Pennsylvania but 
I do know in New York that I have had to work through many 
people whom I did not like or even trust but I have worked with 
them and through them, in order to obtain the ultimate goal." 

That being the case, he concluded, in Pinchot's place he would 
have kept his hands out of the fight. After this exchange, the 
breach between the two men was complete, and a Progressive Re- 
publican-Democratic coalition was never achieved. 

In other states too, the President followed tactics of expediency. 
California posed a special problem. In that turbulent state Upton 
Sinclair, the old muckraker and long-time Socialist, had won the 
Democratic nomination for governor with the backing of hundreds 
of thousands of supporters of his End Poverty in California plan 
to enable California's jobless to produce for their needs in state- 
operated factories and farms. Sinclair's thumping primary victory 
over the old-time McAdoo-George Creel faction late in August 1934 
put the White House in a dither. Should Farley issue the usual 
routine congratulations to Democratic primary winners? What posi- 
tion should the President take? When Sinclair forced the issue by 
asking to see the President, Roosevelt decided to deal with the 
situation personally. 

Arriving in Hyde Park, Sinclair found Roosevelt at his most 
charming. The President told stories with gusto, listened sympa- 
thetically while Sinclair described his plan, and then intimated that 
he would himself come out for "production for use" in a few weeks. 
He even told the improbable story that his mother had read Sin- 
clair's The Jungle to him at breakfast and spoiled his appetite. 
Striking a liberal posture, he told the Calif ornian, "I cannot go any 
faster than the people will let me." 

Roosevelt thoroughly charmed Sinclair, but if he thought he 
had weakened the old radical's determination to wage an all-out 
campaign for EPIC, he mistook his man. By October California 
was witnessing the most bitter campaign in its history, and regular 
Democrats like Creel were deserting Sinclair in droves. Faced with 

President of All the People? 201 

this thorny situation, Roosevelt kept hands off. The President's 
instructions on Sinclair's candidacy, Early told Eleanor Roosevelt, 
were "(i) Say nothing and (2) Do nothing." 

Other administration officials did not follow this injunction. 
Comptroller of the Currency J. F. T. O'Connor returned to his 
native state to size up the situation and to try to induce Sinclair 
to withdraw in favor of the nominee of the Commonwealth and 
Progressive parties. Failing in this, O'Connor talked with Governor 
Frank F. Merriam, the Republican candidate for re-election. 
Whether or not an out-and-out deal was made, the upshot was 
that Merriam put out some pro-Roosevelt statements, the President 
never spoke out for either Sinclair or "production for use," and 
the Republican trounced the Democrat at the polls. 

Wisconsin presented another ticklish situation. For some time 
Roosevelt had maintained close political relations with Senator 
Robert La Follette, Jr., and other Progressive Republicans. In 
spring 1934 the La Follette Progressives broke away from the Re- 
publican party and established the Progressive party. La Follette 
had supported Roosevelt measures in the Senate, and the President 
hoped that he would be re-elected. Wisconsin Democrats felt dif- 
ferently. They had plans of their own, and hoped to exploit the 
split between Progressives and regular Republicans. To complicate 
matters further, Progressives in 1932 had combined with Democrats 
to elect A. G. Schmedeman the first Democratic governor in half 
a century. But now, in 1934, the Progressives had a gubernatorial 
candidate of their own in Philip F. La Follette, and Schmedeman 
was running for re-election. 

Worried Democrats in Wisconsin urged Roosevelt not to endorse 
Bob La Follette. Aroused Progressives demanded recognition for 
the "best New Dealer in the Senate." What would Roosevelt do? 
"My own personal hope is that they will find some way of sending 
Bob La Follette back here," Roosevelt told reporters off the record. 
"But I cannot compel the Democracy of Wisconsin to go ahead 
and nominate him." Lacking presidential direction, the Wisconsin 
Democracy put up a regular Democrat against Senator La Follette. 

Faced with this predicament, Roosevelt decided to take a biparti- 
san stand. Speaking at Green Bay, Wisconsin, early in August, he 
patted both Senator La Follette and Governor Schmedeman on the 
back and praised them for their co-operation. Election time brought 
happy results for Roosevelt, but not for the Wisconsin Democrats. 
Both La Follette brothers won over their Democratic foes, and the 
local Democracy continued as a weak opposition party lacking New 
Deal support either in Washington or at home. 

Minnesota combined still different hues in the splotchy pigmenta- 
tion of state-by-state politics. Here, too, a New Dealish third party- 


the Farmer Labor party was involved, and here, too, the Democrats 
were shot through with factionalism and dominated by patronage 
bosslets; but in Minnesota, one Democratic faction had been vir- 
tually an adjunct of the Farmer-Laborites. Who wore the Roosevelt 
mantle in Minnesota? By 1934 regular Democrats suspected that 
Roosevelt would recognize the Farmer-Laborite governor, Floyd B. 
Olson, and the Farmer-Laborite Senator, Henrik Shipstead, both 
candidates for re-election against regular Democrats. 

They suspected correctly. Roosevelt wrote in longhand to Farley: 
"In Minnesota hands off don't encourage opposition to Shipstead 
or Oleson [sic]/' Roosevelt himself was "in a quandary" about 
Minnesota, he told reporters. In the end both Farmer-Laborites 
won handsomely. 

In New Mexico, a childhood friend of Roosevelt, Senator Bron- 
son Cutting, was running for re-election as a progressive Republican. 
The President and Cutting had had a falling out over the bonus 
bill, and administration patronage had gone largely to the Demo- 
cratic organization. Cutting and his Democratic opponent, Dennis 
Chavez, fought a close race that went into the Senate as a disputed 
contest; flying back to New Mexico for some election affidavits, 
Cutting was killed in a plane crash. Roosevelt said later that he 
had told Cutting that he was willing to give Chavez a job to drop 
the fight, but Cutting had turned down the offer. Roosevelt had 
taken no further action except to tell reporters that Cutting was a 
'Very old boyfriend of mine" but Chavez was a pretty good con- 

"I am trying to get across the idea that if we have the right kind 
of people," Roosevelt had said to his press conference, "the party 
label does not mean so very much." Of course, he added amid a 
burst of laughter, that had to be kept off the record. 


The President's tactics paid off at the polls. One of the few per- 
missible generalizations about American politics had been that a 
President's party loses some strength during nonpresidential or off- 
year elections. Such was not the case in 1934. Democratic strength 
rose from 313 to 322 in the House and incredibly from 59 to 69 
in the Senate, and Democrats took over governorships in a number 
of states. 

"Some of our friends think the majority top heavy," Garner 
wrote the President, "but if properly handled, the House and 
Senate will be all right and I am sure you can arrange that." 

Certain results were especially satisfying to the President. Both 
Guffey and Earle won in Pennsylvania. Bob La Follette, Jr., swept 

President of All the Peoplef 203 

Wisconsin. Olson and Shipstead triumphed in Minnesota. Pittman 
won in Nevada, Wheeler in Montana, and a newcomer named 
Harry S. Truman in Missouri. Roosevelt was by no means disturbed 
by Sinclair's defeat in California. 

The outcome was a tribute not merely to Roosevelt's tactics in 
1934. It was a tribute much more to Roosevelt himself and to the 
New Deal, which in all its excitement and ambiguities he sym- 
bolized. As no President had since Theodore Roosevelt, he towered 
over his administration and his age. At a time when Americans 
wanted a man of action in the White House, he provided action or 
at least the appearance of action. At a time when they wanted con- 
fidence, he talked bravely, reassuringly about the future; whatever 
the mistakes, we were "Looking Forward/* we were "On Our Way," 
the titles of two books he put out in 1933 and 1934. At a time 
when Americans wanted good cheer, he filled the White House 
with laughter. 

Some leaders have the power to inspire intense love and devotion 
in the circle of friends and subordinates immediately around them, 
while appearing frigid and aloof to the millions out beyond. Other 
leaders possess just the reverse qualities. To a remarkable degree 
Roosevelt appealed both to his immediate circle and to the great 
public as well. "I have been as close to Franklin Roosevelt as a valet," 
said Louis Howe, no sentimentalist, as he lay slowly dying in a 
Washington hospital, "and he is still a hero to me." Even crusty, 
churlish Harold Ickes melted under the Rooseveltian charm. "The 
President is a fine companion . . ." he noted in his diary after a 
trip with Roosevelt. "He is highly intelligent, quick-witted, and he 
can both receive and give a good thrust. He has a wide range of 
interests and is exceedingly human." Watching the patients at 
Warm Springs swarming around Roosevelt's car, singing to him, 
laughing with him, treating him like a big jolly brother, Ickes said, 
"I have never had contact with a man who was loved as he is." 

But Roosevelt's ultimate strength was always his hold on the 
people. During his second year in office he maintained his popular- 
ity through timely action, unfailing cheerfulness in public and pri- 
vate, and a masterly grasp of public opinion. Millions sat by their 
radios to hear his warm, reassuring words; hundreds of thousands 
saw their radiant Chief Executive during his extensive trips 
throughout the country. These trips were tonic for the people; they 
were also tonic for Roosevelt. He believed that he could read peo- 
ple's feelings by their faces. Telling his Emergency Council after a 
Western trip the difference between the faces of 1932 and those of 
1934, he said: "You could tell what the difference was by standing 
on the end of the car and looking at the crowd. They were a 
hopeful people. They had courage written all over their faces. 



They looked cheerful. They knew they were 'up against it/ but 
they were going to see the thing through. . . ." 

It was not strange that a Chicago welder or an Atlanta housewife 
or a Waco filling station proprietor wrote the President letters of 
affection, told him of their hopes and worries and troubles. But 
it was notable that men who were themselves leaders turned to the 
President for direction and support. Late in 1934 Mclntyre informed 
his chief that publisher Roy Howard, who had been "carrying the 
flag for the New Deal/' had reached the point now where he would 
like to come in to get fresh information before he got off on the 
wrong tack through misunderstanding. Businessmen, labor chiefs, 
bankers, newspaper editors, farm leaders left the White House 
cheered, impressed, relieved. 

He needed people, too, and he reached out for them. A visiting 
professor like Harold Laski, the British Socialist, or a prominent 
businessman with ideas, or a traveler with an interesting report 
on a foreign land, or an elder statesman like Colonel House, or an 
observant politician in from the West any of these might expect 
an invitation to the White House. Mrs. Roosevelt continued to 
have "interesting" people in to tea, and Felix Frankfurter assidu- 
ously sent along men with fresh minds. Roosevelt exploited visitors 
as more introverted leaders might use books as sources of informa- 

In projecting his charm out to the masses, the President made full 

Aug. i, 1933, Jerry Boyle, Philadelphia Record 

President of All the People? 205 

use of the two great media o communication, press and radio. He 
continued to captivate the reporters in his press conferences with 
his joshing and fun-making, his swift repartee, his sense of the dra- 
matic, his use of first names and easy geniality. Again and again the 
press conferences erupted in bursts of laughter. 

But Roosevelt's most important link with the people was the 
"fireside chat." Read in cold newspaper print the next day, these 
talks seemed somewhat stilted and banal. Heard in the parlor, they 
were fresh, intimate, direct, moving. The radio chats were effective 
largely because Roosevelt threw himself into the role of a father 
talking with his great family. He made a conscious effort to visualize 
the people he was talking to. He forgot the microphone; as he 
talked, "his head would nod and his hands would move in simple, 
natural, comfortable gestures/' Miss Perkins noted. "His face would 
smile and light up as though he were actually sitting on the front 
porch or in the parlor with them." And his listeners would nod 
and smile and laugh with him. 

In his first two years in office Roosevelt achieved to a remarkable 
degree the exalted position of being President of all the people. 
Could it last? Could he keep a virtually united people behind him? 

He could not. Even during his first year there were subdued 
rumblings of discontent. In 1934 opposition was taking organized 
form, especially on the right. 

The opposition on the right was a mixture of many elements. It 
was compounded in part of a national reaction to certain elements 
of the New Deal: the reaction of nineteenth-century individualists 
to the collectivism of NRA and AAA; of believers in limited govern- 
ment to the leviathan that Roosevelt seemed to be erecting; of 
champions of thrift to government spending; of opponents of labor 
organization to politicians who admitted union leaders into high 
places in the new partnership; of fanatic believers in the sanctity of 
the gold standard. But there must have been a deeper, more perva- 
sive explanation for the hatred of Roosevelt on the part of people 
who in many cases had benefited from the New Deal. In the outcries 
of the anti-Roosevelt sections of business and industry was a sharp, 
querulous note betraying loss of status, class insecurity, lessened 

The President was remarkably sensitive to pinpricks from the 
right, especially from people in his own class. Writing to a Boston 
banker and Harvard classmate, he went out of his way to mention 
remarks that he had heard his friend had made, and concluded 
"because of what I felt to be a very old and real friendship these 
remarks hurt." Roosevelt's ire rose at reports of conversations about 
him in business circles. "I wish you could have heard the dinner- 


party conversations in some of the best houses in Newport/' he 
wrote to a business friend. He talked caustically to reporters about 
"prominent gentlemen" dining together in New York and criticiz- 
ing him. 

Ironically enough, Roosevelt made the same complaint against his 
critics that they directed against him. He said they were doctrin- 
aire, impractical. When his friend James P. Warburg broke with 
the New Deal because of its monetary policies, Roosevelt wrote 
Warburg that he had read the latter's book with great interest. He 
then urged Warburg to get a secondhand car, put on his oldest 
clothes, and make a tour of the country. "When you have returned, 
rewrite 'The Money Muddle' and I will guarantee that it will run 
into many more editions!" The President made much of the fact 
that conservatives were criticizing the New Deal without offering 
constructive alternatives. 

It was one thing to deal with malcontents off in New Yorkthe 
"speculators," as Roosevelt called some of them disdainfully, or 
"that crowd/' It was something else when opposition developed 
among his own advisers. His anger rose to white heat when Treasury 
Adviser O. W. M. Sprague, who he felt had offered no constructive 
advice toward recovery and who had evidently tried to call protest 
meetings against New Deal financial policies, resigned late in 1933. 
Scribbling on some scrap paper, the President wrote Sprague a 
scorching letter, in which he told him that he would have been 
dismissed from the government if he had not resigned, and that 
Sprague's actions had come close to the border line of disloyalty 
to the government. The letter was never sent, however. Other ad- 
visers resigned: Peek of the AAA, Douglas, Acheson. 

Roosevelt seemed almost relieved when the conservative opposi- 
tion coalesced and organized in the broad light of day. In August 
1934 the American Liberty League was chartered, dedicated to 
"teach the necessity of respect for the rights of persons and prop- 
erty/' the duty of government to protect initiative and enterprise, 
the right to earn and save and acquire property. Not only were 
there industrialists like the Du Ponts, automobile manufacturers 
like William S. Knudsen, oil men like J. Howard Pew, and mail- 
order house magnates like Sewell L. Avery among its members or 
spokesmen; there were also illustrious Democratic politicians such 
as Al Smith, Jouett Shouse, John W. Davis, and Bainbridge Colby. 
At a press conference the President said amiably that Shouse had 
been in and had pulled out of his pocket a couple of "Command 
ments" the need to protect property and to safeguard profits. What 
about other commandments? Roosevelt asked. What about loving 
your neighbor? He quoted a gentleman "with a rather ribald sense 


Aug. 11, 1934, Rollin Kirby, New York World-Telegram 


of humor" as saying that the League believed in two thingslove 
God and then forget your neighbor. 

"There is no mention made here in these two things/' the Presi- 
dent went on, "about the concern of the community, in other words 
the government, to try to make it possible for people who are willing 
to work, to find work to do. For people who want to keep them- 
selves from starvation, keep a roof over their heads, lead decent 
lives, have proper educational standards, those are the concerns 
of Government, besides these points, and another thing which isn't 
mentioned is the protection of the life and liberty of the individual 
against elements in the community which seek to enrich or advance 
themselves at the expense of their fellow citizens. They have just 
as much right to protection by government as anybody else. I don't 
believe any further comment is necessary after this, what would you 
call ita homily?" 

By the fall of 1934 Roosevelt's break with the Liberty League 
conservatives seemed irreparable. His own feelings were sharpening. 
He told Ickes that big business was bent on a deliberate policy of 
sabotaging the administration. When an ugly general strike broke 
out in San Francisco, he blamed "hotheaded" young labor leaders, 
but even more the conservatives who, he said, really wanted the 
strike. The President's thoughts must have been far from the grand 
concert of interests when, referring to his inaugural address, he told 
reporters, "I would now say that there is a greater thing that 
America needs to fear, and that is those who seek to instill fear 
into the American people." His hopes must have been far from a 
partnership of all the people when he wrote Garner, after a visit 
to the Hermitage in November 1934, "The more I learn about old 
Andy Jackson the more I love him." 

Such was the beginning of the rupture on the right. Much more 
momentous were the forces of unrest gathering on the left. 

THE SOWER, Jan. 4, 1934, Rollin Kirby* 
New York World-Telegram 

ELEVEN The Grapes of Wrath 


LJ'TUDENTS of his 

history have long observed the 
tendency of social movements to overflow their channels. Moderate 
reformers seize power from tired regimes and alter the traditional 
way of things, and then extremists wrest power from the moderates; 
a Robespierre succeeds a Danton; a Lenin succeeds a Kerensky. 
Often it is not actual suffering but the taste of better things that 
excites people to revolt. 

Such was the danger of the early years of the New Deal. The 
Hoover years had been a period of social statics; the Depression 
seemed to have frozen people into political as well as economic in- 
ertness. Then came the golden words of a new leader, the excitement 
of bread and circuses, the flush of returning prosperity. Better times 
led to higher expectations, and higher expectations in turn to dis- 
content as recovery faltered. America had been in a political slack 
water; now the tide was running strong toward new and dimly 
seen shores. 

Riding this swift-running tide were more radical leaders with new 
messages for America. Tliey sensed that millions wan ted .not, merely 
economic uplift but social salvation. They estimated correctly. In 
a time of vast change and ferment many .Americans yearned for 
leaders who could bring order out of chaos, who could regulate 
a seemingly hostile world. The New Deal benefits had not reached 
all these people, nor had even Roosevelt himself. Sharecroppers, 
old people, hired hands, young jobless college graduates, steel pud- 
dlers working three months a year, migratory farm laborers millions 
of these were hardly touched by NRA or AAA. Many of them, 
especially in rural areas, were beyond Roosevelt's reach; they had 
no radios to hear his voice, no newspapers to see his face; they 
belonged to no organized groups. 

Politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum, and in the ferment of 
the early 1930*5 these new leaders were busy breeding and capturing 
discontent. Their main technique was to offer simple, concrete 
solutions to people bored and confused by the complexities of the 
New Deal, and to do so by a direct, dramatic pitch. Their appeal 


was personal rather than formal, mystical rather than rational. 
With their mass demonstrations, flags, slogans, and panaceas, they 
unconsciously followed Hitler's advice to "burn into the little man's 
soul the proud conviction that though a little worm he is neverthe- 
less part of a great dragon." 

The high point in these currents of the great tide came in 1935. 
It was in this year that Roosevelt came face to face with the men 
who were turning against the administration and who were hoping 
to build new citadels of power from the ashes of the New Deal. 


On a hot June day early in Roosevelt's first term a young man with 
a snub nose, dimpled chin, and wavy hair, strode into the office of 
the President of the United States, He was Senator Huey P. Long 
of Louisiana, and he was in a huff. After a few pleasantries he went 
straight to the point. Huey P. Long, he proclaimed, had swung the 
nomination to Roosevelt at Chicago. And he had supported the 
administration's program. But what had Roosevelt done for him? 
Nothing. Patronage had gone to the Senator's enemies in Louisiana, 
and the President had kept on some of Huey's old enemies in the 

Perched on top of Long's red hair was a sailor straw hat with 
a bright-colored band, and there it stayed during the interview, 
except when the Senator whipped it off and tapped it against the 
President's knee to drive home his complaints. This open defiance 
of presidential amenities upset Farley, who was sitting by, and 
put Mclntyre, who was lurking by the door, into a teeth-clenching 
rage. But Roosevelt, leaning back in his chair, did not seem to mind 
a bit. The big smile on his face never left. He answered Long's 
arguments pleasantly but firmly. He took no blame for the past, 
made no promises for the future. 

After a few minutes the Senator admitted defeat. He took his hat 
off and kept it off; shortly afterward he made his departure. Out- 
side the White House he said to Farley: "What the hell is the use 
of coming down to see this fellow? I can't win any decision over 
him." It was the last meeting between Roosevelt and Long. Within 
a few months the Louisianian had started total war against the 

Long had emerged from a background almost the antithesis oi 
Roosevelt's. Winn Parish in northern Louisiana, where he had been 
born in a log cabin in 1893, was a land of scrawny cattle, harvests, 
and people, a spawning ground of political protest. Vocal and ener- 
getic from the start, Huey ran away at ten, tried his hand at auc- 

The Grapes of Wrath 


June 24, 1934, C. K. Berryman, 
Washington Star 


tioneering, helping in a printer's office, peddling books, selling 
a cooking compound and medicines for "women's sickness/' went 
through the three-year law course at Tulane in eight months, and 
got a special examination from a Louisiana court to enter the bar 
at twenty-one. He "came out of that courtroom running for office." 

Run for office he did and much more. Unlike most Louisiana 
politicians, Huey tried fresh techniques. He attacked the big cor- 
porations and seemed to mean it, he outfought the political old 
guard, and he came through on his promises of free schoolbooks, 
better roads and hospitals, more public works. He won the governor- 
ship in 1928 after a cyclonic campaign, stood off a move to impeach 
him, and crushed the opposition. His "theory of democracy" was 
simple. "A leader gets up a program and then he goes out and ex- 
plains it, patiently and more patiently, until they get it," he said. 
And if he wins office, "he don't tolerate no opposition from the 
old-gang politicians, the legislatures, the courts, the corporations or 
anybody." Huey didn't, and in a few years he made Louisiana his 

With his base increasingly secure, Huey roamed into wider fields. 
Elected Senator in 1930, he had found the perfect national forum. 
In the Senate, he thumped august senatorial backs, lambasted 
"Prince Franklin, Knight of the Nourmahal" [a yacht owned by 
Vincent Astor that Roosevelt occasionally used], "Lord Corn Wal- 
lace," "Chicago Chinch Bug" Ickes, accused Farley of profiteering, 
and turned the Senate Office Building into national headquarters 
for his Share-Our- Wealth movement. If the means were vague, the 
goals were definite and glowing: free homesteads and education, 
cheap food, veterans bonuses, a limitation of fortunes, a minimum 


annual income o two thousand dollars. Every man a king, and 
Huey the kingfish. 

Bragging that he would go to the White House in 1936, or at 
the latest in 1940, Long cast about for allies, and other leaders 
loomed as possible auxiliaries of the Louisianian. One of these was 
Father Coughlin, of Royal Oak, a Detroit suburb. A burly young 
man with a smooth face and a smoother tongue, Coughlin had had 
the wit late in the 'twenties to turn to his natural instrument, the 
radio. He had met with phenomenal success. One of his denuncia- 
tions of "Hoover prosperity" had brought a million letters; he 
averaged eighty thousand a week. When his 150 assistants opened 
the mail, money would tumble out up to half a million dollars 
a year, it was said. 

For a time Coughlin strongly supported Roosevelt. "The New 
Deal is Christ's Deal/' he proclaimed, and the two men had ex- 
changed friendly letters. When Coughlin solicited a naval appoint- 
ment for a priest in September 1934, the President interceded with 
the Navy Department. But Coughlin's program went far beyond 
Jg.posevelt>. He wanted currency inflation, a "living annual wage," 
nationalization of banking, currency, and national resources. His 
relations with Roosevelt suddenly turned cold in 1934, perhaps be- 
cause his leading backer was discovered by the administration to 
be a big operator in foreign exchange. The voice from the Shrine 
of the Little Flower, first low and solemn, then keening high and 
plaintive, was soon lumping Roosevelt with the "godless capitalists, 
the Jews, communists, international bankers, and plutocrats." 

Meanwhile a third figure loomed on the western horizon a lean, 
bespectacled oldster named Dr. Francis E. Townsend. A former 
city health officer, almost destitute himself, Townsend had absorbed 
some of the economic panaceas floating around California. He was 
brooding over the plight of himself and his generation when so 
the story went he looked out his bathroom window one morning 
and saw three old women rummaging in a garbage pail for scraps 
to eat. From that moment the old man's crusade was on. He came 
;up with a plan that to old people at least was spine-tingling in 
its sweep and simplicity. Everyone sixty or over would get a monthly 
pension of two hundred dollars provided and what a wonderful 
proviso it was that he spent his money within thirty days. Financed 
by a "transactions tax" the vast forced spending would invigorate 
the whole economy. 

The truth about Townsend soon blended inseparably with legend, 
but the context of the movement was clear. America's population 
was aging; the old rural family sheltering aunts and uncles and 
grandparents was declining; the self-sufficient community was dis- 
appearing. Etched deep on the faces of the old people who crowded 

The Grapes of Wrath 213 

around the doctor was the pitiless story of a generation: complicated 
machines that had thrown them out of factories, new routines that 
had eluded them, perhaps a long trek westward to the end of the 
line and finally the Great Depression, casually breaking several 
million old people on the economic wheel. 

The Townsend movement mushroomed with startling speed. In 
September 1933 seven months after Roosevelt's New Deal started 
the doctor sent his plan to a local newspaper; within a year a 
thousand or more Townsend clubs were organized. Another thou- 
sand or so were set up in early 1935. As the New Deal honeymoon 
waned the cause seemed to be gaining momentum. Striking deep 
roots in the subsoil of discontent, it had the indispensable material 
for a protest movement: a leader who symbolized the cause; a 
strongly religious twist to the appeal; a concrete program directly 
related to old people's needs and indigenous to the "American way 
of life," scorning radical and "unChristian" methods. 

Roosevelt's friends were alarmed by the burgeoning power of the 
agitators. Report after report came to the White House of huge 
mass meetings aroused by anti-Roosevelt speeches. There was talk, 
Colonel House warned the President, that Long could do to him 
what Theodore Roosevelt had done to Taft in 1912. Even Howe 
got worried after Dan Tobin of the teamsters union reported that 
members "decent and honest fellows" too were asking if they 
should form Share- Our- Wealth clubs. Stanley High, a White House 
assistant, returned from the West with gloomy reports in August 
1935. The Townsend movement was vital and fast-moving, he 
warned the White House; it was his guess that the biggest mistake 
in 1936 would be made by those who thought Townsend could be 
laughed off. 

Guesswork was one thing; factual reports something else. Alarmed 
by Long's activities, Farley asked the National Democratic Com- 
mittee's statistician, Emil Hurja, to make a secret poll of Long's 
national strength. Hurja's findings were disquieting. The Kingfish 
had drawn from the President sizable sections of his 1932 vote. 
Long's strength was not restricted to Louisiana and a few nearby 
states; he had surprising support across the nation enough, possibly, 
to tip the balance toward Republicans in 1936 elections. To make 
matters worse, he was openly threatening to "get" some of his foes 
in the Senate. This threat had a sharp edge to it. In 1932 Long had 
invaded Arkansas in a whirlwind, circus-like campaign to help 
Hattie Caraway succeed to her late husband's Senate seat "one 
poor little widow woman against six big-bellied bullies," he said 
and Hattie had won more votes than her six opponents combined. 

How would Roosevelt respond to the little foxes? He followed 


closely the activities of Long 8c Co., but he was not unduly alarmed. 
He seemed more concerned that the Republicans especially pro- 
gressive Republicans like La Follette and Nye might fish in trou- 
bled waters, resulting in both a progressive Republican ticket and 
a Long ticket in 1936. "There is no question that it is all a danger- 
ous situation/' the President wrote House, "but when it comes to 
Show-down these fellows cannot all lie in the same bed and will 
fight among themselves with almost absolute certainty/' 

Roosevelt quickly discerned a critical weakness of the protest 
movements: their timing. It was better, he wrote House, to have 
the "free side-show" in 1935 than the next year, when the main 
performance would start. When Ray Stannard Baker, Wilson's 
biographer, urged him in March 1935 to keep before the country 
a vision of high moral purpose, Roosevelt demurred. Public psy- 
chology, he said, "cannot, because of human weakness, be attuned 
for long periods of time to a constant repetition of the highest note 
in the scale." Wilson had stirred moral convictions, but he had 
lacked T.R/s power to arouse people to enthusiasm over specific 

"There is another thought which is involved in continuous lead- 
ership/' the President went on. People "tire of seeing the same 
name day after day in the important headlines of the papers, and 
the same voice night after night over the radio. For example, if 
since last November I had tried to keep up the pace of 1933 and 
1934, the inevitable histrionics of the new actors, Long and Cough- 
lin and Johnson, would have turned the eyes of the audience away 
from the main drama itself 1" But Roosevelt agreed that the time 
would come for a "new stimulation of united American action," 
and he would be ready. 

But that time was not yet. Roosevelt's way of dealing with rival 
leaders meanwhile was not to try to steal their ideological thunder, 
but to outmaneuver them in some close and tricky infighting. 

His attack against Long was of this order. Patronage was doled 
out to the enemies of the Kingfish in Louisiana, and his supporters 
holding non-civil service jobs were fired. Theodore Bilbo, a Missis- 
sippi politician who had been given a job by the administration, 
was assigned the task of warding off Long's forays against neighbor- 
ing senators. In August 1935, a ^ ter an administration friend had 
won a primary election in Mississippi, Bilbo wired Roosevelt that 
the first treatment had been administered "that madman Huey 
Long" and more would follow. "I am watching your smoke," 
Roosevelt answered enthusiastically. Federal agents roamed Louisi- 
ana checking the financial affairs of Long and his gang. 

Coughlin, too, felt the stiletto rather than the rapier. The last 
thing Roosevelt wanted was a head-on encounter with the priest; 

The Grapes of Wrath 215 

he was upset when cabinet members spoke up against Coughlin. 
The President preferred to work under cover against the priest 
through prominent Catholics such as Frank Murphy, ex-mayor of 
Detroit, and administration friends in the hierarchy and in Cath- 
olic laymen's organizations. An elaborate study was submitted to 
Roosevelt of Coughlin's broadcasting network, and Farley checked 
on postal receipts at the Royal Oak post office as a measure of the 
response to one of the priest's appeals for funds. The White House 
had a hopeful report from Cardinal O'Connell in Boston that the 
Father was to be called to Rome to head the American College 
there, but nothing came of this. 

If much of this maneuvering was ineffective, Roosevelt did not 
seem to be concerned. He could wait. To many of the inner circle 
during the early months of 1935, however, the administration 
seemed to be drifting and the President losing ground politically. 


On the labor front, too, the New Deal unleashed surging and dy- 
namic forces. Probably Roosevelt never fully understood these new 
forces or the new leaders they lifted to power. Certainly he had 
little conscious role in bringing about social and legislative changes 
that were to recast radically the structure of political power in the 

The Depression had sapped the morale and strength of organ- 
ized labor. Union membership, which had slowly fallen off during 
the igso's, sank deep after 1930 as workers lost jobs and as a huge 
reservoir of unemployed made the strike a feeble and often sui- 
cidal weapon. The more cautious union leaders tried to batten 
down the hatches as the industrial storms blew. Sporadic strikes of 
desperation swept bituminous coal and textile centers, but they 
were poorly organized and usually ebbed away amid shootings, 
arrests, terrorism, aimless destruction. By early March 1933 the 
relative strength of organized labor was about what it had been 
a quarter-century before. 

Quite unwittingly the new President acted as midwife in the re- 
birth of labor action. The Rooseveltian militance and exuberance 
of the Hundred Days aroused workers just as they aroused the rest 
of the population. But even more decisive was a little provision 
in the NRA act, Section ya, which provided that "employees shall 
have the right to organize and bargain collectively through repre- 
sentatives of their own choosing, and shall be free from the in- 
terference, restraint, or coercion of employers of labor, or their 
agents, in the designation of such representatives. . . ." Neither 
Roosevelt nor Miss Perkins had much to do with this provision. 


Framed mainly by congressmen and labor leaders, it was simply 
part of a bargain under which labor joined the NRA's great "con- 
cert of interests." Moreover, the provision opened up a Pandora's 
box of complexity and ambiguity; lawyers argued endlessly over 
its interpretation. 

But labor leaders made it simple enough, "To hell with the legal 
talk/' they told their organizers. PRESIDENT ROOSEVELT WANTS YOU 
TO JOIN THE UNION, proclaimed posters that John L. Lewis plas- 
tered by the thousands throughout the mining area. Unionism, 
labor organizers shouted, was now good Americanism. As business 
improved during 1933, workers flocked into unions into the United 
Mine Workers, into David Dubinsky's International Ladies Gar- 
ment Workers Union, into Sidney Hillman's Amalgamated Cloth- 
ing Workers, into the United Textile Workers Union, tens of thou- 
sands more into embryonic rubber, steel, auto, aluminum, cement, 
metal-mining unions. 

There was a virtual uprising of workers for union membership, 
incredulous AFL leaders reported. Workers held mass meetings and 
sent word they wanted to be organized. 

With growing unionism came a rash of strikes. Hackies in New 
York City, shipyard mechanics in New Jersey, aluminum workers 
in Pennsylvania, Milwaukee streetcar men, Butte copper miners, 
California fruit pickers, grocery clerks, newspapermen, furriers, 
teamsters, lumberjacks left their work. More workers struck in 
the summer of 1933 than in the whole period of 1930 and 1931. 
And the strike wave surged upward during 1934 and 1935. Sympto- 
matic of the general unrest was the longshoremen's strike on the 
West Coast which spread to milk-wagon drivers, carpenters, and 
other workers. So alarmed were Secretaries Hull and Cummings by 
this situation the President was on a cruise- that Miss Perkins 
found them gravely discussing whether or not this was a "general 
strike" as defined in an article in the Encyclopaedia Britannica. 

When the strikes inundated the NRA mediation machinery, 
Roosevelt established a National Labor Board under his old friend 
Senator Robert Wagner of New York. Successful at first, the board 
collapsed in the face of employer intransigence in late 1933 and 
early 1934. Wagner now saw the need for a permanent law outside 
the NRA structure, establishing legal sanction for collective bar- 
gaining through unions of workers' own choosing. With no help 
from the President, who in 1934 was still keeping his chips on the 
NRA partnership method, the New York Senator, Secretary of 
Labor Perkins, and a group of administration labor experts ham- 
mered out a bill that would give Section 7a force and precision. 
This bill ran head on into opposition from employers and the press 
and vacillation in the White House. Finally, Roosevelt backed a 

The Grapes of Wrath 217 

compromise resolution that went through Congress with bipartisan 
support and under which the President set up a temporary Na- 
tional Labor Relations Board. The new law was fuzzy on major 
points. Roosevelt still had no collective bargaining policy; he was 
still floundering from crisis to crisis. 

And more crises were building up. The events of 1933 and *934 
had released labor forces that were putting the old machinery of 
the labor movement under severe strain. Spunky young leaders 
were emerging in great industrial centers men who had left as- 
sembly lines only a few months back to form unions, lead strikes, 
organize picket lines, cope with bosses, scabs, cops, judges. Eager to 
organize the new millions, the AFL was still dominated by leaders 
of craft-type unions who had an old and tested way of recruiting 
members put them into "federal" unions, rigidly controlled by the 
AFL labor chiefs, and keep them in these recruiting stations until 
they could be parceled out, trade by trade and craft by craft, to the 
Blacksmiths, the Carpenters, the Electricians, the Pipe Fitters, the 
Sheet Metal Workers, and a score of other craft unions. 

Confronting giant, nationwide, integrated industrial empires like 
General Motors, United States Steel, Goodyear, and Du Pont, the 
grass-roots leaders saw that this slicing-up process meant disunity 
and weakness. Ready to back them up was a minority group of 
AFL leaders: Lewis, Murray, Hillman, Dubinsky, and a dozen 
others. What part craft versus industrial unionism, labor statesman- 
ship, personal ambition, and ancient grudges played in the ensu- 
ing infighting was obscured in the dust and clamor of battle, but 
the Federation was soon shaken to its foundations. In the fall of 
1935 Lewis and his followers set up the Committee for Industrial 

"Dear Sir and Brother," Lewis wrote Green on November 23, 
1935, "Effective this date I resign as vice-president of the American 
Federation of Labor." A new dimension was being added to the 
shape of American power. 

And where was Roosevelt in all this? His part was not much more 
than that of an onlooker. The fact was that internal politics of the 
unions did not interest him. The political implications of a vastly 
expanded labor movement solidly grounded in the millions of 
workers in the great mass-production industries seemed to escape 

And yet vital questions and possibilities were hidden in the com- 
plexities of government policy toward collective bargaining and in 
the skirmishes of union chiefs. They were questions and possibili- 
ties of economic and political power. Section 7a put the weight of 


government behind unions. The question now was the kind of 
union. Much depended on governmental policy concerning ques- 
tions like the nature of the bargaining unit, the method of election, 
craft versus industrial representation, the definition of company 
unions. When, for example, Roosevelt in March 1934 threw his 
influence behind a kind of proportional representation for auto 
workers, he weakened the solidarity and power of the workers 
against management. When labor officials backed company-wide 
unions and representation based on majority-rule elections, they 
were building up the power of mass industrial unions. 

Humdrum matters, but important. John L. Lewis was shrewd 
enough to understand the implications for the future. "Isn't it 
right/' he asked the 1935 convention of the AFL in his growling, 
thundering way, "that we should contribute something of our own 
strength, our own knowledge, our own influence toward those less 
fortunately situated? ... If we help them and they grow strong, 
in turn we will be the beneficiaries of their changed status and 
their strength. . . . And whereas today the craft unions may be 
able to stand upon their own feet, and like mighty oaks before the 
gale, defy the lightning, the day may come when this changed 
scheme of things and things are rapidly changing nowwhen these 
organizations will not be able to withstand the lightning and the 
gale." Lewis was calling for a deliberate policy of broadening the 
labor movement in order to deepen the economic strength of a 
labor coalition. 

If Roosevelt failed to see the potentialities of an enlarged labor 
movement for the political coalition behind the New Deal, the 
reason lay in part in his attitude toward labor. He looked on labor 
from the viewpoint of a patron and benefactor, not as a political 
leader building up the labor flank of future political armies. He 
was concerned about their wages, hours, and conditions; he saw 
them as people with concrete troubles. It is significant that when 
he talked with reporters about a visit auto workers had paid him, 
he said nothing about the union situation in this vital industry but 
quoted line by line his conversation with the men about their 
problem of making ten dollars a day but working only sixty-five 
days a year. 

The supreme test of Roosevelt's leadership in this area was his 
handling of the Wagner Act. This was the most radical legislation 
passed during the New Deal, in the sense that it altered funda- 
mentally the nation's politics by vesting massive economic and po- 
litical power in organized labor. Unlike much of Roosevelt's re- 
form and relief program, the act cut through the heart of existing 
labor-management relations. It had an. essential part in building 

The Grapes of Wrath 219 

powerful unions that in turn would furnish votes, money, and or- 
ganization to future liberal coalitions. 

Yet for months Roosevelt was cool to the Wagner bill; he threw 
his weight behind the measure only at the last moment, when it 
was due to pass anyway. He long showed a special indifference, 
even obtuseness, to the cardinal question of employee representa- 
tion. In May 1934 he told reporters with some irritation that the 
workers could choose as representatives whomever they wished in- 
cluding the Ahkoond of Swat, or the Royal Geographic Society, or 
a union, or the Crown Prince of Siam. He failed to see that the 
essence of the problem was whether or not workers could still be 
represented by company unions and by a variety of minority and 
craft spokesmen whose disunity would weaken the workers in deal- 
ing with employers and in forging a new political arm. 

When Wagner went ahead and introduced his National Labor 
Relations bill into Congress in February 1935, he not only got no 
help or encouragement from the President, but it was all he could 
do to stop Roosevelt from lining up with Senators Robinson and 
Harrison in the latter' s efforts to stall the bill to death. Questioned 
in press conferences, Roosevelt was invariably cool or evasive. Al- 
most singlehanded Wagner shaped political strategy, won grudging 
acceptance of the bill from the AFL old guard, fought the bill 
through the Senate against a hostile press and indifferent leader- 
ship. The bill passed the Senate, 63-15, on May 16, 1935. 

Eleven days later the Supreme Court invalidated the Recovery 
Act, including whatever legal support the act had given unioniza- 
tion. It might be logically supposed that it was this action, knock- 
ing the props from under the President's collective bargaining pol- 
icy, that forced him into Wagner's camp. But no; on May 24, three 
days before the court decision, Roosevelt came out for the bill. 
Why? The explanation lies largely in his simple, pragmatic reaction 
to the immediate situation. The bill's top-heavy majority in the 
Senate made House passage seem certain. By coming out for the 
bill Roosevelt could influence some important provisions still open, 
and he could wangle his way out of what might be called an ad- 
ministration defeat. He may have been influenced, too, by the fact 
that Chamber of Commerce leaders, who had been generally sym- 
pathetic to his program, openly broke with him early in May. The 
Supreme Court decision simply reinforced a decision already made. 

With typical Rooseveltian agility, he dropped his weight heavily 
on the scales, once he had decided to jump. By June the Wagner 
measure was a "must bill." Roosevelt helped push the bill over 
the hurdles in the House; he ignored the frantic entreaties of busi- 
nessmen to stop the measure. After the bill passed the House with- 
out a roll call, the President congratulated Chairman Connery of 


the House Labor Committee, adding, "It is a tremendous step 
In this curious way Roosevelt and labor first became partners. 


Roosevelt's sudden reversal on the Wagner Act was symptomatic of 
his policy-making during 1935. The first session of the Seventy- 
fourth Congress stands as one of the strangest examples of presi- 
dential leadership and congressional followership in modern times. 
That session had passed several mild New Deal measures and was 
apparently coming to an end when it suddenly showed a burst of 
energy and enacted, during the hot summer of 1935, some of the 
most significant measures of Roosevelt's first term. But if the Presi- 
dent's course seemed erratic, the explanation was clear. He was 
picking his way, step by step, among great pressures, now forced 
left and now right as he faced specific problems, always moving to- 
ward a goal that was fixed only generally in his mind. 

The President's State of the Union speech to Congress in Janu- 
ary 1935 k a( * given little foretaste of the stormy days ahead. Despite 
references to the need for more social justice, it was moderate in 
tone and called for a rather limited program. "We can, if we will," 
said the President, "make 1935 a genuine period of good feeling, 
sustained by a sense of purposeful progress/' He told the receptive 
legislators that he was ready to submit a broad security program, 
embracing natural resources, unemployment insurance, old-age in- 
surance, and better homes. He promised an extensive new program 
of public works and work relief. He mentioned briefly other needed 
measures such as extending the NRA and improving taxation 
"forms and methods." The New Deal, evidently, was to be clarified, 
improved, and consolidated, rather than extensively broadened. 

This attempt by the President to follow a wobbling way between 
the left and right threatened for months to mire his program in a 
legislative swamp. The via media still would not work. 

The huge work relief bill sharply etched the difficulties of the 
middle way. "The Federal Government must and shall quit this 
business of relief," the President told Congress. He was not will- 
ing that the vitality of the people should be further sapped by 
handing out cash or market baskets or by giving a few hours' work 
cutting grass or raking leaves. The most exciting thing about the 
bill was Roosevelt's request fol- $4,880,000,000 a sensational sum 
for peacetime but this sum was actually about halfway between 
the nine billions urged by progressives in the Senate and the small 
"dole" favored by some conservative legislators. Roosevelt also took 
the precaution of having the director of procurement, rather than 

The Grapes of Wrath 221 

the controversial figures Ickes and Hopkins (who would administer 
it), present the bill to the House Committee. 

Steered firmly by the House leaders, the bill went through the 
lower chamber with relative ease. In the Senate the story was dif- 
ferent. With unlimited debate at their disposal, groups on the right 
and left ripped into the bill. The goal of the conservatives was 
simple: to reduce the appropriation and turn the bill into poor 
relief. The labor bloc wished to expand the bill's coverage, but, 
above all, they hoped to write in a provision that labor would 
be given the prevailing wage paid by private employers in the area. 
This provision the President flatly opposed; he preferred a "se- 
curity wage" of perhaps fifty dollars a month, partly to spread re- 
lief farther, partly to appease private employers' fears of wage com- 
petition. Lining up first with the left and then with the right were 
inflationists, Senators mainly concerned with converting the pro- 
gram into a pork barrel that they could open up back home, and 
adventurers like Long. Muddying the waters further were Ickes and 
Hopkins as they enlisted legislators to back their own favorite pro- 

Joining in a policy of opportunism, these disparate groups pushed 
a prevailing wage amendment through by one vote. Roosevelt's re- 
sponse was to have the resolution temporarily killed by being sent 
back to committee. The President was finding his course hard go- 
ing. Ickes felt that he was dispirited, looking tired, and lacking his 
usual fighting vigor and buoyancy. In the Senate, Long was cock 
of the walk. While the White House tried to find a compromise 
on the prevailing wage, the Kingfish taunted: "I see by the news- 
papers that some votes are being switched on the prevailing wage 
amendment. I resent anyone calling on anybody for a trade without 
calling on me first. ... I might cut the price a little bit." He ram- 
bled on. "I am a dyed-in-the-wool party man. I do not know just 
what party I am in right now, but I am for the party." 

By compromising with the liberal-labor bloc the administration 
was finally able to stave off crippling amendments and push the 
bill through. Passage was due less to Roosevelt who was cruising 
on the Nourmahal during the latter stages and complaining that 
the Senate was a "headache" and the whole situation "too childish 
for grownups" than to administration leaders on the Hill and to 
the legislators' willingness to compromise on certain issues by leav- 
ing them to the President. Roosevelt had to accept some losses: 
most notably a provision requiring senatorial confirmation for em- 
ployees under the measure who earned more than $5,000 a year. 

By early April when the relief bill passed, Roosevelt had only 
this victory in three months. He had appealed to the Senate to 
ratify United States adherence to the World Court, but the effort 


had failed amid a deluge of hostile telegrams, many of them stirred 
up by Coughlin. His social security bill, which would commit the 
nation to a program of assisting the jobless and the poor through 
federal and state action, was floundering between the same forces 
that had almost ground the relief bill to death: the liberals were 
sorely disappointed by its limited coverage and by the reliance it 
put on state participation; the conservatives thought it went too 
far. A veterans' bonus bill had passed the House with more than 
enough votes to override the expected presidential veto. 

Never had Roosevelt been so squeezed among opposing political 
forces as during the spring of 1935. Spokesmen of the United States 
Chamber of Commerce sharply attacked the administration. Meet- 
ing with the President in mid-May, progressive senators La Follette, 
Wheeler, Norris, and Johnson, backed up by Ickes and Wallace, 
urged him to assert the leadership that the country, they said, was 
demanding. Roosevelt's old adviser Felix Frankfurter reported that 
Justice Louis Brandeis had sent word that it was the eleventh hour. 
La Follette reminded the President that Theodore Roosevelt had 
taken open issue with members of his own party. 

Roosevelt indicated to the progressives that he would take a 
firmer stand. But despite the pressure from left and right, and from 
the agitators of discontent, he was not yet ready to jettison the 
middle way. He was still pinning his hopes on an extension of 
NRA for two years. The NRA was not Little Orphan Annie, he 
told reporters, but "a very live young lady" and he expected the 
two-year extension to go through. 

Then, late in May, came the unanimous decision of the Supreme 
Court invalidating the NRA, mainly on the grounds that Congress 
had exercised power beyond the scope of the interstate commerce 
clause and had delegated too much of this power outside its own 
reach. It was a jolting blow to the heart of Roosevelt's middle way. 

For four days the President was silent, while the country waited 
expectantly. Then, on May 31, he gave his answer in a carefully 
staged performance. As the reporters trooped up to his desk, they 
saw an open copy of the high court's opinion on one side, and on 
the other a dozen or more telegrams. Eleanor Roosevelt was there, 
knitting on a blue sock. The President leaned back in his chair, 
lighted a cigarette, jestingly asked, as he so often did, whether the 
reporters had any news. Did he care to comment on the NRA? a 
reporter asked. 

"Well, Steve, if you insist. That's an awful thing to put up to a 
fellow at this hour of the morning just out of bed." But the Presi- 
dent was eager to talk. And talk he did, for almost an hour and a 

His monologue was not that of a liberal outraged by a tory court 

The Grapes of Wrath 223 

It was a long dissenting opinion by a man who had been following 
a moderate course helping and mediating among businessmen, 
workers, and farmers alike, and now to his surprise finds the props 
knocked from under him. One by one he quoted from the pile of 
telegrams. These "pathetic appeals/' as he called them, came not 
from unemployed workers or from desperate farmers but from busi- 
nessmendrugstore proprietors in Indiana, a candy seller in Massa- 
chusetts, a Georgia businessman, a large department store owner, a 
cigar store operator. Pushing the telegrams aside, the President 
paused dramatically. What were the implications of the decision? 
It simply made impossible national action, collective action, the 
great partnership. Clearly he was attacking the decision not because 
it was conservative or antilabor but because it thwarted action by 
the national government to help all groups, including business. 

Again and again the President insisted it was not a partisan 
issue. Where to go next? "Don't call it right or left; that is just 
first-year high school language, just about. It is not right or 
left. . . ." Then he slashed at the Court again. A "horse-and-buggy 
definition of interstate commerce/' And he let the reporters quote 
that phrase. 

FDR 'HORSE-AND-BUGGY DECISION' shouted next day from front 
pages across the nation. Most people took this remark figuratively 
as a New Dealer's attack on conservative judges. Actually Roosevelt 
was speaking literally he was dissenting with judges who thought 
that national problems could be solved by forty-eight separate 
states. Pressed by reporters as to how he would cope with the ef- 
fect of the decision, the President said, "We haven't got to thai 

Then began the second Hundred Days. 

Congress, which had been idling for weeks and had come to 2 
standstill after the court decision, was galvanized into action. 
Roosevelt threw himself into the legislative battle. No longer was 
he squeamish about putting the lash to congressional flanks. Now 
he was bluntly telling congressional leaders that certain bills must 
be passed. Administration contact men ranged amid the legislative 
rank and file, applying pressure. Late in the afternoon they would, 
report back to the President. When they mentioned a balking con- 
gressman, the big hand would move instantly to the telephone; in 
a few moments the President would have the congressman on the 
wire, coaxing him, commanding him, negotiating with him. To 
scores of others Roosevelt dictated one- or two-sentence chits ask- 
ing for action. He and his lieutenants, working late into the night, 
acting in close concert with friendly leaders on Capitol Hill, stayed 
one or two jumps ahead of the divided opposition. Congressmen 


complained, balked, dragged their heels, but in the end they acted. 

The Wagner Labor Relations Act went through with a rush be- 
fore the end of June, and the President signed it enthusiastically. 
The Social Security Act was passed, also by heavy majorities. Bank- 
ing and Tennessee Valley legislation were strengthened. The AAA 
was modified in an attempt to protect it against judicial veto. The 
holding company bill, which was designed to curb the power of 
giant utility holding companies over their operating subsidiaries, 
and which Roosevelt had been urging since January, went through 
under intensified administration pressure. And a controversial tax 
bill became law despite intense opposition from business and grum- 
bling among congressmen that the President was pushing them too 

Nothing better showed Roosevelt's sudden change of direction 
than the tax bill. He had said nothing about such a measure in his 
January message; his budget message had suggested that no new 
taxes would be needed. He had toyed with a "share-the-wealth" 
scheme of the Treasury's in February, but as late as May 22 he 
seemed to be sticking to his January position. Unexpectedly on 
June 19 the President asked Congress for an inheritance tax as well 
as the estate tax, gift taxes to balk evasion of the inheritance tax, 
stepped-up income taxes on "very great individual incomes," and 
a corporation income tax graduated according to the size of cor- 
porations, with a dividend tax to prevent evasion. Leaving Congress 
"tired, sick, and sore, and in confusion/' as one Senator said, the 
President then departed for the Yale-Harvard boat races. 

What had happened? Had the President turned left? 

Viewed in retrospect, Roosevelt's course seemed to many a sud- 
den and massive shift leftward, away from the via media of the 
first two years to a commanding position on the left. From such a 
view it was an easy step to the further assumption that Roosevelt 
had shifted left to meet the rising hurricanes among labor, farmers, 
Long, Coughlin, Townsend 8c Co. The trouble with this theory is 
that it does not fit the way Roosevelt actually behaved. His reaction 
to the hurricanes set off by agitators of discontent was to outma- 
neuver the leaders and to give way a bit to the blast, not to steal 
the ideological thunder of the left. He did not exploit the poten- 
tialities of encouraging and allying himself with the new millions 
of labor. 

What did happen was the convergence of a number of trends 
and episodes at a crucial point June iggsthat left Roosevelt in 
the posture of a radical. The Supreme Court demolished the main 
institutional apparatus of the middle way by invalidating NRA. 
In filling this void, Roosevelt salvaged ya (in the form of the 
Wagner Act) and other NRA provisions that had been concessions 

The Grapes of Wrath 225 

to the left. The Court's decision made impossible the resurrection 
o the code features that had been the NRA's attraction for certain 
business and industrial groups. The result of this situation was 
that merely carrying on prolabor elements of the NRA meant a 
leftward shift. 

This was one reason for Roosevelt's new posture; another was 
the practical effect of dealing with Congress. Following a middle 
way between the progressive and conservative factions had not been 
as easy in 1935 as it had been earlier. For one thing, Congress had 
shifted leftward in interest and ideology after the November 1934 
election. In the early months of 1935 Roosevelt's program had been 
bombarded from right and left, and narrowly escaped destruction. 
The exigencies of congressional politics pulled him to a more lib- 
eral program, and it was significant that his new position, har- 
monizing more smoothly with the majority in Congress on the left, 
resulted in an even more important array of measures than those of 
the first Hundred Days. 

But the main reason for the new posture was the cumulative 
impact of the attacks from the right. He had been following a mid- 

APPLYINC THE PRESSURE, May i, 1935, C. H. Sykes, Phila- 
delphia Public Ledger 


die way; "as he looked back on it all," recalled Moley, who was 
watching him closely during this period, "he was, like Clive, amazed 
at his own moderation/' The undercover attacks of business, the 
criticism that filled most of the press, the open desertion of big 
businessmen as symbolized in the Liberty League and smaller busi- 
nessmen as represented in the Chamber of Commerce, the drifting 
away of conservative advisers like Moley all these played their 
part. The desertion of the right, especially in the NRA decision, 
automatically helped shift Roosevelt to the left. 

The theory that Roosevelt executed a swing left for ideological 
reasons as a result only of the NRA decision runs hard up against 
other strands of Roosevelt's development. His program had always 
embraced liberal measures as well as orthodox ones. Social security 
had long been in the works Roosevelt in 1930 had been the first 
leading politician to advocate unemployment insurance and it was 
put off to 1935 mainly because of administrative and drafting dif- 
ficulties. The President urged the holding company bill throughout 
the session. He lined up for the Wagner Act before the NRA de- 
cision was announced. The speech he planned to give if the Su- 
preme Court ruled against the abrogation of the Gold Clause 
would, except for the Court's 5-4 majority for the government, have 
precipitated a grave constitutional crisis in February 1935. 

Roosevelt, in short, made no consciously planned, grandly exe- 
cuted deployment to the left. He was like the general of a guerrilla 
army whose columns, fighting blindly in the mountains through 
dense ravines and thickets, suddenly converge, half by plan and 
half by coincidence, and debouch into the plain below. 

That Roosevelt had made no final ideological commitment to 
the left was made clear in an exchange of letters between the Presi- 
dent and newspaper publisher Roy Howard shortly after Congress 
adjourned. Certain elements of business, Howard warned, had 
been growing more hostile to the administration, and considered 
the tax bill an attempt at revenge on business. They hoped for a 
breathing spell for industry, a recess from further experimentation. 
In a cordial response Roosevelt defended the tax measure and 
spoke for a "wise balance" in the economy. But, he added, the 
administration's basic program had now reached substantial com- 
pletion. The "breathing-spell" was here "very decidedly so." The 
zig had been followed by another zag. 

Possibly Roosevelt really meant what he wrote to Howard. But 
events have ways of committing leaders to new positions. The great 
legislative victories of 1935 had unloosed forces that were to carry 
Roosevelt further from the middle way toward partisanship and 
party leadership. The second Hundred Days pointed the way to- 
ward the triumph of 1936 and toward the defeats that lay beyond. 

TWELVE Thunder on the Right 



HE PRESIDENT himself seemed to take a 
breathing spell during the latter weeks of 1935. Exulting over the 
"grand and glorious" congressional session, he left Washington in 
September for a train trip across the country, with a stop for the 
politician's happy task of dedicating Boulder Dam. A "million 
eager people" had received him in Los Angeles, he wrote his 
mother. At San Diego he gave an address on the menacing clouds 
of "malice domestic and fierce foreign war," and again he sounded 
the theme of social co-operation and concord. Then, with Ickes and 
Hopkins in tow, he boarded the cruiser Houston for a leisurely 
cruise south through the Panama Canal, and north to Charleston. 

Telling long anecdotes, playing poker until late at night, mak- 
ing fun of Hopkins and Ickes, jubilantly landing huge sailfish, the 
President was in high spirits. He had time after his return for trips 
to Hyde Park and Warm Springs, and for some of the horseplay 
that he loved to indulge in with subordinates. When told that his 
genial military aide, "Pa" Watson, and Admiral Grayson were 
arguing jocularly over their exploits in a turkey shoot, Commander 
in Chief Roosevelt solemnly compiled formal charges and ruled 
that after being tied to trees one hundred paces apart, "each be 
armed with a bow and arrow, that each be blindfolded, that each 
be required to emit turkey calls, and that thereafter firing shall 
begin. . . ." 

It was a pleasant lull, but it could be no more than that. Events 
were marching on. In October 1935 Italy invaded Ethiopia, and in 
December Britain and France agreed to the dismemberment of 
Haile Selassie's beleaguered country. At home, lines were forming 
for the election year that lay ahead. Late in December Roosevelt 
told Moley he wanted a "fighting speech" for his annual message 
a keynote speech for 1936. Once again the President set the stage 
carefully. Over Republican protests he insisted on a joint session 
in the evening, when he could reach the widest radio audience. 

The atmosphere was heavy with partisan feeling on the night of 
January 3, 1936, when the President slowly made his way up the 


ramp to the House rostrum, carefully placed his pince-nez beside 
his manuscript, took a firm grip on the sides of the desk, and 
launched into his speech. 

He recalled, as usual, the dire days at home of March 1933, when 
he took office. But the world picture of that day had been an image 
of substantial peace. This image had lasted in the Americas. In 
the rest of the world "Ah, there is the rub." Were he to give an 
inaugural speech now, he could not limit his comments on world 
affairs to one paragraph. In Europe and Asia were growing ill will, 
aggressive tendencies, increasing armaments, shortening tempers. 
And what was the policy of the United States? 

"As a consistent part of a clear policy, the United States is fol- 
lowing a twofold neutrality toward any and all Nations which en- 
gage in wars that are not of immediate concern to the Americas. 
First, we decline to encourage the prosecution of war by permit- 
ting belligerents to obtain arms, ammunition or implements of war 
from the United States. Second, we seek to discourage the use by 
belligerent Nations of any and all American products calculated to 
facilitate the prosecution of a war in quantities over and above our 
normal exports of them in time of peace." 

Suddenly Roosevelt's voice seemed to take on a more vibrant, 
sonorous tone. His bipartisan state paper completed, he was now 
giving a campaign speech. Within our own borders, as in the world 
at large, he said, popular opinion was at war with a power-seeking 
minority. "In these latter years we have witnessed the domination 
of government by financial and industrial groups, numerically small 
but politically dominant. . . ." These groups, happily, did not 
speak the true sentiments of the "less articulate but more impor- 
tant elements that constitute real American business." Since 1933 
he and Congress had contended for and established a new rela- 
tionship between government and people. They had appealed from 
"the clamor of many private and selfish interests, yes, an appeal 
from the clamor of partisan interest, to the ideal of the public in- 
terest." Control of the federal government had been returned to 

Lowering his voice confidentially, rocking back and forth behind 
the rostrum, Roosevelt was now drawing blood. Cheers and rebel 
yells burst from the Democrats, while the little band of Republicans 
looked on sourly. 

"We have earned the hatred of entrenched greed." After abdi- 
cating in 1933, these groups were seeking "the restoration of their 
selfish power." Inexorably Roosevelt went on. "They steal the liv- 
ery of great national constitutional ideals to serve discredited spe- 
cial interests. As guardians and trustees for great groups of individ- 
ual stockholders they wrongfully seek to carry the property and in- 

Thunder on the Right 229 

terests entrusted to them into the arena of partisan politics. They 
seek this minority in business and industry to control and often 
do control and use for their own purposes legitimate and highly 
honored business associations; they engage in vast propaganda to 
spread fear and discord among the people they would 'gang up' 
against the people's liberties. 

"The principle that they would instill into government if they 
succeed in seizing power is well shown by the principles which 
many of them have instilled into their own affairs: autocracy to- 
ward labor, toward stockholders, toward consumers, toward public 
sentiment. . . ." 

Spiked with searing phrases, the speech was a far cry from the 
mellow, philosophical discourse of the year before. Partisan Demo- 
crats greeted it joyously as the kickoff for the presidential campaign. 
Republican congressmen, who had burst into derisive laughter 
when Roosevelt in closing referred to his speech as a message on 
the state of the union, called it a great stump speech but a dismal 
address for a chief of state. The Liberty League and other conserva- 
tive groups feverishly prepared replies. Radicals had a mixed reac- 
tion. They liked the bristling words, but where was Roosevelt's 
program? The President had proposed no new legislation. With 
millions out of jobs, with farmers still desperate, was he going to 
coast on the New Deal record? 

The answer came four days later. 


For months now, a heavy judicial hand had been smothering vital 
parts of the New Deal. Federal district judges had issued over one 
thousand injunctions restraining the government from carrying out 
acts of Congress. Corporation lawyers went shopping for the most 
helpful courts, and often they were rewarded both with the re- 
quested injunction and with a stump speech from the bench. 
"Usurpation," one judge had snorted about the NRA. By the be- 
ginning of 1936 appeals were piled up, awaiting action by the 
Supreme Court. 

Sitting loftily behind the immense mahogany bar in their magnifi- 
cent red-draped chamber, the nine old men of the Supreme Court 
seemed far above the reach of partisan politics. Never in all its 
history had the Court so faithfully met the popular stereotype of 
majestic judges enunciating almost divinely inspired law. In the 
exact center sat Chief Justice Hughes, with his chiseled features, 
white goatee, and bushy eyebrows. Flanking him were eight other 
elderly, dignified men, whose tenure stretched back over the dec- 
ade. One been appointed by President Taft, two by Wilson, 


the rest by Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover, none by Franklin D. 
Roosevelt. Their average age in 1936 was seventy-one. 

But if all was quiet in the High Court, it was, as Justice Holmes 
had once said, the quiet of a storm center. Behind the judicial 
masks there burned passionate convictions about politics and policy. 
Judges are human, and their decisions, in the words of a close 
student of the judiciary, are not brought by constitutional storks, 
but are born out of the travail of economic and social circumstances. 
Most of the justices had once been vote-seeking politicians; all of 
them had climbed to their judicial eminence through the push and 
jostle of the competitive world. 

Like a legislature, the Court had its right, its left, and its center. 
Lined up as a solid phalanx on the right were the learned Willis 
Van Devanter, an Old Guard Republican who had helped McKinley 
beat Bryan in 1896; the churlish James Clark McReynolds, succes- 
sively a Gold Democrat, Wilson's Attorney General, and now the 
most outspoken conservative on the Court; the bewhiskered George 
Sutherland, a Taft man in 1912, president of the American Bar 
Association in 1918, rewarded by Harding with a seat on the high 
bench in 1922 after he had failed of re-election to the Senate; and 
the tall, bulky Pierce Butler, an Irish Catholic railroad attorney 
and conservative Democrat appointed by Harding over the bitter 
protests of Senator Norris. The main tie binding these men was 
their common origin in or near the pioneer life of the frontier, their 
common belief in the ideology of laissez faire, individualism, and 
free competition. 

"Steady the boat," Chief Justice Taft had admonished the four 
shortly before he retired, and they were still steadying the boat. 

On the left was a remarkable trio. Most distinguished was the 
ascetic-looking Louis D. Brandeis, the famous "People's Advocate" 
whose appointment to the Court by Wilson had met the bitter op- 
position of Taft, Root, and five other ex-presidents of the American 
Bar Association. Harlan F. Stone, a granite-faced New Englander, 
had been dean of Columbia Law School and Coolidge's Attorney 
General before his fellow Amherst alumnus appointed him to the 
Court. White-thatched Cardozo had been a brilliant New York 
State judge and legal craftsman for many years before Hoover 
elevated him on Norris's and Borah's urgings. 

In the middle were the "swing men": Roberts and Chief Justice 
Hughes. At sixty-four the youngest member of the Court, Roberts 
had been a law professor, corporation lawyer, and Coolidge's pro- 
secutor of the oil cases, before Hoove* chose him for the Court in 
1930. First appointed to the Court by Taft, Hughes had resigned 
to campaign for President against Wilson in 1916; he served as 
Harding's and then Coolidge's Secretary of State and returned to 

Thunder on the Right 231 

the Court as Chief Justice in 1930. An old acquaintance of Roose- 
velt's, Hughes had a meticulous sense of constitutional checks and 
balances; although the President had written Cardozo that he 
hoped he could have at least in part the same type of "delightful" 
relations with the Supreme Court that he had had with the Court of 
Appeals in Albany, Hughes, aside from official functions, had care- 
fully kept his judicial distance from the White House. 

Teetering on these three- or four-way divisions, the Court had 
followed a mixed course in passing on the social and economic 
measures of the 1930*5. It had upheld state moratorium laws on 
mortgage foreclosures, state price-fixing legislation and milk con- 
trol laws. Five to four it had sustained the congressional resolution 
voiding gold payment requirements in private contracts, with Mc- 
Reynolds storming that the Constitution was "gone." Then in 
staccato blows in the spring of 1935 the Court had struck down the 
Railroad Retirement Act, the NRA, the Frazier-Lemke Farm Mort- 
gage Act. Most ominous for the New Deal was the solidity of the 
conservative four and the unpredictability of the swing men. Was 
Roberts perhaps even Hughes too now enlisted on the right for 
the duration? 

At precisely high noon on January 3, 1936, the Chief Justice 
parted the center curtains and he and his eight brethren suddenly 
appeared behind their chairs while the clerk intoned his "Oyez" 
and concluded, "May God save the United States." Slowly, precisely, 
hardly looking at the pages before him, Justice Roberts began the 
Court's opinion in U.S. v. Butler, involving the constitutionality of 
the Agricultural Adjustment Act. This case concerned no horny- 
handed farmer rebelling against bureaucratic controls from Wash- 
ington, but the refusal of receivers of a bankrupt New England 
textile company to pay processing taxes under the act Their coun- 
sel, conservative old ex-Senator George Wharton Pepper, attacking 
the constitutionality of the act, had concluded his argument with 
a plaintive plea that not in his time would "the land of the regi- 
mented" be accepted as a worthy substitute for "the land of the 

While the packed audience waited anxiously for some clue, 
Roberts' dry voice went interminably on. First he reviewed the 
old story of Hamilton's broad view versus Madison's narrow view 
of the power of Congress to tax for and spend for the general 
welfare. When Roberts plumped for the Hamiltonian view, the 
audience stirred with the thought that the AAA was safe. But no 
now Roberts was saying that the processing tax was not merely 
a tax but part of a plan. And what was the plan? By the AAA "the 
amount of the tax is appropriated to be expended only in payment 
under contracts whereby the parties bind themselves to regulation 


by the Federal Government." Congress was trying to buy a compli- 
ance it was powerless to command. The asserted power of choice 
was an illusion. 

Then Roberts conjured up a parade of imaginary horribles- 
things that Congress might regulate, such as shoes and education, 
if the claimed national power was sustained. This brought him to 
the heart of his real, though veiled, position. Although Roberts 
early in the case had said that the Court could not consider the 
merits of laws but could merely lay the Constitution beside the 
statute to see if the latter "squares with" the former this later came 
to be called the "slot machine" theory of judicial review Roberts 
went on to violate his own theory by questioning the whole idea 
of legislative power. He simply had no confidence in the capacity 
of Congress to act with self-restraint, or ultimately in the wisdom 
of the people who elected it. lie feared that Congress would be- 
come "a parliament of the whole people, subject to no restrictions 
save such as are self-imposed." And for this position Roberts had 
enlisted not only the "steady four" but Hughes as well. 

"A tortured construction of the Constitution," Stone declared in 
an indignant dissent for himself, Brandeis, and Cardozo. "Courts 
are not the only agency of government that must be assumed to 
have capacity to govern. Congress and the courts both unhappily 
may falter or be mistaken in the performance of their constitutional 
duty. But interpretation of our great charter of government which 
proceeds on any assumption that the responsibility for the preserva- 
tion of our institutions is the exclusive concern of any one of the 
three branches of government, or that it alone can save them from 
destruction is far more likely, in the long run, 'to obliterate the 
constituent members' of 'an indestructible union of indestructible 
states* than the frank recognition that language, even of a constitu- 
tion, may mean what it says: that the power to tax and spend in- 
cludes the power to relieve a nationwide economic maladjustment 
by conditional gifts of money." 

Stone reminded the Court of Holmes's famous injunction: "It 
must be remembered that legislators are the ultimate guardians 
of the liberties and welfare of the people in quite as great a degree 
as the courts." Perhaps the subtle barb struck home, but the "steady 
four" remained impassive. They had the votes. 

In the White House, Roosevelt was talking with Secretary of War 
Dern when a secretary came in with the bad news on a slip of 
paper and laid it before him. Eager reporters crowded around Dern 
afterward: How had the President reacted to the news? "He just 
held the sheet of paper in front of him," said Dern, "and smiled/' 
The smile was significant. To this decision Roosevelt would 

Thunder on the Right 23 $ 

enter no dissenting opinion, no "horse-and-buggy" remark. The 
situation had gone far beyond such talk. More than any other 
previous decision, Attorney General Robert H. Jackson later re- 
membered, the Butler case had turned the thoughts of men in the 
administration toward the impending necessity of a challenge to 
the Court. Roosevelt's smile was that of a fighter ready for the 
struggle ahead, perhaps too of a tactician watching his opponent 
overextend himself. 

"It is plain to see," wrote Ickes in his diary after a cabinet meet- 
ing later in the month, "from what the President said today and 
has said on other occasions, that he is not at all averse to the Su- 
preme Court declaring one New Deal statute after another uncon- 
stitutional. I think he believes that the Court will find itself pretty 
far out on a limb before it is through with it and that a real issue 
will be joined on which we can go to the country. For my part, I 
hope so." 

If such was Roosevelt's tactic, the Supreme Court walked straight 
into the trap. There was a lull when the TVA won validation of 
its right to sell power generated at Wilson Dam, with only Mc- 
Reynolds dissenting. But on May 18 the work of demolition was 
resumed. In Carter v. Carter Coal Co. Hughes sided with Roberts 
and the rightists in ruling invalid the labor provisions of the 
Bituminous Coal Conservation Act of 1936. A week later the Court 
in another 5-4 split voided the Municipal Bankruptcy Act on the 
ground that it infringed on the rights of states to deal with their 

The climax came on June i, 1936. With the national conventions 
only a few weeks off, the Court took a step that was bound to 
plunge it into the political turbulence of the year. By another 5-4 
decision it invalidated the New York minimum wage law and in 
effect those of other states as well. Probably more than any other 
action, concluded a historian of the Court, this decision "revealed 
the grim and fantastic determination of the narrow Court majority 
to preclude legislative intervention in economic and social affairs/' 
For all its fine words about the reserved powers of the states, the 
Court seemed to be as much against state New Deals as it was against 
the national one. In a ringing dissent Stone warned that a legisla- 
ture must have necessary economic powers or government would 
be rendered impotent. Privately Hughes was deeply troubled by 
the excesses of the "steady four." 

Roosevelt put his finger on the crucial consequence of the de- 
cision. The Court, he said, was creating a "no-man's-land" where 
neither state nor federal government could function. 

"How can you meet that situation?" a reporter asked. 


"I think that is about all there is to say on it," Roosevelt re- 
plied. The President would not tip his hand yet. 

Another result of the Court's actions was to make necessary a 
fuller legislative program than the President originally had planned. 
The Court's upset of the AAA left Congress floundering until 
Wallace and farm organization leaders worked out a method of 
crop control through an expansion of the Soil Conservation Act 
of 1935. After the AAA's derailing denied the government half 
a billion in processing taxes, the President, without consulting even 
the House Ways and Means Committee, sent specific instructions 
on a new tax program. Swallowing their pride, congressmen voted 
for those features most palatable in an election year a graduated 
tax on undivided profits and on all corporate income, and a " wind- 
fall" tax aimed at those processors who had profited as a result 
of the Butler decision. A legislative item left over from the second 
Hundred Days and from the vacuum created by the NRA overthrow 
was the Walsh-Healey bill regulating labor standards of firms re- 
ceiving government contracts. 

On other matters the President held the presidential reins over 
Congress rather loosely. A conspicuous example was the veterans' 
bonus bill. The year before, Roosevelt had vetoed the bill in a 
brilliant message that he had delivered orally to Congress, and 
Congress had sustained him by a hair. This year the congressmen 
were scrambling for their cyclone cellars, fearful of veterans' wrath 
in November. Recognizing their plight, Roosevelt forsook his 
valiant role of yesteryear and sent Congress a feeble note indicating 
that he had not changed his mind. Congress passed the bill over 
presidential veto. What was good election politics for the President 
was evidently not good election politics for congressmen. By this 
method of playing both ends against the middle, both the Presi- 
dent and his cohorts could live to fight another day. 

A final consequence of the judicial demolition was further to 
confirm Roosevelt in his leftward direction. After years of wobbling 
back and forth along a middle way, the President was now com- 
mitted to a militant if still somewhat ambiguous and limited pro- 
gressivism. And this development raised the whole question of 
Roosevelt's relationship to the American right. 


For months a vast bitterness against the President had been welling 
up from what Ickes later would call the grass roots of every country 
club in America. This bitterness varied in tone from the august de- 
nunciations of the Liberty League and the big business associations 
to the stories that went the rounds of club and bar. Some of these, 

Thunder on the Right 235 

touching on the President's egoism and compulsion to dominate, 
were genuinely funny, and no one laughed louder at them than 
did Roosevelt. Others were mean and smutty, told behind cupped 
hands in Pullman cars. Still others were simply fantastic, such as 
the widely circulated stories about maniacal laughter someone had 
heard from the President's study in the White House, about doctors 
wheeling away a limp, gabbling figure. 

Roosevelt could laugh at his right-wing foes. He roared at a 
story that George Earle brought him about four wealthy members 
of Philadelphia's exclusive Rittenhouse Club who were sitting in 
the library late in 1935 sipping drinks and damning the President 
and all his works. After a while one of them happened to turn on 
the mahogany-encased radio. Suddenly a well-known voice came out 
referring scornfully to criticisms of the New Deal by "gentlemen in 
well-warmed and well-stocked clubs." It was Roosevelt, making a 
speech in Atlanta. 

"My God!" exclaimed one of the men, according to Earle's story, 
"do you suppose that blankety blank could have overheard us?" 

But the President was also confused and hurt by the rancor from 
the right. He had not sought it. Had he not saved the capitalistic 
system? It was with political guile but also in real perplexity that 
later in the year he told his fable: 

"In the summer of 1933, a nice old gentleman wearing a silk hat 
fell off the end of a pier. He was unable to swim. A friend ran 
down the pier, dived overboard and pulled him out; but the silk 
hat floated off with the tide. After the old gentleman had been re- 
vived, he was effusive in his thanks. He praised his friend for saving 
his life. Today, three years later, the old gentleman is berating his 
friend because the silk hat was lost." 

What had happened? It has often been said that Roosevelt be- 
trayed his class, historian Richard Hofstadter has noted, "but if 
by his class one means the whole policy-making, power-wielding 
stratum, it would be just as true to say that his class betrayed him." 
If so, how can this be explained? 

The mystery deepens when Roosevelt is viewed less in his familiar 
posture as a liberal or progressive, and more as a conservative act- 
ing in the great British conservative tradition. That tradition has 
its cloudy and contradictory aspects, but certain of its elements have 
shown a tenacity and continuity down through the years. They 
are: the organic view of society, compelling a national and social 
responsibility that overrides immediate class or group interest; a 
belief in the unity of the past, the present, and the future, and 
hence in the responsibility of one generation to another; a sense 
of the unknowable, involving a respect for the limits of man's 
knowledge and for traditional forms of religious worship; a recog- 

"MOTHER, WILFRED WROTE A BAD WORD!", Dorothy McKay, reprinted from 
Esquire, November, 1938, copyright by Esquire, Inc., 1938 

Thunder on the Right 237 

nition of the importance of personal property as forming a founda- 
tion for stable human relationships; personal qualities of gentility, 
or gentlemanliness, that renounce vulgarity and conspicuous display 
and demand sensitivity to other persons' needs and expectations; 
and an understanding of the fact that while not all change is re- 
form, stability is not immobility. 

If such are some of the chief lineaments of an enduring conserv- 
atism, Roosevelt seems to have been a conservative by many tests. 

During his first two years in office Roosevelt could hardly have 
displayed more loyalty to the conservative belief in the need for 
an abiding devotion to some national or general interest that trans- 
cended party, or group, or sectional concerns. He called for a na- 
tional effort against economic crisis; he played down the role of 
party and partisanship. He proclaimed the need for a true concert 
of interests, and the NRA, as he visualized it, was simply the in- 
stitutionalization of that idea. He was leader of all the people, and 
he was perfectly willing to subordinate the interests of his class to 
his idea of the national interest at the same time that all other in- 
terests found an equal place in the national plan. 

A belief in the unity of past, present, and future? This central 
concept of Edmund Burke was a root principle in Roosevelt. It 
revealed itself in his absorbing concern for his ancestors, for Dutchess 
County history, for local customs and traditions; in his lifelong 
interest in tree farming; in his solicitous concern for the national 
heritage, however vaguely he conceived it, that was passing through 
one generation of Americans after another. Probably the most 
persistent interest he had in public policy involved conservation 
of natural and human resources. 

Roosevelt was a religious man "a very simple Christian," his 
wife once called him. He was christened in St. James Episcopal 
Church in Hyde Park, became a vestryman there in 1928, and later 
the senior warden, as his father had been before him. He liked 
the hymns and Psalms, the order and routine of the church. The 
intensity of his religious feeling is not easy to gauge; certainly there 
was a strong conventional element, and church attendance for him 
was at least as much a politically and symbolically important ritual 
as it was an opportunity for communion. He was unconcerned 
about religion as a philosophy, although toward the end of his life 
he became interested in Kierkegaard. 

A belief in personal property? Roosevelt, like most other leaders 
of property-hungry masses through American history, wanted not 
the suppression of property but its broader distribution. He be- 
lieved in the family-sized farm the farm that a man and his wife 
and his sons could live on. He believed in enabling workers to own 
their houses; he experimented long and hard with resettlement 


projects that gave people a chance to maintain their own houses 
and till their own plots. To Roosevelt there was a difference not in 
degree but in kind between this type of property owning and 
corporate ownership. A prudent householder himself, he handled 
his own property with affection and circumspection. 

Roosevelt was a gentleman in all but the prissy sense of the 
term. "He was decent; he was civilized; he was kind," Gunther 
wrote. He disdained coarseness or vulgarity; he never used more 
than the milder, more conventional forms of profanity; he avoided 
excessive show of feeling and expected other people to; he ex- 
pected people to have good manners; he hated the kind of ostenta- 
tion that he had seen in fashionable centers. His consummate 
ability to identify his own feelings with other people's was, of 
course, an essential part of his political technique. He had a con- 
tinuing sense of responsibility for the health and well-being of his 
staff and of other people around him. 

Roosevelt's attitude toward change cannot be so simply set forth. 
He had a love for innovation and experimentation in government 
that clashed with the conservative's repugnance for unnecessary 
change; at the same time, he had a curious instinct for fixity in his 
personal affairs, such as the arrangements in his bedroom and 
office; and his tenderness for Hyde Park rested in part on his sense 
that here was a point of stability in a relentlessly changing world. To 
the extent that he thought about the implications of governmental 
change, moreover, Roosevelt defended change as essential to hold- 
ing on to the values of lasting importance. For over a century con- 
servatives in Britain had been demonstrating, through such reforms 
as factory acts and social welfare services, that minor changes in 
institutions and laws were necessary to conserve enduring ends. And 
in this sense, too, Roosevelt was a conservative. 

The argument should not, of course, be overstated. Roosevelt was 
too much of an opportunist and pragmatist to be catalogued neatly 
under any doctrinal tradition, no matter how broad it might be. 
Moreover, he did not believe in such conservative ideas as the need 
for hierarchy in society, the natural inequality of man, and the 
pessimistic view of man and his potentialities. His mind, open to 
almost any idea and absolutely committed to almost none, wel- 
comed liberal and radical notions as well as conservative. But if 
any balance could be drawn, he was far closer to the conservative 
tradition than any other. He could say and did say with the great 
conservatives: "Reform if you would preserve." 

The question insistently asserts itself; Why if Roosevelt was 
in the broader sense a conservative, at least in his first two years 
in office did American "conservatives" forsake him? The answer 
is that the American right was not acting in a great conservative 

Thunder on the Right 239 

tradition, that it had little concern with enduring conservative 
values. True conservatism that of Burke, and of John Adams and 
some of the other Federalists was shouldered out of the way by 
moneyed groups that draped narrow interests in the finery of en- 
during principles. But the exclusive concern with temporary self- 
interest was there for all to see. The fact was that by the end of 
the igso's business conservatism was showing little understanding 
of its "stewardship" or preserving function. It had no standards, 
no traditions, no coherence only a grab bag of fetishes and stereo- 

The right had muffed its big chance. At a critical point in his 
first term the early months of 1935 Roosevelt still was balanced 
precariously between right and left. He was still sticking to his 
idea that he could represent overriding national interests, that he 
could be leader of all the people. New Deal reforms had been ac- 
cepted by most elements in the business community; even the con- 
tinuing unemployment and the rumblings from labor and Long 
Be Co. were not enough to push him leftward. Then business seemed 
to declare war on the President; the Chamber of Commerce lam- 
basted his program, the Supreme Court vetoed parts of it. In the 
second Hundred Days and in January 1936 business got its answer. 

Why did business declare war? Partly because some New Deal 
measures were bothersome and expensive. Taxes did go up, re- 
strictions did increase, labor did get "uppity," forms and question- 
naires did multiply. Yet business profits also mounted sharply 
during 1933 and 1934; as Roosevelt said, the old gentleman's life 
was saved, even if not his top hat. Mounting business opposition 
to Roosevelt cannot be explained in terms of reasoned self-interest 
alone. The explanation lies also in two other areas, ideological 
and psychological. 

The business community had become the prisoner of its own 
idea-system. The key concept in this system was the belief in laissez 
faire, in the idea that government should not interfere in man's 
social, and especially his economic, affairs. The generous liberalism 
of the nineteenth century was divested of its broader philosophical 
dimensions and squeezed into the cramped mold of a narrowed and 
restrictive economic orthodoxy. The individual, in reality a mysteri- 
ous, many-sided figure, was distorted into the ungainly creature of 
Economic Man. Forgetting that actual man interacts with the 
world about him in a multitude of different ways, forgetting, too, 
that governmental restraint is only one of many restraints upon 
him and often the least important, forgetting that broadened gov- 
ernmental functions in the economic and social realm do not neces- 
sarily contract but may enlarge individual freedom, the rugged in- 
dividualists preached that the way to free mankind was to remove 


the political controls from him. And they erected large signs around 
themselves, their workers, and their property, "Government, keep 

Nowhere had this central idea been more augustly or authorita- 
tively set forth than in the opinions of the Supreme Court of the 
United States. By an astonishing feat of legerdemain the justices 
had taken the Fourteenth Amendment, which had been adopted 
ostensibly to protect the newly freed Negroes against white retalia- 
tion, and converted it into a powerful means of protecting corpora- 
tions against governmental regulation. Some judicial opinions were 
essays on economic individualism that might have been lifted out 
of Adam Smith or even Herbert Spencer. It was no coincidence 
that the business revolt against Roosevelt coincided with the judicial 
revolt. The ''steady four" were merely reiterating on the bench the 
precepts that had guided their steps from the frontier through the 
struggles in business and politics to the legal pulpit that was the 
Court. And because much of American life, as Thorstein Veblen had 
shown, reflected the business philosophy so superbly enunciated by 
the judges, the business creed of economic individualism was also 
the creed of organized lawyers, organized doctors, newspaper and 
magazine publishers, and of large sections of religion and educa- 

Behind all this, however, were factors that lay far deeper in the 
human psyche than symbols and ideologies. The vehemence of the 
rightist revolt against Roosevelt can be explained only in terms 
of feelings of deprivation and insecurity on the part of the business 
community. Roosevelt had robbed them of something far more 
important than their cliches and their money he had sapped their 
self-esteem. The men who had been the economic lords of creation 
found themselves in a world where political leaders were masters 
of headlines, of applause, and of deference. Men who felt that they 
had shouldered the great tasks of building the economy of the whole 
nation found themselves saddled with responsibility for the Depres- 
sion. Men who had stood for Righteousness and Civic Virtue found 
themselves whipping boys for vote-cadging politicians. And govern- 
ment was ceaselessly becoming more and more dominant. "Business 
which bears the responsibility for the pay checks of private em- 
ployment has little voice in government," complained the Liberty 

Roosevelt had exploded one of the most popular myths in 
America, a perceptive Frenchman said to Joseph Kennedy. He had 
dissociated the concept of wealth from the concept of virtue. 

Only wounds rubbed raw by this psychological deprivation can 
explain the tortured protests of the businessmen of 1934 and 1935. 
When Lewis Douglas wrote the President late in 1934 that he hoped 

Thunder on the Right 241 

"most fervently" that Roosevelt would really try to balance the 
budget, and that on this hung not only Roosevelt's place in history 
but "conceivably the immediate fate of western civilization," he 
was not merely converting a governmental income-outgo balance 
sheet into an Eternal Principle; he was revealing his own deep 
psychological commitment to a business way of doing things. When 
Herbert Bayard Swope wrote Farley early in 1935 of a sense of 
fear that was beginning at the top, growing downward, and spread- 
ing as it grew in the form of misgiving about the President, he was 
reporting on an essentially irrational hatred of Roosevelt that had 
begun long before the second Hundred Days had given the business 
community some kind of rational basis for that hatred. 

And because the hatred on the right seemed so bitter and illogical, 
Roosevelt was tempted to respond in kind. The hardening opposi- 
tion of the press especially aroused him. In August 1935 the Presi- 
dent somehow got hold of a message from a Hearst executive to 
Hearst editors and to its news service: "The Chief instructs that 
the phrase Soak the Successful be used in all references to the Ad- 
ministration's tax program instead of the phrase Soak the Thrifty 
hitherto used, also he wants the words Raw Deal used instead of 
New Deal." Roosevelt was indignant. He even had a press release 
prepared"The President believes that it is only fair to the Ameri- 
can people to apprise them of certain information which has come 
to him. . . ." But more prudent counsels prevailed, and the release 
was not issued. The editorial lions roared louder and louder. Early 
in 1936 the Chicago Tribune was already running as its "platform" 
the slogan "Turn the rascals out," with the admonition "Only 201 
[or 101, or 17] days in which to save your country. What are you 
doing to save it?" 

Conservatism is betrayed when it becomes the private property* 
of a narrow economic or social minority. And the failure of the 
American right to rise above its concern with property, myth, and 
status and to follow a conservative creed in the great British and 
early American tradition powerfully influenced both the character 
of Roosevelt's leadership and the attitude of the left toward the 
New Deal. 


Violently waving his hands, twisting his mouth down into the 
familiar old near-snarl, Al Smith arraigned the New Deal before 
a cheering, guffawing crowd of Liberty Leaguers in Washington 
late in January 1936. Al's hair was silvered, his face was lined and 
hollowed, but the wisecracks were as biting as ever. The brain 
trusters, he shouted, had caught the Socialists in swimming and had 


run away with their clothes. The New Deal had fomented class 
warfare. It had carried out one Socialist plank after another. While 
a dozen Du Fonts, John W. Davis, Shouse, and Raskob applauded, 
Smith concluded on a dark note of Marxist threats to the American 


Roosevelt, who had directly challenged the Liberty League in his 
message to Congress earlier in the month, was not disturbed by 
Smith's threat to "take a walk." He had already written Smith off, 
and he left it to his lieutenants to parry the attack. Jumping into 
the fray, Ickes the next evening quoted Smith's answer to a Hoover 
charge of socialism in 1928; this cry, Al had said then, was always 
raised by powerful interests eager to stop progressive legislation. 
Senator Joseph Robinson, Smith's running mate in 1928, lashed 
the "Unhappy Warrior" for deserting his party. 

The most agonized reply came from no New Dealer but from 
a tall handsome Socialist leader with long patrician features and 
a vibrant voice. The New Deal was socialism? cried Norman Thomas 
over the radio a few days later. Emphatically not. Roosevelt had 
not carried out the Socialist platformexcept on a stretcher. One 
by one Thomas ticked off the New Deal reforms. The banks? Roose- 
velt had put them on their feet and turned them back to the bank- 
ers. Holding company legislation? True Socialists would nationalize 
holding companies, not try to break them up. Social security? The 
Roosevelt act was a weak imitation of a real program. The NRA? 
It was an elaborate scheme for stabilizing capitalism through as- 
sociations of industries that could regulate production in order to 
maintain profits. The AAA? Essentially a capitalist scheme to sub- 
sidize scarcity. TVA? State capitalism. CCC? Forced labor. 

Roosevelt's slogan was not the Socialist cry, "Workers of the 
world, unite/' Thomas proclaimed. Roosevelt's cry was "Workers 
and small stockholders unite, clean up Wall Street." And that cry 
was at least as old as Andrew Jackson. 

As a political maneuver, Thomas's speech was transparent. He 
was desperately trying to keep the rank and file from falling under 
Roosevelt's spell. The unions, though, were too busy with their im- 
mediate problems to pay much heed. The Wagner Act was helping 
them organize. The WPA and PWA were putting men to work. 
Even Socialist leaders were deserting to take jobs in government. 

But as ideological analysis, Thomas's answer was beyond dispute. 
If socialism had any coherent meaning, it meant the vesting of the 
ownership and control of capital, land, and industry in the whole 
community. With the exception of TVA, nothing important in the 
New Deal was of this description. The only plausible aspect to 
the Liberty League's equation of the New Deal and socialism was 

Thunder on the Right 243 

the Socialists' habit of advancing a host of immediate, "practical" 
reforms along with their basic program of socialization. 

Roosevelt, like major party leaders before him, had no com- 
punction about plucking popular planks from the Socialist party 
platform planks such as unemployment compensation and public 
housing. But he spurned the central concept of socialization. Even 
more, his aversion had been tested in the crucible; in 1933 he 
probably could have won congressional assent to the socialization 
of both banking and railroads, but he never tried. He wanted to 
reform capitalism, not destroy it. And in this sense he was a con- 
servative. It was precisely because the Socialists had a coherent 
economic and social doctrine rooted in a systematic philosophy 
that they recognized Roosevelt's true conservatism. It was precisely 
because the Liberty Leaguers lacked such a philosophy that they 
totally miscalculated Roosevelt's New Deal. 

And the Communists? During Roosevelt's first two years they 
denounced his program as a capitalist ruse, as fascism disguised 
in milk-and-water liberalism. "The 'New Deal' of Roosevelt," pro- 
claimed a party resolution in 1934, "is the aggressive effort of the 
bankers and trusts to find a way out of the crisis at the expense of 
the millions of toilers. Under cover of the most shameless demagogy, 
Roosevelt and the capitalists carry through drastic attacks upon the 
living standards of the masses, increased terrorism against the 
Negro masses, increased political aggression and systematic denial 
of existing civil rights. . . ." 

Then came a flip-flop. Shaken by Hitler's looming power Moscow 
put aside revolutionary tactics and called for a popular front of 
Socialists and bourgeoisie against the Fascists. Obediently the Ameri- 
can Communists wheeled around a i8o-degree turn. Roosevelt now 
must be supported as a leader of anti-Fascist forces. The reversal 
was useful to the Communists, for popular-front tactics helped them 
to infiltrate the burgeoning trade unions and other progressive 
groups. But it was an acceptance of Roosevelt on opportunistic, not 
doctrinal, grounds. 

The antagonism of the independent left to the New Deal was 
equally sharp. In the spring of 1935 Hey wood Broun called Roose- 
velt labor's Public Enemy No. i. The chubby, unkempt columnist 
poked fun at the labor leaders who invaded the White House, 
were charmed by Roosevelt into a happy trance, and woke up, 
Broun said, with something like the automobile code. The myth 
of Roosevelt as a crusading radical was as empty as the masterful 
politician myth, wrote the Nation's Washington correspondent. 
Roosevelt was a nonintellectual a man who lived and thought on 
the skin of things. 

Even the more drastic legislation of the second Hundred Days 


seemed to make no difference to the left. The Social Security Act 
was weak, genuine public works had gone by the board, the Wagner 
Act had been forced on the President. Even Roosevelt's fighting 
speech of January 1936 left them cold; it was empty of concrete 
proposals. Perhaps the radicals were still bemused by the picture 
they had created of Roosevelt as the "gay reformer/' lacking doctrine 
and direction; more likely they saw the rejuvenated New Deal of 
1935 as merely a stepped-up program of moderate reform. If in 
the end many radicals voted for the President, it was not because 
they loved Roosevelt more but because they loved the Republicans 

"Governor," said an old friend to Roosevelt during the second 
Hundred Days, "did you see this morning's Times? You don't have 
a thing to worry about. The Communist Party has decided to pat 
you on the head." The President roared. Nothing could have amused 
him more than this kind of leftist support. 

When Roosevelt expressed amazement that people could call 
him a radical, he was mainly play acting. As a politician, he knew 
perfectly well that this cry was an old, if somewhat soiled, practice 
in American politics. Yet there was an element of genuine in- 
credulity in his reaction. He knew he had been taking some kind 
of middle road; more important, the hostility he felt toward Marxist 
doctrines, whether socialist or communist, made the charges seem 
ridiculous to him. This hostility was not merely ideological. It was 
psychological in the sense that Roosevelt distrusted the kind of 
doctrinaire and systematic thinking that was implicit in intellectual 

Roosevelt, in fact, was an eminently "practical" man. He had no 
over-all plans to remake America but a host of projects to improve 
this or that situation. He was a creative thinker in a "gadget" 
sense: immediate steps to solve specific day-to-day problems. He 
had ideas such as the tree shelter belt in the drought areas; trans- 
continental through-highways with networks of feeder roads; huge 
dams and irrigation systems; resettlement projects for tenant farm- 
ers; civilian conservation work in the woods; a chain of small 
hospitals across the country; rural electrification; regional develop- 
ment; bridges and houses and parks. Not surprisingly, virtually all 
these ideas involved building tangible things. What excited Roose- 
velt was not grand economic or political theory but concrete achieve- 
ments that people could touch and see and use. 

But all this was little known to the American people in 1935 and 
1936. By some incredible process of inversion, the popular press 
of the day painted a picture of Roosevelt as thinker that was utterly 
false. Cartoons showed him as a bemused dreamer, attired in cap 

Thunder on the Right 245 

and gown and attended by crackpot professors, following wild in- 
tellectual theories. Business magazines drubbed him for his "im- 
practical" theories. It was incredible that in a country where news- 
papers and magazines devoted oceans of ink and forests of pulp 
to covering the White House, there emerged a totally reversed 
image of the presidential mentality. 

Actually the shoe was on the other foot. It was not Roosevelt 
who was the impractical theorist but the businessmen themselves. 
In turning every question of statecraft into a question of Eternal 
Principle, they followed precisely the course that Roosevelt re- 

Roosevelt saw this. He was no little exasperated with the tendency 
of his business friends to take refuge in abstractions. Again and 
again he chided them for their failure to address themselves to 
specific issues. When the dean of the Harvard Business School criti- 
cized the President in the New York Sun, Roosevelt wrote a friend 
sadly that he had talked with the dean for an hour once: "I put 
several problems up to him and he had not one single concrete 
answer to any of them." In a long correspondence with Fred Kent, 
an economist and banker, Roosevelt took a particular delight in 
ignoring Kent's generalizations and asking for specific suggestions 
on specific problems. 

Nowhere was the contrast between the practical Roosevelt and the 
doctrinaire businessman better etched than in his friendly argu- 
ments with a big New York realtor. If the federal government did 
not provide five dollars a room for housing, Roosevelt asked this 
businessman, could private builders take care of families earning 
under a thousand dollars a year? "Housing is particularly and al- 
ways has been a private matter and absolutely local," the realtor 
replied. "There is nothing whatever in the Constitution or our 
scheme of government authorizing or indicating any Federal in- 
terest in the housing question." He feared that the government 
was starting on a voyage which "I frankly must call communistic 
or socialistic." 

"What are we going to do with them?" Roosevelt answered. "Are 
we going to compel them to live under slum conditions? . . . Has 
society as a whole no obligation to these people? Or is society as a 
whole going to say we are licked by this problem?" 

He noted that the realtor had quoted Lincoln. Another President 
Cleveland had said, "We are faced with a condition and not a 
theory." Roosevelt ended: "I wish you would give me a solution." 

The President struck the same note in a press conference with 
editors of trade papers early in 1936. Referring to industrial leaders, 
he said that he was waiting for them to come and give some kind 
of answer. But instead of doing that, they were going around the 


country saying "We have to have a balanced budget. We have to 
have a balanced budget." 

The President plainly wanted to answer Douglas and all the 
other impractical men who were chanting this account-book liturgy. 

"A balanced budget isn't putting people to work. I will balance 
the budget as soon as I take care of the unemployed. In other words, 
I am not being helped. 

"Hell, I can stop relief tomorrow. What happens? Tell me that! 
You know. I don't mean, by that, the policy of the owner of your 
paper. You know, as human beings, what happens if I stop relief 
tomorrow. It isn't any joke." 

A day or two after Al Smith's biting assault on the New Deal 
before the Liberty League, Roosevelt asked an aide to dig up a 
quotation from Lincoln that the President vaguely remembered. 
The passage was soon on his desk: 

"I do the very best I know how the very best I can; and I mean 
to keep on doing so until the end. If the end brings me out all 
right, what is said against me won't amount to anything. If the end 
brings me out wrong, 10,000 angels swearing I was right would 
make no difference." 

THIRTEEN Foreign Policy by Makeshift 

OOSEVELT'S practical, day-to-day approach to 
government was even more pronounced in foreign policy making 
than in domestic. It was not surprising. He had burned his fingers 
in the election campaign of 1920 in which he and Cox had fought 
for adherence to the League of Nations and to the principle of 
collective security. Candidate Roosevelt's ditching of the League in 
1932 showed how far he would compromise with previous principles 
to realize immediate goals. 

But even after Roosevelt was safely in office he cautiously skirted 
foreign policy shoals on which he feared his political popularity 
and his domestic program might be wrecked. His treatment of the 
London Economic Conference, his nationalist economic policies 
during 1933, his continuation of the Hoover policies on the League 
and on war debts seemed on their face a planned and consistent 
retreat from the internationalist tendencies of the Democratic party 
of Wilson and Cox. But they were not. For alongside these policies 
he fashioned measures of international co-operation that enabled 
him to veer back and forth between isolationism and internation- 
alism as political conditions required. 

The political climate and terrain in which the President acted 
did not make a foreign policy of principle any easier. To be sure, 
the framers of the Constitution a century and a half before had 
wisely given the chief executive a good deal of initiative and power 
in foreign policy making. But disapproval of treaties had been left 
in the hands of one-third plus one of the senators, and most inter- 
national projects called for funds that could be denied by a majority 
of legislators in either House, or by a stubborn committee. Even 
in the executive branch he headed the President faced centrifugal 
forces: the cliquishness of Foreign Service officers; the narrow class 
loyalties of some of the "striped pants" set; the tangle of bureau- 
cratic rivalries; and curious tie-ins between careerists in the ugly 
old building that housed the State Department and powerful con- 
gressmen on Capitol Hill. A host of politicians had their fingers in 
the foreign policy pie. 


Outside Washington were the millions of voters who held the 
destinies of foreign policy makers in their hands. And here was 
the most unstable foundation of all on which to build a consistent 
program of foreign relations. Great numbers of these voters were 
colossally ignorant of affairs beyond the three-mile limit; as the 
old story went, they were more concerned about a dogfight in Main 
Street than a flare-up in distant Ruritania. Others were rigidly 
bound by loyalties absorbed in the countries of their national 
origin. Still others were prisoners of ancient fears and shibboleths: 
that wily foreign diplomats always played Uncle Sam for a sucker, 
that America had never lost a war and never won a peace confer- 
ence, that salvation lay in keeping free of entangling alliances. 

Yet all this was only one dimension in which Roosevelt had to 
shape foreign policies. For these policies by definition were in- 
fluenced in turn by the political climate in foreign lands. The 
character of the Nazi ideology, the balance of power in the French 
Chamber of Deputies, the foreign policy attitudes of British labor, 
the silent struggle within the Kremlin, the fortunes of Chinese 
war lords, were all elements in the equation of world power. Read- 
ing long letters from his ambassadors, lunching with foreign envoys, 
quizzing his unofficial agents who had just seen MacDonald or 
Goering or Mussolini, leafing through lengthy studies by State De- 
partment economists, Roosevelt had to make judgments day after 
day on mighty imponderables imperfectly understood. 

Even worse, all these forces were in ceaseless motion. An assassina- 
tion in Japan, an election in France, a palace revolt in South 
America, a crucial cabinet session in Downing Street, the rising 
misery of Asiatic millions, the vast fermenting and steaming of 
distant ideologies any of these could jar the unstable equilibrium 
of world politics. The United States was no exception. Not only 
was its politics plagued by the usual unpredictabilities, but the 
American people, lacking stable attitudes built on long experience 
in foreign policy making, swung fitfully from one foreign policy 
mood to another, from isolation to neutralism to participation in 
world politics. 

No wonder that Roosevelt moved warily on the darkling plain 
of foreign policy. No wonder that he wrote a friend early in 1934, 
"In the present European situation I feel very much as if I were 
groping for a door in a blank wall The situation may get better 
and enable us to give some leadership." But what if the situation 
grew worse, and leadership all the more imperative? 

Foreign Policy by Makeshift 249 


Lacking a general principle by which to make foreign policy, Roose- 
velt improvised from one situation to another. The result was a 
jumble of separate and somewhat clashing policies. The President 
ranged back and forth from the old political internationalism of 
the Democratic party to the economic nationalism implicit in the 
New Deal, from the anti-imperialism of the Bryan Democrats to 
traditional power politics. 

In veering from one policy to another Roosevelt was less con- 
cerned with fitting his policy into a larger framework than with 
overcoming immediate problems. In a sense he followed a middle 
way in foreign policy as he did in domestic. Yet again his middle 
way was no straight line between two ordered philosophies, but 
only a kind of geometric median across which Roosevelt tacked 
from one policy to another. 

The gnawing problem of war debts hung on through the first 
term. Roosevelt departed little from the Hoover policies. Congress 
had forbidden the Executive to reduce or cancel the debts, and he 
made no attempt to alter this stand; but he knew too that full pay- 
ment was impossible. In this impasse the President explored a 
variety of schemes, shifting figures around on scratch paper. All 
this came to naught, and Congress grew more and more testy as 
the nations sent token payments or no payments at all. The upshot 
was passage in 1934 of a bill of the belligerent old isolationist 
Hiram Johnson that forbade the floating of loans in this country 
by defaulting nations. Over objections from the State and Treasury 
departments Roosevelt, in a concession to congressional isolationists, 
signed the measure into law. 

Disarmament was a sterner test of United States harmony with 
its old allies. The World Disarmament Conference at Geneva had 
been deadlocked for almost a year when Roosevelt took office, and 
Hitler's seizure of power made prospects seem even more dismal. 
In May 1933 the President sent a personal appeal to the heads of 
fifty-four nations asking that they enter a nonaggression pact, elimi- 
nate offensive weapons, and sharply curb arms and armies. A few 
days later Roosevelt and Hull authorized Norman Davis, chairman 
of the United States delegation at Geneva, to go much further. 
If arms could be reduced, he announced, Washington would be 
willing not only to consult with other nations but to refrain from 
any action tending to defeat a collective effort against a nation 
breaching the peace, if we agreed with the rightness of that effort. 

If this bald announcement represented a trial balloon, it was 
quickly shot down by salvos from more than one quarter, Germany 


was already readying orders for aircraft, and its factories were pour- 
ing out chemicals, steel, and small arms. France, fearful as ever of 
German revanche, was holding out for special guarantees. And in 
the ornate old room on Capitol Hill where met the Senate Com- 
mittee on Foreign Relations, potent senators opposed this gesture 
toward internationalism. The disarmament conference was soon 
deadlocked again. 

In October Hitler announced Germany's withdrawal from both 
the conference and the League. The greatest arms race in history 

was on. 

The collapse of the conference pushed Roosevelt and Hull back 
into a new emphasis on naval disarmament. Japan was demanding 
naval parity, and Roosevelt sought to join with the British in a 
common stand against the looming threat in the Orient. But the 
British, more concerned about German than Japanese rearmament, 
were not easy to work with. In November 1934 an angry Roosevelt 
told Davis that he must constantly impress Sir John Simon, British 
foreign secretary, "and a few other Tories" with the "simple fact 
that if Great Britain is even suspected of preferring to play with 
Japan to playing with us, we shall be compelled, in the interest 
of American security, to approach public sentiment in Canada, 
Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa in a definite effort to 
make these Dominions understand clearly that their future security 
is linked with us in the United States." He added that Davis would 
"best know how to inject this thought into the minds of Simon, 
Chamberlain, Baldwin, and MacDonald in the most diplomatic 

Here was an astonishing move-a threat in effect to detach the 
sympathies of the dominions from the mother country, and to es- 
tablish with them an anti-Japanese alignment with the United 
States as the center stone. The effort came to naught; a week later 
Hull was instructing Davis on the need for an early, open, and 
conclusive indication of American and British alignment on naval 
limitation. Roosevelt's threat was significant, however, in showing 
how the hard steel of power politics showed through the velvet of 
diplomatic relations even between two friendly nations. 

As for American participation in international organizations, 
Roosevelt continued to play a most cautious game. Speaking to 
the Woodrow Wilson Foundation shortly after Christmas 1933, he 
paid tribute to the League as a common meeting place for inter- 
national discussion, as a means of settling disputes, and as an aid 
in labor, health, and other matters. The United States was co- 
operating openly in using its machinery. But, he continued, "we are 
not members and we do not contemplate membership." At one 
time he thought of appointing an American ambassador to the 

Foreign Policy by Makeshift 251 

League, but he feared the reaction of the isolationists. And he was 
cautious even on technical co-operation. When Phillips told him 
that the Department of Agriculture wanted to have a representative 
on a committee of League experts on the international meat trade, 
Roosevelt replied: "What would be the effect of this? Is it perhaps 
going too far toward official membership in a direct official com- 
mittee of the League itself?" 

Of a milder political coloration than the League were two other 
world agencies: the International Labor Organization and the 
Permanent Court of International Justice. It was on Miss Perkins' 
initiative that the Senate and House passed by simple majority 
vote a joint resolution authorizing membership in the ILO. Roose- 
velt had said to her, "I may be President of the United States, I 
may be in favor of the ILO, but I can't do it alone." The result 
was that Miss Perkins did it alone. On Roosevelt's advice and with 
his blessing but with no other help from him she trudged from 
Pittman to Johnson to Borah explaining that the ILO had existed 
before the League, was not part of it, and no loss of sovereignty 
was involved. After thus patiently lining up virtually every member 
of the Foreign Relations Committee, she got the resolution through. 

Joining the World Court also seemed politically feasible. Both 
party platforms in 1932 had called for adherence to the watered- 
down protocols that safeguarded United States sovereignty. Largely 
on Hull's initiative, Roosevelt decided to push ratification at the 
beginning of the 1935 session. Trouble loomed from the start. 
Roosevelt's cabinet was divided, and Chairman Key Pittman of the 
Senate Foreign Relations Committee was so lukewarm that he 
asked the President to get Robinson to lead the fight. For a while 
Roosevelt and Hull thought they had the needed two-thirds of 
the senators. But a lightning mobilization of isolationist opinion 
commanded by Hearst, Father Coughlin, Will Rogers, and others 
unloosed a flood of telegrams onto Capitol Hill, and enough sena- 
tors wavered to defeat the measure. 

Although Roosevelt had not thrown himself into the fight as had 
Hull, he was stung by the rebuff. Ickes at a cabinet meeting noticed 
a bitter tinge to his laughter, and a hint that he wanted to hurt the 
thirty-six dissenters. If the thirty-six ever got to heaven, Roosevelt 
wrote Robinson, "they will be doing a great deal of apologizing for 
a very long time that is if God is against war and I think He is." 
But Roosevelt's chief reaction was a feeling that he had to wait 
out public opinion. Adherence would come eventually, he wrote 
Elihu Root, "but today, quite frankly, the wind everywhere blows 
against us." And to Stimson he sent somber words: 

"Thank you for that mighty nice note. It heartens me. You are 
right that we know the enemy. In normal times the radio and other 


appeals by them would not have been effective. However, these are 
not normal times; people are jumpy and very ready to run after 
strange gods. This is so in every other country as well as our own. 
"I fear common sense dictates no new method for the time being 
but I have an unfortunately long memory and I am not forgetting 
either our enemies or our objectives." 

Most internationalist of all the administration's foreign policies 
was the trade agreements program. Chiefly responsible for the pro- 
gram, however, was Hull, not Roosevelt, who remained perched be- 
tween isolationists and internationalists in his own administration 
and party. 

In his maiden speech to Congress at the age of thirty-six Hull had 
called for lower tariffs; he had fought for them ever since; and now, 
as Secretary of State, the tenacious old Tennessean saw his great op- 
portunity. Roosevelt had given him the impression during the years 
before 1932 that he favored reciprocal tariff agreements between 
nations. But when Hull tried to push his ideas during the first 
Hundred Days, he ran straight into the nationalistic emphasis in 
AAA and NRA. His trade program was sidetracked. On one thing, 
though, Hull and Roosevelt were fully agreed. No substantial tar- 
iff reduction could be achieved unless power was delegated to the 
President. To run a low tariff bill through the congressional gant- 
let was to expose it to decimation by congressmen with special in- 
terests. Only the President could act for a more general interest. 

But would Roosevelt act? Slowly he came round during 1933 to 
some kind of trade agreements program; when, however, he set up 
a committee to co-ordinate foreign trade relations, he picked as 
head a vigorous opponent of tariff reductions, George N. Peek. At 
the same time that the President was pushing ahead with a trade 
agreements bill he named Peek foreign trade adviser. Hull was 
stunned by this appointment. A few months after the bill became 
law, the President allowed Peek to negotiate a barter agreement 
with Germany. When Hull and Peek disagreed over the most- 
favored-nation clause, Roosevelt asked Hull to spend "a couple of 
hours some evening" with Peek talking things over. "In pure theory 
you and I think alike," Roosevelt wrote Hull, "but every once in 
a while we have to modify a principle to meet a hard and disagree- 
able fact!" 

Such a tug of war could not last. Under heavy pressure from Hull, 
the President finally swung against Peek and his barter plans. Later 
Peek resigned with a bitter statement. 

Hull also took the lead in applying the Good Neighbor doctrine 
to the rest of the Americas, but here he had full backing from the 
President. Torn by strife and discontent, resentful of the years of 

Foreign Policy by Makeshift 253 

interference by its Big Brother of the North, Latin America was 
skeptical toward Democratic party promises of no more meddling 
in its internal affairs. The real test of the new line could come only 
in a concrete situation, and Cuba, long a ward of the United States, 
provided such a test. When palace revolt followed revolt in Ha- 
vana during 1933, the ugly situation seemed to threaten American 
commercial interests in the island. Worried by the rioting and 
army mutinies, Ambassador Sumner Welles in Cuba proposed a 
"strictly limited intervention/' but Hull and Roosevelt refused. 
Later they erased a festering sore by abrogating the Platt Amend- 
ment, which had restricted Cuba's sovereignty. As further proof of 
the Good Neighbor policy Roosevelt also withdrew marines from 
Haiti and eased relations with Panama. Capping the whole program 
was the patient nurturing of friendly relations by Hull at the sev- 
enth Pan-American Conference in Montevideo, the first such meet- 
ing that an American Secretary of State had attended as a delegate. 

By 1936 Roosevelt could call the Good Neighbor policy "a fact, 
active, present, pertinent and effective/' Yet it was notable that the 
foreign policy on which he took the most fixed and principled 
stand was essentially a negative policyone of noninterference- 
whatever positive results might flow from it. To be sure, persistent 
noninterference was not easy, but it was far easier than a persistent 
policy of intervention or collective security. 

In any event, Roosevelt did not put all his bets on treaties and 
noninterference as a basis for good neighborliness, at least outside 
the Americas?* Good fences, too, made for good neighbors, and some 
of his fences bristled with spikes and spears. Within a week of 
Roosevelt's inauguration Swanson announced that the navy would 
be built up to treaty strength, and three months later the President 
allotted almost a quarter billion from NRA appropriations for this 
purpose. But the build-up of armed strength during the first term 
was slow and quiet. Roosevelt did not want to publicize defense 
unduly. When Mclntyre told him early in 1934 that patriotic or- 
ganizations were asking him to proclaim "National Defense Week/' 
Roosevelt answered tersely, "Don't do it." 


In the white marble caucus room of the Senate Office Building late 
in 1934 sat the stage managers of a carefully planned, elaborately 
staged drama. In the center behind the long table was the hero of 
the drama, a stern, hard-faced young senator named Gerald P. Nye; 
flanking him were other idols of American isolationism Arthur H. 
Vandenberg, Bennett Champ Clark, Homer T. Bone. Of villains 
in this drama there were many: evil, bloodsucking "merchants of 


death/' who paraded before the committee day after day to confess 
their sins. Of heroines there was only one: an ethereal being, al- 
ways appealed to but never seen, a figure named Peace. Crowded 
behind the villains was the chorus, the spectators who craned their 
necks and muttered with indignation as the play unfolded. 

Such was the Nye committee investigating the munitions indus- 
try. Like many other famous Senate investigations, the Nye probe 
was less a search for data than a dramatization of things already 
known or rightly suspected. But the charges were dramatic and 
shocking. Arms makers had bribed politicians, shared patents, di- 
vided up business, reaped incredible profits, evaded taxes all in 
the sordid trade of death weapons. Even worse, munitions makers 
helped foment wars to boost their profits. 

Rarely have Senate hearings fallen with such heavy impact on 
the stream of American opinion. Horrendous titles suddenly bla- 
zoned forth in book stores and magazine stands: "merchants of 
death" were deep in "iron, blood and profits"; it was "one hell of 
a business/' The timing was flawless. The revelations coincided 
with and contributed to a deep revulsion against entanglement in 
European quarrels. Writers were busy showing that 1917 was not 
due to German submarines or a conception of neutral rights, but 
to a few greedy capitalists. Germany was not so guilty after all. 
The Americans had been saps and suckers. 

With war clouds piling up again in Europe, millions of Ameri- 
cans vowed, "Never again." Women organized peace societies. Col- 
lege students formed the "Veterans of Future Wars" to collect their 
bonuses now, before they had to fight and die. Isolationism was 
strong everywhere, but especially in the Midwest, Northwest, and 
Rockies; in election after election these sections sent to Congress 
men like William E. Borah of Idaho, Key Pittman of Nevada, Bur- 
ton Wheeler of Montana, young Bob La Follette of Wisconsin, and 
Nye of North Dakota, who championed the isolationist cause. This 
cause, charged with emotion and bitterness, had now become a force 
of awesome, almost primeval power. 

Where was Roosevelt in all this? Certainly he had a deep stake 
in preventing a mobilization of public opinion that might in turn 
shackle him in making foreign policy. But the President's relation 
to the Nye investigation was a passive one. Largely by default, Nye, 
a Republican isolationist, was allowed to chair committee. 

Gliding with the current of opinion favoring the probe, Roosevelt 
not only joined the chorus denouncing the arms trade but allowed 
Nye access to executive papers that were greatly to aid the Senator's 
efforts to dramatize the skulduggery of bankers and diplomats. Even 
more, he toleratedand to some extent encouraged the Nye com- 
mittee in its ambition to use intensifying disgust with arms makers 

Foreign Policy by Makeshift 255 

as an anvil on which to beat out a rigid policy of isolationism for 
the United States. 

At this crucial juncture Roosevelt offered little leadership. It 
was not inevitable that popular hatred of arms makers and war prof- 
iteers should deepen popular feeling that America ought to isolate 
itself from foreign entanglements and thus from foreign wars. That 
hatred might as well have bolstered a public desire to work with 
other nations in order to stop war and hence end the grim ac- 
couterments of battle, including merchants of death. But such a 
channeling of opinion demanded an active program of education 
in short, leadership. Roosevelt only drifted. 

Given the powerful ground swell of isolationist feeling, the bril- 
liance of the isolationists in marshaling their forces, the passivity of 
the administration, and the tension in Europe, only one outcome 
was possible a national stampede for a storm cellar to sit out the 
tempests ahead. During the second Hundred Days, the isolationists 
on Capitol Hill were pressing for legislation requiring the Presi- 
dent, in the event of war abroad, to embargo export of arms to all 
belligerents. Roosevelt and Hull favored such embargo authority, 
but they wanted to empower the President to discriminate between 
aggressor and victim by embargoing exports of arms only to the 
former. Such discretionary power, they reasoned, would help deter 

But the isolationists would have none of it. Such discretion, they 
shouted, would mean sure entanglement in alien quarrels. Pittman 
was hostile and surly. The President was riding for a fall, he warned 
the White House, if he insisted on "designating the aggressor in ac- 
cordance with the wishes of the League of Nations." The senator 
said he was willing to introduce such a discretionary provision, but 
the President would get "licked." 

The President did get licked. Mandatory arms embargo legisla- 
tion passed both chambers by almost unanimous votes. Roosevelt 
dared not stand against the tide; he had urgent domestic bills to 
get through, and the isolationists were threatening to filibuster. 
The President signed the measure, but he warned that the inflex- 
ible provisions might drag us into war instead of keeping us out. 

Why, then, did Roosevelt sign the bill? He acted mainly out of 
expediency. For one thing, the mandatory arms embargo section of 
the act was to expire in six months, and Roosevelt and Hull rea- 
soned that they might gain discretionary power in the revision. For 
another, they both liked one feature of the bill the setting up of 
regulation of arms traffic. Most important, Mussolini for months 
had been making plans for an attack on Ethiopia. A mandatory 
arms embargo against both nations would hurt Italy, with its need 
for modern arms and its possession of ships to transport them, far 


more than it would hurt Haile Selassie's flintlock-armed native 
troops. When Roosevelt told reporters dryly that the measure met 
the "needs of the existing situation," he was more than hinting at 
his almost Machiavellian expediency. 

And so it was that Roosevelt, at the very moment that dictators 
girded for war in Europe and Asia, was stripped of power to throw 
his country's weight against aggressors. 

As Roosevelt scrawled his name on the Neutrality Act at the end 
of August 1935, Italian troops, tanks, and airplanes were pouring 
through the Suez Canal toward Ethiopia. To military and diplo- 
matic strategists in chancelleries of great nations, the Neutrality 
Act came as confirmation of America's refusal to throw its weight 
into the balance of world politics. Yet Roosevelt could not stay clear 
of the looming conflict. 

For months he and Hull had been watching the approach of that 
conflict. So had politicians and diplomats in Europe: Prime Minis- 
ter Baldwin and Foreign Secretary Sir Samuel Hoare of Britain, 
and Foreign Minister Pierre Laval of France. The precise nature of 
the division in Europe during 1935 was shrouded in the rhetoric 
of collective security and the murk of secret negotiations, but two 
things were clear. One was the reluctance of France and Britain to 
antagonize Mussolini irretrievably as long as they feared Hitler 
more and hoped to keep the two dictators apart. The other was 
Mussolini's determination to grab Ethiopia, preferably through an 
act of violence. 

Roosevelt had had a measure of grudging admiration for Musso- 
lini; and the dictator had responded with some friendly words for 
the President and his New Deal. Ambassador Breckinridge Long in 
Rome wrote enthusiastically in 1933 about the rejuvenation of 
Italy, including the punctuality of the trains. Even on the very 
eve of invasion, Long was drawing up elaborate plans for giving 
Italy large slices of Ethiopia as part of a general European settle- 
ment. Roosevelt's reaction to Mussolini's war preparations during 
1934 was more equivocal. On the one hand, he believed that war 
would be a threat to peace everywhere, and thus America was in- 
volved; on the other hand, he shied away from any involvement in 
the situation by refusing to do more than urge Mussolini to settle 
the issue peacefully. When Mussolini said it was too lateItaly had 
mobilized a million men and spent two billion lire Roosevelt still 
hoped Italy would take the "magnificent position" of settling the 
issue by arbitration. But more than moral support to Ethiopia or to 
the idea of collective security he would not offer. Hull made clear 
that the United States would not join the League of Nations in 
imposing sanctions. 

Foreign Policy by Makeshift 257 

"I am very much more worried about the world situation than 
about the domestic/' Roosevelt wrote to Senator Josiah Bailey at 
the end of August 1935. "I hope that there will be no explosion 
before I take my trip on the boat" a reference to a long cruise 
that the President planned to take on the U.S.S. Houston. But the 
explosion was imminent. On October 3, 1935, Mussolini's legions 
thrust into Ethiopia. What now? 

News of the attack came to Roosevelt on the Houston as the 
cruiser plowed along serenely off the California coast. His atti- 
tude toward Italy hardened at once. "Good!" he exclaimed loudly 
when news reports favorable to Ethiopia were flashed to the ship. 
The sympathies of Hopkins, Ickes, and his other companions were 
with Ethiopia. The President had left a draft neutrality proclama- 
tion with Hull, and he waited impatiently while Hull tried to 
find out whether hostilities formally existed. "They are dropping 
bombs on Ethiopiaand that is war/' Roosevelt exclaimed. "Why 
wait for Mussolini to say so?" 

In Washington, Hull had problems of his own. Some of his ad- 
visers were urging him not to issue a neutrality proclamation be- 
cause it might prejudice action by the League Council, which was 
preparing to name Italy as an aggressor nation. But Hull wanted 
to act before the League did. His reason stemmed directly from the 
decisive element in American foreign policy making the isolation- 
ists' hostility toward American co-operation with Geneva. Roose- 
velt wired him to act immediately. They both recognized that much 
depended on staying clear of the League. 

By an extraordinary conjuncture of two events the passage of 
the Neutrality Act and the invasion of an agrarian country by a 
nation badly needing imports of the sinews of warRoosevelt was 
in the happy situation where the more he sought to cut off exports 
to Italy in the name of neutrality, the more he was able to assist 
in the imposing of economic sanctions against the aggressor. This 
whole tactic depended, however, on keeping Geneva's actions sep- 
arate from Washington's in the public eye. The President and Hull 
were equal to the task. When Hoare sounded them out on some 
kind of action under the Kellogg Pact, they coldly rejected the 
idea. And so worried were they that the League might ask them 
to co-operate formally in sanctions, thus inviting a refusal that 
might throw cold water on the League's efforts, that they warned 
Geneva not to issue such an invitation. The British and French 
agreed not to. 

The Neutrality Act, however, embargoed only arms and muni- 
tions; it did not embargo raw materials that Italy could convert 
into weapons for her warriors. From the start Roosevelt and Hull 
recognized this massive shortcoming. The President asked the State 


Department to study the possibility of adding copper and steel to 
the list, in case League sanctions should include these items, and 
he was even ready to limit sharply the transshipment of our ex- 
ports by neutrals. Informed that the Neutrality Act could not be 
stretched this far, Roosevelt fell back on a "moral embargo" based 
on the "spirit" of the act. On October 30 he denounced profiteer- 
ing in Italian trade that might help prolong the war. 

Despite these appeals, exports of war materials to Italy mounted. 
On November 15, with League sanctions slated to take effect three 
days later, Hull warned stiffly against an increase in such exports 
as oil, copper, trucks, and scrap steel. His warning covered more 
materials than the League sanction list, which omitted the crucial 
item of oil. Menaced on its most vulnerable flank, Italy hotly pro- 
tested Hull's action. 

But that action was still only "moral." Would the administration 
put teeth into it? Britain especially was eager to know the answer 
to this question. Her "businessmen's government" feared that if 
the League imposed an oil embargo against Italy, American oilmen, 
scorning Hull's moralities, would grab the whole Italian oil market. 
Britain also had the problem of dealing with the slippery figure 
of Laval, who had long wanted to appease Mussolini by jettisoning 
Ethiopia and who had stalled off a League oil embargo. 

So Britain's Ambassador put the question straight to Hull. 
Would the United States stop increased oil exports to Italy if the 
League embargoed oil? Hull hesitated. Only Congress could take 
such action, but to appeal to Congress to embargo oil in conjunc- 
tion with the League was to establish the fearful link between 
American policy and League collective security that he and Roose- 
velt had fought so hard to avoid. "We have gone as far as we can," 
he replied. He could not speak for Congress. 

Frustrated by the administration's fear of the isolationists, the 
resourceful diplomats of Downing Street turned to other expedi- 
ents. Hoare and Laval in Paris agreed on a plan to end the war 
by dismembering Ethiopia and handing over large chunks to Musso- 
lini. Publication of the agreement set off a storm of denunciation; 
Hoare was sacked, and the plan was killed. But the sordid proposal 
also killed the high hopes for effective sanctions. The League con- 
tinued to equivocate. The war went on. Italian troops struck deeper 
into Ethiopia, burning, bombing, spraying poison gas from the 

The Hoare-Laval plan caught Roosevelt and Hull by surprise. 
The President was outraged; "our British friends," he said, "have 
come a sad cropper." For months Haile Selassie's natives fought on. 
Forsaken by the League, the emperor made a last appeal before he 
fled his country. Did the people of the world realize that he had 

Foreign Policy by Makeshift 259 

fought on to protect not only his people but also collective secur- 
ity? Were they blind to his fight for the whole of humanity? Where 
were his tardy allies? 

"If they never come, then I say prophetically and without bitter- 
ness, 'The West will perish.' " 


Ethiopia's betrayal left American internationalists in a sea of un- 
certainty and despondency. Isolationists jeered that once again 
Uncle Sam had been gulled by European diplomats. Most Amer- 
icans were merely confused. As for Roosevelt, not since entering the 
White House had he been so perplexed and worried by develop- 
ments abroad. 

"The situation changes so fast from day to day that it is hard to 
do more than make wild guesses in regard to the European future," 
he wrote his minister in Bucharest late in January 1936. To Am- 
bassador Straus in Paris he wrote in even more pessimistic vein. 
The whole European situation, the President said, was black. 

"I have been increasingly concerned about the world picture ever 
since May, 1933. There are those who come from England and 
France and Germany who point to the fact that every crisis of the 
past three years has been muddled through with a hope that each 
succeeding crisis will be met peacefully in one way or another in 
the next few years. I hope that point of view is right but it goes 
against one's common sense." 

To Congress the President addressed an urgent warning: "Not 
only have peace and good-will among men grown more remote in 
those areas of the earth during this period, but a point has been 
reached where the people of the Americas must take cognizance of 
growing ill-will, of marked trends toward aggression, of increasing 
armaments, of shortening tempers a situation which has in it many 
of the elements that lead to the tragedy of general war." People in 
such nations might wish to change aggressive policies, but lacking 
freedom, they were following blindly and fervently those who 
sought autocratic power. Such nations had not shown patience in 
trying to solve their problems. 

"They have therefore impatiently reverted to the old belief in the 
law of the sword, or to the fantastic conception that they, and they 
alone, are chosen to fulfill a mission and that all the others among 
the billion and a half of human beings in the world must and shall 
learn from and be subject to them." 

Brave words but they masked a central ambiguity in Roosevelt's 
approach to neutrality. Outwardly he took the isolationists' posi- 
tion that arms and trade embargoes would keep America out of war 


by keeping American merchants and others disentangled from war. 
Privately he took the internationalists' position that such embar- 
goes-if they could be administered with discretion could keep 
America out of war by discouraging aggressors from starting war. 
Between the two approaches a vast difference loomed. But the 
President made no effort to educate the people on this cardinal dif- 
ference. He hoped that they would be educated by events. Unhap- 
pily for the President, events such as the Hoare-Laval agreement 
seemed to educate the people in the wrong direction. 

And time was running out. In February of 1936 the Neutrality 
Act of the previous September was to expire. Roosevelt and Hull 
hoped to gain from Congress both legal standing for the "moral" 
embargo of war materials and-crucial to their whole strategy- 
presidential discretion in applying such an embargo. When Hull 
appealed to Congress for these two new provisions, he ran into a 
stone wall. Within a few weeks the battle was lost. Why? 

The immediate reason was the power of the isolationists on Capi- 
tol Hill. Johnson and Borah lashed Hull's bill mercilessly. They 
were riding high on a massive wave of isolationist feeling whipped 
by the failure of collective security in Europe, and by new revela- 
tions of the indefatigable Nye at home. Led by Nye, Johnson 8c Co., 
the isolationists forced Roosevelt and Hull to accept an extension 
of the 1935 act, with some changes. Lacking guidelines from the 
administration, the internationalists stood by helplessly. 

As Americans huddled in their storm cellars, dictators turned to the 

At dawn on March 7, 1936, advance units of the German army 
thrust into the Rhineland. In Berlin a few hours later Hitler ad- 
dressed cheering members of the Reichstag, while foreign diplo- 
mats looked on in stony silence. His troops had moved, the Fuehrer 
announced, but Germany wanted peace. He proposed a twenty-five- 
year nonaggression pact with France; reciprocal demilitarization of 
the frontier (i.e., scrapping of France's famed Maginot Line); and 
bilateral nonaggression pacts with Germany's eastern neighbors (but 
not with Soviet Russia). For ninety minutes he shouted and be- 
seeched; then, surrounded by hundreds of armed men, he strode 
out of the hall. 

France hesitated, and was lost. Later it became known that some 
of Hitler's generals had opposed the move, and that Hitler's troops 
would have turned back had France resisted. But the Quai d'Orsay 
did not dare act alone, and Downing Street equivocated. Other na- 
tions only fumed and sputtered. The League declared Germany 
guilty of breaching the Versailles and Locarno treaties. Roosevelt 
and Hull privately took a grave view of the step. But no one acted. 

Foreign Policy by Makeshift 261 

Throughout Roosevelt's first term Japanese soldiers, merchants, 
and bureaucrats were consolidating positions on the Asiatic main- 
land. Like a great musty fruit lying in the sun, China was decom- 
posing on its exposed edges. In 1933 Jehol was annexed to Man- 
chukuo, in 1935 Japanese troops seized Chahar, in 1936 they pene- 
trated Suiyuan. Having shaken off the old naval treaties, Tokyo 
was now building up its fleet. Ominous as these events seemed to 
Roosevelt and Hull, even more fateful was the merciless struggle in 
Japan of militarist extremists against the moderates. 

Only a month after taking office Roosevelt had written House 
that he wondered if a Japanese diplomat's criticism of the Presi- 
dent's decision to keep the fleet in the Pacific had stemmed from a 
desire to "ingratiate himself against assassination by the Junker 
crowd when he gets home." The remark was prophetic. On a night 
late in February 1936, Ambassador Joseph Grew in Tokyo was 
showing the film Naughty Marietta to former Premier Saito and 
Grand Chamberlain Suzuki; a few hours later Saito was shot dead 
and Suzuki wounded. The insurgents were rounded up and exe- 
cuted but Japanese politicians had a frightening glimpse of the 
explosive forces breaking through the surface. 

Tension was mounting in Europe. In July 1936, an Italian 
bomber squadron was alerted for duty in Spain. A few days later 
General Francisco Franco took command of revolting Moors and 
Foreign Legionnaires in Spanish Morocco. People's militia put 
down army uprisings in Madrid and other centers, but the revolt 
gained momentum in the north and south. Iberia quickly became 
a European battleground, with Italy and Germany taking the initia- 
tive. Italian troops and airmen, Nazi agents and technicians poured 
into rebel territory by the thousands. Within a few weeks Rome 
and Berlin simultaneously recognized Franco as Spain's ruler. 

"What an unfortunate and terrible catastrophe in Spain!" Roose- 
velt wrote Ambassador Claude Bowers. But United States neutral- 
ity, he added, would be "complete." Britain and France forbade 
their citizens to sell arms to the Spanish government; Hull put a 
moral embargo on American exports, although the Neutrality Act 
did not apply to civil war. Italy and Germany agreed not to inter- 
vene, and kept on intervening. 

In the fall of 1936 Germany and Japan signed the Anti-Comin- 
tern Pact. The Axis could now forge strategic plans of united 
action. The democracies, divided and irresolute, were hamstrung by 
isolationists and appeasers in strategic positions. The West was still 



The record is clear. As a foreign policy maker, Roosevelt during 
his first term was more pussyfooting politician than political 
leader. He seemed to float almost helplessly on the flood tide of 
isolationism, rather than to seek to change both the popular atti- 
tudes and the apathy that buttressed the isolationists' strength. 

He hoped that people would be educated by events; the error of 
this policy was that the dire events in Europe and Asia confirmed 
the American suspicion and fear of foreign involvement rather than 
prodding them into awareness of the need for collective action by 
the democracies. In short, a decisive act of interpretation was re- 
quired, but Roosevelt did not interpret. At a minimum he might 
have avoided the isolationist line about keeping clear of joint ac- 
tion with other nations. Yet at a crucial moment when he ap- 
proved the Neutrality Act shortly before Italy's attack on Ethiopia 
he talked about co-operating with other nations "without en- 

The awful implications of this policy of drift would become 
clear later on when Roosevelt sought to regain control of foreign 
policy making at home as the forces of aggression mounted abroad. 
But the immediate question is: Why did Roosevelt allow himself 
to be virtually immobilized by isolationist feeling? Why did he 
not, through words or action, seek to change popular attitudes and 
thus rechannel the pressures working on him? 

The enigma deepens when Roosevelt's private views are consid- 
ered. In his private role he was an internationalist. He believed, that 
is, in the proposition that America's security lay essentially in re- 
moving the economic and social causes of war and, if war threat- 
ened, in uniting the democracies, America included, against ag- 
gressive nations. But in his public role he talked about keeping 
America disentangled from the political affairs of other nations; 
he often talked, in short, like an isolationist. 

The mystery deepens still further when one considers that the 
President had emphatic, though perhaps ill-defined, ideas about the 
need for leadership in a democracy. He must have recognized the 
potential in leadership when, in addressing the Woodrow Wilson 
Foundation at the end of 1933, he asserted roundly that the "blame 
for the danger to world peace lies not in the world population but 
in the political leaders of the population." At the same time he was 
concerned about the perennially weak leadership that the politi- 
cians gave France. He was perhaps aware, too, that simply follow- 
ing a line of policy lying at the mean between two extremes would 
not necessarily lead to the wisest course. In the case of Ethiopia, for 

Foreign Policy by Makeshift 263 

instance, the British and French through their indecisive maneuver- 
ings succeeded neither in keeping Mussolini out of Germany's orbit 
nor in vindicating the ideals of collective security. Washington's 
foreign policies were equally muddled. 

The reasons for the sharp divergence between Roosevelt's pri- 
vate and public roles in foreign policy making were several. In the 
first place, the President's party was cleft through the middle on 
international issues. The internationalist wing centered in the 
southern and border states was balanced by isolationists rooted in 
the West and Midwest. To win the nomination Roosevelt had given 
hostages to both groups. Part of the price of success in 1932 had 
been categorical opposition to United States co-operation with the 
collective security efforts of the League, and a cautious policy of 
neutrality based on nonentanglement. In the second place, Roose- 
velt in his campaign had so ignored foreign policy, or fuzzed the 
issue over when he did touch on it, that he had failed to establish 
popular attitudes on foreign policy that he could later evoke in sup- 
port of internationalism. Moreover, during his first term the Presi- 
dent gave first priority to domestic policies; a strong line on foreign 
affairs might have alienated the large number of isolationist con- 
gressmen who were supporting the New Deal. Indeed, many isola- 
tionists seemed to believe that any marked interest in foreign af- 
fairs by the President was virtually a betrayal of progressivism. 

In addition, the President had surrounded himself with men 
from both sides. Men like Hull and Howe and Morgenthau were 
generally on the international end of the spectrum, but others like 
Moley and Hopkins and Hugh Johnson and Ickes were at the op- 
posite end. Ickes had been so pleased by the Senate action on the 
World Court that he had telephoned and congratulated Hiram 
Johnson, whom he found "as happy as a boy." The development of 
the New Deal's policies of economic nationalism, tinged with the 
rhetoric of international good will and economic co-operation, re- 
sulted from and reinforced this division. 

But the main reason for Roosevelt's caution involved the future 
rather than the past. The election of 1936 was approaching, and 
at this point he was not willing to take needless risks. It was signifi- 
cant that after he and Mackenzie King had signed a trade agree- 
ment in Washington and a rather moderate one at that Roosevelt 
wrote to King in April 1936 that "in a sense, we both took our po- 
litical lives in our hands. . . ." The immediate goal of re-election 
was the supreme goal; the tasks of leadership, he hoped, could be 
picked up later. 

FOURTEEN 1936: The Grand Coalition 


"TUDYING the rulers of foreign lands, Anne 
O'Hare McCormick of the New York Times found that they had 
shriveled or aged during these tortured years. "On the faces of 
Mussolini, Hitler, Stanley Baldwin, even the rotating governors of 
France/' she reported, "strain and worry have etched indelible lines. 
Caught off guard, when they are alone, they are tired and baffled 
men who have paid a heavy price for power." 

Not so Roosevelt. Home again, Mrs. McCormick marveled that 
he was so little shaken by the seismic disturbances over which he 
presided. "On none of his predecessors has the office left so few 
marks as on Mr. Roosevelt. He is a little heavier, a shade grayer; 
otherwise he looks harder and in better health than on the day of 
his inauguration. His face is so tanned that his eyes appear lighter, 
a cool Wedgwood blue; after the four grilling years since the last 
campaign, they are as keen, curious, friendly, and impenetrable as 

If other leaders bent under the burdens of power, Roosevelt 
shouldered his with zest and gaiety. He loved being President; he 
almost always gave the impression of being on top of his job. 
Cheerfully, exuberantly, he swung through the varied presidential 
tasks: dictating to Miss Tully pithy, twinkling little notes for 
friends and subordinates; splashing in the White House pool for 
the delighted photographers; showing off the incredible gewgaws 
that littered his desk; greeting delegations of Indians, of Boy Scouts, 
of businessmen, of Moose, of 4-H Club leaders, of Democratic la- 
dies; relating long anecdotes about his ancestors to luncheon guests; 
scratching his name on bills with a dozen pens and carefully award- 
ing each to a congressional sponsor solemnly standing behind the 
President's big chair; conferring genially with congressional lead- 
ers, agency heads, party leaders, foreign emissaries; poking fun at 
reporters while deftly turning aside their questions. 

The variegated facets of the presidential job called for a multi- 
tude of different roles, and Roosevelt moved from part to part with 
ease and confidence. He was a man of many faces. Presiding over 

The Grand Coalition 265 

meetings of chiefs of his emergency agencies, he was the brisk ad- 
ministrator investing the sprawling bureaucracy with pace and di- 
rection, and patiently educating his subordinates on the Realpolitik 
of administrative management. Entertaining visitors on a yacht, he 
was the quintessence of sociableness and charm. Addressing a party 
meeting, he was the militant political leader, trenchant, command- 
ing, cocky, assertive. Motoring through the woods at Hyde Park, he 
was the country squire, relaxed, casual, rustic. Attending Harvard's 
tercentenary in top hat and morning coat, he was the chief of state, 
august, sedate, and solemn. 

Watching the President perform at a press conference midway 
through the first term, John Gunther was struck by the incredible 
swiftness with which he struck a series of almost theatrical poses. 
In twenty minutes, Gunther noted, Roosevelt's features expressed 
amazement, curiosity, mock alarm, genuine interest, worry, rhetori- 
cal playing for suspense, sympathy, decision, playfulness, dignity, 
and surpassing charm. And when the reporters roared at Roosevelt's 
remarks, he was clearly pleased at this audience response; after one 
such burst of laughter, the President took a sort of bow with a tilt 
of his huge head. 

In all these roles Roosevelt gave an impression of directness and 
simplicity, and winning qualities these were. Ushered into the presi- 
dential bedroom one morning, Ickes found him shaving in the ad- 
joining bathroom. Roosevelt invited him to sit on the toilet seat 
while they talked; the President was then wheeled to his bed where 
he reclined, still talking, while being dressed. He had his braces 
put on to greet a delegation, then returned to his room to take his 
braces off and relax again. "I was struck all over again," Ickes ex- 
claimed that night, "with the unaffected simplicity and charm of 
the man." But this apparent simplicity was most deceiving as Ickes 
himself was to discover. 

The staff, as the last year of the first term arrived, reflected some 
of the change in Roosevelt's political posture and in the alignment 
of forces amid which he operated. Howe had died in April, until 
the end toying with great schemes for Roosevelt's triumphant re- 
election. Douglas, Acheson, and most of the other conservatives had 
long since left. By 1936 only Moley remained from the right wing 
of the original brain trust and the graying, anxious professor was 
not to stay long. For months he had watched with rising alarm as 
the New Deal veered left. In turn captivated by Roosevelt's charm 
and pained by his policies, Moley somehow stayed on until a night 
in June when the President in a small gathering began taunting 
him about his new conservatism. Moley replied with heat, an angry 
quarrel followed, and the old relationship was over. 

New faces in the White House took the place of old. There was 


Stanley High, a smooth-mannered, bespectacled young man whose 
religious background helped him supply the President with what 
his more irreverent White House aides called "inspirational mes- 
sages." There was Tommy Corcoran, a brash, engaging lawyer, only 
thirty-six years old, whose role as White House court jester with 
his jokes, Irish ballads, and mimicry seemed to belie his growing 
reputation as a tough-minded puller of governmental wires and 
manipulator of politicians and bureaucrats. There was Corcoran's 
"Gold Dust twin," Ben Cohen, a dreamy intellectual who had 
shown brilliant powers in drafting New Deal bills and coping with 
legal technicalities. Others fluttered in and out of the White House 
limelight: Robert H. Jackson, William O. Douglas, Isador Lubin 
militant legal and economic technicians of a changing social order. 

The President steered his kitchen cabinet with an easy rein. Its 
members in fact made up his staff for legislative, propaganda, and 
election campaigns, but he never institutionalized it. He casually 
borrowed personnel from agencies as he needed them. Presidential 
business was carried on in a catch-as-catch-can turmoil of personal 
conferences, sudden telephone calls, handwritten chits circulated 
among key advisers. The most valuable member of the kitchen 
cabinet was still Eleanor Roosevelt, who not only reached millions 
of people with her endless trips and with a newspaper column on 
"My Day/' but continued to bring a stream of new faces and new 
ideas into the White House. 

Yet to single out even this half-dozen or so White House per- 
sonalities is to risk underestimating the vital role that the others in 
the executive establishment would play in 1936. For, as convention 
and election time approached, it became clear that Roosevelt would 
campaign squarely on the basis of the new benefits and the new 
hope that the New Deal administrators and their alphabetical agen- 
cies had brought to America. 


Perhaps it was Roosevelt's grasp of the cardinal fact of New Deal 
benefits to the people that largely explains his optimism about re- 
election. "We will win easily next year/' he told his cabinet in 
November 1935, "but we are going to make it a crusade." His steady 
optimism continued into the early months of 1936. And well it 
might. For the New Deal program, partly by design and partly by 
chance, was coming to a climax in the election year. 

By almost any test the economic surge since 1932 had been re- 
markable. Unemployment had dropped by about four million since 
the low point early in 1933; at least six million jobs had been 
created. Pay rolls in manufacturing industries had doubled since 

1936; The Grand Coalition 267 

1932; stock prices had more than doubled. Commercial and indus- 
trial failures in 1936 were one-third what they had been four years 
before. Total cash income of farmers had fallen to four billion in 
1932 and recovered to almost seven billion in 1935. Capital issues 
had shot up sixfold since 1933. The physical volume of industrial 
production had almost doubled. 

When the President wrote to agency heads in 1936 asking them 
for detailed lists of their achievements that could be used in his 
campaign, the responses underlined the central part that the New 
Deal had played in this upsurge. In three years federal and other 
relief agencies had poured over five billion dollars into work proj- 
ects and related relief activities. Another four billion had gone into 
public works: roads, dams, sewage systems, public buildings, and 
the like. The Agricultural Adjustment Administration was supply- 
ing a substantial chunk of farm income through its direct benefit 
and rental payments. The Reconstruction Finance Corporation, a 
major carry-over from the Hoover administration, had stepped up 
its huge lending operations. 

Most important of all in a long-run sense was the social se- 
curity program, which began operating in 1936. Its main provisions 
involved unemployment and old age, although there was a small 
appropriation for preventive public health. The program was 
financed through pay-roll taxes, which began at a low rate and 
were to rise in the years ahead. Social security in 1936 was only a 
modest beginning. Benefits were small, and would not be received 
for some time. There were grave administrative difficulties. Since 
money was being collected and not distributed, the effect of the 
program in 1936 was deflationary. But the towering fact was that 
at last the national government had acted to underpin the future 
security of Americans. 

A remarkable aspect of the New Deal was the sweep and variety 
of the groups it helped. Not only the millions of farmers and indus- 
trial workers, but great numbers of people in other categories had 
benefited from New Deal largesse. The Home Owners Loan Cor- 
poration conducted a vast rescue job, making over a million loans 
to mortgage-ridden home owners. The WPA put to work not only 
blue-collar workers but artists, writers, actors, teachersand in jobs 
that salvaged their self-respect. The National Youth Administration 
helped thousands of hard-pressed high-school and college students 
to continue their education. Old people were looking forward to 
their pensions. Bank depositors had a guarantee of the security of 
their savings. Businessmen gained from government contracts, 
broadened purchasing power, freer lending policies. 

Behind the cold statistics was the picture of a nation again on 
the march. The impact of Roosevelt and his New Deal had been 


to arouse the energies and aspirations of a people chilled by the 
bleak hand of depression. To them the New Deal was not a list of 
figures. It was a group of farmers stringing up electric wires in the 
Missouri Ozarks. It was a towering dam in California, water sluicing 
through an irrigation ditch in Colorado, a hospital in Jersey City, 
cars streaming through a tunnel under the Hudson. It was men 
swarming back to work in Pittsburgh, a widow keeping her home 
in Ohio, Negroes watching a slum-clearance project in Chicago. It 
was grass cover holding soil onto a hill in Georgia, a farmer buy- 
ing a new tractor in Iowa, a river in Tennessee running fast and 
clear where once the water had been brown, with topsoil. 

The New Deal had brought a new condition for man; more than 
this, it had brought a new condition in the relations among men. 
The old subserviency of worker to employer, of mortgagee to mort- 
gage holder, of farmer to shipper and middleman, of tenant farmer 
to landlord, of small businessman to banker, may have remained in 
its essential form; but the laws and spirit of the New Deal had in- 
stilled in these relations some of the equality and dignity that 
marked the old American dream* "My friends," Roosevelt said to a 
crowd of young Democrats in April 1936, "the period of social pio- 
neering is only at its beginning." And that pioneering in the re- 
adjustment of human relationships had been accomplished with 
zest and on the whole with good will, rather than in an atmos- 
phere of bitterness and reprisal. "Once again/' Roosevelt could say 
on the same occasion, "the very air of America is exhilarating." 

There were, to be sure, grave deficiencies in the transformations 
wrought by the New Deal. For all the talk of re-employment, eight 
to nine million Americans still had no jobs in 1936. The spending 
of the New Deal had not markedly improved the lot of millions 
in areas that could not be easily reached by government. Pay rolls 
had gone up, but so had living costs. Conditions compared favor- 
ably with early 1933 but not so favorably with 1929. Some pro- 
grams, especially housing, had hardly got off the ground. Over 
most of the New Deal emergency agencies hung an aura of improvi- 
sation, wasted effort, and inefficiency. And despite the expansionist 
philosophy of the New Deal, its basic program for farmers was 

But in 1936 such matters could be left for the Republicans to 
enunciate. Of his own role the President had no doubt. It was to 
herald the gains of the New Deal and to assert that even better 
days lay ahead. It was to proclaim again and again aij/i again- 
the contrast between the America he had found in March 1933 and 
the America of 1936. Nothing would be allowed to soften the vivid- 
ness of that contrast. When the National Emergency Council early 
in 1936 submitted to Roosevelt some statistical t- Abies and state- 

1936: The Grand Coalition 269 

ments implying that recovery began in 1932, Early indicated that 
this would not do at all. Changes must be made in the report. 

"The President is insistent," he wrote to the NEC, "that the low 
point in the depression be fixed as March, 1933, or early in the 
year 1933 this f r obvious reasons." 

A voice boomed out from the back of a crowd in Hyde Park as the 
President stood on the platform of his special train. 

"Boss man! You're out in front now. Show 'em your heels!" 

Roosevelt waggled his head jauntily. 

"There's something in that," he shot back. 

But how much was there in that? Was the President really out 
front? Was it enough to capitalize on the politics of the deed and 
to roll to re-election on the wave of rising prosperity? If so, he could 
assume a defensive posture and hoard his strength until Election 
Day. Or did the battle still have to be won? If so, a hard, militant 
campaign lay ahead. 

Throughout the early months of 1936 Roosevelt wrestled with 
this cardinal tactical problem. And, characteristically, he ended up 
by shifting back and forth between two tactical lines and some- 
times following them simultaneously. 

Early in the year the President seemed decided on a defensive 
campaign. The White House passed word to Congress that its ses- 
sion should be a brief one, devoted to appropriating money and 
passing routine administrative bills. A bill regulating conditions 
of employment of firms receiving government contracts was passed 
as a final plugging of the gap left by the NRA's demise. The Su- 
preme Court's AAA decision forced the passage of a new farm bill 
and indirectly led to a controversial proposal by the President for 
a corporate-surplus tax in order to make up for the lost revenue. 
But the President failed to make a vigorous fight either for the 
new tax bill or for an effective housing program. He seemed ready 
to rest on his record. 

Politically this tactic involved soft-pedaling the party and also 
some fence-mending. Democrats were grumbling that Roosevelt 
hardly mentioned his party, even in a Jefferson Day dinner speech. 
In March the President tried to soothe businessmen by giving a 
long White House luncheon to members of Commerce Secretary 
Roper's Business Advisory Council; he talked anew about a cut in 
spending, and he laid plans for organizing businessmen in the cam- 
paign ahead. He asked Ickes to call in Norris, Johnson, and other 
Republicans to revamp the Progressive League. 

Far more ambitious was a plan for tapping the enormous reser- 
voirs of votes contained in the huge religious, economic, and civic 
organizations across the nation. American politics is largely group 


politics; and Roosevelt characteristically approached these groups 
through their leaders. He set up a new organization with the inno- 
cent title of the Good Neighbor League. Stanley High solicited the 
use of their names from religious leaders like Rabbi Lazarus, labor 
leaders like George Harrison of the Railway Brotherhoods, civic 
leaders like George Foster Peabody, women's leaders like Lillian 
Wald and Carrie Chapman Catt. This organization of the forces 
of piety, hope, and feminism, decked out in the demure garments 
of nonpartisanship, became a smooth vote-getting machine for 
Roosevelt, financed actually by the Democratic National Com- 

Late in April Roosevelt seemed still undecided between a "unity" 
crusade and a partisan campaign directed against the business 
groups that opposed him. Then in late spring came a tactical change 
in the other directiontoward a partisan campaign based on a 
promised expansion of the New Deal. By early May he was de- 
nouncing, in private conversation, the business and press opposi- 
tion and asserting that he welcomed their hatred. He was telling 
Moley, in one of their last long conversations, that the country 
needed less talk and obstructionist criticism and more leadership. 

The main reason for the shift lay in political developments. By 
May the Republicans were gathering their forces and heading to- 
ward their national convention in Cleveland. More important, one 
candidate had clearly emerged as a front runner in the quest for 
the Republican nomination. This was Alf M. Landon. Governor of 
Kansas, a successful businessman, attached irretrievably to neither 
the Republican Old Guard nor the liberal wing of the party, Lan- 
don had just the qualities of common sense, homely competence,, 
cautious liberalism, and rocklike "soundness" that the Republican 
leaders hoped would appeal to a people tiring, it was thought, of 
the antics and heroics in the White House. Middle class by every 
test and in every dimension, he had the shrewd, guileless face, the 
rimless glasses, and the slightly graying hair that made him indis- 
tinguishable from a million other middle-aged Americans. At the 
Republican convention in Cleveland, Landon won overwhelmingly 
over Borah on the first ballot. 

Later it would become fashionable to joke about Landon, but he 
was no joke to the Democrats in June of 1936. For one thing, Lan- 
don had made a powerful run for the nomination against strong 
candidates Borah, Vandenberg, and several others. For another,, 
the Republicans, eying the great prize of the presidency and the 
obvious appeal of New Deal prosperity and reform, enunciated a 
moderately liberal platform. Landon himself was no mossback re- 
actionary; he had deserted the Old Guard for the Bull Moosers in 
1912, and he impressed the country when he boldly stated his posi- 

Mother and son, 1893 

Franklin D. Roosevelt and his father, 

Young Franklin (center, dark sailor 
suit) with his grandparents, aunts, 
uncles, and cousins, Newburgh, N. Y., 
July 13, 1890 (photo by R. E. Atkinson) 

'A secure world' 

Three-year-old Franklin and 
his dog preparing for a ride 
at Hyde Park 

Fourth-string football player at Groton (lower left, white sweater), 1899 

A young lawyer and his cousins 

Cousin Eleanor (fifth 
cousin once removed) 
in 1906, one year after 
their marriage 

Cousin Jean Delano, sailing at Campobello, around 1910 

Family affairs 

Franklin Roosevelt with his wife, his mother, 
and his daughter/Anna, on Daisy, the pony, 1911* 

The family in Washington, i 9 i6-Elliott, at left; James, center, behind Frank- 
lin Jr.; John on his mother's lap, Anna Eleanor, at right 

(photo by Harold L. Ritch) 

A Roosevelt 
on the job 

His first political post, in the New York Senate, 1911 

Assistant Secretary of the Navy in the 

Navy Yard, New York, 1913 (International News Photo) 

Armistice with Tammany 

Roosevelt with Charles F. Murphy, his old Tammany adversary, and John 
A. Voorhis at Tammany Hall, July 4, 1917 (New York Daily News photo) 

The rising politician campaigning for Vice-President on the 1920 Demo- 
cratic ticket at Dayton, Ohio (photo by F. W. Emmert) 

'Something of a lion, something of a jox 

On crutches in 1924, with John W. Davis, who won the presidential nomi- 
nation, and Al Smith (at right), who lost it, after Roosevelt's "happy 
warrior" speech (photo by F.P.G.) 

'A New Deal jor the American people' 

The Democratic nominee for President arriving by plane in Chicago 
with his family, July 2, 1932, to address the convention (United Press 


At the Democratic convention, July 4, 1932, with Louis McHenry 
Howe (left) and his campaign manager, James A. Farley (Wide World 

'Nothing to fear but fear itself 

The President and his First Lady after arrival in Washington, D. C., 
March, 1933, before his first inauguration (Wide World Photo) 

'A man of many roles' 

F.D.R. joking with Vice- 
President Garner at a 
dinner for James A. 
Farley (right), Feb. 15, 
1937; behind Garner, 
Henry A. Wallace; be^ 
hind Roosevelt, Corclell 
Hull; behind Farley, 
Henry A. Morgenthau 

A dismal, fishing cruise 
off Miami during the 
recession, with Robert 
H. Jackson (standing, 
center), Harry Hopkins 
(right of Jackson), and 
Harold Ickes (seated, 
right), Nov. 29, 1937 
(United Press photo) 

Alter hot dogs and a 
picnic at Hyde Park, 
President and Mrs. 
Roosevelt wave farewell 
to the King and Queen 
of England at the rail- 
road station, June 11, 

The President and his secretaries: (left to right) Marguerite Le Hand, Mar- 
vin H. Mclntyre, and Grace Tully, Hyde Park, Nov. 4, 1938 

'The inner circle' 

The President and his cabinet: (clockwise) Henry Morgenthau, Secre- 
tary of the Treasury; Homer S. Cummings, Attorney General; Claude 
Swanson, Secretary o the Navy; Henry A. Wallace, Secretary of Agricul- 
ture; Frances Perkins, Secretary of Labor; Harry H. Woodring, Secretary 
of War; Cordell Hull, Secretary of State, Sept. 27, ig38 (United Press photo) 

'The Champ' 

The campaign (1932 International News photo) 

The press (aboard campaign train, Sept. 13, 1932 Wide World photo) 

The crowds (at Newburgh, 

N. Y., Nov. 4, 1940 United 
Press photo) 

The polling booth (with his 
wife and mother at Hyde 
Park's Town Hall, Nov. 8, 
iggS United Press photo) 

The inauguration (Chief Jus- 
tice Charles Evans Hughes ad- 
ministering the oath of office, 
Jan. 20, 1937 International 
News photo) 

A drought year but when 
Roosevelt spoke, it rained 
-Charlotte, N. C., Sept. 10, 

Roosevelt smile 

Roosevelt laughing at his crippled legs to put others at ease, Hollywood 
Bowl, Sept. 24, 1932 (Wide World photo) 

'Never . . . a man who was loved as he is' 

At Warm Springs, Ga., Dec. i, 1933 (United Press photo) 

Commander in chief 

The President reviewing the fleet from the U S S 
July 14, 1938 (Wide World photo) 

Houston at San Francisco, 

The Grand Coalition 271 

tion on certain planks of the 1936 platform in such a way as to 
put him a few degrees left of the party. More imponderable than 
all, in the late spring of 1936, was the potential of Al Smith and of 
the Jeffersonian Democrats who were splitting away from the New 
Deal. There were rumors that the anti-New Deal Democrats might 
set up a third party. 

Faced by this mobilization of the conservatives, Roosevelt found 
himself still harried elsewhere by the forces of Coughlin, Townsend, 
and Long. Huey Long had been shot to death in his state capitol in 
September 1935, but the Louisianian's nationwide following had 
not fallen apart with his assassination; one of Long's organizers, a 
handsome, slick-talking Louisiana minister named Gerald L. K. 
Smith, had sprung forward to grab the reins and the mailing lists. 
By June 1936 this ill-assorted trio was joining hands and preparing 
to set up the Union party. The only basis for their harmony was 
hatred of Roosevelt and the realization that his defeat would favor 
their own chances in later elections. 

The attacks from left and right brought a sudden little drop in 
Roosevelt's popularity in June 1936, and his sensitive political ears 
doubtless caught this. The Supreme Court's extreme swing right- 
ward in the New York minimum wage law case at the beginning 
of June also probably influenced the President. In any event, the 
force of the opposition made it clear that he would have to wage 
a strong campaign. But Roosevelt evaded for a time the question 
of whether or not he would promise an extension of the New Deal, 
and whether or not he would wage a party fight. His way of de- 
laying a decision on these tactical matters was to play up the presi- 
dential personality. 

"There's one issue in this campaign," he told Moley. "It's myself, 
and people must be either for me or against me." 


Like all party conventions, the Democratic national assemblage in 
Philadelphia had its smoke-filled room but it was the President's 
study 150 miles away in the White House. Roosevelt dominated the 
proceedings throughout. He drafted the platform, passed on the 
major speeches, made the main convention decisions, and brought 
the affair to a stunning climax with his acceptance speech. 

The platform was, of course, a string of hosannas to the New 
Deal. One plank reflected a major decision on Roosevelt's part. The 
ticklish problem of the Supreme Court could be handled either by 
a plank boldly calling for a constitutional amendment broadening 
congressional power over the economy, or by silence on the matter 
or by generalities, assuming, of course, that the President had not 


yet formulated the plan he was to present to Congress seven months 
later. Beset with conflicting advice, Roosevelt chose the method of 
generality. After asserting that national problems demanded na- 
tional action, the platform went on cautiously: "If these problems 
cannot be effectively solved by legislation within the Constitution, 
we shall seek such clarifying amendment" as would allow the state 
and federal legislatures, within their respective spheres, to pass laws 
adequate to regulate commerce, protect public health and safety, 
and safeguard economic security. "Thus we propose to maintain 
the letter and spirit of the Constitution." 

Still, the platform was an unusually outspoken and eloquent 
document. "We hold this truth to be self-evident that government 
in a modern civilization has certain inescapable obligations to its 
citizens, among which are: (i) Protection of the family and the 
home; (2) Establishment of a democracy of opportunity for all the 
people; (3) Aid to those overtaken by disaster." While ambiguous 
on foreign policy, the declaration was an emphatic pledge to con- 
tinue and to expand the domestic New Deal. Most revealing, per- 
haps, of Roosevelt's militance of the moment was the inclusion in 
the same sentence of a promise to "rid our land of kidnapers, 
bandits, and malefactors of great wealth." After considerable wran- 
gling in the resolutions committee, a period and a few words were 
set between the criminals and the malefactors but they stayed in 
the same paragraph. 

The fight over the period was symptomatic of convention pro- 
ceedings. The delegates had little to decide. Farley kept the huge 
assembly in session for five days, partly because he wanted to give 
the Philadelphia businessmen, who had donated $200,000 to have 
the convention in the City of Brotherly Love, their money's worth, 
partly because he saw a chance to drench the air waves with Demo- 
cratic propaganda day after day, and partly because Roosevelt 
wanted to give his acceptance speech on a Saturday, as he had four 
years before. Time was consumed by endless speeches and parlia- 
mentary formalities; the delegates were amused by songs, stunts, 
and the ousting of a group of Al Smith Democrats who had the 
temerity to call out their hero's name. 

But the convention did make one decision of potential impor- 
tance. The President was still determined on the abrogation of the 
two-thirds requirement for nomination, and Bennett Champ Clark, 
son of the victim of the rule in 1912, had the satisfaction of moving 
the adoption of the majority rule. Mollified by a promise of in- 
creased convention representation for their section, the Southerners 
put up only a token fight; but the governor of Texas wondered 
out loud about the implications of the change for 1940. 

By the time Roosevelt's neighbor John E. Mack placed the Presi- 

1936: The Grand Coalition 273 

dent's name in nomination, the convention had become a wild 
political jamboree. "With our decks cleared for battle," shouted 
Mack, "with justice and right and progress with us, we are ready 
for more action under the inspired leadership of that great Ameri- 
can whose name I give you as your candidate for President, no 
longer a citizen merely of one State, but a son of all the 48 States, 

Franklin Delano Roos " An hour-long political demonstration 

followed the climactic uttering of the magic name: delegates milled 
about, cheering hoarsely, waving banners, tooting horns, jabbering, 

Hardly less enthusiastic was the candidate himself. To Mack he 
exclaimed over the telephone: "John, you were grand! You had the 
jury right in the hollow of your hand-perfectly grand. I hope they 
will find for your client. It's all right. You were in grand voice. It 
came over the air marvelously. It's great stuff. . . ." 

While the seconding speeches no less than fifty-six of them 
droned on, Roosevelt was putting the last touches on his acceptance 
speech. This speech would set the tone for the campaign. Once 
again Roosevelt faced the problem of whether to give a "sweetness 
and light" address appealing to all groups or a partisan talk to a 
partisan throng; and once again he was for a time undecided. At 
first he turned to Moley for a draft stressing the theme of unity and 
co-operation; later he got from Rosenman and High a "militant, 
bare-fisted statement of the necessity for economic freedom," as 
Rosenman later described it. The night before he was nominated, 
with the embattled speeches of party militants in Philadelphia still 
echoing in his ears, the President hammered out a rough draft 
"so rough that I didn't like it," he told reporters the next day, 
"being a peaceful man." Sweetness and light were still in it and 
something else too. 

A theatrical setting awaited the President in Philadelphia Satur- 
day night. Masses of humanity over one hundred thousand per- 
sonssat in great banks in the Franklin Field stadium. Rain had 
been falling, but by the time Roosevelt's long black car slid up 
the ramp to a curtained-off area behind the platform, stars were 
showing through the splotchy clouds. Behind the curtain the smil- 
ing President started his slow, stiff-legged walk toward the stage. 
Suddenly he spotted in the crowd around him the benign, white- 
bearded face of Edwin Markham. Reaching out to seize the poet's 
outstretched hand, the President was thrown off balance, and down 
he went. Pulled back to his feet, white, shaken, and angry, he 
snapped, "Clean me up." 

But only for an instant did he lose his composure. A moment 
later, when the curtain was parted, there stood the President calm, 
erect, smiling. The crowd burst into frenzied, ecstatic cheering. 


Roosevelt opened serenely on a note of national unity. "I come 
not only as a leader of a party, not only as a candidate for high office, 
but as one upon whom many critical hours have imposed and still 
impose a grave responsibility." He thanked members both of his 
own party and of other parties for their unselfish and nonpartisan 
effort to overcome depression. 

"America will not forget these recent years, will not forget that 
the rescue was not a mere party task. It was the concern of all of 
us. In our strength we rose together, rallied our energies together, 
applied the old rules of common sense, and together survived. In 
those days we feared fear. . , . We have conquered fear." 

The President's voice sounded clearly in the soft summer air. 
"But I cannot, with candor, tell you that all is well with the world. 
Clouds of suspicion, tides of ill-will and intolerance gather darkly 
in many places." Even in America, the rush of modern civilization 
had raised new problems that must be faced if Americans were to 
preserve the political and economic freedom for which Washington 
and Jefferson had fought. Political tyranny had been wiped out at 
Philadelphia on July 4, 1776. But economic tyranny had risen to 
threaten Americans. 

A hundred spotlights set the President off brilliantly from the 
dark masses around him. "It was natural and perhaps human that 
the privileged princes of these new economic dynasties, thirsting for 
power, reached out for control over Government itself. They created 
a new despotism and wrapped it in the robes of legal sanction. In 
its service new mercenaries sought to regiment the people, their 
labor, and their property. And as a result the average man once 
more confronts the problem that faced the Minute Man. . . . 

"The royalists of the economic order have conceded that political 
freedom was the business of the Government, but they have main- 
tained that economic slavery was nobody's business. They granted 
that the Government could protect the citizen in his right to vote, 
but they denied that the Government could do anything to protect 
the citizen in his right to work and his right to live. Today we stand 
committed to the proposition that freedom is no- half-and-half affair. 
If the average citizen is guaranteed equal opportunity in the polling 
place, he must have equal opportunity in the market place." 

Roosevelt's voice was rising in crescendo after crescendo. "These 
economic royalists complain that we seek to overthrow the institu- 
tions of America. What they really complain of is that we seek to 
take away their power." The crowd roared its approval. "Our al- 
legiance to American institutions requires the overthrow of this 
kind of power. In vain they seek to hide behind the Flag and the 
Constitution." Roosevelt's phrases cut through the cheering "de- 
mocracy, not tyranny . . . freedom, not subjection . . . dictator- 

1936: The Grand Coalition 275 

ship by mob rule and the overprivileged alike . . . the resolute 
enemy within our gates . . ." 

Roosevelt lowered his voice. "Governments can err, Presidents do 
make mistakes, but the immortal Dante tells us that divine justice 
weighs the sins of the cold-blooded and the sins of the warm-hearted 
in different scales. Better the occasional faults of a Government that 
lives in a spirit of charity than the consistent omissions of a Gov- 
ernment frozen in the ice of its own indifference. 

"There is a mysterious cycle in human events. To some genera- 
tions much is given. Of other generations much is expected. This 
generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny. . . ." 

Roosevelt looked up at the crowd. 

"I accept the commission you have tendered me. I join" 

A clamorous roar swept through the stadium, drowning out the 
last words "with you. I am enlisted for the duration of the war." 
Like a prize fighter, Roosevelt held his clasped hands over his head, 
then seized John Garner's. Slowly the President made his way back 
to his car. As the ecstatic crowd cheered, he circled the field twice; 
then his car disappeared into the night. 

From the center of the stage Roosevelt moved back into the wings. 
He gave two or three "nonpolitical" dedicatory speeches, and thea 
he entered the fullest blackout a President can enjoy, by cruising for 
two weeks off the New England coast. The President's vacation was 
carefully timed. He was perfectly willing to let the Republicans 
take over the stage; his time would come later. "The Republican, 
high command," he wrote Garner, "is doing altogether too much 
talking at this stage of the game." 

Others were not so serene. Watching the Landon build-up in the 
press, Ickes grumbled that the Democratic campaign was drifting 
and the President was defeating himself. Eleanor Roosevelt warned 
that the Landon headquarters was moving quickly into action. 
Without Roosevelt's direct control things fell into disorder; even 
Early and High were disturbed. "The President smiles and sails 
and fishes," Ickes complained, "and the rest of us worry and fume." 

Roosevelt could afford to smile and sail. In a broad sense he had 
been campaigning for re-election ever since taking office, and he 
had begun setting his campaign machine in action months before 
his nomination. He had asked many of his ambassadors abroad to 
come back for the campaign; he had assigned propaganda jobs, in- 
cluding the preparation of a "Life of Governor Landon" that would 
picture the Kansan as a pleader for federal relief; he had directed 
the setting up of special campaign groups like the Good Neighbor 
League, reviewed campaign tracts, helped draft Lehman for renomi- 
nation as governor to strengthen the whole ticket in New York, in-. 


structed his campaign aides not to mention any Republican candi- 
date. When Farley forgot this last precept and referred to the Repub- 
lican candidate as the governor of a "typical prairie state/' the Presi- 
dent chided him none too gently. It would have been all right if 
Farley had said "one of those splendid prairie states/' the President 
wrote him, but the word "typical" coming from a New Yorker was 
meat for the opposition. 

Within a few weeks after the Philadelphia convention Farley had 
campaign headquarters actively functioning in New York. The na- 
tional chairman wrote 2,500 local Democratic leaders for their ap- 
praisal of the situation in their area. "I want the true picture/' 
Farley warned, and it was on the basis of these and succeeding 
estimates that he later made his remarkably accurate prediction of 
the election results. 

Farley set up the usual campaign divisions, including business, 
veterans, foreign language, and the like. The Democrats paid special 
attention to labor. Lewis and other CIO chiefs organized Labor's 
Nonpartisan League, a wholly partisan agency for mobilizing Roose- 
velt votes in the industrial centers. Perhaps its most important con- 
tribution to the campaign was a gift of half a million dollars. In 
the face of the widening labor schism between Lewis's CIO and the 
American Federation of Labor, the Democrats were careful not to 
jeopardize their good relations with the AFL. Administration offi- 
cials lobbied among Federation chiefs to hold labor's ranks together 
at least until November. Roosevelt kept in close touch with Green, 
and the AFL chief publicly promised after a visit to Hyde Park that 
90 per cent of labor's vote would go to the President. 

While Farley framed a party campaign during midsummer, while 
Landon and his hard-driving running mate, Frank Knox, stumped 
the country, the President serenely kept his posture of nonpartisan- 
ship. Actually he was closely directing aspects of the campaign, even 
to the extent of specifying the kind of paper and color process to 
be used in pamphlets. Publicly, however, the President seemed oc- 
cupied with his presidential duties. Of course, as President he could 
continue to exploit the politics of the deed. He deflated Republican 
criticism of the Democratic spoils system by putting postmasters 
under civil service regulations. He anticipated a Landon pronounce- 
ment on farm problems by creating a crop insurance committee for 
protection against farm surpluses. 

As President, too, Roosevelt could make pronouncements of non- 
partisan character but with wide popular appeal. Such an occasion 
was his Chautauqua address. "I have seen wan I have seen war on 
land and sea. I have seen blood running from the wounded. ... I 
iate war/' Carefully skirting dangerous political shoals, the Presi- 
ient fell back on his old formula of shunning political commit- 

1936: The Grand Coalition 277 

ments, such as those involved in the League, but warning that peace- 
ful nations could be involved as long as war existed anywhere in 
the world. "I have passed unnumbered hours, I shall pass unnum- 
bered hours, thinking and planning how war may be kept from this 
Nation. . . ." 

Nature, too, aided the President's guise of nonpartisanship. By 
the summer of 1936 a belt of land running from Canada to Texas 
had been seared and baked by drought. With the sun remorselessly 
drying up streams and killing off crops, the President decided on 
one of his "look-sees." Any politics on the drought trip? reporters 
asked. "It is a great disservice to the proper administration of any 
government," the President said piously, "to link up human misery 
with partisan politics." 

The trip was a political master stroke. The President made a 
score of back-platform speeches in nine states; he saw, and was 
seen by, tens of thousands of voters. Never did he mention the 
campaign, except in an offhand, humorous way, and never did he 
mention the Republican opposition. But he often pointed out the 
contrast between the conditions he had seen in 1932 and the con- 
ditions he saw now, even in the drought areas. As the politician 
joked and politicked with local officials, the inspection train took 
on the aura of a campaign train. Roosevelt himself seemed to take 
on magical qualities as his trips through the parched country time 
and again brought rain. 

But the tour was a work trip, too, and the President had a chance 
to talk with scores of federal and local officials. The climax came in 
Des Moines when Roosevelt conferred with state governorsinclud- 
ing the governor of Kansas. The meeting was called in part to put 
Landon "on the spot" in regard to farm relief, but the Kansan held 
his own. Roosevelt took care to be thoroughly briefed for the^ en- 
counter. "You will not remember," Landon said at one point, "but 
the first talk with me when you invited me to Washington in 1933" 

Roosevelt cut in: "About the water?" 

"I am amazed you remember," Landon said. 

The President's main difficulties came at the hands not of Landon 
but of blunt-talking Governor Ernest Marland of Oklahoma, where 
drought conditions were at their harshest. At the end the Oklaho- 
man demanded: "Mr. President, what are we going to tell the 
100,000 hungry farmers in Oklahoma tomorrow when we go home?" 

"You are going to tell them that the Federal agencies are getting 
busy on it just as fast as the Lord will let them. . . . You can ac- 
complish something in one week, but you cannot accomplish the 

"That is small consolation for a hungry farmer," the governor 



"What more can you say to the hungry farmer, Governor? The 
machinery will be put in gear just as fast as the Lord will let you/* 


The grand strategy in this battle, Herbert Bayard Swope wrote 
Roosevelt in August, "is to be firm without being ferocious; to be 
kindly rather than cold; to be hopeful instead of pessimistic; to 
be human rather than to be economic; to be insistent upon every 
man having a chance, and above all, to make yourself appear to be 
the President of all the people. . . ." 

"I agree with all you say/' Roosevelt replied. And during Septem- 
ber, while the people and the politicos waited for the old cam- 
paigner to open up, Roosevelt doggedly kept his nonpartisan pose. 
He spoke to the nation on conservation, to a world power confer- 
ence on "human engineering/* to the Conference on the Mobiliza- 
tion for Human Needs, to a national convention of philatelists, to 
the tercentenary celebration of Harvard, where he was booed by 
the undergraduates and where he brought smiles even to the faces 
of stiff-necked Republican alumni by saying: "At that time [one 
hundred years ago] many of the alumni of Harvard were sorely 
troubled by the state of the Nation. Andrew Jackson was President. 
On the 250th anniversary of the founding of Harvard College, 
alumni again were sorely troubled. Grover Cleveland was Presi- 
dent/' A pause. "Now, on the sjooth anniversary, I am President/' 

But still the President took no notice of the campaign, of the 
Republicans and their charges. "Say, Steve/' a reporter asked Early 
jocularly, "is this going to be a nonpolitical campaign?" 

Farley could take no such lofty stand. As the rallier of party 
forces, he was fair game for Republican thrusts. Day after day he 
was charged with using relief jobs and public funds to bribe millions 
of voters, with operating a colossal spoils machine, with neglecting 
the post office. The Republicans hoped their shots would glance off 
Farley and demolish Roosevelt; more likely, their drumfire against 
the Postmaster General simply helped Roosevelt in his tactic of 
staying above the battle. 

Farley's worst troubles came from Democrats rather than Repub- 
licans. Roosevelt's bipartisanship of 1934 had left Democrats dis- 
organized and disgruntled in half a dozen states. The Wisconsin 
Democracy had warned Farley against any further administration 
flirting with the Progressives, and they had put up another candi- 
date to fight Philip La Follette for the governorship. The EPIC 
groups, still in control of the Democratic party organization in 
California, had toyed with third party ideas but were now grudg- 
ingly supporting Roosevelt. Farmer-Laborites in Minnesota had 

1936: The Grand Coalition 279 

been openly critical of the New Deal but were now lining up be- 
hind Roosevelt, to the discomfiture of the Democratic factions. And 
it was to Farley, the party leader, that the angry Democrats turned 
to demand help from the national administration. 

The kind of problem Farley faced was typified by the situation 
in Idaho. Mutual friends of Senator Borah and Roosevelt had tried 
to induce Farley to withdraw administration support from Borah's 
Democratic foe in exchange for the Idaho senator's support for 
Roosevelt against Landon. The proposed deal was backed also by 
a Democratic faction in Idaho opposed to the Democratic nominee, 
and Borah was willing to play along with the idea. But Farley re- 
ported to the go-betweens that the Democratic candidate was in 
the fight to stay. Borah never took a stand between Roosevelt and 

Another pro-Roosevelt but non-Democratic senator was Norris 
of Nebraska and Norris was a man Roosevelt especially esteemed. 
Late in 1935 the President had urged Norris to run for re-election 
in 1936, but the old white-haired Nebraskan allowed the party 
primaries to go by without filing. He cut off his ties with organiza- 
tion Republicans by denouncing the 1936 platform, and he con- 
tinued to attack organization Democrats, including Farley, for their 
spoils activities. But he came out for the President; "Roosevelt is 
the Democratic platform," the Senator announced. Nominated on 
petitions as an independent by thousands of his followers late in 
the summer of 1936, Norris confronted the regular nominees of the 
two parties. The Democratic nominee, Terry M. Carpenter, ap- 
pealed for support to his national party leaders, but in vain. To 
make matters worse for Carpenter, key Democratic leaders in the 
state came out for Norris against their own party nominee. Carpen- 
ter could merely hope that Roosevelt would remain silent. 

In planning his mid-October campaign, the President handled 
state situations such as these with his usual versatility. He kept 
entirely clear of California, Wisconsin, and Idaho, and thus avoided 
hostile factions in those states. He planned to go to Minnesota, but 
before he arrived the local Democrats had been induced to with- 
draw their state ticket in favor of the Farmer-Laborites, so that the 
President's main task in this state was to soothe the injured feelings 
of the ticketless Democratic leaders. As for Nebraska-here he in- 
tended to be as direct and outspoken as elsewhere he had been 

Roosevelt opened his formal campaign with a speech at the end 
of September to the New York Democratic convention in Syracuse. 
He used the occasion to answer charges of Coughlin, Hearst, and 
others that the Communists were supporting the New Deal. The 
President had been urged to answer these charges by denouncing 


Soviet violations o treaty agreements, but he believed that a flat 
statement would be enough. "I have not sought, I do not seek, I 
repudiate the support of any advocate of Communism or of any 
other alien 'ism' which would by fair means or foul change our 
American democracy/' he asserted. The New Deal, he said, had 
saved the country from the threat of communism posed by the social 
and economic wreckage of 1932. Liberalism was the protection of 
the farsighted conservative. "Reform if you would preserve." 

With biting sarcasm Roosevelt struck out at the "me-too" speeches 
of the Republicans. "Let me warn you and let me warn the Nation 
against the smooth evasion which says/'-and here Roosevelt arched 
his eyebrows and raised his voice to a near falsetto "Of course we 
believe all these things; we believe in social security; we believe in 
work for the unemployed; we believe in saving homes. Cross our 
hearts and hope to die, we believe in all these things; but we do 
not like the way the present Administration is doing them. Just 
turn them over to us. We will do all of themwe will do more of 
them we will do them better; and, most important of all, the doing 
of them will not cost anybody anything." 

As Roosevelt's campaign train rolled slowly through the Midwest 
during October, the patterns of his attack became clear. Over and 
over again, in rear-platform talks and formal speeches, he stressed 
three simple themes: the contrast between conditions in March 1933 
and conditions in October 1936; the role of the New Deal in getting 
the country out of depression; and the interdependence of the 
American people of workers and businessmen, of farmers and con- 
sumers, of state governments and the national government. With 
homely examples he drove these points home. 

Although the President said on one occasion, "We are here to 
proclaim the New Deal, not to defend it," to a surprising degree 
he devoted his talks to a point-by-point answer to Republican 
charges. Again and again he answered Landon's charges of waste 
and wild spending with the simple question, "If someone came to 
you and said, 'If you will borrow $800 and by borrowing that $800 
increase your annual income by $2,200,' would you borrow it or 
not?" When some Republican orator accused him of bringing out 
a new farm program every year, like new automobile models, he 
accepted the simile and said the nation had passed beyond Model-T 
farming. "While his speeches did not resound with Webster's 
sonorous roll, or shimmer with the polished hardness of Woodrow 
Wilson's rhetoric," Charles and Mary Beard wrote not long after- 
ward, "his prose, although sometimes dull and repetitious, often 
glowed with poetic warmth and was enlivened by the flight of 
speeding words/' 

It was notable, though, that Roosevelt talked little about the 

: The Grand Coalition 281 

future during his Western swing. He was making the New Deal 
record, not the New Deal promises, the issue. He implied that the 
New Deal would be enlarged if he stayed in office. But it was no 
more than an implication; and his speeches were studded with con- 
ciliatory remarks for businessmen, doctors, beet sugar growers, and 
others. Foreign policy he almost completely ignored. 

When he wished to take a forthright position the President did 
so with a flourish. Such was his endorsement of Norris. Speaking in 
Omaha, the President said that outside of his own state of New 
York he had consistently refrained from taking part in state elec- 
tions. But to this rule "I have made and so long as he lives I al- 
ways will make one magnificently justified exception. George 
Norris' candidacy transcends State and party lines." Roosevelt ap- 
pealed directly to the cheering crowd to help Norris win re-election. 

Always Roosevelt was the gay campaigner, easy in his way with 
crowds, quick on the trigger, homey, laughing, waving, obviously en- 
joying himself. In Emporia, Kansas, he looked through the crowd for 
Editor White, who was supporting Landon. "I wish he were here," 
the President said genially. "He is a very good friend of mine for 
three and a half out of every four years/' 

There was a rustle in the crowd and White appeared. "Shoot not 
this old gray head/' he cried out in mock alarm as he went up to 
the rear platform of the train. 

"Hello, Bill, glad to see you," Roosevelt said. Then turning to 
the crowd: "Now that I see him, I shall not say anything about the 
other six months." The crowd laughed and applauded as the two 
men shook hands, and the train pulled out. 

JBy late October battle lines had stiffened between the two main 
parties The Union party, denied a place on the ballot in a dozen 
states, riven by cleavages among the strange assortment of men who 
founded it, was visibly faltering. Coughlin had antagonized people 
by stripping off his black coat and Roman collar at the Union party 
convention and calling Roosevelt a betrayer and liar. Townsend in 
October was urging supporters to vote for Landon in states where 
they could not vote for the Union candidate, William Lemke. 
Greeted by deep, ominous booing and cold, dead silence in some 
cities, the Republican candidate was grimly plugging away at his 
anti-New Deal line. But his hopes ran high on the crest of support 
from the great majority of newspapers and of denunciations of the 
New Deal by Democrats Smith and Davis. Moreover, the Literary 
Digest, whose polls had been accurate in past elections, showed 
Landon holding a decisive edge over his opponent. 

Roosevelt late in October set out on a ten-day tour of the urban 
Northeast. In an almost literal sense the tour was not a campaign 


trip but a triumphal procession. The President himself said that 
the trip brought out the "most amazing tidal wave of humanity" 
he had ever seen. There was something terrible about the crowds 
that lined the streets, Roosevelt remarked to Ickes-he could hear 
men and women crying out, "He saved my home/' "He gave me a 
job." Roosevelt made the entire New England swing in an open 
car, and even hard-bitten reporters were incredulous over the wild 
enthusiasm of the crowds. For mile after mile people lined the 
roads, not only in the cities but in the outskirts as well. Boston 
Common was overrun by a seething mass of 150,000 people. In 
Connecticut cities the candidate's entourage-including Eleanor 
Roosevelt-could hardly get through the crowded streets. In New 
York City the Roosevelt car traveled more than thirty miles without 
passing a block whose sidewalks were not jammed. 

As he waved and talked to such crowds Roosevelt seemed to 
catch their militancy. His speeches took on a sharper edge, struck 
a more positive note. In New York City he promised national legis- 
lation for better housing. In Wilkes-Barre he attacked scathingly 
the "propaganda-spreading employers" who were putting anti-social 
security law slips into pay envelopes. In Brooklyn he stated the task 
still to be done-to destroy "the glaring inequalities of opportunity 
and security which, in the recent past, have set group against group 
and region against region." 

Before a wildly fervent, chanting crowd in Madison Square Gar- 
den, Roosevelt on the last day of October brought his campaign to 
a passionate climax. 

". . . We have not come this far without a struggle and I assure 
you that we cannot go further without a struggle. 

"For twelve years our Nation was afflicted with hear-nothing, see- 
nothing, do-nothing Government. The Nation looked to that Gov- 
ernment but that Government looked away. Nine mocking years 
with the golden calf and three long years of the scourge! Nine crazy 
years at the ticker and three long years in the breadlines I Nine mad 
years of mirage and three long years of despair! And, my friends, 
powerful influences strive today to restore that kind of government 
with its doctrine that that Government is best which is most indif- 
ferent to mankind/' 

Explosive cheers were punctuating the President's sentences. He 
was deftly modifying the transitions in his prepared text as he 
caught the rhythm of the crowd. "For nearly four years now you 
have had an Administration which instead of twirling its thumbs 
has rolled up its sleeves. And I can assure you that we will keep 
our sleeves rolled up. 

"We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace business and 
financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, 

The Grand Coalition 283 

sectionalism, war profiteering. They had begun to consider the 
Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own 
affairs. And we know now that Government by organized money is 
just as dangerous as Government by organized mob." 

Roosevelt's voice had been in turn stern with indignation, sono- 
rous with moral fervor, solemn, and even cheery. Now his tone 
hardened. "Never before in all our history have these forces been 
so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unani- 
mous in their hate for me and I welcome their hatred." 

A raucous, almost animal-like roar burst from the crowd, died 
away, and then rose again in wave after wave. Roosevelt began 
again, gently. 

"I should like to have it said of my first Administration that in 
it the forces of selfishness and of lust for power met their match." 
The words came faster, rang with increasing militancy. "I should 
like to have it said" Cheers, cowbells, horns, clackers drowned out 
the words. 

"Wait a moment!" Roosevelt commanded. The old performer 
would not have his lines spoiled. The din subsided. 

"I should like to have it said of my second Administration that 
in it these forces met their master" The roar from the crowd was 
like that at a prize fight a massive sound through which the 
promptings of individuals could be faintly heard. 

A few days before, Landon had stood where the President was 
now standing, and had demanded that Roosevelt indicate his future 
course if re-elected. The President picked up the challenge but did 
so in his own terms. Again and again hitting the refrain "For all 
these we have only just begun to fight/' he said: 

"This is our answer to those who, silent about their own plans, 
ask us to state our objectives. 

"Of course we will continue to seek to improve working conditions 
for the workers of America. . . . Of course we will continue to 
work for cheaper electricity in the homes and on the farms of 
America. . . . Of course we will continue our efforts in behalf of 
the farmers of America. . . . Of course we will continue our efforts 
for young men and ^omen . . . for the crippled, for the blind, 
for the mothers, our insurance for the unemployed, our security 
for the aged. Of course we will continue to protect the consumer 
. . . will continue our successful efforts to increase his purchasing 
power and to keep it constant. 

"For these things, too, and for a multitude of things like them, 
we have only just begun to fight. . . ." 



Reporters groped for words. The election results were a tidal wave, 
an earthquake, a landslide, the blizzard of '36. Roosevelt carried 
every state but Maine and Vermont. He won over Landon by 
27,752,309 to 16,682,524 votes, the biggest popular plurality in 
history; his 523 to 8 ratio of electoral votes exactly as predicted 
by Farley was the biggest since 1820. He helped enlarge the al- 
ready top-heavy Democratic margins in Congress. The new House 
would have 334 Democrats and 89 Republicans, against 321-104 
before; sitting in the Senate would be 75 Democrats and only 17 
Republicans, as compared to the old 70-23 ratio. If there had been 
a coattails effect, Roosevelt had the longer tails; Lehman in New 
York and Frank Murphy in Michigan had been urged to run to 
help the President; Roosevelt ran far ahead of both of them. 

Roosevelt's political reputation soared. Tumbling over one an- 
other, observers called him the master politician, the champion 
campaigner. What was the secret of his political sorcery? Some of 
his techniques were as old as politics itself; a few were new; all 
were invested with the deft Roosevelt touch. If categorized, they 
might go as follows. 

Grasp of Public Opinion. Roosevelt showed such a sure sense of 
popular moods and attitudes that some believed he had intuition 
or a sixth sense in this field. Actually, his understanding was rooted 
in solid, day-to-day accumulation of facts on what people were 
thinking. Roosevelt read half a dozen newspapers a day. He kept 
up a vast correspondence. Tens of thousands of letters came to the 
White House every week reporting people's views and problems. 
He got some understanding from crowds the way they looked, how 
they reacted to certain passages in his speeches. As President he en- 
joyed special advantages. Through favored journalists he could 
put up trial balloons and test public reaction. He had special voting 
polls conducted, and he often received advance information on 
other polls. Administrators in regional and state offices sent in a 
good deal of information, as did state and local party leaders. A 
huge division of press intelligence clipped hundreds of newspapers 
and compiled digests. 

Timing Roosevelt's timing also seemed intuitive, but it too was 
largely calculated. Essential in his timing was the care he took not 
to confront his political opposition when it was mobilizing and 
moving hard and fast; he believed, for example, that presidents 
could expect to lose some popular support during congressional 
sessions, and that the President should wait until Congress adjourned 
before seizing the offensive again. Sometimes he moved fast, before 

1936: The Grand Coalition 285 

the opposition could mobilize. "I am like a cat," Roosevelt said 
once. "I make a quick stroke and then I relax." More often, he 
waited for the crest of the opposition wave to subside, then he acted. 
In the 1936 campaign he was under intense pressure from his 
political advisers to attack Landon when the Republican tide was 
running strong in early summer, but he refused. When he told 
Rosenman that tides turned quickly in politics, he was recognizing 
a shiftiness and moodiness in certain sectors of public opinion that 
have since been tested and proved in opinion and voting studies. 

Attention to Political Detail. Roosevelt showed infinite patience 
in dealing with the day-to-day routine of politics, involving in most 
cases the ambitions, hopes, and desire for recognition of countless 
politicians. The White House establishment was carefully organized 
for this purpose. A memo to Roosevelt during the campaign from 
one of his aides read: 

1. Dan Tobin needs a little pat on the back. What do you think of 
taking him along on the New England trip? . . . 

2. Jim [Farley] suggests the possibility of taking John J. O'Connor up 
through New England since he's an old Massachusetts man nose a bit 
out of joint, etc. 

3. Jim thinks the Connecticut trip should include Meriden. It is Frank 
Maloney's home town. . . . 

Or take the case of David E. Fitzgerald, a Democratic leader in 
New Haven. In 1935 the White House sent him an autographed 
picture of the President. Fitzgerald traveled with Roosevelt's en- 
tourage during the New England tour in 1936; his note of congratu- 
lations brought a "Dear Dave" reply from the President. Each of 
three Fitzgerald letters in 1940 was answered by a warm little note 
from Roosevelt; a postelection wire of congratulations brought a 
presidential letter in which "Dear Mr. Fitzgerald" was crossed out 
and "Dear Dave" substituted. When Fitzgerald caught cold cam- 
paigning, the White House sent him flowers. In 1941, another "Dear 
Dave" letter; a year later Fitzgerald died, and a warm presidential 
letter went to his widow, who replied, in a widow's tremulous 
handwriting, "Mr. Fitzgerald was always an ardent admirer of 
yours. . . ." 

Attention to Intragroup Factions. The White House checked 
carefully on the political situation within groups, in order both to 
keep on friendly terms with all the factions and to avoid being 
compromised by some faction of politically suspect leanings. Splits 
among Negroes, Jews, labor groups, bankers, veterans, and the like 
were followed with care. Through administration officials who had 
longtime connections with national associations, the White House 
got deeply involved in the internal politics of some groups, but 


always covertly. Pro-Roosevelt activities in the groups were often 
defensive, designed to offset opposing factions which might swing 
the formal association against the President during an election cam- 

Separating Opposition Leaders from Rank and File. Splitting 
enemy leaders from their followers is an old political tactic, but 
few politicians have used it as persistently or as meticulously as 
Roosevelt. Almost invariably he attacked "Republican leaders" or 
"Republican spokesmen/' never the Republican party or Repub- 
licans generally, "There are thousands of people," Roosevelt had 
said to Rosenman as far back as 1930, "who think as you and I 
do about government. They are enrolled as Republicans because 
their families have been Republicans for generations that's the 
only reason; some of them think it is infra dig to be called a Demo- 
crat; the Democrats in their village are not the socially 'nice' people 
the enrolled Republicans are. So never attack the Republicans or 
the Republican party only the Republican leaders. Then any Re- 
publican voter who hears it will say to himself: 'Well, he doesn't 
mean me. . . / " 

Fighting on Your Own Battleground. Offensively this meant at- 
tacking the opposition at its weakest point in an effort to force 
it to accept the gage of battle on the worst ground for it. Defen- 
sively it meant answering the opposition's most extreme or absurd 
attacks. In 1930 Roosevelt ignored Republican charges against his 
handling of the New York City situation until almost the end of 
the campaign. In his Madison Square Garden speech in 1936 he 
skillfully converted Landon's effort to put him on the defensive 
into a superb defense of the New Deal on his own terms. 

Personal Charm and Political Craft. No political technique is 
effective unless employed with skill in a given situation. Immensely 
strengthening all Roosevelt's tactics were the calculated flattery 
he could use in winning over critics and the sheer astuteness with 
which he outmaneuvered rival leaders. An example of the latter 
was his handling of John L. Lewis's campaign donation in 1936. 
The CIO chief came into Roosevelt's office one day with a check 
for $250,000 and with a photographer to record the ceremony. 
Roosevelt was all smiles, but he would not take the check. 

"No, John," he said. "J ust ^ ee P **> anc * I'll call on you if and 
when any small need arises." 

Lewis left, grumbling that he had been outsmarted. He had been. 
During the next few weeks requests for money flowed in from 
Farley and from independent Roosevelt groups. In vain Lewis 
tried to stem the torrent by insisting on a written order from the 
President. Roosevelt backed up the requests with orders or with 

The Grand Coalition 287 

telephone calls. In the end Lewis's treasury was drained of almost 
half a million dollarsand without undue notice in the press. 

Undeniably, the triumph was largely a personal victory for Roose- 
velt. "I am the issue," he had said to Moley; and Farley had built 
his campaign around the Roosevelt personality. So the post-election 
huzzas were justifiably for Roosevelt, rather than for his party or 
even for his cause. 

Drowned out by the applause were some misgivings about cer- 
tain aspects of the election results. Roosevelt himself, according to 
one report, was disturbed by the shriveled Republican strength in 
House and Senate. Without strong party opposition, he foresaw 
that splits might more easily develop within the huge Democratic 
majorities as shifting factions fought with one another. Ickes said 
bluntly that the President had pulled through to victory men whose 
defeat would have been better for the country. On the other hand, 
Roosevelt was pleased with his own sweep. If Landon had gained 
over Hoover he feared that the "reactionary element" would ex- 
ploit that fact during the next Congress. 

The personal nature of the sweep had other implications. For 
one thing, it left in some obscurity the nature of the mandate the 
voters had given him. He had run mainly on the New Deal record; 
what was the New Deal future to be a continuation of the present 
program, an enlargement, a shift in new directions? To be sure, 
Roosevelt in the eleventh hour of the campaign had uttered his 
magnificent "we-have-only-just-begun-to-fight" statement. Was this 
a bit of campaign oratory, or a pledge to an expanded New Deal? 

Roosevelt's victory, too, had been realized at some expense to the 
party that he headed. In several states the Democratic organization 
was left stranded, and in New York State the American Labor Party, 
composed largely of unionists suspicious of both major parties, 
boasted of the voters who had supported the President on its ticket. 
It was odd, and yet significant, that within a few days of the Demo- 
cratic party nominee's great victory, observers were predicting a 
party realignment, and possibly even a national labor party, by 

Another aspect of the personal nature of Roosevelt's victory was 
the ambiguity of the class groupings supporting him. In 1932 voters 
from all income classes had flocked to his standard out of their 
common deprivations during the Depression. Roosevelt's fuzzy posi- 
tion on many issues that year had made it possible for his vote to 
cut across class lines. What had happened in 1936? Polling results 
suggested that a class cleavage had begun to divide the voters at a 
point about midway through the first term, and had widened con- 
siderably by 1936. But later studies were to show that the cleavage 


in 1936 was not as sharp as some had supposed. This was due in 
part to the breadth of the President's appealhe won votes not 
only from the great majority of the poor, but from a surprising 
percentage of the better off too. 

There is a rule of economy in politics. "The perfect party victory/' 
it has been said, "is to be won by accumulating a relatively narrow 
majority, the mark of the skillful conduct of politics." To win a 
great majority of votes may involve such commitments as to make 
victory politically embarrassing. From such a standpoint Roosevelt's 
landslide was political extravagance. Of course, he had not expected 
to win by such a sweep, and he did not have the benefit of hind- 
sight. But much would depend on the decisions he made as he 
strove to govern with his top-heavy majority. 

Such speculations as these, however, would have seemed academic 
indeed in November of 1936. Roosevelt was at the peak of his politi- 
cal form. When he sailed on the Indianapolis for a good-will tour 
to South America late that month, he left an America that was it- 
self bursting with good will toward its leader. Rested by the trip 
and greeted by huge throngs in Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires, 
he was as captivating as ever. 

He looked forward confidently and eagerly to his second term, 
which would start in January 1937 rather than March as a result 
of the passage of a constitutional amendment. All seemed well and 
calm at home his only worry was the situation abroad. "... I still 
don't like the European outlook/' he wrote Eleanor at the end of 


p A R T ^ The Lion at Bay 

F i F i 1 E N Court Packing: 

The Miscalculated Risk 

AS IT AN omen? The famous Roosevelt 
luck seemed to forsake the President on the January day in 1937 
when he entered his second term. Bursts of cold rain soaked the 
gay inaugural decorations, furled the sodden flags around their 
staffs, and drenched dignitaries and spectators alike while they 
gathered below the Capitol rotunda. The rain drummed on the 
cellophane that covered Roosevelt's old family Bible, as he stood 
with upraised hand facing Chief Justice Hughes. 

They eyed each other, the old judge, his wet whiskers quivering 
in the wind, the resolute President, jaw stuck out. Hughes read the 
oath with slow and rising emphasis as he came to the words "prom- 
ise to support the Constitution of the United States/' Roosevelt 
gave the words equal force as he repeated the oath. At this point, 
he said later, he wanted to cry out, "Yes, but it's the Constitution 
as I understand it, flexible enough to meet any new problem of de- 
mocracynot the kind of Constitution your Court has raised up as 
a barrier to progress and democracy." 

The President turned to the rain-spattered pages of his inaugural 
address. "When four years ago we met to inaugurate a President, the 
Republic, single-minded in anxiety, stood in spirit here. We dedi- 
cated ourselves to the fulfillment of a vision to speed the time 
when there would be for all the people that security and peace es- 
sential to the pursuit of happiness. We of the Republic pledged 
ourselves to drive from the temple of our ancient faith those who 
had profaned it; to end by action, tireless and unafraid, the stag- 
nation and despair of that day. We did those first things first." 

But the covenant "with ourselves" did not stop there. "Instinc- 
tively we recognized a deeper need the need to find through gov- 
ernment the instrument of our united purpose to solve for the in- 
dividual the ever-rising problems of a complex civilization. Re- 
peated attempts at their solution without the aid of government 
had left us baffled and bewildered. For, without that aid, we had 
been unable to create those moral controls over the services of sci- 
ence which are necessary to make science a useful servant instead 


of a ruthless master of mankind. To do this we knew that we must 
find practical controls over blind economic forces and blindly self- 
ish men." 

The rain poured down, dripped off Roosevelt's bare head, dulled 
the cutting edge of some of his sentences. As the intricacies of hu- 
man relationships increased, he said, so power to govern them also 
must increasepower to stop evil, power to do good. "The essential 
democracy of our Nation and the safety of our people depend not 
upon the absence of power, but upon lodging it with those whom 
the people can change or continue at stated intervals through an 
honest and free system of elections." Did the Chief Justice, sitting a 
few feet away on the President's right, catch the faint warning in 
the sentence? 

The President was turning now to the future. "Shall we pause 
now and turn our back upon the road that lies ahead?" He looked 
at the crowd. "Many voices are heard as we face a great decision. 
Comfort says, Tarry a while.' Opportunism says, 'This is a good 
spot/ Timidity asks, 'How difficult is the road ahead?' " The nation 
had come far since the days of stagnation. But dulled conscience, 
irresponsibility, and ruthless self-interest already were reappearing. 
Here was the challenge to American democracy: 

"In this nation I see tens of millions of its citizensa substantial 
part of its whole population who at this very moment are denied 
the greater part of what the very lowest standards of today call the 
necessities of life. 

"I see millions of families trying to live on incomes so meager 
that the pall of family disaster hangs over them day by day. 

"I see millions whose daily lives in city and on farm continue 
under conditions labeled indecent by a so-called polite society half 
a century ago. 

"I see millions denied education, recreation, and the opportunity 
to better their lot and the lot of their children. 

"I see millions lacking the means to buy the products of farm 
and factory and by their poverty denying work and productiveness 
to many other millions. 

"I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished. 

"It is not in despair that I paint you that picture. I paint it foi 
you in hope because the Nation, seeing and understanding the in* 
justice in it, proposes to paint it out. . . . 

"To maintain a democracy of effort requires a vast amount of 
patience in dealing with differing methods, a vast amount of hu- 
mility. But out of the confusion of many voices rises an understand- 
ing of dominant public need. Then political leadership can voice 
common ideals, and aid in their realization. 

"In taking again the oath of office as President of the United 

Court Packing: The Miscalculated Risk 293 

States, I assume the solemn obligation of leading the American 
people forward along the road over which they have chosen to 



Just two weeks later Roosevelt and Hughes faced each other once 
again this time in the gracious, brilliantly lighted East Room of 
the White House. It was the President's annual dinner for the ju- 
diciary. At the center of the scene were the President, jauntily wav- 
ing his cigarette holder to point up his stories, and the great jurist. 
Both were in a jovial mood; the talk ran fast and free. Around them 
were banked others of the nation's great cabinet members, judges, 
senators, bankers, even the Gene Tunneys. 

The jollity barely concealed a certain tension in the air. Key New 
Deal measures were crowding the Supreme Court's docket. Rumors 
were running through Washington that Roosevelt, armed with his 
huge popular endorsement, was aiming some kind of attack on the 
Court. Besides the President only a handful present knew the truth 
of the rumors. Watching Roosevelt and Hughes, Attorney General 
Cummings wished the secret were out. "I feel too much like a 
conspirator," he complained to Rosenman. Roosevelt, on the other 
hand, was probably savoring the irony of the moment. On the eve 
of a great battle the commander of one side was giving a banquet 
to his adversaries. 

But the President was a bit nervous too. During the next two 
days he pored over his message to Congress, adding, erasing, shift- 
ing phrases and sentences. His main concern was to keep his plan 
secret; he had not told some of his closest aides. On February 4 he 
called an extraordinary meeting of cabinet members and congres- 
sional leaders for the following day. Amazed White House stenog- 
raphers were told to report at 6:30 the next morning to mimeo- 
graph documents for this meeting and for a press conference. 

Next morning the cabinet and congressmen waited wonderingly 
in the long, low-ceilinged cabinet room. The President was quickly 
wheeled in. He called out cheery greetings, then turned directly to 
the business at hand. Announcing his intention to meet the chal- 
lenge posed by the Court, he read excerpts from his message that 
would go to Congress in an hour. 

Amid dead silence, he outlined his plan. For every Supreme Court 
justice who failed to quit the bench within six months after reach- 
ing seventy, the President would be empowered to appoint a new 
justice up to a total of six. The message to Congress talked much 
of judicial efficiency, congestion in the courts, the need for new 
blood, the problem of injunctions; and the President's bill involved 


new appointments at the district and circuit court level too. But 
the crux of the proposal leaped out from the long legal phrases 
the power Roosevelt was asking to flank Hughes and his brethren 
with six New Deal justices. 

The meeting was a study in mixed emotions. Ickes was elated 
that the President had moved at last. Cummings, twiddling his 
pince-nez with a slightly self-important air, was pleased to have 
long been a part of the unfolding drama. But the congressional 
delegation sat as if stunned. Garner and Rayburn said not a word. 
Robinson, deep concern written on his face, gave a feeble indica- 
tion of approval. Henry Ashurst, chairman of the Senate Judiciary 
Committee, must have thought of his heated denial during the 
campaign that Roosevelt would try to pack the Court, but he loy- 
ally spoke out in support of the bill. Speaker Bankhead bore a 
poker face throughout. 

There was virtually no discussion; the President solicited no 
opinions from his party's leadership. At the end he wheeled off to 
meet a waiting group of newspapermen. Over this session Roosevelt 
presided like an impresario. Again and again bursts of laughter 
punctuated his reading of his message to Congress, as he interpo- 
lated telling little points; the President threw his head back and 
joined in the laughter. Once again he demanded absolute secrecy 
until the message was released. 

Driving back to Capitol Hill from the White House, Garner and 
his colleagues were still silent. Suddenly Hatton Sumners of Texas, 
chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, turned to the others. 
"Boys," he said, "here's where I cash in." The group took the news 
to Congress with them. By the time the message was read, the cloak- 
rooms were filled with little knots of legislators asking one another, 
"What do you think of it?" In the first hours it seemed as though 
the proposal cut through each House, down the middle. Two sons 
of Texas signalized the extremes. In the House, New Deal Repre- 
sentative Maury Maverick grabbed a mimeographed copy of the 
bill, scribbled his name on it, and threw it into the bill hopper al- 
most before the reading clerk was finished. In the Senate lobby 
Garner held his nose with one hand and vigorously shook his 
turned-down thumb. 

A messenger hurried across the plaza to the Supreme Court build- 
ing. Inside, the justices were hearing an argument. Only Brandein 
had heard the news; just before the justices entered the Court, 
Corcoran, with Roosevelt's consent, had "crashed the sacred robing 
room" to tell him, and Brandeis had instantly expressed his dis- 
approval. Now a page slipped through the draperies behind the 
dais and handed a paper to each Justice. The attorney at bar, sens- 
ing the sudden tension on the bench, paused a moment. Hughes 

Court Packing: The Miscalculated Risk 295 

shifted restlessly in his chair, Van Devanter looked grim, Butler 
seemed to chuckle. But judicial mien quickly reappeared, and pro- 
ceedings continued. 

Blazing headlines carried the news to the people during the aft- 
ernoon. Next morning, reading the newspapers in bed over his 
breakfast tray, the President was not surprised at the howls of an- 
guish in the editorial columns. He had expected this; what he was 
banking on was the approval of the people. As it turned out, the pro- 
posal at the outset split the American people neatly in half. Could 
Roosevelt mobilize a popular majority behind his plan? Could he 
convert such a majority into congressional action? 

The suddenness of Roosevelt's move, the obvious pleasure he found 
in presenting his handiwork, and the utter secrecy that surrounded 
its preparation all gave the impression of a proposal that had been 
hastily cooked up after the election. Actually Roosevelt had been 
considering judicial reform for over two years. 

Even before the Court's all-out attack on the New Deal in 1935 
Roosevelt was thinking of enlarging the Court to protect his legis- 
lation. That he would not brook judicial opposition on a crucial 
matter was apparent from the radio address to the nation he 
planned in the event that the Court found against him in the gold 
cases. Only the Court's slim vote in his favor turned him from de- 
fiance of the Court through presidential proclamation and an ap- 
peal to Congress. When the Court voided the NRA and other 
measures, the President's view that action must be taken steadily 

But what to do? For a while Roosevelt had toyed with the idea 
of a constitutional amendment. Various types were possible: di- 
rectly enlarging congressional authority in specific economic and 
social fields; granting Congress power to re-enact and thus "con- 
stitutionalize" a measure voided by the Court; requiring a six to 
three or even a seven to two vote in the Supreme Court to strike 
down an act of Congress; setting an age limit on judges or giving 
them terms instead of appointments for life. Eventually Roosevelt 
decided against the amendment method. At best it would take too 
long. More likely, an amendment, even if it won two-thirds majori- 
ties in House and Senate, would never hurdle the barriers care- 
fully contrived by the framers of the Constitution three-quarters of 
the state legislatures or of state conventions especially since these 
assemblies tended to overrepresent conservative, small-town inter- 
ests and attitudes. 

"Give me ten million dollars," the President said later, "and I 
can prevent any amendment to the Constitution from being ratified 
by the necessary number of states." 


Could an act of Congress do the trick? A measure that directly 
challenged the High Court by trying to curb its power would prob- 
ably be voided by the Court itself. There was another method, how- 
ever, that seemed certainly constitutional because it was sanctioned 
by precedent. This was to enlarge the Court's membership, as pre- 
vious presidents had done, by inducing Congress to authorize new 
appointments. At first, packing the Court seemed distasteful to the 
President, perhaps because the objective would be so transparent. 
But he kept returning to the idea. He was fascinated by a historical 
precedent Asquith's and Lloyd George's threat through the King to 
pack the House of Lords with new Peers if that chamber refused to 
bow to the supremacy of the House of Commons. 

Clearly the President feared a direct assault on the Court. Per- 
haps he sensed as polls indicated that in late 1935 most of the 
people opposed restriction on the Court's veto power. The Demo- 
cratic platform of 1936 had come out only for some "clarifying 
amendment." During the campaign Hoover and others demanded 
that the President confirm or deny that he planned to pack the 
Court. Roosevelt not only ignored the specific question as a sea- 
soned campaigner wouldbut he skirted the whole problem of the 
Supreme Court. Doubtless his silence helped him roll up his great 
majority but it also meant that he gained no explicit mandate to 
act on the Court. 

At the first cabinet meeting after the election Roosevelt raised 
the Court issue. He expected, he said with mock glumness, that 
McReynolds would still be on the bench at the age of one hundred 
and five. An appeal to the people might be necessary. The problem 
"must be faced," he wrote to Joseph Patterson of the New York 
Daily News. But how to face it? Before Roosevelt left on his cruise 
to South America, he set Cummings to work in Washington poring 
over a sheaf of plans for overcoming the nine old men or at least 
five of them. 

Mulling over various proposals one December morning, Cum- 
mings ran across a recommendation that Attorney General now 
Justice McReynolds had made in 1913 that when any federal judge, 
except Supreme Court justices, failed to retire at the age provided 
by law, the President should appoint another judge to preside over 
the Court and to hold precedence over the older one. Why not, 
thought Cummings, apply the idea to the Supreme Court? 

"The answer to a maiden's prayer!" Roosevelt reportedly ex- 
claimed when Cummings brought in his idea. And so it must have 
seemed. The plan was clearly constitutional. It was, compared with 
most of the other proposals, quite moderate in character, involving 
no change in the venerable system of checks and balances. Most 
important, the plan could be presented to the country as part of a 

Court Packing: The Miscalculated Risk 297 

broader program of reconstructing the whole federal judiciary in 
the name not of liberalism but of greater efficiency and expedition 
in the courts. And Roosevelt, with his penchant for personalizing 
the political opposition, must have delighted in the thought of 
hoisting McReynolds by his own petard. 

All that remained was the matter of how to present the plan. Why 
did Roosevelt insist on almost conspiratorial secrecy? Why did he 
spring the plan suddenly on Robinson, who would have to man- 
age the fight in the Senate; on Ashurst, who just before had hotly 
denied that Roosevelt had any plans for packing the Court, on 
his old progressive ally Norris, on Brandeis and Stone, on Rayburn 
and Garner, on Farley and Ickes, even on Mclntyre and Early? 
Roosevelt explained to Farley that he feared premature disclosure 
by the press. This explanation is unconvincing. Roosevelt was too 
astute a politician to think that secrecy was worth the price of ex- 
cluding key leaders from the decision-making conferences. More- 
over, Roosevelt himself had leaked the essence of the plan to a 
Collier's writer a few weeks before the announcement. 

The explanation lies deeper deep in Roosevelt's personality. He 
had won what he considered to be a personal election victory over 
the Old Guard. Now the Old Guard remained entrenched in the 
ramparts of the judiciary. The stage was set for a Rooseveltian on- 
slaught against the citadel as exhilarating and triumphant as his 
rout of the Republicans. He set the stage with his old flair for 
timing and suspense. His final presentation combined in a curious 
fashion two Rooseveltian traits his instinct for the dramatic and 
his instinct for the adroit and circuitous stratagem rather than the 
frontal assault. 

Both instincts failed him. "Too clever too damned clever," said 
one pro-New Deal newspaper. The President's liberal friends were 
disturbed. Some of them had hoped that Roosevelt would make a 
direct attack on the Court's conservative veto. Others used his dis- 
ingenuousness as an excuse to desert the cause. Still others disagreed 
with his particular plan. Years before, Roosevelt had lamented that 
reform came slowly because liberals had such difficulty in agreeing 
on means. His words would fly back to mock him in 1937. 


Battle lines formed quickly but not in a way that was to Roose- 
velt's liking. He was not surprised that Republicans and conserva- 
tive Democrats flared up in opposition. This was to be expected. 
But alarming reports reached the White House from the Senate. 
Two noted progressives, Burt Wheeler and Hiram Johnson, were 
opposed. So were Democrats Joseph O'Mahoney of Wyoming, Tom 


Connally of Texas, Bennett Clark of Missouri, Ed Burke of Ne- 
braska, and a dozen others of the kind of men on whose loyalty 
the President had counted. Andworst blow of all Norris. Al- 
though in the end he supported the bill, the old Nebraskan, within 
a few hours of Roosevelt's announcement, said quietly, "I am not 
in sympathy with the plan to enlarge the Supreme Court." 

Something was happening to the Grand Coalition that had car- 
ried Roosevelt to his election triumph. Something was happening 
to the Republicans too. Knowing that their little band in Con- 
gress could not overcome the President in a straight party fight, 
they resolved to stay silent and let the Democrats fight one an- 
other. When Hoover, Landon, and other national leaders wanted 
to rush to the microphone and make the court plan a party issue, 
congressional Republicans McNary, Borah, and Vandenberg, act- 
ing quickly, headed them off. The Liberty League, moribund after 
November 1936, was silent. Roosevelt found himself aligned not 
against Republicans but against his own fellow partisans. 

"What a grand fight it is going to be!" Roosevelt wrote Creel. 
"We need everything we have got to put in it!" To visitors he de- 
clared confidently that "the people are with me." Were they? 
Within a few days it was clear that the proposal had struck deep 
into the complex of American emotions. There was a crescendo 
of protest. The New York Herald Tribune gave seven of its eight 
front-page columns to the proposal. Patriotic groups moved quickly 
into action. New England town fathers called mass meetings. Bar 
associations met and denounced. Mail flooded congressional offices; 
some senators received over a thousand letters a day. What amazed 
congressmen was less the amount of opposition than the intensity 
of it. There was a pervasive element of fear "fear of the unknown," 
columnist Raymond Clapper thought and a deep reverence for 
the Supreme Court. 

Many of the protestants cited their middle-class background, 
their little property holdings, their fear of labor and radical ele- 
ments. Events helped sharpen these fears. During the early months 
of 1937 a rash of sit-down strikes broke out. The picture of grin- 
ning, insolent workers barricading factories against the owners was 
disturbing to people who wanted law and order, and a curious, 
emotional link was created in the conservative middle-class mind be- 
tween the court plan and labor turbulence. For the first time, Wil- 
liam Allen White wrote Norris, opposition to Roosevelt was coming 
"not from the plug hat section but from the grass roots." 

The protest was not wholly spontaneous. Busily stoking the fires 
were Roosevelt's old friend Frank Gannett and other prominent 
conservatives. "Get busy fast!" Borah urged Gannett; the New York 
publisher put $49,000 into the campaign and raised almost $150,000 

Court Packing: The Miscalculated Risk 299 

more from several thousand contributors. Full-page advertisements 
blossomed in the newspapers; fervent oratory filled the air waves; 
speeches were franked by the tens of thousands through congres- 
sional offices and out to the country. And still the hand of Repub- 
lican leaders was hardly visible. 

One early effect of this surge of protest was to strip Roosevelt's 
proposal of its "efficiency" facade and to show it plainly as an at- 
tempt to liberalize the Court. Abruptly shifting his tactics, the 
President decided to wage his campaign squarely on this basic issue. 
And he resolved on a direct appeal to the country. "The source of 
criticism is concentrated/' he wrote a friend late in February, "and 
I feel that as we get the story to the general public the whole mat- 
ter will be given wide support." 

Significantly, his first appeal was to his party. Addressing a re- 
splendent Democratic victory dinner at the Mayflower Hotel on 
March 4, the President summoned his partisans to defend his pro- 
posal. Roosevelt seemed in the best of humor, but his voice was 
stern and commanding. He warned his party that it would celebrate 
victories in the future only if it kept faith with the majority that 
had elected it. "We gave warning last November that we had only 
just begun to fight. Did some people really believe we did not 
mean it? Well I meant it, and you meant it." 

A new crisis was at hand, the President asserted a crisis different 
from but even graver than four years before. It was the ever-accel- 
erating speed of social forces now gathering headway. The President 
dwelt at length on the fate of remedial measures at the hands of 
the courts. Then he brought his speech to a stunning climax: 

"It will take courage to let our minds be bold and find the ways 
to meet the needs of the Nation. But for our Party, now as always, 
the counsel of courage is the counsel of wisdom. 

"If we do not have the courage to lead the American people 
where they want to go, someone else will. 

"Here is one-third of a Nation ill-nourished, ill-clad, ill-housed 

"Here are thousands upon thousands of farmers wondering 
whether next year's prices will meet their mortgage interestNOWi 

"Here are thousands upon thousands of men and women laboring 
for long hours in factories for inadequate pay NOW! 

"Here are thousands upon thousands of children who should be 
at school, working in mines and mills NOW I 

"Here are strikes more far-reaching than we have ever known, 
costing millions of dollars NOW! 

"Here are Spring floods threatening to roll again down our river 

"Here is the Dust Bowl beginning to blow again NOW1 


"If we would keep faith with those who had faith in us, if we 
would make democracy succeed, I say we must actNOWl" 

The President's fireside chat a few days later was more pallid and 
more defensive. Again he dwelt on the conditions of four years be- 
fore, the "quiet crisis'" that faced the country, the failure of the 
Supreme Court to pull together with the other horses in the "three- 
horse team" of the national government. The Constitution must be 
saved from the Court, and the Court from itself. He directly met 
the charge of packing the Court by denying that he had any inten- 
tion of appointing "spineless puppets." He explained at length why 
he had not chosen the amendment alternative. He pointed to his 
own record of devotion to civil and religious liberty. 

"You who know me will accept my solemn assurance that in a 
world in which democracy is under attack, I seek to make American 
democracy succeed. You and I will do our part." 

The President was not depending on oratory alone. From the out- 
set a special White House staff, under Roosevelt's close direction, 
managed an aggressive campaign. They dispatched speakers to the 
country, channeled ideas and arguments to friendly legislators, and 
put pressure on senators hostile or silent on the measure. The form 
of this pressure was a subject of open wrangling among Democrats. 
At the very least, Corcoran and the other administration agents 
put it up to senators in stiff terms to back up the President. Sena- 
tors were tempted with new patronage arrangements and with fed- 
eral projects for their states, and even with judicial appointments 
for themselves. Pressure was also brought to bear on a number of 
senators through Democratic organizations in their home states, 
including Chicago's Kelly-Nash machine and Pendergast's Kansas 
City organization. Some senatorscertainly Robinson himself 
could hardly forget that passage of the measure would mean that 
the President could allot six Supreme Court judgeships -the most 
highly prized appointive job in America. 

Roosevelt's appeal to the people had some impact. Support for 
the plan reached its highest point in mid-March. But the actual de- 
ciding would be done on Capitol Hill, and here things were not 
going so well. 

Roosevelt's aides were not operating on Capitol Hill with their 
usual efficiency. Part of the trouble was caused by James Roosevelt, 
whom his father had appointed as an assistant early in 1937. Eleanor 
Roosevelt, foreseeing the pressures amid which James would have 
to work, opposed the appointment, but her husband saw no reason 
why the fact that he was President should deprive him of his old- 
est son's help. Eleanor's doubts were vindicated. James made prom- 
ises that seemed to have special authenticity but in fact did not; 

Court Packing: The Miscalculated Risk 301 

the efforts of the other aides on the Hill were undermined; and 
congressional friction and bitterness increased. 

The senatorial opposition, on the other hand, was functioning 
with extraordinary skill and smoothness. The Republicans were still 
relatively quiet. On the Democratic side Carter Glass supplied the 
moral indignation and Wheeler and O'Mahoney the liberal veneer, 
while middle-of-the-road Democrats like Royal S. Copeland of New 
York, Frederick Van Nuys of Indiana, and Connally furnished the 
anchor line of votes. Against them was aligned a solid core of 
New Dealers and a group of senators who went along with the 
bill largely out of personal loyalty to the President. A score of 
senators were openly, at least on the fence. 

In mid-March the seat of battle shifted to the reverberant, multi- 
columned Senate caucus room, where the Judiciary Committee held 
hearings on the measure. Cummings led off for the administration 
with a statement that reflected the President's original plea for a 
more efficient judiciary. He was followed by Assistant Attorney Gen- 
eral Robert H. Jackson, who tried valiantly to bring the subject 
back to the issue of liberalizing the Court. Both were subjected to a 
barrage of unfriendly questions. So effective was the cross-examina- 
tion that a dozen experts from the American Bar Association were 
rumored to be in Washington furnishing ammunition. Other ad- 
ministration witnesses testified over the next ten days, including 
President Green of the AFL, political scientists Edward S. Corwin 
and Charles Grove Haines, Editor Irving Brant of the St. Louis 
Star-Times. Then it was the opposition's turn. 

Shrewdly handled, the congressional hearing can be a powerful 
weapon against the executive. Although not himself a member of 
the Judiciary Committee, Wheeler was ready, through his friends 
on the committee, to use it to turn the administration's flank. A 
veteran of Montana's stormy politics, he was a man temperamen- 
tally at his best in opposition: tireless, vengeful, resourceful, and 
often choleric. Despite his protestations of love for the President, 
he had reason to feel disgruntled; an early and strenuous worker 
for Roosevelt's nomination, he had had little recognition, and he 
knew that he who had been, after all, the Progressive party run- 
ning mate of the great La Follette in 1924 had taken a more liberal 
position than the President on many relief and reform measures. 

Wheeler opened the attack on the court bill before the commit- 
tee. Suddenly he produced the opposition's bombshell- a letter 
from Chief Justice Hughes showing categorically that the Supreme 
Court was abreast of its work and arguing that a larger court would 
lower its efficiency. In the few minutes the letter took to read it 
made three things clear: that a coalition had been forged between 
the senatorial opposition and the politicians of the judiciary, who 


were quietly doing what they could against the plan; that this coali- 
tion was attacking Roosevelt on his weakest salient, his original 
charge of inefficiency; and that the political skill of Hughes himself 
had been thrown into the fight. 

Outwardly Hughes had preserved his usual benignity in the face 
of the court plan. "If they want me to preside over a convention," 
he said, "I can do it." But the old politician's fighting instincts were 
aroused. He wished to speak out but how could he in the face of 
the restraints that tradition imposed on the Court? Roosevelt's use 
of the inefficiency argument gave him the perfect opportunity to 
attack the plan in the guise of supplying data. The Chief Justice was 
ready even to appear personally before the committee, but Brandeis 
objected, so a letter had to do. Working feverishly over a week end 
to meet Wheeler's timetable, the Chief Justice turned the letter over 
to the Senator with a smile. "The baby is born." 

Hughes's political leadership and shrewdness matched Roose- 
velt's. He had not been able, he informed the committee, to con- 
sult with every member of the Court, but he was confident that his 
letter was in accord with their views. Actually, at least one justice, 
Stone, resented Hughes's failure to consult him and disagreed with 
part of the letter. Perhaps the Chief Justice knew or suspected that 
Stone disparaged Hughes's reputation as a liberal Justice, that 
Stone, through Irving Brant of the St. Louis Star-Times, was letting 
his views be known to the White House. In any event, Hughes's 
strategy was perfectly executed. 

Dismayed by Hughes's counterthrust, the administration had to 
sit by idly while the committee heard witness after witness. For 
days on end their arguments against the President's plan filled the 
press and radio. Roosevelt hoped that "things would move faster 
from now on," as he wrote a friend, but the opposition saw the 
advantages of delay. To make matters worse, the administration 
had no one on the committee with Borah's or Wheeler's or Con- 
nally's brilliance in cross-examination. Here, too, the President was 
paying a price for his secrecy; Senator Hugo Black, a tenacious and 
resourceful parliamentarian, had left the Judiciary Committee at 
the beginning of the year. 

During the critical weeks of late March and early April popular 
support for the plan slowly, steadily ebbed away. The backing that 
Roosevelt aroused in his two speeches lacked stability and depth; 
it simply disintegrated as the long fight wore on. Much of the 
trouble lay in the deep fissures running through workers and farm- 
ers, the two great group interests that Roosevelt had counted on 
because of their unhappy experiences with the Court. The AFL 
was now locked in trench warfare with the CIO, and labor rallies 
organized by the administration fell apart in the face of this split, 

Court Packing: The Miscalculated Risk 303 

local Democratic party quarrels, and general apathy. The farm or- 
ganizations were not acting as though there had ever been an AAA 
decision. Leaders of the powerful Farm Bureau Federation were 
silent; the Grange was against the plan; and worst of all the 
Farmers Union was divided. Evidently the farm leaders were re- 
sponding less to a sense of calculated self-interest than to the cur- 
rents of feeling sweeping middle-class America: respect for the 
"vestal virgins of the court"; fear of labor turbulence; concern for 
law and order and property rights. 

In this extremity Roosevelt turned to the Democratic party. 
Farley industriously toured the party circuit, trying to build grass 
fires behind lagging Democratic congressmen and vaguely threat- 
ening punishment to deserters. All in vain on this issue the party 
lacked vigor and militance. Moreover, prominent Democratic lead- 
ers outside the Senate were decamping on the court issue. In the 
cabinet itself Hull was quietly hostile. In Roosevelt's own state 
his old comrade in arms Governor Lehman came out against the 
bill, and even Boss Flynn of the Bronx, the most stolid of party 
war horses, was opposed. 

At the beginning of April the President was still optimistic. Cor- 
coran, Pittman, La Follette, and others had been reporting enthusi- 
astically on the chances of victory. When Senator Black warned him 
of the opposition's determination and tactics of delay, Roosevelt 
replied: "Well smoke 'em out. If delay helps them, we must press 
for an early vote." 


Roosevelt was wrong. By April the chances for the court plan were 
almost nil. The President simply could not command the needed 
votes in either Senate or House. Then on April 12 came a clinching 
blow. In a tense, packed courtroom Hughes read the Supreme 
Court's judgment sustaining the Wagner Act. 

If Roosevelt had been as acutely sensitive to political crosscur- 
rents during this period as he usually was, the Court's shift would 
not have surprised him. A few weeks after the election, while Roose- 
velt and Cummings were leafing through court plans, Roberts had 
told the Chief Justice privately that he would vote to sustain a 
Washington minimum-wage law and overturn a contrary decision 
of a few months back. Hughes was so pleased he almost hugged him. 
Final decision was delayed, however, because Stone was ill for some 
time, and because Hughes saw the disadvantages of appearing to 
yield before the court-packing plan. By the end of March the time 
seemed ripe for the decision on this case and on three others fa- 
vorable to the administration. Still, these were only straws in the 


wind, and they had little effect on Roosevelt's plans. The Wagner 
Act decision two weeks later, however, showed the decisive align- 
ment of Hughes and Roberts with the three liberals. 

Once again the Chief Justice had outfoxed the President. How 
much he changed his technical position to meet the tactical needs 
of the hour is a subject of some dispute among constitutional ex- 
perts. Certainly Hughes's position on the companion cases to the 
main case of April 12 seemed a long jump from some of his earlier 
judgments; on the other hand, the Chief Justice, like most politician- 
judges, had been flexible enough in his positions to make the jump 
possible. His new position was more important politically than le- 
galistically. He had consolidated a majority of the Court behind 
him; he had taken the heart out of the President's argument; he 
had upheld a measure dear to labor and thus reduced even further 
its concern over the Court and he had done all this without undue 
sacrifice of the Court's dignity. 

Outwardly Roosevelt's reaction to the Court's move was gleeful. 
"I have been chortling all morning/' he told reporters. "I have 
been having a perfectly grand time." He compared the Herald 
Tribune's enthusiastic hailing of the decision with its approval two 
years before of the Liberty League lawyers* opinion against the con- 
stitutionality of the Wagner Act. 

"Well, I have been having more fun!" Roosevelt went on amid 
repeated guffaws from the reporters. "And I haven't read the Wash- 
ington Post, and I haven't got the Chicago Tribune yet. Or the 
Boston Herald. Today is a very, very happy day. . . ." He quoted 
with relish a remark a friend had made to him; the No Man's Land 
had been eliminated but "we are now in 'Roberts' Land.' " 

Inwardly the President was more puzzled than pleased. Should he 
press on with the court fight? He must have sensed immediately 
that Hughes had given the plan's chances a punishing blow; he 
had hoped for a complete veto of New Deal legislation so that the 
issue would be sharpened for the people. He soon learned, more- 
over, that Robinson and others of his lieutenants were talking com- 
promise. "This bill's raising hell in the Senate/' Robinson report- 
edly told a White House representative. "Now it's going to be worse 
than ever, but if the President wants to compromise, I can get him 
a couple of extra justices tomorrow/' On the other hand, Robinson 
himself posed a problem. It had long been understood that the 
doughty Arkansan would receive the first vacant justiceship and 
thus fulfill a life ambition. But the Senator's appointment would 
clearly be a recognition of service to Roosevelt rather than a recog- 
nition of legal distinction or ingrained liberalism; once on the 
Court, moreover, Robinson might swing right. To offset this ap- 
pointment there must be others. 

Court Packing: The Miscalculated Risk 305 

Roosevelt had further reasons to stand pat on his proposal. He 
was now in the fight to the hilt, and compromise would be inter- 
preted as defeat for him and victory for Wheeler and the other 
rebels. He still hankered for six of his own appointees liberal- 
minded judges with whom he could establish friendly personal re- 
lations such as he had enjoyed with the state judges when he was 
governor. Crucial New Deal measures were still to come before the 
Court, and the justices might swing right again if the pistol at 
their head was unloaded. Finally, the President still thought that 
he could win. Had he not saved many a measure during the first 
term, when prospects looked bleak, simply by sticking to his guns? 

So the order was full speed ahead. "We must keep up and 
strengthen the fight," the President wrote Congressman David 
Lewis. As if to flaunt his confidence over the outcome he made 
plans to fish in the Gulf of Mexico at the end of April. Roose- 
velt's manner was still buoyant. 

"I am delighted to have your rural rhapsody of April twelfth and 
to know that the French Government has spring fever," he 
wrote on April 21 to Ambassador William C. Bullitt in Paris. 
"Spring has come to Washington also and even the Senators, who 
were biting each other over the Supreme Court, are saying 'Al- 
phonse' and 'Gaston' to each other. . . . 

"I, too, am influenced by this beautiful spring day. I haven't a 
care in the world which is going some for a President who is said 
by the newspapers to be a remorseless dictator driving his govern- 
ment into hopeless bankruptcy." 

The Supreme Court turnabout marked a decisive shift in the char- 
acter of the court fight. No longer was the issue one of Roosevelt 
New Deal versus Old Guard Court. Now the fight lay between the 
President and Congress. When the Court upheld the Social Security 
Act a few weeks later, it served to take the Court as an institution 
even further out of the struggle. But not its members. In May and 
June, Hughes made speeches that were hardly veiled assaults on the 
court proposal. 

Roosevelt returned from his fishing in mid-May. He was in a mili- 
tant mood. After talking with precinct committeemen during the 
train trip back, he told the cabinet, he was as certain as ever that 
the people were still behind the bill. Democrats in Congress who 
opposed it, he added, might expect defeat at the polls. Roosevelt 
warned Garner privately that he, the President, had brought a lot 
of congressmen in on his coattails, and that he might openly oppose 
Democrats who were against the bill. He had Robinson and other 
leaders in, laughed off their fears, explained away the defections 
they gloomily reported, and sent them back to the battle. 


That battle was still going badly. Shipstead came out against the 
bill, as did several other senators on whom Roosevelt was relying. 
Party leaders were warning of a deepening split among the Demo- 
crats. Even White House assistants were losing confidence and 
counseling compromise. Other New Deal measures were being 
pulled down with the court bill. Then, on May 18, the opposition 
played another card. Wheeler and Borah, knowing of Van De- 
vanter's wish to retire, got word to the justice that a resignation 
timed to coincide with an expected vote by the Judiciary Commit- 
tee against the court bill would help the plan's opponents. For 
Wheeler knew what that vote would be. A few minutes after 
Roosevelt read Van Devanter's notice of retirement on the morn- 
ing of May 18 and had written in longhand a cool but polite note 
of acceptance, the Senate Judiciary Committee met in executive ses- 
sion. After brushing aside several compromise measures it voted 
10-8 that the President's bill "do not pass." The committee line-up 
symbolized the split in the ranks of the Grand Coalition: six Demo- 
crats of diverse ideological hues deserted the President. 

Face to face with this deepening split, Roosevelt executed one of 
the rapid tactical shifts that so often threw his opponents off guard. 
He turned to the possibility of compromise. But his freedom of 
maneuver here was unhappily "narrowed by a conjunction of cir- 
cumstances that stemmed partly from sheer bad luck and partly 
from the way in which he had handled matters. Van Devanter's re- 
tirement not only knocked one more prop from under the Presi- 
dent's plea for new blood on the Court; it also precipitated in 
acute form the old problem of rewarding Robinson with a justice- 
ship without alienating the "true" liberals and making a mockery 
of Roosevelt's arguments for the bill. Within a few hours of Van 
Devanter's retirement, almost as if by plan, both opposition senators 
and supporters of the bill were crowding around Robinson's front- 
row desk in the Senate chamber, pumping his hand, calling him 
4 'Mr. Justice." The Senate was in effect nominating Robinson to 
fill the vacancy. 

In this extremity Roosevelt turned to the direct person-to-person 
persuasion for which he had such a flair. Against the advice of Cor- 
coran and Jackson, who wanted him to let the bill go over to an- 
other session or even to accept defeat and take the issue to the 
country, the President decided on a shrewd but risky tactical move. 
Through Farley he let it be known to Robinson that the Senator 
could expect to take Van Devanter's place. Then the President 
called Robinson in and agreed to accept a compromise on the bill, 
but he added that if there was a bride there must be bridesmaids. 
He asked Robinson to take full leadership of the fight for a com- 
promise bill. The President was now seeking to turn the senatorial 

Court Packing: The Miscalculated Risk 307 

support for Robinson's appointment to his own advantage. If the 
senators wanted to help their old colleague, they would have to 
provide some extra appointments as well. The danger in the plan 
was that everything depended on Robinson. 

And the President did not fully trust the majority leader. He 
complained to Ickes that Robinson had lost his punch, that there 
was no leadership in Congress. Speaker Bankhead was not strong in 
the House, he said, and Rayburn was so anxious to succeed to the 
speakership that he feared to offend anyone. The President was es- 
pecially upset about Garner. Exclaiming that "my ears are buzzing 
and ringing/' the Vice-President had left on a long-planned vacation 
in Texas just as the fight in the Senate was coming to a head. But 
the President never expressed his feelings directly to Garner. In- 
stead, after the Vice-President had been away several weeks Roose- 
velt urged his return in a letter that offered every bait that might 
lure the sulking Texan. Knowing of Garner's fears about govern- 
ment spending and labor violence, and his old populist distrust of 
bankers, the President predicted a balanced budget for the coming 
year and declared that the public was "pretty sick of the extremists 
which exist both in the C.I.O. and some of the A.F. of L. unions 
and also of the extremists like Girdler and some of his associates 
backed by the Guarantee [sic] Trust Co., etc." Roosevelt ended his 
appeal on a personal note. 

"And finally, just to clinch the argument for your return, I want 
to tell you again how much I miss you because of you, yourself, 
and also because of the great help that you have given and con- 
tinue to give to the working out peacefully of a mass of problems 
greater than the Nation has ever had before." But the Vice-Presi- 
dent stayed in Texas. 

Garner's own sit-down strike signalized the state of the Demo- 
cratic party. It was not the court plan alone that was splitting 
apart the Grand Coalition. The attack on the plan served as a 
rallying cry for the conservatives who feared the rising tide of labor 
turbulence, for the "old" liberals who disliked the President's in- 
directions and his personal handling of party matters, for New 
Deal liberals who prized orderly processes and constitutional tradi- 
tions. Seeking to placate these elements Roosevelt, when asked 
about the deadlock between labor and management, said calcu- 
latedly, "A plague on both your houses." Lewis's howl of indigna- 
tion and the icy silence of the party Old Guard indicated that in 
striving to veer between the various factions Roosevelt was keeping 
the warm support of none. 

At the end of June Roosevelt tried another tack and one that 
again illustrated his preference for direct personal handling of af- 
fairs. A grand political picnic was arranged at Jefferson Island in 


Chesapeake Bay, to which Democratic congressmen were invited. 
The plan was to submerge intraparty bickering in three days of 
good fellowship. The President was at his best. Seated in an arm- 
chair under a big locust tree, he chatted congenially and drank 
beer with groups of shirt-sleeved legislators. He even allowed Mar- 
tin Dies of Texas to induct him into the Demagogue's Club, involv- 
ing a pledge to favor all spending bills and no tax bills, to do noth- 
ing to harm his chances for a third term, never to be consistent 
and not to send controversial proposals to Congress. 

In sharp contrast to this bucolic scene was the grim atmosphere 
of the Senate. There, day after day, Robinson was making the 
rounds of the Democrats, pleading with them to support his com- 
promise plan. The new measure was mild enough, allowing the 
President to appoint only one coadjutor justice a year for any 
justice who had passed seventy-five and failed to retire. Even so, 
Robinson found it hard going, and often he had to resort to a 
personal plea to embarrassed senators for help in realizing his life 
ambition. When Robinson opened debate on the bill in the Senate 
he seemed to reporters, as he sawed the air with violent gestures 
and beat off his interrogators, like an aging bull tormented by the 
fast-moving picadors around him and stung by their banderillas. 
Day after day Robinson roared his arguments and threats at the 
opposition, meanwhile desperately counting and recounting the 
small majority he had lined up. But he had come to the end of 
his road. On the morning of July 14 he rose from his hotel bed, 
took one step, and fell dead, a copy of the Congressional Record in 
his hand. 

The stroke that ruptured Robinson's heart ruptured as well the 
bonds of personal loyalty on which the majority leader had been 
depending for his compromise plan. There was a sudden rush 
away from the bill. Even as Robinson was buried in Little Rock 
the congressmen who had escorted the body out on the funeral 
train were busy sparring over the bill. On the train back to Wash- 
ington, Garner, who had joined the delegation in Little Rock, went 
down the aisles systematically counting noses. On the morning of 
July 20 he reported to the President. 

"How did you find the court situation, Jack?" Roosevelt asked. 

"Do you want it with the bark on or off, Cap'n?" 

"The rough way," Roosevelt said with a laugh. 

"All right. You are beat. You haven't got the votes." 


The end of the court fight was anticlimactic Roosevelt asked Gar- 
ner to arrange the best compromise that he could. Whether the 

Court Packing: The Miscalculated Risk 309 

Vice-President tried to salvage something out o the bill or simply 
surrendered is shrouded in the obscure maneuvering of the last 
days. By now Congress was outside anyone's control; "everything 
on the Hill seems to be at sixes and sevens/' Ickes complained. Ap- 
propriately enough, the Judiciary Committee served as executioner 
by offering a motion to recommit the court bill. Only twenty sena- 
tors voted against recommittal. A week later the Senate rushed 
through an emasculated bill, making minor reforms and improve- 
ments, which the President halfheartedly signed into law. 

The last episodes of the court fight were entangled with a strug- 
gle over the Democratic leadership in the Senate. Pat Harrison of 
Mississippi and Alben W. Barkley of Kentucky were vying for 
Robinson's mantle in one of those contests that become all the 
more bitter because they cleave the membership of an intimate 
club. The court fight sharpened tempers of the opposing factions* 
Roosevelt was on good terms with both senators, but he had several 
reasons to prefer Barkley. The Kentuckian was a more reliable 
New Dealer and was personally more loyal to Roosevelt; he had,, 
for example, given active support to the court bill while Harrison 
was passive. And if Harrison won the position, he would probably 
have to vacate the chairmanship of the Senate Finance Committee 
and this vital post would fall into the hands of a conservative 

Clearly Roosevelt had his preferences but could he act upon 
them? Not if he was to follow the custom that forbids presidential 
interference in the Senate's internal affairs. Roosevelt's method of 
resolving this problem was characteristic. Openly he took a neutral 
position; to be sure, he addressed a letter to "My Dear Alben" urg- 
ing a continued fight for the principles of the court bill, but Bark- 
ley's position as acting majority leader permitted this public show 
of friendship. 

Privately the President was not neutral at all. A check showed 
that Senate Democrats were split almost evenly between the two 
candidates. Every vote would count. An obvious weak link in 
Harrison's ranks was Senator William H. Dieterich, who owed his 
Senate seat largely to Boss Ed Kelly of Chicago. Roosevelt asked 
Farley to telephone Kelly to use his influence with Dieterich. Farley 
refused on the grounds that he had promised the principals that he 
would keep hands off. The President thereupon turned to Hopkins 
and Corcoran, who threw White House pressure on Dieterich and 
others. The Harrison forces mobilized pressure too. Senator Harry 
Truman, who had pledged his vote to Barkley, had to ask the Ken- 
tuckian to be released of his promise. Among the shifters was 
Dieterich from Harrison to Barkley. Barkley's victory by one vote 


THE ILLEGAL ACT, June 3, 1935, 
Ernest H. Shepard, Punch 


was an important victory for the President, but one that sharpened 
the ill temper of the Senate. 

The court fight over, Roosevelt sought to regain direction of 
his general legislative program. Congress, he told his cabinet, must 
take responsibility for what was done and what was left undone. 
The President was especially concerned about the farm situation. 
If farm prices fell next year, he said, a good many Democrats would 
be defeated in the next election. While Roosevelt talked, Ickes 
scribbled on a piece of paper and passed it to Farley: "The Presi- 
dent seems to be indulging in a curtain lecture for the benefit of 
the Vice President." 

Congress was still wallowing in confusion. Earlier in the session 
it had passed, under Roosevelt's proddings, several important bills. 
One of these was the Guffey-Vinson bituminous coal bill providing 
for governmental and private co-operation in marketing, price con- 
trol, and trade practices. Others were a revised Neutrality Act and 
renewal of the Trade Agreements Act. Congress had also enacted 
the Farm Tenancy bill, authorizing federal loans to farm tenants, 
sharecroppers, and laborers to help them buy their own farms. This 
was work done, but it seemed strikingly small in the light of the Presi- 
dent's broad challenge, in his inaugural, of "one third of a nation 
ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished." 

Could that challenge still be met? By the end of July five ad- 
ministration measures awaited action in Congress: wages and hours, 
low-cost housing, executive reorganization, comprehensive farm 

Court Packing: The Miscalculated Risk 311 

program, and creation of seven regional agencies patterned some- 
what after the TVA. When Congress adjourned late in August, only 
one of these measures had been made into law. This was the Wagner 
Housing bill. It was significant that this lone administration victory 
was due far more to Wagner and an indefatigable group of public- 
housing enthusiasts and lobbyists than to the President. Roosevelt, 
to be sure, did help persuade a key chairman in the House to re- 
port the bill out of committee, but only after weeks of backing and 
filling in the White House. 

Equally significant was the reason that the rest of Roosevelt's 
program failed. In part that failure stemmed from Roosevelt's 
original calculation that court reform would have a better chance 
if other major bills were postponed in its behalf. Later he appeared 
to swing to the opposite view that at least one of the measures 
wage-hour regulation would be so popular that it would unify 
Democratic ranks split over court reform. Both calculations proved 

But there was a more important reason for Roosevelt's legislative 
difficultiesa reason that reflected the strategic weakness of his 
political position. The trouble was that the ample coalition that 
he had summoned to his personal support in November and which 
had responded to that summonswas already falling apart. 

The blocking of the wage-hour bill showed how extensive were 
the fractures in the coalition. When Senator Black introduced his 
proposed Fair Labor Standards Act late in May, Roosevelt vigor- 
ously urged passage. "We have promised it," he said. "We cannot 
stand still/* Quickly the bill ran into snags. Southerners from low- 
wage states, including Harrison, deserted the President on the issue. 
Sharp differences developed among labor groups, not only between 
AFL and CIO leaders but also within the two organizations. As if 
all this was not enough, a fight broke out between low-tariff and 
high-tariff Democrats over a protectionist clause in the bill. Pressure 
against the bill was put on Farley and Roosevelt through Democratic 
leaders in the South. After a struggle the bill passed the Senate, 
and by calling in President Green of the AFL and acceding to his 
major demands Roosevelt was able to ease the bill through the 
House Labor Committee. Then the bill stalled in the face of a 
coalition of Republicans and Southern Democrats on the Rules 
Committee. In vain Democratic leaders summoned a caucus to put 
force behind the bill; not enough Democrats showed up to make 
it an official caucus. 

By mid-August the President was ready to give up the fight for 
the rest of his program. He decided to call Congress back in special 
session during the fall. Let the congressmen get back to their dis- 


tricts, he said, and they would return with a strengthened feeling 
for the New Deal. 

But one task remained for the President before adjournment 
and a most pleasant task. Van Devanter's seat on the Court was still 

A pleasant task but not an easy one. Roosevelt wanted a durable 
New Dealer, a relatively young man, either a Southerner or West- 
erner, and a competent lawyer, who at the same time would clear 
the Senate without difficulty. This last was the rub, for in the 
sweltering Washington heat the senators seemed to be more bitter 
and unpredictable than ever. For this reason the President leaned 
toward a New Deal Senator. He finally chose Black over other 
senatorial possibilities mainly because the Alabaman had gone 
down the line for Roosevelt's policies; the President felt drawn to 
Black also because he faced a hard battle for re-election and per- 
haps because Black had an only child suffering from deafness. While 
Roosevelt did not rate Black's legal talents very high, he was more 
concerned about seasoned liberalism than expertness. Despite some 
grumbling in the Senate, the usual clubby feeling prevailed, and 
after a brief debate Black was readily confirmed. 

"So Hugo Black becomes a member of the Supreme Court of 
the United States while the economic royalists fume and squirm 
and the President rolls his tongue around in his cheek/' Ickes 
crowed in his diary. The President was not to roll his tongue long. 
A week or so later, after Black had left for a vacation in Europe, a 
Pittsburgh newspaper produced categorical proof that the new 
Justice had been a member of the Ku Klux Klan. The rumors that 
Black had neither confirmed nor denied during the confirmation 
debate were true. The press exploded with shrill attacks on both 
Black and the President. 

"I did not know that Black belonged to the Ku Klux Klan," 
Roosevelt said to a friend. "This is very serious." The President was 
deeply disturbed. He told reporters that nothing could be said until 
Black returned from Europe. Privately he did what he could. He 
asked Ickes to go to Borah and see if he would help out. Wheeler 
and others had been demanding that the President investigate 
Black, and Roosevelt particularly wanted Borah's backing for the 
proposition that the President had no right to make such an in- 
vestigation. Borah fully agreed. By the time Black returned from 
Europe Roosevelt had left on a Western tour, and all eyes were 
on the justice. 

Harried by reporters, Black turned to the radio and laid his case 
before perhaps fifty million people. He denounced intolerance, and 
pointed to his congressional record in defense of civil liberties. 
Then, in his soft, strained Southern voice he admitted that he had 

Court Packing: The Miscalculated Risk 313 

been a member of the Klan, but asserted that he had long ago 
disassociated himself from it. After referring again to his civil 
liberties record, he ended with a sad "good night/' 
And thus ended Roosevelt's battle against the Court. 

Roosevelt's enemies could not help gloating. Surely the President 
had suffered a dizzy fall in the short span of six months. At the 
beginning of the year he had towered over the political scene, with 
his colossal vote of approval in November and with his huge ma- 
jorities in Congress. Then he seemed invincible. Yet now he had 
been beaten. 

Why had this political colossus stumbled and fallen? Roosevelt's 
critics were quick with an explanation: Pride goeth before a fall. 
Intoxicated with success, Roosevelt had recklessly attacked a vener- 
able American institution. Overly sure of himself, he had made 
mistake after careless mistake. His potency had gone to his head. 
Learned pundits quoted Lord Acton: "Power tends to corrupt, 
and absolute power corrupts absolutely." 

Was it really so simple? A closer look at the court fight showed 
that the real story was much more complex than this morality tale 

Roosevelt did not go about the job of court reform recklessly. 
Quite the contraryhe struck at the Court only after a long period 
of waiting, and under what he considered to be the best possible 
conditions. His plan was not hastily conceived; he had searched 
through a variety of proposals to find one that would have a good 
chance of clearing Congress and at the same time achieve his pur- 
pose. Nor was his plan a radical one. Compared with some of the 
constitutional and legislative proposals of the day, it was mild 

That Roosevelt's cocksureness led to mistake after mistake and 
thus defeated the plan was another explanation of the time and one 
that was assiduously promoted by those who, like Hopkins and Ickes, 
had little to do with conducting the fight for the court bill. Such a 
view fails to explain, among other things, why the remarkably 
astute Roosevelt of 1936 became the bungler of 1937. The theory 
that Roosevelt did not direct the fight personally and the mistakes 
were made by subordinates is incorrect; he was in command through- 
out. Much was made of Roosevelt's stubbornness in clinging to the 
original plan; but this stubbornness was precisely the quality that 
had saved measures in previous terms when it had been called 
firmness or resoluteness. Certainly Roosevelt made mistakes in the 
court fight, but so did his opponents. 

All such explanations ignored the probability that the original 
court plan never had a chance of passing. This was the crucial 


point. For if the plan was indeed doomed from the start the 
Court's switch and Van Devanter's resignation and Robinson's death 
became mere stages in the death of the bill rather than causes of 
that death. 

That the court bill probably never had a chance of passing seems 
now quite clear. Roosevelt's original proposal evidently never com- 
manded a majority in the Senate. In the House it would have run 
up against the unyielding Sumners, and then against a conservative 
Rules Committee capable of blocking the bill for weeks. From the 
start Democratic leaders in the House were worried about the bill's 
prospects in that chamber. Robinson's compromise plan might have 
gone through the Senate if he had lived. More likely, though, it 
would have failed in the face of a dogged Senate filibuster, or later 
in the House. 

Any kind of court reform would have had hard going. The popu- 
lar reverence for the Constitution, the conception of the Supreme 
Court as its guardian, the ability of the judges-especially Hughes- 
to counterattack in their own way, the deep-seated legal tradition 
in a Congress composed of a large number of lawyers all these were 
obstacles. Yet there was tremendous support in Congress and in the 
country for curbing the Court's excesses. Undoubtedly some kind of 
moderate court reform could have gone through. 

The fatal weakness of Roosevelt's plan lay partly in its content 
and partly in the way it was proposed. The plan itself seemed an 
evasive, disingenuous way of meeting a clear-cut problem. It talked 
about judicial efficiency rather than ideology; it was aimed at im- 
mediate personalities on the Court rather than long-run problems 
posed by the Court. The manner of presentation the surprise, 
Roosevelt's failure to pose the issue more concretely in the election, 
his obvious relish in the job, his unwillingness to ask his cabinet 
and his congressional leaders for advice alienated some potential 
supporters. More important, this method o presentation prevented 
Roosevelt from building a broad coalition behind the bill and 
ironing out multifarious tactical details before springing the attack 
behind-the-scenes activities in which Roosevelt was highly adept 

That this masterly politician should make such errors even be- 
fore his bill was born is explained partly by Roosevelt's personality, 
partly by his view of the political circumstances at the end of 1936. 

Clearly Roosevelt had come to love perhaps he had always 
lovedthe drama, the suspense, the theatrical touches, and his own 
commanding role in projects that astonished the country and riled 
the enemy. But it was more than this. Roosevelt had fought the 
campaign on a highly personal basis. And he had built a winning 
coalition around himself not the Democratic party, not the Demo- 
cratic platform, not the liberal ideology but around himself. He 

Court Packing: The Miscalculated Risk 315 

had won a stunning victory in spite of the doubters, the rebels, and 
the perfectionists. The master strokes in the campaign were largely 
of his own devising. 

Roosevelt's handling of the court fight was the logical extension 
of his presidential campaign. But now he met a new set of factors, 
and some of the old tricks did not work. Now he was trying to push 
a controversial bill through Congress, not win popular votes for 
himself as a beloved leader. He could not maneuver as he once had; 
victory depended on conciliating key congressmen and clearing 
labyrinthine channels. The Grand Coalition seemed to have 
shriveled away. With the President's blessing, Stanley High tried 
to activate the Good Neighbor Leagueit failed to respond. The 
mighty legions of farm and labor, so powerful in November, seemed 
to melt away in the spring. Roosevelt turned to the Democratic 
party; it was a scattered and disorganized army. He appealed for 
support on the basis of a "quiet crisis/' but people saw no crisis. 
It was not March 1933. 

The Black appointment repeated the whole problem in minor 
theme. Here again Roosevelt consulted only with two or three per- 
sons, and not with his congressional leaders. It was well known on 
Capitol Hill that the Alabaman had had Klan connections, and as 
Ickes said after the sensation broke, the leaders could have helped 
protect the President if Roosevelt had let them in on the decision 
beforehand. As it was, Roosevelt had to take personal responsibility 
for a personal appointment. Black went on to make a distinguished 
record as a justice, especially in the field of civil liberties but this 
could not help Roosevelt at the time. 

All in all, the court fight was a stunning defeat for the President. 
Whether or not it was a fatal or irretrievable one, however, de- 
pended on the events to follow. Two years later, with his eye on a 
string of pro-New Deal Court decisions, the President exulted that 
he had lost the battle but won the war. As matters turned out in 
Congress and party, it could better be said that he lost the battle, 
won the campaign, but lost the war. 

SIXTEEN The Roosevelt Recession 


.OOSEVELT tried to make the best of his 
court-packing defeats. He pointed to the Court's new position on 
New Deal measures. He felt that the country had been educated in 
the need for a broad interpretation of the Constitution. But he 
believed, too, that the battle was not over. "Judicial reform is coming 
just as sure as God made little apples/' he wrote Senator Green. 
"Keep at it with me!" 

But underneath he was deeply stung and shaken by his defeat. 
Farley found him outwardly as debonair as ever, but inwardly seeth- 
ing at the party rebels. In cabinet meetings he sent jocular but 
pointed barbs in Garner's direction, while the Vice-President kept 
a poker face under his shaggy white eyebrows. A few times during 
the last fretful weeks of the court fight Roosevelt lost his usual 
poise. The President roundly scolded Early for putting out a state- 
ment on the court fight that the newspapers had garbled. Roosevelt 
even lost his temper in front of the White House press corps; he 
was angry because Lindley and other reporters had interpreted a 
social visit of Boss Flynn's as proof of presidential intervention in 
the New York mayoralty fight. This was no sudden flare-up on 
Roosevelt's part; he deliberately turned a forty-minute press con- 
ference into a long beratement, again and again demanding that 
Lindley apologize. 

Even more remarkable was Roosevelt's treatment of General 
Johnson, now a fiery anti-New Deal columnist. The President had 
been infuriated by Washington rumors that despite his promise he 
never intended to put Robinson on the Court; when Johnson in 
his column charged Roosevelt with intended treachery, the old 
NRA chief was summoned to the White House. Roosevelt went 
over the columns, making caustic comments. To Ickes next day 
the President related the ensuing dialogue: 

"Hugh, do you know what fine, loyal old Joe Robinson would 
have said to you if you had written that while he was alive?" 



The Roosevelt Recession 317 

"He would have said, Hugh, that you are a liar, a coward, and 
a cad." 

As Johnson's face reddened, Roosevelt slowly repeated the line. 
Then, according to the President's story, Johnson cried. 

Significantly, all Roosevelt's outbursts involved the press. "As 
you know," he wrote Ambassador Bowers in Spain, "all the fat-cat 
newspapers85% of the whole have been utterly opposed to every- 
thing the Administration is seeking, and the best way to describe the 
situation is that the campaign of the spring, summer and autumn 
of 1936 is continuing actively throughout the year 1937. However, 
the voters are with us today just as they were last fall." To detour 
around the reporters and their publishers, to feel again the bracing 
enthusiasm of the crowds, to take his program to the people before 
the special session, the President decided on a trip to the North- 

Late in September the long presidential special headed out of 
the Capital, rolled across the cornfields of the Midwest and through 
the long valleys of Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Wash- 
ington. It was like the election campaign all over again, as Roosevelt 
gave his chatty little homilies from the back platform, grasped the 
hands of local politicians, confabbed with governors and senators. 
The President told a Boise crowd that he felt like Antaeus "I 
regain strength by just meeting the American people." But as the 
President dedicated dams and inspected reclamation systems, 
friendly reporters thought of him not as Antaeus but as a modern 
Paul Bunyan, talking about the big jobs ahead even as he ex- 
ulted in the huge construction projects under way. 

The President got in a few licks at party rebels too. In Nebraska 
he studiously avoided inviting Senator Ed Burke, who had fought 
the court bill, to join his party. In Montana he heaped praise on 
Murray while ignoring Wheeler. In Wyoming, O'Mahoney was not 
invited either, but when the senator boarded the presidential train 
as a member of a welcoming committee, Roosevelt, undaunted, 
greeted him cheerily; later, however, he told a Caspar audience that 
the people disliked politicians who gave lip service to objectives 
while doing nothing to attain them. And in Boise was it a warning 
to rebellious Democrats throughout the nation? Roosevelt had only 
smiles for Republican Senator Borah. 

The President was buoyed up by the popular response to his 
trip. The crowds seemed to him even bigger than a year before. 
He sensed that the people had not grasped the court issue, but 
they still wanted his objectives. And it was objectives that he 
stressed in speeches on the trip back as he called for an expanded 
farm program and wages and hours legislation. Then in Chicago 


on October 5 he abruptly changed the subject and created a sensa- 

Hundreds of thousands lined the President's route that day from 
the station to the PWA bridge he was to dedicate. He had de- 
liberately chosen Chicago, Roosevelt told the crowd, to speak on 
a subject of "definite national importance." In a few moments he 
was talking about the world situation and doing so in a fashion 
that no President had for sixteen years. Referring indirectly to the 
increasing hostilities in Spain and China, he said sternly that the 
very foundations of civilization were threatened by the current 
reign of terror and international lawlessness. If conditions got 
worse, America could not expect mercy; the Western Hemisphere 
could not avoid attack. 

"The peace-loving nations must make a concerted effort in op- 
position to those violations of treaties and those ignorings of humane 
instincts which today are creating a state of international anarchy 
and instability from which there is no escape through mere isola- 
tion or neutrality." No nation could isolate itself from the spread- 
ing upheavals. "The peace, the freedom and the security of ninety 
per cent of the population of the world is being jeopardized by the 
remaining ten per cent who are threatening a breakdown of all 
international order and law." Then came a Rooseveltian climax, 

"When an epidemic of physical disease starts to spread, the com- 
munity approves and joins in a quarantine of the patients in order 
to protect the health of the community against the spread of the 
disease." He was determined, the President added quickly, to 
adopt every practicable measure to avoid involvement in war. His 
speech ended on a mixed note. "We are adopting such measures as 
will minimize our risk of involvement, but we cannot have complete 
protection in a world of disorder in which confidence and security 
have broken down." 

The crowd shouted its approval. Back on his train the President 
asked Miss Tully, "How did it go, Grace?" When she expressed 
enthusiasm over the reception, he nodded and said, "Well, it's done 
now. It was something that needed saying." 

But what did the President mean? What kind of collective action? 
What kind of quarantine? Back in Washington, Hull, surprised 
and shocked by Roosevelt's strong words, remained quiet. Other 
party leaders were silent. It was the opposition that spoke up. 
Pacifists charged the President with starting the people down the 
road to war. Isolationist congressmen threatened him with impeach- 
ment. The AFL resolved against involvement in foreign wars. A 
telegraphic poll of Congress showed a heavy majority against com- 
mon action with the League in the Far East. 

"It's a terrible thing," Roosevelt said later to Rosenman, "to look 

The Roosevelt Recession 319 

over your shoulder when you are trying to lead and to find no 
one there/' He was indignant at the silence of party leaders who 
should have spoken up. Cut off from his troops, he had to re-estab- 
lish contact. The next day, as reporters strove to interpret the 
speech, Roosevelt was all caution. His speech, he said, was not a 
repudiation of neutrality it might even be an expansion. 

"You say there isn't any conflict between what you outline and 
the Neutrality Act/' Lindley said. "They seem to be on opposite 
poles to me and your assertion does not enlighten me/' 

"Put your thinking-cap on, Ernest," the President said. 

"I have been for some years. They seem to be at opposite poles. 
How can you be neutral if you are going to align yourself with 
one group of nations?" 

"What do you mean, 'aligning'?" the President asked. "You mean 
a treaty?" 

"Not necessarily," Lindley said. "I meant action on the part of 
peace-loving nations." 

"There are a lot of methods in the world that have never been 
tried yet." 

Lindley was persistent. "But, at any rate, that is not an indication 
of neutral attitude 'quarantine the aggressors' and 'other nations of 
the world/ " 

"I can't give you any clue to it. You will have to invent one. . . /' 

A few days later the President pulled in his horns further. He 
announced United States participation in a forthcoming conference 
of the parties to the Treaty of Washington over the Far Eastern 
situation a clear indication, since Japan and China were signatories 
to the treaty, that sanctions against aggressor nations were out of 
the question, at least for the time. 

But by now October 1937 a storm was blowing up from a new 


Late in the summer stocks had slackened off. At first the drop seemed 
a normal one, and the usual explanations readjustment, corrective 
realignment, and so on were trotted out. But things rapidly got 
worse. Wave after wave of selling hit the market and spilled stocks 
to new lows. Suddenly it seemed like 1929 all over again. Selling 
orders poured in from all over the country, transactions went to 
seven million shares in a single day, the ticker tape fell far behind. 
There was some disposition in the cabinet to see the drop as an 
artificial one; Miss Perkins reported in mid-September that her 
statisticians expected an early upturn in business. A week later the 
President was even cautiously hopeful in a press conference that 


the country had moved out of its long-term basic emergency, and 
early in October cabinet members were still speaking of a "cor- 
rective dip" in the market. 

Roosevelt was in a paradoxical situation. He believed that eco 
nornic conditions were fundamentally sound. "I have been around 
the country and know conditions are good/' he said to the cabinet 
on October 8. "Farmers are getting good prices." He suspected that 
big business was trying to drive the market down as a move against 
the administration. "Everything will work out all right if we just 
sit tight and keep quiet." 

Yet the President dared not show his optimism in public. Above 
all he feared the dread parallel with Hoover, whose hopeful decla- 
rations month after month in the early 1930*5 had become a grim 
joke. "Dan," Roosevelt said sharply to Roper, who had been trying 
to calm his business constituency, "I wish you would stop giving 
out so many Hooverish statements!" 

Sitting tight worked no better for Roosevelt than it had for 
Hoover. Stocks kept on dropping; the whole economy was now 
showing a decline. The financial community was suffering a bad 
case of jitters, Morgenthau reported. Morgenthau's own jitters were 
severe. "We are headed right into another depression," he told 
Roosevelt. "The question is, Mr. President what are we going to 
do about it?" Roosevelt knew his Secretary of the Treasury too well 
to be alarmed by him. Nor was he alarmed by the deluge of wires 
from businessmen offering warnings, advice, frantic pleas to do 
something anything. He joked with reporters about the industrialist 
who insisted in a three-page telegram that he was talking not for 
the big or medium-sized speculators but for the small investors 
the kind of investor who carried little brokerage accounts of ten 
to twenty thousand dollars. 

But the harsh indices of economic decline could not be laughed 
off. At a cabinet meeting early in November Miss Perkins reported 
that employment was dropping at a time when it usually rose. A 
long discussion followed. When Morgenthau suggested that Roose- 
velt publicly compare current conditions with those of early 1933 
to reassure business, the President betrayed his anxiety. "Oh, for 
God's sake, Henry, do you want me to read the record again?" he 
demanded. The discussion revealed a cabinet deeply split on the 
course to take. Morgenthau, Farley, and Roper wanted a conciliatory 
approach to business, while Ickes, Perkins, and Wallace sought 
an expansion of New Deal measures. Government economists were 
badly divided too. 

Roosevelt was plainly at sea. Ickes had never seen him so worried 
over the drift of events, so eager for counsel from his cabinet. A 
former president, beset by conflicting advice, had once exclaimed, 

The Roosevelt Recession 321 

"I can't make a damn thing out of this tax problem. I listen to one 
side and they seem right and then God! I talk to the other side 
and they seem just as right. . . . God, what a job!" If Roosevelt was 
more urbane than Harding, he was no less perplexed. He told 
reporters about two letters he had received from two leading eco- 
nomic experts: 

"One says the entire question is one of the velocity of capital 
turnover credit, so do not pay any attention to purchasing power. 
The other one says: forget all this algebraic formula about the 
velocity of capital turnover credit; the whole question is purchasing 
power on the part of one hundred and thirty million people. 

"It is a fascinating study," the President wound up almost rue- 

By mid-November, when Congress met in special session, the de- 
cline had become so severe that it could not be openly ignored. 
"Since your adjournment in August," the President declared to 
Congress, "there has been a marked recession in industrial produc- 
tion and industrial purchases following a fairly steady advance for 
more than four years." He quickly added that he had been aware 
of uncertainties in the economic picture before the recession began, 
and that the decline had not reached serious proportions. "But it 
has the effect of decreasing the national income, and that is a 
matter of definite concern." The job was both to check the recession 
and to lay the groundwork for a more permanent recovery. 

But it was no crisis program that the President presented to Con- 
gress. The two items that might affect recovery a permanent na- 
tional farm act and wages and hours were leftovers from the regu- 
lar session. So were the other two recommendations administrative 
reorganization and regional planning. That Roosevelt would serve 
this warmed-up assortment was a measure of his inability to decide 
on a basic economic program. 

Perhaps it made no difference, for the special session was a sham- 
bles. The Senate at the start ran into a wrathful filibuster over 
Wagner's antilynching bill. In the House Roosevelt's leaders through 
a variety of trades squeezed out enough signatures on a petition to 
pry the wages and hours bill out of the Rules Committee; then the 
bill was dashed to pieces on the rocks of opposition from AFL fac- 
tions and from Southern congressmen. The farm bill made faster 
progress but encountered a split between Secretary Wallace and 
President O'Neal of the Farm Bureau. The reorganization and re- 
gional planning bills simply made no progress at all. When Con- 
gress adjourned a few days before Christmas it had passed not one 
of Roosevelt's four proposals. 


Roosevelt's political opponents were alert. They remembered 
some sentences from an extemporaneous talk the President had 
made in Charleston over two years before. "Yes, we are on our 
way backnot just by pure chance, my friends, not just by a turn 
of the wheel, of the cycle," Roosevelt had said on that occasion. 
"We are coming back more soundly than ever before because we 
are planning it that way. Don't let anybody tell you differently/' 
And now Republican orators were mockingly throwing the words 
back in Roosevelt's face. 

A reporter cautiously sounded Roosevelt out on the matter. The 
President was unruffled. That was perfectly true in Charleston in 
1935, he said. "The things we had done, which at that time were 
largely a monetary and pump-priming policy for two years and a 
half, had brought the expected result, perfectly definitely." But, 
he added, there had been a great drop in pump priming, and NRA 
and AAA had been knocked into a cocked hat. 

Roosevelt's answer was disingenuous. It was not the Court alone 
that had blocked New Deal planning. The President himself had 
shifted back and forth in his search for viable economic policies. 
To look on his policies as the result of a unified plan, as Moley 
acidly commented later, was to believe that the accumulation of 
stuffed snakes, baseball pictures, school flags, old tennis shoes, and 
the like in a boy's bedroom were the design of an interior decorator. 
Indeed, Roosevelt himself had boasted of his experimentation. In 
five years he had changed direction, reversed speed, and doubled 
back on his trail. 

Economically the New Deal had been opportunistic in the grand 
manner. Roosevelt had tried rigid economy, then heavy spending, 
then restriction of spending again. He had shifted back and forth 
from spending on direct relief to spending on public works. He 
had tried controlled inflation and then policing of prices. He had 
tried economic nationalism, and then encouraged Hull's program 
of economic internationalism. His monetary policies had been 
jumbled the abandonment of gold, the abortive experiment with 
the Warren price theory, a flirtation with inflationary silver eco- 
nomics, and later a monetary stabilization agreement with Britain 
and France. 

Yet experimentation is a means to an end, not an end in itself. 
Roosevelt recognized this. He argued that his twists and turns were 
all aimed at a common goal a more secure and prosperous economy, 
better living conditions for the mass of people, especially the one- 
third of the nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished. Changing 
methods, he said, were simply a response to changes in the economic 
situation as he strove for the greater goal. This argument was con- 

The Roosevelt Recession 323 

vincing as long as business conditions were improving. In the fall 
of 1937 it seemed an empty apology. 

On one economic matter, however, Roosevelt had shown a dogged 
tenacity and consistency. This was balancing the budget. Not, of 
course, that he had balanced the budget but it remained a central 
objective of his fiscal policies. Again and again during the first term 
he had returned to the point until it had become a refrain. He had 
promised to balance the budget during the 1936 campaign, and 
early in 1937 he had looked forward hopefully to a balanced budget 
in a year or two. "I have said fifty times that the budget will be 
balanced for the fiscal year 1938," Roosevelt had exclaimed to 
Garner during the court fight. "If you want me to say it again, 1 
will say it either once or fifty times more/' 

Curiously, the recession seemed only to harden the President's 
determination to get the budget in balance. He expected it to be 
"definitely balanced by the next fiscal year," he announced at 
Bonneville at the end of September. He made the same statement 
time after time in press conferences. He grew indignant over the 
disposition of Congress to spend money without raising taxes for 
it, and throughout the fall of 1937 he was busy searching for ways 
of cutting spending. 

The high point in this effort came on the night of November 10, 
when Morgenthau, who had been pressing the President for an 
end of deficits, announced to the Academy of Political Science in 
New York that the administration positively intended to balance 
the budget. This was nothing newbut it amazed the New Deal 
economists around Roosevelt, for in a series of conferences with 
the President a day or so before the speech they had got the impres- 
sion that he was contemplating a resumption of heavy spending. 
Was Morgenthau, they wondered hopefully, speaking out of turn? 
No, it developed that Roosevelt had gone over the secretary's 
address in advance. 

Whatever his private doubts, Roosevelt was outwardly determined 
on government economy and a balanced budget. Probably he hoped 
that this reassurance would buoy up business confidence and check 
the deepening recession. But business did not pick up. 

It was a dismal December. The President took Hopkins and Ickes 
on a fishing trip in the Gulf of Mexico, but he had to cut the cruise 
short because of an infected jaw. Ickes had never seen him so list- 
less and despondent; he even talked of letting Congress have its 
head. In mid-December Japanese bombers sank the United States 
gunboat Panay and killed three Americans. A crisis seemed in the 
making until Japan met American demands just before Christmas. 
The President's Christmas greeting to the nation was, in substance, 
a sermon to "love thine enemy." One of his last official acts of 1937, 


however, was to indicate that he expected to expand the country's 
naval power. Love thine enemy but carry a big stick. 


The new year 1938 brought no turn in the economic situation. 
Business indices were still falling; a special census of unemploy- 
ment confirmed the administration's worst fears. Between eight 
and eleven million people were jobless. 

The President maintained an air of self-assurance. To Congress 
he delivered a long message that was in effect an earnest and persua- 
sive restatement of the New Deal. He again called for a balanced 
budget, but not if it meant that Americans must starve or go on 
the dole. Resubmitting his program of 1937, Roosevelt vowed that 
he would not "let the people down." His Jackson Day dinner address 
early in January was a summons to the "overwhelming majority 
of our citizens" to join him in the spirit of Jefferson and Jackson 
and Lincoln to curb the power and privileges of small minorities. 
"We know that there will be a fewa mere handful of the total 
of businessmen and bankers and industrialists who will fight to the 
last ditch to retain such autocratic control over the industry and 
finances of the country as they now possess. With this handful it 
is going to be a fight a cheerful fight on my part, but a fight in 
which there will be no compromise with evil no letup until the 
inevitable day of victory." 

"Bert," said the President to House Republican leader Snell fol- 
lowing his speech to Congress, "as they used to say on the East 
Side of New York, 'that wasn't esking them, that was telling them!' " 

But telling them what? Actually Roosevelt was still a highly 
puzzled man. He did not conceal this fact from himself. There was 
something both pitiable and engaging in the way in which, five 
years after becoming President and in the midst of deepening eco- 
nomic crisis, he set about re-educating himself in the mysterious ways 
of the economic system. As in the past, he consulted men rather 
than books. To a New York banker who had warned him against 
consulting visionary and dangerous theorists the President wrote 
that he was seeing more businessmen than any other group. "If you 
could sit in my office beside me for a week it would be very helpful 
to you, for you would be gaining in education in every line as 
greatly as I am gaining as each day passes." Once again the Presi- 
dent was talking with men late into the night, rummaging through 
their minds. 

Unhappily, the more Roosevelt turned for advice to the men 
around him and to others he called in, the more he risked becoming 
entangled in the arguments over economic policy within his own 

The Roosevelt Recession 325 

staff, within his cabinet, within his whole circle of advisers. And 
the more he was plunged into the middle of the intellectual war- 
fare among academic economists. 

During the fall and early winter Roosevelt's conservative advisers 
seemed to have the upper hand. Morgenthau's budget-balancing 
speech, the President's continued assurances on the same subject, 
his well-publicized demands for government economy, his frequent 
distinction between the great number of businessmen and the tiny 
minority of wrongdoers all these were designed to bolster business 
confidence, to embolden investors, to shore up the stock market. 
In his "budget seminar" with reporters shortly after the new year 
began Roosevelt said that the most important fact was the cut of 
over half a billion in estimated spending for the next fiscal year. 

The President's caution did little to placate business. It served 
mainly to arouse the New Dealers around him. By the end of 1937 
they were taking their case directly to the people. But this was a 
flanking effort their main goal was to drive a salient into the eco- 
nomic mind of Roosevelt himself. 

By this time the New Dealers had become a relatively stable and 
unified group. Their leaders in the cabinet were Ickes, Wallace, 
Perkins and perhaps more influential with Roosevelt than any of 
these by 1938 Hopkins. Behind these notables was as remark- 
able and able a group of idea men as Washington had ever seen. 
The ebullient Corcoran was as active as ever, showing his uncanny 
capacity to move back and forth between exacting technical jobs 
and tough backstairs politicking. An official of increasing influence 
during this period was the chairman of the Board of Governors of 
the Federal Reserve System, a sharp-faced banker from Utah named 
Marriner Eccles. Two other rising stars were William O. Douglas, 
the sandy-haired ex-professor who now chaired the Securities Ex- 
change Commission, and Robert H. Jackson, a New York lawyer 
who had won wide attention for his work in the Justice Department. 
Behind these men, backing them up with charts and memorandums 
and analyses, were a dozen barely known economists and lawyers 
Isador Lubin in the Labor Department, Mordecai Ezekiel in Agri- 
culture, Herman Oliphant in Treasury, Lauchlin Currie under 
Eccles, Leon Henderson and David K. Niles under Hopkins. 

By the end of 1937 little knots of these and other New Dealers 
had been meeting secretly and holding feverish discussions on how 
to salvage the New Deal. They were at odds, however, over economic 
strategy. The out-and-out Keynesians wanted Roosevelt to start a 
bigger and better spending program. Others called for an old-fash- 
ioned, slam-bang attack on the trusts. The New Dealers were too 
unsure of Roosevelt's current political mood to let him in on their 


plans; besides, their tactic was to force his hand by building up 

pressure on the left. 

As it turned out, though, Roosevelt unwittingly decided the issue 
between the spenders and the trust busters for a time. His private 
complaints during the fall that certain business interests were gang- 
ing up on him showed which way the presidential mind was leaning. 
Jackson, in the tradition of his namesake a century before the New 
Deal, opened up the counterattack on business by blaming monop- 
olists and profiteers for the recession. Ickes followed with a denun- 
ciation of the "sixty families" that, he cried, controlled the Ameri- 
can economy. The New Dealers were not content to deplore the 
economic power of the monopolists. They flayed them for seeking 
political power, for trying to defy the popular mandate of 1936, 
even for leading the country toward fascism. Ickes waited anxiously 
for the President to back up the onslaughts. Roosevelt did, after a 
fashion-hut he took care to reiterate that only a small minority of 
businessmen were guilty of "poor citizenship/' 

So trust busting was the order of the day. Nothing could have 
been better calculated to inflame the war between New Deal and 
business or to sharpen the alternatives facing Roosevelt. For the 
essence of the businessmen's argument was that the recession 
stemmed directly from lack of confidence by investors in Roosevelt's 
policies and ultimate intentions. Lack of confidence meant lack of 
investment, and faltering investment meant a slowing of the wheels 
of industry. As the New Dealers thwacked them hip and thigh, 
businessmen turned to Roosevelt for a repudiation of his radical 

But the President was silent. He was still groping. As long as he 
could not see his way clear he steered cautiously between the New 
Dealers and the conservatives and avoided alienating either wing. 
And he continued to go to school. During the early weeks of 1938 
businessmen flocked to the White House on the President's invita- 
tion to tell him their ideas. The administration sponsored in Wash- 
ington a conference of small businessmen that became so turbulent 
that the police had to be called. The Business Advisory Council 
met and its spokesman, Averell Harriman, asked the President to 
provide leadership around which they could rally, but the business- 
men suspected that the President was still planless. Other meetings 
were more ominous. One hundred thousand workers turned out 
for a relief demonstration in Detroit; three thousand youth dele- 
gates convened in Washington to demand a "youth act" that would 
provide part-time jobs. 

Pressed to act but not knowing what to do, Roosevelt turned from 
one scheme to another. For a time he toyed with ideas for a revival 

The Roosevelt Recession 327 

of some kind of public and private national planning, although not 
to the extent of the NRA. Soon he was taking a different tack; in 
conferring with utility magnates he spoke strongly against utility 
holding companies, themselves a form of private planning. He de- 
nounced various marketing practices of big business, but he also 
made clear that he was not leaning toward any form of socialism. 
In the fashion of Hoover several years back, the President warned 
against wage reductions; but he expressed concern also over high 
prices in some fields and low prices in others. Roosevelt insisted 
that all his policies were designed to promote full employment. He 
failed, however, to back up his policies with more than cajolery, 
and as business conditions worsened, the nation saw only a policy 
of improvisation and drift. 

A number of economists urged Roosevelt to increase government 
spending and thus prime the economic pump so that business could 
step up its own activity. These appeals many of which came from 
academic mendid not move Roosevelt, at least at that moment. 
Pump priming had been proper in 1933, he believed, but it was not 
desirable in 1938 when business indices were off by only about a 
third. Here Roosevelt was somewhat a victim of circumstances. The 
two men close to him who had both an intellectual and vocational 
interest in spending were inactive, for different reasons. Hopkins 
had recently had part of his stomach removed because of cancer, and 
was recuperating in the early weeks of 1938. And Ickes during these 
months was putting virtually all his political energies behind his 
obsessive efforts to wrest the Forest Service away from the Agricul- 
ture Department and affix it to his own domain. 

Roosevelt was now more sorely pressed than ever. Once again, as 
in early 1935, he was being squeezed by forces beyond his control. 
His enemies in Congress taunted him for his failure to come to 
grips with the recession. His friends pleaded for a reassertion of 
his moral leadership. "Mr. President," wrote Wallace, "[you] must 
furnish that firm and confident leadership which made you such 
a joy to the nation in March of 1933." It was all Roosevelt could 
do to get enough money out of Congress to meet immediate and 
essential relief needs. He warned a congressional leader that if Con- 
gress cut relief he would post a big sign in front of the White House 
announcing WPA NEED NOT APPLY HERE with a big arrow pointing 
to Capitol Hill. 

It was a condition, not a theory, that finally moved the President. 
In March the stock market's halting decline turned suddenly into 
a panicky drop, and other indices slumped badly. Unemployment 
was still rising. In fact, the decline from the previous September 
was the sharpest the country had ever known. Even a number of 
business leaders were now calling guardedly for spending. When 


Roosevelt left Washington for Warm Springs late in March he was 
worried and tense. He stopped off in Georgia to deliver one of the 
most bitter attacks of his life on minority selfishness, on feudalism 
that he described as virtual fascism. By now Hopkins was back in 
action, and, armed with memorandums from New Deal economists, 
he met Roosevelt at Warm Springs and urged on him a large-scale 
spending program. 

Roosevelt knew that he must act. And he knew that he must act 
for the people the people who loved him and who had sustained 
him. On the train back to Washington from Georgia he looked out 
of the window at the nondescript men and women who five years 
after his inauguration were still waiting for him along the track 
to wave and smile at him. He turned to an assistant. "They under- 
stand what we're trying to do." 

Soon after arriving in Washington Roosevelt told Morgenthau 
that he had decided to scrap budget balancing and resume spending. 
When Morgenthau cried that he might resign, the President an- 
swered, "You just can't do this!" It would wreck the administration, 
and Morgenthau would go down in history as having quit under 
fire. Morgenthau stayed. 

As usual, when the President shifted, there was little looking back. 
In mid-April he proposed to Congress a three-billion-dollar spend- 
ing program, and in a long fireside chat took his new program to 
the people. Two weeks later he asked Congress to launch a thorough 
study of the concentration of economic power in American industry 
and the effect of that concentration upon the decline of competi- 
tion. Congress responded enthusiastically to his proposals and 
passed the legislation by heavy majorities within a few weeks. Three 
billion was appropriated for spending and lending during the next 
fiscal year, and the Temporary National Economic Committee, con- 
sisting of senators, representatives, and government officials, and 
staffed by scores of experts, was established under the chairmanship 
of Senator Joseph C. O'Mahoney to conduct a full-scale investiga- 
tion of the economy. Within a few months business indices were 
edging up again, but a large lump of unemployment continued to 
weigh down the economy. 


One day late in Roosevelt's second term Marriner Eccles reported 
at the White House to raise some pressing economic questions with 
the President. He had been promised an hour-long luncheon en- 
gagementa prize that an administrator might spend weeks con- 
niving for. To his dismay, he found that Senator McAdoo was cut- 
ting into his time. When Eccles finally got into the President's 

The Roosevelt Recession 329 

study the burly old Californian was standing over Roosevelt and 
declaiming about the political situation back home. 

"Bring up a chair, Marriner," the President said. To McAdoo 
he added: "Marriner and I are just about to have lunch/' 

McAdoo was too engrossed in his problems to take the hint. "Oh, 
that's all right/' he said, "you two boys go right ahead-Ill talk 
while you eat/' 

Reaching to a warming oven next to his chair, Roosevelt pulled 
out a plate. It was burning hot. Juggling it awkwardly, he managed 
to place it before Eccles. While the President shook his scorched 
fingers and Eccles burned inside, McAdoo continued to talk. He 
finally wound up: 

"Now, remember, Franklin. I want to leave one last thought with 
you. When it comes to appointing any of those federal judges in 
California, I wish you would take the matter up with me instead 
of with that son-of-a-bitch Downey. . . ." 

McAdoo finally left. Marveling at Roosevelt's good humor through 
all this, Eccles leaned forward to talk. But as the waiter rolled 
away the tray there was a new diversion. Fala bounded in, Roosevelt 
took a ball out of his desk, and for several minutes the dog played 
retriever for his master, while Eccles feebly voiced words of praise. 

"That's enough now," Roosevelt said to Fala. "I've got to get 
back to work." Eccles started talking, but after a few minutes he 
saw that he had lost his audience. Roosevelt was looking around 
the room for Fala. Suddenly the President burst out: "Well, I'll be 
God-damned! Marriner, do you see what I see?" 

Eccles did. Over in a corner Fala was committing an indiscretion 
on the rug. Several more minutes elapsed while Roosevelt sum- 
moned a guard, had Fala's nose rubbed in the mess, and delivered 
a post mortem. By now Eccles' time was almost up. He left in a 
blind rage. To his associates awaiting him expectantly at the Fed- 
eral Reserve Building he could report only on California politics 
and on the doings of Fala. 

This sort of thing happened many times. People were amazed at 
Roosevelt's governmental habits at his way of running through a 
series of wholly unrelated conferences like a child in a playroom 
turning from toy to toy, at his ability seemingly to put one matter 
out of his head when he turned to another, above all at his serenity 
and even gaiety under the pitiless pressures of men and events. The 
methods, of course, reflected the man. Roosevelt's mental agility and 
flexibility were well suited to the experimental phase of the New 
Deal. In 1938 Roosevelt was still the improviser, still the pragmatist. 

Was practicality enough? Roosevelt's fumbling and indecisiveness 
during the recession showed his failings as an economist and thinker. 
His distrust of old and doctrinaire economic theories freed him 


from slavery to ideas that would have been risky in the iggo's. But 
at the same time, that distrust helped cut him off from the one econ- 
omist and the one economic idea that might have provided a 
spectacular solution to Roosevelt's chief economic, political, and 
constitutional difficulties. 

The man was the noted British economist John Maynard Keynes. 
An academician who was yet a leader in the bizarre Bloomsbury set, 
an economist who had won and lost fortunes as a speculator, a Cam- 
bridge don who also ran insurance companies, a prickly intellectual 
who was close to men of affairs throughout the world, a reformer 
who believed in liberal capitalism, Keynes for two decades had 
been provoking British opinion with his unorthodox views of eco- 
nomics, industry, and international affairs. In 1936 he had pub- 
lished the capstone of his economic thought, The General Theory 
of Employment, Interest, and Money. Bristling with critical refer- 
ences to cherished theories and honored names, filled with strange 
terms and equations, punctuated by lengthy appendixes, the General 
Theory had been read by few. But its impact on liberal economists 
in America was already making itself felt. 

Tor, out of all the complexities and involutions of Keynes's writ- 
ings, there emerged a central idea that was dazzling in its stark sim- 
plicity. Classical economics dictated that in bad times governments 
must permit if not encourage lower wages, lower prices, and rigor- 
ously balanced budgets. Purged and cleansed by this stringent proc- 
ess, the economy could then right itself and once again march up 
the long foothills to the mountain peaks of the business cycle, 
Keynes boldly assaulted this notion. The nub of his advice to gov- 
ernment in time of depression was to unbalance the budget delib- 
erately by heavy spending and low taxes. Only through heavy spend- 
ing by consumers and investing by government or private capitalists 
could the economy right itself. 

To call any single doctrine a "solution" is, of course, dangerous 
business. Keynesianism, moreover, is still a highly controversial 
topic among economists and policy makers; its usefulness is sharply 
limited depending on the nature of an economy, the people, the 
condition, and the time. Yet it seems clear that if ever the idea of 
deficit financing had urgent applicability, it was to the America of 
the iggo's, with its huge army of unemployed, its vast raw mate- 
rials, and the state of its industrial arts. 

In the first place, deficit spending was constitutional. When at a 
social gathering Justice Stone whispered to Miss Perkins, "My dear, 
the taxing power is sufficient for everything you want and need," he 
was in effect reminding the administration of its plenitude of power 
in the whole fiscal realm as compared with other avenues that 
could be blocked off by judicial action. Indeed, a great authority 

The Roosevelt Recession 331 

on the Constitution, Professor Edward S. Corwin of Princeton, had 
predicted the "twilight of the Supreme Court" because the Court, 
by making difficult a legal challenge to federal appropriations, had 
left to Congress power over spending and taxing. 

Massive deficit spending was politically feasible too. Despite the 
ceaseless talk of economy on the Hill, Congress, at least during 
Roosevelt's first five years, was eager to spend. It is an old political 
bromide that congressmen want to vote for all spending bills and 
against all taxing bills which happens to be just the right com- 
bination for deficit spending. The President often had to throw his 
weight against the congressional spenders, as in the case of the 
veterans' bonus. If Roosevelt had urged spending programs on Con- 
gress rather than the court plan and certain reform measures in 
1937, he probably could have both met his commitments to the 
one-third ill-housed, ill-fed, and ill-clothed and achieved substan- 
tial re-employment. 

Deficit spending was ideally suited to Roosevelt's ideology and 
program. He was no doctrinaire capitalist; twenty years before his 
presidency he was a New Deal state senator favoring a host of gov- 
ernmental controls and reforms, and he had stood for progressivism 
as a Wilson lieutenant and as governor. He was no doctrinaire so- 
cialist; he had never embraced the idea of central state ownership 
of the means of production. Rejecting both doctrinaire solutions, 
Keynesian economics was a true middle wayat a time when New 
Dealers were groping for a middle way that worked. 

As a practical man, Roosevelt liked to apply the test, "Will it 
work?" Deficit spending had worked in 1935 and 1936 with the 
huge relief programs, veterans' bonus payments, and monetary ex- 
pansion. Then had come a shift to the opposite policy: relief spend- 
ing had been cut, reserve requirements for commercial banks raised, 
holdings of securities by banks reduced, and the growth of loans 
slowed. This shift from deficit spending had not worked. Both ex- 
periments had been fairly conclusive, each in its way; Roosevelt 
might have wanted the chance to experiment further, but a nation 
can hardly be expected to serve indefinitely as a laboratory. 

Why did this most practical of men miss out on what probably 
would have been the ideal solution for his economic, political, and 
judicial problems? 

Not because Keynes had failed to reach him. The Englishman 
had corresponded with the President, and he had talked with him 
in 1934. The two men liked each other, but the intellectual and 
the politician were cut from different cloth: Roosevelt was dubious 
about Keynes's "rigmarole of figures" and seemed surprised to find 
him a mathematician rather than a political economist; for his part 


Keynes "was disappointed that the President was not more literate 
in economics. 

From England, Keynes had watched the sharp decline of late 
1937 with mounting anxiety. On February i, 1938, he had written 
the President a long and eloquent letter. "You received me so kindly 
when I visited you some three years ago that I make bold to send 
you some birds eye impressions. . . ." After a disclaimer of om- 
niscience, Keynes delivered a polite but candid attack on the ad- 
ministration's recent economic policies. There had been an "error 
of optimism," he said, in 1936. Recovery was possible only through 
a large-scale recourse to public works and other investments. The 
administration had had an unexampled opportunity to organize in- 
creased investment in durable goods such as housing, public utili- 
ties, and transport. 

Could the administration, asked Keynes, escape criticism for the 
failure of increased investment? "The handling of the housing 
problem has been really wicked/' and housing could be the best 
aid to recovery. As for utilities, their litigation against the govern- 
ment was senseless. But as for the allegedly wicked holding com- 
panies, no one had suggested a way to unscramble the eggs. The 
President should either make peace with the utilities or be more 
drastic. Keynes leaned toward nationalizing them, but if public 
opinion was not yet ripe for that, what was the point of ' 'chasing 
the utilities around the lot every other week"? As for railroads, 
either take them over or have pity on the overwhelming problems 
of the managers. 

Keynes even tried to educate the President on the nature of 
businessmen. They had a different set of delusions from politicians, 
he warned, and thus required different handling. "They are, how- 
ever, much milder than politicians, at the same time allured and 
terrified by the glare of publicity, easily persuaded to be 'patriots, 1 
perplexed, bemused, indeed terrified, yet only too anxious to take 
a cheerful view, vain perhaps but very unsure of themselves, pa- 
thetically responsive to a kind word. You could do anything you 
liked with them, if you would treat them (even the big ones), not 
as wolves and tigers, but as domestic animals by nature, even 
though they have been badly brought up and not trained as you 
would wish." 

It was a mistake, Keynes went on, to think that businessmen 
were more immoral than politicians. "If you work them into the 
surly, obstinate, terrified mood of which domestic animals, wrongly 
handled, are so capable, the nation's burden will not get carried 
to market; and in the end, public opinion will veer their way. . . ." 
"Forgive the candour of these remarks/' Keynes had concluded. 
He listed half a dozen administration policies he supported with 

The Roosevelt Recession 333 

enthusiasm. ''But I am terrified lest progressive causes in all the 
democratic countries should suffer injury, because you have taken 
too lightly the risk to their prestige which would result from a 
failure measured in terms of immediate prosperity. There need be 
no failure. But the maintenance of prosperity in the modern world 
is extremely difficult; and it is so easy to lose precious time." 

The eloquent appeal had not moved the President. He asked 
Morgenthau to write a reply to Keynes for him, and the President 
signed as written the banal little letter that Morgenthau produced. 
Two months later Roosevelt did resume spending, of course, but 
it was not the kind of massive spending that Keynes was calling 

Part of the reason for Roosevelt's failure to exploit Keynes and 
his ideas lay in the web of political circumstances. Lacking a co- 
herent economic philosophy in 1932, Roosevelt had opportunis- 
tically pummeled Hoover from both right and left, attacking him 
both for do-nothing government and for unbalancing the budget. 
Roosevelt had thus committed himself to a balanced budget, at 
least in the long run, and during his presidential years he mired 
himself further in this swamp. The more he unbalanced the budget, 
the more literally scores of times he insisted that eventually he 
would balance it. The more he promised, the more he gave hos- 
tages to the conservatives on the Hill and in his party. His personal 
stand became party policy in both the 1932 and 1936 platforms. 

Another reason for the failure lay with Roosevelt's advisers. 
Some of them, of course, opposed any type of heavy spending; but 
even those who leaned toward a new economic program were com- 
mitted to particular doctrines or policies and hence were unable 
to exploit the full potential of Keynes's idea. Some of them were 
mainly concerned about price rigidity so concerned, indeed, that 
they wished to make this the main basis of a campaign against big 
business. Some were more worried about inflation than continuing 
unemployment. Some wanted to penalize business by raising taxes 
good politics, perhaps, but a contradiction of the Keynesian idea 
of lowering taxes while increasing spending. Some, lacking faith in 
the long-term prospects of capitalism in America, believed in a the- 
ory of secular stagnation that did not admit that Keynesian eco- 
nomics was a basic solution. Some were believers only in pump 
priming; the government could pour heavy doses of purchasing 
power into the economy, as it had in 1935 and 1936, but after that 
business was supposed to man the pumps. 

These splits even among his liberal advisers reflected to some 
extent the haphazard fashion in which Roosevelt had assembled his 
brain trust. Even so, there were few out-and-out Keynesians in the 
government, and most of these were in the lower echelons and 


lacked access to the President. And Keynesian theory was so new 
that certain statistical and analytical tools were lacking. 

The main reason for Roosevelt's failure in the economic sphere, 
however, lay neither in the political situation nor in his divided 
advisers. With his immense political resourcefulness and volatility 
Roosevelt could always have broken out of the party and congres- 
sional web, at least in 1936 and early 1937. He could always have 
changed his advisers. His main trouble was intellectual. Roosevelt 
was simply unable as a thinker to seize the opportunity that Keynes- 
ian economics gave him. His failure as an economist was part of a 
broader intellectual failure. 

What was the nature of this failure? Roosevelt's mind was an 
eminently operative one, quick, keen, fast, flexible. It showed in 
his intellectual habits. He disdained elaborate, fine-spun theories; 
he paid little attention to the long and abstract briefs that aca- 
demic people were always sending him on ways of improving 
administration, on strengthening the cabinet as an institution, on 
dealing with Congress. He hated abstractions. His mind yearned 
for the detail, the particular, the specific. Invariably he answered 
general questions in terms of examplesin terms of an individual 
business, of a farmer in Kansas, of a problem in Hyde Park, of a 
situation during the Wilson administration. He had a passion for 
the concrete. 

His working habits bespoke his mind. From the start of his day 
to the end, from his skimming through a half-dozen newspapers at 
breakfast through a schedule of quick conferences on a score of 
different subjects to his playing with his stamps before bedtime, 
his mind sped from topic to topic, picking them up, toying with 
them, and dropping them. His intellectual habits were not dis- 
orderly; they were staccato. 

Roosevelt's mental way of life was nourished by its own successes. 
He liked to outwit the reporters in fast repartee. He liked to show 
off the incredible knowledge of a wide variety of specific matters 
that he carried in his head. Sometimes there was a touch of fakery 
in this, for the President could steer a conversation toward a sub- 
ject on which he was newly briefed. But to an extraordinary ex- 
tent he grasped an immediate, specific situation in all its particu- 
lars and complexity. He knew, for example, the tangled political 
situations and multitude of personalities in each of the states; he 
could talk for hours about the housing, roads, people, and history 
of Hyde Park; he could describe knowledgeably the activities and 
problems of a host of businesses and industries; he could pull 
of his head hundreds of specific prices, rents, wages; he could i 

The Roosevelt Recession 335 

tify countless varieties of fish, birds, trees; he could not be stumped 
on geography. 

His self-esteem as a practical man must have been fed, too, by 
the ignorance of so many of his critics. Many men of affairs were 
slaves to the theories of defunct economists, and Roosevelt could 
puncture their pretensions with his knowledge of their own busi- 
ness and its relation to the rest of the world. His indignant com- 
plaints to his friends about the businessmen's failure to advance 
specific constructive suggestions was the lament of the practitioner 
against the theorist. Undoubtedly Roosevelt's emphasis on his own 
practicality had an element of overcompensation too. Cartoonists 
in 1938 were still picturing him as a fuzzy theorist surrounded by 
bemused brain trusters; and a friend who had romped with him as 
a child in the Hyde Park nursery, and who had evidently learned 
little since those days, rebuked him with the words: "You are 
not an essentially practical person." 

And now, by a supreme irony, fate placed before this man of 
practicality an economic theory that seemed to embody only un- 
common sense. The idea of boosting spending and holding down 
taxes and of doing this year after year as a deliberate policy, the 
idea of gaining prosperity by the deliberate creation of huge debts 
this idea in its full dimensions seemed but another fanciful aca- 
demic theory, and Roosevelt by 1938 had had a bellyful of such 
theories. Pump priming as a temporary emergency measure he 
could understandbut not deficit spending as the central, long- 
term approach to full-scale economic recovery. 

Deficit spending posed a special intellectual problem for the 
President. If there had been consistency in his handling of eco- 
nomic affairs, it was his habit of trying to make economic deci- 
sions by combining opposites. "Lock yourselves in a room and 
don't come out until you agree/' he would say blithely to people 
who differed hopelessly in their economic premises to free traders 
and nationalists, to deflationists and inflationists, to trust busters 
and collectivists, to spenders and economizers. The trouble with 
deficit spending was that halfway application did not work. It had 
utility only through full and determined use; otherwise it served 
only to antagonize and worry business by increasing the public debt 
without sufficiently raising spending and investment. 

A Keynesian solution, in short, involved an almost absolute com- 
mitment, and Roosevelt was not one to commit himself absolutely 
to any political or economic method. His mind was a barometric 
reflection of the personal and policy pressures around him. "We 
are at one of those uncommon junctures of human affairs/' Keynes 
said in the 1930% "when we can be saved by the solution of intel- 
lectual problems and in no other way." But Roosevelt's mind was 


attuned to the handling of a great variety of operational and tac- 
tical matters, not to the solving of intellectual problems. 

Roosevelt's deficiencies as an economist were as striking as his 
triumphs as a politician. It was a major failure of American de- 
mocracy that it was not able in the late 1930*8 to show that a 
great nation could provide jobs for its workers and food, clothes, 
and houses for its people. What Roosevelt could not achieve World 
War II would achieve as a by-product enabling Republicans to 
charge later that the New Deal could end depression only through 
war. It was a personal failure for Roosevelt too. Halfway through 
his second term the man who had ousted Hoover on the depression 
issue knew that eight or nine million people were walking the 
streets. He knew that millions were still living in shanties and tene- 
ments, and that some were not far from starvation. Would the great 
promise of January 1937 become a mockery? 

SEVENTEEN Deadlock on the Potomac 


_N MOST SOCIETIES, people's love for their 
leaders is strongly mixed with hatred and fear. Certain tribes set 
off a time each year for the throwing of dung at their chiefs. In 
America, as Mr. Dooley once remarked, people build their tri- 
umphal arches out of brick so that they will have something handy 
to throw at the hero when he comes through. As economic condi- 
tions deteriorated during early 1938, so did Roosevelt's popularity. 
By the summer months of that year barely half the people ques- 
tioned in a nationwide survey said that they would vote for 
Roosevelt if they were going to the polls at that time. 

The rancor among sections of the rich was sharper and uglier 
than ever. The President seemed to be hated more bitterly in con- 
servative quarters than any American progressive since Bryan. A 
corporation lawyer openly solicited pledges in Wall Street for a 
large fund to be presented to Roosevelt on condition he resign 
within five months. 

Any trouble in the Roosevelt family was fair game for the Roose- 
velt haters. During his early presidential years his sons got into the 
usual scrapes at school especially traffic offenses and these were 
duly inflated in the press. A highly publicized article in the Satur- 
day Evening Post accused James of exploiting his family conneo 
tion in writing insurance. Several actual or impending divorces in 
the family got full attention, especially in the gossip columns. While 
the father did what he could to bring about reconciliations, he 
did not expect his children to subordinate their private lives to his 
public life. He said little about these problems except in the im- 
mediate family circle, but the attacks on his offspring and through 
them on him hurt. They must have hurt all the more because he 
knew that for the last ten years he had had little time to devote 
to family affairs and problems. 

Roosevelt stories made their rounds of country club and dinner 

party; one of the more ingenious was about the philatelist who 

took some of his most prized stamps to the White House to show 

them to the President, how Roosevelt filched several of the choicest 



when his guest was not looking, how Mrs. Roosevelt summoned 
the collector to a New York hotel a week later and quietly paid 
him off. Fashionable men and women, fastidious about everything 
except their obsession with the man in the White House, talked 
on and on about his mind, his legs, his morals, and the morals of 
his family. 

All this Roosevelt could write offindeed, had long before writ- 
ten off. But the drop in his popularity among other classes was a 
different matter. With his acute sensitivity to shifts in attitudes, 
he could not ignore the fateful parallel between 1938 and the 
Hoover years. Roosevelt in 1938 was losing popular support not 
only among the prosperous but to an even greater extent among 
the middle- and lower-income groups. The Supreme Court fight 
and the Black appointment had turned people against the New 
Deal but not nearly so much as had the Roosevelt recession. 

But how far had this desertion gone? The decisive fact of 1938 
was that most people thought Roosevelt had lost popular favor to 
a greater extent than he really had. His actual drop between early 
1936 and late 1938 in the public polls was a matter of a few per- 
centage points. Even at the lowest point of his popularity in 1938 
he commanded the support of a bare majority of the people and a 
majority that was probably a trifle larger than during certain 
periods of the first term. The difference was that during the first 
term Roosevelt always gave the impression of popularity, while in 
1938 that impression no longer existed. 

The popular attitude toward Roosevelt was marked by a deep 
ambivalence. On the one hand, almost everyone liked him as a 
person. Asked, "On the whole, do you like or dislike his personal- 
ity?" eight out of ten Americans in the spring of 1938 answered 
"like" to only one who answered "dislike." Negroes, the poor gen- 
erally, labor, the unemployed were enthusiastically for Roosevelt 
the person. The Southwest as a section delivered a resounding 98 
per cent for him, and other sections were not far behind. Most re- 
markable of all, not a single occupation group not executives, nor 
professional people, nor proprietors "voted" for the presidential 
personality by less than three-quarters of that group. 

Reports from journalists squared with the findings of the poll- 
sters. "They love Roosevelt," reported liberal journalist Richard 
Neuberger from the Northwest after talking with Idaho ranchers, 
Seattle streetcar motormen, a lumberjack in Coeur d'Alene, a Union 
Pacific brakeman, a Portland electrician, and others. Whatever the 
objections to the New Deal, Neuberger found, people liked Roose- 
velt because they believed that he was doing things for them. 
Many referred to him as "our President," and as long as he re- 

Deadlock on the Potomac 339 

mained "our President," concluded Neuberger, Roosevelt would 
continue to be the dominant influence in the nation's politics. 

But Roosevelt's general economic objectives, his methods of 
achieving these objectives, his advisers, many of his policies these 
were different matters. Fewer than half of those polled in the 
spring of 1938 favored Roosevelt's economic goals; more than half 
were opposed, doubtful, or uninformed. More people disliked his 
"methods" than liked them. Of five major economic groups Ne- 
groes, poor, lower middle, upper middle, and prosperous all but 
the first two registered majorities against the President's methods. 

Running through this opposition was a streak of fear of Roose- 
velt's apparent political power. As an abstract matter a large sec- 
tion of the people believed that the President of the United States 
should have less authority. About half of those with opinions said 
that Roosevelt himself had too much power, and about one-quarter 
of those who approved his economic objectives shared this alarm. 
The worry over presidential power extended to all economic classes; 
although tending to parallel general class attitudes toward Roose- 
velt and his policies, it was somewhat marked among the lower 
middle class. 

The state of public opinion in the spring of 1938 posed a di- 
lemma for the President. His great strength lay in his own politi- 
cal personality, in the magic spell that he could still cast over the 
voters. His weakness lay in the anxiety of millions over his seem- 
ingly great political power an anxiety like that of a wife who 
adores a gay and vibrant husband without wholly trusting his judg- 
ment or his self-control. Could he convert his personal popularity 
into political strength and leadership? Could he convert the ma- 
jority popular support he still retained into congressional majori- 
ties necessary to consolidate and extend the New Deal? Could he 
maintain and even strengthen his own power without frightening 
further those who already feared the extent of presidential power? 

By the spring of 1938 events on Capitol Hill were bringing these 
questions into sharp focus. 


"For God's sake," a congressional spokesman telephoned the White 
House in April 1938, "don't send us any more controversial legis- 

Here spoke the authentic voice of Congress. Now in the sixth 
year of the New Deal, senators and representatives were balking at 
Roosevelt's leadership as they never had before. They were tired of 
"must" bills, tired of crises, tired of charges of rubber-stamp Con- 
gress, tired of bustling, pushing young zealots from the White House. 


Most congressmen were no less fond of Roosevelt as a person in 
1938 than they had been four or five years before. But like the 
people as a whole, they were more jealous and distrustful of his am- 
bitions and his powers. 

Despite the personal ties between Roosevelt and many congress- 
men, there had always been a political and psychological breach 
between the New Deal President and Capitol Hill. Only during 
the crisis days of the early New Deal had President and legislators 
suspended their historic conflicta conflict artfully contrived and 
institutionalized by the framers of the Constitution. So, too, Con- 
gress embraced a way of life that was alien to the brisk pace, the 
electric atmosphere of the White House. Things moved more se- 
dately in the soft, casual life of cloakroom and committee chamber. 
Signing their mail and genially chatting with one another while 
forensic gales lashed the air, the senators in particular embodied 
old ways of politics amid the marble columns and statuary of their 
nineteenth-century chamber. 

Presiding over this legislative way of life were men who felt su- 
premely secure in their positions of power. Still holding seats in 
1938 on Capitol Hill were two senators and two representatives 
who had entered Congress thirty years before, when Roosevelt was 
still a law clerk. These four men had seen six presidents come and 
five presidents go, and they doubtless expected to be in Congress 
after Roosevelt had gone too. Perhaps two hundred members of 
Congress had entered the Senate or House before Roosevelt's first 
inaugural. Men who had won election after election, decade after 
decade, had no undue fear of a president who was limited by tra- 
dition to two terms. Many congressional leaders had almost un- 
shakeable grips on their states or districts. Perhaps they served city 
machines, or had ties with dominant economic interests, or had 
won the hearts of their constituents by indefatigable errand-run- 
ning, or had built powerful political organizations of their own. 

Buttressing the power of the congressional leaders were certain 
arrangements on the Hill. By far the most important was the 
seniority rule, which inexorably elevated to chairmen those in the 
majority party with the longest continuous service on committees. 
And chairmanships meant the right to call committee meetings or 
not to call them, the right to speed bills on their way or to pocket 
them, the right to a dominant voice over policy within the com- 
mittee jurisdiction. These lord-proprietors, as Woodrow Wilson 
once called them, had built close ties with bureaucrats who catered 
to their constituents, and with agents for the great national or- 
ganizations that maintained their headquarters in Washington. 
Steeped in the lore and mores of Capitol Hill, they were artistic 
parliamentarians who knew the shades and p nances of quorum 

Deadlock on the Potomac 341 

calls, points of order, filibusters, and a score of other weapons in 
the arsenal of obstruction and delay. 

Because of the one-party system and sluggish politics of the 
South it was inevitable that Southerners would accumulate senior- 
ity and hence capture important chairmanships during periods of 
Democratic rule. Chairing the two great fiscal committees of the 
Senate in 1938 were anti-New Deal Democrats: the pert, white- 
haired lord of Virginia politics, Carter Glass, of Appropriations, 
and Mississippi's droll, plump Pat Harrison, of Commerce. Chief of 
Agriculture and Forestry was crusty old Cotton Ed Smith of South 
Carolina who, when a Negro rose to preach in the 1936 conven- 
tion, had stalked out, muttering "the man is blackblack as melted 
ink." Southerners ran many committees of the lower chamber too. 
Agriculture was chaired by a Texan, Banking and Currency by an 
Alabaman, Judiciary by a Texan, Public Lands by a Louisianian, 
Ways and Means by a North Carolinian. 

Another reason for Southern influence in Congress lay perhaps in 
commitments Roosevelt seems to have made to gain his nomina- 
tion in 1932. Garner's willingness to accept the vice-presidential 
nomination was due in part to Roosevelt's willingness to recognize 
Southern, and especially Texan, power in Congress. The most im- 
portant understanding was that Rayburn would be in line for the 
majority leadership and later the speakership of the House. It was 
the President's recognition of Rayburn's claim that accounted in 
part for the desertion of the New Deal by a rival aspirant, Repre- 
sentative John O'Connor of New York. Roosevelt also had 1932 
debts to pay to other Southerners. 

To be sure, a number of key committees in both Houses were 
under the chairmanship of Northerners. Some of these chieftains, 
like Roosevelt's old friends Wagner of Banking and Currency in 
the Senate, and Mary T. Norton of Labor in the House, had con- 
sistently voted for New Deal measures. But happenstance, the prides 
and jealousies of office, and the factionalism and sectionalism of 
American party politics had brought to chairmanships a number 
of Northerners who had turned against much of the Roosevelt New 
Deal: in addition to O'Connor, that bellicose New Yorker who 
bossed the most powerful single committee on Capitol Hill, the 
House Rules Committee, there were Senator Royal S. Copeland o 
New York, whose relations with Roosevelt had been cool for many 
years, and Wheeler of Montana, who had clashed with Roosevelt 
over the Supreme Court and by now was off the reservation. 

"Who does Roosevelt think he is?" Wheeler once demanded 
scornfully of a White House aide. "He used to be just one of the 
barons. I was baron of the Northwest. Huey Long was baron of 
the South." He mentioned other sectional leaders. But the Presi- 


dent had turned against Long and now against the Senator from 
Montana. "He's like a king trying to reduce the barons." 

This Congress of 1938 had little wish to repeal the New Deal. 
But neither did it wish to extend the New Deal in order to meet 
the Roosevelt challenge of the one-third ill-housed, ill-clad, ill- 

Because the Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act of 
1936 had been a hurried measure to fill the gap left by the Supreme 
Court's voiding of the original AAA, Congress moved quickly in 
its 1938 session to pass a new Agricultural Adjustment Act. Em- 
bracing cotton, rice, and tobacco as well as wheat and corn, this 
measure assigned production quotas to producers of these crops 
and gave money to those who planted within certain acreage allot- 
ments and who followed prescribed soil conservation methods. The 
government could also make loans on various farm commodities 
both to prevent farm prices from collapsing in the face of huge sur- 
pluses and to establish an ever-normal granary. If two-thirds of the 
farmers approved, artificial market control of surplus crops could 
be established. Providing also for freight rate studies, research in 
new uses for farm products, purchase of surplus farm products for 
persons on relief, the act set the pattern for federal regulation of 
agriculture for years to come. 

This much for the farmer. What about the worker? Passage of a 
weak wages and hours bill in mid-1938 seemed to drain the cup of 
congressional willingness to extend the New Deal And when it 
came to giving Roosevelt power to control his own executive branch, 
the men on Capitol Hill broke into open revolt. 

By early 1938 some New Dealers had given up hope that any 
wage-hour bill could pass through Congress. In the regular and spe- 
cial sessions of 1937 the original bill had been ground to pieces be- 
tween the Southern Democrats and the labor bloc. But the Presi- 
dent was determined to press for the bill. Angry though he was 
about Southern desertions from the measure, he reluctantly ceded a 
North-South wage differential in the bill to gain Southern votes. 
He sounded out the AFL on the price of its support. But Roose- 
velt would not go too far. When Representative Martin Dies asked 
for further concessions for the South, the President's patience was 

"Call up Martin Dies/' he instructed Mclntyre, "and tell him 
that any idea of having an individual State vary a national Wages 
and Hours bill is not only unsound, but would destroy the ef- 
fectiveness of building up a purchasing power in those sections 
most needing it, and the President regards it as the weakest, most 
dangerous proposition he has ever heard. Tell him further that if 

Deadlock on the Potomac 343 

we start to legislate for the oil industry, we'll be aiding and abetting 
those people who want to exempt the canners, the cheese factories, 
and the lumber mills, and that is completely unsound/' 

But could any bill pass without "unsound" concessions? For 
weeks the White House and Labor Department searched for a for- 
mula. No single approach satisfied all factions. By mid-April the 
House Labor Committee was facing a harsh choice between an 
AFL bill that lacked a North-South differential and a draft backed 
by Southerners that empowered a five-man board to grant such a 
differential. Whipsawed between two blocs, members of the Labor 
Committee tried to stall off a decision. Roosevelt would not let 
them. After the Labor Committee voted down the Southerners' 
draft, Chairman Mary Norton managed to hold the protesting com- 
mitteemen in session until they reported out the AFL version. 

Stripped of the North-South differential, the bill now ran into 
the hardened opposition of the Southerners dominating the Rules 
Committee. A discharge petition was necessary to pry the bill out 
of committee. But would enough congressmen sign the petition? 
One such effort had succeeded, but another one had failed. In this 
extremity the administration resorted to a crafty political ma- 

Senator Claude Pepper, a staunch Roosevelt man, was engaged 
in a slam-bang race for renomination in Florida. To many observ- 
ers Pepper's chances did not seem too good, but the White House 
had reliable information that Pepper would win. It was reasoned 
that if Pepper could be induced to speak vigorously for the wage- 
hour bill during the campaign, his later victory would be inter- 
preted as a test of sentiment on the bill in the South. At least 
$10,000 was turned over to Pepper's campaign managers by Roose- 
velt's assistants, who had got the money from a radio corporation 
executive on the basis of another deal. 

The stratagem worked. On May 3 Pepper won a decisive victory. 
Three days later the discharge petition was opened for signatures. 
So many representatives swarmed around the "honor roll" that 
House proceedings were drowned out, and in less than three hours 
the list of signatures reached the necessary 218. On May 24, after a 
tumultuous session lasting twelve hours, the House passed the bil] 
by a heavy vote. Since the House version now differed radically 
from the Senate draft of the previous year, the bill was in danger 
until the end. Southerners talked about filibuster, and Green 
threatened to oppose the bill if differentials were reinserted. But a 
conference committee skillfully worked out a set of compromises, 
and the bill finally became law in June. 

"That's that," said Roosevelt with a sigh of relief as he signed 
the measure. His sigh was one of disappointment too. The bill had 


been so watered down in its long journey through Congress that it 
could have little impact on the national economy. And perhaps it 
was a sigh of prophecy. The wage-hour bill was the last of Roose- 
velt's basic New Deal measures to pass Congress. During the final 
stages of its passage, the President had suffered a staggering defeat 
in Congress that was a gauge of his loss of legislative control. 

The measure that occasioned this defeat was, on its face, one of 
the least controversial Roosevelt had ever proposed. Even more, it 
was designed to meet the insistent demands from business quarters 
that executive management be improved in the name of efficiency 
and economy. Previous chief executives, including Taft and 
Hoover, had proposed reorganization measures hardly less ^radical 
than Roosevelt's. Formulated by a group of political scientists and 
public administration experts headed by Louis Brownlow, the 
President's recommendations called for expanding the White House 
staff; strengthening his management agencies, including the sub- 
stitution of a personnel director for the three-member Civil Service 
Commission; extending the merit system "upward, outward, and 
downward to cover practically all non-policy-determining posts"; 
setting up two new cabinet departments, Social Welfare and Pub- 
lic Works, and putting independent agencies under line depart- 
ments; placing responsibility for accounts and transactions under 
the President while strengthening independent control of post- 
auditing under an auditor-general. 

When Roosevelt first urged these changes in January 1937 they 
met apathy and quiet hostility in Congress. For months the pro- 
posals marked time while the Supreme Court bill held the center of 
the stage. Not until late in February 1938 did reorganization come 
before the Senate. 

The times were not auspicious. Roosevelt was still floundering 
in the face of depression. The wage-hour bill was still splintering 
Congress into factions. Alarmed by the opposition's strength, Roose- 
velt and a dozen of his lieutenants Ickes, Farley, Hopkins, Cor- 
coran, Jesse Jones, and others threw themselves into the fray. 
Urgent telephone calls went to state politicos asking them to put 
pressure on irresolute senators; enticing patronage plums were held 
out; favors were bargained off. Even so, the measure barely survived 
a series of test votes in the Senate. 

By late March a hurricane of opposition was rising from the 
country. Reorganization was dubbed the "dictator bill." It was a 
question, proclaimed Senator Walsh of Massachusetts, "of plunging 
a dagger into the very heart of democracy." It was a fight against 
possible Hitlerism, a columnist declared. Committees to "uphold 
constitutional government" showered the country with letters and 
advertisements. Orators at New England town meetings thundered 

Deadlock on the Potomac 345 

and protested. Over a hundred Paul Reveres, mounted on horses 
carrying banners reading NO ONE MAN RULE, converged on Wash- 
ington and clattered along Pennsylvania Avenue. Father Coughlin 
fulminated over the radio. It was the Supreme Court fight all over 
againbut perhaps even more sharp and passionate. 

One day during the fight the object of all this wrath and fear 
sat with his usual smile as the reporters trooped in. On the Presi- 
dent's desk was a yataghan, a Turkish saber someone had presented 
him. "I can put it in the wall at thirty paces," Roosevelt said glee- 

"How far down Pennsylvania Avenue can you throw it?" asked 
a reporter. The President laughed but did not answer. Even 
yataghans could not help now. When the measure finally emerged 
from the Senate and moved to the House, the hurricane roared to 
a climax. Hundreds of thousands of telegrams denouncing the plan 
poured in on the legislators. Because O'Connor and his Rules Com- 
mittee opposed the plan, the leaders could not get a special rule 
governing debate. They lost control of the bill at the start, and 
soon it was caught in parliamentary tangles. Obstructionists delayed 
consideration by endless points of order, quorum calls, questions 
of personal privilege. As debate raged day after day, powerful in- 
terest groups pressed their claims for exempting their pet bureaus 
from reorganization. 

Forced back on the defensive, Roosevelt took steps both to coun- 
teract the group pressures and to quiet the popular fear of presi- 
dential power that had been whipped up. Remembering the charges 
that he had lost the Supreme Court fight because he made com- 
promises too little and too late, he began to negotiate concessions. 
The Office of Education was exempted in the face of a wave of fear 
among religious groups that its relocation in the bureaucratic struc- 
ture would mean more federal control. So was the Veterans Bureau 
in the wake of protests by ex-servicemen's groups. Other key agen- 
cies got immunity. The most important concession involved a cru- 
cial question of presidential power. In the original bill Congress 
had had power to veto presidential reorganization proposals only 
by a two-thirds vote in both Houses; by a compromise, only a ma- 
jority vote was required, with the effect that presidential reorganiza- 
tion plans would be far easier to defeat. 

Roosevelt's move to calm popular fear was sudden and dramatic. 
Reporters at Warm Springs were summoned late at night to receive 
a presidential announcement. It read: 

"A: I have no inclination to be a dictator. 

"B: I have none of the qualifications which would make me a 
successful dictator. 

"C: I have too much historical background and too much knowl- 


edge of existing dictatorships to make me desire any form of dic- 
tatorship for a democracy like the United States of America." 

The President went on to denounce a "carefully manufactured 
partisan and political opposition." He promised that in almost 
every case he would go along with congressional opinion on spe- 
cific reorganization. He mentioned examples of "silly nightmares 
conjured up at the instigation either of those who would restore 
the government to those who owned it between 1921 and 1933, or 
of those who for one reason or another seek deliberately to wreck 
the present administration/' The harshness of Roosevelt's words 
betrayed the hurt and vexation he felt. 

All to no avail. On April 8, by a razor- thin margin of 204 to 
196, the House returned the measure to committee. As the vote was 
announced wild cheering broke out among representatives in the 
chamber. Congress was in open revolt. The White House was in a 
quandary. Farley and Early wanted the President to conciliate Con- 
gress. Ickes, heartsick over losing his chance to annex the Forest 
Service, implored Roosevelt to carry on the fight. It was up to the 
President, Corcoran declared, to show whether he was going out 
like Herbert Hoover or like Andrew Jackson. But Roosevelt would 
not press the fight. Already he was turning to another urgent 
matter: his spending program. He dispatched a letter to Majority 
Leader Rayburn. "Thanks for the good fight . . /' He added that 
there should be no personal recrimination. 

No retaliation yet. 


"The old Roosevelt magic has lost its kick/' Hugh Johnson crowed 
happily in the spring of 1938. "The diverse elements in his Fal- 
staffian army can no longer be kept together and led by a melodious 
whinny and a winning smile." Pundits of press and radio across the 
nation sagely nodded agreement. The spell was broken. But why? 
On this there were a host of theories. 

Some argued that the old politician was losing his touch, but the 
reporters who watched Roosevelt closely scoffed at the notion. The 
President's fireside chats were as warm and stirring as ever; he was 
perhaps even more charming and persuasive with visitors; he ap- 
peared to have lost none of his cocky self-assurance. His mental 
reflexes had, if anything, been sharpened during the presidential 
years. In the semiweekly jousting of the press conferences, the 
President usually came out on top. Asked one day what he thought 
of a Senator's proposal to make it a felony for a newspaper know- 
ingly to publish a falsehood, he answered, quick as a flash, "I'm 
trying to pare expenses and I don't want any more prisons!" Try- 

Deadlock on the Potomac 347 

ing to outsmart him, some reporters at a Press Club dinner wrote 

on the back of a menu, "I hereby nominate Herbert [a fellow 

reporter] as Ambassador to the North Pole/' folded the words over 
to conceal them, and sent the menu to the guest of honor for his 
"autograph." When the nomination paper came back they dis- 
covered that Roosevelt had changed "North" to "South" and had 
innocently added "North Pole already occupied." 

No, nothing had happened to Roosevelt's political skill or acute- 
ness. Another theory was that Roosevelt's election triumph of 1936 
had left him with a bad case of overconfidence, that this overcon- 
fidence had led to the bungling tactics of the court reform defeat, 
and this defeat had brought down Roosevelt's political house of 
cards. This interpretation made some sense as long as it could be 
argued that a better presentation of the court bill or greater will- 
ingness to accept a compromise might have saved the proposal. It 
was clearer in retrospect that no court reform bill of significance 
nor, indeed, any administrative reform bill of any significance could 
have won passage in the 1937-38 Congress. In short, the reasons for 
Roosevelt's defeats on Capitol Hill lay deeper than such simple ex- 
planations assumed. 

Searching for these deeper reasons, students of politics noted the 
historical fact that even the stronger presidents men like Jefferson 
and Wilson and Theodore Roosevelthad met formidable diffi- 
culties in their second terms. With a president's power due to 
evaporate at a set date, the focus of power shifts from the White 
House to cabinet members and senators jockeying for the throne. 
Was not Roosevelt simply encountering the centrifugal forces in- 
herent in this historic situation? To some extent he was. But as a 
resourceful politician, Roosevelt could also exploit a great counter- 
vailing force namely, his control of the 1940 nomination. Roose- 
velt insisted to intimates and the word got out fast enough that 
the nomination would go to a Democrat who met the tests of a 
New Dealer by the President's standards. He planned, in short, to 
choose his successor. And there was always the possibility that 
Roosevelt himself would run a possibility that Roosevelt had 
skillfully played up, even while ostensibly dismissing it, only six 
weeks after his second term began, when he spoke laughingly at the 
Democratic victory dinner of his plans for January 20, 1941. 

Another explanation of Roosevelt's loss of leadership over Con- 
gress was quite simple. The President's popularity with the voters, 
it was pointed out, had slipped considerably during the Roosevelt 
recession, and congressmen were jumping off the presidential band- 
wagon as soon as they found this drop in their own constituencies. 
That explanation, too, had some merit; on the other hand, Roose- 
velt had lost the court fight before the recession and at a time 


when his personal popularity was still high. Moreover, his standing 
with the people had slipped badly during the first term only to 
rise again in 1936. No congressman could dare count on continued 
unpopularity for the resilient politician in the White House. 

What, then, could explain the revolt in Congress? It was not sur- 
prising that the real explanation eluded the observers of the day. 
Only as Roosevelt's first term fell into fuller perspective and as the 
precise nature of his relations with Congress during that period was 
revealed did the basic situation become clear. The essence of the 
situation was this: Roosevelt had led Congress during his first term 
by his adroit and highly personal handling of congressional leaders 
and by exploiting the sense of crisis; but, intent on immediate tac- 
tical gains on Capitol Hill, he had neglected to build up a posi- 
tion of strength with the rank and file of Congress. 

With his usual pragmatism, Roosevelt at the outset had faced up 
to the hard facts of the distribution of power in Congress. Since 
committee chiefs had power, he would deal with committee chiefs. 
And he did so with such charm, such tact, such flexibility, such 
brilliant timing, such sensitivity to the leaders' own political prob- 
lems that the President's personal generalship often meant the dif- 
ference between passage and defeat of key bills. Time and time 
again he won the support of men like Glass and Harrison and 
Tydings and Sumners and Doughton not because they liked the New 
Deal in general or the measure in particular but because they liked 
and were willing to defer to the man who was President. Roose- 
velt's leadership talents lay in his ability to shift quickly and grace- 
fully from persuasion to cajolery to flattery to intrigue to diplomacy 
to promises to horse-trading or to concoct just that formula 
which his superb instincts for personal relations told him would 
bring around the most reluctant congressman, 

"It is probably safe to say/' said onetime presidential assistant 
Stanley High, "that during 1933, 1934* and 1935 a record-breaking 
number of men of some political eminence went to the President's 
office in a state of incipient revolt and left it to declare to the world 
their subscription to things that they did not subscribe to." 

A good method while it workedand it did work for four years. 
The supreme test of that method came in the second Hundred 
Days. To put through a restless and bewildered Congress the en- 
during legislation of the New Deal at the fag, end of the 1935 ses- 
sion was the ultimate tribute to Roosevelt's capacity to prod and 
charm and reason balking legislators into acting. 

But there was a price to pay. Boiling under the surface even 
while the great measures thrashed their way through Congress was 
a deep bitterness toward the White House. Men like Glass deserted 
the administration as the program of 1935 revealed the shape of 

Deadlock on the Potomac 349 

things to come. Even loyalists like Byrnes complained that they 
had had to "swallow a lot" for the White House; they were close 
to the breaking point. As Roosevelt in his foxlike fashion crossed 
and recrossed his own trail in maneuvering his bills through Con- 
gress, congressmen had to reverse positions and cover up for the 
White House. They had to take the rap and they were tired of 
taking the rap. 

Bitterness was sharpest in the House. Administration supporters 
there complained to Roosevelt that party organization and disci- 
pline were nonexistent. The Democratic Steering Committee the 
logical link between the President and his partisans in the House- 
was virtually ignored by the White House. When Hopkins held a 
peace conference with this committee in July 1935, member after 
member rose to excoriate the administration's flouting of rank-and- 
filers, to complain about appointments, even to threaten reprisal 
against the White House. 

Roosevelt's breathing spell of late 1935, his limited legislative 
program for 1936, and the closing of ranks in the campaign staved 
off rebellion for a time. But the President's effort to carry out his 
program to help the needy one-third of the people precipitated the 
new and sterner battles of the second term. 

Had the New Deal, then, really been dealt? Was it all over? What 
about the scores of young New Dealers washed into Congress by 
the Roosevelt tidal wave of 1936? Were not they the makings of 
congressional majorities for an expanded New Deal? 

They might have served this purpose but they never had the 
chance. For another price that Roosevelt had to pay for his de- 
pendence on the old ranking Democrats was the consolidation of 
the powers of these leaders in Congress. He had confirmed their 
political status, their high-priority claims on administration favors, 
their near monopoly of access to the White House. He had failed 
to encourage rank-and-file organization in Congress behind a New 
Deal program. 

When Pittsburgh Democratic boss David Lawrence wanted to 
bring in three new Democratic congressmen to meet the President 
early in 1937, Roosevelt put him off, finally allotted three minutes, 
and then postponed even this appointment. "There is a group of 
aggressive progressive Democrats who have stuck by you through 
thick and thin, about seventy-five in number, as well as a number 
of other progressives not classed as Democrats," Representative 
Kent Keller wrote the President in April 1938, "and I do not be- 
lieve that you have ever called in a single one of this group in 
consultation as to administration policies." Roosevelt, he said, was 
dealing only with a small group of congressional leaders. Charac- 


teristically the President told Mclntyre, "Have him come in to see 
me." But things went on as before; the rank and file remained 
adrift. When a year later another friendly congressman urged him 
to establish contact with the rank and file by inviting them to the 
White House in small groups, the President replied that he would 
like to do this but his day was simply too crowded. 

The President hoped that the Democratic legislators would re- 
main responsible to the party platform of 1936. The congressmen, 
however, had had little part in drawing up the platform. They 
felt responsible to the majorities that had elected them in their dis- 
tricts; in any event, it was the voters in their districts who would 
determine whether or not they would stay in Congress. And not 
only this; something of tremendous importance was happening 
throughout the mid-iggo's within the American electorate. 

It is often said that a coalition of labor and farm groups created 
the New Deal. But this can be reversed. It is just as true and of 
greater significance that the New Deal helped create a new labor 
movement and a new farm movement in America, along with a 
dozen other immensely strengthened groups. And it was this mas- 
sive swelling in the size and number and strength of politically 
oriented groups that changed decisively the pattern of power in 
counties and townships and wards and precincts, where congress- 
men were elected and defeated. 

Labor was the most striking case in point. Sapped and crippled 
by depression, the unions had recruited millions of new members 
with the help of Section ya and the Wagner Act. By 1937 the Com- 
mittee for Industrial Organization had broken completely with the 
AFL and was gathering in millions of workers in steel, autos, 
rubber, electrical goods, and other mass-production industries. As 
fiery young leaders debouched from the ranks, unions took on a 
new militance and a new exhilaration. Contributing its funds and 
ordering its organizers into the precincts, the CIO had given Roose- 
velt's re-election campaign a mighty boost. Then, for month after 
month, the country had seen turbulent labor erupting in mass dem- 
onstrations, sit-down strikes, quickie stoppages, parades, police vio- 

Striding across the front pages of the nation's newspapers was 
the new army's glowering, blustering commander, John L. Lewis. 
"The Huey Long of labor/' Huey himself had called him, and no 
one could have better personalized Roosevelt's political predica- 
ment in his second term than the burly, pug-faced CIO chief. By 
1938 Lewis was seething over Roosevelt's "ingratitude." For all his 
denunciations of businessmen, Lewis had a commercial approach 
to politics. The President, he felt, should pay off for favors granted. 
But what had Roosevelt done? He had taken a neutral stand during 

Deadlock on the Potomac 351 

the period of sit-down strikes with his famous statement, "A plague 
on both your houses/' He had publicly rebuked Lewis for demand- 
ing White House recognition of its 1936 friends. The President, 
Lewis growled, was even stealing his lieutenants especially Sidney 
Hillman away from him by giving them government jobs and 
drawing them into the charmed White House circle. Roosevelt and 
Hopkins, he complained, were balking CIO efforts to organize 
WPA workers. Where, demanded Lewis, was the pay-off? 

Conflict between the two men was inevitable even if they both 
had not been prima donnas. To speak and act for his followers, 
Lewis had to move toward leftist politics and direct action. Roose- 
velt, with a different constituency and needing support in Con- 
gress, had to continue his delicate balancing act among power 
blocs. Lewis derided Roosevelt's public role as a great humanitarian 
and forthright fighter for the underdog; Roosevelt, he said, was 
weak, tricky, and lacking in conviction. Distrusting the mine leader, 
and fearing that he would disrupt the coalition, Roosevelt struck 
out at him at critical moments. And Lewis, fighting for his organi- 
zation's life during the crucial organizing drives, recoiled from what 
he called Roosevelt's "catlike scratches." 

If farmers lacked such a spectacular leader to dramatize their 
claims, they presented an even better case than labor of the New 
Deal's impact on groups. Indeed, rarely has an organization owed 
its power more directly to governmental action than the strongest 
farm group, the American Farm Bureau Federation. For the thou- 
sands of county farm bureaus that made up the Federation had 
originally been established as semigovernmental units, and their 
extension agents took on much of the practical administration of 
the New Deal farm programs at the same time that they served as 
unofficial recruiting officers for the Federation. As the farm programs 
expanded, so did the Federation's membership, which more than 
doubled between 1933 and 1938. 

The Federation's relation to the New Deal was curious: ad- 
ministratively it was geared in with programs, while politically it 
could operate as an independent force, putting pressure on Roose- 
velt and Wallace. Other farm groups were active too. The com- 
modity associations burgeoned as the New Deal poured benefits into 
the hands of woolgrowers, beet sugar raisers, pork producers, cattle 
raisers, peanut growers, and a host of other groups. And the bigger 
the association, the more pressure it could turn on Washington. 

The situation was duplicated in other sectors of American life. 
The WPA brought into being the Workers Alliance, whose leaders 
some of them members of the Communist party were agitating 
noisily for more and bigger work projects. The National Youth 
Administration was a focus of interest for youth groups. Lending 


and housing programs stimulated a host of associations linked to 
these activities. Government lawyers had a large part in forming 
the National Lawyers' Guild, as a rival group to the conservative 
American Bar Association. 

"You know/' Roosevelt said to Nation editor Max Lerner in 
1938, "this is really a great country. The framework of democracy 
is so strong and so elastic that it can get along and absorb a Huey 
Long and a John L. Lewis." A perceptive remarkbut an incom- 
plete one. While powerful new forces were straining within the 
Grand Coalition, while these forces were acting like a centrifuge 
that spun locally elected congressmen into their separate orbits, 
forcible leadership was all the more necessary in the White House 
as a focus for the national interest, as a rallying point for the liberal 
majority, and as a unifying force for government action. This was 
the supreme crisis of leadership that Roosevelt faced in the spring 
of 1938. 


"There is no question/' Roosevelt wrote Ambassador Biddle in 
Warsaw late in 1937, "that the German-Italian-Japanese combina- 
tion is being amazingly successful bluff, power, accomplishment or 
whatever it may be/' The President could not say the same about 
his own foreign policy making. Stalled on the domestic front, he 
faced formidable congressional opposition in his efforts to awaken 
the country to the rising dangers abroad. Indeed, Roosevelt's han- 
dling of foreign policy making was especially ineffective because 
there his program and strategy were even more opportunistic than 
at home. 

The President of course had definite opinions about certain as- 
pects of the international situation. The aggressions of Italy, Japan, 
and Germany were to him simply "armed banditry/' and he was 
not reluctant to say so in private. He wishedagain privatelyfor 
"more spine" in the British Foreign Office, Squarely opposing the 
idea of peace at any price, he wanted co-operation among the demo- 
cratic nations to save the peace. But on crucial operating questions 
concerning the kind of international co-operation, the extent of 
German-Italian-Japanese participation in peace programs, and above 
all the commitments to be undertaken by the United States, he was 
uncertain. In late 1937 and 1938 he was still searching for a peace 
formula, with his eye always cocked on the barons of isolationism 
on Capitol Hill. 

Following the disappointing reaction to his "quarantine" speech 
in October 1937, Roosevelt tried again to take the initiative, al- 
though in a different direction. He had long toyed with the idea of 

Deadlock on the Potomac 353 

sponsoring a dramatic meeting at sea o chiefs of state. Late in 
October he decided the time was ripe for a somewhat less spectacular 
movean Armistice Day meeting of all diplomatic representatives 
in the White House, to hear a message from the President. Based 
on suggestions from Under Secretary Sumner Welles, who had 
been working closely with the President and somewhat independ- 
ently of Hull, the message would propose a new effort to reach 
agreement on basic principles of peaceful international relations, 
on ways of giving all peoples access on equal terms to the world's 
raw materials, on methods of changing international agreements 
peacefully, and on the rights and obligations of neutrals in the un- 
happy event of war. Surely a moderate program except for the 
suggestion of treaty revision to remove certain inequities of Ver- 

The plan died a-borning. Hull was utterly opposed to it. He 
feared that a short day or two of open deliberations would arouse 
false hopes, unduly provoke the dictators, and produce little practi- 
cal good. The very features that appealed to the President a color- 
ful White House assemblage suddenly convened as a world forum 
for a dramatic Rooseveltian pronouncement troubled this most 
undramatic of men. Yet actually, since he believed strongly in the 
basic principles the President would espouse, the reasons for Hull's 
opposition lay deeper than this. Part of the trouble was Welles's 
key role in the project. More important, Hull feared that forth- 
right presidential action would arouse Congress. An old hand 
at wheedling and appeasing the lawmakers, he was alarmed lest 
his efforts to bring Congress around to internationalism would be 
set back. Reluctantly Roosevelt dropped the plan for the time 

While democratic leaders diddled, dictators acted. In November 
1937 they formally established the Rome-Berlin-Tokyo Axis. Japa- 
nese troops drove even deeper into China. The Brussels Conference 
failed utterly to alleviate the crisis in the Far East. Everywhere the 
arms rush was intensifying. And on November 5 Hitler summoned 
his generals to the Reichstag, told them of his plans for the con- 
quest of eastern Europe, and ordered them to prepare for inevita- 
ble war. The generals knew that Austria was first on their Fuehrer's 

Shortly after New Year's Day 1938, Roosevelt again turned to his 
plans for an international conference. This time, however, he fol- 
lowed Hull's suggestion of sounding out Britain first. Prime Minister 
Chamberlain's reply was like a douche of ice water. The President's 
plan, he wrote, would cut across his own efforts at "a measure of ap- 
peasement" of Italy and Germany. He had been working for months 


toward this end, he protested, and the stage had been carefully 
set. Would the President hold up action for a time? 

The President would and did. But he was anxious over certain 
revelations in Chamberlain's letter: the prime minister had in- 
dicated that to appease Mussolini he was prepared to recognize 
Italy's conquest; of Ethiopia. Roosevelt promptly urged Chamber- 
lain not to take this step for it would seriously affect American 
public opinion. Hull told the British Ambassador bluntly that rec- 
ognition would be a corrupt bargain that would rouse a feeling of 
disgust in America. 

Chamberlain's rebuff of Roosevelt and the ensuing rift shocked 
a keen student of world affairs watching from the wings. The re- 
jection of the President's proffered hand, Churchill wrote ten years 
later, was the loss of the last frail chance to save the world from 
tyranny otherwise than by war. Yet Chamberlain, unlike Roosevelt, 
was pursuing a calculated course of action, designed at best to turn 
the Axis away from attacking the democracies and at least to spar 
for time to rearm. And a key element in his calculations was that, 
owing to isolationist feeling in America, Roosevelt could not be 
relied on to back up his principles with action. "It is always best 
and safest," Chamberlain said acidly, "to count on nothing from 
the Americans but words." 

As it turned out, Chamberlain later sent a second, more cordial 
letter to Roosevelt welcoming the President's proposal. The prime 
minister's hand was forced by his young foreign secretary, Anthony 
Eden, who had returned to London from a vacation trip to hint 
at his resignation unless Chamberlain altered his policies. But it 
was now too late. Hitler was already moving resolutely ahead. 

Early in February the Fuehrer consolidated his military position 
at home by ousting the generals who had spoken out against his 
war program and appointing himself commander in chief. At once 
Hitler turned his eye to the south where lay the glittering prize 
of Austria, portal to Czechoslovakia and the lands beyond. Sum- 
moning Austrian Chancellor von Schuschnigg to his retreat just 
over the border in Berchtesgaden, Hitler scolded and bullied him 
for hours. "Perhaps I shall be suddenly overnight in Vienna, like 
a spring storm," he ranted. "Do you want to turn Austria into an- 
other Spain?" Schuschnigg gave in to Hitler's demands, but he 
tried to strengthen his hand by holding a plebiscite on the issue of 
Austrian independence. This Hitler would not brook. With Musso- 
lini acquiescent and Britain passive, he knew that he could afford 
to strike. On March 12 German tanks and troops swept across the 
border, and within a few hours Austria was his. 

The news brought a quick flare-up of public opinion in America. 
Newspaper editorials were indignant. Roosevelt was silent, but a 

Deadlock on the Potomac 355 

few days later he wrote "Grand!" on a speech of Hull's that served 
as a kind of official statement. The secretary's statement, however, 
was the same old litany a bold stand against "international law- 
lessness/' a warning against isolationism, and a shying away from 
American commitments. 

Roosevelt was silent but not passive. "I am in the midst of a 
long process of education and the process seems to be working 
slowly but surely," he wrote a friend. But how slow would educa- 
tion be? Always his thoughts returned to the isolationists and their 
leaders on Capitol Hill. He was amused to read a letter from an 
Englishman, sent on to him by a Boston schoolmaster. 

"That is a delightful letter/' he wrote back. "Is it not a funny 
thing that no European has the foggiest notion of our system of 
government or of our public thought in regard to European politics? 
His suggestion that the President should present 500 aeroplanes 
to Great Britain is particularly joyous. Almost it makes me feel 
like a dictator! Can you see the expression on the face of the Con- 
gress or on the face of the Editors of the Boston Transcript and 
the Boston Herald if I were to ask for such authority from Con- 
gress? I am not even considering what the Boston Irish or the 
Kansas New Englanders would do. . . ." 

Editors and congressmen, Irishmen and Kansans could they be 
educated in time by Roosevelt, or would they be educated too late 
by events? 

Events were hurrying on at an ever dizzier pace. By 1938 Spain 
had become a cockpit of international combat. Tens of thousands 
of Italian "volunteers/* thousands of German officers and techni- 
cians, quantities of Axis tanks, artillery, and aircraft braced Franco's 
attacks. The government, with the help of its International Brigade 
and later of Soviet arms, had twice staved off heavy attacks on 
Madrid. But the Loyalists' Aragon offensive failed in the summer of 
1937; Italian forces captured Bilbao; Santander and Gijou fell. The 
League Assembly announced that "veritable foreign army corps" 
were operating in Spain. By 1938 Loyalist chances looked dim. 

Roosevelt from the start had favored the Loyalist cause. He un- 
derstood the international character of the war; he looked on the 
Madrid government as the constitutional authority, under the con- 
trol of a popular-front coalition that included the Communists. 
Publicly, however, the President was adamantly neutral. His first 
decisive steptaken significantly during the 1936 campaign was to 
put a moral embargo on the export of arms to both sides. When 
several American exporters readied shiploads of war material, the 
President asked Congress to extend the arms embargo of the Neu- 
trality Act to Spain. In all Congress only one persona Farmer- 


Laborite voted against the measure. One load of planes cleared 
the three-mile limit just in time, only to fall later into Franco's 

As the months passed Roosevelt felt increasingly distressed over 
the course of events in Spain. Noninterference became in effect 
"non-noninterference/* for Franco benefited from the policy. A 
savage bombing of the Basque shrine city of Guernica by German 
and Italian planes aroused American opinion. From Spain Ambas- 
sador Bowers warned the administration that the embargo was 
playing into the hands of Franco and Mussolini and Hitler. Ickes 
was outspokenly indignant about what he called America's shame- 
ful role in Spain. In the State Department, Welles was gravely 
troubled; he saw that a Franco victory would mean a decisive 
strategic advance for Italy in the Mediterranean. Even some ardent 
noninterventionists men like Norman Thomas and Senator Borah 
opposed Roosevelt's policy as unjust and, indeed, unneutral. 

There were arguments and forces on the other side. Great Britain, 
France, and a score of other nations were following a policy osten- 
sibly of strict nonintervention, designed to localize the conflict in 
Spain. Roosevelt feared to undertake action that cut across these 
efforts. Any inclination he had to shift policy ran into the stubborn 
opposition of Hull, backed by a group of career officials who were 
eager to follow the British lead on the question. Roosevelt's hands 
were tied also by the sweeping endorsement that administration 
and Congress had given to neutrality at almost any cost. 

Beset by these pressures, Roosevelt wavered. At one point in the 
spring of 1938 he considered raising the embargo on arms to 
Madrid. Senator Nye himself had introduced a resolution to raise 
the embargo, and the New York Times reported that Roosevelt was 
on the verge of acting. 

But nothing happened. "A black page in American history," Ickes 
told the President. Roosevelt argued that lifting the ban would be 
pointless, for munitions could not go across the Spanish frontier. 
When Ickes showed how these difficulties could be overcome, the 
President shifted his ground. He had discussed the matter with 
congressional leaders that morning, he told Ickes. To raise the 
embargo would mean the loss of every Catholic vote in the coming 
fall election, Roosevelt said, and Democratic congressmen opposed 

So the cat was out of the bag the "mangiest, scabbiest cat ever/' 
Ickes barked into his diary a few days later. "This proves up to 
the hilt," Ickes went on, "what so many people have been saying, 
namely, that the Catholic minorities in Great Britain and America 
have been dictating the international policy with respect to Spain." 

Ickes was only partly right. Not merely the caution of congress- 

Deadlock on the Potomac 357 

men but Roosevelt's own indecision was involved in policy toward 
Spain. Indeed, the President wavered again later in 1938 as the 
rebel forces pressed on to Madrid, and once again Hull had to 
dissuade his chief from acting. Still, Ickes had put his finger on 
the heart of the problem. The men on Capitol Hill and the minor- 
ity groups behind them had their grip on levers of action or ob- 
struction that touched directly the balance of power and the flow 
of events far outside the country's borders. Unredeemed by deci- 
siveness in the White House, the congressional deadlock on the 
Potomac cast its shadow across the world. 

EIGHTEEN Fissures in the Party 


-JLHE SCENE was the livestock pavilion of the 
University of Wisconsin. The time was late April 1938, Under 
a huge banner emblazoned with a circle around a cross, a slim, 
gray-haired man with a boyish face was orating before a rapt au- 
dience of several thousand. Football players sporting huge W's 
patrolled the aisles. The speaker was Governor Philip La Follette 
of Wisconsin, scion of the great Fighting Bob, brother of young 
Senator Bob. The occasion was the launching of a new party, Na- 
tional Progressives of America. 

By the time La Follette finished, hair tousled and coat awry, 
reporters were sure that history had been made perhaps even to 
the degree it had been at Ripon, Wisconsin, eighty-four years be- 
fore, when the Republican party was founded. The young Progres- 
sive, they said to one another, had hit Roosevelt where it hurt. 
He had scored New Deal economics and New Deal politics at their 
weakest points. For ten years, according to La Follette, "the Re- 
publicans and the Democrats have been fumbling the ball/' The 
people had had enough of relief and spoon feeding and scarcity 
economics. They wanted jobs and security. The new party would 
be no popular front, "no conglomeration of conflicting, opposing 
forces huddled together for temporary expediency." It was an 
obvious fling at Roosevelt and his personal coalition. How would 
the New Deal's chief respond? 

The President, it seemed, was inclined to scoff. While the crowd 
was carried away with the enthusiasm of the moment, he wrote 
Ambassador William Phillips in Rome, most people seemed to 
think La Follette's new emblem was just a feeble imitation of the 
swastika. "All that remains is for some major party to adopt a 
new form of arm salute. I have suggested the raising of both arms 
above the head, followed by a bow from the waist. At least this 
will be good for people's figures!" 

Actually Roosevelt had mixed feelings toward the new party. 
He knew that La Follette had planned his move carefully, with 
assiduous cultivation of farm and labor leaders. The movement 

Fissures in the Party 359 

could not be dismissed. Roosevelt hoped, though, that it might 
serve as a useful warning to conservative Democrats that their party 
was in danger of losing liberal support. Everything depended on 
Phil and Bob not going too far. To keep them from going too far, 
Roosevelt told Ickes, he would invite Bob on a Potomac cruise; he 
would suggest to the Senator that after 1940 he could have the 
secretaryship of state, and Phil could take his place in the Senate. 

It was a typical Rooseveltian stratagem, but it seemed too late 
for stratagems. Phil went serenely ahead, courting progressive 
groups and third-party leaders throughout the northern Central 
states. Nor did his efforts have any discernible influence as a warn- 
ing to conservative Democrats. In Congress, which adjourned in 
mid- June, they kept on jabbing and thundering against the New 
Deal. Aside from the spending bill, the chief accomplishments of 
the Seventy-fifth Congress had been the revived agricultural pro- 
gram for farmers and the weak wage-hour bill for workers. A new 
housing program had been authorized, but one that would hardly 
touch the mass of the "ill-housed." The New Deal, as a program 
for the general welfare, had been little advanced certainly not 
when compared with the glowing promises of January 1937. 

Slowly Roosevelt came to his decision the time had come for a 
party showdown. 

The idea of purging the party of conservative congressmen was 
not a new one. For months at the White House there had been talk 
of a purge, especially on the part of Corcoran, Ickes, and Hopkins. 
But the fact that Roosevelt could embrace this ultimate weapon 
was a measure of his true feelings in the spring of 1938. Not only 
was a purge directly contrary to the President's general first-term 
policy of noninterference in local elections, but even more, it forced 
him into the posture he hated most the posture of direct, open 
hostilities against men who were in his party and some of whom 
were his friends, of almost complete commitment to a specific 
method and a definite conception of party. 

Only resentment and exasperation of the greatest intensity could 
have moved Roosevelt to such action, and that was his state of 
mind in the spring of 1938. Despite his usual surface geniality, for 
months he had simmered and stewed over the obstructionists who 
were gutting his program. Again and again in the presence of 
intimates and even of visitors he struck out at his foes at the 
lobbyists who tried to exempt special interests from regulation, at 
the "y es but fellows" who piously agreed with the need for reform 
but never agreed with Roosevelt's way of doing it, at the million- 
aires who found legal devices to avoid taxes, at the columnists 
and commentators who told lies to scare the people, at the "fat cat" 
newspaper publishers who ganged up on the administration, and, 


above all, at the congressmen who had ridden into power on his 
coattails and now were sabotaging his program. 

In a free society, only the last of these were within reach of 
presidential retaliation. As La Follette fished in troubled political 
waters and threatened to split the Grand Coalition in June 1938, 
Roosevelt decided to act. 


On a hot night late in June the President fired the opening salvo. 
In a fireside chat he stated that the Seventy-fifth Congress, elected 
on a "platform uncompromisingly liberal/' had left many things 
undone. On the other hand, he said, it had done more for the 
country than any Congress during the igso's, and he listed a num- 
ber of its achievements. People had urged him to coast along, en- 
joy an easy presidency for four years, and not take the party plat- 
form too seriously. 

"Never in our lifetime has such a concerted campaign of de- 
featism been thrown at the heads of the President and Senators 
and Congressmen" as in the case of this Congress. "Never before 
have we had so many Copperheads" who, as in the War between 
the States, wanted peace at any price. The President dwelt for a 
moment on the economic situation. Leaders of business, of labor, 
and of government had all made mistakes, he asserted. Government's 
mistake, however, was in failing to pass the farm and wage-hour 
bills earlier, and in assuming that labor and capital would not make 

Then Roosevelt got down to the business at hand. The issue in 
the congressional primaries and elections, he said, was between 
liberals who saw that new conditions called for new remedies, 
including government action, and conservatives, who believed that 
individual initiative and private philanthropy would solve the 
country's problems and who wanted to return to the kind of gov- 
ernment America had had in the 1920*5. 

"As President of the United States, I am not asking the voters 
of the country to vote for Democrats next November as opposed 
to Republicans or members of any other party. Nor am I, as Presi- 
dent, taking part in Democratic primaries. 

"As the head of the Democratic Party, however, charged with the 
responsibility of the definitely liberal declaration of principles set 
forth in the 1936 Democratic platform, I feel that I have every 
right to speak in those few instances where there may be a clear 
issue between candidates for a Democratic nomination involving 
these principles, or involving a clear misuse of my own name. 

"Do not misunderstand me. I certainly would not indicate a 

Fissures in the Party 361 

preference in a State primary merely because a candidate, otherwise 
liberal in outlook, had conscientiously differed with me on any 
single issue. I should be far more concerned with the general at- 
titude of a candidate toward present day problems and his own 
inward desire to get practical needs attended to in a practical way/' 
And again the President struck out at "yes but fellows." 

the next day's headlines. Yet the declaration of war was an ambigu- 
ous one. Politicians anxiously questioned one another. What was 
the President's test of a conservative? Was it only a vote against the 
court plan? Would Roosevelt limit himself to speaking out? And 
what did he mean by his statement that he was acting as party 
leader rather than as President? 

Confusion deepened after Roosevelt left Washington in his air- 
cooled, ten-car train that would take him on a zigzag route across 
the nation. Roosevelt seemed to have a different tactic in each 
state. In Ohio he gave a mild nod of approval to a mild New Dealer, 
Senator Robert J. Bulkley, who had a primary fight oil his hands. 
In Kentucky the President pulled no punches. Alben Barkley, his 
stalwart Senate leader, was hard pressed by Governor "Happy" 
Chandler, who had a big grin, a rousing platform manner, and a 
firm grip on his political machine. Roosevelt was so eager for 
Barkley to win and so worried that a defeat would mean Senator 
Pat Harrison's capture of the Senate leadership that he had even 
welcomed John L. Lewis's proffer of aid in the race. 

Greeting Roosevelt's train, Happy deftly slid into a place next 
to the President in the parade car and took more than his share 
of the bows, while Barkley smoldered and Roosevelt showed his 
usual sang-froid. Happy soon got his comeuppance. In a speech 
showering Barkley with praise the President dismissed Chandler 
as a young man who would take many years to achieve the ex- 
perience and knowledge of Alben Barkley. "Any time the President 
can't knock you out, you're all right," said the irrepressible Happy, 
who was determined to keep at least a thumb hooked into the 
President's coattails. But a few hours later Roosevelt shook even 
the thumb loose by hinting that Chandler had proposed to the 
White House a deal in judicial appointments in order to get to 
the Senate. 

Having spoken like a lion, the President moved as stealthily as 
a fox during his next stops. In Oklahoma he mentioned his "old 
friend" Senator Elmer Thomas but he did not snub Thomas' 
primary opponent. In Texas he smiled on several liberal congress- 
men, including Lyndon Johnson and Maury Maverick, and he 
threw Senator Connally, a foe of the court bill, into an icy rage by 
announcing from the back platform the appointment to a federal 


judgeship of a Texan whom Connally had not recommended. In 
Colorado another court bill opponent, Senator Alva Adams, shifted 
uneasily from foot to foot while the President elaborately ignored 
him. But Adams' opponent, who had seemingly launched his cam- 
paign with White House blessing, was also ignored. So was Senator 
Pat McCarran in Nevada, though the agile Pat managed to thrust 
himself into the Rooseveltian limelight. In California the President 
mentioned his "old friend" Senator McAdoo, but the situation was 
topsy-turvy there, for McAdoo's opponent was no tory but a leader 
of the "$30 every Thursday" movement named Sheridan Downey. 

By the time the President had been piped aboard the Houston, 
had made a long sea cruise down through the Panama Canal to 
Pensacola, and had started back to Washington, some of the primary 
results were in. Roosevelt could feel well satisfied. Barkley won 
decisively in Kentucky, as did Thomas in Oklahoma. To be sure, 
Adams won in Colorado and McCarran was running strong in 
Nevada, but Roosevelt had not deeply committed himself in these 

Moreover, the trip across the country had been one more parade 
of triumph for the President. In Marietta, Ohio, a little old woman 
symbolized much of the popular feeling when she knelt down and 
reverently patted the dust where he had left a footprint. The en- 
thusiasm of the crowds bore out the comment of Republican Con- 
gressman Bruce Barton that the feeling of the masses toward 
Roosevelt was the controlling political influence of the time. And 
Roosevelt's triumph had been a wholly personal one. Farley, who 
had publicly supported the President after the fireside chat while 
secretly deploring the purge, was in Alaska. Garner had not met 
the President in Texas. Editorials deplored the President's med- 
dling in local elections. Cartoonists pictured him as a donkey rider, 
a club wielder, a pants kicker, a big-game hunter. 

Emboldened by his successes, Roosevelt on his way north turned 
his attention to his number-one target, the doughty and influential 
Senator Walter George of Georgia. The scene was so dramatic it 
seemed almost staged. Sitting on the platform with Roosevelt in 
the little country town of Barnes ville was George himself, Lawrence 
Camp, a diffident young attorney whom the administration had in- 
duced to run against the Senator, and a host of nervous Georgia 
politicians. From the moment he started talking Roosevelt's heavy 
deliberateness of tone and manner seemed a portent. After dwelling 
on his many years at Warm Springs, the problems facing the South, 
and the need for political leadership along liberal lines, Roosevelt 
turned to the business at hand. He said of George: 

"Let me make it clear that he is, and I hope always will be, my 
personal friend. He is beyond question, beyond any possible ques- 

Fissures in the Party 363 

tion, a gentleman and a scholar. . . ." But he and George simply 
did not speak the same political language. The test was in the an- 
swer to two questions: "First, has the record of the candidate shown, 
while differing perhaps in details, a constant active fighting attitude 
in favor of the broad objectives of the party and of the Govern- 
ment as they are constituted today; and secondly, does the candidate 
really, in his heart, deep down in his heart, believe in those ob- 

"I regret that in the case of my friend, Senator George, I can- 
not honestly answer either of these questions in the affirmative." 
A faint chorus of mixed cheers and boos rose from the crowd. George 
stirred uneasily; Camp sat motionless. 

There was more in the speech, as Roosevelt dismissed another 
candidate, red-gallused, hard-faced, ex-Governor Eugene Talmadge, 
as a man of panaceas and promises, and roundly praised Camp. But 
the climax for the crowd came as Roosevelt turned to George and 
shook hands. 

"Mr. President/' said the Senator, "I want you to know that I 
accept the challenge." 

"Let's always be friends," Roosevelt replied cheerily. 

Next state up was South Carolina, the domain of Cotton Ed 
Smith. Again Roosevelt displayed his versatility. Smith's opponent, 
Governor Olin D. Johnston, had launched his campaign in Wash- 
ington directly after a talk with the President, but now Roosevelt 
took a subtle approach. Without mentioning Smith by name, he 
ended a talk in Greenville with the remark, "I don't believe any 
family or man can live on fifty cents a day" a fling at Cotton Ed, 
who was reputed to have said that in South Carolina a man could. 

Back in Washington, the President struck the hardest blow of all 
against his old adversary, the urbane Millard Tydings of Maryland. 
At a press conference he accused Tydings and he told reporters 
to put this in direct quotes of wanting to run "with the Roosevelt 
prestige and the money of his conservative Republican friends both 
on his side." He lined up Maryland politicians behind Tydings' 
primary opponent, Representative David J. Lewis. He asked former 
Ambassador to Italy Breckinridge Long, a political leader in the 
state, to help out financially and personally. And he stumped in- 
tensively in Maryland for two days against Tydings during the first 
week of September. To give his campaign a semblance of party 
backing, the President got Farley to go with him. The Democratic 
chairman glumly watched the proceedings. "It's a bust," he told 

A bust it was. During the next weeks Roosevelt's political fortunes 
reached the lowest point of his presidency. 


Smith won decisively in South Carolina. Tydings won by a huge 
vote in Maryland. Maverick and other Roosevelt men lost in Texas. 
George came out far in front in Georgia. Talmadge was second, and 
Camp an ignominious third. Semi- or anti-New Dealers Alva Adams 
of Colorado, Pat McCarran of Nevada, Augustine Lonergan of 
Connecticut, all won. "It takes a long, long time to bring the past 
up to the present/' Roosevelt remarked after Smith's victory. 

Only one bright spot relieved the dark picture. Earlier in the 
year Hopkins and Corcoran had induced James H. Fay to enter 
the primary in Manhattan against the hated John O'Connor, who 
had used his chairmanship of the Rules Committee to thwart the 
President. Fay was a good choice: he had impeccable Irish anteced- 
ents, a war record, and close ties with a number of Tammany chiefs. 
Hopkins lined up Labor party support for Fay through La Guardia, 
and Roosevelt agreed to ask Patterson of the Daily News to back 
the New Deal candidate. Corcoran spent a month in New York 
running the campaign at the ward and precinct level. When O'Con- 
nor began to fight back hard to save his political life, Roosevelt 
got a reluctant Boss Flynn to help run Fay's campaign. These com- 
bined efforts defeated O'Connor by a close vote in mid-September. 

By now Democrats and Republicans were locked in battle in 
hundreds of congressional and a score or two senatorial races. 
Wracked by internal splits, the Democrats had to face the somber 
likelihood that they would suffer a drop after the sweep of '36. The 
Republicans, knowing they had seen the worst and enjoying the 
brawls in the enemy camp, were jubilant. Some of them, indeed, 
were cocky to the point of insolence. Backers of a Republican candi- 
date in Wisconsin wired Roosevelt urging him to come to Wisconsin 
and oppose their man. The President's opposition, they added, 
would guarantee his election. 

Roosevelt ignored such antics, but he could not ignore the strange 
directions the campaigns were taking. A shift had taken place in 
the spirit and temper of the people. In many races the issues were 
not the standard old reliables like prosperity, security, reform, and 
peace, but vague and fearsome things such as state rights, the 
"rubber-stamp" Congress, presidential power, the purge itselL In 
other races candidates for Congress got embroiled in local issues. 
In South Carolina, for example, Cotton Ed raised the banner of 
white supremacy, and Johnston, not to be outdone, accused Smith 
himself of once "voting to let a big buck nigger sit next to your 
wife or daughter on a train." In Pennsylvania the main issue was 
not the New Deal but corruption; in Michigan, the sit-down strikes; 
in California, a state pension plan. 

As party leader Roosevelt presumably had some power of cam- 
paign direction. But unlike his own presidential campaigns, where 

Fissures in the Party 365 

he could exploit his unmatched skill at focusing issues and at 
timing the attack, he lacked control over the situation. Instead of 
his running the campaigns, the campaigns ran away with him. 

He had to spend a good deal of time simply making his position 
clear. In the last weeks of the campaign he found it necessary to 
defend Governor Frank Murphy of Michigan against charges that 
he had treasonably mishandled the sit-down strikes; he had to re- 
buke Pennsylvania Republicans for charging that he had kept 
hands off that state because of distaste for the Democrats there; 
he had to make clear that his silence about Governor Elmer Benson 
of Minnesota did not mean he was not in favor of Benson; he had 
to declare his support in California for Downey, victor over Mc- 
Adoo, as a real liberal, despite Downey's "|go every Thursday" 
plank, which Roosevelt opposed; he had to make clear his support 
of Senator F, Ryan Duffy in Wisconsin; and he had to declare for 
Governor Lehman and Senator Wagner of New York, candidates 
for re-election. Putting out campaign brush fires all over the country 
was no way to leave the President in a commanding position. 

On election eve Roosevelt tried to pull the confused situation 
into focus. He reasserted that the supreme issue was the continua- 
tion of the New Deal. After a homely reference to the "dream house" 
he was building in Hyde Park, he said that a social gain, unlike a 
house, was not necessarily permanent. The great gains of Theodore 
Roosevelt and of Wilson, he warned, had evaporated during the 
subsequent administrations. The President thrust a barbed lance 
at the opposition. "As of today, Fascism and Communism and old- 
line Tory Republicanism are not threats to the continuation of 
our form of government. But I venture the challenging statement 
that if American democracy ceases to move forward as a living 
force . . . then Fascism and Communism, aided, unconsciously per- 
haps, by old-line Tory Republicanism, will grow in strength in our 
land." But political exigencies forced Roosevelt even on a national 
hookup to devote much of his speech to New York candidates. 

The election returns dealt the Democrats a worse blow than 
Roosevelt had expected. Republican strength in the House almost 
doubled, rising from 88 to 170, and increased in the Senate by eight. 
The Republicans lost not a single seat. The liberal bloc in the 
House was halved. Wagner and Lehman both won in New York, but 
a brilliant and personable young district attorney, Thomas E. 
Dewey, came so close to upsetting Lehman that the challenger be- 
came a prospect for his party's presidential nomination in 1940. 
Winning over a dozen governorships, the Republicans offered new 
faces to the nation Leverett Saltonstall in Massachusetts, John 
Bricker in Ohio, Harold Stassen in Minnesota. Taft beat Bulkley 
in Ohio and took over a Senate seat that he would soon convert 


into a national rostrum. Philip La Follette lost in Wisconsin, 
Murphy in Michigan, Earle in Pennsylvania. 

Roosevelt tried to make the best of the situation. The New Deal 
had not been repudiated, he told friends. The trouble lay in party 
factionalism and local conditions. He pointed to corruption in 
Massachusetts, a race-track scandal in Rhode Island, a parkway 
squabble in Connecticut, Boss Frank Hague's dictatorial ways in 
Jersey City, strikes in the Midwest, poor Democratic candidates 
elsewhere. The President could point to the fact that, after all, his 
party still held big majorities in both Houses of Congress. But 
could he blink the fact that Republicans combined with anti-New 
Deal Democrats could control the legislature? 

"Will you not encounter coalition opposition?" a reporter asked 
him at the first press -conference after the election. 

"No, I don't think so/* the President answered. 

"I do!" his questioner came back pertly, amid laughter. 

"The trees are too close to the forest," Roosevelt went on enig- 


The reporter was right, and Roosevelt knew that he was right. The 
Republicans were making no secret of their plans to besiege the 
New Deal through the conservative Democrats in Congress. But the 
President had an eye on the forest too. The critical situation in 
Europe would force a political reordering at home. And he knew 
he would have strong cards to play against the conservatives in 
1940. Meantime he showed his cheerful visage to the world. He 
even jested about the visage that some newspapers had given him. 

"You undergraduates who see me for the first time/' he told a 
delighted student audience at Chapel Hill in December, "have read 
your newspapers and heard on the air that I am, at the very least, 
an ogrea consorter with Communists, a destroyer of the rich, a 
breaker of our ancient traditions. Some of you think of me perhaps 
as the inventor of the economic royalist, of the wicked utilities, of 
the money changers of the Temple. You have heard for six years 
that I was about to plunge the Nation into war; that you and your 
little brothers would be sent to the bloody fields of battle in Europe; 
that I was driving the Nation into bankruptcy; and that I break- 
fasted every morning on a dish of 'grilled millionaire/ " The crowd 

"Actually I am an exceedingly mild mannered person a practi- 
tioner of peace, both domestic and foreign, a believer in the capi- 
talistic system, and for my breakfast a devotee of scrambled eggs/' 

Fissures in the Party 


Against the advice of Garner and other of his "antediluvian 
friends" in Congress, as he called them, Roosevelt stood firm on 
his New Deal policies. Before the legislators in January 1939, he 
defended his program of social and economic reform. To be sure, 
he justified that program partly as an aid to national defense, and 
he stated that the country had "passed the period of internal con- 
flict in the launching of our program of social reform." But he went 
on to call for the releasing of the nation's full energies "to invigorate 
the processes of recovery in order to preserve our reforms, and to 
give every man and woman who wants to work a real job at a living 

Another Myth Exploded 

f t "5AVS IT I* NOT AT 



Dec. 6, 1938, Quincy Scott, Portland Oregonian 


wage." And he called again for the measures Congress had denied 
him the year before, including reorganization. 

Nor did Roosevelt indicate any compromise in a fighting party 
speech he gave to a Jackson Day dinner a few days later. He wel- 
comed the return of the Republicans to a position where they could 
no longer excuse themselves for not having a program on the ground 
they had too few votes. He charged that during recent years "Re- 
publican impotence has caused powerful interests, opposed to 
genuine democracy, to push their way into the Democratic party, 
hoping to paralyze it by dividing its councils." He called on Demo- 
crats to stick together and to line up with those from other parties 
and with independents in a firm alliance. He prophesied that the 
Republican leadership, conservative at heart, would "still seek to 
run with the hare and hunt with the hounds, talking of balanced 
budgets out of one side of its mouth and in favor of opportunist 
raids on the Treasury out of the other/' And he appealed to the 
memory of Andrew Jackson to keep the party a liberal party, not 
a Democratic Tweedledum to a Republican Tweedledee. 

The President's major appointments reflected his tenacity of 
purpose. To the consternation of the business community Hopkins 
succeeded Roper as Secretary of Commerce, The priestlike Murphy 
of Michigan took Cummings* place as Attorney General. Felix Frank- 
furter, after serving six years as a recruiting sergeant for the New 
Deal, was appointed to Holmes's old and Cardozo's recent seat on 
the Supreme Court. And William O. Douglas took Brandeis* place 
on the high bench. So in the New Deal's sixth year there were 
secure liberal majorities in both cabinet and court. 

But not in Congress. As the 1939 session got under way, the 
congressional threat to New Deal programs became more and more 

The conservative coalition on the Hill would not, of course, 
abolish the New Deal, even if it wished to, for it could not com- 
mand two-thirds majorities to override Roosevelt's vetoes. But it 
could stop the extension of the New Deal into new and controversial 
fields. To be sure, Congress passed a cut-down reorganization bill, 
a revised and liberalized social security measure, and several other 
administration measures. When it came, however, to spending pro- 
grams aimed at fulfilling the President's promises o recovery, the 
legislators balked. Bills to finance self-liquidation projects and to 
lend eight hundred million dollars on housing projects passed the 
Senate but failed in the House amidst a general denunciation of 
the relief program. Relief appropriations, too, were pared sharply. 

The inevitable consequence of this political stalemate was eco- 
nomic stalemate. With New Deal reforms secured now by a liberal- 
ized court and by determined presidential backing, investors were 

Fissures in the Party 369 

still immobilized largely by their fears of the government. But Con- 
gress would not tolerate a large-scale spending program, even if 
Roosevelt proposed it. The recovery policy was caught in dead 
center. Although business conditions had improved markedly since 
the year before, dead center still meant eight to ten million unem- 

Some congressmen, however, were not satisfied even with stale- 
mating the New Deal. They sought to dismantle it. And in their 
attempt they turned to the three classic weapons of congressional 
usurpation of executive power. 

Perhaps the most potent of these weapons was the power to in- 
vestigate. During Roosevelt's first term friendly legislators like 
Senator Black had used this power to arouse public opinion behind 
New Deal measures. The President was strong enough almost single- 
handed to balk hostile probes, as in the case of Tydings. But now, 
in his second term, the situation was reversed. At the start of the 
1939 session Garner in a cabinet meeting told Roosevelt bluntly 
that the opposition was planning to investigate the WPA and other 
agencies. Something should be done about it, he said. "Jack," the 
President answered, "you are talking to eleven people who can't 
do anything about it.'* It was up to the congressional leaders, in- 
cluding Garner, he said. It was a clear indication of the extent to 
which Roosevelt's resources of personal influence had been drained 
off midway through the second term. 

Even in the case of Martin Dies, the square-faced, hulking young 
Texan who ran the House Un-American Activities Committee, 
Roosevelt had to act cautiously. He detested Dies's fishing expedi- 
tions and he knew the political dangers in Dies's jabs at Ickes, 
Hopkins, Miss Perkins, and other New Dealers as being soft toward 
Communists. But the President, aside from one indignant press 
statement, did not risk an open counterattack against his foes. 
Asked by reporters to comment on the Texan's charge that Roose- 
velt was not co-operating with him, the President answered only 
with an elaborate "Ho hum." Incensed over Dies's treatment of 
witnesses, he protested indirectly to another committee member. 
When Ickes was ready to cannonade Dies with a speech entitled, 
"Playing with Loaded Dies," Early telephoned that the President 
said, "For God's sake don't do it!" Roosevelt hoped he could head 
Dies off by maneuvering through his leaders on Capitol Hill. But 
this indirection, which had worked so well during the first term, 
no longer seemed to turn the trick. Dies got a huge appropriation 
* n 1939 and kept on playing ducks and drakes with the issue of 

A second classic instrument of congressional attack was control 
over hiring administrative personnel, and here again Congress lived 


up to tradition. The most obvious of these controls over hiring was 
the old practice of senatorial courtesy, by which senators agree, in 
a kind of unwritten mutual defense pact, to hold up any presi- 
dential nomination when the nominee is "personally obnoxious"- 
i.e., a member of a hostile political faction to one of their col- 
leagues. In January 1939 Roosevelt deliberately flouted the rule 
by nominating as federal judge a Virginian who was friendly to 
the governor of that state but not to Senators Glass and Byrd. The 
President's nominee was rejected. Angry and public exchanges be- 
tween Roosevelt and Glass followed, but when the dust settled, 
senatorial courtesy stood intact. 

A third means of congressional control was the legislative power 
to appropriate funds annually for the bureaucracy. To the extent 
it dared, the coalition cut down on general funds for agency pro- 
grams, but it did not dare go too far because even Republicans 
and anti-New Deal Democrats were sensitive to the reaction of 
groups benefiting from the programs. What the coalition could 
and did do was to cut funds for those functions behind which no 
congressional bloc would rally, but which in the long run might 
critically influence the durability and impact of the programs 
namely, planning, research, statistical and economic analysis, scien- 
tific investigation, administrative management, information, staffing, 

The heart of the situation was this: By 1939 coalition leaders in 
Congress had left their defensive posture of '37 and '38 and had 
moved openly to the attack. Where once they had been content 
to stop the New Deal from expanding, now they were trying to 
disrupt major federal programs or to divert them to their own 
purposes. Where once they had fought against presidential control 
over the legislative branch, now they were extending their own con- 
trols over the executive branch. 

A chief executive's power to control his own establishment is al- 
ways in jeopardy. At best, certain parts of the disheveled and 
straggling bureaucracy will escape his control if only because of 
its vast size. Many bureaucrats are holdovers from previous regimes 
and respond to ideologies and programs of the past. Such officials 
the President usually can remove if he knows about them; but some 
of them may be beyond his reach. Early in his first term Roosevelt 
sacked a holdover commissioner of the Federal Trade Commission 
mainly because the man was utterly out of sympathy with the New 
Deal, but the Supreme Court later ruled that his power to remove 
independent commissioners simply on the grounds that they differed 
with him over policy depended on Congress. So, too, many officials 
were less responsive to the change in presidential leadership than 

Fissures in the Party 371 

they were to the narrow professionalism and traditions o bureau- 
cratic cliques. 

Friction within government is inevitable when men are ambitious 
for themselves and passionately consecrated to their programs, and 
this was especially true of Roosevelt's jostling, bickering lieutenants. 
From the start fierce conflicts swept his top officialdom. The peppery, 
cantankerous Ickes was a ceaseless generator of friction; he jousted 
with Hugh Johnson, Morgenthau, Miss Perkins, Hopkins, and 
others, and his battle with Wallace culminated in a blazing face- 
to-face quarrel where charges of lying and disloyalty to the President 
were tossed about. Personal and administrative differences among 
the three TVA board members became so acute that Roosevelt had 
to hold long hearings in the White House and, in the end, ousted 
the chairman. Other rivalries that smoldered under the surface 
were fair game for newspaper columnists and cocktail party gossips. 

Roosevelt's personality and administrative methods encouraged 
this turbulence. He delegated power so loosely that bureaucrats 
found themselves entangled in lines of authority and stepping on 
one another's toes. Despite his public disapproval of open brawls, 
Roosevelt actually tolerated them and sometimes even seemed to 
enjoy them. He saw some virtues in pitting bureaucrat against 
bureaucrat in a competitive struggle. The very nature of the New 
Deal programs with their improvised, experimental, and often con- 
tradictory qualities was another source of discord. 

Criticism of Roosevelt's administrative methods waxed during 
his second term. This criticism buttressed the demands of conserva- 
tives for "less government in business, and more business in gov- 
ernment." It was also a handy tool for congressmen bent on ex- 
tending their own controls over the bureaucrats. But not all close 
students of the peculiar claims and needs of the American political 
system agreed with this criticism of Roosevelt as an administrator. 

Again and again Roosevelt flouted the central rule of administra- 
tion that the boss must co-ordinate the men and agencies under him 
that he must make a "mesh of things." But given the situation he 
faced, Roosevelt had good reasons for his disdain of copybook max- 
ims. For one thing, too much emphasis on rigid organization and 
channels of responsibility and control might have suffocated the 
freshness and vitality he loved. His technique of fuzzy delegation, 
as Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., has said, "often provided a testing o 
initiative, competence and imagination which produced far better 
results than playing safe by the book/* Characteristically, Roose- 
velt himself took the burden of salving the aches and lacerations 
that resulted from his method of administration, 

Disdaining abstract organization, Roosevelt looked at adminis- 
tration in terms of people. It was his sensitivity to people in all 



their subtle shadings and complexities that stamped him as a genius 
in government. He impressed them by his incredible knowledge of 
small details of their job; he invigorated them by his readiness to 
back them up when the going got rough. Yet he was no sugary dis- 
penser of lavish praise. One of his political lieutenants never got a 
comment on her work, but she was conscious of "warm, constant, 
and continuous support and a feeling that he liked me, had confi- 
dence in my ideas and was sometimes amused at my 'goings-on' as 
I was myself." 

One reason, then, for Roosevelt's quixotic direction was that it 
quickened energies and incited ideas in musty offices of govern- 
ment. But there were other reasons. 

Again and again Roosevelt put into the same office or job men 
who differed from each other in temperament and viewpoint. He 
gave Moley and later Welles important State Department tasks that 
overlapped those of Hull; he divided authority in the NRA be- 
tween Hugh Johnson and the general counsel, Donald Richberg; 
he gave his current Secretary of War, Harry Woodring, an assistant 
secretary who was often at odds with his chief; he gave both Ickes 
and Hopkins control over public works, both Ickes and Wallace 
control over conservation and power, both Farley and a variety of 
other presidential politicians control over patronage and other po- 
litical functions. 


LASTS'. ( 

UPSIE DAISY!, March 28, 1935, C. K. Berryman, Wash- 
ington Star 

Fissures in the Party 373 

Roosevelt followed this seemingly weird procedure in part be- 
cause it fell in naturally with his own personality. He disliked be- 
ing completely committed to any one person. He enjoyed being at 
the center of attention and action, and the system made him the 
focus through which the main lines of action radiated. His facility 
at role-taking enabled him to deal separately with a variety of peo- 
ple at maximum advantage. His administrative methods tended to 
keep him well informed about administrative politics, too, for his 
bickering lieutenants were quick to bring him the various aspects 
of the situation. 

The main reason for Roosevelt's methods, however, involved a 
tenacious effort to keep control of the executive branch in the face 
of the centrifugal forces of the American political system. By estab- 
lishing in an agency one power center that counteracted another, 
he made each official more dependent on White House support; the 
President in effect became the necessary ally and partner of each. 
He lessened bureaucratic tendencies toward self-aggrandizement; he 
curbed any attempt to gang up on him. He was, in effect, adapting 
the old method of divide and conquer to his own purposes. 

The problem, from Roosevelt's standpoint, was one of power 
rather than of narrow efficiency. His technique was curiously like 
that of Joseph Stalin, who used the overlapping delegation of func- 
tion, a close student of his methods has said, to prevent "any single 
chain of command from making major decisions without confront- 
ing other arms of the state's bureaucracy and thus bringing the is- 
sues into the open at a high level." Roosevelt, like Stalin, was a 
political administrator in the sense that his first concern was power 
albeit for very different ends. 

How deliberate a policy was this on Roosevelt's part? While he 
never formalized his highly personal methods of political adminis- 
tration and indeed ignored all abstract formulations of adminis- 
trative problems, he probably was well aware of the justification of 
his methods in terms of his need to keep control of his establish- 
ment. Certainly he did not embrace unorthodox managerial tech- 
niques out of ignorance of orthodox ones. His navy and guberna- 
torial experience had given him a close understanding of basic 
management problems. His recommendations to Congress for ad- 
ministrative reorganization were right out of the copybook, as was 
his request, never granted, for the right of item veto over appropri- 
ations. Many of his subordinates came to respect his methods even 
while they were disconcerted by them. Harold Smith, who became 
budget directoi in 1939, found the President an erratic adminis- 
trator. But years later, as the size and shape of Roosevelt's job fell 
into better perspective, Smith told Robert Sherwood that Roose- 


velt may have been one of history's greatest administrative geniuses. 
"He was a real artist in government/' Smith concluded. 

Yet a final estimate of Roosevelt's administrative role must also 
include the enormous amount of wasted energy, delays, and above 
all the attrition of Roosevelt's programsespecially the recovery 
program -caused by his methods. Good direction not only stimu- 
lates the ideas and energies of men; it also brings them into con- 
structive harmony. What then can be said about Roosevelt's toler- 
ation of incessant tension and friction among his lieutenants? Cer- 
tainly the main effect of this intramural sharpshooting was more 
destructive than constructive. Certainly Ickes' neurotic fight to 
wrest Forestry from Wallace during the reorganization battle was 
an example of wasted energies with no gain. That the New Deal 
often faltered in execution the President himself recognized. If, as 
has been said, the only genuine test of efficiency is survival, the 
Roosevelt recession, the continuing unemployment of 1939, and the 
bleeding of the President's recovery proposals in 1939 raise a seri- 
ous question about the administrative adequacy of his direction. 

Inevitably Roosevelt's practices produced hurt and bewilderment 
among his subordinates. "You are a wonderful person but you are 
one o