Camera Rolls: 102:1-3
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Hamilton Fish , conducted by Blackside, Inc. in 1990, for The Great Depression . Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
These transcripts contain material that did not appear in the final program. Only text appearing in bold italics was used in the final version of The Great Depression.*
Sir, it's 1928, Herbert Hoover has just been nominated for the republican ticket, can you describe how you felt about him at that time?
Yes, I, I thought he was a good citizen, had a good deal of experience, and an honest citizen too, but I did not believe he really had that ability a politician needs of speaking to large crowds or to even speaking at a big table 'cause he didn't have the ability to look up and look around and see what was going on, and he just had to go through with his speech and keep his head down and he didn't exhume a great deal of power. But he was a very fine type of person, a good president, his objectives were all good—far better than the democrats who were oddly callous about expenditures and went beyond all reason on use of the government money. So he really was at that time a worthwhile president, but he never really became a politician that could just get up and speak and have an audience always with him.
Sir, it's 1928, there's prosperity in the country. There's been eight years of prosperity under Calvin Coolidge.
President Hoover is taking over-
President Hoover is taking office. It looked like a bright moment. Can you talk about that time before the crash, how exciting it was?
Well how what was?
How exciting it was that there was prosperity, an able president was taking control, Herbert Hoover was taking office in the white house. Can you tell how you, how the country seemed at that time under a prosperous, when it seemed prosperous?
Well, unfortunately it's very hard to tell you just why the country changed from a prosperous country to a bankrupt country. I suppose it was really because we fundamentally were spending too much money, and nobody seemed to have any idea except to solve the problem by spending more money. And we were getting into tremendous debt. And of course, Hoover suffered from that situation, and he then had, he had a way out, which really was the way, and was effective, and proved to be effective, but the democrats ignored it and rather despised it. But soon as they came into power they adopted it as a way to get out of the depression. It was all done by Hoover, but the democrats, after they had gotten into power, took what Hoover had planned to get out of the financial situation that they were in, and they did it, they used it entirely. It ought to be to the credit of Hoover, but they, they didn't give Hoover's name in it ever. They used it as a democratic answer to the terrible financial situation the country was in.
Sir, the big crash of 1929 occurs, can you describe how hard times got during that period? How hard did times get?
Well everybody got hit, but it didn't make any difference how rich you were, or how much money you are, you lost just a bigger percentage. Enormous fortunes were completely wiped out. A member of the Pine family—because my daughter's son married a Pine—I know about, he had the biggest yacht in the United States, he had the biggest house in the United States, he had enormous sums of money and he gave his two daughters millions of dollars, and he was simply bankrupt. He was wiped out. The yacht, and home, and everything into the many, many millions of dollars. And when he asked his daughters for a loan—he probably needed a million dollars, he give them a million and wanted some money from them—they said they didn't have anymore money left themselves, and they wouldn't give him any money. That's one example. There were any number of other examples of people who had money in the millions who had to go and get a private job of any kind they could themselves 'cause they were wiped out entirely. And there was a very serious situation in the country.
Thank you, that was great, that was just great. After the stock market crash of 1929, were there people in the country who were dangerous to the country?
Oh yes they were coming in, the communists were coming in to this country and strangely enough, many of them were paid for by the communist government itself. And they gave them money, these experts, and they applied for jobs because they were experts in certain lines, to American Federation of Labor. And much to my surprise, and to anyone else's if they knew it, American Federation of Labor became controlled by the communists. So when I was chosen by Speaker Longwood to head a committee of five to investigate communism throughout the nation, and to some little extent even in the Soviet Union, why we found that situation was far more serious than we had anticipated. And I investigated the president of the communist party, who had run for president, and he was an intelligent man, and I asked him, "Where do the communists stand on freedom?" "We're opposed to freedom." "Where do you stand on democracy?" "We're opposed to democracy." "Where do you stand on the Constitution of the United States." "We're opposed to it." "And now," I said, "we come to where do you stand on the flag?" And he said, "We stand for the red flag." "Well," I said, "that's nonsense, that's three hundred years old. Where do you stand between the communist flag and the American flag?" He said, "We stand for the communist flag." And I got that out all over the country and the American Federation threw out nineteen communists who had bought their way in and held big jobs there. And all over the country, people walked[?] to just what communism was, what they believed in, and at that time, Roosevelt was pointing great numbers of communists.
No this is just-
No just after that, just after that.
OK, cut for a second.
Sir, I'm going to go back over some territory.
Why was it important to form a house committee to investigate American communism? What about them frightened you?
To investigate the communists?
Oh my god.
Why did you need to form a house committee?
Oh, we had to because, it's unbelievable the number of communists were coming over here. Not only to the United States, but through the United States into Cuba, to help the Cuban communists take over the government. But communists evidently were ready to spend very large sums of money, and they came over in enormous numbers and the result was that they got jobs here and paid their way to get the jobs, particularly in American Federation of Labor to such an extent that they actually controlled that great organization under a very fine president, who was a good, was a—I think of fine origin, but a very loyal American. And that shows you if they could control such an organization, how far they went. They had their own newspapers, they had big newspapers that were with them, they had enormous propaganda, and a great deal of wealth. And they came into here by the many, many thousands, all over the place, and therefore the time had come to have an investigation to see what it amounted to. And I was chosen as chairman of a committee of five to investigate throughout this country, which we did. And when we found it so extensive and told the truth to the American people, it opened their eyes for the first time, and that was the result of my committee to investigate communism in this country. All because they were coming in in huge numbers, joining all kinds of organizations, having all kinds of publicity of their own here, and magazines of their own, and newspapers of their own, and that nobody had any idea how many they were until this investigation took place and we exposed it. And I am very proud, even after all these years, to tell the truth that I had a good deal of responsibility in exposing the huge number of communists who had deliberately come into this country in order to spread communism, here and in Cuba.
OK, thank you. Could you cut for a second?
Sir, go on, tell me-
And the fact that, which was very interesting-
Could you start at the beginning?
Yes. We were particularly interested in the fact that Ford Motor Company had urged people to come they had at a certain per day allowance, and then when they got there it rained or snowed or they just went back on their promise and had all these people there who were hoping to get jobs, and they got nothing but rainstorms or snowstorms and didn't get any jobs. On my committee were furious, and they wanted to see the head of the company, the man to immediately come before us and explain this situation. And he didn't come. He went off in a yacht, and we sent word after the yacht, if he didn't come, we were going on to Chicago to have another investigation. We would demand his coming there before us in Chicago! Because we were going to find out why they really did so much harm to American labor by promising jobs at good pay and then not doing anything about them and letting them stay there in the cold and the rain for a long time.
Did you ever go to Detroit-
And he did appear, he appeared.
-during this time? Tell me about that, he appeared in Chicago?
Oh yes, and we were very strict, very strict with him. And said that this thing must never happen again, 'cause we'd have to expose the Ford company as doing something that's wrong and unfair and wicked, and we won't hesitate to do it. And you better go home and realize that the Ford company is not above the law in this country of ours.
Who was the head of the Ford Motor Company?
Well exactly, we didn't ask the top executive because I don't think he was there in that city. We ordered the one who headed the operations there, and he was pretty powerful. He thought he was so strong that he didn't have to appear, well we soon changed his mind.
OK, hold on a second. Can you cut?
OK start at the beginning sir.
I didn't like the idea of them marching to Washington to demand of the government a bonus. I was really for a bonus, but I didn't like the idea of the getting many ultra-radicals, some communists mixed with them, and other left, extreme leftists mixed all together, making a big turmoil about it. I thought that was the wrong way to get any bonus, although in my heart I believed it, I didn't believe in this way of doing it. And I think i said so at the time, but soon as it came to a legitimate situation, of course I was for the bonus from then on and all the time.
Also the bonus would have, was very difficult for the country to afford at that time. Can you talk about that?
Well everything was difficult and it was difficult for the soldiers not to get it 'cause they needed it more than anyone else. They had come out of a war and they were poverty stricken, and they had these promises made and we ought to have worked out something and give them not a big bonus, but some kind of a help and some kind of a bonus. But I was actually for their giving—as soon as they could afford it—a real bonus to all the veterans.
Thank you, can we cut for a second?
Can you tell me about the-
Oh yes I can tell you quite a lot about General MacArthur because he went to West Point, later on he headed West Point. I lived across the river. I knew him when I was a youngster, and I knew him when I was first elected to Congress. I thought so highly of him I would have been glad to see him nominated as president on the republican ticket. I think he's one of the greatest men I ever met, I think he was a real American, interesting American. And I remember I was chairman of a committee, hold a big dinner about five or six hundred in one of the big hotels in New York, and we invited three or four people to receive awards, and the General MacArthur was one of them. I was very much impressed by his speech there-
Can we cut for a second?
-because he saw the-
-terribly impressed with him when he made this prediction when receiving this reward from the order that I was head of, in which he said, and I think it's wonderful. He said, "I do not fear a great war between the nations and with nuclear weapons or other such"-
How did you feel about the Bonus Marches?
I felt just like the way General MacArthur did. I think he was in sympathy with the idea that the veterans were entitled to a bonus, but he did not want them to try to take over the government or any part of the government or any riots of any kind, that that wasn't the way to bring it back. 'Cause it was justifiable and should be properly presented in Congress and acted in that way. But to let commoners get into it, and lead the fight for it, and cause disorder all over the country, I think General MacArthur was right and I agree with him. That's one of the reasons I admire him and I think he would have made a fine president, if he'd only been a candidate he'd been elected.
OK thank you, cut please.
How did you feel about the Bonus Marchers?
I exactly, I think I felt just the way General MacArthur did. I think that if it had been a peaceful situation, they'd come there to advocate a justifiable cause, it would have been all right. When they came there in huge numbers with a great many commoners and radicals and extreme leftists agitating and destroying the whole situation, I agree with General MacArthur that I really didn't, wasn't, I think it was doing more harm than good. Sooner or later they would be paid and paid just as soon as we had the money to pay them.
Thank you, cut. That was excellent.
Sir, go ahead, tell me about that day.
Well, I had not supported him—I had been a friend of his before—but my wife voted for him and I had hoped he'd make a good president, long as he'd gotten there. I was very fearful that he was being carried away by the power of the position and that power became increasing all the time and I think that went to his mind more than anything else that he was not only going to be President of the United States, but help control the whole world. I think that Roosevelt was carried away in his mind, and by this famous preamble of power and greater power ruining everything else.
OK, thank you. Cut please.
Sir, tell me about Washington in-
Well I think Washington was-
OK sir, start again please.
Sir, sir start again.
I think Washington was really devoted to the national politics more than anything else, and that was the big issue because it all came from the president and the Congress. And as a member of Congress, I sat in on a lot of these meetings, whether I was in the minority or whether I was the majority—mostly minority—but as a ranking member of the rules committee for the republicans, and also for the ranking member of the diplomatic state department, I was also a ranking member. So I really had tremendous power myself, and I didn't mind explaining it and speaking on it whenever I had to. But that's when Roosevelt-
Hold on, hold on a second-
No, no, had the big power.
Sir, can you tell me about the Reconstruction Finance Committee?
Well I think that was-
Start again please.
Well yes, that was a child of Hoover. Hoover really invented that, Hoover really supported it, Hoover really fought for it. Hoover was right 100% all the time, and the democrats laughed at it in the beginning, but when Roosevelt got into power what did they do? They stole the very thing that they denounced to get out of the trouble.
Could you talk about that again?
Yes I did.
Could you talk about it again and say "Reconstruction Finance Corporation"-
Yes, Reconstruction Finance Corporation was stolen by Roosevelt and the democratic party-
Don't mention Roosevelt, talk about what the Reconstruction Finance Corporation was meant to do.
It meant to restore, help banks and business and all down the line, money to live through this temporary period and get on their feet again. It was the only way out and Hoover is the one that invented it. But they laughed at him, they denied it. Then they claimed that they did it when they had nothing to do except to copy what he proposed.
Could you say that again, it was the Reconstruction, could you name the name?
The Reconstruction Committee was what it was, but, and it was a very proper one. And they knew it all the time, but they denounced it in the beginning, but soon as they got into power they robbed what Hoover had been-
-on a second, start again and mention the name.
It was used to give out money where they could possibly afford it-
OK hold on, hold on sir.
Start again sir.
It was to give out money where they could possibly afford it to all kinds of institutions, big and small, particularly the big ones that kept the country going, to keep them on their feet to solve the temporary difficulties throughout the country. And they really stole what Hoover presented, which they had denounced before. They had stole it and were using it successfully.
Sir, can you tell me about the controversy, about giving food to the starving people in Arkansas?
Yes I can tell you that it was way beyond my understanding because all of us who represented farm districts and others knew we had to do something to help people who were starving. But for some reason or other, some of the top men in these districts seemed to ignore the issue which was the biggest issue at the time 'cause literally people were starving for food that was available. There was food left enough to help them, but they were not willing to make the sacrifice of the cost, and it was serious both to republicans and democrats. I blame 'em both.
Who was not, why weren't they willing to give food?
Well because they thought the situation throughout the nine states couldn't afford any hand outs at that time.
Could you say that again, sir, who thought that?
They thought really there wasn't, the situation was very bad financially throughout the whole nation, and they couldn't begin handing out food even to starving people. Of course I led the fight there very openly and bitterly, and denounced some of the democrats and republicans from farm districts for not helping. But they were steadfast and I think they were very, very wrong at that time.
Was this a big issue in the United States?
It was, it should have been a big issue, but the people who controlled the food covered it up as much as they could, and wouldn't do anything about it. And I felt the whole thing was wrong because I came from a farm district which produced a great deal of food. Once they produced—before that law—they produced so much food they sent a lot of it to England.
What was President Hoover's role during this time?
Well Hoover, I think was very, very fair and wanted to do everything to settle and help the people who were suffering from this terrible financial setback of unemployment and so on. He wanted to help 'em in the best way he could, and he suggested number of ways for the farmers one way, and another way for business, and the democrats undermined anything he said of that nature. They didn't want to give him anything to be proud of, or anything that would work rather. And soon as he left office, and succeeded-
-and he was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury-
This is camera roll 6 of the last Hamilton Fish interview.
-his parents were born in Russia.
Let's go over that point again. The eighty or ninety percent that Americans had learned from Jefferson to Washington-
Quiet please. OK tell me about that.
I can tell you that quickly.
Tell me about the idea that, during this period of time, just before the second World War, you did a poll of you district-
-and tell me about that, the results of that poll.
The little poll was-
Just start by saying, "I did a poll..."
And ninety percent wanted to keep out of war, and ten percent were ready to go into war. That's in the president's own district, and that was a real live poll. So I knew I was right, but he had it all fixed the other way. And he got us into this war by tricking them, having commoners write the war declaration, written by commoners, and the Treasury Department, acting as head of the Treasury Department in Morgansaw's[?] absence or with Morgansaw's cooperation. And, that's how we got into war.
Tell me about, please, tell me about how Americans had learned this before.
Well we had been in World War I, we got no thanks for it. We got tricked into World War I because a big American ship was torpedoed by a German submarine, and the British had purposely withdrawn their naval defense and their submarines, and so the Germans came in there. They'd already warned us not to let anybody go on it because the ship was packed with ammunition, packed with ammunition which it was. And they wanted to just tell our people they shouldn't go on it. We kept that quiet, covered it up, and covered it up so there was no—The English knew about it too so they didn't have any submarine there, only the Germans, so they torpedoed all of our big men, a lot of them multi-millionaires, went down and were drowned. That's how we got in the war, in that war.
You said before that we, that Americans had learned from Washington and Jefferson not to get mixed up-
-tell me that again.
Well that came from the days of Washington and Jefferson. All told us, "Keep out of foreign wars!" That was a philosophy of all of our men, and we were, we were non-interventionist. They called us isolationist. I only knew one isolationist in my life, a republican congressman from Massachusetts, called Tinkham, George Tinkham, because he believed foreign potentiation, princes and kings and queens were not very reliable and he didn't want to deal with any of them. He was the only one person I knew was an isolationist. [unintelligible] isolationist. We were non-interventionist in the foreign wars according to the words of Washington, Jefferson, and all our great men. And I led the fight, and I won the fight up to the last moment, and then the last moment, even the British ambassador, who got to Berlin where they held the meeting, voted against war. Most of the bidders voted against war, but Churchill and the United States were so powerful that they told the Polish people not to give up Danzig, and said we'll come into war if you keep it. That's how war started, not the people. Once war started, then anybody had the right to go into war if you want. Two of my sisters were for war, and a great many of my friends were for war. They had a right to be, if they wanted to be. My sister married an American who brought up in—a very wealthy man—brought up in England and he came over here-
-and visited Canada-