Camera Rolls: 317:56-67
Sound Rolls: 317:30-35
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Curtis Roosevelt , conducted by Blackside, Inc. on March 10, 1992, 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.**
All right. So here's the situation that the country is in. It's had this, just economic plummet. People are really destitute. Your grandfather's been elected. What goes on, what kind of energy, what's coming together as the New Deal is being planned and as it actually happens?
Well, as today, he was elected on the first Tuesday of November, but unlike today he didn't take office, that is, he was not inaugurated for several months. The fourth of March was the inauguration day then, not the fourth of January as it is today. During those months the economic situation, and the social situation as a consequence, plummeted even further. There were frantic efforts by President Hoover to engage the president-elect, FDR, so that there was a kind of, he though, a joint program. FDR would not budge. Well, he met a couple of times with Hoover, quite unsatisfactorily from Hoover's point of view. He would not help in this sense, so that Hoover was left to carry out his term and it left a very bad taste in everybody's mouth. But what it did was prepare the country for something new coming in, and its known as "The First Hundred Days," and during that time more legislation was passed than had been known before. There was an enormous amount of energy, not just from FDR and from Eleanor Roosevelt, and we'll get on with that I hope later.
You've set the stage already. After this period of changeover, what happened when the Hundred Days began? What were the feelings? What was happening in people?
The energy that was let loose right after that inauguration was enormous. Washington had never known anything like it.
** Immediately the question of the banks was dealt with, but stylistically there was just this abundance of movement and activity and a sense of "Let's get on with the problem."
** Within three days my grandmother held a press conference, the first press conference that a first lady had ever held. FDR began meeting with the press, and not just casually but really engaging them. Legislation was worked upon, and a host of people came into the administrations of various departments of government with an energy that reflected FDR's energy.
What were FDR's priorities? What was he trying to do?
Well the priority was like a physician with a sick patient: stem the flow of blood. I mean, the country was in a real disaster and at that stage one disaster begets another disaster. A depression is a technical term, but it is in the lives of people, ends up with very little hope, because there's no hope of a job. There is literally very little food. You may have lost your house. Disaster in every area of life that you can imagine, and not just for poor people. The middle class was just as hit by this, like a plague would hit in the Middle Ages.
How would you describe the president's effect on the electorate? What was it that he communicated to people in those first hundred days?
Well it's been often quoted from his inaugural address, the use of the freedom from fear. It sounds like a mundane statement, but if you heard him say it, and in the context that he was talking about, "You, and you need to get rid of your fear. We need to be free from that fear which has bogged us down." It didn't in any way take away from the financial facts of life, but the individual had to feel up, hopeful, and they did.
Why? What was it about the way he addressed the people?
I don't know how to describe it, but he gave them hope, and if you use a word which is often attached to FDR like charm, you'll have missed it, because we live in a day where everybody is charming. On television—and everybody is geared up for when they're going to appear on television, or would like to appear. He had a way of speaking, and I don't mean just publicly. He did that, but engaging people, like a stream of appointments everyday, twelve, fifteen hours a day through his office. That exuded his own energy and his own hope, and his own buoyancy. He was just like a fountain bubbling over, and my grandmother the same. Eleanor Roosevelt was a little more reserved. FDR loved the game of politics, loved life in that sense. She loved life too, but in a more reserved way. What she conveyed was this caring, enormous caring about the plight of individual people. Not them, but you and you and you and you. And people got the message. How this was conveyed I have no words for. I would call it leadership, but its in such contrast to, I mean both of their styles are in such contrast to any present day politicians on either side of the fence. In Europe as well, may I say, to broaden it out of the US context. There was a style of leadership that we have not seen since.
OK. Now I want to focus a little bit on the relief efforts, what it was that your grandfather wanted to see happen to pull people out of this enormous depression. What kind of relief did he believe in? He believed in government intervention, but what were his hopes? What did he think was best?
You have to remember that FDR was innately a quite conservative person, and as with most people and certainly with his predecessor Herbert Hoover, the intervention of government was not at first in direct aid in relief. It was in programs that were supposed to generate jobs and it wasn't until several months into the New Deal that Harry Hopkins really emphasized to the president that there was no way but to have direct relief. FDR resisted but very soon saw and then completely endorsed and engaged in direct relief, which did have the effect of pumping money into the economy as well as feeding people, housing them, much more quickly than the creation of jobs. There's another aspect too, that the cooperation that was envisaged from all walks of life, from all sectors: from business, from labor, from the social services sector, etc. There was a sense of unity then, not unlike a unity in a war in which people did work together. Unfortunately as soon as things got a little bit better those working relationships fell apart. But when you are thinking of the early days of the New Deal it was a genuine engagement of both big business and labor, to the extent that it existed then, organized labor, and in smaller communities. So there could be a truce called in certain of the normal tensions among people as to who gets what out of the economic pie. There was this enthusiasm, this energy from Washington all through the country, and there was a very real sense of trying to work together to get out of the Depression.
We're going to be telling part of the story of the coming of the Hundred Days in New York City. Can you—?
Can I make one for the—
When you look at this legendary Hundred Days, most historians have to record it in terms of legislation, programs, etc, but to me the real meaning of those hundred days is that infusion of hope and caring, and the energy that came with it.
Do you want to just stop and say that again, because it's a really important statement. Maybe you can just repeat it.
From the beginning?
Can we get a summary comment about the real meaning of the Hundred Days?
Yeah. You know the Hundred Days is recorded in legislation programs, etc, but for me that hundred days is really people, people with enormous energy and conveying throughout the country this energy, which created the hope and the sense that government really did care. And this was something entirely new.
Part of the story of the Hundred Days can be told from the point of view that the policies were having on New York City, and this brought your grandfather into a working relationship with Laguardia, Democrat and Republican. It's an interesting relationship. What was going on behind that relationship do you imagine?
Don't forget, FDR came from New York. He was the arch-enemy of Tammany Hall, and Laguardia was a fusion candidate, which made it basically anti-Tammany Hall, so they had certain things in common. LaGuardia was a maverick Republican, and in a way FDR was a bit of a maverick Democrat. Not really, but they could get along because they shared a lot, and they needed each other. I suspect that they didn't get along, there was no particular personal rapport but that had nothing to do with the jobs they had to do. I suspect that LaGuardia talked too much to FDR, who loved to talk himself.
Two of the characters that we're really going to be looking at in this whole "Coming of the New Deal" would be Hopkins and Ickes, and I know you have personal recollections of them, and of their style and the jobs that they had before them. Can you share some of that with us? What was Harry Hopkins like? How did he go about solving a problem? How did your grandfather work with him?
Well I think you really should look at Harry Hopkins and Harold Ickes together because they were in such contrast to each other, even though, particularly in this period, they were the main springs of the government effort: Hopkins on relief and Ickes on the PWA programs, which were pumping money in and creating jobs. The two men couldn't have been more different. Ickes, in the old traditional sense the curmudgeon. In fact when I first ran across the word I thought it had been coined around Harold Ickes. He just was. You'd just look at that face, and he acted just like that face looks. He was an old bull moose, Theodore Roosevelt Progressive Republican.
How did he go about trying to deal with this crisis of unemployment and getting things going?
Well, they were engaged with programs. They were giving contracts for the building of everything from dams to schools to parks to you name it, wherever a public works program was appropriate. Ickes was a stickler for a proper program. In contrast, Harry Hopkins was a social worker, but had come up and had run a major social agency, both in New York City and then in New York State. He was concerned with the plight of people, a very different thing. He had a marvelous sense of humor. So did Ickes, but they wouldn't laugh at each others jokes because they were in such contrast. In a funny way Harry Hopkins was more sophisticated, and he fit in very well. He had a closer relationship and immediate rapport with my grandmother. He and Eleanor Roosevelt, well they worked in tandem on the programs. But..
Can you give me a little bit about how they would work together> How would they interact?
He was in charge of the programs.
Can you say Harry Hopkins' name?
Harry Hopkins was in charge of the relief effort nationwide.
This was an absolutely new program for the federal government to be engaged in, that is, to be handing out relief. There wasn't much handed out on any level, and suddenly for it to be a major program with millions of dollars involved, with people getting money for nothing, as it was said by the opposition to it.
** She, Eleanor Roosevelt would get literally thousands of letters a day
** from people, and there was a letter-opening staff at the White House which sorted these letters and poor Harry Hopkins would get the brunt of them, with my grandmother writing on the top in hand, 'Harry, can't we do something about this person?
** In this situation don't you think your staff in Des Moines could look into this?" It was a very personal approach, but he responded, so that the WPA, the relief program, was on a very personal basis. It was not just en mass people getting a check. Normally they knew people's names, and a letter to the White House to Eleanor Roosevelt got a response, and people began to know that they could write, and that their local agency would have to pay attention if there was some injustice or whatever. And Harry Hopkins, unlike most bureaucrats, was open to this very personal approach.
Was the Hundred Days and the New Deal in its entirety something that we should think of as a Democratic Party effort, or was it something larger?
I think it would be a mistake to label a party. Surely it was the Democrats who were in office, and surely the people voted overwhelmingly for FDR's re-election in 1936, so you can't ignore the political party aspect of it. But in this particular time, the very early period of the New Deal, there was this effort to work together from all quarters, and FDR himself tried to play down the Democratic Party for the very obvious reason that he needed the cooperation of your Wall Street bankers, financiers, top business people in industry: steel, automotive, clothing, etc to get the business going. So he wasn't playing a partisan role. To the contrary he was trying to be very much nonpartisan in this approach.
Some of this New Deal involved a great deal of patronage. How did FDR understand that patronage is part of the political game, part of the political game that he played so well?
Well, it's so different in Congress today that it's difficult to describe, but due to the Democratic Party domination of the South they returned the same Congressman and Senators year after year, term after term. They all ended up as chairmen of the committees, and that's how you get legislation passed is through a committee, both in the House of Representatives and in the Senate. It was with the cooperation of this Senate group. Now to grease the ways patronage was used, and patronage was used extensively in the first term of FDR to ensure passage of bills. Even if there had not been an emergency patronage would have been the way, but the patronage was tied to the emergency because that was the work that needed to get done. A lot of criticism about this. For example, the post offices around the country were small, single person post offices, and they are a traditional patronage post. They were held by the Republican in the village, and now held by the Democrat in the village. This was the expected routine. Everyone knew that that's how it was done. But you shouldn't underestimate that patronage was one of the ways FDR enabled that legislation to get through so rapidly.
How important was the patronage for something like the public works administration? What was the—?
Well for the PEA [check this?], for Harold Ickes's operation, this is why I like to use the contrast of the two people. Ickes being a Republican was not at all keen on patronage being used, but he was forced to use the best person, and if there were two best people, well obviously you had to pick the Democrat. No, he wasn't keen on the patronage, and certainly Hopkins, not a big Democrat or anything of the sort would have used it minimally. But neither of them really had to. But the jobs did go to the Democrats at the local level. There's no question about that.
What was Eleanor's role in this period?
This early period would be quite incomplete without the extraordinary role of Eleanor Roosevelt. No first lady had ever acted in this way. I hope we'll come back to her later, but just to say at this moment that you can't really talk about Harry Hopkins, Harold Ickes, or FDR and leave out one of the principle players which was Eleanor Roosevelt because she conveyed the caring as much as any person in government did, and remember that her position was completely unofficial.
I want to talk a little bit about Upton Sinclair. Was he part of the New Deal? Did FDR see him as someone he could work with, and if not, why? What was going on between the two of them?
Upton Sinclair is an extraordinary person, and historically you would have to say sure, he was part of the New Deal. So was Father Coughlin, so was Huey Long. But in terms of the program of the New Deal, no. He was a very difficult person for FDR, as an astute politician, to work with because Upton Sinclair represented a radical approach to solving the Depression problems, much more radical the New Deal was going for. The New Deal was really not a revolutionary program. It was a very "middle of the road" program, highly pragmatic, doing only what really seemed necessary, such as the direct relief was only done when it became apparent that it had to be. What Upton Sinclair was proposing was a program, a handing out of money in a way that I think ran against the grain of the average American, but it certainly appealed to people who didn't have any money, or a home, and really at the bottom of the economic ladder. He came from California, even in those days a very important state politically, and of course he eventually ran for governor. That posed a very real problem, because he was very Pro New Deal, although in his eyes the New Deal was not radical enough, and it's very difficult to withhold your support if you're president for somebody who's in a potentially political position to support you. I mean, he was running against a Republican who did not support much of the New Deal. So it was a real problem.
Why couldn't FDR support him [Sinclair]? What was the difference?
It is very difficult to say, because I have to guess that it was his intuition which held him apart. I can give you only one rational reason, and even that's not—you have to feel the politics of it. Most people in political life are more comfortable dealing with other politicians who know the game and the rules of the game, so to speak, the jungle, and are uncomfortable with people who don't. Upton Sinclair was in the "don't understand the rules of the game" category. Now, this is a visceral, gut-level response that politicians make of one another, even though they may be on the other side of the fence and opposing each other, etc. There will be a certain understanding of what the game is about. But occasionally you get somebody thrust into prominence, and this would be Upton Sinclair, who is outside of the game. That doesn't give you much of an explanation, but FDR's instinct obviously was to say, "Thank you so much for your support Upton Sinclair, but I'm not about to support you for governor." In his usual way he didn't come out against Upton Sinclair. He just was quiet. He didn't say anything, and that was as devastating as anything he could have done, and he blocked my grandmother from supporting him. She was very impressed, and in a way more open to the radical programs that he proposed, largely because he saw the dimension of human suffering as she did. But she agreed at the end, and she wrote him a letter saying, because he had asked directly for her support, that she certainly was supportive of the many ideas and programs that he had in mind but she could not publicly support him. And she asked him not to use this letter in any way publicly.
There is a historic meeting, though, between Sinclair and your grandfather where Sinclair leaves and he is confident that he has gotten your grandfather's endorsement. It was supposed to be an hour long, they ended up talking for two hours. What went on, do you imagine, behind the doors when they met?
I imagine that he and FDR to had a lot to talk about.
Could you just say "Sinclair and FDR"
I imagine that Upton Sinclair and FDR had a lot to talk about because they recognized the same problems. FDR's instinct was to be more pragmatic. Upton Sinclair's instinct was to be very rational, and in a sense even ideological about it. So they would have had rapport. I also know that there's an old game which you let the other person talk themselves out if you really don't want to give them what they want, and they gain the impression that you are right with them. But when it comes down to that actual endorsement, as the record shows Upton Sinclair leave feeling, "I got that endorsement from the president," and then it never came.
What was it about the way your grandfather would entertain someone or would be with them for a meeting like that? What was the effect it had on someone like that?
Well, I've used this word "charm" before.
He would charm them, but not in a phony way.
** If you want to say he was a phony, yes he probably already knew very well that he did not want to give Upton Sinclair a formal endorsement. I think he would have guessed that Upton Sinclair if he had been elected governor of California would have been a real thorn in his side, because the New Deal wasn't moving as rapidly as Upton Sinclair and his supporters wanted it to move. It could have been just as devastating politically to have Upton Sinclair governor of California as it was having Huey Long senator from Louisiana. It's part of FDR's charm. He certainly didn't want to have Upton Sinclair leaving the house with a glum look on his face, greeting the reporters,
** you know, that the president doesn't support me. No, no, he had to engage in one of those little falsities that are quite often the case in politics, where you want to indicate one thing but in fact need another.
What would your grandfather have done if he did want to help Sinclair? How would he have—?
He would have indeed sat right down—
Can you say FDR? Sorry.
If FDR had wanted to support Sinclair, it would have been a very practical, two politicians sitting down together. In a way that Upton Sinclair would be so charmed by FDR shows to me some of his political naivety, that he really didn't get the message, whereas somebody more attuned to the political system would have said about halfway through the dinner, "Mr. President, I think I get your message, I appreciate your support, but I do see that you're not in the position to come and make that public." You know, that would have been a more experienced politician's response, but not Upton Sinclair. But FDR had to go along with it. It just was a very awkward situation.
OK. Can we cut for a second?
Upton Sinclair tried to get an endorsement from Eleanor Roosevelt because he knew it was very slow—
I'm sorry. You'll have to start again.
Upton Sinclair tried to get an endorsement from Eleanor Roosevelt because he knew the endorsement from FDR might be rather slow in coming, if at all, and people saw Eleanor Roosevelt.
So what was Sinclair hoping to get from Eleanor?
Upton Sinclair was hoping to get from Eleanor Roosevelt her own endorsement, which would for him have been much the same, politically speaking, in garnering votes because people really saw Eleanor Roosevelt as speaking for FDR. It was very awkward because she was very taken with him, and didn't have quite the political talents of FDR to have the reservations about him. He wrote her asking for her endorsement, and she passed the letter on to FDR because in a situation like this she knew it was very sensitive politically. She wouldn't act unilaterally. He wrote back that the answer was no. So she wrote a letter which was very laudatory about him and his programs and what he stood for and the caring that he obviously had for people, but you cannot use this letter publicly, said she, which blocked its use for him in that political sense.
Now one more time, let's talk about what would have happened with Sinclair when he had that audience with your grandfather? What was the effect of an audience with your grandfather?
The effect that FDR had on people was quite extraordinary,
** and to use the word charm is totally inadequate. His energy came across, and he gave you energy, and whether you spent two minutes with him, as a of of appointments were, two to three minutes in length, people came away infused with this energy and ready to go. Now in a more complicated situation, such as the several hours spent with Upton Sinclair, FDR was identifying with him, and there was nothing phony. There was not the sense of charm as it's seen on television today. He was not entertaining people, which seems to be the way everybody from hosts on television to political candidates all have to be entertaining or they get a poor rating. There was not a shred of that. It was quite genuine interest and involvement shared with Upton Sinclair, and undoubtedly he would have been interested in the kind of programs which were, you might say, a more radical extension of the New Deal but in line with helping people. No doubt that Upton Sinclair's major motivation, as an amateur who'd moved into politics, as a writer who had taken on a political role,, was to help people, and FDR was totally committed to the same objective. He would have conveyed his enthusiasm, his support, or you want to say sharing of the same ideas, but it didn't come to that precise line which needed to be crossed which is political endorsement, and FDR didn't.
This is a time when Sinclair is active...You've got Long and Coughlin and Townsend, people speaking out, really testing the limits of the New Deal. Is that testing,is that pushing helping FDR move the New Deal forward? Is it moving towards things like social security? Can you talk about those dynamics some?
Yes. I think you have to move beyond Upton Sinclair to see the radical elements in this country. There was a real fear, and I don't think unrealistic fear of the violence that people who were hurting were on the edge of, and there were a number of instances where law and order went out the window. This country was, and I suppose still is a very law and order country. We don't like riots in the streets. We don't condone rioters generally speaking. We're much more for mediation and getting together and thrashing it out and reaching compromises on a pragmatic—fine, that's my vision of the American style, and it certainly was the case then. But you only had to look in Europe where demonstrations in the streets and real violence was everyday, and it is said that the New Deal was the American economic and social revolution which took place in Europe all through the first half of the twentieth century. And it was basically non violent here. There were elements of violence but nothing compared to the kind of mass violence of where more people were engaged in the violence than were not. There was strong sympathy with it because people felt that there was nothing left but to riot in the streets.
Would the radical ideas of someone like Sinclair, the fact that they were just being spoken about have helped push a program like Social Security? Can you talk about some of the forces?
Sinclair's programs, and other programs-the Townsend Plan, for example, would have tested the outer edge of the New Deal, and much to people like Harry Hopkins's satisfaction, been a barometer as to how far could they go. The answer was that even with the Depression the American people really didn't want radical plans. You had people, Father Coughlin, Huey Long who was a Senator had large followings and caused a lot of nervousness, and could have provided the same kind of leadership that Hitler provided in Germany and Mussolini provided in Italy. Both persons you may remember came in on radical programs to solve the economic and social situations, not unlike the Depression in the United States. So the Depression was worldwide. As it turned out, the American public really continued to reject radical leaders who had radical solutions.
I've already mentioned how Eleanor had a press conference, unprecedented for a first lady, in the first three or four days of having moved into the White House. My sister and I settled upstairs, and a lot of household details, including furniture because the presidential family was supposed to use their own furniture up in the second floor and the living quarters. Huge amount of work to do, but she immediately plunged into what was to be the public life of Eleanor Roosevelt, where Mrs. Roosevelt became a political force, and you cannot look at the New Deal and talk of its leadership without talking about Eleanor Roosevelt and Franklin D. Roosevelt. She not only met with the press regularly and the women reporters had one of the hottest sources of stories that their editors could have. Women were excluded from the mens' press conferences, so she excluded the men from her press conferences, and of course it was marvelous because the women reporters had a real status with their editors that they'd never had before. Anyway, she got out and around. She traveled extensively. She insisted upon seeing people. She spoke to small groups on an impromptu basis, or maybe in a speech that was arranged. She stopped and talked and asked and probed, and it all went in to this very sensitive person who then got back to the White House, talked about her experience with the press, wrote FDR notes which appeared on his beside every night, particularly when it was backed up by a letter when she may have said, "Well write me" and made a little note. And she passed, as I mentioned earlier hundreds of notes on to the agencies that were concerned with whatever problem that person had. It was a marvelous system for making government human, and I think that one really has to look at Franklin D. Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt as a partnership, but I'm hesitant to use the word because "partnership" implies an agreement, and there was nothing agreed between the two. They would certainly not have discussed, "You do this and I'll do that." And yet, in practice if you back upon it, they worked in a tandem that couldn't have been designed. They complimented each other to such an extraordinary degree. It's said that Eleanor Roosevelt was FDR's eyes and ears. That really is such a pallid way.
It's said that Eleanor Roosevelt was FDR's eyes and ears, but I find that a very pallid, inadequate way of describing this relationship. That's why partner comes to my mind. It was like a "Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside." Of course we know, and it's more common knowledge today than it was then, that FDR had polio. Well everyone knew he had polio, but they really didn't know that he didn't walk at all. He was in a wheelchair or in a chair or in bed. He couldn't get out and around. But even if he had walked there was no precedent for a president to get out this way, the business in Washington. But she got out and feed him information, fed him response, fed him feeling, fed him that sensitivity which enabled him to do things. She also tested the water. She could express a more radical notion which she knew was very much in line with his thinking, and with her thinking. I mean, don't get the idea that she just was a reflection of FDR. She was on her own a person of great political sensitivity as well as being a very strong idealist and strong notions about what needed to be done in a whole range of social legislation. But she would test and go further than politically it was possible for FDR to go, and of course the press would then try to hang him up with this, and he would look wide eyed and say, "But that's my missus, and she's free to say and do what she wants" and look a little bit hopeless like the put-upon male stereotype. And the press used to laugh because they knew damn well what was going on with the whole relationship between the two. But it was certainly not in any way a calculated, discussed, designed partnership. But it was, in my view, a partnership. I would find no other word adequate.
What did they gain out of it? What did FDR gain politically in terms of the sense that he was able to convey to people that he was concerned even when he couldn't act? How did that work out?
It was absolutely essential that Eleanor Roosevelt be "out in the field" so to speak to convey FDR's genuine caring about people. She conveyed it as her caring, but people associated the two together. If she cares, he cares. Now, with all legislation it has side effects, and I think of one particular situation where in the Agricultural Adjustment Act that the land owners took advantage of it and sharecroppers were just bumped off. Where at least they'd had land to farm before due to the New Deal legislation they were out in the road. This was a very real problem, and you would have thought that they would have turned against FDR. They didn't. They were politically just as keen, and I don't understand it except to say that he continued with his extraordinary personal popularity. Now that's not like a television, personally popularity. It was a popularity that gave him political strength with Congress. Even these entrenched committee chairmen in both the House and the Senate cannot argue with a president who has that kind of political popularity throughout the country.
In your mind what's the significance of this kind of personal leadership that the partnership supplied? What did it give people in the 1930s? What did it give American citizens? A sense of hope? A sense of possibility?
I find hope a bit too general a word, but without hope is something we understand, maybe more than we understand hope. We've all gone through the devastating times when you have no hope. That was certainly the plight of most people in this country because of Depression, so to turn it around and give hope and using it in contrast to the sense there was no hope, then hope takes life. People had a sense that they might get out of the corner, but they also had a sense that they were recognized, that they were not lost. It was, to use a sort of patronizing image, like a shepherd and sheep. The sheep knew that they were counted, that they were concerned in Washington, and this concern was from the president and conveyed very specifically through his wife, Eleanor Roosevelt in her travels. And don't forget very shortly she started writing a daily column, monthly things in magazines. She was the grand communicator in many, many ways: writing, speaking.
The other side of this enormous love is the just passionate hate that people felt for Eleanor and Franklin. Where did that come from? What was it about, again, their leadership and what they represented that could engender such hatred?
When I speak of the popularity I hesitate to use an additional word, but I find again nothing appropriate less than love. People really had a strong, positive emotional response to FDR. Well I think there's no other word but to call it love. It's also best seen because of a lot of people hated the guts of FDR, which has no rational explanation. Why would people who, whether you call them upper class or industrial leaders, Wall Street Leaders, generally speaking, a small but very powerful group of people hated FDR with a passion that defies explanation. I find it useful to note and explore that passionate hatred for both Eleanor Roosevelt and FDR because it helps explain to me the love. One engenders the other, which cuts to another one of those big words: leadership. He was a leader who was loved and hated. Loved by a predominate number of people, which we then put in nice, polite terms and say, "He had extraordinary political popularity." But what we don't experience today with any person that I've seen on the political scene for the last twenty, thirty years, you don't have that kind of hatred out of your disagreement. "I think he's a bum" or something of this kind, but real hatred of the kind that was expressed for the two of them is quite unprecedented.
What was it particularly about your grandmother that would upset people? What were the things that seemed to go to the heart...?
I don't think people hated Eleanor Roosevelt any more than they hated Franklin D. Roosevelt, but she was more vulnerable. For example, to take a kind of obvious thing, why wasn't she back in the White House fussing over her husband and tending to the table and acting as the hostess? Well in fact she did both, but she was vulnerable, also, because she was breaking new ground. Now you can say that FDR was breaking new ground as a very active president, but there were precedents. Abraham Lincoln for one, very active president. Theodore Roosevelt, Wilson, others. But for the wife of the president to get out and do what she did was unheard of, and therefore new, and therefore very open to criticism. Furthermore, she had a nervous smile and tended to giggle. She took terrible pictures. She always looked askew. Yeah, she looked like a lady of the class she came from, but who wasn't terribly well-dressed, whose hat was slightly to the side, who hadn't been to the hairdresser recently. And then she would speak in such an open and candid and totally honest way, without reservation. The people couldn't believe it, and yet it was her style. I don't think she could have done it any other way.
What were the things in this partnership that they shared? What were the pieces of their vision that overlapped and that made the partnership work? You told me about noblesse oblige and a sense that the government really had to do things, and caring about people.
I think you really have to go back to their courtship and marriage, where they shared basic views of life. They were both religious people, very deeply religious.
So what was their shared...what was it built on?
I go back to their courtship, what attracted them originally. They were both highly idealistic, very different people. My grandmother Eleanor Roosevelt came, you might say, from a deprived situation. Not economically deprived, but certainly emotionally deprived. My grandfather from a highly protective environment with a mother doting on him and his every movement. But still they were idealistic, and they were both very religious people. They had, and this is certainly no secret today, a very difficult marriage. My grandmother's own autobiographies portray as she was quite candidly willing to tell it, and other biographies have explored this, but in spite of all these difficulties, these shared ideals never left them. They each had a confidence in the other person that in the end those ideals would be upheld. My grandmother for example abhorred the kind of political expediency that any politician, including FDR, had to engage in. She didn't like the male world all that much, the marketplace that was dominated by the macho expressions of men. But it didn't disrupt this elementary rapport which enabled her to go into his bedroom, still reading papers but propped up in bed to get off his legs, which were paralyzed, and to sit down on the edge of the bed and have a quick and intimate exchange. She knew all the players in the game, and he knew them. I mean, they could quickly come to grips with who was doing what. She constantly pressed upon him, in very particular ways, these ideals that they shared together. I think is about all you could say. She was on her own, but she loved it. She wasn't Mrs. Roosevelt in the sense that we now remember a Mrs. Roosevelt. She wasn't Mrs. Roosevelt before she came to the White House. That emerged from her activity, her intense interest, and engagement, to the degree that I have wondered whether the animosity directed towards her was not some recognition that this was indeed a very powerful and influential lady—person.
Just very briefly, what were some of the political skills that your grandmother learned in the 1920s during that period of time when your grandfather was still trying very hard to recover from polio? What was she doing on his behalf?
Well even before that when she was raising the children, my mother and my four uncles, she would have been privy to the political life of FDR. It wasn't that kind of household where the wife didn't really know much of what the husband was doing. To the contrary she was much engaged. Once he got polio, in fact even before that she had started to do legislative analysis for the League of Women Voters, and was good at it. Within a year after she began that FDR had polio, was flat on his back, and there was serious question whether he would ever return to political life. But if he was ever able to regain sufficient mobility, it was essential that she move out in front for him during this period when he was so ill, and she did. She took his place at meetings, first in a very modest way just to listen. But then contributing, and she was quickly picked up by the women leaders in the trade unions, in the Democratic Party, and in the women's organizations like the League of Women Voters, etc. to play a major role. Within very few years she was chairman of the women's division of the Democratic Party in New York State, no mean feat. And she knew all about organizing political campaigns because she'd done it.
What was the role of the Women's Division in the 1932 campaign, as you understand it? How important were women to FDR's victory? How important were women to what was going on?
I think you really need to go back to the gubernatorial campaign just prior to that where FDR, in 1928 by a hairs breadth won the governorship of New York state and Al Smith, running on the Democratic ticket, lost it, meaning there was a crossover of votes. Jim Foley said not only of that election but of subsequent elections in New York state and at the national level that if hadn't been for the organization of the women voters by the Women's Division that they might well have lost. These women were better organized than the men were. They put out better material. I'm saying this not because I personally remember it. It was just about the time I was born. This is recorded and assessed by historians, and the political pros of the time just simply had to give credit to the women's branch. It didn't mean that they gave them much access to the policy committees of the party, but in 1932 my grandmother's colleagues in the New York state women's division more or less followed the same pattern across the country, and in '36 repeated it.
In 1933 when your grandfather had just taken office a contingent of Bonus Marchers returned to Washington, and he sent his wife out to talk with them. What did she do, and how did she know what to do?
He, as usual, asked her, "Eleanor, why don't you go and get me some reading as to what it's all about, what can be done." So she went, but it was up to her to know to how to do it, and she chose quite a daring way, which was to drive over in her own car, accompanied only by the sickly Louis Howe, about five feet two inches tall, weighed less than a hundred pounds at that time, I would guess, without any Secret Service, without any security whatsoever. She was recognized immediately, drove into the camp, got out, and people said, "Have a cup of tea Mrs. Roosevelt," and so forth, and the conversations began and people gathered around. It was really the epitome of what I think was their partnership. The president couldn't come, but he sent his wife and she had a rapport with them, listened to what the problems were. She was able to take it all in, and because of her background able to respond. She wasn't just a housewife in the mundane sense of the word. She knew what the issues were about. She had visited the homes that they had come from. She had visited the situations and the jobs that they no longer had. She knew what it was about and they knew she knew from the way she was able to talk with them.
Great. Cut for a second.
What excited him [FDR]? What did it bring out of him?
I've seen a lot of politicians growing up in a political family, and really without exception they're deadly earnest or deadly ambitious or both together. There are very few that I have ever met who had my grandfather's love of the game, the game of politics. He really, while he was trained as a lawyer, he really didn't like practicing law. He'd just assume sell insurance as practice law. It was all dull to him. There was only life, and it was the political life, and in elective politics. Sure he spent eight years as Assistant Secretary of the Navy in Wilson's administration, which was very good for him politically, but he was constantly looking for a way out to an elected position.
What kind of campaigner was he? What happened when he was on the campaign trail?
Let me go right back to his first campaign, which was for the State Assembly of New York, about as low on the totem pole as you can get. The Democratic Party put him up because in Duchess County you never had a Democrat elected.
—not much used during the '32 campaign or before. He got out to see people. Quite often presidential candidates, Harding for example sat on his front porch. Hoover did not campaign in the "whistle stop" sense. I don't know where the word "whistle stop" was invented, but it certainly could have been invented with FDR. He got on a train and talked to people. They stopped in a town, a village, wherever there was a crossroads, and he often made twenty appearances in a day. Maybe there were a few hundred people, maybe there were a few thousand. People saw him and he radiated this energy and vitality, mind you locked into steel braces, held up on the arms of his son James Roosevelt or somebody else, but primarily James Roosevelt, and waving his hat, saying some pretty well-worn terms if you have to give a little two minute, three minute talk twenty times a day, the same old jokes about his little son James who was taller than he was, bald head and all that sort of thing. It sounds rather ordinary, but people were captivated and sensed that dynamic personality, and cottoned to it immediately.
I'm going to shift now to the politics, practical politics once he was in the White House, and I want to ask you why Eleanor Roosevelt became the strong supporter of an anti-lynch law when the president just consistently refused to support it. What did this reveal about this political partnership?
The anti-lynch law in this day and age of course sounds like a pretty elementary kind of legislation—to prohibit lynching seems obvious. But at the time it wasn't. The voters in the South, the white voters were really hot against this anti-lynch legislation. It was the Civil War, North-South hostility recreated. Now this was really before you got anything resembling the civil rights movement that we know in the post World War II and in the '60s and from then on. It had very little to do with it, but
for FDR it was a very real problem because of the dominance of all the people whose cooperation he needed in Congress. They were all Southern Democrats, all of whom would have had their heads handed to them by their constituencies had they supported an anti-lynch bill in Congress.
What was Eleanor pushing for? What was motivating her?
Eleanor Roosevelt was immediately touched by the human element of people being lynched, which is a violence outside the law. After all we do still have capital punishment in a lot of states in the US.
Can you just say that again without the reference to capital punishment? It kind of confuses things. Her passion for this is important.
Eleanor Roosevelt was very passionately concerned with the injustice of a wide range of social issues, but the flagrant injustice and the violence involved in lynching really revolted her. She, in her head, understood FDR's position of between a rock and a hard place regarding this Southern Democratic control in the Congress. They were Democrats to be sure, but anti-lynching law, it was nothing Democratic or Republican. It just wasn't going—they were not going to let it happen. So he let her express his true feelings, and she campaigned strongly for it, one of the few instances where she didn't hold back, and he simply had to say to these Southern Democrats in Congress, "I'm sorry. I can't dictate what Eleanor says." She of course used the media, used every access that she had. And the black population in this country, then called Negroes, got the message that Mrs. Roosevelt, anyway, was solidly behind their campaign. Walter White, the then executive director of the NAACP was keenly anxious to push FDR into this legislation, and FDR had to fend him off, and he was just too busy quite often to see Walter White.
How did FDR feel about Walter White? What kind of person did he see? Did he want to meet him? Did he want to spend time with him?
Not particularly. I knew Walter White a little later on, but I can see why FDR wouldn't want, naturally, to see Walter White. Walter White was a pusher for a cause, a very good cause, and if he hadn't been a pusher he wouldn't have been executive director of the NAACP, but it was not what FDR needed or wanted. And it was useless to explain the political realities to somebody like Walter White whose job it was to push legislation that was doomed to failure, and it was.
Why did FDR finally agree to meet Walter White then, at the White House? He did come in and he did give him an audience. What was behind FDR's agreeing to do that? What do you think transpired?
I think Walter White just wore him down, and I think my grandmother wore him down. I think there was also that as a politician he appreciated Walter White's position. He had to get back to his constituency and say, "Yes I have met the president." Now from what i just said you would know that didn't mean anything in terms of getting that anti-lynch legislation passed, but at least his voter rights constituency would know that he wasn't without access to the president. And that was important for FDR to have it known that he wouldn't avoid seeing Walter White.
Did FDR believe that an anti-lynch law was desirable?
Could you say FDR?
FDR was in complete concurrence. He felt just as strongly about the injustice as my grandmother did, but he couldn't express it. That type of violence was as much an abhorrence to him. It has nothing to do with being liberal or conservative. Many conservatives are indeed conservative regarding violence. They don't like any kind of violent expression of political or social action like that.
What did FDR understand about the political ripeness of this issue?
The anti-lynching law was really the first of what you might call "civil rights legislation." You can hardly call lynching, classify it as discrimination. It's just plain old violence. The whole racial issue was not on, politically speaking, like something isn't ripe compared to a number of other issues like social security, national labor relations act, etc. The race issue didn't come into its own until after World War II, and for me I don't even classify the anti-lynching law as part of race relations. It became increasingly apparent that discrimination took place, but look, I can remember as a teenager in Washington, D.C. living at the White House in December of 1944 and getting on a bus and absentmindedly sitting down in the back of the bus, and the bus driver stopped me, telling me to please move forward, and the black people in the bus howling with laughter. Washington, D.C. was a Jim Crow town all through World War II. Now we're back in the '30s. However, there was one instance where it came up, and my grandmother's feeling about the issue was very strong. It came up in relation to Marian Anderson.
Actually FDR took quite a risk, politically speaking, by allowing his wife to speak as freely and as strongly, stridently, as she did about lynching, because everybody knew that if you really wanted to say, "I cannot have you speaking on this issue" she would have subsided. But he gave her complete and free reign. It was a nice subterfuge, but it was a subterfuge with considerable risk for FDR. It could have backfired; however, it was handled. He played the usual game handling it with humor, you know "Can't control my missus" type routine. But it was a marvelous example of that partnership where he was willing to take those risks. How else could he have taken that risk without a wife who was as recognized as Mrs. Roosevelt was around the country?
What brought your grandmother to resign from the DAR [Daughters of the American Revolution]? What were the circumstances? How did she feel when they had excluded Marian Anderson from the Constitution Hall?
Well the Daughters of the American Revolution were known for rather conservative views, but they were direct descendants of the pilgrim fathers, and through several lines in the family we were entitled to belong to the DAR. I'm not a daughter of the American Revolution, but my grandmother was, and belonged. A situation arose where the DAR, which had a lovely hall in Washington, DC, and the hall had booked a concert by the noted contralto Negro Marian Anderson. The DAR unilaterally withdrew the invitation, clearly on racial lines. My grandmother's response, since it hit the public press immediately, was to resign and state publicly and openly and with obvious anger why she had resigned from the DAR, and then took steps to get Harold Ickes, who as Secretary of Interior would be the official person in charge of public places like the Lincoln Memorial and to strongly press him. It needs to be said that Harold Ickes was immediately keen to do this. He had been a long supporter—
She endorsed, Eleanor—
My grandmother urged and endorsed the Interior Department to give the space of nothing less than the Lincoln Memorial to Marian Anderson to perform, and no less than the Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes introduced her.
And here's another example of FDR taking a political risk, but he was capable of taking a risk when it was worth it, and it wasn't just idealism. My grandmother could function under pure idealism. He was the elected official, President of the United States, and always balancing what he could do and what he couldn't do, and constantly pushing the idealistic direction, but definitely soft pedaling when it was necessary. In this instance he felt he could go all the way and the Secretary of the Interior provided the Lincoln Memorial for Marian Anderson.
Now could you talk about one more case where your grandfather did act, and this will be in a different show so you shouldn't do too much back and forth, but when A. Phillip Randolph comes and essentially threatens to march on Washington unless there is an executive order ending discrimination in defense industries where government money is being spent for armaments. Randolph is asking that blacks and whites be hired. Why was your grandfather able to do that? It's war time, it's an executive order. Why was he able to act? Can you tell me that story?
I think FDR acted with great political courage at the time, although you look back upon it and it seems a rather meager and obvious step. But he was still high bound by the dominance of the Southern Democrats in the senior positions in committees in Congress,
** but it was an executive order, and there was no question that the country was mobilized, which included everybody, and he felt he could get away with it. He felt that this is a risk I can take. Now A. Phillip Randolph was a very shrewd man. He may have been president of a relatively small trade union, but he was a very bright and able person, so when he threatened this march on Washington I suspect that he knew there were two sides of the coin. One: a march on Washington is not something the president wanted. On the other, it could have worked against the blacks in this country for a disruptive, I'm sure the word "a fifth column" would have been used at the time had the march been carried out. So in a way FDR used the threat of the march to both their advantages, that he could respond to this threat by this executive order.
Wonderful. That's great.
Most films that I've seen on the Depression or any on the early stages of labor organization immediately move to the violence, and there was violence, no doubt about it. But it really did not dominate the scene as the film footage would indicate. Go back to—the conception of the NRA was a partnership among the owners and the workers, the managers, etc. This was the original notion. Now, indeed it began to break down, as any of the trade union people would say, "As soon as management gets a little bit of a leg up, the orders beginning to flow again, then we get the short end of the stick because we're not able to bargain." Labor was not able to bargain. They didn't have a right to bargain, and this was the critical issue, and they were just shoved around. This was the long tradition. If you owned something, private property was sacred, to some degree it still is in this country. In a certain way the right to bargain is a restraint against that complete exercise of private property.
What did your grandfather fear about potential for violence during this very terrible time?
You had a potential for violence across the country in pockets of people who were out of work, starving, at least very hungry. Unable to bring anything home to their families, and perhaps even without shelter. So you had that potential for violence, but the trade union movements, particularly what we now call the industrial unions were highly vulnerable. The craft unions were a little less vulnerable. They were the traditional unions of the AFL. They were, by the very nature of there being a craft, more recognized, whereas the industrial unions were straightforward factory workers saying, "We want our piece of the pie, and we want some security in our job situation, and we want the right to organize so that this not just something you give us, you management give us when it's good times."
Personally, what were your grandfather's feelings about violence in a social setting? How did he react to violence?
He had a strong—
FDR had a very strong feeling against violence, and I think you have to recognize that it would be mainstream thinking. It's not exceptional. Most people in this country were really against violence. It isn't that we're devoid of violence, and many historians would say that we've had a lot of violence in our past, but the kind of organize—
FDR's response to violence was not exceptional, but his thrust and his instinct was for people to work it out together on a pragmatic basis-mediation, conciliation, this type of thing. He saw, therefore, the right to organize as a means to avoid violence because if you had a right to get in and talk about the situation, even a right to organize a strike, it can be a peaceful strike. Both my grandmother and grandfather were not keen on the sit-down strike because that had a sense of violence. You were occupying the plant, and there's no legislation against that. It was for a time a rather effective means of shutting down a place, and at the time force was the only weapon that organized labor that didn't have the right to organize could take. Anyway he still didn't support the Wagner National Labor Relations Act because feeling was very strongly against it, and FDR was still courting business. For a very simple political expediency the effect on the economy, that lack of hope, lack of investment in very practical terms on the part of business. If business didn't feel reasonably good about the economy they wouldn't invest. There'd be no new orders, no potential inventory, all of the things to get the economy open, and he felt very, very keenly that the feelings and forces in Congress were not quite right yet. This is that political sensitivity he had for a National Labor Relations Act and poor Mr. Wagner was left fighting this battle alone. Well he had a few other people like Bob LaFollette and others, the traditional liberals in the Senate, House. FDR was quite happy to take the credit for the National Labor Relations Act, but in fact he gave it relatively little support because he was still wishing to be not an enemy of business.
Who directed the politics of labor? Was that Francis Perkins?
Oh, Francis Perkins did not direct the politics of labor. In fact she had only some modest relations. It was FDR in the White House that carried on the major relationship with the trade unions. She was a little bit like Cordell Hull at the State Department, often left out of the major movements. Hull was with foreign policy and she was, to some degree. Now she knew what was going on, but she had a department to administer, and most of the trade union leaders would prefer to deal with the White House than with the Secretary of Labor, in any administration. Maybe there's an element of "she was a woman." There may well be some subtle element in that, but it was the White House with whom they dealt. But not all of labor. One of the most conservative forces in the country was the AFL, headed by Mr. Green, who was not particularly pro New Deal, and no particular supporter of FDR. FDR's greatest strength with the trade unions was with the industrial unions, the budding industrial unions: the steel workers, auto workers, mine workers. That's the exception, because John L. Lewis of the mine workers was a thorn in FDR's side.
Why? What was it about John L. Lewis that made him hard for FDR to work with?
To put it in simple, human terms John L. Lewis was a rival for popular opinion, for popular support with FDR. Under other circumstances John L. Lewis might very well have started a third progressive party. He was a political rival, whereas the other trade union leaders were not. He had the capacity to enthrall an audience, in the same way as an Upton Sinclair, and some of the others. He had a strong appeal; however, he created as many enemies as he had friends. But he was often at odds with FDR. He supported the New Deal, and finally he broke with FDR.
Could you just again very succinctly tell me that labor politics were directed from the White House not from the Department of Labor?
OK. Very succinctly. Well it came down to the politics of dealing with the trade unions and their support and so forth. It was the White House which dealt with the trade unions, not the Department of Labor.
Great, great. Tell me, what was it that the CIO labor leaders delivered to the president? Why was he so willing to work with them? Why did they become such an effective coalition?
Well you'd have to go back to the 1920s when early labor legislation was pending, basic things like child labor, women who were working sixty hours a week in sweatshops, and the outlawing of sweatshops and quite elementary things. A little bit like the stage the lynch law was in relation to potential race laws. FDR was involved in that, and even more so Eleanor Roosevelt was involved with that legislation, going back to the times when she worked with the League of Women Voters and then in New York State in the Democratic Party there. So it was a long, long history, the development of what you might say the franchise of the modern trade union. FDR gets credit for it, and it was during his administration, and it was to some degree to the encouragement and support that he gave the trade unions. However, you also have to look at the other side. Major industry hated his guts for it.
You were telling me something about Sidney Hillman and the role he played. How did FDR work with Hillman as a kind of go-between? There's this famous phrase "Clear it with Sidney." Can you say how that developed?
FDR always thought in political terms, even he at his most idealistic there was like an underground channel, or maybe the major channel thinking, "What's in it politically?" He saw that through the industrial unions there were a lot of voters and they were across the board, and they were not tied up conservatively like the craft unions were, protecting their turf. He got a lot of votes out of the coalition which is called Roosevelt's Coalition that existed right through the 1950s as something the Democrats could quite often count on.
What was the phrase "Clear it with Sidney?" Can you repeat that phrase and tell me what it was about? What was this role that Hillman had?
Sidney Hillman would be an example of the kind of trade union leader that was the kind of politician that FDR could work with and trusted. There was a phrase in the White House "Clear it with Sidney" that had to do with any political move that might have affected FDR's position, Congressional legislation, elections, whether they would be in a particular state or FDR's own presidential election. "Clear it with Sidney" meant that this is my man in the labor movement where I want you to go for political decisions.
I want to shift now to the Court reorganization, because I think that some of the labor legislation was really what FDR saw at risk that made him propose the Court reorganization. Can you talk some about the threat to the New Deal the Court posed?
What was this threat posed by the Court?
When the Court took that individual decision one could anticipate a domino effect and the rest of the New Deal going down the drain because NRA was invalidated, including labor's right to organize as part of that total picture. It worried everybody because they could see four of years of legislation, literally a revolution accomplished through the legislative process, on the way to being accomplished, going down the drain. FDR was flush with the victory of that 1936 election where only Maine and Vermont held out their electoral votes. It was extraordinary.
FDR was flush from his political victory in the 1936 election, an extraordinary thing with only Maine and Vermont holding out and the rest of the country through their electoral college votes in favor of the president. More of a victory than either FDR or any of his advisors thought possible, and I would guess that it created a certain overconfidence, and when you had this potential disaster of all the work that had been done to put the New Deal together in the first term in office, his mind turned to a rather radical change, and he referred to the "Old Men" on the Court. He held off, but people speculated about this, and the tension built up between him and the Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes and the rest of the justices, the Nine Old Men, as they were known. They were a stubborn lot, but they could very well have, on legal grounds, invalidated the New Deal and most of the legislation. In my view FDR made an error in the grounds that he chose to pack the court as it was then called. Actually it was simply that when a justice reached, what was it, age seventy-five, something of the sort, another justice would be added to "relieve the workload." Well this really was inept. Whether he meant to be inept or not one never knows. Most people, historians, refer to the disaster of FDR's position on this, but as some would point out, FDR got what he wanted because the Supreme Court stopped invalidating and shifting its grounds. The same nine old men starting thinking along new lines. So the pressure he put on the Court was effective. I think FDR lost a certain popularity. Who knows? He still was extremely popular. The failure is often overplayed, because the practical result was that the whole New Deal didn't go down the drain. That was the end of it.
What kind of political gamesmanship did it take to get the social security legislation? What was being debated? What was the vision of social security?
Social security was to be a very wide and intricately knit safety net for the elderly. It was to provide something which had been provided by the extended family prior to that. That whole scene was changing. Grandmothers and grandfathers no longer lived with their families, and who were therefore ending up on the dole in relief in a very unsatisfactory way, creating whole other sets of social problems. So as the bill was conceived it covered a number of facets, including things such as affirmative health care when you get older, which is very much with us today. But it was a marvelous example of how FDR was willing to trim his sails here and there based upon the winds that were blowing in order to get a basic bill, not all that was desirable but a basic bill through Congress. Somebody better acquainted with the details than I am could outline it, but I do know that the politics surrounding it was intense, and it was often not what FDR believed in here and didn't believe in there, etc. It was to some degree dictated by strong political opposition, and when there was political opposition he had to back off. So the bill went through, and it was landmark legislation, but it was a far cry from what had been introduced.
Let's shift now to FDR's agricultural policy, just have you talk about FDR's ideal of the family farm, how he wished it could be there, he wished it could have stayed part of the American scene, but he also saw that it wasn't there, and so he had another goal for agriculture. What was it in FDR's background and his love of a certain style of life that gave him an attachment to the family farm?
When Franklin D. Roosevelt registered to vote he gave his occupation as "farmer." He had a park at Hyde Park. It's where I grew up, and there were tenant farmers on a pretty big two thousand acre estate. He had an affinity for the small farm, which was very prevalent, certainly in New England, and he would have loved to have seen a reverse migration. That is, instead of having the young people leaving the land and going to the cities he would have loved to have seen them come back into a family farm, small farm operation. That certainly would have been his desire in his dream. But it wasn't on, and while he engaged in a lot of fancies a lot of the time he very quickly down to what was politically real, and what was politically real was the stabilization of agricultural prices, farm prices. It was a major cause of the Depression staying depressed.
I want you to describe the second term by comparison with the Hundred Days that we talked about before. How would you describe that second term?
In a sense, as a prelude to the second term,
FDR was paring the budget, paring relief, paring works programs, all of the things that were essential parts of the New Deal because he was afraid that he would be hung up politically by his opposition on having spent so much money.
** So he wanted to come into something close to a balanced budget, and as it turned out he was not under quite the political threat, although that was the major thing thrown at him by the Republican Party was the spending of money. He moves into the second term and its all the old problems all over again, and there are a couple of things that are clearly evident. Not only the budgetary problems, and he had to continue cutting the budget, because from the initial lift of the economy towards the end of the first term, within a few months it was back into
** it was back into the same level of depression, practically, that it was when FDR took office, as if nothing had been done.
** It hit FDR psychologically at a very poor time. Not only was he having the trouble with the Court and the threat of everything being invalidated, the whole thing coming undone, but he'd been through four years of fighting with Congress, the kind of applying of pressure, cajoling people, passing out just a little patronage and so forth to get the legislation greased and on the ways. And mind you, in the second term he had very little patronage. It had already been expended in the first term. So he didn't have that as a lever to work with. I think, to some degree, he was tired of a game that he'd played over and over and over. He liked the bold game of politics forever and ever, all his life, but it was that particular part of the game of maneuvering with Congress, and I think it began to pall on him a little bit. One final factor, fairly obvious one, it wasn't the first hundred days. He'd been in office for four years and this was his fifth year in office. Any politician begins to pale a little bit, doesn't have quite that pizazz, and while the conditions were exactly the same there was not a chance of hitting Congress with the kind of legislation that he did in the first three months of 1933.
Succinctly, how would you characterize the second term? What would you describe the mood of the whole administration going into that second term? I'm asking you to repeat but me more succinct.
How would you describe that second term?
The whole second term for FDR, and really the government, was very different from the first term. A lot of that energy was lost just to the passage of time, and for some, and I think for FDR a real agony. They seemed to have lost their touch to some degree. FDR went through long periods of kind of an omission, of not pushing things. He wasn't quite as capable, it seemed, of cajoling and maneuvering the key Congressmen as he'd been in the first term. In fact, as if for relief, he turned to foreign policy. There was a—I think for him its not unfair or inaccurate to say that it was an agony.
Tell me about the pressure on him to cut the budget, to balance the budget, to not have the deficit that led to what we now call the Roosevelt recession, this collapse.
If you could pick up that second term story, then.
In the second term you also had opposition solidifying. Now going back to the first term you had lots of cries of "Socialism!" Anything that had to do with government intervention, whether it was a works program under Harold Ickes or a relief program under Harry Hopkins, it was by the opposition "Creeping Socialism" or "Rampant Socialism" depending on how you looked it at it. These were the terms used. Beginning in the second term it took on a very ugly tone and picked up the very ingrained traditional anti-communism in this country, an anti-communism which is very much at a visceral level. It seems to be in the veins of this country. It took the form of attacks on individual people in the government. Granted, people were liberals. And it also was hot on the trail of the people, left-wing persons who worked in government, who, out of intellectual conviction, belonged to a Communist Party cell. People like my grandmother had worked enough in the field to have no illusions about who really controlled the Communist Party and that it wasn't a movement of the people and never had been. But a lot of people of strong liberal convictions saw the Communist Party as a viable alternative. Not great numbers of people, but they tended to be professional, intellectual, and they quite often had a job in government.
What about FDR? Was he afraid of communism? Did he have that strong streak of anti-communism himself?
I can only remember clearly in my childhood the fact that communism was discussed, but there was not in my family a fear of communism. It wasn't some bogey in the closet. It was a straight forward political power that was not controlled locally, and there was a fairly clear indication that it was controlled from Moscow. There was not that fear of communism which unfortunately remained rampant in this country and was given full expression during the McCarthy era.
OK. Great. Can we cut?
There were a lot of snide remarks about the New Deal and having a lot of Jews in Washington. I know no statistics about this, but this was what was said, and it cultivated, like the socialist and communist issue, it cultivated an undercurrent of antisemitism.
One of snide things more said through the back of the hand than openly about the New Deal was that so many Jews were now in Washington, or in the more anti-semitic, were now running Washington. I don't know any statistics. I doubt that there were any more Jews than in other administrations. I don't know. But it was one of those things that was said, and it sort of cultivated an undercurrent in American society that was anti-semitic which still continues in Europe, so it's not exactly unique to this country, not at all. My grandmother and grandfather were unaware of this. Some of their closest friends were Jews. A family on the Hudson River, our neighbors. He was Uncle Henry to me, and I'm referring to Henry Morganthau Jr., who was Secretary of the Treasury, and his wife Aunt Eleanor. But I know that it was fairly unique in the class that we came from to have close Jewish friends. Most people didn't. But there wasn't a unique situation. Look at the problems that Disraeli in English politics in the 1850s, and yet he became Prime Minister. I don't give it a lot of credibility but since antisemitism and issues like the Holocaust came into such prominence after World War II, including refugee problems, it's worth mentioning, and its worth mentioning maybe that FDR was unable to follow his wife in the very strong support for accommodating the Jewish children that had been orphaned due to Hitler's invasion,
and it was a touchy political issue, and it was again just like the anti-lynching law, something which FDR had to leave to the Congressional leadership and it failed of passage.
I'd like to move on the coming of war. You were living on the West Coast. Tell me what it was like as war came, what were you being told, what were you grandparents saying to your parents?
Pearl Harbor stunned us, and I say that from personal experience. Even though I was, what, eleven years old going on twelve I had some sense from what was dropped in conversation of the real disaster at Pearl Harbor, which most of the public was not aware of. They just knew it had been a disaster, but they didn't realize quite how devastating it was to the US fleet and the number of people that had been killed. There was real consideration of moving my sister and I back to Washington immediately, and my mother, particularly, because if there had been a Japanese invasion at that time the US was in no way prepared militarily to defend its territory, and they could have walked in. A relatively small invasion could have taken over the area where I was living in the Pacific Northwest, so it was a very real physical threat. As it turned out my sister and I joined my mother and step-father in wanting to stay where we were. Perhaps we didn't realize the very real danger that we were in.
What kinds of things would go back and forth on the telephone or in letters? What were you being...?
Well on the telephone it was that urgent...not just a family consideration. It was—FDR didn't want nor certainly anybody in the military want my mother or my sister and I particularly to be hostages if a concentration camp used as bargaining chips in a situation. That would have been not a good scene. So it was a very practical consideration because of the threat of invasion. I don't think the Japanese realized from a military point of view just how vulnerable the US was.
Why did FDR carry out the relocation of Japanese and Japanese-American citizens at the time of the war? How did he understand it? How did he come to support this act, and how did your grandmother respond? How did she struggle with it? Describe to me what happened?
Very early in World War II by executive order the Japanese, with no distinction between citizen or not citizen who lived in the West Coast, primarily in California but up and down the coast, were moved into camps under pretty horrible conditions inland. This was on the advice of the Armed Services because they were seriously concerned about a fifth column, a Trojan Horse in the middle of the defense, and they were deeply concerned about the lack of preparedness to defend the land area of the United States on the West Coast. Clearly in this day and age we see it as unconstitutional and unconscionable, but at the time as I remember it was not at all an unpopular measure with the US population, the US voter. In fact I would go as far to say that if any other decision had been taken, that is to let them stay or draw a distinction between non-citizens will be drawn back, which has a legal basis, that it would have been very much open to political criticism. There were all sorts of elements there. The Japanese being of a different race was physically visible, whereas to look at the difference between a German or an Englishman or Norwegian it may be very difficult to know who is of German nationality. Alien Germans were rounded up. German citizens were not rounded up at all, so you had a distinction made there which I think you do have to say there was a racial bias. In my opinion FDR was in no position to go against his military advisors and would have been open to extremely strong criticism early in the war.
Was your grandmother comfortable with the policy?
My grandmother was very uncomfortable with the policy and went out and visited and commiserated and did her best to get the situation and the living conditions altered and alleviated and so forth, but she was unable to do very much, which would indicate that there was no political constituency in favor of the Japanese. It was just one of those tragic things that war brings about, and when you contrast it with the tremendous sense of mobilization it just got washed aside and it is one of those tragedies that occurs in wartime to groups of people who are identified as the enemy.
Could you tell me about coming back in the White House during the war and how different the mood was?
My sister and I had left the White House to go live on the West Coast with my mother, who had remarried, and it was kind of tearful for us. It was our home, and while we went back to visit very frequently I didn't move back to live there until World War II. And then the White House was a very, very changed place. What had been a kind of happy, bumptious existence, it was now a wartime White House. Amenities were cut to a minimum. There was a kind of grimness and determination. With FDR there was always laughter, but the whole scene had shifted to kind of a marching order. But it was the whole country involved in the marching order. There was a real sense of mobilization, of people working together like they hadn't done since the early days of the New Deal. People dropped their differences and got under the same banner. It's difficult to describe because you're building upon the kind of patriotism which doesn't exist today. It's when people really took seriously the flag, and it isn't just burning the flag, but you didn't let the flag touch the floor. There was a kind of response to your country and to all of the symbols of your country, the anthems, the flags, the whatever. These were things that were taken very seriously and charged people. People were able to draw strength from them, to serve long hours, to go to work in factories that they'd never worked in before. Rosie the Riveter. The women who joined the ranks of the working force for the first time, really, in a wide rages of places and industry, on the factory line. A lot of patriotic motivation. A scene which I guess anybody who has no personal recollection of World War II would find extremely foreign, might as well have happened in the eighteenth century.
Tell me about—
Long before the civil rights movement as we know it got started my grandmother had a very real concern for the discrimination against whites.
You said whites. Just start from the beginning.
Long before the civil rights movement as we know it got started my grandmother had a very real concern with the discrimination against blacks. The signs "Whites Only." The separate entrances to the public toilets for blacks and whites. The whole range of things where blacks were discriminated against where you didn't have any kind of political meeting in the South. Not just in the South but in border states and far west as well. You'd have whites only meetings then you'd have a meeting of the black constituency. When my grandmother was in, I think it was Alabama there was a meeting which had taken a major step forward of having blacks and whites together. But they put the blacks on one side of the room and the whites on the other side of the room. This made her extremely uncomfortable. She picked up her chair and set it down in the corridor between the two and sat down. Highly symbolic, but here you really have to understand something about her. It was not a grand gesture. It was her way of getting out of an awkward situation. It was totally practical and pragmatic for her, and being who she was it made a statement that she could not have put into words?
Did she do it for publicity?
I don't think she ever wrote about it. I do remember her commenting about it, you know, a supper table sort of a story. I think she was quite pleased with her ingenuity. Publicity was not something she sought.
She spoke about this incident, but more amused at her own ingenuity of getting out of an awkward situation then she felt keenly to demonstrate, but it was not publicity. She in no way used it at her press conferences or in any other...she did not seek publicity. She didn't need to.