Roosevelt Myth - John T. Flynn

What Manner of Man?


What sort of man was this who permitted his family to make the White House into a headquarters for their commercial operations? The picture as it was does not resemble even remotely the vision of the statesman who stood upon a moral plateau far above the time-serving lesser men in Congress.

In good time someone will undertake an inquiry into the early personal life of Roosevelt sufficiently objective to enable us to form some opinion of the origins of the mental and moral urges that drove him along the course he took in the Presidency. All we have now is a handful of surface facts gathered chiefly from his mother, his wife and family. These are meager and pathetically distorted.

Part of the Roosevelt legend is the concept of a fine old aristocratic family that became the friend of the common man. It is unimportant, perhaps, but it serves to illustrate the glittering crust of fable which overlays this whole Roosevelt story. The President's father was a sixth generation Roosevelt who played out decently the role of a Hudson River squire. He was a dull, formal and respectable person moving very narrowly within the orbit set by custom for such a man. By 1900, however, the name Roosevelt had become a good one for promotional purposes, because it had become illustrious by reason of Theodore Roosevelt who belonged to a very different branch of the family.

On Franklin D. Roosevelt's mother's side there was certainly nothing distinguished in the blood. Her father was a crusty old China Sea trader and opium smuggler. The family had much of its fortune in soft coal mines in West Virginia and Frederic Delano, brother of the senior Mrs. Roosevelt, headed that enterprise, with as dark a social history and as harsh and grinding a labor policy as any in the region. This, so far as Franklin Roosevelt is concerned, is sufficiently unimportant, save as it contradicts the spurious legend that has been fabricated by his extravagant shirt-stuffers. His mother was, however, a woman of great beauty and force of character and whatever of good looks and positiveness there was in Roosevelt's make-up came from her.

Roosevelt was born and grew up in the midst of a baronial estate, surrounded by numerous acres and many servants and hemmed about with an elaborate seclusion. What sort of boy he was we do not know, save that he was carefully guarded from other boys and grew up without that kind of boyhood association usual in America.

A sample of the mass of fraudulent "history" which is being served up about him is found in one of the few formal biographies published so far. It is by Alden Hatch21 and though it is widely quoted, is as silly a performance as has ever come from any pen since old Parson Weems wrote his book about Washington. Referring to his childhood, Hatch says, explaining "his understanding of people—not just Americans but people everywhere" that "he played with English children on the lawns of English castles or the streets of London" and that he knew "German boys in the Volkschule at Bad Nauheim and French ones in the parks of Paris." As a matter of fact, Roosevelt as a boy was severely isolated from other children.

His first schooling was at the age of seven when he and the Rogers boy formed a class for a brief time at the Rogers' home adjoining Hyde Park, with the Rogers' governess as teacher. He was taken abroad on summer tours by his parents from the time he was three years old. He went along in the care of a governess as the parents traveled to France and London and Berlin, following the usual track of American visitors of that day. In London his parents made visits to various people. When the boy was around 12 years old he made a bicycle trip of a few weeks around German cities with his tutor. He spent a few weeks, perhaps something over a month at most, in a small German school while his parents were at Bad Nauheim. This was all the schooling he got save from a governess until he was 14, when he went to Groton. We are asked to attribute part of his wide understanding of Americans and Europeans to the story that this summer wayfarer between the ages of three and 12 "played in the London streets and Paris parks," which of course he did not do, and with a couple of boys on a neighboring estate under a governess.

At Groton, a severely exclusive school, the boy was an indifferent student and at Harvard later the same was true. He wore a Phi Beta Kappa key on his chain in later life, but this was a purely honorary one presented to him by a small women's college when he was governor. He was interested in sports and was active on the Harvard Crimson of which in his final year he was editor. His career as a student was without distinction. After leaving Harvard he studied law at Columbia University where he failed to graduate. This record must not be taken as evidence that he was not very bright. But it is evidence of what everyone knew of him, and that is that he was not a student.

He had little interest in books. Friendly biographers say, as if it were some sort of special genius, that what he knew he "absorbed from others" rather than from books. However, one does not "absorb" history or economics from others in chats. They must be patiently studied over long periods out of the only sources that are available—the appropriate books. Miss Perkins, who knew him from his early manhood up to his death, says he was not a student, that he knew nothing of economics and that he admitted he had never read a book on the subject. Edward J. Flynn, his campaign manager in the 1940 election and closely associated with him as a friend and as Secretary of State of New York while he was governor, says he never saw him reading a book. Three men who worked closely with him in the White House and one of them previously in Albany, also say they never saw him interested in a book, save an occasional detective story. The only books that really interested him were books on the Navy, particularly old books such as appeal to a collector. He did amass a considerable library in this field. It is to be assumed he read many of them. But the history of the Navy and its battles is not the history of the United States or of Europe or of their tremendous and complex political and social movements.

His career as a lawyer was extremely sketchy. He began as a law clerk with Carter, Ledyard and Milburn. Later a junior in that firm found an old memo addressed to the office manager and signed by Mr. Ledyard directing him "under no circumstances to put any serious piece of litigation" in the hands of "young Mr. Roosevelt."

In 1910 he was elected to the State Senate from Dutchess County. He had taken no part in politics and was scarcely known there. The Democrats usually named a candidate for the Senate from among the county families and got a good contribution. They never elected anybody. They offered the nomination to young Roosevelt and he took it reluctantly. But this was an auspicious year for the New York Democrats. Theodore Roosevelt and President Taft were at war. Charlie Murphy made his famous deal with big Bill Barnes, State Republican boss who wanted to defeat Theodore Roosevelt. Thus the Democrats elected their candidate for governor, John A. Dix, and swept in the Dutchess County Democrats with him, including young Roosevelt.

Charlie Murphy tried to force the legislature to name William Sheehan for the United States Senate. As the stories now go the youthful Roosevelt rose in revolt against the selection of the notorious "Blue-eyed" Billy Sheehan and led a movement of insurgent Democrats to thwart the will of the great Tammany boss. Actually there was a revolt even inside Tammany against the nomination. Edward M. Sheppard, a distinguished lawyer, Thomas Mott Osborne and William Church Osborne led the Democratic revolt with Sheppard as the candidate for the Senate. One of Murphy's closest friends, J. Sargeant Cram, openly denounced the Sheehan candidacy. The young senator from Dutchess County, bearing the illustrious name of Roosevelt, was interested in the fight because the party leaders from that county, led by Lewis Stuyvesant Chandler, were against Sheehan. There was, of course, good newspaper copy in the presence of the young Democratic Roosevelt, rich, handsome, lined up in the successful fight against the Boss. His name was thrust more and more to the front. He took an active and quite honorable part in the fight, but the legend as it is told is quite far from the facts.

In 1912, with the Republicans split in the great Taft-Roosevelt feud, the Democrats swept the country and Roosevelt, though in bed throughout the campaign with typhoid, was reelected State Senator. When Wilson entered the White House and someone suggested it would be a good idea to have a Democratic Roosevelt in the administration, Franklin Roosevelt was offered the post of Assistant Secretary of the Navy, a distinction on which he had no claim save that he bore the name of Roosevelt. He was then 31 years old. He had done nothing, had failed in his law examinations and had failed in practice. When the First World War ended he was 36. Apparently his service in the Department was satisfactory, though I have never seen anywhere any authentic evidence about it one way or the other. He did boast later that during the war he "threw money around like water" which may well be believed.

But his name had earned for him a great deal of publicity. He had announced himself a candidate for the nomination for the United States Senate in New York in the Democratic primary in 1914 but was badly defeated by James W. Gerard who in turn was defeated by the Republicans. In 1920, when James M. Cox was nominated for the Presidency and when a Republican victory loomed ahead as a certainty, Roosevelt was nominated for Vice-President. Actually he was not very well-known and had absolutely no record of his own to justify the nomination. But luck dogged his heels. Governor Cox chose Roosevelt for his running mate, banking on the value of the name. He told Charlie Murphy, Tammany leader, he wanted Roosevelt. No one expected Murphy to agree. But he said: "Cox is the first presidential candidate to do me the courtesy to consult me on anything, and so I am going to agree."

The Republicans swept New York State and the country and Mr. Roosevelt went back to New York. His friend Van Lear Black, a yachting companion, was president of the Fidelity and Deposit Company. He offered Roosevelt a job as a vice-president at $25,000 a year, again to use the name as a means of attracting business. Then in August, 1921 Roosevelt was stricken with infantile paralysis, which put an end to his career in politics for the next seven years.

At this point Roosevelt could not be tagged as a man with any indispensable qualifications in any field of life. He was 40 years old. He had the reputation of being a snob. In the legislature, says his devoted follower Frances Perkins "he didn't like people very much . . . he had a youthful lack of humility, a streak of self-righteousness and deafness to the hopes, fears and aspirations which are the common lot." Democrats like Bob Wagner and Al Smith and others "thought him impossible and said so." He had traveled very little around the United States until he went to the Navy Department when he made little trips to inspect ship launchings amid crowds. He had never really seen America. While he was in Washington he hobnobbed with a very small and exclusive set of the "right" people. He had never made a speech or uttered a word that anyone remembered.

During his Harvard days, shortly after his marriage, he and his bride took a trip to Europe—a regular tourist's wandering from city to city. He had not been in Europe since save twice when he went as Assistant Secretary during the war on a naval inspection tour for about a month, and at the end of the war on another tour in connection with the demobilization of naval forces in Europe. He was not in Europe, save briefly in 1931, until he went to Casablanca, 23 years later. Yet somehow his promotion managers whipped up the myth that he possessed some kind of intimate and close knowledge of the American people and that he also had, by reason of his childhood trips to Europe, his visit with his bride and his two trips during the war, some vast and comprehensive and deep insight into the lives and ideologies and ways of the people of the world. It is a simple fact beyond denial that when Roosevelt went to Washington in 1933 there were few men in the Senate who did not have a larger knowledge of European economic and political issues than the new President. Certainly alongside Herbert Hoover he was a child in arms.

Roosevelt was a stamp collector all his life and like all stamp collectors he got to know the location on the map of all the countries whose stamps he owned. He loved to display this special knowledge. But this simple and rudimentary subject of geography is not to be confused with the far more formidable subject of European and Asiatic economic, social and political movements.

In setting all this down, I am not accusing Roosevelt of being a wicked man because he was not a good student, did not read books on economic or social science or law or politics and knew less about foreign affairs than William Borah or Herbert Hoover or Key Pittman or Carter Glass. I merely seek to set the picture straight and to frame Mr. Roosevelt within the more or less narrow limits which bound his intellectual energies and interests.

However, he did believe that he knew a great deal about these subjects, although occasionally he admitted he did not understand financial and economic questions too well. But he had a way of doing a little bragging about his intellectual equipment, about which he was secretly a little sensitive. For instance, he wore the purely honorary Phi Beta Kappa key given him while he was governor by William Smith-Hobart College, a girls' school in New York State, leaving visitors to suppose he had got it at Harvard. He used to tell a story about how he humiliated a legal antagonist before a jury. The weakness in the story was that it was an old courtroom joke told about lawyers time out of mind, that he took credit for it personally and that he had never tried a jury case in his life.

Another time he explained to Emil Ludwig some course he had just taken by saying he had learned that technique "when he was a teacher" and his superior had taught him how to handle pupils. Of course he had never been a teacher. When he was President he told a room full of senators, all of whom had gone through World War I while he was in civilian clothes, that he had "seen more of war than any man in the room." And in one of his speeches when he was assuring the audience of his horror of war, he explained it by the terrible things he had seen on the battlefield, describing the regiment he had seen wiped out, the thousands of young soldiers he had seen choked with blood in the mud of France, although he had never been in a battle in his life. And though he had never served in the Army or Navy, he got some local post to make him a member of the American Legion, after which he went around on occasion wearing a Legion cap.

Roosevelt, long before he became governor, had occasion to exhibit to Robert Moses a side of his character which caused the New York State park commissioner to administer to him a reprimand he never forgot or forgave. Governor Smith appointed Roosevelt a member of the Taconic Park Commission, an honorary post. The Commission, however, is entitled to an executive secretary at $5000 a year. Roosevelt asked Moses to appoint Louis Howe, Roosevelt's personal secretary, to that job. Moses was willing until Howe told him that Roosevelt's personal affairs took all of his time and he could not give more than a few hours a week to the job. This incensed Moses, who wrote Roosevelt sharply reproving him for attempting to put his own secretary on the state's payroll. This sort of thing is not uncommon in the down-on-the-ground level of practical politics. It is a kind of permissive graft, if kept quiet. It is not the kind of thing one looks for in the conduct of a wealthy man who poses as a dweller in the upper stories of political morality.

However, a change had taken place in Roosevelt. His affliction had done something to him and for him. The bitter experience he had endured in the long period of recovery from his attack of infantile paralysis had certainly softened and warmed and mellowed his personality. In his efforts at recovery he had gone to Warm Springs, Ga., and spent several years there. There he found himself sitting about talking to many other sufferers like himself, including many children. He swam in the pool with his fellow patients, sat around talking with them and getting for the first time in his life a look into the minds and hearts of other human beings in distress. He experienced this sort of human comradeship upon a level he had never touched before. Life up to this had been a long succession of gifts from Lady Luck, whose attendance he had come to think of as a settled and dependable affair. And she had failed him. The visitation of the terrible sickness had perhaps effaced from his character the assumption of superior fortune that made him hold his head so high—actually physically high so that people commented on it. His head had been brought down and, if the disease crippled his limbs, it set something free in his spirit. For the first time in his life he felt an urge to do something in the field of purely human effort for other human beings.

But Warm Springs became the subject of one of the most curious deals in the nomination of a man to high office. When Al Smith was nominated for the Presidency in 1928 he was anxious to get a candidate for governor in New York who could be elected. There were three or four men qualified. But the upstate and Tammany leaders could not agree on any of them for purely political reasons. Smith insisted that under the circumstances Roosevelt would be the best candidate, solving the problem because he was the only one the leaders could agree on. It was generally believed that Smith's amazing record as governor would make it possible for any Democrat to carry the state ticket provided the party was united on him. The Tammany leaders objected strenuously to Roosevelt. They said he was unreliable, flighty, and without any experience as a political administrator. Smith, however, convinced them that, despite these shortcomings, he had the indispensable qualification of having no enemies and hence of avoiding a split in the party. He had no enemies because since 1920 he had had no political career.

During the summer months, Smith asked Ed Flynn to put the matter up to Roosevelt. Roosevelt and Smith were friendly, but only in politics. There was little other relationship between them. The much publicized story of the "beautiful friendship between the Hudson River aristocrat and the boy from the sidewalks of New York" was a pure newspaper fable.27 Roosevelt admired Smith. He had nominated him for the Presidency in the 1924 Democratic convention in a speech that still was quoted, in which he had called Smith the "Happy Warrior." Because of that speech, Smith knew that Roosevelt had political ambitions. Roosevelt had gone to Smith and asked to be permitted to make the nominating speech.28 He wanted to begin his return to politics and he felt that would give him a place in the spotlight. Smith was not eager to yield but he did so, and Roosevelt made the speech which had been written for someone else to deliver, including the "Happy Warrior" phrase for which Roosevelt got a good deal of notice.

Smith told Flynn that as he was a mere political friend, while Flynn was a close personal friend, he, Flynn, would probably have more effect in persuading Roosevelt to run for governor. Flynn pressed the nomination on Roosevelt in a number of telephone talks to Warm Springs. At first he was adamant against it. But after several talks Flynn began to feel that Roosevelt was weakening. Roosevelt gave as his reason his need to continue for at least another year the Warm Springs treatments to regain the use of his legs. However, in one conversation he said "one of the reasons he could not stand for governor was because he had put a great deal of his personal fortune into Warm Springs, and felt he should stay and manage the enterprise so that it would eventually become a paying proposition."

The Democratic State Convention was to meet in Rochester on October 1. On September 26, from Milwaukee, Smith telephoned Roosevelt at Warm Springs to emphasize the importance of his candidacy. Smith argued with him. He got the impression Roosevelt was weakening. Finally he said: "If the convention nominates you, will you refuse to run?" Whatever answer Roosevelt made, Smith was convinced he would accept if nominated. When Smith got to Rochester he told the leaders Roosevelt would run. Roosevelt must have had a feeling that he had not been definite about "not accepting" if nominated, because he later sent Smith a wire to Rochester. This Smith got after he reached Rochester and the convention had assembled. It read:

"Confirming my telephone message I wish much that I might consider the possibility of running for governor." Roosevelt then gave two reasons why he could not: (1) "Your own record in New York is so clear that you will carry the state no matter who is nominated" and (2) "My doctors are definite that the continued improvement in my condition is dependent on avoidance of a cold climate" and "daily exercise in Warm Springs during the winter months." He added: "As I am only 46 years old I owe it to my family and myself to give the present constant improvement a chance to continue. . . . I must therefore with great regret confirm my decision not to accept the nomination."

Mrs. Roosevelt was in Rochester as a member of the Women's Committee for Al Smith. So were Ed Flynn and John J. Raskob, recently named chairman of the National Democratic Committee to manage Al Smith's campaign for the presidency. The situation was very bad. Roosevelt's wire definitely saying he would not accept restored the bitter split between Tammany and the upstate leaders, who could agree on no other candidate. His telegram seemed final.

But Flynn told Smith that he believed Roosevelt could be induced to accept, that his health treatments were not the real reason for his refusal, that the real reason was the financial obligations he had outstanding at Warm Springs, that he was facing a heavy personal loss but that if this could be gotten out of the way he might yield. Smith told Flynn to tell Roosevelt they would take care of his financial problem. "I don't know how the hell we can do it, but we'll do it some way," he said. Flynn suggested that the problem be put up to Raskob. This was done. Smith asked Raskob to telephone Roosevelt. Raskob thought it over but decided to talk to Mrs. Roosevelt about it.

He went to her sitting room in the hotel and told her that Governor Smith wanted him to telephone her husband. He said he felt greatly disturbed about it. Roosevelt had up to now been giving as his reason for refusing the nomination the condition of his health. Now, however, Smith had been told that it was because of the obligations he had at Warm Springs which was in the red and into which he had sunk a good part of his fortune. Raskob told Mrs. Roosevelt that he could not escape the feeling that these financial troubles were not the real reason, that the real reason after all was the advice of his doctors. If that were so Raskob felt he ought not to press her husband to run. If anything were to happen to Roosevelt as a result of a strenuous campaign or the labors of the governorship, perhaps endangering his life, he, Raskob, would feel he was responsible. But if the financial problem was the real reason then he would telephone Roosevelt. He asked Mrs. Roosevelt for her frank opinion. She replied that if her husband were to say his health would permit him to run then Raskob could rely on it and that the real reason was the financial problem at Warm Springs. Everybody got the impression that Mrs. Roosevelt wanted her husband to run.

At Raskob's request, Mrs. Roosevelt then tried to get in touch with her husband. Roosevelt suspected what it was about and tried to duck the call. It was late at night and he was at a picnic at Manchester, not far from Warm Springs, making an address. He went to the telephone only after he got back to Warm Springs. Mrs. Roosevelt put Raskob on the wire. The evidence seems to agree that Smith was there also. Roosevelt explained to Raskob that he had certain obligations in connection with Warm Springs, that they amounted to a great deal of money and that he was planning to launch a drive to raise funds to cover them and that he had to remain on the job at Warm Springs for that purpose. After some discussion, Raskob asked "if these obligations were out of the way" would he feel the road would be clear for him to accept the nomination. Roosevelt answered that he would but that he did not know how they could be taken out of the way. Raskob then asked him to say frankly what they amounted to. Roosevelt replied: "Two hundred and fifty thousand dollars." Raskob then brought the whole matter to a head by saying:

"All right. Your nomination is important in New York State. I am in this fight to get rid of Prohibition which I believe to be a terrible social curse and I think the only way to do it is to elect Al Smith. I am willing therefore to underwrite the whole sum of $250,000. You can take the nomination and forget about these obligations. You can have a fund-raising effort and if it falls short of the total I will make up the difference."

Roosevelt was a little flabbergasted at this offer. He said he felt it was very generous. Raskob then asked: "Now does this take care of the financial objection and will you run?" Roosevelt replied laughing: "Well, that offer knocks all the props from under me. You can say I will accept the nomination."

That night, immediately after this conversation, Raskob sat down in Al Smith's rooms, wrote out a personal check for $250,000 and mailed it to Roosevelt. The next day, October 2, Roosevelt was nominated for governor and Herbert Lehman for lieutenant-governor. Raskob got no reply to his letter until a week or more later when Roosevelt arrived in New York to arrange for his campaign. Then he met Raskob. After a cordial greeting he took Raskob's check from his pocket and put it on the table in front of Raskob. He said: "I can't take this check, John. You didn't promise to give me the money. All you did was to promise to underwrite it and I am satisfied with that." Shortly after this a committee was formed to raise the fund promised. Will Woodin was made chairman. A meeting of some men of wealth was called and the whole purpose explained. Raskob subscribed $50,000. Others made subscriptions but the contributions fell far short of the mark. Subsequently, however, Raskob subscribed another $50,000, and other wealthy men made large contributions. The $250,000 was raised and handed over to Roosevelt.

A little history is necessary to complete the full significance of this story. Merriwether Inn was a large, rambling summer hotel at Warm Springs, Ga. George Foster Peabody, the philanthropist, had heard that the warm waters of its springs had a peculiarly beneficial effect upon infantile paralysis patients. He bought the Springs and later told Roosevelt he ought to try them. Roosevelt, then eagerly seeking recovery, visited Warm Springs in 1924. He spent some time there and repeated his visits for several years and convinced himself that by swimming in the warm waters of the pool, polio patients had been aided greatly in regaining at least partial use of their limbs. He sought some professional advice and then bought the Inn and 1,200 acres from Peabody and converted it into a hospital for polio patients. He believed that polio sufferers would be willing to pay for these benefits and that the institution could be built up into a paying proposition. He assumed general direction of the enterprise and in the course of several years ran it at a heavy loss. He said later he had sunk a large part of his fortune in it. He may have sunk some, but actually he had incurred heavy debts for which he was responsible.

To whom this money was owed cannot be said with definiteness. But the obligation was pressing. He was thinking of starting a fund-raising drive to cover this debt. But as it was really a drive to raise money to pay himself off, to get him personally out of a hole it was not a very easy one to manage. This is why he could not accept the nomination in New York. Raskob's offer not only made it possible for him to run, but it bailed him out of a very difficult hole. The meaning of it all is that Roosevelt did not agree to run for governor until Raskob guaranteed $250,000 in order to get him out of debt.

After Roosevelt was elected governor many improvements were made at Warm Springs. But they sprang from the generosity of various private donors. Mr. and Mrs. Edsel Ford built a beautiful glass-enclosed pool. In 1930 patients raised $40,000 to build a small infirmary and in 1935 Georgia Hall, the administration building, was erected by contributions from citizens of Georgia. In 1935 two dormitories were built with funds contributed by Samuel, Rush and Claude Kress and another hall with funds donated by friends of the builders, Hageman and Harris. The funds raised and turned over to Roosevelt were not used for any of these improvements.

Roosevelt never publicly acknowledged the funds given him by Raskob and his associates. Compton Mackenzie and Emil Ludwig, both of whom wrote florid and adulatory biographies of Roosevelt and got most of their material from him, tell of the great Warm Springs enterprise in human welfare but never mention the fact that it was a group of rich men interested in Al Smith who put up the money to pay the debts incurred by Roosevelt in the enterprise.

We may now return to the money-making adventures of the family promoted from the White House. We have seen how Roosevelt lent his aid when Elliott was attempting to get a big loan from two Texas oil men at the moment when the hot oil indictments were pending in Texas. There is, however, a more direct connection between the President and some of Elliott's and Jimmy's commercial designs. In 1939, the late Congressman William I. Sirovich, of New York, telephoned Mr. Carruthers Ewing, the general counsel of the Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company and told him that the President had asked him to help his son Elliott borrow $200,000. At Sirovich's request, Ewing introduced Elliott to John Hartford, head of the A & P Company and Elliott explained to Hartford that he wanted to borrow $200,000 to purchase a new radio station for his Texas network and that the station would soon be worth a million dollars.

Hartford was a little disturbed. He told Elliott such a transaction might embarrass his father, the President. At the time, New Deal Congressman Wright Patman was making war on the chain stores and had a plan to tax them in such a way as to hit the A & P a crushing blow. Hartford was just about to launch a big national advertising campaign in an effort to beat these plans. Under the circumstances, therefore, the presence of the President's son had a suspicious aspect.

Elliott took the most direct method of answering Hartford's objection. He picked up the telephone and called his father at the White House and introduced Hartford to him over the phone. Hartford asked the President if he was familiar with his son's request. The President replied that he knew all about it and that the proposition was a perfectly sound one and that he would appreciate very much whatever Mr. Hartford might do to favor his son. Hartford was very much surprised to be addressed by the President as "John" and to be invited to visit him at the White House, since he had had no personal acquaintance with him before. Hartford sent the check for $200,000 to Elliott next day and got the Texas network stock as collateral. This was certainly an extraordinary performance up to this point—the President intervening to get a loan of $200,000 for his son, whose irregular behavior he was familiar with, from a man neither of them knew and whose firm was under attack by a New Deal congressman at the time. However, the most astonishing part is yet to come.

This loan was made in 1939. By 1942, Hartford had heard nothing from Elliott by way of payment on either principal or interest. He did not expect to, in fact. He figured, as he told a congressional committee, that by making the loan he "was being taken off the hook." However, in 1942 the President sent for Jesse Jones and asked him to try to straighten out Elliott's financial problems. Jones called on Hartford, told him he was acting in behalf of the Roosevelt family and suggested that Hartford accept $4000 in settlement of Elliott's $200,000 note—and of course return the stock. This stock, Jones assured Hartford, was worthless. This is what Jones had been told by the Roosevelts. Hartford accepted the proposal and on receipt of Jones' check for $4000 he returned the Texas network stock. His loss of $196,000 he wrote off in his income tax returns, so that the United States Treasury took the greater part of that loss. It was learned later that the stock was worth around a million dollars. Jones turned it over to the President and he sent it to Elliott's divorced second wife, half for her and half in trust for the children. It is probable that in all the history of the government this was the first time such a trick was turned by an American president and by one who exhibited himself before the people as the most righteous paragon of moral and political excellence that had ever occupied that office.

There was much more to this story. Elliott, piloted by the late Hall Roosevelt, Mrs. Roosevelt's brother, made a loan of $25,000 from Charles Harwood, a New Deal faithful in New York who was ambitious to become a federal judge. He, too, got Texas network stock as collateral. He didn't get the judgeship but he was appointed governor of the Virgin Islands. But unlike Hartford, when Jones offered him $1000 for his note and the stock held as collateral, he observed that it made no difference whether he gambled on a 100 percent loss or a 96 percent loss and he held his stock and saved his money. There were three or four other loans which were settled at varying percentages of their face value by Jones at the same time.

Altogether, Elliott had some $800,000 of this kind of paper out. The record is long and sordid. Business men were invited to the White House, from which issued so many angry blasts against the corrupt business man. Their names have been published. They were invited to make loans to or take insurance in the enterprises of the President's sons. Some of them had the good sense to refuse.

[NOTE: The business adventures of the Roosevelt family have been explored with the greatest thoroughness by Westbrook Pegler and the results have appeared in numerous of his syndicated columns. Roosevelt's apologists have tried to dismiss Pegler's charges, not by refuting the facts, but by calling him a Roosevelt-hater. But Pegler cannot be dismissed that way. Those who attempted to do so know little of Pegler or his methods. They are wholly unaware that he is one of the most painstaking and scrupulous reporters writing for American newspapers. No effort is too laborious to discourage his tireless pursuit of facts.

He is as far removed from that type of gossip columnist so much courted and extolled by New Deal propagandists as are the two poles. The imputation in the criticism is that Pegler prints these charges against Roosevelt because he hates him. The notion that he hates the Roosevelt clan because he has made these unpleasant discoveries about them does not seem to occur to Pegler's critics. As a matter of fact, Pegler started out in 1932 as a very generous supporter and admirer of the Roosevelts and was often a partaker of Mrs. Roosevelt's hamburger fries at Hyde Park. He was also an earnest supporter of the whole program to aid the Allies.

But Pegler, like a good many other men, experienced first a pained sensation of surprise, then of impatience and finally of anger when he discovered that people he had respected had deceived him. No one permits himself such a luxurious sensation of righteous wrath as a New Dealer who discovers a minor city employee or a little business man in some grafting adventure. Pegler thinks himself as much entitled to grow angry at graft when he finds it in the White House as they do when they find it in a courthouse or a city hall. Pegler's charges are endlessly documented with facts—names, dates, sums of money, names of witnesses, official testimony, etc. Pegler would have been in jail or bankrupt long ago if his victims had the slightest reason to suppose they could make good a libel charge in court. Most of the material printed with reference to Elliott's operations are based on Pegler's extensively documented and particularized reports. Such as I have used I have, for the most part, checked, save such as were so completely proved or admitted to require no further proof.]

There was a wide streak of egotism in Roosevelt which made it impossible for him in some circumstances to perceive the fine line that divides correct from improper conduct in public office—particularly in so exalted an office as the presidency. For instance, Roosevelt had been all his life an ardent stamp collector. He had never indulged himself in the more expensive fields of this hobby. An intimate says that he seldom paid more than $10 for a stamp. However, he knew all about the hobby and its business side. When he became President he found himself the actual head of the Post Office and of the Bureau of Printing and Engraving. Very early in the game he got Jim Farley, his Postmaster-General, who knew nothing of this seemingly harmless pastime, to get for him the imperforate first sheets (that is, sheets minus the usual perforations) of a number of new stamp issues. Farley got the sheets, paid face value for them, gave one sheet of each issue to the President, one to Mrs. Roosevelt, one to Louis Howe and a few others.

Shortly after, an authority in the field called on Farley and explained to him that these imperforate sheets were great rarities, because so difficult to get, that they would have immense commercial value and this was an act of dubious ethical value. Farley assured him that the sheets would not get into commerce; that they were merely given to the President for his personal collection, etc.

Shortly after a sheet turned up in Virginia. The man who had warned Farley wrote to the owner and asked a price on it. He wanted $20,000. The story leaked into Congress and Huey Long was about to blast Roosevelt when the Post Office Department ordered a large number of the imperforate sheets run off and distributed in order to destroy the scarcity value of the one which had gotten out into trade.

However, the President had enriched his personal collection of stamps upon a very large scale. But this is not all. When a new stamp is made the first proof from the original die has an especially great market value, merely because it is so scarce. After a stamp is issued the design is revised from time to time—a change in the lettering, the insertion of a little flag, a decorative curlycue here or there. The original die proof thus becomes more and more valuable, and in stamp collecting it is the scarcity feature of an article that makes the market value. It was a custom at one time when a new commemorative stamp was issued to permit some person—perhaps the senator or governor of the state involved in the commemoration or some other person connected with it—to have the die proof. But there were some abuses in which others got them. They became very choice articles on the stamp market, worth a great deal of money. Hence when Theodore Roosevelt was President he issued an order forbidding the delivery of these die proofs to any person.

When Franklin Roosevelt became President, knowing of the value of these items and being the boss of the Bureau of Printing and Engraving, he issued an order to have delivered to him a large number of die proofs going all the way back to 1896. Under this new rule they could be delivered only to him. These he put into his personal stamp collection. When he died these die proofs alone, the result of this mass raid by the President, sold for $59,000 which went into his estate. The whole stamp collection, including the die proofs and the imperforate sheets, plus his otherwise modest collection, sold for $275,000.

There remains an incident unique in national political history. It is the singular story of the Roosevelt estate and the schemes he personally managed to create a shrine for himself with government money and funds extorted from federal officeholders. So far as I know our political annals reveal no comparable example of personal vanity completely unrestrained by any sense of shame.

Statues are built by the hundreds to all grades of celebrities. But shrines are reserved for those few whose records, strained through the sieve of history, provide the evidences of greatness which merit this extraordinary tribute. In good time the candidate for such honors will have his claim recognized. The greatest of our shrines—Washington's home at Mount Vernon—was restored and is maintained by a private group, the Mt. Vernon Ladies Association. After Jefferson's death, his estate was saved for his heirs by some friends and his home—Monticello—is operated by the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, a private organization. The State of Illinois provides the funds—about $15,000 a year—for the care of Lincoln's tomb in Springfield. The imposing tomb of Grant was built by popular subscription and is controlled by the Grant Monument Association. The annual expenses are about $15,000 a year—$6000 of which is paid by the City of New York and the balance from the Grant Endowment Fund. Franklin D. Roosevelt took no chances on being neglected. He personally conceived the idea of a shrine for himself, organized and promoted the movement himself and personally pushed it through. And he did this long before the war—before he had been enlarged by events and propaganda for good or evil into a world figure.

The idea took form in Roosevelt's mind in 1938. By this time the depression had returned to his doorstep. Over 11,000,000 people were unemployed. He had just told Henry Morgenthau that the best course for them was to rock along for the next two years on a two or three billion dollar a year deficit and then go out of office, turn the mess over to the Republicans and wait for the people to call them back to power in 1944. It is incredible but true that it was at this moment of frustration he should have cooked up this plan for a national shrine for himself. In its inception it was mixed up with another more pragmatic objective. Roosevelt planned, when he went out of office, to turn to account his name and position to make some money as an author. Roosevelt's idea of authorship was a comfortable one. A staff to do research and a facile penman at his side to do the writing, while his name supplied the money value to what was turned out. We know that shortly after this he began negotiations with Colliers Magazine for a $75,000-a-year post writing or sponsoring a weekly column. He now conceived the plan of having built on his Hyde Park estate a library and workshop which he would use as his place of business when he left the White House.

The next stage in this scheme was to make it a "memorial library," the funds for which would be put up by the thousands of party workers who held office in his administration. And so it turned out in this first stage—a Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial Library. He would give the land out of his mother's estate. The Democratic officeholders would pay the bills to build and furnish it. As a "memorial library" it would be exempt from taxation. And there he and his staff would work, as later proposed, for Colliers at $75,000 for himself, plus three or four of his staff on the Collier payroll. All this was managed by a committee to raise the money and complete the project consisting of his law partner, Basil O'Connor, Joseph Schenck, later sent to jail by the government, Ben Smith, a Wall Street operator and several others. They raised $400,000 from those elements of the "common man" who held Democratic jobs. They spent $300,000 on the building, $15,000 for furniture, $10,000 for cases, $15,000 for administrative expenses.

By the time it was finished the idea had expanded. In July, 1939, Roosevelt deeded 16 acres of the Hyde Park estate on which the Library stood to the government. The United States, through the National Archives, became the owner and maintainer of the "library," thus taking that burden off his hands. The "library" was to house his papers and collection of ship models, etc., as well as provide him with a completely free workshop for the rest of his life and become a monument after his death.

If Roosevelt in retreat, harried by the return of the depression in 1938, repudiated by the country on the Court fight and by his party in the purge fight and faced with a grave revolt and split in his party, could envisage himself as the only American president to have a government-built and supported shrine, to what dimensions would the emanations of his ego swell after America got into the war, when, like a Roman emperor, he was throwing around unimaginable billions all over the world, when ministers, kings, dictators and emperors from everywhere were covering him with flattery as they begged millions at his hands? By the end of 1943, flattery, applause, sycophancy had literally rotted the nature of Franklin Roosevelt. In December of that year he decided, like an Egyptian Pharaoh, to transform his home into a great historic shrine—a Yankee pyramid—where his family might live in a kind of imperial dignity, where he might retire if he survived the war as a kind of World Elder Statesman and Dictator Emeritus, and where he would be entombed. In December, 1943, he deeded to the government "as a national historic site" his Hyde Park estate, with the proviso that ne and the members of his family would have the right to live in it as long as they lived, provided they paid the state and local taxes while in residence. Secretary Ickes asked Congress for $50,000 a year for maintenance of the estate. An admission fee is now charged and it is estimated that the maintenance cost will be around $100,000 a year.

Thus Roosevelt is not merely the only president whose home and grave are maintained by the government as a national shrine, but the government was doing this even before he passed away and all in accordance with a project he thought up all by himself and put over before he died.

I know the inveterate New Dealer will say: what is the point in raking up all this unpleasant stuff about Roosevelt? What was the point in raking up all that unpleasant stuff about Sheriff Farley, a mere Tammany sheriff, whose modest tin box was used by Roosevelt to preach a sermon on official virtue? Can it be that the performances such as we have beheld in Roosevelt and his family are to be denounced in a mere $60-a-week policeman or an obscure city official but that they are not even to be mentioned with respect to an American President? Can it be that there is a ceiling on public and personal morals and that a president may be permitted to flourish above that ceiling where different rules control? Is there anyone who really believes this? Is there anyone who will insist that there is a point in the salary scale in public life at which the Ten Commandments cease to follow the rising personage; that the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Commandments drop out of the picture as the officeholder moves let us say from the $10,000 bracket into the $12,000 bracket, or as he moves up through the Cabinet, the Supreme Court and finally to the Presidency. Or can it be that the moral law applies to all presidents save those who love the Common Man or Left-Wing Presidents, while Right-Wing Presidents are still held to old rules.

Roosevelt was built by propaganda, before the war on a small scale and after the war upon an incredible scale, into a wholly fictitious character—a great magnanimous lover of the world, a mighty statesman before whom lesser rulers bowed in humility, a great thinker, a great orator—one of the greatest in history—an enemy of evil in all its forms. In his first administration someone was responsible for a very effective job of selling Roosevelt to the public. His good looks, his purely physical vitality coupled with his physical misfortune, his buoyant spirits which he exhibited profusely, the role he instantly assumed as warm-hearted brother of the needy, the rich enemy of the "malefactors of great wealth" and of course the dispenser of those fabulous billions which Congress had put into his hands—all this, combined with the dramatic performance he put on in the first term, exhibited him before the people in an exceptionally favorable light.

People who supposed he wrote his own speeches acclaimed him as a great orator. People who knew nothing of finance and economics extolled him as a great economic statesman. But over and above this some cunning techniques were industriously used to enhance the picture. For instance, Mrs. Roosevelt took over the job of buttering the press and radio reporters and commentators. They were hailed up to Hyde Park for hamburger and hot dog picnics. They went swimming in the pool with the Great Man. They were invited to the White House. And, not to be overlooked, it was the simplest thing in the world for them to find jobs in the New Deal for the members of their families.

After the war in Europe got under way and Roosevelt began to assume the role of friend not merely of the common man but of the whole human race, after he began to finger tens of billions, after he finally put on the shining armor of the plumed knight and lifted his great sword against the forces of evil on the whole planet—then the propaganda took on formidable proportions.

The most powerful propaganda agencies yet conceived by mankind are the radio and the moving pictures. Practically all of the radio networks and all of the moving picture companies moved into the great task of pouring upon the minds of the American people daily—indeed hourly, ceaselessly—the story of the greatest American who ever lived, breathing fire and destruction against his critics who were effectually silenced, while filling the pockets of the people with billions of dollars of war money. The radio was busy not only with commentators and news reporters, but with crooners, actors, screen stars, soap opera, black-faced comedians, fan dancers, monologists, putting over on the American mind not only the greatness of our Leader but the infamy of his critics, the nobility of his glamorous objectives and the sinister nature of the scurvy plots of his political enemies.

The people were sold first the proposition that Franklin D. Roosevelt was the only man who could keep us out of war; second that he was the only man who could fight successfully the war which he alone could keep us out of; and finally that he was the only man who was capable of facing such leaders as Churchill and Stalin on equal terms; and above all the only man who could cope successfully with the ruthless Stalin in the arrangements for the post-war world.

The ordinary man did not realize that Hitler and Mussolini were made to seem as brave, as strong, as wise and noble to the people of Germany and Italy as Roosevelt was seen here. Hitler was not pictured to the people of Germany as he was presented here. He was exhibited in noble proportions and with most of those heroic virtues which were attributed to Roosevelt here and to Mussolini in Italy, and, of course, to Stalin in Russia. I do not compare Roosevelt to Hitler. I merely insist that the picture of Roosevelt sold to our people and which still lingers upon the screen of their imaginations was an utterly false picture, was the work of false propaganda and that, among the evils against which America must protect herself one of the most destructive is the evil of modern propaganda techniques applied to the problem of government.


What manner of man, therefore, was this highly advertised and promoted President? To put all the emphasis upon the aspects of his career which make up this chapter is, of course, to exhibit only one side of his character. It gives a picture quite as one-sided as that other picture that has been presented by his promoters. It has been necessary to introduce these other characteristics in order to complete the otherwise distorted portrait that has been given to the world.

Roosevelt, as the world saw him, was a man of unusual personal charm. He was large, broad-shouldered, handsome; he exuded physical vitality and there was a warm, genial, exuberant flow of spirits. There was the suggestion of personal force—a certain positive and resolute manner greatly enhanced by his physical appearance. People liked him quickly. The remote, somewhat lofty bearing of his earlier days had vanished. Amongst people he was easy, gracious, hearty and friendly.

The mind behind this had capacity of a high order. Roosevelt was no man's fool. But, like most men, his abilities were of a special kind and when he operated within the framework of those abilities he was a formidable antagonist. The mistake in appraising him is to picture him as a thinker and student. He was not, for instance, a student of social problems or of economic structure. He was not, as were Madison and Jefferson and Woodrow Wilson, a political philosopher. He had not, like these men, pondered the great problems of social organization and arrived at definite opinions touching their roots or the principles of life and growth in various systems of social government. The principles he had before his election on these subjects were the ones that went along with the faction of the party into which he was born. He accepted them. He did not think about them. And they had no hold upon his mind. If one political policy failed he could cast it off and move over to another without meeting resistance from any underlying philosophy to which he was attached.

This is the explanation of the ease with which he could announce a whole collection of policies and plans in his first campaign for the presidency and, immediately after inauguration, toss practically all of it overboard and adopt another set of policies based upon a wholly different theory of government. And when in turn by 1938 all of these had been blown to bits by the inexorable logic of events, he could toss them over and open his mind to that weird collection of theories which the Tugwells and Hansens and Wallaces sold to him. Yet in making these shifts he was doing no violence to any real conviction. He was not being disloyal to any settled belief. He was in fact behaving with complete logical conformance to the one political conviction he held. A policy to Roosevelt was good or bad depending on whether or not it commanded valuable political support among voters. If it brought to his side any numerous group of voters it was a wise policy. If it failed to do this he could reject it or throw it over without doing violence to any controlling central political philosophy.

His abilities lay not in the field of the political philosopher but in the field of the political manager. When, therefore, Roosevelt approached a political policy he did not examine it as a student of the social order, but as a politician bent on winning power. For this reason he could adopt some shallow scheme like the gold purchase plan or the undistributed profits tax or the social security old-age reserve idea after a few moments' inspection. His mind just did not go to work upon the basic soundness of these ideas. But when he was presented with a problem of political management or maneuver his mind would attack it readily and actively. The mind goes into activity readily upon subjects to which it is hospitable, for which it has an affinity and an appetite. High proficiency in any field of human activity depends upon the inherent industry of the mind when dealing with its subject. Roosevelt's mind was busy night and day, incessantly, and profitably, upon one subject—and that was the correct political maneuver in any given situation.

He acquired the reputation of being a great orator. Even his enemies came to believe that Roosevelt could go on the radio and talk the props from under the opposition. That Roosevelt was a tremendously effective radio orator cannot be questioned. However, this must be analyzed. A speech consists in words the orator utters and the uttering of them. The general verdict was that he possessed a golden voice and a seductive and challenging radio technique. The voice, the manner, the delivery were Roosevelt's. But the words were supplied by others. The voice was the voice of Roosevelt; the words were the words of his ghost writers.

Up to the time he ran for the presidency—when he was 50 years old—he had made innumerable speeches. No one ever noticed he was a great speaker and no one remembers a single sentence he uttered save the title of "Happy Warrior" which he bestowed on Smith in a speech written for him by a very brilliant New York judge.

However, when he launched his campaign for President he became suddenly a wondrous orator. The explanation, of course, is that he had acquired a group of ghost writers who supplied the ideas, the phrases, wisecracks, fancies and metaphors and he had two or three collaborators who were able to put these into notable English. For his acceptance speech in 1932 at the Chicago convention one speech was written by Ray Moley and one by Louis Howe. Louis was frantically anxious to have his delivered. He had written scores of speeches for Roosevelt. Here was to be his greatest anonymous achievement. When Roosevelt ascended the platform to speak no one knew which draft he would use. In characteristic Rooseveltian manner, he read the first page of Louis Howe's speech and the balance of Ray Moley's. His inaugural address—that really fine oration on the antique model—he delivered with skill and gusto. But he did not write it, in spite of the testimony of Charlie Michaelson that he did. Contributions were made from various hands, but the actual production was the work of Ray Moley, who wrote so many of his other speeches.

Roosevelt had a comfortable ability, after such a performance, of getting around to the belief that he had written these speeches himself. He was particularly fond of "quoting himself' and he went back innumerable times to repeat "what I have said before," namely "that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." Roosevelt imagined that he had coined that phrase. Who put it in the speech I do not know. It had been said before in those precise words by Thoreau and one of Roosevelt's faithful servitors—Sam Rosenman— had first learned of them in an English class at Columbia conducted by John Erskine. Rosenman was one of the group which helped with that speech.

When Moley broke with Roosevelt he was nursed along for several years after he left the Brain Trust which he had created because he was indispensable in preparing Roosevelt's speeches. Roosevelt did not cut Moley off completely until he felt he had in Tommy Corcoran an able ghost to grind out his immortal utterances. And when, in time, Tommy found himself moving out of the charmed circle, he was kept dangling until Roosevelt found in Robert Sherwood a capable successor ghost.

This subject of the ghostly origin of Roosevelt's great efforts began to disturb him. He grew sensitive about it. And during his second term he began to use a different technique. He would ask a number of men—Tommy Corcoran, Stanley High, Sam Rosenman and others—to submit drafts of speeches or sections dealing with special topics and he would put them all together, inserting a phrase or two here and there. These phrases may be picked out in many speeches and the differing styles may be detected. Roosevelt could, of course, write a speech but it would always be a commonplace performance. He could stand before an audience and make a speech, but it would be a distinctly unimpressive affair. His speeches have been edited and published in eight large volumes, with elaborate footnotes supposed to have been written by him but actually written by someone else—another ghost. One may run through these volumes and pick out the speeches for which Roosevelt himself was responsible. One of the most trustworthy of the stigmata is the number of times the paragraphs begin with the letter I. Incidentally, he was paid $38,000 by a newspaper for serializing the first batch of his public papers and addresses—something quite new in presidents —after which they were published in book form—five volumes—at $15 a set.

This whole business of ghost-writing speeches is one for which perhaps, some sort of political professional code should be enforced. Many public men who are capable of writing speeches of a high order sometimes are compelled by the press of events to have some competent ghost writer put into form his ideas simply because he cannot get the time to do it himself. This, however, is very different from the practice of a man like Roosevelt who habitually had his speeches prepared for him by a corps of ghosts led by some capable master ghost who puts it in its final order, after which Roosevelt passed it off on the world as his own and as an example of his own great prowess in the field of oratory. One cannot imagine Webster or Clay, Jefferson or Madison or Monroe, Lincoln or Cleveland or Bryan or Theodore Roosevelt or Taft or Woodrow Wilson or Herbert Hoover having their speeches written for them and masquerading in another man's eloquence as a great orator.

The most difficult feature of the Roosevelt character to fit into the picture is his loose code in respect to the financial affairs of himself and his family. There is nothing like it in the history of the White House. There had been some lamentable looseness under Grant but he and his family were not involved and he was completely the victim of these transactions. There was some under Harding, but here again it did not touch the White House or its family occupants. It is a strange fact that this rash of financial exploitation of the White House by the President and his family appeared in the administration of one of its richest tenants and one who had been mostly extensively advertised as one of its noblest tenants.

It was this peculiar strain in the man which led some of his intimates to say he was a complex character. There was really nothing complex about Roosevelt. He was of a well-known type found in every city and state in political life. He is the well-born, rich gentleman with a taste for public life, its importance and honors, who finds for himself a post in the most corrupt political machines, utters in campaigns and interviews the most pious platitudes about public virtue while getting his own dividends out of public corruption one way or another. In any case, they are a type in which the loftiest sentiments and pretensions are combined with a rather low-grade political conscience.

In the case of Roosevelt, with his somewhat easy approach to official virtue, his weakness for snap judgments, his impulsive starts in unconsidered directions, his vanity, his lack of a settled political philosophy, his appetite for political power and his great capacity as a mere politician, the Presidency became in his hands an instrument of appalling consequences. The combination of qualities named above exposed him, when vast power came into his hands, to the corrosive influence of that power. An act of which he did not approve at first, that put three billion dollars into his hands to be expended at his sweet will, brought from every town and county hosts of suitors for his bounty, bowing and scraping before him, applauding and cheering him until it all went to his head. Little by little a nature not greatly unlike many well-considered public men of his type, disintegrated, until power corrupted him. In the end it corrupted him utterly. His career proved again what history had already abundantly taught us and what our forefathers knew so well when they fashioned this government, that power seldom expands and purifies the nobler parts of a man's nature but that it acts like a powerful drug upon the baser elements.