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The Struggle to Intervene
On the eve of the New Year of 1941 Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt entertained a small group of family and friends at the White House. It was the kind of affair the President liked most—acquaintances who could talk about the old days, an orchestra serving up old favorites, the White House at its gayest and most relaxed. Toward midnight the group broke into "Auld Lang Syne." Then the President, eggnog glass in hand, offered his annual toast: "To the United States of America."
It was a moment for remembrance of the dying year—the dull winter months of the phony war; the lightning attack on Norway; the remorseless impalement of Belgium, Holland, and France; the third-term nomination struggle; the mounting air attack on Britain; the draft; the Willkie challenge; the gathering Nazi invasion fleet; the destroyer deal; the election victory; the lull; and the letter from Churchill.
A time for remembrance—and now a time for action. Next day the President sat in his study with his speech writers, Hopkins, Sherwood, and Rosenman, working on his annual message to Congress. He studied a sheaf of rough drafts. The speech had been well laid out; now it needed a peroration. Dorothy Brady, a stenographer, waited, pencil in hand, as the President leaned far back in his swivel chair, gazed at the ceiling, suddenly leaned forward, and, mimicking George M. Cohan in I'd Rather Be Right, trumpeted; "Dorothy, take a law."
The President at this moment may have remembered a press conference the previous July, when a reporter had asked him to spell out his long-range peace objectives. Slowly the President had listed them: freedom of information and of religion and of self-expression and freedom from fear. Wasn't there a fifth freedom, a reporter asked—freedom from want? Yes, he had forgotten it, Roosevelt said. In the ensuing six months he had been saving in his speech file ideas for an economic bill of rights—ideas gathered from administration officials, personal advisers, newspapers, religious leaders. Now he dictated his own formulation, pausing to find the right phrases.
Six days later the President stood before Congress. The floor and galleries were crowded with legislators, Cabinet members, diplomats. Eleanor Roosevelt, accompanied by Princess Martha of Norway, scrutinized the congressional reaction. Roosevelt waited for the applause to die down. The moment was unprecedented, he began, "because at no previous time has American security been as seriously threatened from without as it is today." Then he ripped off some telling sentences:
"In times like these it is immature—and incidentally, untrue—for anybody to brag that an unprepared America, singlehanded, and with one hand tied behind its back, can hold off the whole world.
"No realistic American can expect from a dictator's peace international generosity, or return of true independence, or world disarmament, or freedom of expression, or freedom of religion—or even good business.
"Such a peace would bring no security for us or for our neighbors. 'Those, who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.'
"As a nation, we may take pride in the fact that we are softhearted; but we cannot afford to be soft-headed.
"We must always be wary of those who with sounding brass and tinkling cymbal preach the 'ism' of appeasement."
Then came the presidential call for a world founded upon the Four Freedoms. Roosevelt gave the concept sharper meaning by spelling out an economic bill of rights:
Equality of opportunity for youth and for others
Jobs for those who can work
Security for those who need it
The ending of special privilege for the few
The preservation of civil liberties for all
The enjoyment of the fruits of scientific progress in a wider and constantly
rising standard of living.
"In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms:
"The first is freedom of speech and expression—everywhere in the world.
"The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way—everywhere in the world.
"The third is freedom from want—which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants—everywhere in the world.
"The fourth is freedom from fear—which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor-anywhere in the world.
"That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation...."
So stirring was this message, following so quickly on the "Arsenal of Democracy" fireside chat, that the grandest moment of all—the third-term inaugural—was almost anticlimactic. Judging that the people had had enough of warnings and proposals, the President devoted his Inaugural Address to a ringing but rather abstract affirmation of faith in democracy. He had always loved to sermonize; while he had had help from his friend Archibald MacLeish, the President himself insisted on a high-toned speech. "It is not enough to clothe and feed the body of this Nation," he intoned in his clear, beautifully modulated voice. "For there is also the spirit. And of the three the greatest is spirit." To perpetuate democracy "we muster the spirit of America, and the faith of America."
The words fell hollowly on the shivering throng in the Capitol Plaza, and the President felt later that he had failed to rouse his audience. But the inaugural as a whole was a triumph. There was the presidential procession down flag-bedecked Pennsylvania Avenue, as Roosevelt waved his top hat jubilantly at the crowds; the democratic flavor of the hosts of party faithful who crowded into the White House for their moment of recognition; the martial pomp and pageantry of the Inaugural Parade, as the services showed off their finest marching men; the fragment of the New Deal represented by the uniformed youths of the Civilian Conservation Corps doggedly trying to order their ranks; the glitter of the showy Inaugural Ball. And there was humor, too, when Fala jumped into the President's seat for the inaugural ride and had to be ousted; when the borrowed top hat of retiring Vice President John N. Garner kept falling off his patch of white hair; and when the Supreme Court clerk holding Roosevelt's worn and heavy old family Bible dropped it after the oath-taking, picked it up—and dropped it again.
All these doings were mirrored in Roosevelt's face—in his grave expression while attending service at St. John's in the morning, in his wide grin as he nodded and waved to the crowds, in the set of his jaw as he affirmed his faith in democracy, in his eager interest in the guns, scout cars, and tanks that rolled by in front of his stand. They were reflected in the faces of the people, too, as they stood deep along Pennsylvania Avenue, climbed on trees and boxes to get a better view, and yelled "Atta boy, Franklin!" as the presidential limousine rolled by.
THE NEW COALITION AT HOME
At the start of his third term Franklin Roosevelt seemed to be reaching a peak in his political prestige and reputation. In 1940 he had put down his adversaries in the Democratic party and beaten the keenest competition the Republicans could offer. He had challenged and overcome one of the oldest and most potent political bugaboos—the no-third-term tradition. He had won virtually every major piece of foreign-policy legislation he had requested since the start of the war in Europe. His standing in the polls—on the question "If you were voting today, would you vote for or against Roosevelt?"— was rising toward the mid-seventy percentile, after running in the fifties during 1938 and 1939 and the sixties during 1940 (except during the campaign period, when it dropped).
If presidential power turns as much on the appearance of power as on direct control of the mechanisms of power, Roosevelt's capacity to mobilize influence in national politics was probably greater in early 1941 than it had been at the height of the euphoria of 1933. The "Ace Power Politician of the World," a Republican Senator termed him—in his diary.
He seemed to have reached a peak of personal efficacy, too. His long, rubbery face was more deeply lined and jowly than eight years before, his hair a bit thinner, but he seemed on Inauguration Day as keen and zestful as his friends could ever remember. On the eve of the third term Dr. Ross McIntire, who examined him about twice a week, diagnosed his health as the best in many years. His weight was a near-perfect 187½, he was still managing to swim several times a week in the White House pool; he had his old buoyancy and resiliency and, above all, the ability to put his burdens aside. "We are looking ahead to the next four years without any apprehension," said Admiral McIntire.
Beyond all this, the President was now presiding over and ruling through a new coalition, which undergirded his national and world leadership with a structure of political authority. It was a coalition of three of the four parties that dominated American politics by the end of the 1930's.
The strongest of these parties was the national Democratic party, which Roosevelt had reshaped in gaining and holding the presidency in 1932 and in 1936. This party embraced a restless collection of industrial workers, reliefers, Western farmers, city machines, elements of the old Border State Democracy, and middle-income and even upper-income groups that had turned against the Republicans. Roosevelt's party was closely allied with a second party, comprising Deep South interests, which had controlled the machinery of the "Solid South" in Congress, to a degree far beyond what its numbers would warrant, by gaining seniority on committees in both chambers and thereby controlling congressional machinery and organization. The two Democratic parties—one centered in the Northeast and the other in the Southeast; one liberal and the other moderate to conservative; one wielding influence largely through the executive and the other through the legislature—fought with each other over domestic policy, but they tended to agree on a low-tariff, pro-British, generally interventionist foreign policy. In 1938 Roosevelt had battled month after month with Senator Carter Glass of Virginia and other Southern conservatives—even to the point of trying to purge Southern obstructionists from their congressional seats—and had mainly failed. But as the decade waned, Roosevelt Democrats reunited with their Southern brethren against the isolationist forces.
By early 1941 Roosevelt was losing no opportunity to butter up old Carter Glass, whom he had fought in the late thirties for control of Virginia patronage. He wrote to him that the Nazis had described Glass, the President, and President Nicholas Murray Butler, of Columbia University, as Jewish Freemasons. "I can understand it in your case and mine on account of our noses but I do not quite see where Nicholas Miraculous Butler comes in."
The Republicans were as divided as the Democrats. After eight years out of power, the national organization had fallen partly into the hands of such congressional nabobs as Senators Charles McNary of Oregon, Robert A. Taft of Ohio, already a rising young fogy, Arthur H. Vandenberg of Michigan, and others, mainly Mid-westerners, in the Senate; and of such as Joseph W. Martin of Massachusetts and John Taber of New York in the House. Cautious toward innovations, prudent in public finance, tending toward isolationism in foreign policy, the Republican congressional leadership had allied with its ideological counterparts in the Southern Democracy to hamstring the New Deal during Roosevelt's second term. Symbolic of this party to the President, but actually in the party's right wing, was his own Congressman, Hamilton Fish, fellow Harvard man, fellow mid-Hudson politician, and ex-football great. Roosevelt had barred him from the White House because, he told friends, he had made a knowingly false attack on the President's mother years before.
Flanking the congressional Republicans was the presidential Republican party, more liberal in economic and social policy, far more international-minded, rooted more in the urban areas of the Northeast, and imbued with memories of its great days in the past. This party, led in past years by a string of New Yorkers including Theodore Roosevelt, Elihu Root, Charles Evans Hughes, had been headless and disorganized in the 1930's. Then in 1940 it suddenly found a dramatic champion in Wendell Willkie, of Indiana and New York. For four months the Taft-Martin Republicans papered over their differences with the presidential party in a frantic effort to overcome the "third-term candidate"; then, with Willkie beaten, the election coalition began to break up again.
The plight of the Republican presidential party was due in part to Roosevelt's skill at not challenging but infiltrating it. At just what point he decided to win over some of the presidential Republican leadership is still hard to say. Perhaps he was tempted by immediate advantages and only later saw the strategic possibilities, for he had always stepped easily back and forth between his roles as party leader and as bipartisan chief of state. When war broke out in Europe in September 1939 he had sought to achieve a political coup by bringing into his Cabinet the 1936 Republican ticket of Alf Landon and Frank Knox. Landon declined, fearing that he might become a cat's-paw for Roosevelt's third-term ambitions. Roosevelt let the matter lie until the spring of 1940, when Felix Frankfurter and others urged him to draft Stimson. Reassured that Stimson, at seventy-two, was still keen and resilient, the President telephoned him on a day in June 1940 just after Stimson, over the radio, called for repeal of the Neutrality Act, compulsory military service, and stepped-up aid to Britain and France even if it required Navy convoys.
In drafting Stimson, Roosevelt had gained an indomitable, world-minded, richly experienced war administrator. Equally significant was the fact that Stimson brought into his administration a symbol and rallying point for a host of Republicans who since Hoover's time, and even since Teddy Roosevelt's, had felt cut off from the nation's service—cut off by the stultifying Harding and Coolidge administrations, by the congressional Republicans, by Roosevelt and the national Democracy. These men came mainly from the larger cities, especially in the Northeast; attended old preparatory schools and Ivy League universities and took on a speech and a set of airs with a slightly alien, British tinge; fanned out into law firms and banks and brokerage houses; worked smoothly together in clubs, foundations, and on boards of trustees; read the New York Times or the Herald Tribune or their moderate, internationalist counterparts in Boston, Philadelphia, or a dozen other cities. Experienced in managing or advising big enterprises, cosmopolitan in their national and international travels and contacts, accustomed to dealing with governmental bureaucracy even while denouncing it, these Republicans, along with their opposite numbers in the Democratic party, were anti-Hitler, pro-British, and defense-minded.
Frank Knox represented a somewhat different sector of Republicanism. A Rough Rider who had backed Teddy Roosevelt in the great schism of 1912, while Stimson, as a member of William Howard Taft's Cabinet, had stayed with his chief, Knox had been a newspaperman and politician in both New Hampshire and Michigan before becoming publisher of the Chicago Daily News in 1931. In the Chicagoland of Colonel Robert R. McCormick's Tribune, he had been a voice for moderate, internationalist Republicanism, especially in more recent years.
Excerpted from Roosevelt by James MacGregor Burns. Copyright © 1970 James MacGregor Burns. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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