" Arthur Schlesinger Jr. thought that he might one day become president. He was a protege of Felix Frankfurter and Fred Vinson--a political prodigy who held a series of important posts in the Roosevelt and Truman administrations. Whatever became of Edward F. Prichard, Jr., so young and brilliant and seemingly destined for glory? Prichard was a complex man, and his story is tragically ironic. The boy from Bourbon County, Kentucky, graduated at the top of his Princeton class and cut a wide swath at Harvard Law School. He went on to clerk in the U.S. Supreme Court and become an important figure in Roosevelt's Brain Trust. Yet Prichard--known for his dazzling wit and photographic memory--fell victim to the hubris that had helped to make him great. In 1948, he was indicted for stuffing 254 votes in a U.S. Senate race. J. Edgar Hoover, never a fan of the young genius, made sure he was prosecuted, and so many of the members of the Supreme Court were Prichard's friends that not enough justices were left to hear his appeal. So the man Roosevelt's advisors had called the boy wonder of the New Deal went to jail. Prichard's meteoric rise and fall is essentially a Greek tragedy set on the stage of American politics. Pardoned by President Truman, Prichard spent the next twenty-five years working his way out of political exile. Gradually he became a trusted advisor to governors and legislators, though without recognition or compensation. Finally, in the 1970s and 1980s, Prichard emerged as his home state's most persuasive and eloquent voice for education reform, finally regaining the respect he had thrown away in his arrogant youth.
The fascinating story of self-destruction by a child prodigy who became a leading savant of FDR's New Deal "brain trust." Campbell (History/Mare Hill Coll.; The Politics of Despair:Power and Resistance in the Tobacco Wars, not reviewed) writes of a precocious youngster born in Paris, Ky., in 1915, who learned his politics and legal debating skills in the "old boy"-powered political world of bluegrass Bourbon County, where stuffing ballots was a routine means of controlling elections. Young Prichard headed for the county courthouse after school let out rather than for a playground or the usual boyish watering hole. Campbell follows his brilliant academic career who entered Princeton at 16 and starred at Harvard Law School as a wunderkind who went on to clerk for FDR's Supreme Court appointee Felix Frankfurter. Prichard's spellbinding personality, great learning, and witty storytelling brought him many highly placed friends; he was called the brightest of the young men whom FDR attracted to Washington. He was a sought-after aide and advisor extraordinaire to James F. Byrnes and Thomas G. Corcoran in New Deal and wartime efforts. But Campbell also found that Prichard showed some flaws of immaturity: a tendency to show off and shock people, an intolerance of his intellectual inferiors, and an "end justifies the means" philosophy. One telling symptom of these: He was convicted of stuffing ballots back in Bourbon County in 1948. For years he suffered the existence of a convicted felonþloss of income and family, relentless pursuit by the IRS, etc. And his redemption? Prichard made an unlikely and laborious return to respectability via a new career as a leader in civil rightsand political and educational reform, until his death in 1984. A well-written and well-researched biography about a gifted man who needed a moral code and common sense.
From the Publisher
"Campbell has used declassified FBI files, collections of papers, and extensive oral histories to write an intelligent biography; he is critical yet fairminded, and offers vivid anecdotes that lend his text considerable panache." — Princeton Alumni Weekly