The Democratic Party: My Third and Current Paradigm (Part 8)
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Newly-minted Assistant Secretary of the Navy FDR (left), aboard the U.S.S. Dolphin, 1913
For good or ill, Franklin D. Roosevelt still looms large in the Democratic psyche. The current Democratic power structure labeled itself "New Democrats," an attempt to distinguish and distance themselves from Democrats like FDR and Lyndon Baines Johnson. (LBJ was a Congressional aide before winning his first run for U.S. Representative in 1937, near the end of FDR's first term as POTUS.) On the other side of the coin, a segment of the Democrat rank and file consider New Deal and Great Society Democrats the only "real" Democrats, which Party history does not seem to warrant. In any event, a close look at FDR is justified. Part 7 ended with a brief summary of FDR's political career prior to his first run for President. This essay highlights some events of that period.
After FDR learned, in 1910, that following cousin Teddy into the New York State Assembly was not to be, FDR ran instead for the N.Y. Senate. By then, cousin Teddy had held a number of state and federal offices, including President of the United States. Having the same surname had to have been helpful to FDR, especially in New York. FDR's district having been Republican, another aid to his election was a coincidental split in the Republican Party, instigated by cousin Teddy. (Although Teddy had chosen William Howard Taft to succeed him as President, Teddy wanted to prevent Taft's re-election. That split the Republican Party into a right wing and left wing, with the left eventually becoming the Progressive Party.)
An index of papers related to FDR's time in the New York State Legislature indicates that FDR, like erstwhile Assemblyman, Teddy, advocated for "conservation." "Conservation," a typical concern of members of the upper class, was an environmental concern that was very different from the current battle against global warming.
State Senator FDR also advocated for New York State's farmers, Dutchess County then being predominantly agricultural. Manhattan's notorious Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire occurred early in FDR's first term, spurring his concern for worker safety. FDR was perhaps most zealous about political reform, due to the power of Tammany Hall.1 (In addition to the index of papers linked above, please see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franklin_D._Roosevelt#State_senator_(1910%E2%80%931913). (The entire URL refuses to appear as a link: Please copy and paste.)
In 1912, FDR was re-elected to the N.Y. senate. That same year, and in defiance of Tammany Hall, FDR supported the first run for President of Thomas Woodrow Wilson (whom I've contemptuously derisively dubbed variously T-WoW and T-Woo). Of course, among Wilson's rivals was cousin Teddy, then head of the newly-formed (and short-lived) Progressive Party. Contradistinctively, Teddy had privately encouraged Democrat FDR to run for the N.Y. legislature and never publicly opposed any of FDR's bids for public office. Perhaps blood was thicker than politics for Teddy, but not for FDR?
FDR did not serve out his second term as state senator: Likely as a result of FDR's support, Wilson appointed FDR Assistant Secretary of the Navy.2 At age 31, FDR was the youngest Assistant Secretary of the Navy. He was to hold that position from 1913 to 1920. In 1914, although he had been Assistant Secretary of the Navy for only a short time and war clouds had been massing over Europe, Roosevelt ran in a primary for the U.S. Senate. He lost.
Supposedly, Tammany Hall was responsible for FDR's primary loss. Wilson had not backed him, allegedly because Wilson wanted Tammany Hall's support for his own re-election. In any event, after that loss, FDR backed Tammany Hall's candidates. Please see also https://www.raabcollection.com/franklin-d-roosevelt-autograph/tammany-ha... (1943 letter written by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, opining that Tammany Hall and its members were not all objectionable) So much for FDR's zeal for political reform?
The war in Europe broke out in August 1914. Recognizing the historic moment, FDR wrote his wife Eleanor, “These are history-making days. It will be the greatest war in the world’s history."3
https://www.nps.gov/articles/franklin-delano-roosevelt-assistant-secreta... (By "greatest," I hope he meant something like "largest.")
As Assistant Secretary of the Navy, FDR lobbied hard for early entry into Europe's World War I by the U.S. Once the U.S. joined the war, FDR strove to increase the role of the U.S. Navy. Cousin Teddy had also been Assistant Secretary of the Navy. Teddy had resigned that office to serve in the Spanish-American War, becoming a war hero; and Teddy's children were fighting in World War I. Reportedly, Teddy urged FDR to do the same. Despite FDR's following in many of cousin Teddy's footsteps, however, FDR did not serve in World War I.
One website avers that FDR intended to join the troops, but came down with influenza; and the war was "ending" by the time that he recovered. The website of his Presidential Library mentions that influenza developed into pneumonia, but has a different story about FDR's failure to serve. It says that he implored the Secretary of the Navy for a commission, but the Secretary thought FDR too valuable as Assistant Secretary of the Navy. Neither website cites its sources. Of course, it is possible to join the armed forces without having the Secretary of the Navy grant you a commission before you enlist. However, I saw no mention of that online in connection with FDR.
1 As a Republican politician, Teddy had not had to contend with Tammany Hall (1786-1967, R.I.P). Although Tammany Hall per se may be gone (finally), Democratic Party machines are apparently still thriving in New York City, as they are in other parts of the country. Moreover, a writer for New Republic thinks that the future of the Democratic Party lies in its past, namely in--wait for it--political machines like Tammany Hall. (I wonder if the idea for that article originated with the Democratic Party PTB.) In any event, the irony of the name "Democratic" Party increases with each essay in this series! (Raise your hand if you think Democratic Party bosses will loosen their grip during your lifetime.)
2 Another "interesting" appointment by bounder T-WoW was Wall Streeter Bernard Baruch to head and presumably staff the new War Industries Board. In turn, Baruch appointed to the Board industrialist Samuel Prescott Bush, father of, yes, World War II profiteer, U.S. Senator Prescott Bush. (What a family tradition!) The official purpose of the Board was to promote cooperation in procurement between the Army and the Navy; and one of FDR's primary responsibilities was contracting. Therefore, FDR may well have interacted with Bush.
The index of FDR's files from that period is inconclusive on that subject, showing only things like files from Br-Bu (Box 27) and Bu to Buy (Box 43). However, the index does show a file on then Secretary of Agriculture Herbert C. Hoover, whose bid for a second term in the White House FDR was to defeat in 1932. (Why did Republicans hold such important positions in T-WoW's adminstration? Maybe for the same reason Eisenhower appointed Democrats to the Supreme Court.) "It's a big club and you ain't in it." George Carlin
3 "I have seen war. I have seen war on land and sea. I have seen blood running from the wounded. I have seen men coughing out their gassed lungs. I have seen the dead in the mud. I have seen cities destroyed. I have seen 200 limping, exhausted men come out of line — the survivors of a regiment of 1,000 that went forward 48 hours before. I have seen children starving. I have seen the agony of mothers and wives. I hate war." President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1936 "I hate war" speech, full text, https://chqdaily.wordpress.com/2011/08/12/president-roosevelt-%E2%80%98i... video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hhAFKMIyKW4