April 10: Entry Into WWII And The America First Debate, Part 2 – Guest Essayist: James Legee

, , , , , ,

LISTEN ON SOUNDCLOUD:

At its height, the America First Committee had 800,000 members, with membership concentrated in the Midwest.  Senators Nye (a founding member), Wheeler, and David Walsh (D-MA) were members, as were future Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, and businessman and notorious anti-Semite Henry Ford.  One of the chief spokesmen for AFC was famous aviator Charles Lindbergh.  After the murder of his child, Lindbergh left the United States for Great Britain and made frequent visits to Nazi Germany.  A stalwart isolationist, Lindbergh saw in Germany not only a military opponent that would be almost impossible to defeat, but a society in some ways superior to that of America.

Lindbergh wrote in his journal in 1938 that “I did not find real freedom until I came to Europe.  The strange thing is that of all the European countries, I found the most personal freedom in Germany, with England next, and then France.”  Lindbergh was unmoved by the plight of European Jews under the Nazis, even after Kristallnacht.  While certainly anti-Semitism was not a belief of every isolationist, it became an unfortunate hallmark of the movement even as Nazi aggression towards civilians intensified.  In September of 1941, Lindbergh went so far as to insinuate that American Jews in favor of European intervention had the best interest of Jewish Europeans rather than America in mind.

In 1941 Senator Nye, not yet tired of investigations and hearings, launched an inquiry into the role of Hollywood in agitating for war and producing pro-democracy films.  At an AFC rally, Nye called Hollywood “the most gigantic engines of propaganda in existence to rouse war fever in America and plunge the nation to her destruction.” As he listed studio heads, in a dark moment of American history, the audience cried, “Jews!”  Nye went on to claim Hollywood was comprised of refugees from occupied nations and British actors who agitated for American intervention.  His committee called Wendell Willkie, 1940 pro-intervention Republican candidate, who asserted that anti-Nazi films actually reflected the sentiments of the American people and offered witnesses to the committee to testify on Nazi crimes.  Nye’s committee declined, and after several weeks concluded without a report or ever reconvening.  Rather than damage Hollywood, the hearings gave voice to a variety of pro-intervention anti-Nazi activists.

The battle over isolationism and interventionism largely culminated in the fight over Roosevelt’s Lend-Lease program.  1940 saw Roosevelt achieve an unprecedented third term as president, a campaign in which he vowed to attempt to avoid war.  By 1941 public opinion had shifted from isolationism to over 60% of Americans favoring aid to Great Britain.  For isolationists, though, important questions hung around Lend-Lease.  Would American ships transport goods? Would the American Navy protect them?  For some, such as Burton Wheeler, the Lend-Lease act dripped with hypocrisy, “If it is our war we ought to have the courage to go over and fight it.  But it is not our war…”  Wheeler’s most blistering critique came later when he said of Lend-Lease “the New Deal’s ‘Triple A’ foreign policy [would] plow under every fourth American boy … Never before has the United States given to one man [Roosevelt] the power to strip this nation of its defenses.  Never before has a Congress coldly and flatly been asked to abdicate.”

Wheeler wasn’t alone in his disdain for Lend-Lease and the potential excesses granted a single individual.  Senator Arthur Vandenberg, known as an internationalist today, but an isolationist before the war called Lend-Lease “war by proxy.” Congressman Hamilton Fish (R-NY) who had received the Silver Star in WWI said in a speech in March of 1941 that “I do not believe the President has the right to order the convoying of ships into the war zones without the consent of Congress. The use of convoys, on the authority of the President, would be a deliberate attempt to drag us into war, and would make President Roosevelt the foremost repudiator of his word in American history. It would constitute a brazen betrayal of the millions of loyal Americans who had faith in his assurances and plighted word and voted for him. Somewhere between 83 and 90 per cent of the people, according to the various Gallup polls, are opposed to our entrance into war unless attacked.”  Despite this, with public approval, Lend-Lease passed and military material flowed across the Atlantic to Great Britain (with a token amount of aid to Stalin).

On December 4 of 1941 the Chicago Tribune ran details of a leaked top secret war plan, code named Rainbow Five.  Roosevelt, who had pledged not to send American boys to die, was exposed as having drafted a plan that to create aten-million-strong army to confront the Nazis in 1943.  Massachusetts Republican Congressman George Holden Tinkham, who had compared Roosevelt to Hitler and Stalin over the Destroyers for Bases program in 1940 (“there is no difference between his [FDR’s] action from either Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin.”) stated Roosevelt “betrayed” the American people.

The America First Committee and its supporters, including Lindbergh, Kennedy, and Nye persisted though 1941.  In an anecdote, reported by historian Richard Ketchum in American Heritage Magazine in 1989, Senator Nye was speaking at an America First event in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on December 7, 1941.  As Nye accused the Roosevelt administration of “picking a war” with Japan, he was handed a piece of paper that informed him the Empire of Japan had declared war on the United States, and that the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor had suffered a surprise strike from the Japanese Navy.  Nye remarked to the crowd “I have the worst news that I have had in twenty years to report, the Japanese Imperial Government at four P.M. announced a state of war between it and the United States and Britain.”  When asked about Pearl Harbor by reporters, Nye responded “It sounds terribly fishy to me.”

On December 10, 1941, the America First Committee dissolved.  Shortly beforehand, on December 8 of 1941, Congress voted for war with Japan.  The vote was nearly unanimous and the sole vote against war came not from a member of America First.  It was not even cast by an isolationist.  Instead, Progressive Montana Republican Jeannette Rankin, the first woman in Congress, an advocate for the 19th Amendment, and a lifelong pacifist cast the no vote, just as she had in 1917 against the First World War.

James Legee, Visiting Lecturer, Framingham State University Department of Political Science

Click Here to have the NEWEST essay in this study emailed to your inbox every day at 12:30 pm Eastern!

Click Here for the previous essay.

Click Here for the next essay.

Click Here to view the schedule of topics in our 90 Day Study on Congress.

April 6: Entry Into WWII And The America First Debate – Guest Essayist: James Legee

, , , , , ,

LISTEN ON SOUNDCLOUD

In an address to Congress on July 4, 1821, then Secretary of State John Quincy Adams voiced opposition to American interference in European affairs, “Wherever the standard of freedom and independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all.”  The ideal of America as a nation rarely departing the safety of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans on adventures abroad is strewn throughout competing political ideologies, parties, and interest groups in American history.  Isolationism is the doctrine that a nation should avoid foreign entanglements such as (non-defensive) wars and treaties (particularly mutual defense, foreign aid, etc).

The revolutionary generation saw this manifest in Washington’s 1793 Neutrality Proclamation, and the early republic in John Quincy Adams’ quote above.  The nativist isolationism familiar from 19th century Know Nothings was even brought to life and transposed into New York’s draft riots in Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York.  Indeed, it seems less a debate and more a part of American culture to assume America’s isolationism, at least until the 20th Century, despite books like Dangerous Nation by Robert Kagan of the Brookings Institution seeking to provide a contrary historical narrative.

Regardless of which reality or narrative dominated American history, nowhere were the stakes of this tension between isolationism and interventionism higher than in the late 1930s.  As war again swept across Europe, this time in the form of the Wehrmacht, democracies quickly fell to the tyranny of the Nazi fascists.  Remilitarization in Germany was concurrent with a resurgence of isolationism in the United States, especially among Midwestern Republicans, including Gerald Nye (R-ND), Arthur Vandenberg (R-MI), and William Borah (R-ID, though he passed in 1940), as well as the odd Democrat, such as Burton K. Wheeler (D-MT).  President Roosevelt sought to aid allied forces in their fight against the Nazis, but a sizable number of the electorate, major public figures, and a number of prominent Congressmen opposed any American involvement in another European war.

After the Great War, pro-war sentiment and anti-German sentiment waned as the 1920s gave way to the Great Depression and the 1930s.  A significant public outcry grew over the American expedition in Europe in WWI; so many young lives lost to a war so far from the shores of America.  How was it American boys wound up casualties in places like the Argonne Forest and the Marne?  Some began to believe that America was not pulled into war by a necessity to defend democracy, but instead was pushed to war by arms manufacturers.  In April of 1934, the Senate convened a committee to investigate war profiteering by large manufacturers such as DuPont, Colt, Westinghouse, and other military contractors.  The committee was chaired by Republican Senator Gerald Nye of North Dakota.  Nye, initially supportive of the New Deal, became a staunch opponent of Roosevelt, an outspoken isolationist, and critic of big business.  The Nye Committee, or Senate Munitions Committee, ran afoul of the powerful Senator Carter Glass, then Appropriations Chair.  After interviewing hundreds, Nye made the unsubstantiated contention in a speech that Wilson withheld information from the Congress and American people about the entry into World War I.  Democrats, led by Glass, were outraged and cut funding to the Nye Committee.  The final report of the committee, from February of 1936, provides little of substance, but this would not be the last investigation Nye led and it certainly bolstered the status of Isolationists in Congress.

Isolationists certainly did not want for influence in the Capital.  As the Nye Committee publicized and questioned the “Merchants of Death” that brought America to war, Hitler consolidated power in Germany.  June of 1934 brought the Knight of Long Knives, where SS and Gestapo members assassinated Hitler’s political rivals, solidifying his political and military hold over Germany.  One of Hitler’s first actions was to leave the League of Nations and continue to remilitarize.  Despite this, just over a year later Isolationists in America won a major political battle in passing the Neutrality act of 1935.  The thrust of the 1935 Neutrality act outlawed arms trade with any combatants should hostilities commence.  For enforcement purposes, the Office of Arms and Munitions Control was created under the Department of State and chaired by Joseph Coy Green (a former professor who taught future diplomat George Kennan).  The office registered manufacturers of military arms and material around the United States.

October of 1935 witnessed Nazi ally Italy, under the dictatorship of Mussolini, invade Ethiopia.  Arms shipments were prohibited to combatants, though neither the United States nor Great Britain took any further action to stem aggression.  Congress in 1936 passed another neutrality act which continued the ban on arms sales to combatants, and extended the prohibition to loans to combatant nations.  Shortly thereafter, Hitler seized the Rhineland along Germany’s western border.   1937 brought yet another Neutrality that reaffirmed the munitions ban, but added an interesting caveat.  Belligerents were allowed to purchase arms, so long as they paid cash and transported them out of the United States in non-American vessels, the advent of the so called “cash and carry” program.  With the consent of isolationists, America added kindling to arguably the greatest catastrophe of the 20th Century.

1938 brought continued German aggression as Hitler orchestrated the Anschluss of Austria and later demanded that the Sudetenland, a Germanic area of Czechoslovakia, be ceded to Germany.  While Roosevelt and his closest advisors were largely unified in their opposition to the Nazis, the Executive branch was hardly unified, as one of the most important diplomats in the political chess match, Ambassador to Great Britain, Joseph Kennedy, was a staunch isolationist.  The father of future President John F. Kennedy (himself a proponent of intervention who penned Why England Slept as an undergraduate Harvard student), Joseph Kennedy insisted war was not in the near future, even in a lunch with Winston Churchill where Churchill expressed concern over a militarizing Germany and comparatively vulnerable British Empire March of 1938.  Kennedy continued to marginalize himself from the administration and drift from its position over the course of 1938.  As the drift from Roosevelt continued, Kennedy took the irregular step of communicating outside official channels in order to directly reach Senators Burton Wheeler, Pat Harrison, Key Pittman, James Byrnes, and other government officials with his assessment and recommendations on the . Author Nicholas Wapshott points out that “The president was conspicuously not on the list.”

As Neville Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement failed to mollify Hitler, Kennedy further alienated himself from the administration when, in a draft of prepared remarks, Kennedy wrote “I cannot for the life of me understand why anybody would want to go to war to save the Czechs.”  Chamberlain’s government, of course, would not last much longer, nor would peace.  As the 1940 election approached, Ambassador Kennedy continued to operate in step with Congressional isolationists rather than the administration, and mulled a run at the White House himself.

As the pace and seriousness of events quickened, a broad coalition of isolationists and anti-war activists came together to form the America First Committee.  The America First Committee brought together Democrats and Republicans, pacifists and veterans, businessmen and farmers, Midwesterners and East Coasters, to oppose any American role in a European war.

James Legee, Visiting Lecturer, Framingham State University Department of Political Science

Click Here to have the NEWEST essay in this study emailed to your inbox every day at 12:30 pm Eastern!

Click Here for the previous essay.

Click Here for the next essay.

Click Here to view the schedule of topics in our 90 Day Study on Congress.

February 28: Legislative: Most Important Branch, Of The People, Whose Primary Role Is Lawmaking – Guest Essayist: James Legee

, , , ,

 

LISTEN ON SOUNDCLOUD:

The contemporary refrain on Congress is that it is the branch of the Federal Government most reviled, and least functional.  Pundits and professional scholars alike speak of gridlock and partisanship; political scientists Norman Ornstein and Thomas E. Mann have decried the branch of the people in a series of books with titles like “The Broken Branch” and “It’s Worse than it Looks.”

Read more

February 26: Senate History: Purpose Of The U.S. Senate, The “Cooling Factor” And “Sober Second Thought” – Guest Essayist: James Legee

, , , ,

LISTEN ON SOUNDCLOUD:

The Senate was intended to be the upper house of America’s Congress, a long-serving chamber of sober debate.  Here, the passions of human nature, which history watched manifest into noble appeals to virtue and liberty as often as into the deplorable institution of slavery or the savagery of the French Revolution, were to be calmed and sober reason allowed to prevail.

Read more

1956, Dwight D. Eisenhower Defeats Aldai Stevenson – Guest Essayist: James Legee

, , , , , , , , , ,

 

The election of 1956 saw Adlai Stevenson again tasked with the unenviable duty of an electoral contest against Dwight D. Eisenhower, which, it will come as no surprise, did not end in Stevenson’s favor.  Eisenhower is well known to students of history and government, Stevenson, a one-term governor of Illinois, barely garners a mention in most books on the Cold War.  Despite his loss, Stevenson was an important bridge between the New Deal policies of the Roosevelt administration and the Great Society of Lyndon B. Johnson.  He articulated a progressive platform that would guide the Democratic Party for the coming decades in regards to domestic policy.  Electoral defeat is quite common for ideologues and intellectuals on both ends of the ideological spectrum, but part and parcel with his intellectual bend came a truly unique rhetoric for the role of government in society.

Read more

Civil War Amendments – Guest Essayist: James Legee

, , , , , , ,

 

For nearly the first century of her existence, America had left a promise unfulfilled to both the souls that resided within her borders, as well as humanity at large.  That promise, largely taken for granted today, cost the blood of nearly five thousand in the American Revolution and hundreds of thousands in the Civil War, is the revolutionary idea expressed in the Declaration of Independence that every person is born equal.  The Civil War and Reconstruction fundamentally altered the Union, and most certainly for the better.  The Civil War Amendments, the 13th, 14th, and 15th, sought to fulfill the promise of equality for those enslaved.

Read more

1804, Thomas Jefferson Defeats Charles Pinckney: The Significance Of The 12th Amendment – Guest Essayist: James Legee

, , , , ,

 

The election of 1804 is markedly less significant than the “Revolution of 1800.”  While the triumph of Jefferson’s Democratic-Republicans over Adams and Hamilton’s Federalist Party is noted by Jefferson as an event that “will ameliorate the condition of man over a great portion of the globe,” 1804 failed to merit such hope for the future of humanity.  It would, however, measure the ability of the new Constitution to remedy itself through the amendment process and lead us to questions on the nature of the executive branch and what representation in a republic means.

Read more

How Executive Overreach Affects Your Liberties – Guest Essayist: James Legee

, , , ,

Executive overreach often refers to the growth of the administrative state beneath the President, and whether it has grown beyond the Constitutional limits meant to ensure checks and balances, and protect the liberty of the people.  When discussed in the media, among academics, and at dinner tables and coffee shops around the United States, attention is often turned towards the actions, or attempted actions, of the current White House resident.  Debate over executive orders, signing statements, the limits of war powers, recess appointments, border security, healthcare, swirl and blend in a way such that those without an addiction to the news or a background in government, can easily become lost, or worse, turned off from what is happening in current events.

Functionally, and regardless of ideology, it is difficult to debate the fact that the presidency has overstepped the vision the founders had for the office, and the restraint on power the Constitution was intended to serve as. Missing from the discussion is that the presidency – both the office and the person – has more and more insinuated itself into the daily lives and workings of citizens.  This goes well beyond, and began well before, movement politicians, like President Obama or Ron Paul’s attempts for the Oval Office.

Read more

Thursday, June 6, 2013 – Essay #79 – The Right of the People to Rule by Theodore Roosevelt – Guest Essayist: James Legee, Graduate, Master of Arts in Political Science at Villanova University, Graduate Fellow at the Matthew J. Ryan Center for the study of Free Institutions and the Public Good

, , , ,

Theodore Roosevelt left the office of the President in 1908, only to be drawn back into politics in 1912, disappointed with his predecessor’s defense of the Progressive cause.  He launched the “Bull Moose” Party with the zeal befitting a man who was photographed actually riding a bull moose.  Roosevelt pursued an agenda in 1912 that called for increasing popular participation in government and eroding the barriers between the people and government.  This is also an intentional blurring of the line between a republican form of government and a direct democracy of the kind that existed in antiquity. Read more

Tuesday, June 4, 2013 – Essay #77 – The Presidency: Making an Old Party Progressive by Theodore Roosevelt – Guest Essayist: James Legee, Graduate, Master of Arts in Political Science at Villanova University, Graduate Fellow at the Matthew J. Ryan Center for the study of Free Institutions and the Public Good

, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Theodore Roosevelt was one of the most colorful presidents to serve the Republic.  He was a rancher in the North Dakota Badlands, led the Rough Riders up San Juan Hill and received a Medal of Honor for his gallantry, the only President with such a distinction.  While climbing a Mountain in the Adirondacks of New York in 1901, word reached Vice President Theodore Roosevelt that the condition of President McKinley had rapidly deteriorated after an assassination attempt a week earlier.  The next day, McKinley was dead, and Roosevelt was sworn into office as president.  Roosevelt brought an ideology to the Office of the President that was a refutation of the American Founding, Progressivism.  This ideology included a dramatic expansion of power vested in one person, the president. Read more

Monday, May 27, 2013 – Essay #71 – Second Inaugural Address by Abraham Lincoln – Guest Essayist: James Legee, Graduate, Master of Arts in Political Science at Villanova University and Graduate Fellow at the Matthew J. Ryan Center for the study of Free Institutions and the Public Good

, , , ,

From the vantage point on March 4, 1865, President Lincoln saw the approaching end of the war, a most terrible war that exacted a toll on America never before seen and not seen since.  Lincoln’s Second Inaugural address, delivered shortly before the war’s end and his assassination, is a brief summation of the events and looks forward to rebuilding the nation and healing her wounds.  It is a speech, which is perhaps unique to its era, but not solely in the events it addresses or its length.  Rather, can you imagine a modern President speaking in such a way today- making recurring references to the bible and God? Read more

Tuesday, May 14, 2013 – Essay #62 – Reply in the Senate to William Seward by Jefferson Davis – Guest Essayist: James Legee, Graduate Fellow at the Matthew J. Ryan Center for the study of Free Institutions and the Public Good, Villanova University

, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Senator Jefferson Davis’ response to William Seward’s State of the Country Speech was effectively a political speech- it was not meant to fully articulate the Southern cause of State’s Rights, nor was it a long-winded justification of that “peculiar institution,” slavery.  Rather, Davis’ goal was to respond to Seward’s earlier speech, which condemned slavery.  Within Davis’ speech, though, we find an idea more dangerous and pernicious than slavery as a positive good or that a State has rights; Davis rejected the central principle of the American Founding and Declaration of Independence, that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  Read more

Tuesday, April 23, 2013 – Essay #47 – Letter to John Holmes by Thomas Jefferson – Guest Essayist: James Legee, Graduate Fellow at the Matthew J. Ryan Center for the study of Free Institutions and the Public Good, Villanova University

, , , , , , , ,

Thomas Jefferson’s April, 1820 Letter to John Holmes came as the nation expanded westward into the Louisiana Purchase, and with the homesteaders and settlers came the question of slavery.  In an attempt to address slavery and its role in the new territories, it was agreed by Congress that slavery would be allowed in Missouri but no other state North of the 36°30′ line; additionally, Maine would enter the Union as a Free State. Read more

Tuesday, April 2, 2013 – Essay #32 – Notes on the State of Virginia Query XIII: Constitution by Thomas Jefferson – Guest Essayist: James Legee, Graduate Fellow at the Matthew J. Ryan Center for the study of Free Institutions and the Public Good, Villanova University

, , , , ,

Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia provides an examination of the difficulties the State of Virginia faced in governing itself over the course of the Revolutionary period.  Self-government, as the United States has learned over the last two centuries, is no mean feat.  It was made all the more difficult as there were no enduring examples to look to for guidance, and one of the greatest militaries the world had known had waged a war across the Thirteen Colonies.  Query XIII: Constitution addresses a wide range of issues, from justice in representation, the separation of powers, to a warning against expediency in deviating from the rule of law. Read more

Friday, March 29, 2013 – Essay #30 – Letter to John Jay by George Washington – Guest Essayist: James Legee, Graduate Fellow at the Matthew J. Ryan Center for the study of Free Institutions and the Public Good, Villanova University

, , , , , , ,

Five years after the surrender at Yorktown, circumstances were all but calm for the young republic.  George Washington, retired to Mount Vernon, wrote a letter to the second Secretary of Foreign Affairs under the Articles of Confederation, John Jay, articulating his concerns over the state of events.  Washington began the letter disquieted by the divergent foreign policies the states pursued.  The focus of the letter quickly shifted from foreign policy, to alarm Read more