Vice Presidential Spotlight: Harry S. Truman

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman and Henry Wallace in Washington D.C. November 10, 1944

A former farmer and haberdasher, World War I veteran, and successful local Missouri politician, Harry Truman won a United States Senate seat in 1934.  He enthusiastically supported the New Deal and was seen as a Roosevelt loyalist.  After winning reelection in 1940, Truman distinguished himself by chairing a respected Senate committee investigating the defense industry.  Although Truman never sought the vice presidency, Democratic Party leaders opposed Henry Wallace remaining on the 1944 ticket, and Truman was named to replace him.  When FDR died on April 12, 1945, Truman succeeded to the presidency without knowing about the atomic bomb project or what had been agreed to at Yalta.

It was Eleanor Roosevelt that informed Truman of FDR’s death.  Late in 1945, Truman appointed ER to the U.S. delegation to the United Nations, where she remained throughout Truman’s presidency.  Despite her official position, ER did not hesitate to criticize Truman for his weakness on domestic issues, and a foreign policy she believed weakened the United Nations and was too confrontational towards the Soviet Union.  She reluctantly supported Truman in the 1948 election, and they maintained a complex relationship that lasted until her death in 1962.

For more information on Harry Truman, please visit the Truman Library Website: http://www.trumanlibrary.org/

FDR’s “Lucky” Campaign Hat (MO 1945.58.20)

This hat is one of several distinctive “lucky” felt hats Franklin D. Roosevelt wore during his four presidential campaigns. As you can see in the photos below, these trademark fedoras were a common sight on the campaign trail.

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After the 1940 election, Roosevelt generously donated this hat to be auctioned at a fundraiser for the Motion Picture Relief Fund (MPRF). Well-known actors Edward G. Robinson and Melvyn Douglas—both strong FDR supporters—jointly purchased the hat for $3,200 (roughly $50,000 in today’s dollars). This act by the President was a surprise to some, including the First Lady. “The President is very superstitious about that hat, I never expected him to part with it,” she told Jean Hersholt, actor and President of the MPRF.

During the summer of 1944, as Roosevelt campaigned for a fourth term as president, Robinson and Douglas returned the hat to the President. At the time, Robinson was entertaining troops overseas and Douglas was serving as a captain in the US Army. “I believe most men have a special affection for their old hats,” wrote Grace Tully, FDR’s secretary, in her response.

Letter from Mrs. Edward (Gladys) G. Robinson to FDR. August 3, 1944.

 

Copy of the response letter from FDR’s Private Secretary Grace Tully to Mrs. Robinson. August 24, 1944.

After winning the 1944 election, FDR gave this hat to the Roosevelt Library. The hat will be on display in the Library’s new permanent exhibit, opening June 30, 2013.

Vice Presidential Spotlight: Henry A. Wallace

Henry Wallace and Franklin Roosevelt at Val-Kill Cottage in Hyde Park, NY. August 8, 1940

As editor of Wallaces’ Farmer, a leading farm journal of the time, Henry A. Wallace was an influential voice for farm relief and tariff reform.  In 1933, FDR chose Wallace as his Secretary of Agriculture.  Possessing strong administrative and scientific skills, Wallace implemented a host of revolutionary farm programs, including the Agricultural Adjustment Administration, the Soil Conservation Service, the Farm Credit Administration, federal crop insurance, and food stamp and school lunch programs.

In 1940, Roosevelt selected Wallace to be his running mate. One of America’s most effective Vice Presidents, Wallace helped lead the nation’s war mobilization effort and played a key role in planning for the post-war peace.  But he was unpopular with many Democratic leaders, who argued he was too idealistic.  The 1944 vice presidential nomination went to Harry S Truman.  After FDR’s death, Wallace became a leading advocate for post-war cooperation with the Soviet Union and a prominent critic of the Cold War.  He ran an unsuccessful third-party campaign for the presidency in 1948.  Wallace retired to his beloved farm in upstate New York, where he devoted himself to his first love– scientific farming. He died on November 18, 1965.

1940 Wendell Willkie Campaign Buttons

The 1940 election was the most challenging and divisive of FDR’s political career. The President’s decision to seek an unprecedented third term inflamed his opponents—and some former supporters—who charged he wanted to become a dictator. And his efforts to aid countries fighting the Axis Powers led to charges he would drag America into war.

These issues made the 1940 election a particularly colorful one for campaign memorabilia. FDR’s Republican opponent in 1940 was Wendell Willkie, a business leader with no experience in political office. Willkie and the Republicans focused considerable criticism on Roosevelt’s attempt to win a third term. While there was no constitutional barrier to a third term in 1940, no president had ever exceeded the two-term precedent established by George Washington. The fifteen Willkie campaign buttons seen above include many with a “third term” theme. There are also buttons aimed at Eleanor Roosevelt—reflecting the First Lady’s high profile in Washington.

Despite an often bruising campaign, Willkie and Roosevelt became allies after the election. A committed internationalist, Willkie supported FDR’s controversial efforts to aid the Allies and later traveled the globe on behalf of the President during World War II. He also worked with Eleanor as an advocate for human rights. Undeterred by this cordial relationship with the Roosevelts, Willkie ran a brief campaign in 1944, failing to obtain the Republican nomination. He died just a month before FDR was elected for a fourth term.

After President Roosevelt’s death in 1945, Republicans mounted a campaign to pass an amendment to the Constitution placing a cap on the number of terms a president could serve. The 22nd Amendment, limiting presidents to two terms, was ratified in 1951.

Kirsten Carter

Bold, Persistent Experimentation

FDR delivered my favorite of his speeches in 1932, a month before accepting his first of four presidential nominations. He spoke to the graduating class of Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, setting forth an assertive challenge. The speech was a call to action:

“The country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it: If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something. The millions who are in want will not stand by silently forever while the things to satisfy their needs are within easy reach.” Read the full address.

He spoke frankly about confronting the Great Depression – acknowledging the millions of Americans whom he would later describe as “ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished,” but also about a collective responsibility toward progress; our duty to work for real and permanent change. Of course, this vision became the bedrock of the New Deal, and this attitude set the tone for the entire Roosevelt administration.

In 1939 FDR’s progressive spirit also led him to create the nation’s first presidential library – an institution established not only to preserve the records of his administration, but to open those records to the American public, permanently. Though no legal mandate required his papers be opened for research or even saved, Roosevelt believed that the American people had a right to access the records of their government.

Yes, the passage I quoted above is historically significant, but it also resonates with me on another, more personal and professional level.  I believe his call to action directly extends to our work at the Library and throughout the National Archives.  FDR’s vision for open government was in many ways ahead of its time and our approach to modern archival practice also looks to the future: open the collections online. These days it is our responsibility to enter the digital realm in a way that is both useful and meaningful to the millions of people entitled to access public historical material. Millions can benefit from open and free access online, a prospect that would undoubtedly appeal to FDR.

It’s an honor to serve as a digital archivist at the nation’s first presidential library. I hope you’ll stay tuned through the coming year for new additions to our digital archives. On the Library’s website we plan to publish hundreds of thousands of pages of archival documents – resources previously available only in-person. The National Archives as a whole has made such inspiring leaps forward for open government (see Digitization at the National Archives, the 1940 Census Release, Transformation Blog). In my opinion there has never been a more exciting time to be an archivist. I am proud to work for a Library and an agency so committed to public responsibility and to mission-focused innovation.

Developing complex digital infrastructure to support an effective digitization program is no easy task, but we take very seriously the call to “above all, try something.” FDR would expect nothing less.

Roosevelt speaks at the dedication of the FDR Presidential Library & Museum, on June 30, 1941. Npx 48-22 3713(34). View newsreel footage of the Library’s opening day.

.The Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park was dedicated on October 17, 2012. Designed by Louis I. Kahn, the park was built as an enduring tribute to the life and work of President Roosevelt. For more information on the park, please visit: http://www.fdrfourfreedomspark.org.

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1936 Podium (M.O. 2007.125)

MO 2007.125 Podium Used by Franklin D. Roosevelt

This aluminum and steel podium was specially designed for use by FDR during a 1936 presidential campaign stop at the new Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, Missouri—an immense structure built with funds from the New Deal’s Public Works Administration (PWA).  A plaque inside the podium reads, “Presented by the citizens of Kansas City, Missouri/ to the honorable/ Franklin Delano Roosevelt/ President of the United States of America/ on the occasion of his dedication/ of the new Municipal Auditorium/ October 13, 1936/ H.F. McElroy, city manager.” Following the President’s speech the podium was shipped to the White House. It was later transferred to the National Archives and Records Administration.

With considerable physical effort, using specially designed podiums such as this one, FDR was able to deliver his speeches from a standing position while supporting himself with his arms. Wearing leg braces, the President would approach a podium like this one with the aid of a cane and the strong arm of a companion. They supported his weight while he pitched his body forward.  He then placed his hands on the arm rails at the back of the podium and, using his arms to hold his weight, moved himself forward the last few steps.

Though it appears to be an ordinary podium from the front, this one has thigh-high extensions in the back, providing the necessary stability to support the President’s weight. The podium’s six feet could be bolted to the floor to add further support. With its raised panels and modern materials, this podium is particularly attractive and well-built, in keeping with its intended use at the dedication of a newly minted building. It includes two handsome presidential seals on the front.  Other podiums FDR used were more utilitarian in design and materials (see photo below). But all served to allow the President to stand while delivering his speeches.

FDR speaks at a wooden podium, August 11, 1938.

FDR’s stop at the new Kansas City auditorium was part of a ten-day campaign tour that began on Thursday, October 8, 1936 when he, Eleanor, and a delegation of family and close political associates left Hyde Park by train. During this tour the President visited eleven states. Traveling by train, he made speaking stops in Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Michigan, Ohio, and New York before returning to Hyde Park on October 17.  

The Kansas City stop on October 13 was the fifth of six train stops on that date. Roosevelt’s day began with a speech in Wichita, Kansas. Next he gave three “rear-platform remarks” from the back of his train in Florence, Emporia, and Olathe, Kansas.  After his speech at the auditorium in Kansas City he returned to the campaign train and gave one last talk from back of the train in Carrollton, Missouri.

FDR at the podium, Municipal Auditorium October 13, 1936.

In Kansas City, FDR spoke to a packed house, including a large group of young people seated in the front rows. He directed his remarks toward this new generation, who were growing up during very difficult economic times:

“As we take stock, we recognize that the most priceless of our human assets are the young men and women of America–the raw material out of which the United States must shape its future.… And so, the highest duty of any Government is to order public affairs so that opportunities for youth shall be made ever broader and firmer.”

FDR touted his administration’s investment in institutions that served youth, especially schools. “The school,” he noted, “is the last expenditure upon which America should be willing to economize.” He also extolled New Deal initiatives like the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the National Youth Administration (NYA) which were helping young people find direction, work, and education and giving them hope for the future.

The Municipal Auditorium was designed in the then popular
Art Moderne/ Decco style and was hailed at the time as an
architectural triumph. Today the beautifully preserved and
maintained building is a city landmark, hosting sports events,
musical acts and other cultural events.

1932 Presidential Campaign

Franklin Roosevelt’s nomination for President by the Democratic Convention in Chicago in July 1932 led to one of the momentous campaigns in American political history.

Saddled with responsibility for the Depression, President Hoover would have been vulnerable to almost any opponent in 1932.  FDR’s advisors were unanimous in urging him to play it safe and wage a front porch campaign; his running mate, John Nance Garner of Texas, told him, “All you have got to do is stay alive until election day.”

FDR campaigns in Atlanta, Georgia.
October 24, 1932

But from his first political venture in upstate New York, FDR had personally exulted in active campaigning, and in 1932 he felt the times and the mood of the country required no less.

Accordingly he campaigned the length and breadth of the land, carrying his message into forty-one states and making a score of major addresses as well as hundreds of whistle-stop appearances.  It was the most active presidential campaign to that time.

Some of the positions FDR advocated for during the campaign, such as a commitment to lower taxes, balance the budget, and cut the Federal bureaucracy by 25%, came back to haunt him later.  But his energy and personal charm nevertheless carried him to a sweeping victory on November 8, winning forty-two of the forty-eight states, an electoral vote margin of 472 to 59, and a popular vote of 22.8 million to Hoover’s 15.7 million.

Telegram, Herbert Hoover to FDR, November 7, 1932

Vice Presidential Spotlight: John Nance Garner

FDR with John Nance Garner campaigning in Peekskill, New York.
August 14, 1932.

John Nance Garner was a politician from Uvalde County, Texas.  After serving in the Texas Legislature, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1902.  He ran for president in 1932, competing with Governor of New York Franklin D. Roosevelt for the party nomination.  When it became clear at the Democratic National Convention that FDR had the support of the majority of the delegates, Garner’s campaign cut a deal with Roosevelt’s to exchange the support of the Texas delegation for the Vice-Presidential nomination.  Soon after, Roosevelt was nominated as the Democratic candidate for president and Garner was nominated as his running mate, and the pair easily defeated the Republican ticket that November.

Like many southern Democrats, Garner was philosophically opposed to the New Deal, but did not often publically break ranks with the administration.  In 1940, Henry A. Wallace was nominated for Vice President, and Garner returned to private life in Texas.

50th Anniversary of the Dedication of the Statue of Liberty

On October 28, 1936, President Roosevelt attended and addressed the 50th anniversary of the dedication of the Statue of Liberty.

In his address FDR states that “the realization that we are all bound together by hope of a common future rather than by reverence for a common past has helped us to build upon this continent a unity unapproached in any similar area or population in the whole world.” He goes on to say:

It is fitting, therefore, that this should be a service of rededication to the liberty and the peace which this Statue symbolizes. Liberty and peace are living things. In each generation—if they are to be maintained— they must be guarded and vitalized anew.

To read the entire speech, please visit: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=15210

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