The Brain Trust was a small group who came together in 1932 to help Franklin D Roosevelt find ways out of the Great Depression. The group’s legacy was significant as they were closely involved with the New Deal as well as a very famous speech. Ted Harvey explains all.

Unemployed men outside a Chicago Depression-era soup kitchen.

Unemployed men outside a Chicago Depression-era soup kitchen.

They were mocked by some in the media, but the three men who were known as the “Brain Trust” were influential in helping Franklin Delano Roosevelt craft the policies that would become the New Deal. Technically it was a short-lived group, existing primarily during FDR’s run for the White House in 1932. While other advisors became lumped in with the “Brain Trust”, there were originally three who made up the group: Raymond Moley, Rexford Tugwell, and Adolf Berle. All were professors at Columbia University, Moley and Berle in law and Tugwell in economics.

The idea for the Trust was suggested by Samuel Rosenman, speechwriter and legal counsel of Roosevelt, whom he knew through his time on the New York State Assembly and as a Justice on the New York Supreme Court. Rosenman thought it would be beneficial for the candidate to have an academic team of advisers. The idea was supposedly based on the Woodrow Wilson’s “The Inquiry”, a large group of academics who advised President Wilson on peace negotiations following World War I. “The Inquiry” would eventually become the Council on Foreign Relations.

 

The Forgotten Man

The “Brain Trust” came together in 1932 led by Raymond Moley, a strong supporter and close ally of then Governor Roosevelt. The country remained trapped in the Great Depression with no obvious end in sight. Moley brought the Brain Trust together to help Roosevelt craft his message, focusing on how his administration would pull the country out of the worst economic depression the country had or would ever face. In some sense the “Brain Trust” was for show, allowing voters to see Roosevelt had a plan to get out of the Depression, and that he wouldn’t stand idly by to let the country work itself out of the depression.

The group’s influence was evident in Roosevelt’s first major campaign speech, now generally known as the “Forgotten Man” speech. In it Roosevelt laid out his plans for his initial 100 days and how he meant to address the continued Depression. The speech focused on the poor, the “forgotten men” who were not receiving the help they needed. It was Raymond Moley who helped write this speech and include the now-famous “forgotten man.” Moley also wrote much of Roosevelt’s first inaugural address. It is also thought that Moley came up with the term “New Deal,” which remains influential to this day. Adolf Berle was also heavily involved with Roosevelt’s speechwriting, helping to write the Commonwealth Club speech, focusing on the importance of government involvement in the economy.

Following the election, the original “Brain Trust” gave way to a more permanent group of advisors. These new Brain-Trusters, people like Frances Perkins, Harry Hopkins, and Harold Ickes, as advisors and Cabinet Secretaries, continued to push New Deal policies forward. As far as the original three, they each pursued a different path. Adolf Berle left the administration soon after Roosevelt’s inauguration, although he continued to be an informal advisor of the President. Later, from 1938 to 1944 Berle returned to work for the White House as Assistant Secretary of State for Latin American Affairs. Raymond Moley became disenchanted with the New Deal policies and with President Roosevelt. He continued writing speeches for the president until 1936, after which he left the White House becoming an ardent critic of the New Deal and liberalism, at least the kind promoted by FDR. Nothing exemplifies Moley’s shift in position than his awarding of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1970 by President Richard Nixon.

Of the three, only Tugwell transitioned directly from the “Brain Trust” to a role in the administration, becoming Undersecretary of the Department of Agriculture. Tugwell would have continued influence as Roosevelt implemented the programs of the New Deal, including the Agricultural Adjustment Agency, the Soil Conservation Service, the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, and the Resettlement Administration. He left the administration in 1936 and became vice president of the American Molasses Company. Later he became the first Director of the New York City Planning Commission, where he frequently ran up against the (in)famous Robert Moses. He returned to the Roosevelt administration in 1941 as the last appointed Governor of Puerto Rico.

 

In perspective

Although the “Brain Trust” was a short-lived loose affiliation, the influence the small group had on Roosevelt and New Deal policies was enormous. While the members of the “Brain Trust” were dismissed by many as advocates of big government and elites, they approached the economic problems of their day through the lens of Progressivism. For example, their goal was not to rely solely on the government or to break-up the large corporations when it came to economic policy, but to have the government regulate businesses. These ideas, supported by President Roosevelt and his Brain Trust, became the backbone of the New Deal economic policies and in many regards remain in place today.

 

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References

http://www.epluribusmedia.org/features/2006/200609_FDR_pt3.html

https://www2.gwu.edu/~erpapers/teachinger/glossary/brains-trust.cfm

https://www.armstrongeconomics.com/research/economic-thought/economics/roosevelts-brains-trust/

Kennedy, David. Freedom From Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Brands, H.W. Traitor to His Class: The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt . New York: Anchor Books, 2008.

Posted
AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones

World War One broke out 100 years ago in the summer of 1914. So to commemorate the Great War we have a created a special World War One issue of History is Now magazine. The new issue of our interactive magazine features a wide range of articles about that war, plus a few extra surprises…

The new issue of History is Now magazine is out now.

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Here is what our editor has to say…

It was 100 years ago, in the summer of 1914, when declarations of war were made in the most destructive war that the world had ever known. This war was of course World War One. It was not known in August 1914 that fighting would go on for over four more years and claim millions of lives. Many expected that the war would be over by Christmas, but they were ever so wrong. This issue of the magazine is a Great War special, with a particular focus on personal and original stories. After all, most of us are surely familiar with the political and military history of this war.

We start with a tale that began with a photograph of a soldier and how one historian then traced back her roots. She shares a fascinating story of a band of troops in World War One with us. Then we go further afield to the most powerful woman in the British Empire during the war years, Gertrude Bell. She played an immensely important role in the Middle East in the period. We follow this up with a short article about the roles that the closely linked European royal families of the time may have played in fomenting World War One. It is a quite original viewpoint.

This issue is not just about the Great War though. There is an article on Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famed fireside chats and how they helped rouse the US out of the Great Depression and on to victory in World War Two. On a different note, we take a look at segregation in the US and how events turned violent in one particular town following a decision to desegregate schools in 1970.

Then it is back to World War One. We have a podcast on a president who fought in the war, Harry S. Truman, although he was to play a more important role in events some thirty years later. We also consider the motivations that different people had in joining the war as part of an article by an author of a book on the conflict. Finally, we share an original and fascinating exhibition that is taking shape. The exhibition will commemorate the 1916 Battle of the Somme through the letters of one particular soldier.

Click here for information on the iPad/iPhone | Click here for information on the Android

With all of that, I’m sure that you will enjoy this month’s History is Now magazine.

Click on one of the links below to enjoy the magazine today…

Click here for information on the iPad/iPhone | Click here for information on the Android

 

George Levrier-Jones

Steve Strathmann considers what the three presidents most closely associated with World War II did during  that other great war of the twentieth century – World War I.

 

In 1917, Woodrow Wilson led the United States as it entered the First World War. In his speech to Congress asking for a declaration of war, Wilson presented Germany’s submarine warfare as the primary reason to go to war, but he also stated a greater goal:

The world must be made safe for democracy. Its peace must be planted upon the tested foundations of political liberty. We have no selfish ends to serve. We desire no conquest, no dominion. We seek no indemnities for ourselves, no material compensation for the sacrifices we shall freely make. We are but one of the champions of the rights of mankind. We shall be satisfied when those rights have been made as secure as the faith and the freedom of nations can make them.

 

The two men who held the office before him supported the nation’s entry into the war. Theodore Roosevelt, a veteran of the Spanish-American War, asked to personally raise a division of troops to be sent to Europe. Wilson met with Roosevelt and politely declined the offer, explaining that the ranks would be instead filled through a draft. Another strike against Roosevelt going to Europe was his poor overall health; he would barely outlive the conflict, passing away on January 6, 1919.

William Howard Taft spoke publicly in support of the war. On June 13, 1917, he repeated Wilson’s “war for democracy” theme, declaring “...Now we have stepped to the forefront of nations, and they look to us.” Taft would be tapped by President Wilson to chair the National War Labor Board, a panel set up to handle labor/management disputes during the war.

While other future presidents would make contributions to the war effort (especially Herbert Hoover, whose work during and after the war would make him internationally famous), what did the three presidents most identified with the Second World War do in 1917? As we shall see, these three men all served their nation’s military in different ways.

 

The Assistant Secretary

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   FDR, with Secretary Daniels and the Prince of Wales, in Annapolis, 1919   
  
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FDR, with Secretary Daniels and the Prince of Wales, in Annapolis, 1919.

While the war raged overseas, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Theodore’s cousin) was a member of the Wilson administration serving as the Assistant Secretary of the Navy. At the start of war, Roosevelt publicly called for an increase in the size of the US Navy by 18,000 men. This got him into trouble with Wilson and Navy Secretary Josephus Daniels, who were trying to maintain a state of neutrality. Roosevelt had to recant his statement, and learned not to step on his superiors’ toes.

By July of 1915, the administration was coming into line with Roosevelt’s beliefs on naval expansion. Increased action in the Atlantic Ocean, including the sinking of the Lusitania, convinced Wilson that the military needed to be updated and enlarged to improve the nation’s defenses. Daniels and FDR presented a plan calling for the construction of 176 new ships, including ten battleships. This was approved by the president and Congress.

Even with these preparations, the US Navy was relatively small when war was declared. This had changed by the end of the war, when the force had expanded to almost a million sailors on over 2,000 vessels. Roosevelt had a hand in this, proving to be so good at gathering military supplies that he had to be asked to share the navy’s material gains with the army.

According to biographer Jean Edward Smith, FDR’s greatest wartime work was the creation of a North Sea antisubmarine chain of mines. While the initial plan was not Roosevelt’s, his promotion of the idea and the technology to accomplish it was what led to it being implemented. The chain wasn’t installed until the summer of 1918 and it was never fully tested, but estimates of German U-boats destroyed by the mines range from four to as many as twenty-three.

Above all, Franklin Roosevelt wanted to serve in the military during the war. He knew how his cousin’s military exploits helped with his political career and wanted to follow in his footsteps. Theodore Roosevelt even encouraged Franklin to enlist. Unfortunately for FDR, his talents working for the administration meant that Wilson and Daniels would never let him leave his post.

Roosevelt did eventually make it to the Western Front, but not as a soldier. In the summer of 1918, he was sent as part of a Senate committee to inspect the situation in Europe. He insisted on going to the French battlefields, including Verdun and Belleau Wood, and came within one mile of the German front lines. Little did he know, his future vice president was serving in an artillery unit not too far away.

 

Captain Harry

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   Harry S. Truman in France, 1918   
  
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Harry S. Truman in France, 1918.

Harry S. Truman volunteered when war was declared, and the former Missouri Guard member was elected an officer in the artillery formations being organized in the Kansas City/Independence region. After training in Oklahoma, the units sailed for France, arriving on April 13, 1918.

On July 11, Truman took over command of Battery D. The battery had had issues with their previous commanders, but Truman soon earned their respect. Indeed, according to author Robert Ferrell, these soldiers would in the future be Truman’s political base, willing to do anything to support the man they called “Captain Harry.”

Truman’s battery saw action in the Vosges Mountains, Meuse-Argonnes and Verdun. Before Meuse-Argonnes, the captain marched his battery for twenty-two nights to reach their destination. During the two weeks there, Truman’s men sometimes fired their guns so often that, according to the battery’s chief mechanic, “...they’d pour a bucket of water down the muzzle and it’d come out of the breach just a-steaming, you know.”

Verdun was a particularly grizzly posting. The area where the unit was stationed was part of the 1916 battlefield, so every shell that landed around the battery would churn up graves from the previous action. Truman would describe waking up in the morning and finding skulls lying nearby. The battery would serve at Verdun until the end of the war.

While Truman was learning to become a leader of men under fire, one of his future generals was fresh out of West Point, desperate to join in the action, but continually thwarted in his attempts.

 

Ike

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   Dwight D. Eisenhower, with tank, in Fort Meade   
  
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Dwight D. Eisenhower, with tank, in Fort Meade.

Dwight D. Eisenhower graduated from West Point in 1915, sixty-first in a class of 164. Despite his wishes to be posted in the Philippines, he ended up in Texas. When the United States entered the war, Eisenhower was appointed regimental supply officer of the new 57th Regiment.

Unfortunately for the ambitious Ike, he proved to be an excellent training officer and was turned down every time he requested a transfer to Europe. Like Roosevelt, he was too valuable to let go. He was soon transferred to Fort Meade to help organize the 301st Tank Battalion, one of the United States’ first tank units. He was supposed to leave for France with the 301st as its commander, but at the last minute was told that he would remain behind (once again) to set up a training base, Camp Colt, to be located on the old Gettysburg battlefield in Pennsylvania.

Eisenhower did a fantastic job setting up Camp Colt, which soon held more than 10,000 men training on the site of Pickett’s Charge. Due to a lack of tanks, they would use guns mounted on flatbed trucks to practice firing at targets while in motion. Finally all was going well and Eisenhower was scheduled to leave for Europe with the next group of recruits, but the war ended just as they were preparing to leave.

 

War to End All Wars?

As the war ended, these three men probably thought what most others did: this war was the last of its kind to be fought. Eisenhower would remain in the army. Truman would return to Missouri and try his hand in business. Roosevelt would continue in politics, running for vice president on the unsuccessful 1920 Democratic ticket. Little did these three men know that they were destined to meet in just over a couple of decades, fighting the next world war.

 

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References

Aboukhadijeh, Feross. "U.S. Entry into WWI" StudyNotes.org. StudyNotes, Inc., Published November 17, 2012. Accessed May 16, 2014.

Duffy, Michael, ed. “Primary Documents- U.S. Declaration of War with Germany, 2 April 1917.” FirstWorldWar.com. Published August 22, 2009. Accessed May 16, 2014.

Duffy, Michael, ed. “Primary Documents- William Howard Taft on America’s Decision to go to War, 13 June 1917.” FirstWorldWar.com. Published August 22, 2009. Accessed May 16, 2014.

Ferrell, Robert H. Harry S. Truman: a life. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 1994.

Korda, Michael. Ike: An American Hero. New York: Harper, 2007.

Smith, Jean Edward. FDR. New York: Random House, 2007.

 

Photos

http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/npc2007000705/resource/ (FDR, with Secretary Daniels and the Prince of Wales, in Annapolis, 1919)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Harry_S._Truman_WW_I.jpg (Harry S. Truman in France, 1918)

http://www.ftmeade.army.mil/museum/Eisenhower_with_Tank.jpg (Dwight D. Eisenhower, with tank, in Fort Meade)