FDR: ‘Liberal forces have often been killed and buried…’

On this day in 1938: Accepting an honorary degree at the University of North Carolina (three years after the school gave one to his wife, Eleanor), President Franklin D. Roosevelt shrugs off New Deal losses in the recent elections: “The liberal forces have often been killed and buried, with the inevitable result that they have come to life again more vigorous than before.”

In a phrase that will come to identify the speech at Woollen Gymnasium, FDR denies that his favorite breakfast dish is “grilled millionaire.”

[How a persistent UNC student managed to “land a whale on a trout hook.”]


‘I’ve dealt with fake history before, but not….’

” ‘I don’t know that Trump has historical awareness at all,’ Fitzhugh Brundage, the chair of the history department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, told me…. ‘I’ve had any number of colleagues say they feel recommitted and energized to do what they do, because of its very importance now.’

“Brundage told me that he has fought against ‘fake history’ for decades; in the 1980s, he often heard bizarre claims related to Pearl Harbor — that Franklin Roosevelt intentionally allowed the Japanese to attack or tried suppressing information about a potential attack and whether it would bring the U.S. into the war. ‘Every now and then Reagan made weird statements, like having been there when they liberated concentration camps,’ Brundage said. ‘But that may have been the onset of Alzheimer’s. All of which is to say: I’ve dealt with fake history before, but not sustained by a President adding to it.’ ”

— From “Teaching Southern and Black History Under Trump” by in the New Yorker (Feb. 2)

This just in: yet another contribution to the archives of fake history….


Only FDR understood ‘my boss is a son-of-a-bitch’

“Roosevelt excelled in evoking the hatred of the privileged and the admiration of ordinary Americans. During the Depression, a North Carolina farmer declared, in all sincerity,  ‘I’m proud of our United States, and every time I hear the “Star Spangled Banner” I feel a lump in my throat. There ain’t no other nation in the world that would have sense enough to think of WPA and all the other A’s’….

“A North Carolina mill worker was pungent in his praise: ‘Mr. Roosevelt is the only man we ever had in the White House who would understand that my boss is a son-of-a-bitch.’ ”

— From “Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States” by Michael Lind (2012)


Gardner had his eye on ‘the wealth of New England’

On this day in 1944: Former Gov. O. Max Gardner, a Democrat, enjoys himself in a letter to the president of Massachusetts’ Pepperell Mfg. Co., a Republican, on the occasion of FDR’s reelection:

“I thought about you around midnight November 7th when the first glimmering results came in from Massachusetts, and I had no difficulty in recognizing that you were again in the minority..

“We are going to start on this glorious Fourth Term on a wider and more complete distribution of the wealth of New England, starting with you and terminating at Shelby, North Carolina, by way of Washington, D.C.”


Muley knew when not to be stubborn

“The House Ways and Means Committee was skeptical of [FDR’s] revenue proposals.

“Its  legendary chairman, Robert Lee ‘Muley’ Doughton [of] North Carolina had been a central figure in passage of the Social Security Act and other New Deal tax legislation. But Doughton foremost was a Southerner. He had been born during the Civil War, and his father, a captain under Robert E. Lee, named his son after the general.

“He also was a fiscal conservative who had earned his nickname  for ‘a backwoods stubbornness that cloaked a shrewd ability to compromise’….

“He often reminded colleagues that ‘the science of levying and collecting taxes is the science of getting the most feathers with the least squawking of the geese.’ ”

– From “The Price of Liberty: Paying for America’s Wars from the Revolution to the War on Terror” by Robert D. Hormats (2007)

Sen. Bailey gives a filibuster tutorial

“Senate rules forbade members from speaking more than twice per day on a given piece of legislation, but a senator was free to offer as many amendments to the bill as he wished and could then  speak twice on each amendment. ….

[Preparing to filibuster FDR’s plan to ‘pack’ the Supreme Court, Senator Edward Burke of Nebraska] procured a stack of official amendment blanks and charged a group of young American Bar Association lawyers with the task of filling them in. After a day and half the lawyers had drafted no more than 15 amendments, each of which substantially altered the court bill.

“Exasperated, the men paid a visit to Senator [Josiah] Bailey, who laughed out loud at their paltry output. Reaching for a copy of the bill, he told one of the lawyers to take dictation. Bailey pointed to the provision that set a limit of 15 judges, and instructed the lawyers to replace ’15’ with ’14’. Then ’13’. Then ’12’. And so on through the various sections of the bill. Having received this lesson in legislative hair-splitting, the lawyers produced 125 neatly amendments by the next morning — enough to permit 250 speeches.”

— From “Supreme Power: Franklin D. Roosevelt vs. the Supreme Court” by Jeff Shesol (2010)

Reynolds to the rescue of Roosevelt

“Fueled by rage at Roosevelt and possessed of an attractive candidate [Wendell Willkie] to run against him….the GOP was gearing up — and shelling out — for a supreme effort….

“The [Democrats] had been outspent in every national election since 1920, and…never had the supply of funds been shorter than in 1940.

“The five great radio speeches by Roosevelt… that were to boost his popularity during the last days of the campaign would not have been broadcast had not Richard Reynolds [Jr.], of the North Carolina tobacco family, appeared on the scene with a last-minute $175,000 loan to pay for the radio time.”

— From “The Path to Power (The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Volume 1)” (1982) by Robert A. Caro

For FDR, ‘the greatest tribute — utter silence’

“Franklin Roosevelt, honorably discharged from all his wars, rode slowly through Charlotte’s sorrowing thousands last night….

“Stretching the length of the railway station and packing the streets that opened out upon the tracks, the people… paid him the greatest tribute they knew — utter silence.

“As the crowd awaited the arrival of the train, they stood quietly and talked in low tones. And as it came slowly through, the only noise was that of the soldiers as they brought their rifles smartly to the salute.

“When the train had passed, and only a glimpse could be caught of the great American flag that covered the copper casket in which lay the body of the fallen chief, the crowd, still without a discordant word, turned and went away.

“As some 40 singers from the various churches… began singing ‘Onward, Christian Soldiers’ and ‘My Faith Looks Up to Thee,’ hats went off all up and down the tracks.

“Farther down the tracks at the other end of the station, a Negro group sang spirituals. For Negroes were there, too, hundreds of them, paying their tribute to the man whom hey looked upon as the best friend they ever had in the White House.”

— From “Sorrowing Charlotte Thousands Pay Final Homage to Roosevelt” by LeGette Blythe, Charlotte Observer, April 14, 1945

Blythe, a prolific newspaperman and historian, was the grandfather of Will Blythe, author of “To Hate Like This Is to be Happy Forever: A Thoroughly Obsessive, Intermittently Uplifting, and Occasionally Unbiased Account of the Duke-North Carolina Basketball Rivalry” (2006).

FDR train pauses at ‘Noplace in the Carolinas’

“The funeral train plunged through the darkness [on April 14, 1945], changing engines and crews again at Salisbury, North Carolina, where 8,000 people (including 145 honor guards from Fort Bragg), stood in silence — and presented still another floral wreath. Sometime after midnight, the train rumbled through Greensboro. The countryside between the big cities was land that one journalist [Jim Bishop]  later termed ‘Noplace in the Carolinas.’ With a schedule to keep, the funeral train simply could not stop in such locales….

“The exception was a place — never identified — where the railroad tracks slipped into a narrow cut of earth with farm fields abutting the crevasse on either side….. The locomotives chuffed to a halt beneath a tall wooden water tank….

“As the fireman wrestled the filling spout over the hatch of the first tender, an elderly black sharecropper — awakened by the hiss and clang below — wandered over to investigate. He peered down  and saw the train paused in the ghost light, its windows all dark except for those of the last car, where he saw the flag and knew what it meant.

“Shocked and humbled, the man began to sing ‘Hand Me Down My Walkin’ Cane.’ His sonorous baritone boomed across the moonlit fields, drawing other farm hands out of their shanties. One by one they added their voices to the chorus. One of the engineers looked up, certain he could hear singing from somewhere above and away….”

— From “FDR’s Funeral Train” by Robert Klara (2010)

Klara’s book is authoritative and engaging, but I was disappointed he didn’t make use of reporter LeGette Blythe’s deadline account of the funeral train passing through Charlotte. I’ll post an excerpt tomorrow.

Josiah Bailey, father of modern conservatism?

“Taking the offensive [in 1937], Josiah Bailey, the North Carolina senator, issued a ‘manifesto’ demanding tax cuts and a balanced budget, and heralding private enterprise and states’ rights. Bailey hoped to reenergize the bipartisan coalition that had beaten [FDR’s plan to pack the Supreme Court] and, ultimately, to spark a political realignment. Though the manifesto failed in this, it would come over time to serve as something of a mission statement for modern conservatism.”

— From “Supreme Power: Franklin D. Roosevelt vs. the Supreme Court” by Jeff Shesol (2010)