The Strange Career of Frank Murphy: Conservatives, State-Level Politics, and the End of the New Deal

By Wolfinger, James | The Historian, Winter 2002 | Go to article overview

The Strange Career of Frank Murphy: Conservatives, State-Level Politics, and the End of the New Deal


Wolfinger, James, The Historian


"I ASSERT MY FIRM BELIEF in the leadership of President Roosevelt and his valiant efforts to bring social security to our people." With those words in 1936, Frank Murphy declared his support of the New Deal and launched his campaign to become Michigan's governor. By the end of the year, Murphy had won a smashing victory by nearly 50,000 votes, tossing out a Republican Party that had so dominated the state since the Civil War that one commentator called Michigan a "company town." Murphy's election, as part of a national landslide that brought unprecedented Democratic majorities to the U.S. Congress and state legislatures across the country, seemed to herald a new political order where New Dealers could promote progressive programs at will. And indeed, Murphy did just that, signing legislation that enhanced assistance for the unemployed, aged, and infirm; increased funding for education; and improved Michigan's mental health facilities, among other things. By the end of Murphy's two-year term, his agenda left him widely regarded as a leading New Dealer, a barometer of Franklin Roosevelt's popularity, and by his supporters as a possible presidential candidate. At the same time, his conservative opponents, chiefly Michigan Republicans and the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), characterized him as a traitor and a Communist sympathizer for the way he handled the Flint sit-down strike in 1937. In the end his opponents proved more vocal: Murphy, the man who so nearly embodied the spirit of the New Deal, lost his 1938 bid for reelection by some 93,000 votes. (1)

This article analyzes the strange career of Frank Murphy in order to gain a deeper understanding of how the New Deal ended. In so doing, it builds on a vast body of scholarship on the 1930s. Early studies of the New Deal era, typified by the works of William Leuchtenburg and Paul Conkin, centered on Franklin Roosevelt and national politics. Certainly Leuchtenburg paid heed to important regional events of the time--Huey Long's rise, Upton Sinclair's defeat, and so on--but the "Roosevelt Revolution," as Leuchtenburg termed it, was first and foremost a national phenomenon. Newer studies, taking their cue from James Patterson's The New Deal and the States, have examined the contours of New Deal politics at the state and city level. Jo Ann Argersinger, Richard Keller, and others have sought what Richard Wade and Charles Trout called "a fresh perspective on the whole period ... [that gives] a fuller sense of the New Deal's workings." By looking at the state and local level, these scholars argue, we can see more clearly the importance of local leaders in implementing New Deal policies, the limits of those policies, and the way average Americans got involved in federal programs. This article draws on the insights of these scholars to examine the New Deal in a particular place, but it extends their thinking by considering more closely the demise, rather than the development, of the New Deal. (2)

To be sure, the New Deal's end has been the subject of some study, but there is little consensus on what happened. Richard Chapman, James Patterson, and Clyde Weed, for instance, focus on congressional conservatives and their anger over the court-packing plan and the 1937 attempted purge of conservative Democrats. George Wolfskill and others demonstrate an attempt by businessmen to curb the New Deal through the Liberty League. John Egerton argues that it was "the veteran Southerners in Congress [who] ... dealt such crippling blows to Roosevelt and the New Deal." And Alan Brinkley shows how philosophical changes within the administration led most New Dealers to retreat from their more far-reaching plans. While these interpretations are not wrong, these scholars do not go far enough in tying together national and state politics or in treating the conservative attack on the New Deal as a new and creative process effectively designed to win the hearts of the American public. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Strange Career of Frank Murphy: Conservatives, State-Level Politics, and the End of the New Deal
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.