Rexford Tugwell and the New Deal

By Bernard Sternsher | Go to book overview

Preface

Two or three years ago, at a prep school alumni club meeting, the middle-aged wife of one of the members asked me, "Why are you writing a book about that horrible man?" The question provides its own answer in part. This lady, like literally hundreds of thousands of other Americans of her generation, bases her opinion of Rexford Guy Tugwell on a distorted image which a large sector of the press deliberately created and disseminated in the 1930's. If the lady reads this book, she will no doubt continue to remain outside the circle of Tugwell's admirers. This does not matter because recruitment or conversion is not my purpose. At least she will have encountered an attempt, subject to the various limitations of the writer's capacities, to present an accurate account of Tugwell's role in the New Deal.

There is something to be said for setting the record straight. Indeed, the reader may find in this book what he will consider an overreadiness to grapple with any critic of Tugwell. Before condemning this inclination, the reader should bear in mind just how distorted the popular image of Tugwell really was. In any event, since there are only so many writers who can write only so many books, not every injustice of this kind is rectified. Telling Tugwell's story required additional justification. It appeared to me that his career as a New Dealer merited book-length attention on several grounds: his status as an "insider" from early 1932 until early 1935 provides an important point of entrance to the first Roosevelt Administration; his institutional thought furnishesn a criterion against which one can make a meaningful measurement of the New Deal with reference to the question of change in our democratic society; his activities as an administrator are interesting and significant in themselves. When I first wrote to Mr. Tugwell about this study, he replied, "It always strikes me as slightly ridiculous that I should be an object of study; nevertheless, I have to admit that I was around at an interesting time and did have something to do with it all."

There was, of course, the prior question of previous treatments of Tugwell. The most important published studies are "The Experimental Economics of Rexford G. Tugwell," Chapter 6 in Allan G. Gruchy's Modern Economic Thought: The American Contribution ( 1947), and Chapters 7, 8, and 9, dealing with two of the Resettlement Administration's four divisions, in Paul K. Conkin's Tomorrow a New World: The New Deal Community Program ( 1959). "Rexford Guy Tugwell: Institutional Economist" is an unpublished thesis which Maurice Mann submitted

-vii-

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