Rexford Tugwell and the New Deal

By Bernard Sternsher | Go to book overview

17. The Department of Agriculture-- Conservation: 1933-1936

Until he became Resettlement Administrator in the spring of 1935, Tugwell worked hard as Assistant Secretary and, after his promotion in June, 1934, as Undersecretary of Agriculture. His efforts may be summarized under three headings: reorganization, special assignments, and conservation.


I

At first Tugwell, in performing his duties, enjoyed excellent relations with Wallace. There was disagreement among commentators as to the influence of each complex man on the other. John T. Flynn suggested that Tugwell, with his superior mind, dominated the relationship.1 Moley, on the other hand, wrote that Wallace captivated Tugwell with his modesty, charm, and intellectual radicalism.2 John Chamberlain emphasized differences between the Assistant Secretary and his chief-- Tugwell was "too much of a total planner to get along with the more pluralistic Henry Wallace."3Russell Lord, who observed both men in action, remarked that Tugwell neither enchanted nor bewitched the argumentative Wallace. They were contrasting personalities--the cool, debonair, skeptical, occasionally curt, and cagily fighting Tugwell, and the rumpled, ardent, shy, folksy, religious, frontally attacking Wallace. But, Lord concluded, they had two important things in common: "respect for the scientific attitude and contempt for the lower levels of political ingratiation and behavior." And beneath their contrasting personalities they had a warm regard for each other.4

About the middle of 1934 the relationship began to cool. This was largely a result of the conflict over AAA policy. That clash would not have affected relations between Tugwell and Wallace if there had been no crossing of the lines of jurisdiction which Wallace originally laid down. Tugwell was to be responsible for the old-line bureaus, while Wallace himself was to concentrate on the AAA. In practice this allocation of work did not stand up. For one thing, administrative boundaries could not confine intellectual interests. Wallace, an agricultural scientist and a student of statistical methods, was keenly interested in departmental work.5 Tugwell, a student for the past decade of proposals for farm legislation, had a heavy investment of time, energy, and thought in the AAA. He also had an informal link to that agency and the Surplus Relief Corporation in the person of Jerome Frank.

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