Rexford Tugwell and the New Deal

By Bernard Sternsher | Go to book overview

20. Promotion: 1934

I

The New York Times reported in early January, 1934, that Tugwell might become Undersecretary of Agriculture.1 On March 26 Congress passed an appropriation act creating the position. The same day Henry Wallace wrote to the President, recommending the appointment of Tugwell under the appropriation act, which was "so worded that the place can be established and filled immediately."2 On April 24 Roosevelt sent the nomination to the Senate.

Frank Kent, in his column of March 24, asserted that the semiofficial explanations, which referred to "an official promotion, a place of more dignity and prestige, a reward for merit . . .," concealed a desire to give Tugwell free rein for radical regimentation of the American people. Kent bemoaned the likelihood that Tugwell would have more power than ever to carry out his long-range plans. Regarding New Deal measures, Tugwell, Kent concluded, "knew the talk about these things being temporary was nonsense."3 In the opinion of Time Roosevelt intended a "retort to the clamorous criticism of his Brain Truster by some special mark of public preference for him and his services."4 An anti-Roosevelt author, James C. Young, later attributed the promotion to the New Deal's "weakness for formalities in titles and long and complex names for its deeds."5Time probably came closest to the mark, but these commentators overlooked a practical consideration. In going to Washington Tugwell had taken a cut in salary, and he could well use an increase from $7,500 to $10,000.

By the spring of 1934 Tugwell had become a controversial figure. In some quarters, because of his connection with the AAA, the NRA, and a food and drug bill, he personified regimentation. "It was clear," he recalled, "that the appointment to a higher post, just created, would raise a first class storm of protest. . . . I thought and said that my usefulness was too slight to justify the expenditure of any political capital."6 The President rejected Tugwell's advice, and Tugwell's prediction of opposition proved accurate.

In late April Tugwell made three speeches which were, in effect, pre-confirmation addresses: "The Return to Democracy," American Society of Newspaper Editors, Washington, April 21; "On Life as a LongTime Enterprise," Dartmouth College, April 26; "Economic Freedom and the Farmer," New York State Bankers Association, Buffalo, April 28.7Newsweek called the speech to the editors, in which Tugwell

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