Rexford Tugwell and the New Deal

By Bernard Sternsher | Go to book overview

24. Resignation: 1936

I

In November, 1935, Harold Ickes recorded in his diary that there seemed to be a "pretty general feeling that Rex Tugwell will soon be out of the government. He has been under terrific attack lately on account of a speech he made in Los Angeles. . . . I have no doubt, however, that one of these days I will find myself the subject of sharp attacks because of some statement taken out of the context of a speech and distorted by Hearstian editorial writers." Ickes also noted a conversation he had had with Harry Hopkins, who remarked that Tugwell had a lifetime job at Columbia at $9,000 a year and would have to decide soon whether he was going back to teaching. "I will be sorry," Ickes concluded, "to see Tugwell go because I think he is a man of real vision and ability."1 In Washington discussions about the possibility of the resignation of a high official do not remain private very long. Tugwell's case was no exception. In early 1936 the New York Times reported the typical sequence of premature rumors and denials.2 Later in the year Tugwell's silence during the campaign was the occasion for rumors which had a basis in fact. Tugwell's muteness was not voluntary. James A. Farley decided that keeping Tugwell quiet would be a way of avoiding criticism, and Roosevelt agreed. A number of observers took this strategy as an indication that Tugwell's departure was imminent.3 They were correct in a way. Roosevelt did not intend to fire Tugwell, but this strategy, which did not work anyway, was strongly resented by the Undersecretary.

Meanwhile, foes of the New Deal disregarded Tugwell's silence. Joseph B. Ely of Massachusetts warned that Roosevelt's re-election would be immediately construed as the "mandate which Mr. Tugwell has asked . . . in order to create what they speak of as a 'planned economy.' . . ."4Frank Kent made this prediction: "If the More Abundant Life is sustained by the voters next November, this silly stuff about economy, the Constitution, the courts and individual liberty can be tossed out of the window and Dr. Tugwell will be able to transplant people by a mere wave of the hand. And if the transplanted are not happy it will be their own fault."5 Kent did not have to wait long to see his prophecy disproved. In mid-November, flying with Tugwell to Memphis to begin the tour of the South which was to convince Wallace of the RA's value, Felix Belair of the New York Times "scooped" the resignation story. After breakfast the next day Tugwell surrendered to the other news

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