Sly and Able: A Political Biography of James F. Byrnes


"Few American political figures have had as long, as eventful, as varied, and as consequential a career as James F. "Jimmy" Byrnes of South Carolina. This quintessential self-made man and master politician was centrally involved in many of the epochal domestic and international developments of the first half of the "American Century." Byrnes is arguably among the most experienced and least known of the "wise men" who exercised great political power just below the office of president during World War II and the Cold War. He was certainly the most powerful and influential southern political figure of his era, and he came tantalizingly close to the ultimate political prize, the American presidency - only to be edged out, with Rooseveltian sleight of hand, by Harry S. Truman. A simple recital of Jimmy Byrnes' career captures its scope. Born in 1882, he was a fatherless boy raised in straitened circumstances by his seamstress mother. He clerked in a Charleston, South Carolina, law office, where he learned the ways of southern politics from two seasoned judges. Elected to the House of Representatives in 1910, he was taken under the wing of the legendary (and virulently racist) Senator Benjamin "Pitchfork Ben" Tillman - the first of Byrnes' Washington "political fathers." Defeated for the Senate in his first campaign in the mid-twenties, he finally won a seat in 1930 with the advice and financial aid of the Democratic party's main financier, Bernard Baruch. In the thirties Byrnes became the key legislator of the New Deal, masterfully steering the numerous programs of his great friend Franklin D. Roosevelt and his Brains Trusters through Congress and keeping the Solid South solid. As his political reward Byrnes was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1941, a post he soon resigned, though, to become FDR's head of the Office of War Mobilization - the "assistant president" - during World War II, with vast, almost dictatorial powers over the American domestic economy. Byrnes accompanied FDR to the Yalta conference (where he took detailed notes in shorthand), and upon Roosevelt's death was appointed secretary of state by Truman. He played a pivotal role in the decision to use the atom bomb on Japan, the negotiations of the post-war treaties, and the early stages of the Cold War. Resigning from State, Byrnes grew increasingly disaffected with the national Democratic party; as the (still) Democratic governor of South Carolina he supported the Republican candidate Dwight D. Eisenhower in the 1952 presidential race, and he was eventually a key architect of the so-called southern strategy that was to sweep Richard M. Nixon into the White House in 1968. David Robertson does full justice to the sweep and detail of Jimmy Byrnes' career. He unearths fresh historical material - for example, Byrnes' key role in the Textile Strike of 1934, one of the most widespread and violent episodes of labor unrest in American history; and the epic political battle to build the vast Santee-Cooper dam project in South Carolina's low country, a resonant episode that pitted Byrnes against Interior Secretary Harold Ickes. Sly and Able is an important biography that restores this major American political figure - in many ways the most influential southern politician since John C. Calhoun - to his full stature in the landscape of twentieth-century American history." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved


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