Link for articles by Vaughn Davis Bornet on the History News Network website
Link for articles by Vaughn Davis Bornet on the History News Network website
Copy and paste this link for Dr. Bornets contributions to the Herbert Hoover Library Collection.
Advice on Living to 100—From One Who Tried It
Vaughn Davis Bornet
Editor’s Note: Once again, we hear from our senior citizen in Ashland, Oregon. This time he is obviously trying to reach out and lengthen at least some of our lives. Good luck on that, folks. (Remember: Dr. Bornet is Emory, Univ. of Georgia, Stanford, Navy, “free lance,” RAND, and so on. He started Life on October 10, 1917.)
My subject today is living a long life, and how to go about it. Here’s the scoop: First: Don’t smoke, or if you do, give it up! There used to be smoking in the 1960s at the tables of our Ashland Rotary Club. I got up and moved every time. I was rude, no doubt about it. I thought I “knew better” and, yes, I did!
Second, be active mentally and physically, over a very long period. I was a baseball pitcher, weightlifter, sailor, golfer, and now one of the few exercisers in our retirement home. We camped a lot in the old days, at relatively high altitudes, and I’m sure it was good for all of our family and friends who went with us (to about 5,000 feet).
Then, plan cleverly (or have the dumb luck) to marry or conspire to live with, a good partner. Don’t change the one you chose so carefully. Tell that spouse of yours to read up on “nutrition,” and use a little care when planning your meals.
I am of two minds about children’s effect on longevity. They may shorten your life by sometimes almost driving you nuts. Or, they may actually lengthen your life, as they may pay part of the bill for that fancy retirement home. They can provide a really good motive to stay alive as they visit weekly or monthly, bringing chocolates.
While I am convinced that work may have a lot to do with longevity—mostly with shortening it; I suggest that you sensitive ones avoid an autocratic boss. I had several—for long periods—and I wasted a good deal of time trying to endure them.
It also helps if you’re paid well. If you can’t arrange that, try to inherit a sizable sum from the estate of an older brother who is well fixed.
I feel obligated to suggest that the amount of “happiness” you have is bound to have a lot to do with how much you really want to “live long.” Sorry, but I am not quite sure how to guarantee development or retention of happiness, or even to know when you’ve used up your quota.
I surmise that you have read at least some of the little articles in newspapers that give advice. They are about coffee, sugar, salt, alcohol, fatty meats, and junk food. (In some states, drugs and opiodes are now among the subjects. That unsought advice is also about when to eat, and how to sleep—of all things.
I would add this unsought advice: stick with really nice people. (After some recovery from my huge heart attack in 1977, my physician, a Dr. John Reynolds in Ashland, Oregon told me: “Vaughn, starting now, stay away from people that bug you.”) Good advice, that–but it’s hard to do.
I am almost certain that music is related to longevity. Playing it; listening to it; respecting opinions about it. Personally, I would recommend opera on Saturday mornings as a way of relaxing, but it can be unnerving with all of its suicides and murders.
There are one or two practical matters related to health that are seldom mentioned. I am convinced that if dermatologists catch those spots due to excess sun, coming on your face, shoulders and hands, hitting them a second or so with a nitrogen gun, major cancer may never show up in major parts of your body.
NOW: A Harvard-based scientific discovery a little while back seems to be related to my own longevity. It’s psychology-based.
I’m going to quote from a learned book: “We now know that soaking yourself in the recent past—your past—is a powerful way to rehabilitate aging cognition.” That quote is from John Medina, a developmental molecular biologist. He wrote Brain Rules, and Brain Rules for Aging Well. Another highly relevant book is: Ellen J. Langer, Counterclockwise: Mindful Health and the Power of Possibility. Her experiments had dramatic conclusions.
I want to offer a simple quotation: “… you should become a specialist on what you did between the ages of 15 and 29.” No kidding.
I heard about this next idea recently, but it has been known to psychologists for several years and is based on solid conventional research.
The idea is this: Relive your childhood, youth, and earliest adulthood years by thinking and talking about them! It turns out that I certainly did. My years from 15 to 29 were 1932 to 1946. I have written seriously about that era in four books! In 1995, I wrote a major autobiography in the third person; it ended at 400 pages, with over three chapters treating those “magic” years. Several years ago, I wrote a book rooted in letters I exchanged with my far away wife in wartime, 1944. Rereading of our stressed but thrilling life back then, I even relived the days of marriage and honeymoon! (I married my bride in her home, snow outside, in my World War II blue Navy uniform.)
In 2017 I put together a third detailed account that took me back to 1925 to 1933. The book was rooted in parental travel diaries and brought back my Boy Scout years, memories of family, and our transition from Prosperity to Depression.
I just finished my original new book, Seeking New Knowledge: A Research Historians Rewarding Career. I actually completed all the required remembering when finishing up with my 99th year. I typed the first draft of the whole book myself, by the way, wishing my fingerprints would return.
What I am saying is that I have often relived being young again, in real detail. If I am a relatively healthy 100 at this time, just MAYBE some of that longevity is due to Reliving the Past—my own Past—just as those scientists ordered! My ever-changing years from 15 to 29 were astounding, really. I’m now going to refer to them briefly, so get ready!
My parents and I were Happy in Prosperity—those Twenties were good. But the sheriff sold our nice home, vacation home, and cars in 1931; I had to live a year with my aunt without my parents; they moved to Miami Beach and I joined them finally by taking a five-port-docking coastwise steamer from Philadelphia to Miami.
Thereafter, 1933 to 1935, I helped support my family by delivering as many as 250 morning newspapers, mostly to tourists. I graduated from my second high school. Now scholarships helped me get two and half college degrees before the war. And my father’s steel engineering went solidly.
Next, I served five years with the Navy; then taught History two years at the University of Miami; attended Stanford a long time on the G I Bill, and in spring, 1951 finally got the doctorate in History.
One secret to living long, those psychologists say, is nostalgia. “Regular nostalgia exposure,” they assert, “has behavioral benefits…consistent with activation of dopamine. It boosts social connectedness scores, and feelings of well-being.”
A recent Wikipedia explanation of dopamine is: “It’s a neurotransmitter in the brain that acts to help regulate movement and emotion.” And, “It’s a chemical released by neurons…to send signals to other nerve cells….” And then, “Reward-motivated behavior increases the level of dopamine in the brain.” (That word isn’t in the Webster’s Collegiate I have used since 1936.)
Moving on, the experts also say, “Seniors consistently exposed to their past become less anxious about dying, become emotionally closer to loved ones, even obtain greater tolerance for outsiders.” Still with me?
Let me put it in simpler English: Reliving ones’ earlier years, especially the ones after childhood and before getting far into adulthood, greatly helps to prolong life in old age.
This is what I seem to have learned: To go back with real appreciation to your own selected “old days” is something of a guarantee that Heaven will grant a noticeable increase in our “new days.”
There was an article on seizing longevity in History News Network recently. The learned author claims that if one looks back at youth and earlier life, and dwells on it, (often–I gather) it helps the individual to live on—and reach a healthy old age.
As I conclude, I want to confide a little more about myself: Well, I grew up in a snooty little main-line town in Pennsylvania called Bala-Cynwyd. I was in the Band and Orchestra. And later on a winning tennis team.
I became a Sigma Chi in college, and graduated “With Honors.” I was put in charge of all the barracks at Naval Air Station in Alameda for three years and dubbed “necessary.” This lieutenant didn’t get out of uniform until four months after the War was over. In 1945 after two drinks, my admiral once said, “Hell, Bornet, nobody wants your job!” (Which is how I learned I wasn’t about to be shipped out to the far Pacific, back in early summer, 1945.)
After Stanford I began to write books and work for foundations and a Think Tank. A three year full time effort on my part was writing a big book for the Commonwealth Club of California.
I spent three separate years helping three distinguished scholars put together their famous books. The subjects were: President Roosevelt, the best-selling textbook on American history by Thomas A. Bailey, and Herman Kahn’s classic book on thermonuclear war. I also summarized a big RAND Corporation book on the Space Race, making it readable. I developed an Oral History activity for the Truman Library, getting an autographed photo from him, with thanks.
Meanwhile, I served as editor for American History, Biography and Geography for a new edition of Encyclopedia Brittanica that came out in 1960. I had three happy years at that RAND Corporation.
I was a professor and Division Chairman at Southern Oregon College about two decades. I served nearly twenty years on the United States Civil Rights Commission for Oregon. For two years, with secretarial help, I served as president of the Rogue Valley Symphony.
Finishing, I guess I should admit that I wrote a book for the American Heart Association which got me named “Distinguished” before a huge hotel audience of cardiologists. The book made the news columns of the NYT. Finally, The Freedoms Foundation of Valley Forge honored me for my article on US relations with Russia. My thousand page plus website, CLIOISTICS, is permanently on the Internet with hundreds of pages that were published during my recent oldest years.
The idea of this simple article has been to spread the news that going back to Your Post Childhood, but Early Adult, Past, thinking about it, considering it, can actually lengthen your Life! Enroute (since I have been here since October 10, 1917 and remain healthily active as an elderly Research Historian) I have ventured to offer a precis of my active life, only as an inspiration to You.
A CREDO FOR AMERICANS TO TAKE TOWARDS THE FUTURE
I am proud to be an American citizen in today’s world. It was easy to say that during the last days of World War I, when we joined the fight in Europe with Wilsonian ideals about making the world Safe for Democracy. We used the Peace to support both our national self-determination and to an extent the idea of international government. We fought in World War II against worldwide tyranny during years when the enemy’s blatant racism in Europe and their fierce dedication to imperialism were massive evils. Postwar, we helped liquidate some major European colonialism in Africa and Asia. In the 20th Century, America stood squarely against international communist totalitarianism, but not always successfully. We devoted vast sums to foreign aid for decades, and we abstained from acquiring new territory. Today, America continues for the most part to strive to change the world for the better. The family foundations of rich Americans have shouldered special burdens abroad.
Especially, I hope for understanding and meaningful help as our nation struggles to expand democratic government while bringing equity at last to women. We should believe that the population of the United States, as it modifies from centuries of English influence, will continue to remain faithful to the humanity-serving goals of earlier years. All hope that new generations of Americans will assume the obligations we feel to be their duty.
Above all else, I hope that new Americans, and their leaders everywhere, regardless of their religions and their sense of obligation to places of origin, will come to share our traditional sense of unyielding idealism. We hope the new mixed society that is coming well be influenced by the best of what made us world leaders. Every citizen among us, we hope, will come to share at least some of what our people have felt when we lived and performed at our very best.
VAUGHN DAVIS BORNET, Ashland, Oregon, U.S.A.
The Real Reason LBJ Didn’t Run for Re-Election in 1968
tags: LBJ, 1968, Democratic Party
77 20 28
by Vaughn Davis Bornet
The author of this corrective piece researched his heavily documented Johnson effort—resulting in the Kansas Press Book The Presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson (1984)—back in the era 1976 to 1983. He pioneered in use of the LBJ Papers in Austin. Dr. Bornet (soon to be 100) lives busily in Ashland, Oregon and is a frequent contributor to HNN. His new book, “Seeking New Knowledge: A Research Historian’s Rewarding Career” (130 pages) will be out soon.
Let’s begin with a quick summary: President Lyndon B. Johnson inherited the presidency in November, 1963 after the terrible events in Dallas. He ran against Barry Goldwater with great success in 1964. Then he served a full term “in his own right” from 1964 through 1968, stepping down on January 20, 1969 as the presidency changed hands, Democratic to Republican, from his to Richard Nixon’s.
Our concern here is just how did it happen that in the spring of 1968, the President of the United States announced that he would not be running again for president in spring, summer, and autumn, 1968?
Almost any place one looks (except my account of the Johnson presidency!) the answer usually offered is that “the Left” or “Liberals” in the months of February to April, 1968 succeeded in a major goal. They allegedly made sure everybody would be certain that he could never win if he ran in 1968. As Johnson came to sense that, it is said, he found it necessary to abandon any thought, hope, or plan to run because it would be a waste of time—and embarrassing to boot. Several prominent Democrats claimed they were rising toward probable success at the time. (One of them would fail, one would be shot, others would fall by the wayside.) Hubert Humphrey ultimately obtained the nomination and ran an acceptable race—but did not win, against Richard Nixon.
In the years that have passed there has been conjecture as to why LBJ didn’t attempt to run for reelection. It has been easy to speculate that maybe it was the difficulty facing him in obtaining the Democratic nomination that was the problem, not the strength of the Republican Party with its chosen ticket.
Why did LBJ decline to offer himself? The Vietnam War? (Not going well.) Decline of initial enthusiasm for that Great Society? Let’s admit right away that these are extremely important—and relevant—matters to history and for historians.
But what will be contended here, documented, and soon become quite clear (I trust) to one and all, is this: Lyndon Johnson and Lady Bird Johnson had long since determined (in September, 1964) out loud, and in front of reliable adults, that the campaign of the year they were in (1964) would be The End of LBJ’s Campaigning for office!
That decision, “witnessed” for all practical purposes, would become known and recognized, amply documented in December, 1967, for all practical purposes irretrievably (though not publicly), starting right then. Letters signed and transmitted behind the scenes, written to several top leaders of the day, pronounced the decision of the Johnsons, husband and wife, in a manner allowing for no retreat, change of mind, or finally “stepping up to the plate,” as is said in some circles. Let’s examine some of the evidence.
(Interrupting a moment: This story appeared deep in chapter 12 of my book The Presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson, pp. 283-305. Offered were footnotes, both single and double, 39 in all. Under the circumstances, what is being offered here to HNN is a readable precis of that account, footnotes deleted, but with several important sources clearly indicated within the prose.)
Let’s admit at once that there is ample evidence of growing opposition to any Johnson election to a second full term in 1968. Little would be gained here by reciting it. That year was a dramatic one, to be sure, with assassinations, a convention with street demonstrations, and a highly visible—and audible—left wing of the Democratic Party yelling ever louder in the hope of crushing the incumbent part of the party as soon as possible, forcing it to give up, in advance of evolving events.
The burden here is proving that Lyndon B. Johnson was not physically “well” and then indicating that the fact was quite clear to the Johnsons, husband and wife. It is evident that his poor health needs documenting. Then we need ample evidence that the candidacy of 1968 was abandoned because of health considerations long in advance of the time for announcing.
Let’s see. His appendix came out in 1937. He had “chest trouble” when serving briefly with the Navy, actually, six to eight bouts with pneumonia. By developing bronchitis he qualified for a 10 percent veterans disability pay (applying for it but then rejecting it). A kidney stone was taken out in 1948, and after a Mayo Clinic stone removal in 1955 he wore a brace for awhile.
Pretty well known is the 1955 “infarction” of the heart: death of part of the muscle. (On that, I am surefooted, for mine was 1977.) My death of a quarter of the heart laid me out. LBJ’s made him prepare for death; talk was of retirement, as he stayed in the hospital a month (I, 22 days). Recovery at the Ranch was solid. Still, the recommendation was for “carefully regulated hours of work and rest.”
Unexpected, of course, was inheritance of the Presidency in November, 1963 (and he would have no vice president!). Moving out of the Elms – his home while vice president – LBJ had a very severe cold and a chest condition, but it was kept private. For a time smoking was out, and he had some sort of prescription. Pajamas were worn in part of the afternoons. His diet was carefully supervised. There were massages and enemas (with others commenting), and he routinely avoided shutting doors. An intimate says he concentrated on his physical distress—but one byproduct was hyperawareness of the medical needs of others, ‘tis said. (A reason for Johnson to appreciate Medicare and Medicare?)
It is interesting to read of how comprehensive (and expensive) were the medical costs of Johnson’s government air tours anyplace; people and preparations added up. His physician was promoted to vice admiral, and joint appointments for M.D.s were general. Adjacent medical facilities in Texas got shots in the arm. Three days after the 1965 inauguration LBJ was taken by ambulance at 2:26AM, allegedly with a “cold,” but the VP says “chest pains.” (He is described as “solemn” and “grim,” with “fears and apprehensions.” Was there heart arrythemia?)
There was in 1965 “stomach pain.” There were “night sweats.” In October 1965, ten doctors attended a two-hour operation to take out a gall bladder and kidney stone, leading to “limited activities.” There would be abdominal and throat surgery in 1966. Why bother even mentioning here the 40 or so skin pre-cancers or the eye styes? Or his complaints of “foot trouble.”
While an English biographer noted “recurrent anxieties about his health” rather early, it is clear that President Johnson did survive his elected term, returning to the Ranch as planned. More to the point, he came down with chills and fever on December 16, 1967. Lady Bird offers a graphic description of his indolence and demoralization (my choice of words) in the hospital at the time. John Steinbeck said Johnson was “too drawn and too taunt” just then. Precautions were made routinely for a turn to the worse by the incumbent President.
Detouring to the post-presidency a moment: Johnson died before a term beginning in 1969 would have been over! (Before generalizing on that, one should take account of how LBJ abused his wellbeing in post presidential years: heavy drinking and smoking marked those sad months when that past President’s responsibility was minimum. All in all, there is plenty of evidence that President Johnson in office was often seriously ill, that the public was kept ignorant of many episodes; indeed, that the major heart attack of 1955 was considered a guidepost to the future by some—not all. Now, it’s time for evidence about retirement not to be ignored.
Lady Bird says in her Diary that the decision to run in 1964 (repeat, 1964!) was only made after searching conferences with cardiologists James Cain and Willis Hurst. They wondered if he was up to a full term as President, that is, four years, either psychologically or physically. (I summarize the group’s opinion in my book: “they thought he should try.” Emphasis mine.) That is, he should try to run in 1964!
Time passed. By mid-1967 it was becoming important that the tired and often discouraged man in the White House get ready to make a decision about running in 1968 and (behind the scenes, of course) let key people know. Fortunately, one decision had been made—over again— on Labor Day, 1967. (Governor John Connelly was sick of serving the national ticket by running as governor of Texas. He had to be told.) At the Ranch, pressed by Lady Bird, Lyndon proclaimed: “All right, you’ve been talking about this for a long time, so we’ll make this decision right now and make you happy…. I’ve decided I won’t run for reelection.”
There is little to be gained by tracing LBJ’s hints and warnings from that point on, but one can. What is relevant is how he handled his mandatory, official, notifications. (We’ll even ignore speculating on the significance of the secret study of Johnson’s life expectancy conducted quietly in 1967.) That intimates were given hints by LBJ in that year is merely interesting. What evidence would have deep and compelling meaning for us, today? How do we really know that the totally private decision of late summer, 1964 was still considered compelling as the time for getting ready for a Real Decision (even if behind the scenes) came into focus at or just before Christmas, 1967?
An early communication of consequence was when Lady Bird told the Johnson’s good buddy Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas in May, 1967. (Some readers may have read of the terrible Fortas summer when the top position on the Court escaped him as the President lost. Jack Valenti, dearest of friends, no stranger to life in the White House, had been told even earlier, by quite a bit. It is wonderful to read in Lyndon’s wife’s diary intimate words reinforcing her unqualified faith in the decision early on not to run.
Far more relevant are these actions: James Webb, head of NASA needed a successor to get ready…. So he was told early. Texas congressman Jake Pickle had to know for many reasons; he was told. The time was at hand in autumn, 1967, when the highest of officials had to be advised officially from the top. General Westmoreland was one. McNamara was leaving, he learned, and enroute the General was filled in on facts about Johnson’s health. LBJ candidly discussed “presidents’ health” where talk included the term “invalided.” General Eisenhower was next. (I observed in my book version that LBJ would never have lied to West Point graduates on a matter of this kind.) Ike instantly conveyed what he learned to General Goodpaster, who, advised, says he found it “very revealing” on many matters.
There would seem to be little real gain in moving on at this point to a discussion of exactly how President Johnson chose to reveal to the greater public and to an array of key figures his decision not to run. The time came when it was very late—March, 1968, and the chief executive was weighing all kinds of things: principally just what could he get out of North Vietnam with a conveyed decision that he would no longer be in “that office.”
Need we, having established the truth about the Johnson renunciation of being on the 1968 Democratic ticket, trace any of the events that occurred then and in the more than a half year to come? No; but a quotation from astute Richard Nixon is worthwhile. Late in 1967 he said observantly of the sitting President: “He seemed to be running away from…his policies in public” and failing to generate support. So observed the master politician! Not even knowing the decision had been made, that veteran could sense that something important had been decided on a key matter.
Few, or no, individuals were as close to Lyndon Johnson as Arthur Krim (who would in later years lead Hollywood, but at the time was the guarantor of candidate LBJ’s solvency when seeking election. On March 11, 1968 he selected Hubert Humphry to be President’s Club speaker on April 30. As for Humphrey, sitting vice president, he was told well ahead of time, and Dean Rusk, Secretary of State was another who learned of the truth (though he didn’t believe it).
At the appropriate time the crafty President, seeking to get something out of words and deeds, said to a national audience: “…I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your President.” May I now quote my book on the reaction? “Listeners were incredulous. Eric Severeid and other TV anchormen were at a total loss for interpretations, just as Johnson had hoped they would be. Contrary to what some have alleged, Lady Bird was ‘radiant’; to her Lyndon she said, ‘Nobly done, darling.’ ”
Having (I think) established my main point, that Lyndon B. Johnson was not forced out of running for reelection in 1968, I see nothing to be gained by ruminating about reactions nationally in party circles, or among White House aides. Johnson seems to have thought he could/would have won.
Maybe giving Lady Bird the last word is warranted. In autumn, 1967 she had written in private: with four more years in office for a man in his sixties, “bad health might overtake him…; a physical or mental incapacitation would be unbearable, painful for him to recognize.” (There had been so many visits by Lady Bird to hospitals!)
My conclusion is sturdy: (page 296) “So, Johnson’s withdrawal from candidacy for another term could have been—but clearly was not—due to Tet, the war in general, rival challengers in his party, the protesters, the polls, the ‘system’ working, any alleged mental quirks or supposed tendencies toward avoiding conflict, or the fear of losing.” His key words of summation were used by me in my chapter title, to wit, “I’VE GONE THE DISTANCE.”
A GOLDEN AGE FOR SCHOLARSHIP IN AMERICAN HISTORY:
Vaughn Davis Bornet
“The profession of history is thriving, the professors are vigorous,” exclaimed the executive secretary of the American Historical Association as New Year’s Day, 1957 approached. Historians were said to be on the move; they were writing and publishing quantities of books and articles. Professional meetings were well attended. American history seemed to be enjoying increasing interest from the public. Asking from the Far West, “What is Right With the Historical Profession?” textbook master John D. Hicks found the current scene much to his liking; in short, historians could be proud of themselves. Yet there had been dissenting voices in the 1950’s, such as that of Howard K. Beale in the Pacific Historical Review. University historians, he thought, had many failings both as teachers and researchers. Other critics intimated that closer relationships between secondary school history teachers and scholars on the campus would be fruitful. Meanwhile there were new ideas aplenty expressed from platforms and in writing.
The present account of new viewpoints and new productivity in American history covers the middle years of the 1950’s. Most of the books cited were published in the years between the inauguration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1953 and the middle of his second term, say 1957. Summarized are attitudes that highly placed historians voiced on the teaching of history, and there is much assessment of the book publications exciting American history specialists in those years. New interests like military history, labor history, and even history built around topographical features of the landscape are indicated here, while controversies and a new research techniques are duly noted. It was a great time for a venerable profession to be functioning and to rejoice.
TEACHING AND STUDYING HISTORY
In the seventy-odd years since the founding of the American Historical Association, no presidential address had dealt exclusively with the teaching of history until respected historian of the Monroe Doctrine, Dexter Perkins, then president of the A. H. A., chose in 1956 the theme “We Shall Gladly Teach” for colleagues meeting in St. Louis. He asked if the true function of the teacher of history was to arouse doubt and foster the critical attitude—or to set some positive standards of thought and action–and he urged,
“We must make the past more vivid and the quality of men’s adventure more deeply understood; we must interpret the past broadly; in the spirit of a man to whom nothing human is alien: we need not be afraid to speak of moral values, to be sensitive and compassionate, or to exalt wisdom and goodness; we must set the example of a sound intellectual and moral balance, of a broad view of human values; we must make the process of the mind in seeking truth so fair, so understanding of various opinions, and yet so clear that they will command respect and deserve imitation.”
Perkins suggested that teachers retain a familiarity with source materials, a point once advanced by Thomas A. Bailey in his “The Obligation of the Teacher to Be a Scholar,” Social Education (Dec., 1949). Meanwhile a high school teacher from Peoria, Illinois, Hazel C. Wolf, told a considerable audience in 1956 that the burden for training teachers could not be shirked by university professors of history in favor of other things.
Hopeful of improving the teaching of history, the American Historical Association inaugurated in 1956 a Service Center for Teachers of History (400 A. Street, S.E., Washington, D.C. 20003 since 1963). It hoped to bridge the “growing gap” between school history teachers and university scholars. There would be a new AHA publications program. A job Register was staffed.
In this connection, the appearance of the third edition of the Directory of American Scholars in 1957 was of unusual importance to teachers of history since, with removal of sketches of other social scientists to volume III of American Men of Science (1956), many more historians than ever before were included in the Directory’s 836 double columned pages. A 1952 survey of historians at the hands of J.F. Wellemeyer, Jr. in A.H.R. (Jan., 1956) revealed that of 2, 979 members of the American Historical Association who replied to a letter of inquiry, sixty-three per cent had the doctorate and another thirty-one per cent had a master’s degree. Harvard, Columbia, Chicago, and University of California (Berkeley and U.C.L.A.) led at the time in quantity of doctoral graduates.
Active, with journals and conventions, were state and national associations, too many to list here. Truly national was the Mississippi Valley Historical Association, while the Southern Historical Association remained regional in focus but with a national membership. The A.H.A. maintained a branch in the Far West. Meetings of such groups could be at Christmas-New Year time, in the spring, or the autumn, depending…. Those who managed to attend the two or three day meetings now and then were rewarded by meeting with authors, seeing textbooks and their writers, and seeing those who were rising to leadership. Exhibits of new books, panels, presidential speeches—all vied with “mingling” at meetings, while former classmates rejoiced at getting together.
A striking development of the 1950’s was the increased granting of research, travel, and teaching fellowships to historians, even though in this respect they lagged behind grants to natural scientists. Some universities had trouble keeping a quorum of big names in classrooms, as Israel, Austria, and other distant parts of the world listened to lectures that were delivered, quite often, in English. Daniel J. Boorstin, The Genius of American Politics (1953) was a direct outgrowth of such a period of overseas residence, and there were indications that the United States gained in stature from upward mobility of most historians who enjoyed the overseas experience. Shepard B. Clough, The American Way (1953) consisted of discerning lectures delivered by the Columbia professor in Europe.
At home, there was preliminary effort to utilize TV for adult education in history. Some program series, like that by James C. Olson of Nebraska State Historical Society on the “Sodhouse Frontier,” were filmed for repeat broadcasts on educational radio stations in coming years. Long accustomed to microphone lecturing at giant universities, some historians wondered if the future would see them lecturing at giant universities; others wondered if they would lecture into cameras for students lounging at home in bed or in fraternity houses. The emerging small screen TV was viewed with suspicion for the most part, although it might well have a future….
As has been said, conventions of historical associations were well attended in the 1950’s. After balloting by mail, the Mississippi Valley Historical Association refused to change its name to something indicative of its focus on American history. Tradition triumphed. The Association for State and Local History was immensely invigorated by sponsorship of its new publication American Heritage. In the pages of that beautiful magazine the elusive “layman” and his children were eagerly courted by favored writers. Indeed, state society, archival and museum specialists in the nation no longer worried about drifting into sterile antiquarianism.
In the 1950’s there were moves away from that sort of thing, and James Parton, publisher of American Heritage, rejoiced that “There is today in America a great reawakening interest in history…, how we got to where we are and how that rediscovery can help us through the difficult problems of the present and the future.” His hard cover periodical, edited by Bruce Catton with heavy emphasis on human interest and social history and illustrated in full color, came to have a vast circulation among laymen, unheard of for a history magazine. Meanwhile, The Directory of Historical Societies and Agencies in the United States and Canada (1956) rose to 48 pages.
Several networks on historical method interested historians in these years. James C. Malin, The Contriving Brain and the Skillful Hand in the United States (1955) rejected entrenched interpretations in its concern with the philosophy of history. Homer C. Hockett, The Critical Method in Historical Research and Writing (1955) was a thoroughly revised edition. Wendell H. Stephenson, The South Lives in History (1955) discussed famous Southern historians appreciatively and otherwise. Mirra Komarovsky edited Common Frontiers of the Social Sciences (1957), among whose seventeen essays was the 70 page “Research Problems in American Political Historiography.”
A British scholar, H. Hale Bellot, American History and American Historians, had in 1952 discerned weak spots in American historical productivity in a thoughtful survey of leading books. Historians were also concerned about the factual basis of more than a few major interpretations. The Social Science Research Council appointed a committee of five in 1957 “to encourage the development of better methods for assessing the evidence underlying selected historical prepositions or generalizations.” Both style and content were matters for concern at the time.
The 1,711 would-be history Ph. D’s who had doctoral dissertations in progress in 1955 were the recipients of much advice on such matters. In a humorous vein, Walter Prescott Webb spoke (from Texas) of the young faculty, chiefly in the larger universities, “who are driven to write when they have nothing to say and are fired if they do not say it with documentation.” Boyd C. Shafer, the new editor of the American Historical Review thought “We should examine more closely the problems involved in winning a wider audience—more buyers of our books—and we should continue to explore how we can publish less expensively.” He urged paying more attention to style than to what he termed the apparatus of scholarship, seeking out really significant subjects, not just those with convenient source materials. All work should be related to the full history of the time and to writing already in print, he thought. (His journal had received 157 essays during one recent year.) His opinion:
“In American history…we saw too few top-notch studies and almost none which tried to interpret American history in the venture- some fashion of Tyler, Turner, and Beard. The bold new views that these giants have led us to expect of American historians seem strangely lacking, as least insofar as submitted articles indicate.”
A disgruntled reviewer, irritated by reading a newly published dissertation, wrote in June, 1957, “University presses would do well to leave the business of publishing doctoral dissertations to University Microfilms.” None of these complaints were new. It was left for a British scholar to tell American historians what he felt about 1,300 footnotes supporting a monograph on an obscure topic:
“…my blood ran cold. I am all for historical research work at the grass roots but boggle at being asked to look at each blade of grass. American history being by the nature of events a somewhat recent development in human affairs, American scholars, aided by the bounty of many foundations, are inclined to blow up a subject for the sake of research rather than research into the subject on a scale commensurate with its importance.”
Highly placed historians surveyed in their presidential addresses such matters as bias and passing of judgment on men and events. President Edward C. Kirkland of the Mississippi Valley Historical Association said, for example,
“… it is essential to apply the same standards of judgment and appraisal to all groups and to all individuals: to realize, for instance that success is no more a reason for denying a man or a cause a hearing than failure is a reason for granting it; to discard the sentimentalism that associates truth with one social class and error with another; to acknowledge that trade unions as well as corporations may use power arbitrarily. … Let us be on our guard lest, by dividing our standards, we ruin not only ourselves as practicing historians but also the heritage of American history which we are under obligation to honor, to explore, and to transmit.” Kirkland, himself a frequent writer on controversial 19th century themes, passed on to colleagues, for what it might be worth, a free-wheeling translation of an old Latin phrase, namely: “Democrats and Republicans I treat alike.”
This gentle warning was particularly appropriate in the 1950’s because of a tendency in some historians to be increasingly discontented with merely telling the story of the past. The passing of judgment became common in new history books. Perhaps the reason for this was just a natural desire to be influential. Yet behavioral scientists with their open door policy on all questions relating to the actions of mankind may have had its due effect. Gerald M. Capers wrote in March, 1956,
“We historians must speculate as to how and why things got like they are, though we should know when we are speculating and admit it. Why should we stick to the data and details of the Populist Revolt or the Missouri Compromise and leave the sixty-four-dollar questions to the anthropologist or the social scientist? Just because it is safer, and we know the exact answers cannot be found?”
SOME INFLUENTIAL BOOKS
Some books of history seemed more important than others in the years 1953 to 1957—as was natural. The Pulitzer Prize for History was awarded to George Dangerfield, The Era of Good Feelings, Bruce Catton, A Stillness at Appomattox, Paul Horgan, Great River: the Rio Grande in North American History, Richard Hofstadter, The Age of Reform, and George M. Kennan, Russia Leaves the War: Soviet American Relations, 1917-1920.
Biographies awarded the Pulitzer Prize covered the lives of John C. Calhoun, Charles Evans Hughes, Edmund Pendleton, Robert A. Taft, and Benjamin Henry Latrobe. Charles A. Lindbergh won with his autobiographical Spirit of St. Louis, and Senator John F. Kennedy won with a collective biography, Profiles in Courage. Professor Hofstadter’s book, subtitled “From Bryan to F.D.R.”, an account of populism, progressivism, and New Dealism pointed out contrasts and similarities discerned by the author, some of which were not necessarily concurred in by all readers.
Other books, while not prize winners, won attention. Randolph E. Paul, Taxation in the United States (1954) was an 830-page classic on the federal tax system—the political origins of the individual and corporation income taxes and the inheritance tax. In 1956 a sparkling survey of American history for textbook use, The American Pageant, which had been checked in manuscript by scores of experts (often, by this recent Ph.D.). Thomas A. Bailey showed again, with a classic headed for innumerable editions and coming editor-authors, that he had few equals in the preparation of readable history–diplomatic or not.
New textbooks by young historians began to invade the sales territories of standard treatments. A stimulating book was Oscar Handlin, Chance of Destiny (1955), which treated eight incidents that marked turning points in American history. Presidential Nominating Politics in 1952 (1954), a five-volume production by many political scientists, showed the complexity of the American electoral process with its variation from state to state.
David M. Potter, People of Plenty: Economic Abundance and the American Character (1954) brought to bear an interdisciplinary point of view of deep interest to teachers of social studies. The effect of plenty on our social and political institutions was the theme. Clinton Rossiter, Conservatism in America (1955) and Wesley Frank Craven, The Legend of the Founding Fathers (1956) aroused discussion. Leland D. Baldwin, The Meaning of America (1955) was an attempt to understand “the American spirit.” Readers of Arthur A. Ekirch, Jr.’s The Decline of American Liberalism (1955) found it easy to become mentally excited. War, nationalism, government intervention, and majoritarian democracy came to be considered historic evils. Major figures of our history were measured and evaluated in accordance with the extent to which they furthered these defined “evils.”
Books like these were likely to recharge the batteries of teachers bored with “the same old history.” Yet it was abundantly clear that such new interpretations were not welcome in many places. Shouldn’t they withstand scholarly criticism before entering the mainstream? Tradition! History journals for historians were carrying new articles and innumerable book reviews, and there were many state journals of history. The Historian, prepared since 1938 by Phi Alpha Theta, a history group, was thriving.
Books that exposed large new portions of American history to view were John W. Oliver, History of American Technology (1956), A. Hunter Dupree, Science in the Federal Government (1957), and Mary M. Roberts, American Nursing: History and Interpretation (1954). Books on the patent system, petroleum pipelines, and the water supplies of municipalities were fresh treatments, for example Nelson W. Blake, Water for the Cities (1956). An unusual sectional history was D.G. Brinton Thompson, Gateway to a Nation (1956), the first Unitarian account of the Middle Atlantic States and their influence on the development of the nation. American Catholicism (1956) by John Tracy Ellis consisted of four lectures and was termed by an expert the best short history of its subject from a Catholic point of view. By the same author was Documents of American Catholic History (1956).
Historians showed an interest in presidents of the United States, living and dead, thereby disregarding protests against any “presidential synthesis.” An urging to give increased attention to less exalted figures of American history affected some writers, but publication proved difficult. The centennial of the birth of Woodrow Wilson brought new evaluations, among them a biography by Silas B. McKinley, a book of diplomacy by Edward H. Buehrig, and a psychological analysis.
The work of Arthur M. Link on Wilson (at Princeton) seemed to approach definition, but reviewer John M. Blum wisely observed that books seldom meet the needs of all generations. He contrasted the Wilson portrayed by Link with the restful figure of Ray Stannard Baker’s earlier work—which so well suited contemporaries. Authorities banded together to contribute to The Greatness of Woodrow Wilson (1956) to which President Eisenhower added an introduction. A Centennial Commission sponsored some memorials to the World War I president.
The Rutgers Press finished issuing its attractive set of Lincoln papers, and Elting E. Morison completed the editing of eight volumes of Theodore Roosevelt Letters. New books on T.R. quickly gained publication, John M. Blum’s The Republican Roosevelt (1954) among them. A 22-volume set of Madison papers was projected.
Books on Franklin D. Roosevelt continued to appear (see below); former President Herbert Hoover’s Memoirs reached three volumes (with help), but volume I’s readability dominated. Harry Truman’s effort stopped at two. There was a biography of Rutherford B. Hayes and a thoroughgoing one on James K. Polk through the governorship. Irving Brant’s Madison series attained five volumes, rejuvenating its central figure, but the mighty Henry Adams treatment of the era still appealed—as reprints showed. Douglas Southall Freeman’s study of Washington attained posthumous completion. There were also studies of Presidents Jackson and Tyler, while Samuel Flag Bemis released a second volume on John Quincy Adams. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, published at a reasonable price by the Princeton University Press, continued regular appearance, rehabilitating his long era.
There was major activity on Alexander Hamilton. An edition of papers was projected; meanwhile, a well edited volume by Richard B. Morris was convenient. The Hamilton career attracted Broadus Mitchell, Louis M. Hacker, and others. Books of tribute and antiquarianism on Benjamin Franklin saw print; publishing his papers was discussed. Teachers of history, buried in words of wisdom from the great men of America’s past, rejoiced–but may have postponed a reading of these immense multi-volume sets of papers for a later day.
A useful reference book was Encyclopedia of American History (Harper, 1953) edited by Richard B. Morris which offered essential facts about American life and institutions and a 5,000-entry index. A major publication replacing older versions was the Harvard Guide to American History, a topical and chronological guide to books, pictures, and other materials. Richard G. Lillard, American Life in Autobiography (1956) was a guide to 400 books on the personalities and character of great men and women. An index to the Writings on American History, 1902-1940 series was finished. The series reached 1952, skipping 1940-47. The New American Nation series, the Library of American Biography, and the Library of American Civilization were readable books.
WRITING A NEW AMERICAN HISTORY
At the conclusion of World War II there was published in School and Society (Feb. 2, 1946) an essay by Stanford’s venerable History chairman Edgar Eugene Robinson calling for “A New American History.” Soon available in an appropriate book, the call was to recognize a new era. Robinson wrote:
“We must be prepared to deal with (1) a tremendous increase in detailed subject matter; (2) a greater emphasis on the last half-century, when mankind has traveled as far as in the preceding thousand; (3) a wide dispersion of Americans throughout the world, making the American not a continental but a world civilization; and, finally most important, (4) a present necessity in emphasizing the political activities of men, here at home and in every corner of the globe. We must insist, as never before, that the one continuous, all-important theme in the new history is the story of man’s attempt to govern himself.”
By 1957 the tremendous increase in subject matter was overwhelming all who studied and wrote American history. Yearbooks, like those of Encyclopedia Britannica, Americana, Colliers, Worldbook, and others, told the present-day story in the large sets, usually correcting any errors discovered during the year. Scholars later on could find continuity in many key yearbook articles like “United States,” drafted in 1956 and 1957 by this writer. Books of history flowed like wine from the presses; still, unpublished manuscripts existed in abundance. There was new emphasis on the 20th century. Colonial historians became concerned about the future of their specialty. American history specialists were lecturing overseas to various parts of a world audience. Political history and biography made great gains as the history of man’s attempt at self-government acquired new advocates while the worldwide Soviet threat was constituting a Cold War.
State and local history seemed to be gaining in favor. A state study of really notable competence was Wyoming’s War Years, 1941-1945 (1954), in which T.A. Larson showed what quality could be reached by a researcher trained in medieval history, when tackling events of his own day on “the home front.” California became a fertile field for specialized studies, including books on farm organizations, politics, and social welfare. There was a book on Huey Long’s Louisiana, while five volumes of The Papers of Willie Person Mangum, (1956) edited by Henry T. Shanks amounted to an account of North Carolina history. That state, and Alabama, had new summary volumes of history similar to University of North Carolina Press books on Florida, Georgia, Arkansas, and South Carolina. State narratives were discussed at the 1955 American Historical Association meeting, where some contrarians thought that regional history might be better.
The Rivers of America Series reached 40 volumes in 1955, while other series covered lakes, mountains, trails, cities, and regions. A series entitled “The Far West and Rockies” would one day reach 15 volumes. Texas history, almost regional in itself, saw new accounts of merit. Bessie Pierce continued to publish on Chicago, and Blake McKelvey completed three books on Rochester. Frederick Sha’s History of the New York City Legislature was local history with a punch; Bayard Still traced traveler’s opinions of the New York City in Mirror for Gotham (1956).
“American Studies” programs blossomed at Yale, Stanford, and elsewhere as the result of financial assistance and the desire of some historians to produce for journals like the American Quarterly some new insights in the cultural-literary social area. An American Studies Association was formed in 1951, and there was much interest in the image, the myth, the stereotype, and the symbol. At an institute of Behavioral Science in California a handful of historians united in a year of contact with social and natural scientists financed by the Ford Foundation. “Interdisciplinary approaches”—was an expression gaining in use; yet there was resistance.
Labor historians saw new vistas ahead when they were presented with an inventory of the American Federation of Labor archives by this writer in The Historian (Autumn, 1955) together with a call for a “New Labor History” to be based on labor manuscripts. Transfer of large portions of these archives from AFL/CIO to the Wisconsin State Historical Society after microfilming prevented destruction and could encourage research. Labor historians formed a small society at the New York School of Industrial and Labor Relations, Ithaca, N.Y. New books on Gompers and the AFL were published, and new treatments of the CIO appeared, one on political activities, while another focused on Communist penetration. Local in its focus was Grace Heilman Stimson, The History of the Labor Movement in Los Angeles (1955).
Historians and social welfare specialists organized a committee in 1957, the executive secretary being Ralph E. Pumphrey of New York University. Studies of importance on social welfare were also likely to result from a call for historical productivity contained in a Report of the Princeton Conference on the History of Philanthropy in the United States and an article by Merle Curti in A.H.R. (Jan., 1957). Reviews of From the Depths (1956) by Robert H. Bremner, a treatment of “the discovery of poverty in the United States” were favorable, and a study of Jewish charity in Boston was revealing. California Social Welfare (1956) by Vaughn Davis Bornet (this writer) dealt with the public and private current scene, especially in law, agencies, and programs; there were 108 tables. Unique archives assembled on the State’s voluntary and public agencies were organized and deposited in the Bancroft Library to be open for use. Social welfare archives at University of Minnesota were growing.
The 1950’s were a post-war world. More than forty courses in military history were being taught in American colleges and universities by 1957. Walter Millis, Arms and Men (1956) was a study in American military history, while American Military Policy (since 1775) was produced by C. Joseph Bernardo and Eugene H. Bacon (1955). Robert V. Bruce wrote an account of ordnance in Lincoln and the Tools of War (1956), and Wallace Evan Davies, Patriotism on Parade (1955) told the story of veterans and hereditary organizations, 1783 to 1900.
Books about World War II sponsored by the Air Force, the Navy, and the Army were produced in quantity in the dozen years following victory. The United States Army in World War II series reached 27 published volumes by 1958 with dozens yet to go. The History of the United States Naval Operations in World War II by Samuel Eliot Morison came to eleven volumes in 1957.
Controversial was Arthur A. Ekirch, Jr., The Civilian and the Military (1956) whose theme was the decline of civil supremacy and of the American anti-militarist tradition. A memoir with military overtones was Arthur M. Compton, Atomic Quest; A Personal Narrative (1956), an account of the A-Bomb project chiefly from memories, official records, letters, and testimony. Books on older periods of our history, meanwhile, brought new ideas and new approaches. Late in the decade, at the request of Congress, a score of scholars of The RAND Corporation researched pioneering The Space Handbook (1959). The present writer soon prepared a 70-page summary, intended to offer lighter fare (see the website clioistics).
THE COLONIAL AND REVOLUTIONARY PERIODS
Constituting half of American history in point of time, the colonial and revolutionary years continued to be researched by specialists, their books finding appreciative review in journals like American Historical Review, Mississippi Valley Historical Review, William and Mary Quarterly and Pennsylvania History. A Conference on Early American History was placed on a permanent footing in 1955 with a Williamsburg, Virginia, address. Clifford K. Shipton of the American Antiquarian Society wrote that “the mass of knowledge now accumulated in the colonial field cannot be mastered by any scholar who devotes less than full time to it.”
Still, increasing interest in recent history was diverting attention from the older field, and some thought this entirely proper—at least in moderation. Revisionist Merrill Jensen edited American Colonial Documents to 1776 (1955), a book intended to facilitate new work in original sources. Perry Miller’s The New England Mind in 1953 moved along the road from colony to province. Alan Simpson also wrote on Puritanism, while William L. Sachse described the status and activities of Americans in Britain. Lawrence H. Gipson in 1956 reached volume IX of his minutely researched imperial study, bringing the story to 1766. Yet the old (once the new) “empire” approach was losing some ground.
Small but perceptible increases in conservatism and patriotism in the 1950’s affected the interpretation of the American Revolution. It was plain that, for whatever reason, many teachers and writers were oriented toward colonial-centered, not empire-centered history. The causes of the conflict were discussed afresh by historians—for example at the Pittsburgh meeting of the Mississippi Valley Historical Association in 1956. Richard Pares, Yankee and Creoles (1956) dealt with trade between North America and the West Indies, and a new book on the Stamp Act crisis appeared. Louis B. Wright took colonial culture for his subject in two books, Edmund S. Morgan wrote The Birth of the Republic, 1763-89 (1956), and monographs proliferated. The Colonial Records of South Carolina was a major project.
Brooke Hindle, The Pursuit of Science in Revolutionary America, 1735-1789 (1956), John E. Pomfret, The Province of West New Jersey, 1609-1702 (1956), and John Duffy, Epidemics in Colonial America (1953) were new and important, as were books on Shays’ Rebellion and one on immigration from Scotland in the eighteenth century. The renewed interest in military history showed itself in the posthumous publication of two volumes by Christopher Ward, The War of the Revolution (1952), made possible by the editing of John Richard Alden.
The revolutionary period attracted many scholars in the 1950’s. Many publications were source materials with human interest value. Political history was not neglected, as the nation reexamined its origins. Elisha P. Douglass, Rebels and Democrats (1955) studied equal political rights and majority rule, and Stuart Gerry Brown, The First Republicans (1954) contributed to early party history—as did Manning J. Dauer, The Adams Federalists (1953). Nathan Schachner’s book The Founding Fathers (1954) was comprehensible, causing Curtis P. Nettles to comment on the lack of agreement among historians on the relative importance of Washington, Hamilton, and Jefferson when compared with lesser-known figures who left fewer personal papers. Federalist Delaware was definitely described by John Munroe (of that state). Anglo-American foreign relations were studied.
It was in reviewing Clinton Rossiter’s Seedtime of the Republic (1953), a development of the political ideas that sustained the rise of liberty in colonial and revolutionary America, that Benjamin F. Wright made a challenging comparison with Vernon Parrington’s stimulating but sometimes impressionistic Colonial Mind. Some colonial historians thought they were doing more thorough work than great scholars of the past. Yet publication in 1956 of A.S. Eisenstadt’s Charles McLean Andrews and of a thoughtful study on Carl Becker, plus availability of many published letters of A. H. A.’s “dean” John Franklin Jameson was a reminder that earlier scholars like Van Tyne and Osgood had also plowed deeply in their chosen fields.
The publicity expressed views of the Founding Fathers on the weakness of the Confederation were in the 19th century those of historians as well. For John Fiske it had been “the critical period,” but those writing in and for a new generation wondered if economic chaos, 1783-87, had been largely imaginary. Richard B. Morris wrote a historiographical essay on the controversy in William and Mary Quarterly. Disagreement on facts continued. What of the franchise in 1787? And what was the extent of real property ownership? The frontier elements and the urban dwellers of those years were now contending through researchers, deadly serious, on the period of Confederation through Constitution.
Charles A. Beard in his life was often an upsetting factor in American thought. Historians and political scientists ventured to read his trenchant prose and marveled at his originality. In death the master proved as important as ever, as obituaries and eulogies brought remembrance and return visits to old books on the shelves. Howard K. Beale edited Charles A. Beard: An Appraisal (1954). Articles on “Beard and…” began to appear. In 1913 Beard began his An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States with the words, “The following pages are frankly fragmentary.” Even so, the thesis of that penetrating book created great excitement among thoughtful persons. In those pages the Founding Fathers seemed to be concerned with the adoption and ratification of the Constitution in proportion as they stood to gain financially by creating a strong, centralized government. Emotions like patriotism and idealism seemed needlessly minimized to many readers of Beard, and early critics like William Howard Taft had been incensed.
The Beard thesis received major acceptance at the college level, but far less heed was obtained at the high school level. Maurice Blinkoff revealed in The Influence of Charles A. Beard Upon American Historiography (Univ. of Buffalo Studies, Monographs in History, 1936) that of 42 college texts published, 1913-1935, 37 picked up the Beard thesis. Fourteen of 19 revised editions did so. Just three of 47 secondary school texts followed Beard’s economic version of events, and no revisions picked it up. Here was a gap between the reading matter of high school and college graduates. When the former reached college they sometimes abandoned the selfless Fathers dedicated to order, unity, and destiny who lived (since Channing) in high school classrooms.
Questions were likely to be left unsettled. Were the Founding Fathers really economic men, chiefly interested in “money, public securities, manufactures, and trade and shipping”—as Beard had put it? Was the convention majority “a small and active group of men immediately interested through their personal possessions in the outcome of their labors”? (Beard, p. 324) Were the people really “a large propertyless mass” excluded from voting by property restrictions on the franchise? The Fathers, Beard said in summary, were “immediately, directly, and personally interested in, and derived economic advantages from, the establishment of the new system.” Favoring ratification were “substantial property interests;” while opposed were “small farming and debtor interests.”
A book that claimed to destroy most of Beard’s views on the matter was Robert E. Brown, Charles Beard and the Constitution (1956). Fresh from a study of middle-class democracy in Massachusetts, 1691-1780, Brown retraced Beard’s research path: his book even had Beard’s chapter titles. The historical method used by Beard had been faulty, said Brown, and he ripped into it with gusto. The thesis that the Constitution was put over undemocratically in an undemocratic society by holders of extensive personal property got flatly denied.
The “propertyless masses” of Beard were said to be largely a fiction. The Revolution had been fought for life, liberty, and property, he said, and all Americans were property-minded. An assumption of the Fathers had been that theirs was a democratic society. “The Constitution was created about as much by the whole people as any government could be which embraced a large area and depended on representation rather than on direct participation.” The Fathers had definitely not been self-seeking conspirators.
There could be little doubt that to the extent one followed Brown, the Founding Fathers emerged from his pages much closer to the men of selfless integrity and wisdom conceptualized in grade school textbooks than to the more self-seeking politicians portrayed in revisionist texts at the college level. Yet much research clearly remained to be done, particularly on voting and property ownership, before the division among scholars could be minimized. Innumerable reviewers of the Brown book (many of them clearly devoted followers of Beard) did not give up entirely on their Economic Interpretation.
Another controversial book of the 1950’s was William W. Crosskey, Politics and the Constitution in the History of the United States (1953), an evangelical two volumes comprising a semantic analysis to prove that the key words in the Constitution were used with meanings in 1767 far different from those presumed by later jurists. Here was a book to be absorbed and escorted clear up to the Supreme Court justices.
THE NATIONAL PERIOD
The Origins of the American Party System (1956) by Joseph Charles studied the years to 1800, while the pioneering administrative history of famed Leonard D. White came to three volumes with the new Jacksonians (1954). A book by Bray Hammond revaluated the subject of banks and politics for the nation’s first half century. John William Ward, Andrew Jackson: Symbol for an Age (1955) was one of several monographs treating themes with implications for the political minded of the present. Glover Moore, The Missouri Compromise, 1819-1821 (1953) would clearly stand the test of time, as would Henry Thompson Malone, Cherokees of the Old South (1956). Treatments of David Crockett were, in general, a different matter. Upsetting was a well-written book with a challenging thesis: Norman Graebner, Empire on the Pacific (1955), which saw in the westward expansion of the Polk era the calculated intention of the administration to seize the Pacific Coast for commercial and maritime reasons!
Slavery found a thorough and daring researcher in Kenneth M. Stampp, The Peculiar Institution (1956), an author markedly unsympathetic to the U.B. Phillips school of books once popular. Wisconsin born and trained, Stampp wrote in a field long occupied by the Southern born and oriented. Meanwhile, John Hope Franklin, The Militant South, 1800-1861 (1956) presented evidence to suggest an unpleasant case. Its white Southern reviewers remained unpersuaded that violence was the same as militancy, or that the Old Northwest was much different or much better. (In any case, its handsome black author would rise to the A.H.A. presidency.) The vigorous battle over Reconstruction at the close of the 1940s, featuring Franklin’s attacks on E. Merton Coulter, who wrote some 30 books deep in Athens, Georgia, was not over by any means. Bibliographical volumes on travels in the Old South, Texas history, and the religious press in the Southeast portended further productivity in such neglected fields.
The heated school segregation issue in the South as it emerged had its effect on historians of the Old South, Civil War, and Reconstruction, it appears. Two historians asked in 1956, “Can Differences in the Interpretations of the Causes of the American Civil War Be Resolved Objectively?’ There was little to suggest this would happen in the 1950s. As Howard K. Beale observed in 1946, “In the case of the Civil War, peculiarly persistent sectional feelings and traditions about that conflict have given the historian’s early environment a particularly telling influence.”
A flood of books on the Civil War appeared in the 1950’s. A new periodical, Civil War History, began publication. Allan Nevins, The Ordeal of the Union, reached three solid volumes: he interpreted men and events in his slender The Statesmanship of the Civil War (1953). J.G. Randall did not live to see the publication of volume IV of his mighty study on Lincoln, but Richard N. Current finished his teacher’s Lincoln the President: Last Full Measure 1955). The handsomely bound History of the South series passed the half way mark by 1957, its bibliographies alone offering impressive testimonies to Southern historiography in the 20th century. Coulter’s solid book on Reconstruction was first to appear as revisionists resisted.
Kenneth P. Williams was greeted by qualified reviewers as a fully professional historian and not like a “mathematics professor” when his Lincoln Finds a General, a military history of the war, reached four volumes in 1956 with three still projected. Clement Eaton, A History of the Southern Confederacy (1954) was a good treatment of a popular subject. Monographs dealt with the election of 1864, Confederate finance, Negro troops, loyalty tests, Mrs. Surratt, pardon and amnesty, and the martyr complex among abolitionists. Also Lincoln and Greeley, the Sanitary Commission, the Southern Claims Commission, and books of fiction written around the war theme. Books varying in quality on battles and generals abounded, General Sherman being a popular subject. Journalism in the war was covered minutely. A noticeable trend was the reprinting of contemporary diaries and older accounts like F. L. Olmstead’s The Cotton Kingdom.
Reconstruction was represented by books on the 14th Amendment, Northern Methodism, and the Grand Army of the Republic. C. Vann Woodward contended in The Strange Career of Jim Crow (1955) that the policies of prescription, segregation, and disfranchisement came later than the restoration of home rule, and “the belief that they are immutable and unchangeable is not supported by history.”
ONWARD TO THE 1920s
A considerable emphasis on immigration and on the role of racial groups in the building of the nation appeared in these years. Immigration historiography was studied as a field, resulting in many publications, and Oscar Handlin continued his effort to treat immigration coming from continental Europe as a major theme in American History. There were new books on Dutch and Irish immigration, the German language press and culture, and repatriated Greek-Americans. The memoirs of American Jews were edited in three volumes by Jacob Rader Marcus. Immigrants, nativists, and agrarian radicals received book treatment, with John Higham, Strangers in the Land winning the Dunning Prize in 1956. The Socialist party received new attention in books rooted in the party press and availability of manuscripts.
Was the history of education about to take on a new lease on life? The History Education Section of the National Society of College Teachers of Education held its first joint session with the A.H.A. in 1955, while histories of several universities and colleges, the lyceum, and civil liberties in the classroom displayed new interest in education. A book unifying American educational development around a large organization was Edgar B. Wesley, NEA: The First Hundred Years (1957). The book was financed by the National Education Association. A pamphlet by five historians and educators, “The Role of Education in American History,” suggested that more books from historians on that subject would be welcome.
The West was not neglected in these years. Two works on the cowboy, and books on the Indian wars of Minnesota, Fort Griffin, Dakota Territory, and the Sioux were a few of many. Less exciting but possible more revealing of the lives of less adventuresome folks was Lewis E. Atherton, Main Street on the Middle Border (1954). Carl F. Kraenzel, The Great Plains in Transition (1955) was a book by “a sociologist with a historical conscience” as one reader put it. Three books in 1953 surveyed aspects of agricultural history: Carl C. Taylor, The Farmer’s Movement, 1620-1920; Grant McConnell, The Decline of Agrarian Democracy; and Murray R. Benedict, Farm Policies of the United States, 1790-1950. Distinctly original books based on hard research were these of John E. Caswell, Arctic Frontiers (1956) a treatment of pioneering explorations, and John J. Daly, The Use of History in the Decisions of the Supreme Court, 1900-1930 (1954).
Studies of business history and businessmen appeared often in the 1950’s. Irving G. Wyllie, The Self-Made Man in America (1954) attacked a “myth of rags to riches.” The baking industry, a carpet company, the American Bankers Association, and many companies were described in books. (Sometimes they financed the research.) Although some 40 books on the petroleum industry had been published since 1937, the first two volumes of the History of the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey, financed by them, contained new information in the realm of administrative history. The rise of the Carpenter’s Union was traced in book form, while National Civil Federation manuscripts showed close association earlier by leaders of labor and business. A book dissected National Association of Manufacturers and U.S. Chamber of Commerce positions of the 1920’s but somewhat to their disadvantage.
The “robber barons” theme in American history came in for questioning in the years following 1950. The nation had been deep in the Depression when Matthew Josephson wrote The Robber Barons, a book concluding with an anticipation of class revolution. Books like this and the old History of the Great American Fortunes (1907) by Gustavas Myers were undermined by new books based on company manuscripts. Speaking in August, 1951, prolific journalist-historian Allan Nevins had called for a careful reassessment of the years from the Civil War to 1910, predicting that restudy would lead to greater appreciation of businessmen-industrialists, men he called true heroes of our industrial growth who had built “an indispensable might” in the nation. Historians, he thought, had been “apologetic about our dollars, our race to wealth, our materialism.”
A brief article by the present writer on “Those ‘Robber Barons’” in Western Political Quarterly (June, 1953) suggested ground rules for the new revisionism to avoid excesses. Ford: the Times, the Man, the Company (1954) was the first Nevins volume on the controversial industrialist. Thirteen per cent of its footnotes were references to “oral history” interviews made by the author’s Dearborn staff. When volume II appeared in 1957 it proved to be an outspoken account to 1933.
Time would show the full significance of W. Dean Burnham’s painstaking Presidential Ballots, 1836-1892, but its ultimate impact on research and writing in the political field would be great. Here was a worthy companion to the two pioneering books of Edgar Eugene Robinson which first offered election statistics, 1892 to 1944. New volumes traced the rise of the Progressives in Wisconsin, the development of the federal anti-trust policy, and politics in the Middle West, 1865-1896. Sidney Fine, Laissez Faire and the General Welfare State (1956) was a lengthy survey. Other books traced the history of voting in New Jersey, the history of Senate confirmation of presidential appointments, and the conscientious objector. Sidney Hyman, The American President (1954) was well received.
The 1920’s became a popular period for research and some revaluation during the years of the first Eisenhower Administration. Henry F. May noted “Shifting Perspectives on the 1920’s” for Mississippi Valley Historical Review (Dec., 1956), while the Red Scare, the Washington Conference, and religion in the 1928 election campaign were subjects of monographs. George H. Knoles (who would live to 107) analyzed British opinion of strange American doings in the Jazz Age Revisited (1955). “The critics, impressed by prosperity, sought the secret of America’s success,” wrote Knoles. “They found it in the chief characteristics of the American economy: high wages, mass production, and mass consumption.” Here were factors to add to conventional “flaming youth” and prohibition themes.
F.D.R. VISITED OVER AND OVER
Remaining the focus of a host of writers who had researched at Hyde Park on the Hudson was Franklin D. Roosevelt. Articles and books appeared, but the 1950’s saw fewer memoirs. Frank Freidel won admiring reviews for the first three volumes of a projected six, which brought his biography to 1933. Daniel R. Fusfeld examined the economic thought of Roosevelt, and Bernard Bellush published a study of the governorship. A reviewer judged that the book by Edgar Eugene Robinson, The Roosevelt Leadership, 1933-1945 (1955) made “a real contribution to posterity’s understanding of Roosevelt’s foreign policy,” and some reviewers reacted well to the long chronological bibliography drafted by the present writer (who researched for it a year but saw the text on publication). The Robinson book, prepared on a Philadelphia estate grant, was atypically critical of F.D.R. and was reviewed adversely by his admirers. The New Deal and the causation of Pearl Harbor would remain controversial indefinitely.
Dexter Perkins’s own book, The New Age of Franklin Roosevelt, 1932-45 (1957) rejected the idea of a Roosevelt Revolution, finding the age new because it emphasized the dynamic responsibility of the Federal government. The Robinson book’s emphasis on a “tragedy of leadership” which was destructive of resourcefulness in American life would not gain adherents. James M. Burns cleverly interpreted the actions of F.D.R. during his first two terms, in The Lion and the Fox (1956), while the first volume of Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., The Age of Roosevelt, (1957) treated a “crisis of the older order, 1919 to 1933.” The latter book brought many partisan reactions—much as had been the case with Roosevelt literature created earlier. Rexford G. Tugwell wrote in detail on The Democratic Roosevelt (1957), aided by his insider’s memory of men and events.
The New Deal years were becoming popular among researchers seeking subjects for study. The coming of World War II invited so much attention that Wayne S. Cole, author of a book on the America First group, could draft “American Entry Into World War II: A Historiographical Appraisal,” M.V.H.R. (March, 1957). Despite the extensive coverage of two substantial volumes by Langer and Gleason on diplomacy in those years, therefore, there was still room for books by H. Bradford Westerfield, Donald F. Drummond, and others.
The years of Presidents Truman and Eisenhower were the subject of Eric F. Goldman, The Crucial Decade: America 1945-1955 (1956); he got to work in White House corridors later. With America at Mid-Century (1955), Andre Siegfried tried to repeat a much earlier success at interpretation. Norman Graebner, The Neo-Isolationists (1956) was a disapproving interpretation of foreign policy formulation during the Eisenhower first term. (Graebner had spent the first year after WWII in uniform in Japan, striving to inculcate democracy in future leaders.)
THE INDIVIDUAL IN HISTORY
The role of the individual in history seemed as important to historians in the 1950’s as before, judging from the number of biographies produced, even though in many historical works the presidents have been a focus. One of note was Howard K. Beale, Theodore Roosevelt and the Rise of America to World Power (1956), a book rooted in manuscript research. Arthur S. Link completed Wilson: The New Freedom (1956), another in his long term Wilson series. “Biographical writing, as old as history, has never been more popular than it is today,” wrote one observer.
Evaluation of the staggering biographical productivity of American scholars in the 1950’s cannot be attempted here. Consider some subjects of biographies: Billy Sunday, Charles Evans Hughes, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., Jonathan Trumbull, Tecumseh, William Ellery Channing, Henry Adams, Samuel Gridley Howe, Henry Watterson, Elias Hicks, Booker T. Washington, Daniel Webster, Caleb Cushing, Brooks Adams, William B. Allison, Henry Varnum Poor, Joseph E. Johnston, Commodore Thomas Truxton, the Coker family of South Carolina, Edward Palmer the botanist, Robert Morris, P.G.T. Beauregard, Henry George, Sam Houston, Robert M. LaFollette, Eli Stanton, George Peek, Horace Greeley, Big Bill Thompson, Jefferson Davis, Joseph McCarthy, Schuyler Colfax, Bernard M. Baruch, and General James Longstreet.
The worth of all those books may be evaluated neither by their respective sizes nor the apparent importance of their central figures. The two volume study of Governor Frank Lowden of Illinois by William T. Hutchinson, for example, met standards of scholarship and significance with flying colors. There were some grounds for believing with Joe B. Frantz that “As generations move on and personal recollections fade the men whose reputations endure will be those with the best biographers.”
The present writer sat on a sofa for an hour once with Benjamin P. Thomas, chatting pleasantly. His passing in 1956 (at his own hand) reminded historians once again to admire his Abraham Lincoln: A Biography (1952), which was not just another addition to the 4,000 books and pamphlets on Lincoln; some claimed it to be the best single volume study of its subject. Claudius O. Johnson summarized well:
“In this volume one gets a close-up view of Lincoln as a log-rolling member of the Illinois legislature, sees him, as he grapples with great issues, transforms the craft of a politician into the art of a statesman, and follows him as he, ever increasing in wisdom and understanding, in gentleness and charity, in humility and patience, saves the Union and joins the immortals.”
Another model book was Charles Page Smith, James Wilson: Founding Father, 1742-1798 (1956). Collective biographies that made good reading were Roy F. Nichols, Advance Agents of American Destiny (1956), Russel B. Nye, A Baker’s Dozen (1956), and Reinhard H. Luthin, American Demagogues: the 20th Century (1954). The memoirs of Admiral Ernest J. King, Bernard M. Baruch, and Nicholas Roosevelt were reminders of things past, and the diary of Harold L. Ickes recalled old battles in politics and conservation.
HISTORIANS AND MODERN MACHINES
The development of machines for producing photo copies and for microfilming records had a noticeable impact on historical research and writing in the 1950’s. It no longer was a matter for comment at archives when historians from far away appeared with typewriter in one hand and photographing device in other. Long periods of residence in strange cities gradually gave way to trips by air to archival collections. Pondering would be done more cheaply on home grounds. Increased use of the propeller airplanes at third class rates for cross continental research trips also facilitated research.
Archivists were increasingly aware of the possibilities in modern techniques of document reproduction. The Wisconsin State Historical Society inaugurated a major program of exhaustive microfilming of all significant labor newspapers in the 48 states, work to be kept current and added to its AFL/CIO papers. Books printed in America before 1820 were systematically placed on microfilm by University Microfilms for purchase by libraries unable to afford rare volumes. Whole files of contemporary newspapers were kept on film in university and public libraries, with battered originals being thrown away.
The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission reported in 1950 that it had been engaged in “an extensive program of microfilming and photostating, in order to gather together in Harrisburg the scattered resources for Pennsylvania history, wherever they might be found.” With new technology it had been possible to build an outstanding collection of facsimile copies of manuscripts, newspapers, and early maps. Similar reports were made by other state societies as genealogists shared historical society space with traditional scholars.
An important development in the dissemination of knowledge in the United States was the gradual acceptance of the idea of placing all doctoral dissertations on microfilm for easy purchase by interested scholars and libraries. Two journal articles by the present writer influenced that decision for permanent change, I was reliably told. A new monthly publication, Dissertation Abstracts, became a national reference tool, and there was hope that graduate students might come to feel a new usefulness in their thesis work as they gained a small and new audience.
A technique to excite the interest of historians (and amateurs) was “oral history,” careful interviewing with a recording device to elicit biographical and historical data to be typed and filed in libraries as new source material. Initial successes were scored by the Oral History Project of Columbia University innovatively developed by Professor Allan Nevins, which interviewed several hundred diplomats, judges, politicians and leaders. Another elaborate project was that of the Ford Archives. Tape recorders in the hands of interviewers were part of “oral history” effort, so that many developments once forgotten would be remembered. The present writer first suggested Standards for the new activity, writing in American Archivist for July, 1955. The technique had possibilities for bringing the outer world into the classroom.
More than ever before, the opportunity to become scholars lay within the grasp of teaching historians at the secondary school level as well as in universities. Meanwhile, there were some signs that scholars were concerned over the reiterated obligation to teach admirably. The clear implication was that teachers and scholars should come to absorb each other’s better features.
The striking developments of the mid-1950s in the teaching, research and writing, and publication of American history did not go unnoticed. As demonstrated in the vast number of book titles contained here, the mid-1950s were full of worthwhile scholarship, extraordinary for that day, and a remarkable example for the Future.
Vaughn Davis Bornet’s Ph.D. is from Stanford University (1951), the B.A. and M.A. (1939, 1940) are from Emory University; his year 1941 was at University of Georgia. Author of over a dozen nonfiction books and scores of articles and essays, he has been published frequently in recent years on the internet’s History News Network. He holds “Distinguished” awards from American Heart Association and Freedoms Foundation. He taught at University of Miami, 1946-48, and Southern Oregon College, 1963-80 and was a staff member of The RAND Corporation in the 1960s. A Commander in the Naval Reserves, his active duty (Y1, to Lt.) was 1941 to 1946. His books Lovers in Wartime, 1944 to 1945 and Happy Travel Diaries, 1925 to 1933 (both Amazon) are recent. An Illustrious Cavalier’s Character is imminent. After a 68 year marriage, he lives quasi-retired in Ashland, Oregon.
Vaughn Davis Bornet, 548 N. Main Street, Ashland, Oregon 97520 541 690 6511 email@example.com Born October 10, 1917. This article was prepared on a PC computer, in Word, Times New Roman. For other recent work by the writer see archives of History News Network. Aspects of my bio are detailed on Google (6,200 entries) and in Marquis sets on America (since 1957) and the World (since 2006). My Birthdate: October 10, 1917. (This Article has 9,236 words–but no footnotes, tables, or illustrations. Note: every cut of paragraph length required at this point might well eliminate a full item of prose in the essay, perhaps.)
WOLFF SOUND AND FURY BOOK REVIEW BORNET
Editor’s note: We decided to give our elderly historian-writer, one with plenty of research and writing experience with presidents, an opportunity to offer a very quick chance to evaluate the phenomenal new book SOUND AND FURY, by Michael Wolff, a volume rooted in part on hanging around inside the White House. (You read that right!)
What he has produced, in a real hurry but with intense concentration and skills born at Emory, Georgia at Athens, and finally Stanford, plus a variety of grants and serious employments, is an essay to be read and thought about, we think. Partisanship on its subject is impossible to avoid, but we think he has “done his damnedest” to be fair to the reader on this book evaluation of a president that we all think about with wonder. (He says that to be “impartial” on the subject of the suitability of Donald J. Trump to be our President is a goal beyond mere mortals…)
As nearly as I can see, the book SOUND AND FURY by Michael Wolff (New York: Henry Holt, 2018) is the 17th book “about Donald J. Trump,” but there may soon be many more. It’s hard to believe. But Amazon claims on its book site that this man long associated with downtown NYC is “…the very definition of the American success story….” Testing, and certainly verifying, I discovered after rummaging, that gadgets or play items (whatever one might call them) entirely devoted to Trump—as figure, not necessarily as just President—come to probably about 50—but clever investigation might well uncover far more than that—especially after the monetary success of this book.
The public is making a huge deal out of the publication and then availability of the volume getting our attention here. (One would think there’s nothing else to focus on “out there.”) The Guardian proclaimed, “Michael Wolff has written a book to shake America to its foundations.” (So there! Maybe that’s so….) Variety headlines for us the Ten Most Explosive things to be found in Wolff’s pages.
I reluctantly admit that at my Oregon home the television screen has been focused on President Trump like a laser for some time now, and I see no chance of that obsession fading away, even with random tuning of news channels! (For this student of American Diplomacy, it’s disturbingly necessary! But enough. Let’s get down to producing paragraphs related to a book that will, soon enough, be the focus after the words “President Donald J. Trump” are pronounced.
At the beginning, I wondered just how Wolff got into the White House. I should have known: That Rupert Murdoch! Indeed, the author says his virtually unrestricted access but with instructions of sorts was primarily responsible for his book with its wholesale quotes, for Trump’s buddy was one who “opened every door I asked him to open.” At once, we wonder at Wolff’s clearance, if any, to wander those official corridors adjacent to cabinet members (competent or not) and scores of employees. We’re glad to have this, or really any book, that “reveals,” but I at least am very uneasy about the hallways walked by every president being bummed around daily for months by a book writer seeking to guarantee himself a fortune.
What is this astonishing book based on, rooted in; what guarantees its instant publication? The author asserts that he spent three hours “with Trump” and that he conducted “over 200 interviews.” Pretty impressive, that. But do we have to believe him? Ah. Wolff adds that as he sat on White House “sofas,” he had available to him, well, what? Chatter, I guess. Did he have a conversational lunch every day with a civil service or selected employee? If evident in the text, I at least would hesitate to deny that basic claim. As for his explosive quotations (including those perfectly awful ones with three dots) I feel I must be slow to say he has lied about the vast Trumpisms—by and about.
A mere reviewer surely doesn’t have to go in depth into the relationship between Trump as candidate and as beginning president and that scruffy Bannon fellow who is responsible for something I don’t read called Breitbart. I understand that despite major critical words of mutual contempt exchanged between them this holiday season, that man who thinks he’s primarily responsible for the Trump victory (even though totally absent as election day neared), expects good relations between the two of them to prevail again, ‘ere long. (Both seem to have a lot to gain.) It is pretty clear that Bannon is going to be featured in a spring book about himself, and somebody (absolutely not me) will have every chance to explore him in detail and contradict—or not.
No matter what the President denies, this book seems to be rooted in a bit of contact with Trump and much with a variety of others. Clearly, there were innumerable interviews, many tape recordings are said to exist–far beyond anything normally granted biographers of those previous Presidents who have tried to run this Country and the World from an address on Pennsylvania Avenue. The alert reader who has spent years in archives studying presidents (hopefully meaning me) thinks of what is customarily prerequisite: ten or twenty years elapsed after burial, ye historian gets to read tons of Presidential Library files that are finally open (denied the very best stuff); then may come some or many interviews with aides who were “there;” then comes that endless checking of the New York Times. (I removed 500 footnotes to it just to make room, when making my dissertation into a publishable book!)
There must be many errors in this type of book. And I am quite aware that historians don’t easily forgive “errors.” But a Trump aide confronted with a pretty clearly false statement, said it was, on the President’s part, just a “flourish.” Reviewing this book, though a bit time and attention consuming, has been fun. Now, if I could use that word flourish henceforth to replace “error” and “mistake” it sounds great to little old me.
This rapidly producing book author seems to claim, essentially, that he went within a few yards of where the President “worked,” talked to anybody he felt like, ate lunch with somebody who was willing, created his own tapes (remember LBJ tapes opened for us only eventually), and, bypassing the university press crowd, got a major NYC publisher to say “yes” maybe instantly. This reader believes Wolff even got to write as he pleased and told his publisher what he wanted! Think about that, fellow historians, you out there who seldom if ever write about “the present” while it’s still the present…. Well, almost never.
I’m not quite sure how important it is that the author did or didn’t get to interview President Trump as mogul, candidate, or in office occupant. At this writing, the President says not; Wolff insists. He may have been “nearby,” and his connection to Murdock opened some doors and prevented deserved an early eviction, but I personally believe there are Trump words in this book spoken exclusively to Mr. Wolff—and used by enroute permission. (When I was well along on my LBJ book, The Presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson, I detoured the opportunity to interview Lady Bird, for I could easily see that she was revealing virtually nothing to those seeking “the Story” about her complex husband. Her book Lady Bird’s Dairy was long and adequate! I am saying that a motormouth like Donald said at some point, “Quite Enough, thank you,” and returned to making history without the likes of a clever, headline-alert, income expecting Wolff.
Those scathing comments by so many that the author passes on to us about the President are gems of criticism. (Usually, however, such crude language originates with “enemies,” not long friends and chosen appointees. By now, I would think, readers of this account have read them often enough. I’ll offer a few of the alleged words, then comment centrally: “idiot,” “dumb as S…,” “dope.” (More.)
Thinking about the above: I have personally worked under and around some top-flight figures in world famous places. Take it from me, on some occasion, I’m sure I privately blurted language something like that—behind their back–when not frustrated by Authority. I would HATE to have those words picked out several months or a year later, maybe) and have anybody leave the impression that epithets were my printable and overall, considered view of that superior. I must have praised those leaders often enough in public and in private; why spread worldwide the single words of scorn I used once when frustrated about something back then?
(Like most of you, I have been so very excited, gratified even, to read the Bad about this amateur leader of sorts, but, No!, I don’t think it either accurate or fair to assemble one-time words sort of out of total context and let them stand as DEFINITIVE description. Among other things, could a man so described in scut words have become rich, powerful, and President? There has to be something positive to counteract brutal negativism, really a lot, more. Right?) Here, it’s a trained historian (Me) speaking. I just have to admit, here and now however, that I say things like that about Trump almost daily! How to reconcile?
My introduction to the Sound and Fury book came by slowly reading the very long extract offered several days before publication, plus other extracts. What an easy read! How fascinating! What a collection of paragraphs designed to get national attention—and of course sell books. How the serious reader wishes he were in a position to judge whether Wolff has offered a lot of Truth. How much other Truth is missing because this non-scholar author thought it too “dull,” not “vibrant,” just “routine,” and/or revelatory of a tired, unready, President doing his job. Didn’t Donald ever work until tired, get briefed and, listening, change his mind, thank (or not bother to thank) an aide or general for educating him on “something,” tell off a relative with words like “I know better; you didn’t hear the briefing.”
Turning elsewhere, the deadline for this scathing account was, I surmise, November/early December. The time since this book was signed off on has not been kind for the deteriorating Trump image. Each day, nearly, we have the NYT and the Wall Street Journal, and later on, sharp MSNBC’s Rachael Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell—and other worthies unnamed. I have worked long and hard on three presidents, and must say I’ve been conceding a lot to let these brilliant (but clearly Trump-hostile) reporter/authorities both entertain and inform me on one who could, almost casually, get me killed! Other sources try to own my mind, pro and con. Some like Hannity and Dobbs, I hasten to proclaim, loudly, border on absurd and silly for any watcher/listeners blessed with heavy duty educations.
Yet it is true enough that a shopping list of Changes in the economic sphere may bring additional favorable income benefits to well born and lowly alike, additionally. My limited stocks are up. Some now have unexpected jobs. Maybe some bad immigrants have been ousted. And so on. But: drilling for oil off all coasts? Kicking environmentalists in the face? Leaving the Government staffed inadequately? Appointing the clearly unqualified. And so on. The number 25,000, now bandied about, is so nice to hear; but that snow! And the inundated coastlines of the future! Enough. Mr. Wolff certainly had a gold mine of a controversial leader to write a book about….
The New Republic found some journalists who agreed they found the Wolff that was in the White House repugnant. We have a variety of remarks about other journalists, as well as chatter that helped make that “sofa” useful. So what, it seems to me. I can’t imagine him refusing the opportunity of a lifetime. A weak column by Elisabeth Drew next to all that, readable, didn’t really need the book to prepare its prose, one might say.
Publisher’s Weekly carried a review of the former Speaker’s book in June, 2017, summarizing that Dr. Gingrich viewed Trump as “an entrepreneur, pragmatist, and family man,” and a pioneering leader who can achieve the impossible. (Oh, dear.) But those editor-reviewers did find, they said, “no answers” and “little new.” There was, however, a considerable Gingrich agenda of various programs he decided to discuss rather than candidate Trump.
I’m betting that as relatively unqualified reviewers check in all over the place, once the Wolff book shows up for purchase, we are going to get a lot of prose representing Strong distaste for various “Trumps.” There will be quoting of newsy slurs against current Presidential character quoted therein. I just noted it in quantity in The Guardian.
Several things bothered me about Sound and Fury’s assembler/writer/judge. One is the plain fact that the author must have known his lucky chance to damn Trump was going to make him rich. The second is the tendency he has when interviewed to accept (apparently with little reservation) his own conversational evidence that seems stacked to document a mentally incompetent Trump, and/or indicate very indirectly that he is on the verge of becoming so. Suddenly that lucky book writer seems to view himself as competent to, yes, shoot his mouth off about a President (over his head) who is trying to perform competently in the White House and, often, overseas.
There are things to read on Trump as businessman, actor, meddler, rich man, professional groom, and father of beautiful, now grown up, children. One to be admired (that is positive throughout) is Time’s high- class paperback publication Donald Trump: 45th President of the United States (an update of magazine content) which seems to date back to his beginning time in office. (Oddly, it says on the cover, “Display until 2/17/17.”) Gee, one wishes THAT MAN became our president, (I just had to write that.) What beautiful rendering in photographs of one who, well, apparently never entirely existed. The Wolff book, naturally, got into the hands of The New Yorker’s John Cassidy so he wrote a think piece published January 4, 2018. His space goes, however, to Comey and Mueller, and Bannon and to the many evaluative negative words that are now commonly reprinted coast to coast.
Overall, we are all indebted to Michael Wolff for helping, no matter what, in Exposing the fraud and the dangerous reality that has become the Presidency of this nation as we move forward. I mean it. Every little bit of exposure helps to derail two terms. My goal, as I wrote two evaluative pieces about Trump for History News Network in 2017, six months apart, and gave up writing a third effort after two pages, was always to reveal the sad facts I was viewing. It was back then a substandard candidacy, one unsuitable. Help save my native Country! I guess I had no effect at all, for the degradation of the USA, worldwide, is now common knowledge, requiring documentation infinitely less than this book offers..
While I don’t really want to be in the position of touting this book, ostensibly to help its sales especially, I do recommend the reading of at least part—even all–of a library copy, or piecing together Internet extracts as they emerge to comprise most of the text. (Best, if it can be achieved.) This book is going to be obsolete soon enough, I surmise, for this NYC tycoon, romancer, showoff, TV clown, persuasive one, sometime leader, and Force for both good and evil (not in that order), is one that will attract historians for decades. And why not?
I have decided that my long, yet ordinary enough, review of this one of a kind book should not detour to offer various remarks about “the President’s mental fitness.” Others have picked up on this, partly because of the existence of a publication by Yale’s professor Bandy Lee, entitled The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, one full of academic’s mental health evaluation essays. Some in a good position to know have flatly denied charges about D. T.’s repeating things, changing timing of that, etcetera. (Pretty dramatic stuff, that.) Especially, we will avoid speculation about atomic buttons and the whole North Korea thing, vitally important though it certainly is. Forgive this reviewer.
When looking forward in his NPR interview publication on availability day, the author Mr. Wolff predicted the Trump Administration’s future as: “the train will hit the wall.” Part of our upset Country hopes for that; part fears that. The worst hasn’t sunk in everywhere. Among old ladies in my retirement home, I’m sorry to say, are some who approve of “President Trump” but don’t seem quite sure why. To me, it seems there is very little indifference on that oh so basic matter for those of us quite well versed on earlier presidents. With a president there is so very much to consider. That is, their caution, leadership, respect for opposition leaders, and deserved exile far away from the Oval Office.
Any readers who absolutely deplore the presidency of Donald J. Trump have in SOUND AND FURY ample ammunition to go forth and by one means or another hasten his return to Trump Tower and the high life of yesteryear lived by him and his dear ones. Scholars seeking a restful book to read, one that will just plain soothe and relax the reader, should look elsewhere. Information in this book seems to be, here and there and perhaps a bit too often, questionable.
Finally, here is a phenomenon, one unprecedented in my view, a book that will unnerve, upset, apparently inform with new information in quantity, entertain, and provide a puzzle that is likely to last, somewhat at least, for the ages.
AN ELDERLY HISTORIAN PONDERS “WHAT’S NEXT?”
VAUGHN DAVIS BORNET
One of our older contributors (age 91), the author of this piece holds the Stanford doctorate from 1951 and has specialized over the years in labor and politics, social welfare, and the presidency. He lives quietly in small town Ashland, Oregon, where he tries to write daily. Three of his long essays have appeared in History News Network, on race relations, the year 1960, and political parties.
*** *** ***
I write two days after Election Day, 2008, not a day that will live in infamy, but one hopefully that will live in the bright rays of yearning long delayed and faith finally fulfilled. It has been a very long path from the slave ships to this moment. Indeed it has. Most of us, I dare say, long since ceased to believe that anything truly monumental could happen in our lifetimes.
Yet happen it did, not by accident, but by careful design, and through the efforts of the masses as well as the planning and heartfelt activities of many leaders of both races.
I have been troubled, I confess, by apprehension these past few days, for I am all too aware of the fate of Lincoln and King at the pinnacles of their success. There was an essay in HNN which I didn’t read, but the burden of it was certainly to question whether it has been irresponsible for the candidate to expose himself to the masses of mankind in these moments of triumph; would the opportunity be seized by one intent on mayhem? It has happened before, in a corridor in Los Angeles in 1968, for example. When the acceptance remarks were over in Chicago on election night, and the happy winner’s family retired to the shadows, I breathed a sigh of relief and finally went to bed.
Now we come to the hard part: fulfilling at least a few of the dreams of those who have yearned so long. What will be satisfying? Is the symbolism in finally holding the land’s highest office enough? If so, will it long remain enough? Watching that charming First Family as they live in the White House is going to bring to many an emotional rush. As quantifiable results from statecraft are inevitably postponed, will there be backlash from chagrined partisans? Hopefully, there are going to be some consequences in the almost immediate future, that is, after January 20, 2009. First, there will be the address of national greeting on that memorable day, an address the incoming president always hopes (mostly in vain) will stir the world and the nation and start his administration on the road to changing the very nature of things as they have been for centuries.
My own hopes are modest enough, for I recognize the limits to Power. Perhaps implementing a new Cuban policy would be quickly possible, one that disregards voting percentages in one of our states, a new direction that undoes the faction-gratifying policies of so many decades. Here is a chance to do good without much in the way of costs or even serious backlash.
Not as simple as that, not by any means, I do wish we could exit Afghanistan, for I see no possibility of that adventure working out well no matter how long we apply force. It is a situation that doesn’t respond to military action very well, and involves us in the creation of a suffering population. And the poppies endure, no matter what. Promises have been made by our incoming president that point in exactly the opposite direction to any withdrawal, sadly. More troops have even been promised! I am headed for certain disappointment on this matter. (Maybe I can focus on those pleased Afghan women who are in school or who have responsible employment at last.)
Iraq’s future seems to be dependent on the fatigue among its people. When will they say in their religious groupings that they have had enough of chaos arising from the mindless murder of the innocents? Surely we can leave before too long…. No one on high decreed that the United States has an obligation to remake all the world by military action, country by country. I am convinced that enterprises to remake the Muslim world and many discordant portions of the earth are quite impossible. The training and equipment and morale of our American armed forces, unexampled as they may be, are not sufficient to remake the Middle East, country by country, in anything like our image. It is clear as it can be that the other countries of the planet have no intention of joining us massively to bring “democracy” to the earth, country by country. Our statecraft can never bring the armies of the world into this enterprise, whatever our unrealistic but praiseworthy intention to “do good.” Contingents helping from a handful of nations does not equate to vast arrays of soldiery and military muscle from America. In the last analysis, we are on our own. We must stop pretending that others are prepared to sacrifice with us in our idealistic enterprises. Will our mothers and fathers stand for this charade much longer? Are our young men to spend their adult lives fighting deprived peoples with rifles in places the bulk of our people can scarcely locate on a map or identify beyond a hesitant word or two? Permanent war in remote places is certainly not what I hoped would be our preoccupation in the 21st Century (in case I lived that long).
It is certainly not too much to expect that the United States of America can come to enjoy a slightly better image and reception worldwide. There seems to be agreement throughout our diplomatic circles and our media that we have had quite enough of foreign relations that reflect very badly on our government and ourselves. The image of America as self-appointed savior, or court of last resort, or a vast military machine that can and intends to modify and change things—for the better, of course—is a totally unrealistic conceptualization born in offices inside America, but it has proved impossible to implement. Maybe in the long run….
Global warming, in which the United States is both perpetrator and pioneer in seeking remedies, is a profound matter unlikely to be responsive to a single presidential power change or to even profound legislative action. We can count on the new administration, one would certainly think, to head us in the right direction and provide leadership in sensible directions—whatever they may seem to be!
Those of us who have long sentenced ourselves to read the serious daily news from Washington, D. C. can continue to hope that the national habit of extreme partisanship will yield to new ways of conducting the nation’s business. The ultra serious among us have been ashamed of political leadership in legislative halls, pretty much coast to coast but especially in the national capitol. Unfortunately (yet inevitably), the new leaders of Washington came in after a monumentally partisan struggle; they will arrive as victors. Does history tell us that we can reasonably expect non-partisan, fair-minded, relaxed, and generally pleasant federal leadership beginning next year? It is not impossible—or is it? Let’s see.
What kind of appointees are going to surround, that is, shore up and implement the coming executive leadership in Washington? In time we will know. Is yesterday’s partisanship to be the norm? The people seem to have said, loud and clear, that they expect better henceforth. There are Great Expectations! Much depends on whether our new Leader follows his own inclinations, born of growing up with a different shade of skin as augmented by an elite education. His time spent mingling with thousands of ordinary people in a giant city will blend with what he learned as part of the governing class in Illinois and more briefly in the corridors of Washington. Prediction is beyond this writer, yet hoping for the best is quite possible in this astonishing day and age.
Watching the cable channels, idly, post election, it was evident that the biases that were so evident over long months are still being nurtured. Must we in the listening audience live with this forever? Picking out instances of the very worst; distorting events to make the narrative serve some other purpose; seeking out very minor misconduct of long ago to blacken today’s reputations: is this what we must endure in the first year of the bright and shining new administration and forevermore? Am I alone in hoping for something better from those commentators of TV and radio and their ratings-obsessed employers? We as a people must insist that if newspapers are to fade gradually from view, those who inhabit and control other media must rise above easy chatter and crass entertainment as they transmit news and information to the public.
I am not qualified to comment wisely on the vast changes in the Internet during this election. I can tell by my incoming email, however, that there is some appalling stuff “out there” that can hardly be regulated. Only self-restraint and new norms will do it, and that is going to take time and new habits. It is unthinkable that our youth will come to substitute Internet blogs and transmissions for yesterday’s orderly and largely responsible newspapers with their wire services and careful editorials. Bad as they sometimes were, the newspapers received at our front door were vastly better than what emerges on my computer screen, unsought, these days.
In summary, I think I understand many of the problems that now face us; what I can’t possibly know is what it all means. I ponder how it is all going to turn out. The economy is downright frightening. Nuclear concerns long quiet are reawakening. At the same time, there is a sense that this is a time for hope.
It is so trite to repeat the old slogan, “These are great times to be alive.” Yet they ARE. Like the great American public, I endured those two years of electoral process, with their strains and nonsense, and the quite staggering outcome at the end. I (like most Everyman) lack the ability to change anything that may lie ahead; but I am prepared to observe, to judge, to complain, sometimes to explain, and hopefully to enjoy. History is unfolding, much as it always does, but this time it is outsized and—overall– quite astonishing.
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This article was originally published on History News Network on April 17, 2016.
As the 2016 Presidential election moves along through the coming conventions to Election Day itself, interest in “Socialism” has grown in our society somewhat in proportion to the apparent successes in the primaries of Bernie Sanders of Vermont, second term U.S. senator and 16 years a Socialist claiming congressman.
Sanders is not the first Socialist to run for a major office in our country, not even the first to run for President. The name of Eugene V. Debs is well known as a Socialist who was fiery and got jailed in World War I—all long ago. His successors carry far less baggage and are more relevant for us. A serious campaign for President was mounted by Socialists and Communists alike in 1928, and Socialism was promoted through the New Deal years and beyond.
The hero of the movement, back then, was for years the educated and articulate Norman Thomas. Socialists campaigned seriously for mayoral offices in Milwaukee, Wis., Reading, Pa., and New York City—even governor of California (in 1934). The Socialist newspaper The New Leader (1924-2006) was a literate spokesman for the cause.
We want to know what being a Socialist means. Bernie Sanders seems virtually mute on Socialism these days as he asks Democrats to help him get the nation’s top office. We should know more than we do about his professed ideology.
In instinctive reaction, we won’t join those who say look to Sweden, Denmark or the British Labour Party. Analogy with us is troublesome. These countries are very unlike our giant and powerful United States with its Wall Street, its oil, that giant highway system, farms that are incorporated, and money that is the standard for the world.
We also have a giant Army, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard. Ours is, after all, a land 3,000 miles “coast to coast,” a giant place of mountains, valleys, lakes, deserts, coasts, cities, and a remarkable diversity of people. The 50 states have governments; so do those more than 3,000 counties and all those cities. Advocating real Socialism for America must be thought through carefully.
Oddly, the place to begin on what this country’s Socialists profess is with what they decided long ago to reject. They reject Lenin and Stalin and, on doctrine, Trotsky. Socialists totally reject membership in the Third International that emerged after World War I. And how did that happen?
Initially, Socialists wished the Soviet Union well, while watchfully waiting. When the Third International arrived after World War I, and it arrogantly tried to unify worldwide the wild and wooly revolutionary doctrine being spread from Moscow, American Socialists stepped back. Any leader could soon see that here was ruthless conspiracy, with a reliance on money and spies.
In August, 1920 the Second Congress of the Third International met in Moscow and drafted the uncompromisingly defiant “Twenty-one Demands”that would forever separate Socialists from Communists everywhere. (That many intellectuals seem never to have heard of the ultimatum just reflects on them. It could not be more important in the long history of planetary radicalism.)
The chief objective of the Demands (I once wrote) was “to isolate the Communists of the world from their previous mooring and develop purity of doctrine and practice within the party ranks.” Moreover, the document would make clear “who would be party members, what leaders might do, and how both might do it.”
Harsh or not, it was reprinted at once in the N. Y. Times, Christian Science Monitor, and Current History; it was not secret. Stressed within its belligerent pages was the idea of unquestioning obedience, with the goal uniformity among international Communists. The Monitor thought it uncompromising.
The future Socialists of the world, including America, could see at once that compliance with any future demands of the Third International was going to be the sine qua non of Communist membership. Nor did those who drafted it expect compromise or surrender from Socialists. Reliability as to doctrine would be the watchword; groveling to the U.S.S.R appropriate.
“Really revolutionary propaganda and agitation” was expected in the coming era of “intensified civil war.” Any who rejected the Conditions was to be expelled at once from the Third International.
The word “Party” used by Communists had nothing in common with its use in common political activities in the West. The list of Demands was silent on elections, nominees for office, conventions and campaign speeches, and voting. The goal, it made abundantly clear, was “the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism.” And, there was to be no confidence in “bourgeois laws.” Much was said about the need for infiltration and control of trade unions.
It is vital to say again at this point that the Socialist Party of the United States “rejected membership in the new International reluctantly but nonetheless decisively.” The Soviet Union, in theory, was to be considered a noble experiment to be wished well (more or less), but the means that had brought it into being were to be totally rejected here at home.
Before long (1923) Lenin himself seized an opportunity to uphold the Demands (during the Third Congress), just ignoring vigorous protests from delegates from Italy, Germany, and other nations who said that doing that was certain to inhibit growth of their new parties.
The Communist Party that emerged in America in the years after 1920 “came and went” in name from time to time, following opportunism and expediency. Many know of its going underground in World War II as the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. jointly fought Hitler, for example. Less known is its vote much earlier, on April 7, 1923, to dissolve.
For several years it had a new “front” organization called the Workers Party of America, a name it used in the election of 1924. Meanwhile, by the end of the decade there had been organized a Pittsburgh-based Socialist Labor Party and a Trotskyite Socialist Workers Party.
It is the Socialist Party of Norman Thomas and its doctrines over the years that have undoubtedly been absorbed and espoused by Bernie Sanders. He has several years to go as the Socialist United States Senator from Vermont. The election of 2016 has made him famous as a Socialist stereotype. Yet other leaders of that party should be at least mentioned.
Four are Morris Hillquit of New York City, James H. Maurer of Reading, Pennsylvania, and Daniel W. Hoan and Victor Berger of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Two ran for mayor of their cities and won, and served in office. Hillquit and Norman Thomas before him had little chance of carrying New York, but they tried anyway. This writer had Hillquit’s personal papers broken out of a wooden box for their first use in the Wisconsin State Historical Society in spring, 1952 and found them pleasant going. (Since the Party sold its papers to Duke University; I used them there.)
Victor Berger of Milwaukee served in Congress four terms, taking the floor 29 times, introducing both bills and resolutions. One of his wisecracks was: “The average man does not know the difference between socialism, anarchism, nihilism, communism, and rheumatism. They are all fearful and wicked ‘isms’ to him.”
Anyone who seeks strong, unequivocal, public statements from Socialists about their “fundamental beliefs” may be a bit disappointed. Blending in to run as a Democrat requires careful tact. Socialist author Upton Sinclair, who ran unsuccessfully for governor in California, once gave campaigning a shot. The Socialist goal, said he, was the gradual transformation of natural wealth resources and basic industries to public ownership. A “socialist state,” of course, is bound to be the goal. The best vehicle for getting there is, it is hoped, is with the help of the trade union movement—or at least it might be if “the despoilers” (a dated categorization) can be thwarted.
Considering the handsome and constructive leader for decades, Norman Thomas (of Princeton and Union seminary), a worker for welfare groups, and supporter of many a worthy voluntary organization, one finds his “socialism” (though ardent) carefully proclaimed. Its nature was usually buried under prose devoted to his generally praiseworthy life as an American, urbane man of affairs. (As a boy he delivered to neighbors the newspaper published by future President Warren Harding. As an adult, even William F. Buckley respected him.)
Often, Thomas did try to tell repeatedly why he was a socialist. He said he favored freedom and justice for the individual, a free press and free speech. Achieving these things, and socialism too, would have to come through the ballot. That totally ruled out Communism. His idealistic vision was for a world wherein a fellowship of free men might live in peace. As for him, he publicly and consistently opposed the involvement of the United States in World Wars I and II and Vietnam as well.
Well, good. But it is capitalism that is the major enemy. Another is ownership of property in private hands. Reading Socialist speeches and documents of yesteryear, it can be hard to find declarations that, though pertinent and practical, are very offensive to a welfare capitalist property holder in America. Using diplomatic speech when pushing their doctrine seems somehow de rigueur.
Just how do we convert to Socialism? Officially, this should be spelled out to be the exact way: The Constitution is to be modified in a convention with one omnibus major goal: the nationalization of coal mines, water sites, industrial power systems, railroads … and communications “to recover the rightful heritage of the people.”
Continuing: All sorts of activities are to be shifted to operation by government (as has been tried and partly achieved in the New Deal and LBJ years). It is tempting to say that all the reforms one ever heard of were sought in the late 1920s Socialist platforms and key speeches. The preferred tone is normally proposals—not demands.
Reading masses of Socialist literature of the 1920s and 1930s, it is hard for those familiar with the New Deal and the Democratic Party speeches of later years to avoid the conclusion that the political figures of the Socialist Party “urged all that” years earlier. The words of Norman Thomas, as a public figure on display in the late 1920s, read in retrospect as one quite prescient. The subjects he discussed do sound like predictions of things to be debated and enacted.
Today’s reader does come to realize—if at all alert—that this group of Marxists is preparing hopefully to convert resources and industries to government control and ownership, and that incalculably large units of private property with stockholders are somehow to have their ownership transferred from where it is to, well, everybody probably except its owners. That is to be done somehow or other.
There can be pride in being a Socialist. The New Leader, the party organ, editorialized once about a recent Convention: it had been enough “to make you hold up your head and stick out your chest and be all-fired proud of the fact that you are a Socialist.”
One thing that intellectuals should bear in mind about Socialist lingo. They speak of “workers of the mind” and “workers of the hand.” A special target has long been, they admit, teachers, ministers, artists, and writers; that is, articulate leaders among us. Success has been considerable.
Names of famous persons show up in lists of authors speaking kindly of Socialism. The writings of allegedly Socialist editors, columnists, and others who write to persuade are full of cheerful acceptance. I am reluctant to offer names, for maybe they weren’t Socialist. Many by reputation are considered merely “reformers.” Finally, I don’t even know when or if they quit being party members—if they ever were. The truth is that a vast array of smart persons with solid educations have “flirted” with Socialist preaching.
Socialists in earlier decades did sometimes have to endure caustic critics. Said Arthur Garfield Hays, author of Let Freedom Ring of Socialists then: “Your socialism has become a religion. You have a pattern. Economics must fit into that pattern. You have a philosophy. You have a dogma. … You forget that any system of society is a means, not an end.” (New Leader, Nov. 3, 1928.)
Some years ago when coming to the end of a considerable written discussion of Socialism, I ventured to summarize—in conclusion—the nature of Socialist politicians in action, leaders who spent vast amounts of time enthusiastically making appeals to American citizens. My conclusion was that Socialists displayed “a naïve but enthusiastic mixture of the realistic and the unrealistic; the idealistic and the opportunistic; the enduring—and the ephemeral.”
Marxist leaders “dreamed dreams of perfectionism and thought they could see just over the horizon a better land and a better world.”
In the mid 1960s this non-Socialist summed up the thinking of true believers:
“The Socialist Party was a threat to private ownership of property, to the continuing existence of a balanced two-party system, and to the continuation of a society more interested in opportunity than class consciousness. It did not, on fundamentals, deserve the support of the American electorate.” Moreover,
“No amount of admiration which some may want to give to individuals, reformist program, or occasional idealism of individual expression should wave aside these plain and altogether vital facts.”
At the same time I ventured to summarize my convictions on the value of the overall American electoral system: “The election,” I observed, “had been a political contest—not a battle, struggle, or ideological war.” *
*Quoted from Vaughn Davis Bornet, Labor Politics in a Democratic Republic (Wash., D.C., Spartan Press, 1964), pp. 320, 322. A detailed analysis and summary of the Demands appears on pages 268-281 of my lengthy microfilmed doctoral thesis, Labor and Politics in 1928 (Stanford University, 1951, 520 pages). Domestic Communism in the U.S. is summarized from that work in Bornet, “The Communist Party in the Presidential Election of 1928,” Western Political Quarterly, XI, no. 3 (Sept., 1958), pp. 514-538.