Franklin D. Roosevelt Courts Republican Progressives in the 1936 Election

A rare autograph letter as President with political content concerning one of FDR’s presidential election campaigns

Purchase $2,500

Smith W. Brookhart was twice elected as a Republican to represent Iowa in the U.S. Senate. He was a populist and a progressive of the Theodore Roosevelt stripe, and virtually dominated Iowa politics from 1920-1933. He was critical of Presidents Coolidge and Hoover as too controlled by big business and not interested...

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Franklin D. Roosevelt Courts Republican Progressives in the 1936 Election

A rare autograph letter as President with political content concerning one of FDR’s presidential election campaigns

Smith W. Brookhart was twice elected as a Republican to represent Iowa in the U.S. Senate. He was a populist and a progressive of the Theodore Roosevelt stripe, and virtually dominated Iowa politics from 1920-1933. He was critical of Presidents Coolidge and Hoover as too controlled by big business and not interested enough in creating markets for farm products, so he was considered an “insurgent” within the Republican Party of the 1930’s. After his last term ended in January 1933, he carried this campaign for farm markets into the New Deal when in 1933 President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed him foreign trade advisor for the Agricultural Adjustment Administration. But New Deal agricultural policy went in the direction of production controls and Brookhart resigned from the AAA. This was of concern to Roosevelt because he worried that others in the farm belt who were former supporters might jump ship in the 1936 election and cost him the presidency.

I think it is really politically important

 

Brookhart was out of office in 1936 but still had strong influence in Iowa, which then as now was something of a swing state in presidential elections. In June 1936, Roosevelt was renominated by the Democrats and began campaigning for a second term. Although he would win in a landslide in November, the outcome was not so clear during the campaign. This was in part because polling was not very sophicated; the highly regarded Liberty Digest straw poll predicted a big Landon victory. FDR had great political instincts and intended to leave no stone unturned to achieve reelection. He saw the support of Brookhart as potentially very valuable, not just in Iowa but among other Republican progressives. However, it was not at all clear who Brookhart would favor. Certainly he disliked Hoover’s policies, but he had quit FDR’s AAA because of disagreements there. Roosevelt determined to court him.

Roosevelt’s Secretary of Agriculture was Henry A. Wallace of Iowa. Wallace and his father owned the extremely influential newspaper, Wallace’s Farmer, and he had long known Brookhart. Richard Murphy was U.S. Senator from Iowa from 1933-July 16, 1936, when he was killed in a car accident.

Autograph Letter Signed as President “FDR”, no date but likely sometime between Roosevelt’s renomination in June (when the arm-twisting would move from intra-party to a national scope) and Murphy’s untimely death in July, to his Secretary of Agriculture, urgently ordering that something be done to bring Brookhart into the fold. “Secy. of Agric, Can we take care of Brookhart even as a temporary matter? Will you talk with Senator Murphy – I think it is really politically important. FDR.”

Brookhart was taken care of and his courting was successful. On August 16, 1936, he announced that he would support Roosevelt in his reelection bid, and put forth a plan to unite diverse progressive elements under a new banner with FDR as its standard bearer. And in November, despite Roosevelt’s nervousness about losing the farm belt, he again carried Iowa handily, as well as other states in the region.

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