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tv   Political Career of Senator Burton K. Wheeler  CSPAN  May 12, 2019 2:30pm-3:57pm EDT

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saying the past is not dead, it is not even past. we can continue the conversation -- >> you're watching american history follow us on twitter for information on our schedule and to keep up with the latest history news. >> next on american history tv, journalist marc johnson gives an illustrated talk on the political career of u.s. senator burton k. wheeler, a democrat from montana who served from 1923 to 1947. mr. johnson is the author of "political hell-raiser: the life and times of senator burton k. wheeler of montana." the montana-minute cal society hosted this 90-minute program.
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>> it is my pleasure to introduce our speaker, marc c. john son, the auth art of the book "political hell-raiser." we would be more than happy to sell you one or 10 copies after the talk. i'm pretty sure marc would also be happy to sign them for you. so marc c. johnson has worked a broadcast journalist in idaho's longest serving governor and has a communication and crisis management consultant. a journalism graduate of south dakota state university, johnson has chaired both the idaho humanities council and the federation of state humanities councils, and has frequently served as a national endowment for the humanities visitor. a student of political history, marc writes and speaks regularly on political history with particular focus on the new deal era. u.s. senate history, and the
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american presidency. his writing on politics and history has appeared in numerous rejonl national publications, including the "new york times," the california journal of politics and policy, and most importantly, of course, montana, the magazine of western history. his blog and podcast on history and politics is entitled many things considered. welcome, marc johnson. marc: thank you. [applause] thank you, kirby, and thanks to the montana historical society for having me tonight to talk about this ancient history. i keep trying to figure out a way to begin these talks, and i always am reminded that wheeler has been dead for 40 years, out of office for 70 years, was elected when warren harding was in the white house. how to make that relevant to a 21st century audience. so i want to begin tonight to
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ask to you keep in mind, as we get this story about burton k. wheeler, a little history about the united states senate. keep in mind a couple of facts about the senate. in our history and in our system of government. if you remember, the senate is endowed with certain responsibilities unique our politics. senators, for one thing, have six-year terms, longer than any other federal official. the senate has the responsibility to ratify treaties and to advise and consent on appointments to the judiciary and other high government positions. unique responsibilities invested in the united states senate. i want to quote, rather than start with burton k. wheeler tonight, i want to quote one of his contemporaries, a guy named mansfield, mike mansfield.
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in 1963, mike mansfield was the senate majority leader and was preparing to deliver a response in the senate to some of the critics that he had had encounter in the senate who were complaining about his leadership style. he was too laid-back, they thought, not aggressive enough in pushing the democratic agenda in the united states senate in the kennedy administration. and mansfield being mansfield listened to this all rather politely, and then decided that he needed to respond to it. unfortunately, he was scheduled to deliver that speech on the friday afternoon in november of 1963 when john kennedy was assess made in dallas. -- assassinated in dasms he never gave the speech until many years later when he was invited back to speak in the old senate chamber to inaugurate a series of lecturers about senate history. and mike mansfield said something really profound about the responsibility of a united
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states senator. he said, in the end, it is not the senators as individuals who are a fundamental importance. in the end, it is the senate itself as one of the foundations of the constitution. it is the senate as one of the rockets of the republic. mike mansfield and b.k. wheeler probably didn't agree on much during their political careers, although they were both democrats, but they certainly agreed on that idea, that the senate as an institution has unique responsibilities in our overnment and a unique responsibility that goes to every member of the united states senate to exercise those responsibilities. wheeler and mansfield were senate institutionalists, and that's an idea i want you to keep in mind tonight, because, in my reading of senate history, particularly the history of burton k. wheeler, you find sbhob has great reverence for the institution
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of the senate and believes that the united states senators don't only represent their states, but they are, indeed, ational legislators. at this particular time to after a couple of additional thank-yous tonight in addition to kirby and the staff and here bruce at the montana historical society. it's really wonderful to be back here, because when working on the research on the wheeler story, i spent a lot of time upstairs in the archives. and my research associate, dr. pat johnson, my much better half, learned to operate the copy machine up there flawlessly. so it is really great to be back after some years of working on this to actually have a chance to talk about senator wheeler in this place. additional thanks, i want to acknowledge chuck rankin from the university of oklahoma press, the past editor of
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montana western history, who was the acquisition editor for this book through the oklahoma -- university of oklahoma press. chuck, because of the time he spent in montana and because of his abiding interest in american history sort of instantly embraced the idea that a biographer of wheeler was worth doing and was enormously helpful to me, and i want to publicly acknowledge that tonight. chuck, thank you, and thank you for being here tonight. so how do we explain this political hell-raiser, a politician as controversial and as consequential as wheeler was? i would say between 1923 and 1947, when he served in the united states senate, there was not much in the way of major public policy in washington, d.c. that in one way or another he dent have his hands on. he was a politician so hated in his early life in montana that
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he had to take refuge in a box car down by dillon when he was assaulted, as he said, by a mob determined to assault him or perhaps even worse. a friendly farmer who was sympathetic to his politics stood guard with an armed rifle that night over that boxed car, prompting his critics to label him box car burt. his opponents throughout his political career called him both a left-wing bomb shevk and a right-wing reactionary. his introduce on civil liberties and opposition to war were shaped by, i believe, by what is still unsolved murder in butte in the summer of 1917. that, of course was was the murder of the i.w.w. organizer, frank little, in butte. this is a picture of little's funeral procession through the streets of butte. truth be told, burton k. wheeler's life and political
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career might well have been the stuff of a hollywood movie. in fact, when the famous film director frank capra premiered in 1939 his famous film "mr. smith goes to washington," wheeler and his wife lulu, that's her leaning forward there on the right-hand side of the screen sitting next to famous hollywood director frank capra, the wheelers were invited, along with their daughter, marion, seated in the middle on the left side, to be the guests of honor at that premiere at constitutional hall in washington, d.c. and wheeler never discouraged comparisons between him and that swashbuckling character played by jimmy stewart in the movie. he was such a threat to the attorney general of the united states, harry doherty, in 1924, that doherty had the bureau of investigation, we now call it the f.b.i., and the little
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agency that's in the news once in a while these days, the f.b.i. under the attorney general's orders and at the instigation of a young fellow by the name of j. edgar hoover, descended on montana to look for dirt on wheeler. wheeler had run for election to the senate in 1922 on a platform that he was going to investigate alleged corruption at the justice department and a corruption that extended, in his view, to the attorney general, harry doherty. doherty was, among other things, the personal attorney of president warren harding. he worked for about a year to get the senate to agree to a bipartisan joint committee, select committee, to investigate the justice department's sensational hearings were held in 1924. a cast of characters that would be right out of central casting were paraded before wheeler's committee, and eventually the attorney general was forced to resign. he stood trial on the
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corruption charges sometime later, and one of the 12 jurors in the corruption trial held out against a guilty verdict, and he walked away a free man, despite substantial amount of evidence that he had, indeed, misused his office along with several of his cronies at the justice department. as a result of that investigation, harry daugherty set out -- i think i document pretty well in the book -- to frame wheeler, to find something on him that could be used against him politically. charges were trumped up against him here in montana. he was indicted by a grand jury in great falls. and he stood trial and was acquitted. he would joke years later that the jury took two votes, one to acquit him and the second to stay in session long enough that the government had to buy them dinner.
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it probably, in my reading of american history, was one of the great misuses. justice department and the f.b.i. to go after a political appointee, and that experience not only catapulted wheeler to genuine national prominence at the age of 42 after only two years in the senate, but also gave him a healthy regard for an independent judiciary in the fact that a jury of his peers in his home state of montana acquitted him. the u.s. senate also conducted an investigation in 1924 led by idaho senator william bora, and the senate committee concluded that wheeler had done nothing improper. he might have chosen to be a republican. he actually flirted with that prospect when he was considering whether to run for governor in 1920, which he eventually did, but he ran as a democrat. he identified throughout his
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career as a democrat, but was, i think, truly an independent. i had an opportunity to talk to senator mansfield about wheeler. he was not a big fan. but he did admit that wheeler was a true independent. he said b.k. was mostly a democrat, but i was always an independent. he went to the senate in 1922 despite being stung by allegations near montana that he was a socialist or even a bolshevik, and then he immediately went to the soviet union on a fact-finding trip with his wife. he came home and publicly advocated for the diplomatic recognition of the still then very new soviet government. he hopes to meet with lenin, but did not have the opportunity while he was in moscow. his independence was such that in the middle of all of this turmoil about investigating the justice department, having charges of corruption brought
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against him in montana, and even later in washington, d.c., he leaves the democratic party in 1924 and runs as the vice-presidential candidate with robert on the progressive party ticket in the election of 1924. the presidential con turned was wheeler's political mentor. he had a lifelong affection for la follow the, the senator and former governor of wisconsin, so much regard that wheeler's name -- the wheelers named their youngest daughter marion, ich is after robert marion lafolle. her middle name was montana. marion montana wheeler. the progressive party still has some relevance, i believe, from that 1924 election because less than a decade later, much of the platform that lafollett and wheeler advocated during that campaign came to be as a part
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of franklin roosevelt's new deal. the breaking up of the utility holding companies, the effort to regulate big banks and provide and create what we now know as the securities and exchange commission, all of that had some of its seeds in the progressive movement in 1924. wheeler played a major flole securing the presidency for franklin roosevelt, and then almost immediately began to spar with roosevelt. i'll eye gross just a moment to talk about montana's importance in that 1932 presidential election. we now think of franklin roosevelt obviously as one of the great american presidents, most historians would place him in the same grouping with washington and lincoln in terms of their import in the history of america. but in 1932, it was far from a foregone conclusion that franklin roosevelt would actually win the democratic nomination, let alone win the
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presidency. and wheeler, as early as 1930, publicly endorsed roosevelt for president. roosevelt hadn't even run for re-election as governor of new york at that point. roosevelt -- or wheeler was on the roosevelt bandwagon very early, campaigned very aggressively for roosevelt in 1932, made speeches all over the western united states for the roosevelt ticket, played a very instrumental role at the democratic convention in 1932, probably most significantly wheel her a friendship with louisiana senator huee long. and wheeler convinced huey long to put his political leadership in the south behind roosevelt's candidacy. and as a result, the louisiana and mississippi and several other southern delegations fell in line behind roosevelt's candidacy. this gave wheeler, i think, a sense that he was going to have
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a real place at the table, be a key counselor to president roosevelt. and he really never became that for reasons that are a little complicated. i venture the observation that i don't think franklin roosevelt feared many people in politics, but he had a certain weariness about wheeler, maybe because he was aggressive, he was independent, he wasn't sort of dye in the wool democrat. he could be working across the political aisle with some regularity, and roosevelt never really came to trust him, and that feeling was certainly reciprocated. they did work together closely to break up the utility holding companies in 1935, a huge battle that was the -- that was probably the defining legislative confrontation of
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roosevelt's first term, and wheeler was the senate sponsor of what was the public utilities holding company act of 1935 that broke up 13 big utility holding companies that dominated the electric generation and distribution system in the united states. wheeler was so drawn to that issue because of his firm belief that bigness, as he called it, concentrated power, whether it was in the hands of wall street or big utilities or big banks, was bad for the country. so he worked with roosevelt very closely on getting that utilities holding company legislation passed, but in 1937, their break really became permanent when wheeler opposed roosevelt's plan to enlarge the supreme court. president roosevelt won a landslide re-election in 1936, brought with him 76 democrats into the senate. overwhelming majorities in both the house and the senate on the
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democratic side, and roosevelt, who had seen the supreme court overturn a number of his initiatives prior to 1936, decides that he's going to deal with the supreme court with this big democratic majority. and he proposes what is truly still an a addition plan. he's going to enlarge the supreme court by six justices in one fell swoop, take the court from nine members to 15. of course, everybody knows that these are going to be liberal-leaning, new deal-supporting, roosevelt-beholding judges, and wheeler not only opposes the president of his own party on that initiative, but he leads the opposition in the senate and works hand in glove with a number of republicans to create a bipartisan majority that eventually defeat roosevelt's court-packing plan. roosevelt never, after the court packing in 1937, which was hard to believe how
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consumed the country was by that debate in 1937, was literally a running debate ever single day from february through the summer of 1937, the country absolutely turning on every dot and active ttle of this debate. but after 1937, franklin roosevelt never again demanded or was able to count on a working majority in the congress for his domestic agenda. he really broke his pick, if you will, over trying to enlarge the supreme court. might be a cautionary tale in that for some of the democratic presidential candidates who are running around today talking about enlarging the supreme court. frarning lynn roosevelt, if he could speak beyond the grave, might say that would not be a terribly good idea, but it was an example of wheeler's independence, his courage, his willingness to put what he believed to be the good of the country ahead of the good of his party.
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toward the end of the debate in the senate on expanding the supreme court, roosevelt, understanding that he was probably going to have to compromise or maybe lose this battle, invites wheeler down to the white house, and they have a very contentious meeting. wheeler tells him the supreme court is like a religion with many americans, and you don't mess around with religion. he tells him that he's going to lose on this issue. roosevelt implores him to step back from leading the opposition, let the republicans take the lead. roosevelt believing if he can make this a purely partisan issue, he would have a better chance of prevailing. wheeler would have none of it. he actually worked with the republican -- or the republican chief justice of the supreme ourt, charles evans hughes, to concoct pretty effective arguments against roosevelt's proposal and eventually leads the effort that results in the
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defeat of that proposal. wheeler himself flirted -- here's a picture from 1935 when they're signing, this is one of the few pictures of roosevelt and wheeler together. he's second from the left there in this picture. standing to his immediate left is alvin barkley, a senator from kentucky who would later go on to be the senate majority leader and vice president in the truman administration. justice over roosevelt's left shoulder there is sam raburn, later speaker of the house of representatives. raburn, at that time, was the chairman of the house interstate commerce committee. wheeler, the chairman of the senate committee. so they were counterparts in the house and senate who passed the big utility breakup legislation. the two smiling fellows on the right side side of the picture in the light suit is tommy
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corkran, one of f.d.r.'s top aides. next to him is benjamin cohen, these are two of the whiz kids that wrote a lot of the legislation, so-called whiz kids, that wrote a lot of the legislation that made up the new deal and worked very closely with wheeler to pass that legislation in 1935. this was a happy moment. wheeler looks a little glum there, but it was a happy moment where they were actually on the same page together. by 1939, wheeler is flirting with running for president himself. roosevelt, speculation, of course, is rampant that roosevelt is going to break with tradition dating back to george washington and seek a unprecedented third term as president. and roosevelt plays his cards very, very close to his vest, and it's not until the time of the democratic convention during the summer of 1940 that it becomes obvious that
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roosevelt really does want to be renominated and seek a third term. at heeler puts together least the broad frame work of a presidential campaign in 1939 and certainly in 1940. he's confound a little bit by the fact that he has to run for re-election to the senate in montana in 1940, so he has to be careful not to get too crosswise with his democratic constituents in montana, who are very much pro-roosevelt. at this point, he does create wheeler for president clubs around the west. he raises a modest amount of money to mount a presidential campaign, goes to the convention in chicago in the summer of 1940, and is prepared , assuming roosevelt decides at the last minute not to seek a third term, to actually run for president himself. he ultimately is not nominated
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for president and is re-elected in a landslide in montana in 1942, his fourth term in the senate. he also created in this period i think the closest thing that montana has ever had to a true political machine, and it was a bipartisan machine. it was a combination of wheel other the democratic side -- wheeler on the democratic side, then governor ford on the other side, and they cooperated on all kinds of things. wheeler had some of his top lieutenants in key positions in the ford administration in montana. ford gave wheeler broad leeway to conduct himself in washington as he saw fit. wheeler returned the favor here n the state.
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he often feuded with fellow democrats in this period. and he often endorsed republicans, which did not endear himself to the kind of hard-core democratic base in montana, which was very much pro-roosevelt. one of the people who became very antagonistic of a young attorney general by the name of lee metcalf, who went on to his own rather important career as man and united states senator. metcalf was very critical of wheeler in 1940 for seeming position himself to challenge franklin roosevelt for president. in 1938, wheeler actually actively worked to defeat the democratic congressman in the first district, injury i o'connell, and he quietly put together the machinery, the
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infrastructure, political infrastructure to support the republican candidate in that race, a rather wacky butte nudist camp owner, a medical doctor by the name of jacob thorkelson. he beats the incumbent democratic congressman jerry o'connell. one of the new things i think that i provide in the book is a little more of the back story about how that came about. o'connell was quite an interesting character. he fwrue up in butte, went to carroll college here in helena. at a have i young age, was elected to the state legislative, still very young was elected to the public service commission. and then at age 28, was elected to the congress for the first time, 1936, in that big democratic sweep that year. and almost immediately he positions himself to the political left of wheeler and looks very much like he's going to be an adversary, a wheeler
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adversary within the democratic party. wheeler sees this coming and cuts it off at the pass, so to speak, in 1938 by helping orchestrate a republican campaign to beat o'connell. he had an interesting set of allies in that race. one was this guy right here, ed craney, a broadcast pioneer, very close friend of wheeler's. craney basically managed thorkelson's campaign. in craney's papers here in the archives are his rather detailed instrkses to thorkelson about the kind of issues he should stress during the campaign, who he needed to talk to, who he could approach for money, etc. so the other strange ally was the catholic church. o'connell was a catholic. he had a divorced and remarried catholic, which in 1938 was a
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bit of a problem for a public official. on an also gone to spain inspection tour, if you will, of the forces that were engaged in the spanish civil war in the late 1930's. and he came back very much supporting the republican side in the spanish civil war, while the catholic church was very much identified with the nationalist side, the franco side in the spanish civil war. so o'connell is not only crosswise with the church because of his divorce and remarriage, but also because he's taken on the church, so to speak, in a high-profile way with his position on the spanish republican movement. and he lieses 1948,es the election in -- 1938, in part because the
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priest urges people to speak out against o'connell from the pulpit. i document in the book that wheeler had his own meeting with i think encouraging him to do exactly what he did. so, he could be a tough political operator for sure. as i said, wheeler had friends across the political spectrum. here he is with idaho's william the time wheeler came to the senate in 1923, was a senior member of the republican majority. later, senate foreign relations committee chairman. one of the great towards -- orators in the senate by most accounts. they become great friends. a shared common opinions -- they shared common opinions about hating monopoly, being opposed
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to expansionist foreign policy, and they become very close associates and did team up to hwart roosevelt on the court packing plan. harry truman one ones -- was one of his closest friends in the senate. truman came to the senate in 1924 and becomes a member of wheeler's committee. wheeler befriends him, gives him opportunities to chair hearings and be involved in major legislation. and they become fast friends for the rest of their lives. i mentioned he was a close friend of hugh elong. long was often a guest in wheeler's home for dinner. in his relationship with the follette. -- la
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they became close associates. in 1934, wheeler was engaged in his own reelection campaign in montana. foreaves the campaign trail several days to travel to wisconsin to campaign for a republican, a young bob will lafollette, unheard of at the time. basis on a first name with a candidate for the united states. he said he voted for thomas for president in 1940 rather than vote for a third term for roosevelt. the journalist who won a pulitzer prize for his famous senateabout the covered the senate as a reporter in the early 1940's and he knew wheeler quite well and said he was the most likable man he encountered in the senate.
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pacifist innot a the sense that jeannette rankin was, but he was certainly antiwar and anti-imperialist. this is a picture from 1941 where he is speaking to an antiwar rally. he vowed during the 1934 election campaign that he would never vote to send an american boy to fight in a foreign war and he never did. onwas absent from the senate december 8, 1941, when congress voted to declare war on japan after the attacks on pearl harbor. he was in montana when the attack occurred, was on his way to washington while the vote was taken. he said he would have voted for declaration of war against japan but he never cast a vote to send an american boy to fight in a foreign war.
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career, to thee extent it has been remembered up to this point, has basically been remembered for his foreign-policy stance prior to pearl harbor. many of the positions he took remain legitimately subject of intense controversy and debate. even condemnation in a way. here he is holding a newspaper. december 8,s dated 1941. maybe december 9, 1941, right after pearl harbor with the incorrect headline that the japanese airplanes were flying to california. he has his ever present cigar in his hand as well. back it is easy to look 1941eflect on 1940 and
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when the world is being caught , france hasd war capitulated to the nazis, and the blitz is on in the u.k. with other british cities being bombed on a nightly basis, it is easy to look back on that period and say this guy's foreign-policy views were out of touch with reality. if you believe the decision to and tothe country to war put soldiers, sailors, and air men in harm's the most important decision any political person can make, it must be also acknowledged that we were -- stimulated the last foreign-policy debate we've had in this country about the broad direction of foreign-policy since the beginning of world war ii. . he was very much a believer that
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the united states should not create an empire around the world. he was very critical of the british empire. of badnvoked sort connotations to the british empire and british rule in india and elsewhere in the world during this period. did not want to save united states mimic the british empire or become a policeman for the world. did not want to see american military installations around the globe. to ae did, i believe, valuable service to the country in 1940 and 1941 of stimulating with some historians have called the greatest debate about american foreign-policy ever, which has basically become the consensus in american policy since world war ii that the united states is going to have a global goal, that we will have military installations around the world.
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forve credit to wheeler helping stimulate that debate, even if his positions at the time were controversial and remain controversial today. he was also among the most effective members of the senate insisting the legislative branch has a role in equal to the president's in the making of foreign policy. he did not believe congress should acquiesce to the executive branch in the making of foreign policy, and particularly not acquiesce to win u.s. military force is utilized. his dissent would become the prevailing direction of american foreign-policy. it has seen him branded as an appeaser, a tree tour -- tra and, a nazi sympathizer,
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because of his association with the america first committee in 1941, as anti-semitic. i don't believe he was any of those things. he certainly was, as i said, antiwar. and he was an opponent of american empire. at the same time, i have to acknowledge i think he was naive , that is the best you can say about him, he was naive about the objectives of fascist germany, nazi germany. , less less than concerned concerned that he might have been about hitler's ambition to dominate western europe and perhaps the globe. viewe took a rather benign of the influence of nazi germany in europe. had his positions prevailed, i think we have to say it is entirely possible the british empire would not have hung on to
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come through that war the way they did. and it is entirely possible hitler and the nazis would have dominated europe for many years to come. that, twod all of major takeaways from wheeler's career that i think are important today. two visible characteristics, both relevant today -- as relevant today as they were when he generated headlines from the 1920's to the 1950's. this, by the way, is a caricature from a book called "sons of the wild jackass" published in 1932. been yes about various maverick political figures from that time and wheeler was prominently featured in the book with his caricature of him wearing a cowboy's bandanna.
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the first characteristic of wheeler's was his independence. he never flinched from opposing a president of his own party or supporting a republican he could make common cause with. before that all but disappeared from our politics, we called that bipartisanship. his independence was both a source of his political popularity and ultimately i believe a cause of his undoing. in the parlance of today's politics, he alienated his base in the montana democratic party in the mid-1940's and it really did contribute to his undoing. but still, who among us would not say that in our polarized and hyper partisan politics today that we would not enjoy embracing a politician who seemed to always be his own man, who was independent, candid,
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maybe candid to a fault sometimes. he was particularly a favorite of reporters, journalists, because he was always so accessible and quotable. that tood that ability often seems to be missing today in our politics of putting his country before his party. as mike mansfield told me when ., he said heut b.k was mostly a democrat but always an independent. the second important wheeler after butte was the opposition to concentrated power. to much powersed concentrated into few -- in too few hands whether on wall street or the oval office. he hated bigness. ,merican greatness, he believed
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would be brought about by strengthening small business owners, by doing right by anders and minors in butte, ranches on the highline. his idea was a decentralized almost old-fashioned jeffersonian notion about american democracy and the american economy. reelection in 1928, wheeler did something i am not sure i have ever known any other politician to do. he had been elected for the first time to the senate in 1922, so he is running for reelection for the first time, seeking a second term in the senate. and he said to his montana constituents during that campaign, i've been in the senate long enough now, six years, that i have really come to understand some of the big national and international issues confronting the country. some of these big problems. he said i have been studying these issues.
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if you send me back to the senate, i'm going to concentrate my time on those big issues. and then he said, if montana voters wanted what he called an errand boy in the senate, then they should vote for somebody else. he said i'm out of the business of being an errand boy. reelection over joseph dixon, a tough, very skilled opponent, and another great character in montana political history. he won reelection with 53% of the vote after telling his constituents basically i'm not going to just concentrate on montana issues, i'm going to be a national legislature and not be in the business of bringing home the bacon for montana, if you will. he never really did get out of the business of looking out for montana. i argue no one deserves greater credit for bringing about the
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construction of four heck dam for the buffalo rapids irrigation project. in wheeler's day, three major rail lines crossed montana and he was a fierce defender of the railroad unions did believed the railroads had to be operated to the benefit of montana farmers and shippers. he personally lobbied the army air corps chief of staff in 1942 to construct what is today moused him air force base at great falls. he never got out of the business of being inerrant boy for montana, but he believed his responsibility was on a broader national and even international scale. i think you see some of the personality of wheeler in this photo, obviously enjoying a cigar which he always did. 1923 theprimanded in very first day he walked on the senate, he had a lit cigar in his hand.
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somebody had to remind him that was against the rules to smoke a cigar on the floor of the senate. you could smoke in committee rooms but you cannot smoke on the floor of the senate. biography, is that to respect two views i do respect. one is don't set out to lionize your subject. you can be sympathetic and still critical. that is what i have tried to do. the second admonition comes from a british historian i have a lot who has written biographies of charles de gaulle among others. he said biographers should guard against the desire to place too much consistency on their subjects. one of the things that has compounded historians for years about wheeler, and i have to admit confounds me a bit too, with his apparent
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inconsistencies from time to time. but i do believe he was consistent to his basic core toiefs about being opposed concentrated power, believing and certainly believing in the institution of the senate as having a particularly important place in our system of government. i recognize his mistakes, and there were many. all politicians, with the exception of bob brown -- [laughter] >> have feet of clay. they all make mistakes. wheeler could hold a grudge. democratsavage fellow like senator jim murray he served with in the senate from 1934 to 1947. murray and wheeler, both democrats, both from butte, which caused no end of problems. when they were both on the ballot in that weird 1934 timeson, that handful of
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in american history when one state has had both senators elected in the same cycle, so murray is on the ballot as is wheeler. they are campaigning kind of together but kind of wary of each other at the same time. i lost my train of thought. murrays this grudge with and murray returns the favor throughout all the time they served together in the senate, proving the outage, one of the truisms of american politics that there is no relationship stranger or more fraught with anxiety than that between senators from the same state regardless of their politics. wheeler has a celebrated feud with jim murray all through their time in the senate together. there was actually a rumor in montana in 1942. murray is running for reelection and wheeler is on the stump
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saying send case somebody i can work with there. without mentioning worried by name, he is criticizing his fellow democratic senator. he says send me someone i can work with back there. murray wins that election very narrowly in 1942. in a republican year, he held on to win narrowly. he decides at that point, he is going to get even and try to even the score with wheeler in 1946 which he was more effective in doing that wheeler was against him. one quick little anecdote that says a lot about wheeler. it also says a lot about murray. it says maybe even more by harry truman. wheeler had been out of office for some years. this was well truman was still president. he gives a speech out here in them thatere he says she is very critical of truman's
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foreign-policy even though they were close personal friends. wheeler shows up in the white house visitor lost her in the truman administration many more times than under in the roosevelt administration. the white house on the time. he comes to montana and gives a speech and criticizes truman's foreign-policy. murray sees a little newspaper clipping of this and sends it to one of truman's aides in the white house saying, you know, you really ought to call this article to the attention of the president and i hope he does not ever listen to burton k. wheeler on anything. dutifully, the aide shows truman the newspaper clipping and the letter from senator murray. truman writes his own letter immediately back to murray and he says you have to understand that while i don't agree with senator wheeler on anything when it comes to foreign policy, when
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i was a young senator, he took me under his wing, befriended me, gave me opportunities nobody else gave me, and he will be a friend of mine until the day i die. that says a lot about harry truman. it says a lot about wheeler. it says a lot about mary. -- murray. as i said, i think wheeler had these friends in both political parties. he was good-humored. his son, edward, loved to tell the story that his father could look any person in the eye with a smile on his face and tell them to go directly to hell -- and they would enjoy the trip. [laughter] , i'm getting ahead of myself, in our age when we are searching for what the political pundits often call authenticity in our political leaders, we really did not have to search for authenticity when it comes to burton k. wheeler. he was willing and seemed unable to resist taking positions that
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demanded real political courage, even in the face of opposition from his constituents back home. he was a genuine original i think, a true political maverick. and he had a lifelong willingness to buck the trends, to buck his own party, to buck the president of his own party, and be truly courageous. you have to think long and hard i think to find his type in politics today, in the senate today, and that is both i think a shame and maybe ultimately senator wheeler's real legacy. i would be delighted to respond to any questions any of you have with the admonition from kirby that we make sure we get the microphone to you before you start speaking. thank you very much. [applause]
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>> on the off chance that nobody asks me about mrs. wheeler, i want to say a word or two about her because she was an extremely important part of his political life. she was much more conservative politically than he was, but she was a real partner in everything he did. we have had some great political partnerships in american political history. was one of the better ones i think in terms of her being a real advisor and counselor to the center -- senator. so much so that franklin was searching for a way to explain wheeler. he grew up in massachusetts. he moved out to montana. i don't think he is a real progressive. i think he is secretly a calvin coolidge massachusetts republican. he is always struggling to explain wheeler to himself. he says to jim farley, his top
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political aide, postmaster general of the united states, chairman of the democratic national party. and were talking one time roosevelt said i think it is his wife, she is the power behind the throne. roosevelt referred to her as lady macbeth, the manipulator behind the senator. of tongue-in-cheek says to roosevelt, pretty hard to explain political marriages. obviously, a reference to franklin and eleanor roosevelt. [laughter] >> so, she is the real power behind the throne. she keeps the home fires burning. she is very involved in the america first committee. wheeler is a speaker for america first. he travels all over the country in 1941 speaking to big rallies, speaking at madison square garden on two different occasions to capacity crowds. she is on the national committee
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of america first. she is the treasurer of the washington, d.c., chapter, so she really takes this antiwar movement extremely seriously. volunteers her time to work on it. montanaconnection to more than anything i think in addition to living in butte for a while was they had this cabin at glacier national park. wheeler buys a piece of property in what eventually becomes glacier park, so he has a holding inside the national park and it was their summer vacation retreat for years and years. she had a big vegetable garden up there and really ruled the roost on lake mcdonald. so, questions? >> i'm wondering if you could comment most importantly on glass-steagall and then secondly on teapot dome. >> glass-steagall. was the actll
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passed by congress in 1933 to some regulatory framework for the financial services industry in the country as it existed at that time. it basically separated investment banking from retail banking. the belief being that by combining those two different kinds of financial transactions that you were courting disaster and that had been a contributor factor to the great depression. in 1933, maybeed 1934, and really begins to provide some regulatory framework for the financial at the sameustry time the securities and exchange in this wave of new deal reform legislation. what really creates the regulatory structure was still have largely in place as it
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relates to the national economy. the second part of your question was teapot dome and senator walsh. by saying oneok of the reasons i was attracted to wheeler's story was because i bates'd one of biographies of senator walsh. and wheeler shows up over and over in the wash biography and i thought i have to read about this guy, wheeler. i go looking for the wheeler biography. of course, it does not exist. memoir which is pretty good, "yankee from the west" published in 1952 after he had been out of the senate for a time. as political memoirs go, i think it is good. he does not spend a lot of time trying to settle cortical scores in the book. i am attracted to wheeler because i want to know how these two senators from montana in the minority party, both democrats,
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wind up leading two of the most high-profile corruption investigations in american political history. almost simultaneously, walsh is leading the senate investigation into the corruption we now call teapot dome, which to refresh your memory involves the secretary of the interior improperly leasing federal reserve's in wyoming and california and getting kickbacks in exchange for making those leases to big oil companies. albert fall remains, this may change, remains the only member of the president's cabinet to go to jail for malfeasance while he was in office. i was simultaneously, wheeler launches the investigation of the justice department because dohertyves duarte -- has to somehow be implicated in teapot dome.
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he makes the allegation publicly he is certain there is some connection between doherty and teapot dome. is never able to prove it conclusively, although there is a lot of circumstantial evidence that dover the new -- doherty knew what fall was doing. walsh leads a very impressive investigation driven by documents and research and calling a few witnesses. he lays out this elaborate scheme to defraud the government of oil reserves. fall'smately leads to conviction. at the same time, wheeler is conducting the justice department investigation admittedly in a more slipshod manner. his investigation is less about producing documents and following the money and paper trail than it is about calling some sensational witnesses who make some really outlandish claims under oath in front of
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the senate committee. andit is remarkable -- remarkable fact of american political life that montana's two senators literally in the are year, in the minority, leading the investigations of these two high-profile corruption incidents. tom walsh was a fascinating guy. would have been attorney general in the roosevelt administration had he not died under still somewhat mysterious circumstances right on the eve of of him becoming attorney general of the united states. he had been a widower for a number of years. very successful lawyer in helena before he went to the senate. had been widowed and had remarried quite late in life. i think walsh was 71 or 72 years old when he marries quite a younger woman. of course, this leads to speculation about what brought
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on his heart attack. [laughter] >> >> you mentioned the america first committee. i was doing some research and i was surprised at the scale and scope of it. could you comment on that? mr. johnson: the america first in 1940. is created france has fallen to the nazis. has imposedtates the first peacetime draft in american history. wheeler opposed that draft as being course of an undemocratic. he thought taking young men from the farm to go serve in the military was an un-american thing to do.
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the america first committee starts on college campuses. mostly yell -- yale. student, and air to -- fortune,o a big family is a committed pacifist and antiwar activist. he starts mobilizing college students across the country to enlist in this america first movement. and it snowballs. the movement and lists the wood, aip of robert brigadier general in the army during world war i. he is the president of sears roebuck. he volunteers his time to be the chairman of the committee. they put -- form a national
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committee that wheeler serves on. and hold out mailings massive rallies around the country. spendst of 1941, wheeler weeks on end traveling the country under the auspices of the america first committee preaching the antiwar message. essentially accusing president of misleading the country about his true intentions with regard to the eventual u.s. involvement in world war ii. by the end of the effective life of the america first committee, which really begins to sputter to a halt with charles lindbergh's notorious speech in des moines in 1941 where he seems to be quite the pro-interventionist movement
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with the american jewish community and is broadly accused of being anti-semitic and the america first committee refuses to repudiate him. by the time of his speech, 800 50,000 americans were card-carrying members of america first. they had chapters all over the country. two chapters here in montana. book of him in the ignoring his home state. he could have mobilized a greater antiwar sentiment in montana. possibly because he was traveling as a spokesman. it was clearly infiltrated by
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nazi sympathizers, by people who .re anti-semitic the leadership of america first did too little to separate itself from some of those elements. that image has tainted the movement to this very day. when you hear the current president of the united states invoke america first, if you are a student of american history, you think about this. when you had this real controversial grassroots seemed too many to be out of touch with what was happening in the world at that point. thank you for your presentation. i am not sure if i have this right. in the 1970's i had a professor
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who was talking about wheeler appearing before the supreme court as a witness. and the nine justices stood for him. familiaron: i'm not with that story. i know he argued many cases before the supreme court after he was out of the senate. he and his son formed a law practice in washington dc. it was quite successful. they represented a whole range of clients. telecommunications, railroads, they represented the zenith company and a big patent and trademark over who hadrca the rights to develop color television. he represented a lot of
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broadcast and the twos around the country. probably in the days before lobbying was as regulated today, hedly it is probably did do some lobbying. but that was before federal agencies like the fcc and the interstate commerce commission. cases before argue the supreme court. i don't know about the specifics of your story. >> thank you for a wonderful talk. of a i met wheeler. when i was a kid in the navy during the vietnam war. i had dinner with him in his home in a suburb. we were served by his house servants.
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had is after mrs. wheeler died. his eyesight was so poor that he had a lamp over his plate so he could see what he was eating. i had several impressions. he really intensely disliked senator murray. mr. johnson: and the feeling was reciprocated. >> he said he did not give credit to anybody. he had that very heavy new england accent. said a lot the projects were taken placed her in the new deal but if you want to do a couple united --with fdr, you had to be tough and forceful. he did not just give things
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away. he said fdr probably respected him. ofwas mildly critical mansfield. he thought he was not a good leader in the u.s. senate. he said what is the point of holding a public office if you do not stand up strongly for the things you personally believe in. emphasized that to me. there is no point in doing it if all you're trying to do is get reelected. if you're going to do it and you have an opportunity, do what you do and follow your best judgment. mr. johnson: stand for something. you mentioned a couple of things. 1927, the wheelers and their three oldest children made this incredible trip to the orient.
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they went to the philippines, .apan, korea, china this is a time when the senate was out of session or months on end. he traveled extensively around the world. they are in the philippines and they miss a young -- meet a young man. he is a houseboy for this family that they are having dinner with. care of the dinner arrangements. manila onback through their way to the united states. is with his suitcase. he says i'm going with you to the united states. i want to be your servant.
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mrs. wheeler thought this is a pretty good idea because he had six children at home. but they wanted to pay him. so he became their live in houseboy. their servant. for the rest of his days. he became very close to mrs. wheeler. i heard the story that one of the things she loved to do was make these a norma's batches of out onn rolls, roll them the kitchen table, and invite all the neighbor ladies to play bridge or have coffee and serve her cinnamon minerals. and that he always helped make them. i believe he won the clay court tennis championship of the district of columbia. he knew the batting averages of all the washington senators
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baseball teams. was a weird story about this young filipino guy who hitches on with this united states senator and literally becomes a member of the family. suchticed that he became a part of world war ii. he think he used his leverage with the america first movement to try to get that going? actually i think what happened with regard to the thatse at great falls was the lend lease program had been put into place in early 1941. the u.s. is shipping military ,upplies to the united kingdom mostly on convoys, across the north atlantic.
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by the time nazi germany invades the soviet union in 1941, lend lease is expanded to provide military assistance to stalin. which is a very controversial thing. wheeler often said in this. and this time that we ought to let the dictators fight it out and stay out of it. we expanded lend lease to aid the soviet union. we needed to transport fighter planes and bombers across alaska to siberia. became a transfer point for a lot of those supplies after 1942. what was happening was wheeler was bringing home the bacon. if we are going to need an
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airbase someplace in the pacific northwest, what better place than western montana? he had a very good relationship old, theeral hap arn army air corps chief of staff, who i believe personally was involved leaking the war plan that wheeler publicized right before pearl harbor. believed it vindicated him and other non-interventionists on their argument that roosevelt was systematically maneuvering the u.s. into involvement in world war ii. 's motive, if he was involved with the lee, was that he believed the u.s. air force, the army air corps, was not prepared for war and needed more time to get the planes and the
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air crews trained. he did not want to see the u.s. go to war in 1941 or 1942. unprepared, as he saw it, to fight an air war. he had a close relationship with wheeler despite his anti-interventionist policy views. he lobbied the general and set great falls would be a great place to put that air force base. knew rankin. they served together in washington. where they allies? mr. johnson: i think they were allies to the extent that they certainly saw eye to eye on american foreign-policy. inon't characterize wheeler quite the same way as rankin as being a pacifist.
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, she was totally opposed to war. wheeler was not opposed to being the u.s. military strong enough to defend the u.s. and the western hemisphere. so there was a little divergence in their point of view there. his connection with the rankin family was stronger with brother, who was a close political ally of wheeler's all through his political career. when he runs in 1942, it is not very hard for wheeler to support rankin. he never does it publicly, so he does like it tagged for endorsing a republican over a democrat.
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he really wanted rankin to win and was disappointed that he did not. the rankin connection was much stronger through the brother than through the sister. >> would you comment on the election of 1946? is running: wheeler for what would be his fifth term. and he has created this bipartisan coalition with the republican governor at the time. to do oneat served important thing. it started to alienate him from his political base. he falls out of favor with the
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ink-and-file democratic base the montana democratic party. the most roosevelt base of the democratic party. by 1944, they are seeing wheeler as being this constant critic of roosevelt and truman's foreign-policy. he is acting more like a republican than a democrat. he is making common cause with a republican governor. he is not really one of us. one of the new things i show in the book was how close mike mans field came to running against wheeler in 1946. papers, hes wrote out in his own hand a long list of democratic leaders around montana. he systematically calls these about and talks to them
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what are my chances running in the democratic primary against wheeler? well i have any money. will you support me? what issues should i be running on? what are my chances? he has the same five or six questions that he asks party chairman in different counties around the state. they say youerson, are the guy to run against wheeler. we are tired of him. you are the one who can beat him. so i go and look at these papers and then i talked to mike mansfield and ask him why he didn't run. he said, did not think i can win. that is all he said. he steps aside at the last minute. , i had a call from today.sman mansfield he is not going to run because
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now they want be any serious opposition. the combination of him alienating himself from the democratic base, being identified too often with , one of his aides right some a letter and says, if we can get you through the democratic primary, i'm sure we can win the general election because you will get republican support. but he could not get through the primary. he is eventually challenged by a ickson, who hader been a state supreme justice. are eyeing each other early in 1946. which one of them is going to run against wheeler? they know if they both run that wheeler will win. mansifeld steps aside.
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goingon tells them i am to run a tough campaign. the only way to go after this guy is to really go after him. it turned out to be a bloody, nasty campaign. is vilified for failing to support the u.s. military during the war. for his foreign-policy positions prior to the war. he is deemed to be out of touch with montana. ,he missouri valley project modeled on the tennessee valley authority, which is the subject of some contention in montana, becomes a big issue in the race. he eventually loses. one of the major reasons he loses is he loses the support of organized labor in butte and great falls. it had always been in his pocket. it turns against him in 1946.
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the campaign featured some scurrilous charges. published called the plot against america. which is what philip roth took the title for his novel and mentions wheeler. accusesus book that wheeler of everything from being unpatriotic to having clandestine romances with all kinds of women. he does lose that election as a result of his foreign-policy positions basically catching up with him and the fact that he had not attended enough to the democratic party in montana. >> one final question. you mentioned that early
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1940's was a time when there was a great debate about the role of the u.s. worldwide. did he eventually change his mind in order to cooperate more with the development of the operations? mr. johnson: he certainly supported montana having a role in military preparedness and supporting the war effort. but he did not fundamentally change his views on foreign-policy. even during the war. variousery critical of aspects of the draft during the war. young fatherst should not be drafted. if they had children at home.
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he may quite a stand on that. he was opposed to the germany --st strategy of debate defeating not to germany first. he believes japan had attacked the u.s. and we had to concentrate militarily on the feeds japan before we worried about the beating germany. ofwas crossways on a number those. he disagreed with the unconditional surrender policy. believed that would inevitably lead to german government to fight to the very end. that there would be no negotiated end to world war ii. number ofsed the foreign-policy positions that were adopted during that. -- period. an eye to his reelection campaign, he does
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theort the creation of united nations even after speaking out against the idea that it might involve the united states in providing a police force for the world, something he was adamantly opposed to. but he did ultimately vote in favor of the resolution authorizing u.s. membership in the u.n. maybe in part because truman was president and he figured truman would do a better job of managing u.s. involvement with the u.n. ben franklin roosevelt would have done. but fundamentally he never really backtracked on his foreign-policy views. in the 1960's, he was speaking out against the war in vietnam. he called president eisenhower's chief of staff in the late 1950's to praise eisenhower for not using american military intervention in the suez crisis.
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he applauded eisenhower for not getting involved. he was very consistent about not using u.s. military force in that way. something that needless to say has become pretty commonplace ever sense. >> i hate to have to cut the discussion off. i think we could go on for quite a while. but i want to give you time to sign some books. thank you for an excellent talk. [applause] mr. johnson: thank you so much. tv todayrican history at 6:00 p.m., for the rise up
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exhibit on the lgbtq rights anniversarythe 50th of the stonewall riots. not the nicest place. but at least it was a place that gay people could call their own. >> at 8:00, here about the watergate tapes 45 years later. if you listen to all these tapes, the president said this, the president to create this, he told people to do this. anything thatind set the president gave an order or an knowledge to -- acknowledge criminality. >> this year, c-span is t


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