The True-blue Democrat

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I made that prediction based entirely on my conversations with state chairmen, national committeemen, newspapermen, from Maine, for instance, and different parts of the country. I was on pretty good terms with all of the newspapermen regardless of the papers they wrote for; I told them the truth as I saw it. And I got letters and all kinds of information. Mr. Roosevelt didn’t want me to go that far. As I recall it, we had a pool, and I don’t know whether he was in the pool, but I think he said 346 electoral votes, or something, I don’t know whether I’m right on the figure. But I’ll never forget, when I decided I was going to predict, that I called up the Democrats in the state of Maine and told them about it and also called up Frank Duffy, who was the Democratic leader in Vermont, about what I was going to predict. But Frank always called me James, talked like all Vermonters, very stiff. Hc said, “James, I wish you wouldn’t do that. We have a chance to elect a Democratic governor and if you predict Vermont is going Republican it will hurt us.” And I said “Frank, it’s my job to make a prediction on what I think is going to happen nationally, and I don’t think it’s going to hurt your state at all insofar as the election of a governor is concerned if the same trend is going along in your state—I’ve just got to make the prediction that I’m going to.” Hc was very much annoyed with me, but I made it nevertheless.

There’s a story that you sent personal notes of thanks to thousands of party workers afterward, and signed them in green ink. Why green?

The editor of my home town newspaper used to use green ink, so I started to use it when I was a boy, and I still do except that I sign obituary and official letters in black ink. Once in a while a regular letter will get signed in black ink, and the person will write back to know if I’ve given up green ink. But I had a funny experience—it wasn’t funny, it was tragic when I was in the Post Office. I used to sign all the commissions in green ink. The President’s signature was a facsimile, but the Postmaster General’s was an actual signature. Well, that green ink faded in the sunlight, so I asked the inspectors, as they made the rounds of post offices, to pick up commissions where my signature had faded. They picked up over ten thousand, and I had to retrace every signature! From that time on, I signed all the commissions in black ink.

It’s generally conceded that Roosevelt made two political mistakes in 1937 and 1938. One was the attempt to enlarge the membership of the Supreme Court: the other, intervention in the 1938 primaries to “purge” anti-New Deal Democrats. Did you advise him against these steps?

Well, frankly, I didn’t know anything about the Court fight, the Court bill, until I read it in the New York World Telegram . He had a press conference that morning where he brought in the legislative leaders and the chairmen of the Judiciary committees of both the House and the Senate—[Senator] Joe T. Robinson [of Arkansas], the Republican leaders, the House and Senate Democratic and Republican leaders, and the chairmen, I think, of the committees to which that bill would go for consideration and for hearings before it went up to the House. And it wasn’t until I picked up the World Telegram that I saw about it. And the next day when I went down the street, I dropped in and I said, “Why the hell did you do that without telling me?” He just called them that morning you know, and anybody that wasn’t there [didn’t get asked]. You see, he made it very secretive. Now if I’d been in Washington, I’d have been there. But they knew I was in New York and they didn’t call me.

Well, he had a mind of his own. Of course, I urged him not to participate in the purge at all. And I didn’t participate, as the records show. I took a rather strong stand, you know. Here I was his Postmaster General and the state and national chairman and I refused to participate in the purge.

You broke with him when he went after a third term. In fact, you had your name put in nomination in the 1940 convention and received seventy-two votes. Did you try to discourage the third term beforehand? And how do you feel, looking back?

I still think I was right. I didn’t think any man should have done that because it was against our tradition. I argued with Mr. Roosevelt about his health. I said: “You’ve been four years governor and eight years President, and it’s bound to have weakened you physically. There’s no way of knowing what’s going to happen in the days ahead, and you ought not to do it.”

Do you think he could have won the third term if the war in Europe had not been going on?

I don’t know. I’m never quite sure on that. He took an awful chance on the third term, but, of course, [Wendell] Willkiejust wasn’t the fellow to beat him. I don’t know who could have beaten him. Willkie wasn’t accepted by the country, and he happened to be the nominee. They deluged the Republican convention in Philadelphia, you remember, with millions of wires. That really was a deluge. The third term, of course, brought on the fourth term, and by the fourth term Mr. Roosevelt was a very sick man.