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The True-blue Democrat
August 1971 | Volume 22, Issue 5
As a loyal party man, of course, you had moved to make his nomination unanimous at the convention. Did you actively support him at any time in the campaign itself?
I didn’t see Mr. Roosevelt during the campaign, but it was customary for me to ride with him to Madison Square Garden for the big political meeting we always had a few nights before election. I had ridden with him and Mrs. Roosevelt in ’32 and again in ’36. I was up in Rockland County one Sunday in ’40 when there was a telephone call from the White House. Steve Early, the President’s press secretary, said that the President wanted to know if I’d meet him at Mott Haven railroad yards [in the Bronx] and ride to the Garden with him and Mrs. Roosevelt and appear on the platform. I said of course I would, and I went up there and we rode down in the car together. Mr. Roosevelt was a superstitious fellow.
I was in the Democratic state committee office [Farley had resigned as Democratic National Committee chairman but remained chairman of the New York State Democratic Committee] from early morning till late at night because I didn’t want New York State to go Republican and they’d say Farley was to blame. On the Sunday before election I sent a wire to every member of the Democratic county committees in New York State, about eleven thousand more or less, urging them to get every voter to the polls, Democrat, independent, or Republican, who they felt would support President Roosevelt, because I wanted him to carry New York. And he did. So everybody in the United States knew where I stood.
H ow do you rate Roosevelt as a President now?
I think Mr. Roosevelt is bound to go down in the history of this country, when they get away from hatred and bitterness, among the first six American Presidents. Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and I would think Jackson and Truman, I’m a devotee of Jackson because he was such a Democrat.
Mr. Roosevelt’s entitled to that because he saved the capitalistic system of this country. God knows we might have had a civil war if he hadn’t moved as quickly as he did. People were threatening law and order. Out in Iowa they were burning corn and threatening judges who were honoring mortgage foreclosures. People just rebelled.
In the first hundred days the Congress put through many pieces of legislation, PWA [Public Works Administration), AAA [Agricultural Adjustment Administration], CCC [Civilian Conservation Corps]. The ccc took boys off the streets and put them in gainful employment in camps, and part of their pay had to go home to their families. It was great training for them. They were off welfare, well fed, disciplined, in proper housing.
The HOLC [Home Owners Loan Corporation] that President Roosevelt passed saved the banks, the insurance companies, and loan associations. They were proceeding to foreclose mortgages on thousands and thousands of homes in the United States. The HOLC stepped in and took over those mortgages and guaranteed them, you know, and when that organization went out of business after it had served its purpose, it turned a profit back to the government.
Mr. Roosevelt was never given credit for that. The Republican leaders and the bankers, whose businesses he saved, and the businessmen, whose businesses he saved, they were his biggest critics.
It’s an outrage that Mr. Roosevelt’s been dead twentyfive years now and he hasn’t any monument in Washington. Of course George Washington was dead a long time before they did anything for him, and Lincoln, too. Jefferson didn’t get his until Mr. Roosevelt was in office. I worked on that. It wasn’t easy to get an appropriation even for Jefferson, with people needing money for more important things. But I’ll never forget that Mr. Roosevelt said to me: “Jim, if we don’t get this through now, we’ll never get it for Jefferson.” He was just insistent about it.
What was the secret of his political success?
Well, he was an extremely charming man, very easy to know. He was born and raised in the country, so Mr. Roosevelt was really a country fellow, if I may use the term. He was friendly with all the folks around Hyde Park where he grew up, and they called him Frank or Franklin. So it wasn’t difficult for him to meet people around the country the same way. He was down to earth, a neighborly sort of fellow. When he was in Warm Springs, they all looked on him as a citizen of Georgia. When he’d greet them, he’d make them feel very much at home, that by God they were an old friend of his. He could do it without any difficulty. Now some people are born with that. It’s like a smile. Mr. Roosevelt could smile readily.