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Henry Morgenthau Jr

Henry Morgenthau Jr.

Henry Morgenthau, Jr. (1891-1967), was secretary of the U.S. Treasury and a longtime confidant and adviser to President Franklin Roosevelt.

Henry Morgenthau, Jr., was born in New York City on May 11, 1891, into a prosperous family of German-Jewish ancestry. The senior Morgenthau, who had become wealthy through real estate investments, was active in Democratic party affairs and in sponsoring various social welfare projects in the city. Henry Morgenthau, Jr., attended Phillips Exeter Academy and then Sachs Collegiate Institute in New York City before entering Cornell University. Morgenthau left Cornell after three semesters to recuperate from typhoid fever. He again enrolled in Cornell, this time to study agriculture. But he soon left on a trip to the Pacific Coast to investigate different kinds of farming at firsthand. When he returned more excited than ever about a career in farming, his father bought several hundred acres for him in Dutchess County in upstate New York, which in succeeding decades became a highly successful and apple-growing farm.

Morgenthau and Roosevelt

Morgenthau's friendship with Franklin Roosevelt began in 1915, when Roosevelt, hosting Morgenthau at his neighboring Dutchess County estate at Hyde Park, tried unsuccessfully to persuade the young agriculturalist to run for sheriff. The next year Morgenthau married Elinor Fatman, whom he had known since childhood. The Morgenthaus had two sons and a daughter—Henry III, Robert, and Joan—all of whom became well known in their own right.

Morgenthau's first involvement in public service came during World War I, when he helped organize agricultural production in Dutchess County and persuaded U.S. Food Administrator Herbert Hoover to transfer 1,500 tractors to France. After the war Morgenthau became increasingly active in county and state Democratic party affairs and undertook publication of an agricultural weekly in which he championed such causes as soil conservation, rural electrification, and aid to rural education.

Morgenthau worked hard to elect Roosevelt governor of New York State. In 1929, after Roosevelt's victory, he went to Albany as a member of the state agricultural commission. Following Roosevelt's reelection in 1930, Morgenthau became conservation commissioner. With Harry Hopkins, Morgenthau devised a plan for combining reforestation projects with work relief for the jobless. This became a model of its kind as unemployment skyrocketed during the early years of the Great Depression. In 1932 Morgenthau again helped Roosevelt get elected, this time to the presidency, and again Roosevelt brought Morgenthau with him to the seat of government.

New Dealer

Morgenthau wanted very much to become secretary of agriculture, but he accepted appointment as head of the Farm Credit Administration, which handled most of the New Deal's efforts to aid debt-ridden farmers. During the year and a half he remained at Farm Credit, Federal loans to farmers increased more than 10-fold.

By November 1934, when Morgenthau became secretary of the treasury, the Roosevelt administration had shifted control of money and credit from New York and private financial combines to Washington and the federal government. Always close to Roosevelt, Morgenthau now became an even more central figure in the New Deal. Basically a fiscal conservative, Morgenthau nevertheless went along with mounting federal deficits as the Roosevelt administration struggled to meet the nation's relief needs and to revive the economy. In 1937, however, Morgenthau finally persuaded Roosevelt to make substantial reductions in federal spending, a move that helped trigger the "Roosevelt recession" of the late 1930s.

Wartime Spender

Morgenthau was an early and vigorous champion of collective security arrangements to resist the growing aggressiveness of Nazi Germany. After the outbreak of World War II in Europe in the fall of 1939, Morgenthau battled within the Roosevelt administration against neutralists and "America First" military strategists to clear British and French purchases of American-made war matérial and to step up military production, especially of airplanes. Until the establishment of the Lend-Lease Program in 1941, Morgenthau managed the bulk of American aid to Great Britain.

After Pearl Harbor and America's entrance into the war, Morgenthau administered the biggest and most rapid expansion of federal expenditures in the nation's history. By 1945 total federal outlays, which had been $7.1 billion during Morgenthau's first year at the Treasury, had reached $93.7 billion. Morgenthau's main contribution to the intensifying postwar planning debate within the Roosevelt administration was the much-criticized "Morgenthau Plan," which envisioned not only the disarmament of Germany but its deindustrialization as well. It was largely President Harry Truman's disapproval of the Morgenthau Plan that prompted Morgenthau's angry resignation in July 1945.

In retirement Morgenthau devoted much of his time to philanthropic projects. He was chairman of the United Jewish Appeal (1947-1950), and in the early 1950s he was chairman of the board of the American Financial and Development Corporation for Israel, which handled a $500 million Israeli bond issue. On Feb. 6, 1967, following a succession of heart attacks, Morgenthau died at Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

Further Reading

There is no full-scale biography of Morgenthau. The standard account of his public career is the massive, officially authorized narrative based on Morgenthau's papers by John Morton Blum, From the Morgenthau Diaries (3 vols., 1959-1965), which covers the period 1928-1945. Additional treatments of Morgenthau's role in the New Deal are in G. Griffith Johnson, Jr., The Treasury and Monetary Policy, 1933-1938 (1939); Allan S. Everest, Morgenthau, the New Deal, and Silver (1950); James MacGregor Burns, Roosevelt: The Lion and the Fox (1956); Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., The Age of Roosevelt (3 vols., 1957-1960); and Rexford Guy Tugwell, The Democratic Roosevelt (1957). Morgenthau's role in the formulation of the Lend-Lease Program is treated at length in Warren F. Kimball, The Most Unsordid Act: Lend-Lease, 1939-1941 (1969).

Additional Sources

Morgenthau, Henry, Mostly Morgenthaus: a family history, New York: Ticknor & Fields, 1991. □

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Morgenthau, Henry, Jr.

Morgenthau, Henry, Jr. (1891–1967), secretary of the treasury, 1934–45.This former Dutchess County gentleman farmer and member of a prominent New York German Jewish family was a close personal friend and political confidant of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Morgenthau was an important figure in the Roosevelt administration.

Responsible for U.S. financing of World War II, Morgenthau, as head of the Treasury Department, advocated relying on increases in the income tax to dampen inflationary pressures while raising revenue. Although he prevented a regressive national sales tax advocated by conservatives, Morgenthau faced a series of defeats in Congress over fiscal policies, especially on the income tax. He did, however, organize several highly publicized bond drives.

When the Roosevelt administration, especially the State Department, proved unresponsive to reports of systematic extermination of European Jewry by the Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler in 1940–43, Morgenthau and the Treasury Department proved to be one of the few federal agencies pressing for the United States to take decisive action against the Holocaust. On 16 January 1944, Morgenthau directly confronted Roosevelt with evidence of the Holocaust as well as the reluctance of the State Department to provide visas to Jewish refugees or facilitate rescue efforts by Jewish organizations in Europe. Shortly after this meeting, Roosevelt established the U.S. War Refugee Board by executive order. This body, with Morgenthau an active member, undertook a series of relief efforts, albeit limited, to aid Jewish refugees.

In 1944, Morgenthau—over the objections of the State and War Departments—forcefully advocated a harsh peace settlement. His plan called for stripping Germany of all heavy industry and partitioning the country into a series of demilitarized agricultural states. Attending the Quebec Conference in September 1944, Morgenthau prodded Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill to initial a memorandum of agreement supporting his plan. This was later reversed by Roosevelt and his successor, Harry S. Truman, after intense lobbying by the State and War Departments, which denounced the plan as both unrealistic and detrimental to U.S. interests, given the need for a European counterweight to the expanded power of the Soviet Union.

Morgenthau proved more successful in shaping the postwar international monetary system. Relying heavily on expertise of Assistant Secretary of the Treasury Harry Dexter White, Morgenthau organized the Bretton Woods Conference of June–July 1944, which established the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

Shortly after Truman assumed the presidency in April 1945, Morgenthau resigned as Treasury secretary. In retirement, he became an ardent supporter of the state of Israel and active in a number of Jewish philanthropic causes.
[See also Holocaust, U.S. War Effort and the; Public Financing and Budgeting for War; World War II: Domestic Course.]

Bibliography

John Morton Blum , From the Morgenthau Diaries, 3 vols., 1959–67.
David S. Wyman , The Abandonment of the Jews: America and the Holocaust, 1941–1945, 1984.
Henry Morgenthau III , Mostly Morgenthaus: A Family History, 1991.

G. Kurt Piehler

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Morgenthau, Henry, Jr.

Henry Morgenthau, Jr., 1891–1967, American cabinet officer, b. New York City; son of Henry Morgenthau. He became interested in agriculture and bought a farm in Dutchess co., N.Y., where he became an intimate of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In 1922, Morgenthau purchased the American Agriculturalist, a leading Eastern farm journal. After Roosevelt's election (1928) as governor of New York, he appointed Morgenthau chairman of the state agricultural advisory committee and later made him state conservation commissioner. When Roosevelt became President in 1933, he appointed Morgenthau chairman of the Federal Farm Board and governor of the Farm Credit Administration. Upon the illness of William H. Woodin, Morgenthau was named (Nov., 1933) Undersecretary of the Treasury. As Secretary of the Treasury (1934–45), he administered federal tax programs that raised unprecedented revenues, supervised the sale of over $200 billion worth of government bonds to finance America's defense and war activities, and advocated international monetary stabilization. Toward the end of World War II, Morgenthau outlined his plan for controlling Germany by converting it from an industrial to an agricultural economy. The plan was briefly considered but never put into operation. Morgenthau was influential in formulating postwar economic policy at the Bretton Woods Conference, which set up the International Monetary Fund and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (the World Bank). After resigning as Secretary of the Treasury, Morgenthau became involved in philanthropic activities.

See J. M. Blum, From the Morgenthau Diaries (2 vol., 1959–65) and the condensed version, Roosevelt and Morgenthau (1970); A. J. App, Morgenthau Era Letters (1986).

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Morgenthau, Henry

Henry Morgenthau (môr´gənthô), 1856–1946, American banker, diplomat, and philanthropist, b. Germany; father of Henry Morgenthau, Jr. He emigrated to the United States as a boy. Later, he practiced law in New York City and built up a large fortune in real estate speculation and banking. An ardent supporter of Woodrow Wilson, he became finance chairman of the Democratic National Committee in 1912 and held the same position in 1916. He was (1913–16) ambassador to Turkey, and after the outbreak of World War I he was entrusted with the duty of acting there for Great Britain, France, Italy, Russia, and other nations. He attended the Paris Peace Conference as an adviser on Middle Eastern and East European problems, and later he led (1919–21) in the raising of funds for relief in the Middle East. Morgenthau was made chairman of the Greek Refugee Settlement Commission, created by the League of Nations in 1923, was an incorporator of the Red Cross in the United States, and was prominent in the activities of the Federation of Jewish Charities.

See his All in a Lifetime (1922; an autobiographical account), Ambassador Morgenthau's Story (1918), and I Was Sent to Athens (1929).

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