Berle, Adolf A., Jr.

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Adolf Augustus Berle, Jr., (January 29, 1895–February 17, 1971) was a member of the "Brains Trust" that advised Franklin D. Roosevelt from March 1932 until his inauguration. Berle was born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1895. His father was a clergyman and an educational reformer. Berle was a child prodigy, entering Harvard University at the age of fourteen and graduating at eighteen. A corporation lawyer and foreign policy specialist, Berle served in the Dominican Republic and in the Russian section in Paris during his army service in 1918 and 1919. While pursuing a career in law during the 1920s, he developed an interest in social reform. He had connections with Lillian D. Wald's Henry Street Settlement in New York City and John Collier's American Indian Defense Association. In 1927 Berle became a professor of law at Columbia University in New York.

In 1932, Berle and the economist Gardiner C. Means published The Modern Corporation and Private Property. The book had a major impact on contemporary thinking about the structure and philosophy of American capitalism. Not only did Berle and Means reveal the separation between ownership and control of America's largest firms, but they documented the power and influence of large corporations in the modern economy. The book challenged the assumption that competitive principles underlie economic activity and emphasized the power that corporate executives had gained as a result of the diffusion of stock ownership. Berle associated scale with stability and public service, but he looked to corporate executives to develop a greater sense of social responsibility, and to the state to exercise economic management.

In 1932, when he joined the Brains Trust at the suggestion of Raymond Moley, Berle was committed to vigorous federal intervention to initiate national planning and, in particular, he favored the revision of antitrust law, the coordination and rationalization of transportation, and an expansion of credit. He supported Roosevelt's campaign by writing position papers, speeches, and articles. His most notable contribution was Roosevelt's September 1932 Commonwealth Club address in San Francisco, which was based on a draft written by Berle. Unlike other Roosevelt advisors, Berle did not seek a permanent appointment after Roosevelt's election, but served as general counsel of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation and advised the president on an ad hoc basis. In 1933, New York mayor Fiorello La Guardia appointed Berle to the post of city chamberlain. In 1938, Berle became assistant secretary of state, a post that he held until 1944. In this capacity Berle supported hemispheric defense and economic development and attended the Pan-American conferences of the 1930s. Berle served as U.S. ambassador to Brazil in 1945 and 1946. He also vigorously pursued American interests in the development of postwar aviation agreements, and he chaired the International Conference on Civil Aviation in Chicago in 1944.

Despite his support for Roosevelt, Berle remained politically independent. In 1947, he became chair of New York City's Liberal Party, which he had helped establish, and, beginning in 1951, he chaired the Board of Trustees of the Twentieth Century Fund. Berle was a strident critic of British imperialism and Soviet expansionism, a view he expressed through his membership in the National Committee for a Free Europe during the 1950s and, later, through his support of America's involvement in Vietnam. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy appointed Berle chair of an interdepartmental task force on Latin America, which became associated with the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba.



Berle, Beatrice Bishop, and Travis Beal Jacobs. Navigating the Rapids, 1918–1971: From the Papers of Adolf A. Berle. 1973.

Kirkendall, Richard S. "A. A. Berle, Jr.: Student of the Corporation, 1917–1932." Business History Review 35, no. 1 (1961): 43–58.

Moley, Raymond. After Seven Years: A Political Analysis of the New Deal. 1939.

Rosen, Elliot A. Hoover, Roosevelt, and the Brains Trust: From Depression to New Deal. 1977.

Schwarz, Jordan A. Liberal: Adolf A. Berle and the Vision of an American Era. 1987.

Tugwell, Rexford G. The Brains Trust. 1968.

Stuart Kidd