The Brain Trust

views updated

The Brain Trust:

raymond moley born september 27, 1886
berea, ohio


died february 18, 1975
phoenix, arizona


rexford tugwell born july 10, 1891 sinclairville, new york


died july 21, 1979 santa barbara, california


adolf berle jr.
born january 29, 1895 brighton, massachusetts


died february 17, 1971
new york, new york


scholars, presidential advisers




"Tugwell wanted everyone to share in America's abundance.… As a result, he was often frustrated, and in those moments of frustration, his so-called radicalism appeared."

michael v. namorato in the 1988 book rexford tugwell: a biography

Raymond Moley, Rexford Tugwell, and Adolf Berle were selected to advise Democratic candidate Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945; served 1933–45; see entry) during his presidential campaign of 1932. These three experts were the core of Roosevelt's advisory group, which came to be known as the "Brain Trust." They offered major new ideas that shaped Roosevelt's campaign and the first years of his presidency as he struggled to restore economic health to the United States. All three were associated with Columbia University in New York City and believed in reforming America's economy through national planning. They represented a new kind of expert in American politics—the trained professional academic. Such expert advisers would become essential to future governmental leaders.




Raymond Moley, political adviser

Samuel Rosenman, general counsel (attorney) to Roosevelt while Roosevelt was governor of New York State (1929–33), convinced the future president to establish an advisory group for the 1932 presidential campaign. Rosenman first asked Raymond Moley to provide political advice. Moley was a political science professor at Barnard College of Columbia University who had previously written speeches for Roosevelt. Moley would serve as leader of the Brain Trust and determine what topics the group needed to address.

The son of a clothing salesman, Moley was born in Berea, Ohio, and grew up in a financially secure home. Following graduation from a small Cleveland, Ohio, college in 1906, Moley became a teacher and superintendent of schools at Olmsted Falls, Ohio. However, in 1909 he was stricken with tuberculosis and had to leave his job. After recovering from the disease Moley chose a new path in life. In 1913 he entered graduate school in political science at Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio; he also taught high school in nearby Cleveland to earn a living. Moley went on to earn a Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1918 while teaching as an assistant professor at Case Western Reserve University from 1916 to 1919. Also during this time Moley married and had two sons. Upon graduation from Columbia, Moley was recruited to be director of the Cleveland Foundation, a fact-finding organization that promoted civic improvement projects. Through this foundation, Moley gained national prominence.

His success with the Cleveland Foundation led Moley back to New York City in 1923 to assume an associate professor position on Columbia University's Barnard College faculty. Moley quickly became involved in New York City legal affairs. He was also appointed research director for the New York City Crime Commission in 1926. In 1928 he was promoted to professor of public law (laws regulating government activities) at Columbia. From 1931 to 1933 he served on the New York Commission on the Administration of Justice. During this period Moley wrote reports on the criminal justice system and sharpened his administrative skills while working with volumes of complex data. Moley had excellent writing and speaking skills and the rare ability to explain complex ideas in simple language.

In 1932, as leader of the Brain Trust, Moley used his skills to examine large amounts of political material and ideas and shape them into manageable political policy for Roosevelt's presidential campaign. Moley is credited with coining
the term "New Deal," which Roosevelt first used in his speech accepting the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party. Moley was the chief author of that speech, which was delivered in August 1932. The term New Deal quickly became a label for the policies, programs, and legislation of the Roosevelt administration—all of which were designed to bring the United States out of the Great Depression, the most severe economic crisis in U.S. history.

Roosevelt easily defeated Republican incumbent Herbert Hoover (1874–1964; served 1929–33; see entry), who had been unable to find solutions for the Depression. Following the successful presidential campaign Moley continued as president-elect Roosevelt's chief adviser for the four months leading up to Roosevelt's inauguration. During that period Moley shaped general ideas into specific legislation. He advocated cooperation between business and government, development of unemployment and old-age insurance legislation, regulation of the stock market, reform of the U.S. banking system, regulation of private utility companies, and construction of public utilities.

Moley interviewed potential appointees for various high positions in the administration and was appointed by Roosevelt as assistant secretary of state. Moley was invaluable to Roosevelt in guiding numerous bills through Congress during the first few months of Roosevelt's term, a period frequently referred to as the "first hundred days" of the New Deal. Between 1932 and 1935 Moley assisted in drafting all of Roosevelt's speeches and "fireside chats," radio broadcasts the president made to inform the American public about the economic recovery efforts. He also founded Today magazine in 1934, which presented the New Deal perspective on issues. Today was absorbed by Newsweek magazine in 1937, and Moley wrote a political column for Newsweek for the next thirty years until his retirement from political life at age eighty-one.

Gradually Moley became disillusioned with the direction of the New Deal as it moved away from cooperation with business and towards placing restrictions on business. Moley wrote Roosevelt's 1936 acceptance speech for the Democratic nomination for reelection, but that was his last contribution to the New Deal administration. Moley progressively moved further away from Roosevelt and his New Deal policies. He would later become close friends with Herbert Hoover, and he supported Republican presidential candidate Wendell Willkie (1892–1944) in 1940 against Roosevelt. Moley, who remained associated with Columbia University until his academic retirement in 1954, continued as an adviser and speechwriter for Republican presidential nominees through the 1960s and wrote several books about his experiences. He was a great admirer of President Richard M. Nixon (1913–1994; served 1969–74) and advised him during his political career. In 1970 Nixon awarded Moley the prestigious Medal of Freedom at a White House ceremony. Moley died in February 1975 in Phoenix, Arizona.



Rexford Tugwell, agricultural adviser

For agricultural advice, Moley recruited Rexford Tug-well, another Columbia University professor. Tugwell was born in the small upstate village of Sinclairville, New York. His mother was a teacher and loved to write. She taught in the nearby town of Chautauqua, a growing center of learning. She was quite individualistic and artistic, a good writer, an avid reader, a nature buff, and very outgoing. Tugwell gained his interest in writing and conservation of natural resources from her. His father was a successful businessman and banker. Often in poor health as a child, Tug-well spent a lot of his time reading. At the Chautauqua learning center he listened to lectures and debates presented by national figures in education, politics, and economics. He absorbed a variety of new ideas and approaches for dealing with issues of the day, such as the growing inequalities of the American economic system. Ironically, Tugwell was not a good student in school. He was bored with structured learning. Except in his favorite subjects of English and history, he worked just hard enough to pass his classes. However, he continued to be an eager reader. In 1904, when he was thirteen, his family moved to Wilson, New York, where Tugwell began writing local news columns for the Niagara Falls Gazette. By seventeen he was reporting on local court proceedings and financial news for the Buffalo Courier. During this period Tugwell became a follower of progressive politics as represented by President Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919; served 1901–09). Progressive politics promoted using the powers of government to solve social and economic problems.



Tugwell was a man of wit and charm, very self-confident, often outspoken, and frequently considered arrogant. He wrote with intensity and was devoted to seeking social change in America through regulation of big business and finding economic security for the common citizen. While in college in 1914 Tugwell married and had two children. Moving on to graduate school, he earned a Ph.D. in 1922 from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Finance and Commerce. Tugwell spent most of his academic teaching career at Columbia University, becoming a full professor in 1931 and specializing in farm economics.

Tugwell was certain America's simple times of small individual farms were in the past. He stressed national planning and government regulation to achieve agricultural modernization. He insisted that farmers and industry leaders should control their production, because overproduction was causing economic problems. He published two major books on the topic, Industry's Coming of Age (1927) and The Industrial Discipline and the Governmental Arts (1933).

As a member of Roosevelt's Brain Trust, Tugwell greatly influenced development of the Agricultural Adjustment Act, which set production limits for farmers. Tugwell served in the Department of Agriculture from 1933 to 1935 and then became director of the Resettlement Administration (RA) in 1935 and 1936. The RA was established to relocate farmers from poor farmland to areas of greater potential. The RA was also involved in the creation of several new communities made up of low-income housing. Known as "greenbelt towns," the new communities were located outside the decaying inner cities and were intended for the resettlement of industrial workers to get them out of the slums into a more productive environment. The RA programs introduced totally new approaches for solving the problems of the rural poor. As a champion for controversial programs, Tugwell was branded a political radical by his critics. He finally decided it best to resign from the Roosevelt administration in December 1936. He had become too much of a target for Republicans and anti-New Deal Democrats.

After a brief spell in private industry, Tugwell was appointed chairman of the New York City Planning Commission in 1938 and worked closely with the New York City mayor. Again hit with controversy over master plans and public housing programs, Tugwell resigned in 1941. President Roosevelt then appointed Tugwell governor of Puerto Rico, and Tugwell remained there until 1946. During that time Tugwell brought great economic and political change to Puerto Rico.

After his time in Puerto Rico, Tugwell returned to academic positions from 1946 to 1957 at the University of Chicago, the London School of Economics, Howard University, Columbia University, Southern Illinois University, and other schools. Up to his death in Santa Barbara, California, in July 1979, Tugwell published numerous books and articles on topics such as Roosevelt and the New Deal, the atomic bomb, and national political and economic issues. Tugwell is remembered as the most colorful and perhaps the most radical of the Roosevelt insiders.

Birth of the Brain Trust


During his early political life, when deciding how to address important policy issues, Franklin D. Roosevelt established a habit of seeking advice from academic scholars rather than other politicians or businessmen. He continued this approach through his term as governor of New York, from 1929 to 1933. By early 1932 it was clear that Roosevelt would be a serious contender for the Democratic Party's nomination for the presidential election that fall. The United States was in the depth of the Great Depression, the most severe economic downturn in the nation's history. Unemployment was rising toward 25 percent of the workforce; millions of workers had lost their jobs. Many more had their wages reduced. The economic and social issues were complex, and no one—including politicians and scholars—was sure what had caused the Depression or how it might be corrected.


In March Samuel Rosenman, Roosevelt's general counsel for the state of New York and a close friend, suggested that they bring together a group of advisers to sort out the issues. He recommended choosing advisers who were not businessmen, because businessmen would have substantial self-interests and concentrate only on problems affecting their businesses. Instead, Rosenman suggested, the advisers should be drawn from universities. The advisers who were chosen included Columbia University professors Raymond Moley, Rexford Tug-well, and Adolf Berle. They met often through 1932, arguing and debating policy issues. They were labeled the "brains trust," soon shortened to "brain trust," when James Kieran wrote an article about their activity in the New York Times. To control the abuses of economic power that were being carried out by a few dominant businessmen, the Brain Trust supported increased regulation of big business. After Roosevelt's election in November 1932 the group was formally dissolved. However, the members continued to play an active role in government; Moley and Tugwell became key members of Roosevelt's administration. Their work not only aided the campaign, but shaped legislation during the first hundred days of Roosevelt's presidency. The National Industrial Recovery Act and the Agricultural Adjustment Act were two key pieces of legislation influenced by the Brain Trust.

Adolf Berle Jr., business adviser

For economic and corporate matters, Moley and Tug-well recruited another Columbia University professor, Adolf Berle Jr. Berle was born in Brighton, Massachusetts. His father was a Congregational minister who strove to gain a reputation as an intellectual (a person with highly developed powers of thought). Berle's mother stressed strong work habits, spirituality, and an interest in science. Many intellectuals of the day visited the Berle home in Brighton, exposing young Adolf to varied ideas. He proved academically gifted and entered Harvard at age fourteen. Berle also earned money writing articles for the two Boston newspapers. Majoring in history and debate, he graduated from Harvard at age eighteen with both a bachelor's and a master's degree. He then entered Harvard Law School and graduated at twenty-one years of age, the youngest graduate in the school's history. However, having gained a reputation of being conceited, obnoxious, and difficult, Berle was not a very likable person to many. His first job in the legal profession was in the Boston law firm of Supreme Court justice Louis D. Brandeis (1856–1941).

During World War I (1914–18) Berle entered the army as an intelligence officer for the Army Signal Corps in the Dominican Republic. After the war, Berle began writing prolifically on economics, law, and foreign affairs. After providing legal services to a private charitable organization in Manhattan, he formed a small law firm, Berle and Berle, focusing on corporate (business) law. Berle remained academically oriented, writing articles for various progressive magazines such as the New Republic and the Nation and teaching at Harvard Business School. He married in 1927 and had three children. Berle teamed up with Harvard graduate student Gardiner C. Means to write a study of the rising influence of big business. In 1932 they published The Modern Corporation and Private Property. The highly influential book examined trends of American corporations during the early Great Depression years—approximately 1929 to 1932—and showed how U.S. wealth was concentrated in only two hundred corporations. The book was widely read during the Depression.

After Berle joined the Brain Trust, one of his most notable contributions was writing a September 1932 campaign speech delivered by presidential candidate Franklin Roosevelt in San Francisco, California. Historians look back on it as one of the most important speeches anticipating the New Deal national economic planning program. Unlike the other Brain Trust members, Berle wanted to remain in New York City, and he resisted a Washington appointment. In New York City he advised Mayor Fiorello La Guardia (1882–1947) and guided the city's dramatic financial recovery in 1934 and 1935. He also continued to advise Roosevelt on national economic issues. In 1938 Berle finally accepted a Washington position as assistant secretary of state specializing in Latin American politics. He was an architect of Roosevelt's "Good Neighbor" policy toward Latin America. During World War II (1939–45) Berle carried considerable authority as assistant secretary of state. He also returned to intelligence work and ran the State Department's international intelligence network. At the end of the war Berle was appointed U.S. ambassador to Brazil for a year. He returned to the United States to informally work with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in its fight against communism in Europe and dictatorships in Latin America. Having joined an early think tank (an group organized to conduct research on a particular issue or problem), the Twentieth Century Fund, in 1934, Berle became chairman of its board of trustees in 1951. Under President John F. Kennedy (1917–1963; served 1961–63) Berle served as chairman of a Latin American task force to combat communist threats in the Western Hemisphere.

During his career Berle wrote many books and articles on corporations and foreign affairs. Remembered as a brilliant although somewhat arrogant public figure, Berle died in New York City in February 1971.



For More Information

freidel, frank, ed. realities and illusions, 1886–1931: the autobiography ofraymond moley. new york, ny: garland publishing, 1980.


moley, raymond. after seven years. new york, ny: harper & brothers, 1939.


moley, raymond, and elliot a. rosen. the first new deal. new york, ny: harcourt, brace & world, 1966.


namorato, michael v. rexford tugwell: a biography. new york, ny: praeger, 1988.

rosen, elliot a. hoover, roosevelt and the brains trust: from depression tonew deal. new york, ny: columbia university press, 1977.

schwarz, jordan. liberal: adolf a. berle and the vision of an american era. new york, ny: free press, 1987.

tugwell, r. g. the brain trust. new york, ny: viking press, 1968.

tugwell, rexford g. the economic basis of public interest. new york, ny: a. m. kelley, 1968.

About this article

The Brain Trust

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article Share Article