Corcoran, Thomas G.
CORCORAN, THOMAS G.
Thomas Gardiner Corcoran (December 29, 1900–December 6, 1981) was an ebullient New Deal legislative draftsman and presidential confidant. Born in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, Corcoran overcame anti-Irish prejudices to graduate at the head of his class at Brown University and the Harvard Law School, and to clerk for Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. At the Wall Street law firm of Cotton & Franklin, Corcoran handled securities issues and aimed at making his own fortune in the stocks, but he lost badly when the market crashed in 1929. In 1932 Corcoran went to Washington as a counsel to the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC).
At the start of the Roosevelt administration, Harvard law professor Felix Frankfurter recruited Corcoran, James M. Landis, and Benjamin V. Cohen to draft the federal Securities Act of 1933. Corcoran spent most of his time keeping peace between his brilliant but high-strung collaborators. Winning acclaim for their work, the young lawyers were dubbed the "Happy Hotdogs" for their patron. Afterwards, Landis was appointed to the Federal Trade Commission to help enforce the Securities Act, while Corcoran joined Cohen to work on other legislation. Together they drafted the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, the Public Utilities Holding Company Act of 1935, and the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. As a team, Cohen was the more innovative thinker, while Corcoran was the energetic lobbyist for their ideas. Both bachelors at the time, Corcoran and Cohen rented a large house in Georgetown and made it a social as well as political center for other liberal New Dealers.
Corcoran drew the personal attention of President Roosevelt, who nicknamed him "Tommy the Cork." At social gatherings, Corcoran entertained the president by playing the accordion and singing Irish ballads. Roosevelt also appreciated his talents as a writer. Corcoran drafted Roosevelt's speech accepting renomination in 1936, with its memorable imagery of a "rendezvous with destiny." On Frankfurter's advice, however, Roosevelt kept Corcoran and Cohen in their lower-level positions to do utility work on a range of New Deal projects rather than appoint them to the higher offices they expected. Although he worked temporarily in the Treasury and Justice departments and frequently at the White House, Corcoran spent most of his government service on the RFC's payroll. He loyally supported Roosevelt's efforts to enlarge the Supreme Court in 1937 and was suspected of being an instigator of the president's efforts to purge conservative Democrats from the party in 1938.
Corcoran married his secretary, Margaret (Peggy) Dowd, in 1940, and had five children. To provide for his family he returned to private practice, anticipating that Roosevelt would name him solicitor general during this third term. But Corcoran had become too controversial and the threat of a divisive confirmation fight dissuaded Roosevelt from nominating him. Corcoran shifted from New Dealer to wheeler-dealer, growing wealthy as a Washington lobbyist who represented corporate interests on Capitol Hill and at the federal agencies. Although he never held another government post, he remained close to such prominent politicians as Lyndon Johnson. Corcoran's K street office conspicuously displayed photographs of himself and Johnson to confirm his status as an insider, along with copies of the conservative magazine National Review to reassure his clients.
Corcoran, Thomas G. "Rendezvous with Destiny" (an unpublished memoir). Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington D.C.
Lash, Joseph P. The Dealers and the Dream: A New Look at the New Deal. 1988.
Niznik, Lynne. "Thomas G. Corcoran." Ph.D. diss., University of Notre Dame, 1981.
Donald A. Ritchie