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American Liberty League

AMERICAN LIBERTY LEAGUE

AMERICAN LIBERTY LEAGUE. On 15 August 1934, after the onset of strikes that would last until 1938, the American Liberty League, funded largely by the Duponts and their corporate allies, was chartered in Washington. In its six years of existence, the Liberty League fought New Deal labor and social legislation, rallied support for the conservative-dominated Supreme Court, and sought to build a bipartisan conservative coalition to defeat the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration and the trade union movement.

The Liberty League called upon businessmen to defy the National Labor Relations Act, hoping the Supreme Court would declare it unconstitutional, and led "educational campaigns" against social security, unemployment insurance, minimum wages, and other New Deal policies. After the New Deal's great victory in 1936, the Liberty League adopted a lower profile. Earlier, Franklin D. Roosevelt, in attacking the "economic loyalists," who were so visible in the leadership of the Liberty League, mocked the league's definition of "liberty" in his last speech of the 1936 presidential campaign, retelling a story, attributed to Abraham Lincoln, of a wolf, removed by a shepherd from the neck of a lamb, denouncing the shepherd for taking away its liberty. The league formally dissolved in September 1940.

Its influence on conservative politics in the United States was large. In the aftermath of the 1938 elections, conservative Democrats and Republicans in Congress stalemated New Deal legislation, using Liberty League themes of opposition to government spending, taxation, and communist influence in the administration and the labor movement to gain support. The Liberty League supported the early activities of the House Un-American Activities Committee and the National Lawyers Committee. The league's attempt to recruit and fund conservative scholarship and university forums on public policy issues prefigured the creation of corporate-funded conservative "think tanks."

The issues raised by the Liberty League in the 1930s remain unresolved, as does its role in history. For those who see "big government," the regulation and taxation of business, and the redistribution of wealth to lower income groups as absolute evils, it has been vindicated by history and is posthumously triumphant. For those who see government as a shepherd or steward seeking to prevent society from reverting to a socioeconomic jungle where the strong devour the weak, it stands condemned as the champion of "free market" policies that today promote economic instability and social injustice, both in the United States and the world.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Brinkley, Alan. "The Problem of American Conservatism." American Historical Review 99, no. 2 (April 1994): 409–429.

Leuchtenburg, William E. The Supreme Court Reborn: The Constitutional Revolution in the Age of Roosevelt. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Rudolph, Frederick. "The American Liberty League, 1934–1940." American Historical Review 56, no. 1 (October 1950): 19–33. A useful early postwar critique that captures the New Deal generation's view of the league.

Wolfskill, George. Revolt of the Conservatives: A History of the American Liberty League, 1934–1940. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1962. The best introduction to the Liberty League.

NormanMarkowitz

See alsoConservatism .

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