Eleanor Roosevelt to Fiorello la Guardia

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Eleanor Roosevelt to Fiorello la Guardia

11 April 1947 [Hyde Park]

My Dear Mr. LaGuardia:

I am afraid I do not agree with you about a third party. It takes so long before a third party wields any power, I can not see much point in trying to build one up at the present time when things need to be done quickly.

It seems to me that all one can hope to do [as]12 liberals is to bring enough influence to bear on questions as they arise, to make the two major parties uncomfortable when they stand for something which is really wrong.

I wish very much that all liberals could work together and if PCA could remove from its leadership the communist element, I do not see any reason why ADA and PCA should not work together.

I do not mean, of course, that I would vote for Democratic candidates regardless of who they were or what they stood for, but I think it is the party to belong to, and we can try to improve the candidates. If we do not succeed, we do not have to vote for them.

In the Democratic party we have always had an element of reaction, just as there is an element of reaction in the Republican party. My husband held a majority together because he started in a crisis and everyone was willing to be told. His leadership toward the end was weakened and of course, President Truman hasn't been able to command as good a following as my husband had.13

There really has to be a recognition that the public gets the kind of representation that it wants. If, as it seems, the people want conservatism at present, they will get it, but if they really want better legislation, they can get it, and they can have better candidates if they want them.

Of course, I do not believe in having everyone who is a liberal called communist, or everyone who is conservative called a fascist, but I think it is possible to determine whether one is one or the other and it does not take too long to do so.

I love your illustration about the gentleman from Ohio who called those who supported the Wagner-Ellender-Taft Bill communists, but I am afraid that is not something which we can call real thinking.

I certainly do not consider Mr. Wallace a communist. I do not know Mr. Melish, so I can not say, but I do not consider wanting to preserve friendly relations with Russia makes one a communist. Naturally I know that Elliott is not a communist. Naturally I do not think there should be discrimination in feeding hungry children.

Our troubles are economic, but they are not all economic.

The ADA wrote a platform and tried to express what it believes in. It happens that I do not think it very good on certain points, but nevertheless it was an honest attempt.14 I am quite willing to sit down with anybody and attempt to do something better, but I do not really feel it is up to me at present to consider myself that important. It would seem to me better if some of you gentlemen, or the younger generation carried through this fight because the younger generation is going to have to live under whatever is decided today. I haven't so very many more years which I need worry about.

                                      Very sincerely yours,


1. Wilson Wyatt (1905–1996), Truman's former housing administrator; Leon Henderson (1895–1986), head of the Office of Price Administration in the early 1940s; Chester Bowles, who served at the time on the American National Committee for UNESCO; and Hubert H. Humphrey (1911–1978), mayor of Minneapolis from 1945 until 1948, were all prominent members of Americans for Democratic Action (ADA). Wyatt served as national chairman of ADA, Henderson served as chairman of the executive committee, and Humphrey served as its vice president. All four were active members of the Democratic Party and three of them had strong ties to the party in their home states: Wyatt in Kentucky, Bowles in Connecticut, and Humphrey in Minnesota (DAB; Hamby, Beyond, 163; Douglas E. Kneeland, "Hubert H. Humphrey Is Dead at 66 After 32 Years of Public Service," NYT, 14 January 1978, 47).

2. As a renegade Republican, Fusion Party candidate, and supporter of the New Deal, La Guardia had never been closely associated with any political party. See Biographical Portraits.

3. The Wagner-Ellender-Taft housing bill would have helped support the construction of 12,500,000 homes over ten years. The Senate passed the bipartisan bill on April 15, 1946, but the House Banking and Currency Committee bottled it up until Congress adjourned in August ("Senate Passes Long-Range Bill on Housing with Wage Clause," NYT, 16 April 1946, 1; "Dewey's Silence Scored," NYT, 2 August 1946, 15).

4. Liberals frequently debated the idea of forming a third party during this period, but the leaders of the ADA, including Bowles and ER, believed it would be unwise. See Document 177.

5. David E. Lilienthal (1899–1981) directed the development of the Tennessee Valley Authority's controversial public power program from its founding in 1933 and became chairman of TVA in 1941. At the end of 1946, Truman appointed Lilienthal chairman of the newly created Atomic Energy Commission, established to supervise the development of atomic energy both for military and peaceful purposes. Long the subject of criticism by the opponents of public power, Lilienthal now faced further attacks. Senator Kenneth McKellar (D-TN) attempted to block his nomination on the grounds that Lilienthal must have been under Communist influence because his parents had been born in what became Czechoslovakia. After Truman stood by him and nuclear scientists expressed confidence in him, however, the Senate voted in favor of confirmation ("David E. Lilienthal Is Dead at 81: Led U.S. Effort in Atomic Power," NYT, 16 January 1981, A1).

6. During questioning of La Guardia by members of the House Committee on Banking and Currency, Frederick C. Smith (1884–1956), Republican congressman from Ohio, said that he concluded from his testimony that La Guardia thought "the answer to the housing problem is communism." He repeatedly characterized rent control and public housing programs as expressions of "socialist philosophy" aimed at "the redistribution of wealth." When La Guardia pointed out that "the Senator from your State" (Republican Senator Robert Taft, one of the sponsors of the Taft-Ellender-Wagner Bill) supported subsidized housing, Smith replied that "he does not speak, in my judgment, for the majority of people of the State of Ohio on that subject" (BDUSC; House Committee on Banking and Currency, Housing and Rent Control, Hearings on H.R. 2549, 80th Cong., 1st sess., 1947, 370-73, 376).

7. See Document 178.

8. Rev. William Howard Melish (1910–1986), an Episcopal priest in Brooklyn, helped organize Russian war relief chapters and the National Council of American-Soviet Friendship during World War II. He later served as the council's national chairman (Schultz and Schultz).

9. Joseph E. Davies (1876–1958), a successful lawyer and believer in the virtues of capitalism, served as the US ambassador to the Soviet Union from 1936 through 1938. He took a very positive view of the Russians in his memoir, Mission to Moscow (1941). In 1945 he served as one of Truman's advisors during the Potsdam Conference. As a leading advocate of Soviet-American friendship he provoked distrust among hard-line anti-Communists (DAB).

10. On March 12, 1947, Truman proposed to Congress that the United States provide direct military and economic assistance to Greece and Turkey, thus bypassing the UN. Elliott Roosevelt opposed the plan, sharing the stage with Henry Wallace as Wallace told those attending the April 1 Madison Square Garden "crisis meeting" that "the President and his Republican backers are less concerned with the need of the Greek people for food than with the need of the American navy for oil. The plan to contain communism is second to that need." At an April 13 rally, Roosevelt again seconded Wallace's position that the UN should administer aid to Greece and Turkey, arguing that "the leaders of our country … are paying lip service to the United Nations on one hand and sounding the drums of war at the same time" (Hamby, Beyond, 177, 192; "Wallace Sees U.N. As Sole Peace Hope," NYT, 1 April 1947, 9; "Peril in U.S. Policies, Roosevelt Son Says," NYT, 13 April 1947, 53).

11. ER scrawled "Dictate" across the bottom of La Guardia's letter to her, indicating to her staff that she wished to dictate her response.

12. The original text in the carbon copy reads "in." As the recipient's copy could not be located, and ER proofread her correspondence and often corrected mistakes in ink on the text before she mailed them, the editors believe that she probably made this correction and then posted the letter.

13. FDR held together a majority in Congress composed of conservative southern Democrats, northern liberals, and some progressive Republicans. During the early years of the New Deal, in response to the crisis of the Depression, this coalition often backed the progressive legislation he proposed. But as the years went by, conservative resistance to New Deal policies grew and FDR became less successful at holding the majority together. Truman, who lacked FDR's political persuasiveness, found it even more difficult to overcome conservative opposition to progressive legislation (FDRE; Hamby, Beyond, 81-85).

14. At its first national conference in March, the ADA agreed upon a domestic and foreign policy program that included a cautious endorsement of the Truman Doctrine. Since ER had serious reservations about the Truman Doctrine (see Document 208, Document 210, and Document 211), this was probably one of the points on which she thought the ADA platform could be improved (Anthony Leviero, "New Liberal Body Sets Its Program," NYT, 31 March 1947, 1; Hamby, Beyond, 177-78; Brock, 63-65).

Progressive Citizens of America

Having just completed reading Elliott Roosevelt's book, As He Saw It,1 Nedra Dalmann wrote ER "earnestly" seeking "an answer to confusing questions." She grew "more and more appalled at the present trend away from President Roosevelt's plans and hopes for the post-war world."

In particular, Dalmann could "not understand" ER's "failure to stand beside Wallace when he is fighting to perpetuate the ideals President Roosevelt stood for." Furthermore:

Here in Minnesota the ADA has attracted the bad elements of the Democratic Party and has concerned itself chiefly with Red-baiting. I am not a Communist, but I work in the office of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, CIO, and it is my firm conviction that all of us have a right to our own beliefs, that all those who are interested in labor must stick together and not be divided by such tactics. We should not ask a person whether he is Catholic, Republican or Communist, but judge them by their actions and their accomplishments. Surely we have good and bad in every walk of life.

Would you be kind enough to take the time and enlighten me in regard to your reasons for being a member of the ADA instead of PCA. My faith in you is such that I feel you must be justified and perhaps my own activity in the PCA is wrong. Perhaps Wallace does not stand for a just peace and the right for everyone to live in that kind of a world and worship and believe as he chooses. Can both of you want the same things and be in different camps—and why can't those camps get together and let us have real unity and real strength?2

ER dictated this response the the following week.

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Eleanor Roosevelt to Fiorello la Guardia

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Eleanor Roosevelt to Fiorello la Guardia