Road to defeat


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Road to defeat Claude Pepper and the defeat in the 1950 Florida Primary
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vi, 260 leaves : ; 29 cm.
Clark, James C
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History thesis, Ph.D   ( lcsh )
Dissertations, Academic -- History -- UF   ( lcsh )
bibliography   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )


Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Florida, 1998.
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 243-259).
Statement of Responsibility:
by James C. Clark.
General Note:
General Note:

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University of Florida
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Copyright 1998


James C. Clark




1 .INTRODUCTION...........................................1

Notes.................................................................... ...... ........................ 9

2 MAKING OFA LIBERAL ......................... ............................. ................. 11

The College Student........................... ......................... 12
The Move to Florida................................. ..................16
The First Campaign........................................... ...... ................ 17
Campaign for the Senate................ .. ... ............................ 19
Notes.................. ...................... .............. 23

3 THE JUNIORSENATOR................... .............................25

The 1938 Campaign................................ ................ ......................29
The Coming War......................................32
The South and the New Deal............................. ......................35
Notes..................... ..... ................... .... ....... 40

4 MAKING ENEMIES........... .... ....................................................42

The 1944 Election................................................... 51
N o te s ...................................... ... ... .............6 0

5 THE SEARCH FOR PEACE....... .................................................... 63

The Truman Presidency.......................................................................... 65
Truman and the Liberals....................................... 66
Pepper in Russia.................................. ........................................ 70
The Growing Soviet Threat............................ .......... .......................75
Notes.... ......... ..............................76


6 THE CONTROVERSIAL POLITICIAN........................................ ..................87

The 1946 Elections.................. ............ ... ................... 91
The Truman Doctrine.......................... .. ... .... ................... 102
N otes........................................... .......... 107

7 PEPPER AND THE 1948 ELECTION............................... ................... 111

The Challenge to Truman....................................... .....................118
Notes..... ........ .... ............... ......... .. .... .......... 132

8 THE OPPONENT............................ ........ ..... ..................... 137

Congressman Smathers.......................... ....................... 146
Notes................... ..................................152

9 THE CAMPAIGN BEGINS........ ....... ..................................................156

The Communist Issue..................................................169
Notes................... ............ ............. ........... 176

10 THE CAMPAIGN AND RACE......................................... .................... 180

Notes.. .............................................. 190

11 OLD FRIENDS, NEW ENEMIES.............................. ...................193

Pepper and the CIO............................. ........ .................. 193
The Railroad Workers Abandon Pepper..................... ...................200
Pepper and the Press.................. ... .....................201
The Doctors Organize................................................ .................... 205
Pepper Fights Back........................ .......... .................... 207
Placing the Blame................................................... 220
N otes............... ............... ........................ .... ............ 223

11 AFTERMATH.................. ...... ................... ................ 229

The Campaign Legacy............... ................................................232
Notes......................................... ............ ...... ................... 241

REFERENCES............................ ................. ............................... 243

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH......... .... .........................................................260


Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy



James C. Clark

December 1998

Chairman: David R. Colbum
Major Department: History

In 1950, Florida was the site of one of the most mean-spirited campaigns

in the history of American politics. The campaign resulted in the defeat of

Senator Claude Pepper in the 1950 Democratic primary. He was branded "Red

Pepper," and subjected to some of the strongest criticism a political candidate

has ever encountered. But while his opponent, George Smathers, ran an

aggressive, negative campaign, the seeds of Pepper's defeat had been planted

six years earlier, when he began to move to the far left. He embraced closer

relations with Russia in the hope that it would advance peace and help him

become president. This paper examines the reasons for Pepper's defeat.

General Audience Abstract

The 1950 Florida Democratic primary was the nastiest campaign in
Florida political history. The two candidates were Senator Claude Pepper, who
had served in the United States Senate for 14 years, and become one of the
most liberal senators ever elected from the South, and Representative George
Smathers, a bright attractive candidate who won by conducting an aggressive,
negative campaign. This paper examines the reasons Pepper lost. It traces his
development as a politician, and his loss of popularity in Florida.


In May 1989, while Claude Pepper lay dying in a Washington hospital,

Bruce Smathers was busy trying to set history straight in Jacksonville, Florida.

He called journalists in an effort to give them his version of an event that had

occurred nearly 40 years earlier. He knew that with Pepper's death there would

be obituaries dredging up the events of the 1950 election between his father,

George Smathers, and Pepper. He told reporters that, despite nearly universal

belief to the contrary, his father had not branded Pepper as "Red Pepper," nor

had he made the mocking speech that reporters had attributed to him. But Bruce

Smathers' effort at rewriting history was hopeless. Scores of books had already

made the election legendary as historians documented that it was Smathers who

had branded Pepper "Red Pepper," Historian Roger Morris was one of many

who pointed to the Smathers' speech, and noted that Smathers "regaled rural

Florida with Pepper's subversive sympathies for blacks and expressed shock

that the senator's sister had gone off to the big city to become a known

'thespian,' or that Claude Pepper actually practiced 'celibacy' before his

marriage."1 It did not matter that it was not Smathers who started calling Pepper

"Red Pepper" in 1950, or that Smathers never gave what has become "his" most

famous speech.

Smathers won the election, but lost the battle of history. Twelve years

after his defeat, Pepper returned to Congress and became an American icon,

beloved for his efforts to help the elderly. Smathers went on to serve three terms

in the Senate without leaving a significant mark.

While the 1950 senatorial election between Smathers and Pepper has

been remembered for things that did not happen, the true impact of the contest

has been obscured. The election marked both an end and a new beginning in

Southern politics. Southern liberalism went down to defeat with Pepper in 1950

and emerging from its ashes was a conservative politics that would combine with

race and dominate the region for much of the second half of the 20h century.

Pepper's liberalism took form in his youth. Reared in Alabama, where the

land and the economy were similar to that of North Florida, Pepper knew poverty

from his earliest years. His was a life without material comforts, and his family

and their neighbors were faced with ever-present debt and the threat of financial

ruin. Pepper had worked his way through the University of Alabama, then

attended the Harvard University Law School with financial support from a

government program. The government even furnished him money to purchase

the glasses he needed to read. He had seen how a government program could

improve the quality of his life, and he was convinced it could do the same for

millions like him in the South.

After serving just one term in the Florida Legislature, then losing his bid

for re-election, Pepper was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1936. His election

came at a unique point in American history. The impact of the Depression led

voters to make wholesale changes in Congress. A decade earlier it would have

been impossible to imagine someone such as Pepper being elected to the

Senate from Florida. But the state, like many others, was undergoing a huge

political transformation as voters sought to elect those who offered programs to

end the Depression. Elected with Pepper was Charles O. Andrews of Orlando,

and David Sholtz, both who embraced the New Deal, even though they were

almost unknown to the voters.

Florida was changing dramatically during this period as the voting patters

indicated. For much of the Depression, Floridians threw their lot with the New

Deal. That began to change after 1935 when Florida saw a sudden spurt in its

population which increased to nearly two million people by the end of the

decade. Many of the new arrivals came from the Midwest and were conservative

Republicans. Once in Florida, they found that being a Republican all but

excluded them from the electoral process. The real decisions were made in the

Democratic primaries. So, they registered as Democrats and began voting for

the most conservative of the Democratic candidates. Political Scientist V. O.

Key, Jr., noted about this period in Florida politics that "anything can happen in

and usually does."2

Pepper saw Roosevelt's election in 1932, and his New Deal program, as

the savior of his region. Roosevelt became a political icon for Pepper, and he

fully supported the New Deal's use of the power of the state to help average

Americans. Historian David Plotke noted that the "progressive liberalism" of the

New Deal drew its strength from three main themes: The increasing role of

groups in political life, a new view of the role of the state in regulating social and

economic life, and increasing calls for government aid for the less advantaged.3

Pepper came to the Senate as a champion of the New Deal, calling for

more liberal legislation even as the New Deal began to decline. Pepper thought

that government should have the responsibility of improving the quality of life for

its citizens and he supported every New Deal measure Roosevelt requested. His

only disagreements with Roosevelt came when he did not think that a particular

New Deal measure went far enough. Roosevelt's Social Security Act had already

passed when Pepper came to the Senate, but Pepper continued to support the

far more radical, and generous Townsend Plan.

Pepper's friends advised him to concentrate on domestic policies as the

path toward national office, but Pepper believed that international affairs would

become the major issue after the war. Pepper pushed for military preparedness

well ahead of Roosevelt and at a time when most of the nation wanted to ignore

the growing Nazi threat. His calls for military preparedness were answered, but

only after France fell and Britain was imperiled. After the United States entered

World War II, Pepper became a champion for the formation of a world

organization to work for world peace.

In Pepper's effort to further his national aspirations, he lost sight of his

state constituents and that would doom him in 1950. Pepper's defeat for re-

election in 1950 marked the end of the liberal movement that seemed so

promising a decade earlier. After Roosevelt's death in 1945, liberalism stumbled.

As historian Patricia Sullivan observed, 'The vitality of New Deal liberalism in

the postwar era would be determined in large part by the ability of its core

constituencies to define a postwar program and organize themselves into an

effective political force." But Sullivan found that "By early 1946, however, the

incipient cold war began to eclipse domestic issues as the defining element of

postwar politics."

The liberals tried to keep their cause alive, pushing Truman to continue

with New Deal policies. When he seemed reluctant, they then pressed a wide

range of initiatives, including a new, liberal political party. In the fall of 1946,

liberals representing a wide range of views gathered to discuss the future of

liberalism. Jack Kroll, the political director of the Congress of Industrial

Organizations, was in high spirits as he said there "was striking evidence... that

the reactionaries that have traded so long on the one-party system in that region

can be defeated in their own strongholds.'"

Like the half-filled glass, it was possible to look at the Southern election

returns in 1946 as either good news for liberals, or bad news. James E. Folsom

was elected governor of Alabama after running what was clearly a

populist-liberal campaign. John Sparkman, running as a progressive in Alabama,

won election to the Senate against a much more conservative candidate. In

Georgia, a CIO-backed candidate was elected governor and candidates


supported by the CIO-PAC won three congressional seats. The CIO enthusiasm

with the Georgia returns was so great that CIO political organizer Dan Powell

suggested realigning the state Democratic Party with blacks and union members

forming the core.6

Many successful liberal candidates were helped by the rising tide of black

voters. An estimated 600,000 blacks were registered to vote in the 1946 primary

elections in the South. University of Florida Professor William Carleton, a close

friend of Pepper's, saw the increased black voting as "a boon to liberals in their

fight within the party to gain and keep party control." Carleton predicted 'The cry

'nigger' employed to divide the liberal forces is losing its old magic."7

As a result of the developments, the CIO believed it had reason to be

encouraged by what was happening in the South after World War II. Since the

CIO's founding in 1935, its membership had exploded, reaching six million

members by the end of the war. But membership in the CIO's affiliated unions in

the South lagged. After the war, the CIO had organized a major organizing drive

to build on the membership gains made in the South during the war. CIO

membership in the South had reached 400,000 by 1945, while the larger

American Federation of Labor had 1.8 million members in the South.8

By 1950, however, dreams of a more liberal, tolerant, pro-labor South had

vanished. Morton Sosna noted the South was an "uncomfortable place" for the

white liberals who remained in the South.9 Plotke found that 'The Cold War

provided a large supply of ammunition for conservatives to attack domestic

reform efforts as Communist-inspired and therefore illegitimate." The Cold War

gave many southerners the opportunity to attack "racial reform projects on the

grounds that Communists favored and were sometimes involved in them."'0

As a consequence of these changes, Florida and southern politicians

were forced to make choices between playing a national role, or a more limited,

but politically safer regional role. Jimmy Bymes, who was once one of the

strongest New Dealers until he was passed over for national office in 1944,

returned to his native South Carolina to run for governor as a strong

segregationist. Senator Lister Hill, an Alabama progressive, resigned his post as

Democratic majority whip and "began to retreat from the Democratic party's

national leadership ranks." Others, such as Lyndon Johnson, tempered their

New Deal attitudes to win re-election.'1

Pepper faced the same choice, but could not abandon his national

political ambitions. He had hoped to be either a vice presidential or presidential

candidate in 1948, and even after failing to win either a presidential or vice

presidential nomination, he kept his national ambitions alive. He spoke

throughout the country, but his listeners were largely members of left-wing

groups, who shared Pepper's concerns about Truman's leadership and his

commitment to New Deal liberalism.

Because of his increasing identification with the left, Pepper allowed

himself to be politically marginalized by his opponents. As historian Thomas

Patterson has observed, "In depicting him as a mindless obstructionist, they

besmeared his significant, articulate, and viable critique of American foreign

policy, as well as his suggested policy alternatives."12

There were others who championed the New Deal, called for military

preparedness before World War II, and wanted greater cooperation with

Russia, but Pepper made himself the lightening rod in these battles. He spoke

the longest, argued the most, and garnered the most public attention. Opponents

used Pepper's insistence on improving Soviet relations to drive him from office,

although for them the issue was only a smokescreen. Physicians wanted him out

because he had called for national health insurance. Many businessmen wanted

him out because of his support for the New Deal. The state's most powerful man,

Ed Ball, wanted him out because Pepper had opposed him on several issues. All

were happy to use communism to defeat him in 1950.

By 1950, the very groups that Pepper had depended upon had

encountered their own problems. Historian Michael Kazin found that the backers

of the New Deal had lost much of its insurgent support after the war.

"Communists and their allies became preoccupied with self-defense, and liberal

politicians and intellectuals took for granted the reforms on the new Deal-and

the expanded, bureaucratic state that administered them-and fretted about Cold

War hysteria.""

Pepper's defeat, followed the next month by the loss of Senator Frank

Graham in North Carolina, marked the end of hopes for a liberal foothold in the

South. Samuel Lubell called the two losses the "most crushing setbacks

Southern liberalism has suffered since the coming of Franklin Roosevelt."14

Numan Bartley found that "the word "liberal" gradually disappeared from the

southern political lexicon."'5 Along with the disappearance of the word "liberal"

came the disappearance of liberal Southern politicians themselves.

This dissertation examines Pepper's political roots and the evolution of

his political career leading up to his defeat by Smathers in 1950. It also

assesses Florida politics during this period and the emergence of George

Smathers as Peppers rival and challenger to Pepper's liberal politics.

The Pepper defeat marked an end to liberalism in Florida. In the 49 years

since Pepper's defeat, no statewide candidate as liberal as Pepper has been

elected. By the time Pepper was defeated, his fellow Senator, Charles O.

Andrews, had died and been replaced by the more conservative Spessard

Holland. It took nearly a quarter of a century for the voters to elect a candidate

who even approached Pepper in liberalism.


1. Roger Morris, Richard Milhous Nixon: The Rise of an American Politician
(New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1990), 558.

2. V. O. Key, Jr., Southern Politics in State and Nation (Knoxville: University of
Tennessee Press, 1984), 82.

3. David Plotke, Building a Democratic Political Order: Reshaping American
Liberalism in the 1930s and 1940s (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1996), 169.

4. Patricia Sullivan, Days of Hope: Race and Democracy in the New Deal Era
(Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996), 222

5. Ibid., 229.

6. Ibid, 219.

7. Ibid.

8. Ibid., 188.

9. Morton Sosna, In Search of the Silent South (New York: Columbia University
Press, 1977), 166.

10. Plotke, 311.

11. Virginia Van der Veer Hamilton, Lister Hill: Statesman from the South
(Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1987), 150.

12. Thomas G. Patterson, Cold War Critics: Alternatives to American Foreign
Policy in the Truman Years (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1971), 114.

13. Michael Kazin, The Populist Persuasion (New York: Basic Books, 1965), 4.

14. Samuel Lubell, The Future of American Politics (Garden City, N.Y.:
Doubleday, 1956), 107.

15. Numan V. Bartley, The New South. 1945-1980: The Story of the South's
Modernization (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1995), 71.


If there was a couple the New Deal was made for, it was Joseph Wheeler

Pepper and his wife Lena, who lived on a small East Alabama farm near the tiny

community of Dudleyville. Joseph Pepper's family came from Ireland or England,

probably around the time of the American Revolution, although he was never

sure. Lena Pepper's family came from England in the late 1700s. For

generations their families farmed in the South. Both of their fathers left the family

farm just once, to fight for the Confederacy.1

The couple tried to make a success of the farm during a hardscrabble

time of unpredictable food prices and 12-hour days. On September 8, 1900,

Lena gave birth to a son, Claude Pepper. He was their fourth child, but the first

one to live beyond infancy. In 1910, the family gave up farming to move to

nearby Camp Hill, Alabama, a town of 1,500. The advantage for Claude was a

better school, but the family's economic situation remained precarious. Joseph

Pepper tried his hand at business, first in a general merchandise store, then in a

furniture store. Both failed and led to bankruptcy court. A series of jobs followed,

and finally Joseph Pepper became a deputy sheriff.2


Pepper worked to help support the family, but he was also encouraged to

finish high school. He was a bright boy, who loved to read, and used a lawyer's

office and typewriter at night to do his homework. Pepper graduated from high

school in 1917, wearing a suit that was clearly too small, an indication of the

family's limited financial means.3 He worked briefly as a traveling hat cleaner,

moving from farm to farm to block and clean hats until he accidentally ruined a

customer's hat and had to pay for it, putting him out of the hat business.4

Although barely out of high school, he took a job teaching in Dothan,

Alabama. The first semester he taught in the grammar school and the second

semester in the high school, working with students who were about his age. He

taught for just a year, then took a job in a Birmingham steel mill. There, he

worked 12 hours a day, sometimes seven days a week, carrying heavy pig iron

ingots onto a conveyor belt.5 The work convinced Pepper that he would need

more education to get ahead.

The College Student

He entered college in September 1918, first at Howard College, a small

Baptist school in Birmingham. He stayed only one night before deciding the

school was not for him. He gave up a scholarship to the school and transferred

to the University of Alabama without a scholarship. To pay his tuition, his family


borrowed money from a banker, who saw Pepper's potential and overlooked the

family's poor financial situation.6

When Pepper arrived at the University of Alabama in the fall of 1918, he

enlisted in the Student Army Training Corps, and without leaving the campus

became a veteran of World War I. During his 57 days of military service, he

injured himself lifting ammunition boxes which qualified him for veteran's

benefits.7 He used the government benefits to help pay for his college education.

He spent his time on campus studying, working, or talking about politics.

He admired Woodrow Wilson and saw in Wilson's Fourteen Points the hope for

a better world. In 1921 he received his degree after just three years. He was a

good student, graduating Phi Beta Kappa, but he could not afford a new key and

bought a used one.8 The University of Alabama yearbook held a prediction for

Pepper: "Watch this boy. He's bound for a seat in a J.P. [Justice of the Peace]

court or the gubernatorial chair."9

In 1921 he was accepted at Harvard Law School and was able to attend

with another loan from the Camp Hill bank and the $50 a month he received from

the government. Pepper felt that being a recipient of government money

separated him from his more wealthy classmates. When a classmate asked

about his glasses, which were provided free by the government, Pepper was

evasive. "I didn't tell him I was a vocational student," adding that, "one has a sort

of pride in family having means. And it takes courage to stand up & admit your

poverty."10 But the students eventually learned of his status and Pepper heard

that some of his classmates had laughed about it. "Damn them, they would have

got it if possible," he wrote in his diary. "Mine was legitimate. I'll be somebody

when they are still laughing, but they won't laugh then."11

Pepper also used the money to seek a cure for a long-term skin condition.

Pepper's face carried acne scars, made more noticeable by his large, red nose.

He was able to see Dr. Townsend Thomdike, one of the nation's leading

dermatologists, but Thomdike said nothing could be done about the scars.

Pepper wrote to his parents, 'How I would be if my face had been smooth & all,

how different would I have been."12

From his childhood in Camp Hill, Pepper had dreamed of being a United

States Senator. One night, when he was 14, he was studying in the office of a

local justice of the peace, J. H. Rogers. He wrote on a wall "Someday Claude

Pepper will be United States Senator."13 At the University of Alabama and at

Harvard, his classmates nicknamed him "Senator."14 In the Harvard dining hall,

his friends called him "the future Senator from Alabama."15 He said of his friends

and professors, "They seemed to take it as an inevitable fact that I... was

destined for Senate."16 Pepper encouraged such speculation. His conversations

in the dining halls centered on politics and his hope for a political career.

In 1922 he became involved in politics for the first time, campaigning for

the defeat of Republican Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, who had led the effort

against American entry into the League of Nations. Pepper wrote in his diary that

he felt "bitterly towards Republicans for [their] treatment of Wilson."'7 It was easy


to see why Wilson would appeal to Pepper. Both were native Southerners, who

had gone North, but retained their love of their native region. Wilson supported

the progressive reforms Pepper admired, including the eight-hour work day, the

Rural Credits Act for rural development, the Kem-McGillicuddy Act establishing

workmen's compensation, the Keating-Owen Act regulating child labor, and tariff

revision. Wilson also led the United States into World War I, and proposed that

the United States play a role in international affairs for the first time through the

League of Nations.

In 1924, Pepper graduated from Harvard in the top third of his class and

returned to Alabama. While his classmates flocked with their prestigious

degrees to the big cities, Pepper was anxious to return home. Most of his

classmates saw the South as backward, but Pepper was committed to helping

his family and the region. He wrote in his diary of his desire to "go back home

and help" the poor in the South. "It makes me sad to see the plight of people,

hair drawn, sallow, emaciated, unhappy, wearied they all seem. The dirt, the

sorrow, the tragedy of it all." He wrote that he wanted to "see it better."18

A leading Birmingham law firm offered Pepper a job, but he already had

accepted a one-year position teaching at the University of Arkansas.19 The law

school was brand new and there were only two faculty members, Pepper and the

dean, Julian Seesel Waterman.2 Pepper enjoyed his year in Arkansas, and was

invited to remain at the college, but he turned down the offer for an opportunity

to try to make his fortune in the Florida land boom.

The Move to Florida

In 1925, Arthur Trumbo, an Oklahoma banker, and father of one of

Pepper's students at Arkansas, invited Pepper to go to Perry, Florida, as a

consultant in a Florida land deal. The Perry attorney for the syndicate was Judge

William Barnett Davis who formed a "temporary association" with Pepper.21 The

Florida boom drew thousands who saw a chance to make a fortune. The plan

called for Pepper to start working in Perry, then move to Homosassa to direct the

syndicate's business dealings there. Pepper could make enough money to pay

off his college loans, help his still-struggling parents, and for the first time in his

life, be able to enjoy life's pleasures. He wrote to his parents that he would be

able to "send you all enough money every month to pay your bills and living


In the 1920s, the state experienced a land rush that drew more people

than all of the American migrations that had come before. From 1920 to 1930,

the state's population increased nearly 50 percent. Land, that in 1915 was being

given away, went for hundreds of thousands of dollars a decade later. The

increasing values were based on speculation, and often property changed hands

half-a-dozen times a day, with ever-escalating prices.2

Pepper arrived in Florida on June 30, 1925, just in time for the collapse of

the state's land boom. Four months before Pepper arrived, The New York Times

had reported a slowdown in the boom, and just days after Pepper moved to

Perry, The Nation said the boom had turned to a bust. Those stories were

followed by a disastrous hurricane in South Florida in 1926 and a citrus-crop

infestation by the Mediterranean fruit fly. In 1926, banks began to fail in Florida,

land sales collapsed, and hundreds of developments turned into overgrown

fields.24 There was now no need for Pepper to move to Homosassa and he

remained in Perry to practice with Davis. The prospect of making big money in

the had evaporated, but Pepper found his law practice interesting and he was

making enough money to gradually pay off his debts in Alabama.

The First Campaign

In 1928 Pepper launched his political career as a candidate for the

Florida House from Taylor County. He won by pointing out that the incumbent,

W. T. Hendry, had failed to vote on a bill requiring farmers to dip their cattle to

remove ticks. It was a controversial issue in the district and farmers were split

over whether to support it. Pepper never took a stand on the bill but was able to

appeal to both supporters and opponents of the legislation merely by saying that

the voters needed someone who would vote on important issues. He upset

Hendry and, as a result of his election, was appointed to the State Democratic

Executive Committee. As a member of this body, Pepper received a form letter

from Franklin Roosevelt seeking advice on reforms in the Democratic Party. He

wrote to Roosevelt that "I want the Democratic Party genuinely to become the

Liberal Party of this Nation."25 In 1928, Pepper campaigned for New York

Governor Al Smith, the Democratic presidential candidate in a state that had

voted for the Democratic candidate in every election since the end of

Reconstruction. But Smith, a Catholic who favored the repeal of prohibition.

Despite Pepper's efforts, Herbert Hoover, the Republican candidate, carried the

state handily.

In 1930, Pepper was defeated in his bid for a second term. He had

refused to rule out support for a retail sales tax, while his opponent stressed

opposition to any such measure. Pepper later blamed his defeat on his failure to

support a resolution censuring the wife of President Herbert Hoover for inviting

the wife of a black congressman to the White House.Z But Pepper's opponent

did not mention the race issue, campaigning only on the sales tax Pepper

carried just one precinct.27

Not only did he lose his House seat in 1930, but the Great Depression

was beginning to effect him. The bank in Perry failed, and Pepper lost his small

savings account. He also lost most of his law business. Like millions of

Americans, he faced the prospect of remaining where he was, without much

hope for a better future, or moving. In 1930 Pepper moved to Tallahassee to

start over, forming a partnership with Curtis Waller, a former aide to Mississippi

Senator Pat Harrison.28

In 1932 Pepper campaigned for the Democratic National Committee,

traveling throughout Florida for Franklin Roosevelt, who easily won Florida and

the presidency. Hoover was not the only political victim of the election. The

Republicans lost control of the House of Representatives in 1930 and the

Senate in 1932. Americans wanted something done, and the old politics and the

old answers were not sufficient.

Campaign for the Senate

Florida's two United States Senators had held elective office since the

19" century, and were not popular with the voters. The senior senator, Duncan

Upshaw Fletcher, had been in the Senate for 34 years rising to chair the Senate

Committee on Banking and Currency. The junior senator, Park Trammell,

was first elected mayor of Lakeland in 1899. He had moved through the

Legislature, served as Florida attorney general, and was elected governor in

1912. In 1916, he was elected to the U.S. Senate and re-elected in 1922 and

1928. While Fletcher was generally respected, a Washington newspaper

named Trammell as "the Senator least inclined to work."29

In 1934, Pepper decided to run against Trammel. A decade earlier, it

would have been difficult to envision a successful Pepper challenge to Trammell,

but the Great Depression had changed the rules of American politics.

Candidates who had served faithfully for decades were thrown out of office by

the voters. Pepper had served only one term in the legislature, had lived in the

state for less than a decade, and had no money. But candidates such as Pepper

were winning office throughout the country. "The sentiment of our people

demands that a candidate be free of reactionary tendencies and have a point of

view boldly in sympathy with the New Deal," Pepper said in making his

announcement. There were three other candidates in the race, but Pepper

quickly established himself as an avid New Dealer. "I am with Franklin D.

Roosevelt and shall give him aggressive and helpful cooperation. The

cornerstone of the New Deal is the welfare of the common man. Upon that

cornerstone I shall make my campaign."30 The New Deal was very popular in

Florida, a state that had been in a depression since the collapse of the land

boom in 1926.

By embracing Roosevelt and the New Deal, Pepper set himself apart from

the other challengers. It was a strategy other candidates used to win office,

most noticeably Lyndon Johnson in a congressional campaign in Texas. In a

multi-candidate race, the one who established the closest rapport with Roosevelt

and the New Deal could usually do well. The largely rural population stood to

benefit from the dozens of New Deal programs, and even businessmen, who

thought it could save their struggling firms. Pepper also received support from

John H. Perry, the owner of the Jacksonville Journal, who endorsed Pepper and

complained of Trammell's "absolute inaction in Congress."3 Pepper made

Trammell the issue by pointing out that Trammell had introduced eighty-one bills

during his third term, but just four minor bills had become law.3


In the first primary, Trammell received 81,3231 votes, but to the surprise

of many, Pepper was close behind with 79,396 votes. The other three

candidates received a total of 53,000 votes and forced a runoff election." In the

second primary, Trammell made race an issue, pointing out that Pepper had

voted against the resolution condemning Mrs. Herbert Hoover for inviting a black

woman to the White House. HOOVERR DINES [with] NEGRO, PEPPER SAYS

O.K" read the headline on the handbill the Trammell supporters circulated.3

Trammell also claimed that because Pepper had attended Harvard University,

he must somehow be in favor of racial equality.3 Trammel ignored Pepper's

calls for debates. Pepper continued to push for a pension for anyone over 70

years of age and emphasized his support of labor unions. But primarily he

hammered at his support for Roosevelt and the New Deal.

Pepper lost the runoff election by 4,050 votes, 103,028 to 98,978." He

was gracious in defeat. "I extend to you my best wishes," Pepper telegraphed. "If

I can in any way aid you to serve the people of Florida be ever free to command

me."37 But others were not so willing to accept the results. It was clear after the

first primary that there had been irregularities in the voting in Tampa. In a state

with little in the way of strong political organizations, the Tampa political machine

could produce a significant number of votes. After the runoff, Edwin Dart

Lambright of the Tampa Morning Tribune wrote that he believed that 6,000 of

Trammell's votes were fraudulent. In one Tampa precinct, Trammell had

received 446 votes to 1 for Pepper. In another, Pepper received 75 votes while


Trammell got 715. In all, Trammell received 6,511 votes to 360 for Pepper in the

questionable Tampa precincts. Lambright wanted Pepper to call for an

investigation, but Pepper accepted the results and returned to his law practice.3

A challenge would have done little good. Trammell had influential friends in

Washington and Tallahassee, who could be counted on to come to his aid.

Around the state, Pepper's popularity increased as the result of his gracious

acceptance of defeat. Thus, The Orlando Sentinel editoralized that "Someday, in

some election, the people of Florida are going to give Pepper another break or

rather a new deal. That is the general feeling. It is now Saint Pepper.""

On May 8, 1936, Trammell died in Washington, creating an opportunity

for Pepper. Newspapers also speculated that Judge Charles O. Andrews of

Orlando and former-governor Doyle Carlton of Tampa might be candidates. The

State Democratic Executive Committee had the responsibility to decide whether

to hold an open primary or have the committee select the nominee. The state's

other Senator, Fletcher, died on June 17 before a decision was reached on first

open seat. Pepper announced that he would be a candidate for Fletcher's seat.

Meanwhile, Carlton and Andrews competed for Trammell's seat, and Pepper was

unopposed for Fletcher's seat. Andrews upset former Governor Cariton 67,387

to 62,530. The Leesburg Commercial said, "As soon as Claude Pepper has time

to 'learn the ropes' he will be recognized as one of the really great men of the



1. "Biographical Sketch of Senator Pepper," Claude D Pepper Papers, Mildred
and Claude Pepper Library, Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida.
Hereafter referred to as Pepper Papers.

2. Kenneth Norman Stewart, "Serious Senator Pepper," PM Sunday Magazine, 1
June 1947, 7.

3. Camp Hill High School Radiator, 1917, Pepper Papers.

4. Pepper to Dorothy Sara, 16 August 1948, Pepper Papers.

5. Miami Herald, 18 October 1936.

6. Stewart, 7.

7. Pepper to former Congressman William Joseph Sears, Jr., 11 May 1940,
Pepper Papers. Miami Herald, 18 October 1936.

8. Claude Pepper Harvard Diary, 23 December 1922, Pepper Papers. Hereafter
referred to as Pepper Diary.

9. Stewart, 7.

10. Pepper Diary, 1 November 1921.

11. Ibid., 21 June 1922.

12. Pepper to Lena Talbot Pepper and Joseph Wheeler Pepper, 16 February
1922, Pepper Papers.

13. Pepper to Mrs. Frances Collinson, 4 December 1941, Pepper Papers.

14. Pepper Diary, 19 November 1921.

15. Ibid., 7 May 1922.

16. Ibid., 25 December 1922.

17. Ibid., 6 December 1922.

18. Ibid., 6 May 1922.

19. Pepper to Julian Pennington, 11 April 1929, Pepper Papers.

20. Ibid.

21. Ibid.

22. Pepper to Lena Talbot Pepper and Joseph Wheeler Pepper, n. d., Pepper

23. Michael Gannon, Florida: A Short History. (Gainesville: University Press of
Florida, 1993), 77.

24. Ibid., 82-83.

25. Pepper to Franklin D. Roosevelt, 22 December 1928, Pepper Papers.

26. Claude Pepper and Hayes Gorey. Pepper: Eyewitness to a Century (New
York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1987), 41-42.

27. Perry Herald, 5 June 1930.

28. Stewart, 8.

29. Washington Herald, 2 August 1934.

30. Pepper, 1934 announcement of candidacy, n. d., Pepper Papers.

31. John H. Perry to Oscar Johnson, 31 March 1934, Pepper Papers.

32. Pepper, campaign speech, n. d., Pepper Papers.

33. R. A. Gray, Comp., Tabulation of Official Vote. Florida Democratic Primary
Election. June 5. 1934 and June 26. 1934 (Tallahassee: State Printer, 1944), 3.

34. "Trammell for Senator Club," handbill, n. d., Pepper Papers.

35. Ocala Morning Banner, 20 June 1934.

36. Gray, Tabulation of Official Vote. June 5. 1934 and June 26, 1934, 8.

37. Pepper to Park Trammell, 28 June 1934, Pepper Papers.

38. Edwin D. Lambright to Pepper, 9 July 1934, Pepper Papers.

39. Orlando Morning Sentinel, 7 August 1934.

40. Leesbura Commercial, 16 October 1936.


By the time Pepper arrived in Washington as a champion of the New

Deal, it was all but over. Most of the significant New Deal legislation had been

enacted between 1933 and 1936. Nevertheless, 1937 began with Roosevelt's

second inauguration and with high hopes. Roosevelt intended to use his

overwhelming re-election as a mandate to continue his New Deal programs. "I

see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished," Roosevelt said in

taking the oath for his second term. He could point to a series of dramatic

accomplishments in his first term. Industrial output had doubled since 1932 and

farm income had increased almost fourfold.1

But at the onset of his second term, Roosevelt made a major political

miscalculation. He proposed a complicated program to allow him to name more

judges-presumably sympathetic to his programs-to the Supreme Court. During

his first term, Roosevelt had not named any justices, and the court was loaded

with conservatives who struck down many of his New Deal proposals. His plan

touched a raw nerve in the nation, gave the undermanned Republicans a rallying

cry, and divided the Democratic Party. As historian William Leuchtenburg noted,

"In attempting to alter the Court, Roosevelt had attacked one of the symbols


which many believed the nation needed for its sense of unity as a body politic."2

There are many who contend that although Roosevelt lost the battle-adding

justices to the court-he won the war. Shortly after making his proposal, the court

switched directions. In a 5-4 decision, the court upheld a minimum wage case,

almost identical to one it had overturned earlier, then upheld the Wagner Act by

the same 5-4 margin. Despite these favorable court rulings, Roosevelt lost

considerable public and political support for his attack on the Court.3

In 1937, Roosevelt also ordered cuts in federal spending in an attempt to

balance the budget. He cut the relief roles and nearly eliminated public works

spending. Roosevelt and his advisors, primarily Secretary of the Treasury Henry

Morgenthau, thought that the economy could stand some fiscal restraint, and

they were nervous about the size of the federal debt. They made the wrong

decision. The economy fell as industrial activity dropped sharply and

unemployment soared.

For Pepper, the New Deal was why he had come to Washington, and he

would continue to be its champion even as others deserted the cause. His own

life had convinced him that many Americans needed help and that the

government should provide that help. He was certain that he would not have

attended Harvard without the federal aid he received, and he knew firsthand

what life was like for poor farmers in the South. He believed Roosevelt's New

Deal held the answers to the problems he had personally experienced.


Pepper arrived in Washington in time for a debate on an issue that would

present problems for him throughout his Senate career, a bill to make lynching a

federal crime. Pepper fell in line with his fellow Southerners, denouncing the

debate as a waste of time and saying that there were more important issues to

be considered. For the rest of his career, Pepper wrestled with his desire to be a

national political figure and the need to keep his constituents in Florida placated

by opposing civil rights legislation.

During debate on a farm bill, Pepper found a way to link farming and civil

rights. He said that blacks were being lynched in the South for economic

reasons and improving the lot of all Southerners would cut down on lynchings.

"There is an actual correlation between the number of lynchings and the price of

cotton," he told the Senate.4 Pepper took part in a filibuster against the anti-

lynching bill, talking for six hours one day and five the next. Pepper questioned

the place of blacks in society, saying that giving the vote to blacks in the South

would "endanger the supremacy of a race to which God has committed the

destiny of a continent, perhaps of a world."5 The filibuster worked, and the anti-

lynching bill died.

It was routine for southern senators to take their place in the filibuster

rotation when civil rights legislation was being considered During the course of

the filibuster, Pepper drew surprising criticism from two liberals. Pennsylvania

Senator Joseph Guffey warned Pepper that criticizing blacks would cost him a

role in national politics, and Tommy Corcoran, a Roosevelt aide, urged him to

take a temperate tone, or risk losing his liberal credentials.6 Fortunately for

Pepper, Roosevelt did not make civil rights an integral part of the New Deal. He

did not want to challenge the powerful southern Democrats by pushing the civil

rights issues. In general, blacks benefitted from New Deal programs only when

they were not excluded from broad-based programs designed to aid the poor.7

That meant the Pepper could support the entire New Deal program without

offending Florida's white voters.

In addition to the farm program, a major part of Roosevelt's plan for his

second term was the fair labor standards bill. The bill called for a minimum wage

of forty cents an hour, and a maximum working week of forty hours. It was

opposed by much of industry including Florida's large timber interests. Pepper

said he was opposed to the original bill and worked for change in the Senate

Education and Labor Committee.8 He reshaped the bill to exempt many of

Florida's workers, including those in agriculture and in the turpentine industry.9

But he failed to get an exemption for the lumber industry, and the timber owners

worried that the weak law could become a strong law over time. The fair labor

standards legislation was one of those bills in which few wanted compromise.

Business wanted no restrictions on its ability to set hours and wages, while

workers wanted both. Pepper's work at crafting a compromise gained him few

friends, and the weakened form of the fair labor standards bill angered many in

Florida. The legislation played a dominant role in Pepper's 1938 campaign.

The 1938 Campaign

Pepper's life was a constant political campaign. In 1936, he had run in

two primaries, won the election in 1937, and now in 1938, just months after

being sworn in, he had to face the voters again. Thus, in three years he faced

the voters five times.

On January 2, 1938, Pepper and Congressman James Mark Wilcox

announced their candidacies for the Senate seat. Wilcox, a three-term

representative from South Florida, had never lost an election. He was an early

New Deal supporter, but parted with Roosevelt over court-packing and the

wage-hour measure, and labeled Pepper a "rubber stamp" for the president.10 A

third candidate, former Governor David Sholtz, had burst onto the Florida

political scene in 1932, but once in office, his popularity fell rapidly amid reports

of corruption. Having failed to secure what he considered a decent job in the

Roosevelt administration, he was trying for a political comeback." Like Pepper,

Sholtz was running as a champion of the New Deal. Findley Moore, a Lake City

businessman running on an anti-black and anti-immigrant platform, also

announced his candidacy, as did Thomas Merchant, who wanted a national

referendum held before the nation went to war.

The Florida primary election was important to Roosevelt, who was

anxious to prove that the New Deal still had life and was popular with the voters.

In Pepper, Roosevelt had a candidate who was a New Deal loyalist. On


February 6, 1938, the president's son, James Roosevelt, announced that while

the administration did not want to tell the voters of Florida what to do, "it is our

sincere hope that he [Pepper] will be returned to the Senate."'2

Pepper became the poster boy for the New Deal. The importance of the

Florida primary was magnified by the fact that it was the first in the nation.

Pepper was seen as the New Deal candidate, even though Wilcox had been a

faithful support of major New Deal legislation for six years. But he had voted

against the wage-hour bill, and Roosevelt saw a chance for an election between

an opponent of the wage-hour bill and a supporter. A Pepper victory might

convince other members of Congress that the public wanted the legislation


During the campaign, a young Pepper volunteer at the University of

Florida joined his campaign. George A. Smathers, a law student at Florida, was

named to direct Pepper's campaign on campus, but quickly found himself

directing the campaign for all of surrounding Alachua County. Pepper was

impressed by young Smathers and wrote, "You and I are young men and there is

a lot to be done. Nobody would appreciate more than I the privilege of working

with you."14 Smathers responded by writing, "Anytime-any place ... that I can

aid your campaign please let me know."15

Just before the primary, Time magazine put Pepper on its cover with the

caption, "A Florida fighting-cock will be a White House weather vane."'6 Pepper

won with 58.4 percent of the vote. He received 242,350 votes to 110,675 for


Wilcox and just 52,785 for Sholtz.17 Pepper did well in North Florida, winning the

rural vote and in Central Florida. His strongest opposition came in what was

known as Florida's Gold Coast, the counties around Palm Beach where the

state's wealthier voters lived. Pepper sent a telegram to Roosevelt saying, "The

true principles of democracy as exemplified by your great leadership have just

received a striking vote of confidence and approval in Florida."18

Pepper returned enthusiastically to the Senate in 1939 with a full six-year

term, but soon encountered more frustrations. The New Deal stalled during

1937, and by 1939 it seemed to be in full retreat. Pepper condemned what he

saw as "the unrighteous partnership of those who have been willing to scuttle

the American Government and the American people and to jeopardize the peace

of the world because they hate Roosevelt and what Roosevelt stands for."

Pepper pointed to the United States Chamber of Commerce and the National

Association of Manufacturers as the villains, and criticized those in Congress

who had "prostituted their power to serve" them." Although Pepper was a loyal

New Deal supporter, he was unable to sway votes in the Senate. He lacked

seniority and was not popular with his colleagues. Pepper was seen by many of

his colleagues as a publicity seeker who was quick to criticize others, in order to

gain publicity. Time magazine reported that, "He was not well liked in the

Senate, had no great influence there."20

The Coming War

The end of World War I seemed to hold out great hope for world peace,

but the Treaty of Versailles quickly turned from a bold vision to just another

political document. The Senate rejected appeals from President Wilson and

chose not to join the League of Nations. Isolationism dominated American

foreign policy during the Depression years and in 1937, Congress passed

sweeping neutrality legislation to keep the United States from being pulled into

another European war. A 1937 survey asked if America should take part if

another war came to Europe. Ninety-five percent said "No," and the same

percentage wanted the United States to do "everything possible to keep us out

of foreign wars."21

Pepper was one of those few who correctly identified the threat Adolf

Hitler posed to the world. In 1939, while most of his colleagues quietly watched

from the sidelines, Pepper sounded the alarm. Pepper feared the United States

would become "hemmed in between a dominant Japan on the West and a

dominant Germany on the East." He began lobbying to allow Great Britain to

purchase arms on a "cash and carry" basis. But other senators felt that the

United States had been dragged into World War I because it had been too

willing to serve as arms merchant and banker for Britain and France. They

rejected Pepper's argument and retained the neutrality laws.

Although few paid attention to Pepper's proposals, he was not

discouraged, introducing a resolution in 1939 to allow Roosevelt to send virtually

every type of war material to the Allies. Pepper pledged to make a speech a day

on the subject until something was done." Despite the worsening situation in

Europe, and Pepper's speeches, he gained just one supporter in the Senate,

Joseph Guffey of Pennsylvania.2 He fellow senators, Scott Lucas of Illinois,

Josiah Bailey of North Carolina, and the venerable Burton K Wheeler of

Montana responded with attacks on Pepper. Most of those who spoke out

against Pepper were isolationists, but even those who thought the United States

should play a role in the world were quiet. It seemed that no one was listening

to Pepper, although his constant calls for action were making him known

throughout the country. An isolationist group calling itself Mothers of America,

hung Pepper in effigy outside the Capitol. The cocoanut-headed dummy was

given to Pepper as a souvenir. Still he pushed on, urging construction of 50,000

airplanes, an army of three million, a two-ocean Navy, and the transfer of

American destroyers to Britain.24 Roosevelt knew that the isolationist sentiment

in the country remained strong and aiding England could damage his attempt for

an unprecedented third term as president.

The problem for Pepper was that he was seen as a Roosevelt functionary.

Even those who agreed with his concerns about Germany saw him as little more

than a Roosevelt mouthpiece, carrying out the president's wishes. The New York

Herald-Tribune said that "when the White House has an important trial balloon


to sendup, it invites Senator Pepper to supply the necessary oratorical helium for

the ascension."25 Time magazine said that "Claude Pepper was the only one

whom Franklin Roosevelt considered anywhere near fit to expound on the

administration's foreign and defense policies."26 But Pepper often acted without

White House approval, although he did routinely inform Roosevelt before taking

a stand.

Speaking shortly before Germany invaded Poland, Pepper warned that

the war would require the nation to turn all of its attention to "defense and

security."27 Pepper always maintained that if Congress had listened to his plea,

Hitler might have been dissuaded from attacking.28 After the German attack on

Poland in September 1939, Roosevelt called Congress back into session to deal

with the neutrality acts. From that moment on, the focus of Pepper's efforts was

in world affairs.

While his speeches had made his name well-known throughout the

country, his prophet-like stance seemed to do him little good in Florida where

there were few misgivings about Pepper's position. The isolationism that was so

strong in the Midwest was not a factor in Florida. But being right on military

preparedness did not obscure the fact that he had alienated many of his fellow

senators by his critical remarks during debates. None of the senators who had

opposed him wanted to be reminded that they had been wrong about Adolf

Hitler. But his biggest problem was in Florida, where opposition to the New Deal

was growing, primarily among the state's leading businessmen.

The South and the New Deal

The South and the New Deal were an odd couple. When the New Deal

began in 1933, Southern Democrats were among its most dedicated supporters.

As historian H. C. Nixon found, "The seeking of Federal aid for southern

highways, flood control, barge service, or cotton marketing, is only one aspect of

the southern policy of looking northward for public and private bonds for

economic, scientific and cultural development."2

Roosevelt's election radically changed the status of Southern Democrats.

Before 1933, Southern Democrats had been the largest single block in the party,

faithfully providing their electoral votes for Democrats, as Republican

presidential candidates rolled to victory. But with the Roosevelt election, and

new-found Democratic strength in the North, the importance of the Southern

Democrats within the party began to decline. As historian Dewey W. Gratham

noted, the Southern Democrats went from "a majority faction in a minority party

to a minority faction in a majority party."30 In 1918 the South controlled 26 of the

27 Democratic Senate seats and 107 of the 131 Democratic House seats in

Congress, but by 1936 the South had 26 of the 75 Democratic Senate seats and

116 Democratic House sets out of 333 the Democrats held. Roosevelt had

eliminated the two-thirds rule for nominating Democratic presidential candidates,

eliminating the South's power to veto presidential nominees. Even in the general

election, the South lost influence. If Roosevelt had failed to carry a single

Southern state, he still would have won all four of his presidential elections.3

But a bigger concern for the Southern Democrats was the new members

of the Roosevelt coalition-the Northern labor unions, big city machines, blacks,

immigrants, and intellectuals. Gradually the Southerners in Congress began to

move away from Roosevelt's New Deal and toward the conservative

Republicans. Because of their seniority, the Southerners rose to committee

chairmanships and used those positions to block legislation they did not like,

including anti-lynching and anti-poll tax bills. Their influence went far beyond

defeating bills. Roosevelt proved reluctant to introduce civil rights legislation for

fear that it would alienate the Southerners.

As early as 1935, Roosevelt told Felix Frankfurter, "I will have trouble with

my own Democratic party from this time on in trying to carry out further programs

of reform and recovery."3 In 1937, opposition to Roosevelt began to manifest

itself. Many from the South thought the worst of the Great Depression was over

and saw no need for the New Deal's expanding welfare state and the federal

bureaucracy. But as William J. Cooper and Thomas E. Terrill have noted, "Race,

as usual, also figures in the controversy over federal relief. Southern Democrats

believed, again correctly, that federal relief efforts attracted black voters to the

national Democratic party."3

In 1943 the coalition of Southern Democrats and Republicans joined

together to try to savage New Deal programs. They were aided by the 1942

election results, in which the Democrats lost 42 seats in the House of

Representatives and 12 seats in the Senate. The losses came outside the

South, which gave the Southerners a greater voice in the Democratic party. The

new coalition of southerners and conservative Republicans attacked the Civilian

Conservation Corps, Works Progress Administration, and the National Youth

Administration." The movement away from the party was clear by 1946, when

43 of the 102 Congressional Democrats from the South deserted the party on

votes more than half the time.5

Roosevelt still had loyal followers from the South in Congress, but often

they were out of step with the political situation in their home states. George B.

Tindall called the New Deal liberals from the South, "generals without an army."

At first glance, the list of New Deal supporters in the South seems impressive.

There was Pepper, Congressman Lyndon Johnson in Texas, Governor Olin

Johnston in South Carolina, Governor E. D. Rivers in Georgia, Lester Hill in

Alabama, Governor Dave Sholtz in Florida, Congressman Maury Maverick in

Texas, and Governor Burnet Maybank in South Carolina. But a closer look

shows that there little to support the notion that the South was becoming more

liberal. Rivers was replaced after four years by Eugene Talmadge, an anti-

Roosevelt racist; Olin Johnston lost his first bid to the Senate to an anti-New

Dealer, Maverick lost his seat after two terms, Johnson moved to the right to

keep his seat, Sholtz was discredited, and Pepper eventually lost his seat. Only

Maybank and Hill managed to hold on without a defeat." Although Pepper and

the other Southern New Deal supporters were often considered too liberal for

their constituents, they were hardly true liberals, especially in civil rights.

Historian Alan Brinkley found that the New Deal southerners had little power in

Congress and were what he called "unliberal" in comparison to those from other


Still the voters in the South remained loyal to Roosevelt. In 1944 southern

voters gave Roosevelt 69 percent of their votes, compared to about 50 percent

in the Northeast and Midwest. It was a strange contradiction: Among voters,

Roosevelt found his greatest support in the South. Among Democratic Senators

and Congressmen, he found his greatest opposition in the South. While the

people in the South still supported Roosevelt, business support was slipping

away. Businessmen who had begged for help in 1933, began to see the New

Deal as a threat to their economic well being by 1937. As the businessmen

turned against the New Deal, they also turned against its supporters, including


As Brinkley has noted, New Deal critics have maintained that Roosevelt's

failure to back liberals and challenge the conservative power structure of the

South was caused by a lack of will. James MacGregor Bums argued that had

Roosevelt joined hands with them, he "could have challenged anti-New Deal

factions and tried to convert neutralists into backers of the New Deal."" But

when Roosevelt tried to purge two anti-New Deal Senators, Walter George in

Georgia, and Ed Smith in South Carolina in 1938, it turned into a political

disaster for the president.


1. James West Davidson, et al. Nation of Nations (New York: McGraw-Hill,
1997), 731.

2. William E. Leuchtenburg, Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal (New York:
Harper Torchbooks, 1963), 235.

3. Ibid., 236.

4. Congressional Record, 75" Cong., 2d sess., 1937, 82:167.

5. Congressional Record, 75" Cong., 3d sess., 1938, 83: 975.

6. Kabat, 70.

7. Nancy J. Weiss, Farewell to the Party of Lincoln: Black Politics in the Age of
FDR (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983).

6. Pepper radio address, manuscript, 12 November 1937, Pepper Papers.

9. Ibid.

10. Mark Wilcox, 1938 campaign flyer, Pepper Papers.

11. Lake Wales News, 13 January 1938.

12. Miami Herald, 7 February 1938.

13. James MacGregor Bums, Roosevelt: The Lion and the Fox (New York:
Harcourt Brace, 1956), 343.

14. Pepper to George A. Smathers, 4 January 1938, Pepper Papers.

15. Smathers to Pepper, n.d., Pepper Papers.

16. Time, 2 May 1938, cover.

17. R. A. Gray, Comp., Tabulation of Official Vote. Florida Democratic Primary
Election. Primary Election. May 3, 1938 and May 24. 1938. (Tallahassee: State
Printer,1938), 1.

18. Pepper to Franklin D. Roosevelt, 4 May 1968, Pepper Papers.

19. Congressional Record, 76" Cong., 1" sess., 1939, 84: 11165-11168.

20. Time, 2 September 1940,14-15.

21. James MacGregor Bums, The Crosswinds of Freedom: From Roosevelt to
Reagan American in the Last Half Century (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1989),

22. New York Times, 9 June 1940.

23. Congressional Record, 76* Cong., 3d sess., 86: 7577.

24. Wesley Price, "Pink Pepper," Saturday Evening Post, 13 August 1946, 117.

25. Tampa Moring Tribune, 7 October 1940.

26. Time, 2 September 1940.

27. Pepper, speech of July 17, 1939, manuscript in Pepper Papers.

28. Congressional Record, 79" Cong., 1" sess., 91: 8069.

29. H. C. Nixon, "The Changing Political Philosophy of the South," Annals of the
American Academy of Political and Society Sciences 153 (January 1931): 247.

30. Dewey W. Gratham, The Life and Death of the Solid South: A Political
History (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1988), 102.

31. Robert Biles, The South and the New Deal, (Lexington: University Press of
Kentucky, 1994), 151.

32. Max Freedman, ed., Roosevelt and Frankfurter: Their Correspondence.
1928-1945 (Boston: Little, Brown, 1967), 282-283.

33. William J. Cooper, Jr., and Thomas E. Terrill. The American South: A
History. (New York: Knopf, 1990), 684.

34. Gratham, 115.

35. Gratham, 119.


36. George B. Tindall, Emergency of the New South (Baton Rouge: Louisiana
State University Press, 1967), 103-104.

37. Alan Brinkley, Liberalism and Its Discontents (Cambridge: Harvard University
Press, 1998), 69.

38. Ibid., 67.


All politicians make enemies, and the more controversial a politician

becomes, the more likely the number of his enemies will increase. Throughout

his career, Pepper somehow managed to alienate people with long memories

and large bank accounts. One of those was one-time supporter Ed Ball, who was

the most powerful man in Florida, directing everything from a large banking

empire to the largest tract of land in the state to some said the state legislature.

Ball was the brother-in-law of Alfred I. duPont, who had increased his

family fortune after moving to Florida and begun buying banks, paper mills, and

huge portions of North Florida real estate. He married Jessie Ball, and hired her

brother, Ed. Gradually, Ball assumed more responsibility. In 1935, when duPont

died, leaving the bulk of his estate to a trust headed by his widow, Ball took over

management of the duPont interests in Florida. Many of the representatives and

senators from rural north Florida counties, who dominated the Florida

legislature, were friends, or business associates. Ball supported Pepper in 1936

and 1938 and later said he had "helped the buzzard get elected."'

In 1944, three events occurred that dramatically changed Pepper's once-

friendly relationship with Ball into one of hatred. In one year, Pepper attacked

Ball's business interests twice, and launched a personal attack based on

incorrect information. The first incident involved a tax bill to raise money to fight

World War II. In 1943 Roosevelt asked Congress for eleven billion dollars in

new taxes. It seemed a simple matter, certainly no one was going to say no to

money to help win World War II. But the Congress was in a rebellious mood.

The Republicans posted significant gains in the 1942 elections, and many

Democrats were ready to rebel against Roosevelt's orders.

What should have been a routine piece of legislation led to a political

rebellion. Both Democrats and Republicans began hacking away at the

Roosevelt tax plan, butchering his request to just two billion, of which only one

billion represented new revenue. Then, they began tacking on amendments to

give tax advantages to selected businesses, including major benefits for Ed Ball.

The first benefit for Ball involved what became known as "renegotiation,"

a complex bureaucratic system allowing the government to reduce the amount

paid to a company after the work had been done. The idea was to prevent war

contractors from war profiteering. If a company's profit on a war-related contract

was found to be excessive by government auditors, the government could

renegotiate the contract. One of the amendments to the Roosevelt tax bill

exempted many businesses from the process and made it more difficult for the

government to renegotiate contracts with the ones that still fell under the review

process. Ed Ball's St. Joe Paper Company made boxes and containers for

companies shipping war material. Under the old rules, his company could face

the renegotiation process, but under the legislation passed by Congress, the

company would be exempt. That meant that no matter how much money St. Joe

Paper made, it was not subject to government review.2

The second amendment that benefitted Ball involved taxing provisions for

bond holders. It was an obscure provision amendment, designed to benefit only

a handful of people. It would save Ball money as a result of his purchase of

Florida East Coast Railway Company bonds. The railroad was in bankruptcy and

its bonds were all but worthless. Ball began buying them for pennies on the

dollar. Because of the financial situation of the railroad, no interest was being

paid on the bonds. The railroad claimed a deduction of the unpaid interest, but

the Internal Revenue Service questioned the deduction and left open the

possibility that the railroad might owe substantial back taxes. That would have

cost Ball a considerable sum.3 Finally, the bill contained an amendment to aid

Ball's vast timber interests. The provision allowed Ball to treat profits from

lumber as capital gains instead of ordinary income, giving him a lower tax rate.

Ball stood potentially as one of the biggest winners in the country from the

legislation. He would not have to pay the new taxes Roosevelt had requested.

He was assured that no government bureaucrats would questions his war-

related profits, he would be guaranteed tax breaks on his bonds in the Florida

East Coast Railway, and his lumber profits would be taxed at a lower rate.

Helping Ed Ball was certainly not what Roosevelt had in mind when he

asked Congress for new taxes. When the results of this legislation became


known, Roosevelt told congressional leaders that he would veto it. They urged

him not to veto the bill, but he did, declaring that the legislation "is not a tax bill

but tax relief bill providing relief not for the needy but for the greedy."4 Roosevelt

singled out two of the exemptions that would have benefitted Ball, the

reclassification of timber profits and the tax breaks for bond holders.

The President's decision provided opponents in Congress an opportunity

to assert their leadership. There were just too many items for too many political

supporters in the legislation for Roosevelt's veto to hold. The lobbying was

intense as supporters of the legislation fought for the dozens of tax breaks. Ball

hired Charles Murchison to lobby Pepper. Murchison had been a Harvard

classmate of Peppers' and best man at his wedding.5

With the veto, Pepper had to choose between backing Ball and hundreds

of other Florida businessmen or supporting Roosevelt. The House overrode the

veto 299 to 95, far more than the number needed, and sent the bill to the

Senate. Pepper was in Florida campaigning for re-election when the matter

came up. He had three choices: stay in Florida, and simply not return for the

vote, vote to override the president's vote, or vote to uphold the veto.

Pepper's staff sensed that he wanted to support the President and knew

that doing so would be politically damaging. They urged him to stay in Florida.

Before returning to Washington, Pepper went to St. Augustine to have dinner

with Herbert E. Wolfe, who was a close associate of Ed Ball, a major player in

Democratic politics, and a road builder who also stood to benefit from the bill.

Wolfe pressed Pepper to vote to override the President's veto.6

Pepper returned to Washington with his mind made up. Although Pepper

knew that the tax was unpopular, he saw Roosevelt's stand as "making a

magnificent liberal fight."7 Not only would he vote to uphold the President, he

would try to rally others. He was the only one in the Senate to speak in favor of

Roosevelt's veto. While his fellow Senators yelled out, "Vote, Vote," Pepper

urged his colleagues to support the president. It was a losing cause, only 12

other Democrats and a single Republican voted to sustain the veto.8

The second conflict with Ball was more personal and involved an attack

on Ball based upon incorrect information. In early 1944, as the tax bill moved

through Congress, Pepper went to West Palm Beach, and stayed with a friend.

He visited the exclusive Breakers Hotel, which was being used as both a hotel

and an Army hospital. The ownership situation was murky and unpredictable. It

was owned by the Florida East Coast Hotel Corporation, a subsidiary of the

bankrupt Florida East Coast Railway Company. The company also owned the

railway, but the hotel and railway were operated as separate companies. At the

time, Ed Ball was acquiring bonds in the railroad and would eventually come to

own it, but he did not own the company in 1944.

During his visit, some soldiers told Pepper that they were not allowed to

walk on the well-tended golf course, presumably because it would bother the

paying guests. In April, the Army announced that it would close the military


hospital at the Breakers because of the high operating cost. The patients were to

be moved to other hospitals. With just a month to go before the 1944 primary

election, Pepper turned the closing of the hospital into a campaign issue with a

scathing attack on Ball. He reasoned that Ball wanted to make more money by

renting the rooms to the wealthy.

What had begun as a political dispute between Pepper and Ball turned

into a personal feud that continued for six years. Ball was working behind the

scenes on behalf of a Pepper opponent in the 1944 election, and with America at

war, an attack on Ball's patriotism would certainly discredit him. In a telegram to

Roosevelt, Pepper said the closing "has been influenced either by the present

management of the corporation which owns the hotel, or by a mistaken policy of

economy by the War Department."9 He wrote incorrectly that "The corporation is

headed by Edward G. Ball of Jacksonville, brother of Mrs. Alfred I. DuPont [sic],

and in charge of the DuPont interests in Florida."10 There is no indication that

Pepper or his staff had done any research into the case. It sounded compelling,

the case of a wealthy businessman making wounded veterans suffer to please

wealthy people. Certainly nothing could be worse than the charge of turning

one's back on wounded soldiers in a time of war. But Ball did not have anything

to do with the operation of the hotel, or the rules limiting the movement of the


Ball sent Jacksonville attorney A. Y. Milam, who had once worked with

Pepper, to Washington to explain the situation and demand an apology. Pepper


refused to see Milam, who was left to explain the facts to a Pepper aide. Pepper

was informed of his mistake and issued a retraction that fell short of the apology

Ball wanted, further enraging him."

Finally, Ball and Pepper clashed over the Florida East Coast Railway,

which eventually cost Pepper not only Ball's support, but that of many union

members. The state's other senator, Spessard Holland later wrote, "I could never

understand why [Pepper] would get into that fight .... I think it will haunt him for

the rest of his life."'2

For most people, the Florida East Coast Railway was a case so confusing

that it defied understanding. The original railroad had been built between 1885

and 1896 by Henry Flagler, who also developed hotels along the Florida's East

Coast. In the 1920s, the railroad floated $150 million worth of second general

mortgage refunding bonds to expand. Florida was in the midst of a boom and the

railroad was overwhelmed by the demands for freight hauling, and needed to

build a second track from Jacksonville to Miami. The railroad was hugely

profitable and it appeared to be a sound business decision. But the boom

collapsed in 1925. The railroad might have survived that, but the Great

Depression eliminated any chance that it could repay the bonds. In 1930, the

railroad defaulted on the bonds and, in 1931, collapsed amid a worsening

Depression. It was placed in receivership, and the value of its bonds declined



In 1940, Ed Ball began acquiring the bonds for pennies on the dollar and

eventually acquired effective control of the line. In an unbelievable statement,

the Ball forces denied that they had any thought of making money, but rather

wanted to guarantee "the preservation of an efficient and serviceable railroad

devoted to the welfare of the east coast of Florida." If Ball could purchase the

railroad at bargain-basement prices, reorganize it, and make it profitable, he

could make a fortune.

In 1941 the Interstate Commerce Commission began looking at possible

reorganization plans for the bankrupt railroad. The ICC came up with a solution,

but the United States District Court rejected it.14 Ball kept buying the bonds and

by 1944 he had acquired 51 percent. Ball wanted the railroad for himself, but

other bondholders thought they would do better to merge with the Atlantic Coast

Line Railroad. It looked as thought Ball was about to win when Pepper stepped

in and took the side of the Atlantic Coast Line. Pepper said it "would be against

the public interest" to put the railroad in Ball's hands.'5 Pepper launched a

campaign to deny Ball ownership of the railroad after the 1944 election. Perhaps

Pepper thought that with a six-year term to look forward to, and a friendly

president in the White House, he could afford to take on the man who had tried

to defeat him.

During the campaign, the Atlantic Coast Line Railway helped Pepper and

his friends obtain train reservations. It was no small task to find a seat during the

war, and took considerable influence to get a sleeping berth on short notice.


After the election, Pepper thanked the president of the Atlantic Coast Line for his

help. By this time, the two were on a first-name basis.'6

Ball launched a campaign to convince railroad employees that a merger

with the Atlantic Coast Line would cost many of them their jobs. The St.

Augustine Chamber of Commerce, where the railroad had its headquarters,

published a booklet supporting Ball.17

Pepper had managed to draw fire from both Ball and the railway workers,

and he then made the situation worse. The ICC agreed to hold a hearing on the

matter in November 1945 in West Palm Beach, while Pepper was making an ill-

fated trip to Russia. The president of the Atlantic Coast Line, Champion Davis,

sent a cable to Pepper in Rumania urging him to return to appear before the

hearing. Davis said Pepper would be ridiculed if he did not appear.' Pepper

replied that he did not "deem it necessary" to appear at the hearing.'1 It was

Pepper who had requested the November hearing in the first place, getting it

delayed from August.20 A lawyer for Ball later commented that Pepper had failed

to show up because he "was in Moscow learning about the party line."21 The

failure to appear brought Pepper widespread criticism, alienating everyone

involved in the case. He offended people who had been major supporters-the

union railroad employees and Ed Ball. Still, he wrote to a friend that "In the long

run, it will not have hurt me politically to have opposed Ed Ball and the Dupont

[sic] interests."2 The case dragged through the Interstate Commerce

Commission and the courts. It remained a major news story and made front-page

news again when the United States Supreme Court upheld a ruling that the

Interstate Commerce Commission could not force a merger. In 1961 Ball finally

obtained control of the 572-mile railroad.

The 1944 Election

In 1944 Pepper initially drew the opposition of three minor opponents in

the Democratic primary. Findley Moore, who had garnered one percent of the

vote in 1938, was back with his racist platform. Another candidate running on an

anti-black platform was Millard Conklin of Daytona Beach. Alston Cockrell of

Daytona Beach sought votes by leaving the impression that he was a member of

a well-known Florida family, even though he was not related to the well-known


With two months to go before the election, Pepper had not drawn a

significant opponent. Wilcox, the loser in 1938 and former Governor Doyle

Carlton, a loser in a 1936 Senate race, declined to run. Just fifty-seven days

before the May primary, Judge J. Ollie Edmunds of Jacksonville, a most unlikely

challenger, announced his candidacy.

Edmunds was a native of Georgia and the son of an itinerant lumber

worker. He put himself through Stetson University, working as a janitor, waiter,

and newspaper reporter, while earning his undergraduate and law degrees. In

1931 he was appointed to the county court in Jacksonville. He invested in timber

land and became wealthy. He had supported Pepper in 1934 and wrote to a

friend that he had a "high regard for Claude's ability," adding, "I should like to

see him in Washington."23 Edmunds was re-elected judge twice, but he was not

a natural politician. He was chosen by his fellow county judges as their lobbyist

in Tallahassee in 1941, but otherwise was unknown outside of Jacksonville.

Edmunds had almost no organization or campaign staff. He asked Ronald

Slye to be his campaign manager, an unusual choice since Slye had no political

experience. He was a salesman for a furniture manufacturer who had traveled

extensively throughout the state. His title was misleading for his role was largely

handling the luggage and making sure the candidate showed up for events on

time.24 Slye was not the only political novice in the campaign, most of those

involved were friends and neighbors who had never been involved in a political


Edmunds was a game candidate, working his way through every county in

the state, usually making three to five appearances a day.25 Political scientist V.

O. Key found that "Edmunds lacked Pepper's histrionic skills and his managers

handled his campaign ineptly."26 Edmunds called for less government but made

no campaign promises, while Pepper traveled the state making what the Miami

Herald said were too many promises.27 Edmunds had trouble remembering

people's names, a serious failing for a politician, and was chronically late for

appearances. Ronald Slye's wife remembered that her husband "was just

prodding him all the time [saying] 'come one, it's time to go, it's time to go.""2

Opposition to Pepper was led by Associated Industries, the Florida

branch of the National Association of Manufacturers, which was controlled by

Ball. He hired Dan Crisp, a Jacksonville public relations man, to lead the fight

against Pepper. "We just wanted to defeat Pepper. Those were my orders,"

Crisp said. Ball gave some money, but his real contribution was in getting others

to give, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of

Manufacturers, the American Medical Association, and dozens of others.29 But

the opposition was far from united. Many businesses were receiving lucrative

government contracts, and scores of military installations were springing up

around the state, creating thousands of jobs.

As in 1938, the Pepper campaign was seen as a referendum on the New

Deal and Franklin Roosevelt. A strong showing by Pepper would boost the

fourth-term aspirations of Roosevelt. A United Press story predicted, "The

showing Pepper makes in this election will serve in many quarters as a gauge

for estimating Pres. Roosevelt's fourth-term support in the 'solid South'... .If

Pepper gets a majority vote and is returned to the Senate without being forced

into a second primary, it will be considered an overwhelming victory for the New

Deal."30 To help him, Roosevelt asked Bernard Baruch-one of the wealthiest

businessmen in the United States-to send money to Pepper, saying it was


Florida was a difficult state for a politician who was not already well-

known to the voters. The size alone favored the incumbent. Its population

centers were far apart, and the areas in between were sparsely settled. Air travel

was not yet practical, and it took many hours to drive from one place to another.

The Democratic party in Florida was not tightly organized, and candidates

generally had to depend upon their own resources, ingenuity, and personality to

woo the voters. In the 1949, Key wrote, "The search for coherent, organized

political leadership in Florida seems futile in whatever direction one looks."3

There were few if any political groups that could deliver sizeable blocs of votes.

Incumbents with high name recognition benefitted from this situation, but it hurt a

candidate such as Edmunds, who needed to attract more than 100,000 voters in

less than two months.

Even a candidate with a clear and convincing message and plenty of

money would have had a difficult time, and Edmunds' campaign lacked both of

those. He ran as an opponent of the New Deal, but his message was usually

muddled, charging Pepper with indiscretions, but providing no specifics, and

calling Pepper, "the most notoriously absentee senator in Congress," although

the charge was not true."

It was Conklin and Moore, the two white supremacists, who raised race as

an issue and allowed Edmunds to exploit it. Conklin was confident that "The

issue that will defeat Pepper is the issue of white supremacy in the South," he

said." At issue was a 1942 appearance by Pepper at a black church in Los

Angeles. During the campaign, pictures of Pepper at the church began

appearing in fliers and in newspapers throughout Florida. Pepper tried to explain

the appearance through newspaper advertisement and in public statements.

Under a large headline which read: "Senator Pepper's Reply to His Opposition's

Cheap and Vicious Political Trick in Connection With His Appearance Before A

Negro Church Congregation," Pepper maintained, "The only speech I have ever

given to any Negro audience in California is a patriotic one I made... in the

pulpit of a Baptist Negro Church on a Sunday afternoon at the expressed

request of the members of the church. I said nothing indicating that I believe in

social equality because, of course, I do not."35

In the midst of the campaign, the Supreme Court ruled in Smith v.

Allwright (1944) that it was unconstitutional for the Texas Democratic party to bar

blacks from participating in primary. In Florida, like other states throughout the

South, the white primary system had effectively disfranchised blacks since the

turn of the century. Some blacks did vote, mainly for Republican candidates in

the general election and nearly always in larger cities such as Miami, Tampa,

Daytona Beach, and Jacksonville. But they were few in numbers and had little

effect on the election results. In some Florida counties in the 1940s. there were

no blacks registered to vote. Pepper had to react to the Smith v. Allwriaht ruling

to establish his credentials as an opponent of racial equality. "The South will

allow nothing to impair white supremacy," he said. Pepper advocated an end-run

around the Supreme Court ruling by trying to rewrite the requirements for voting

in the Democratic primary so that it would pass a constitutional test while

denying blacks the right to vote.3

Edmunds tried to exploit the race issue, running newspaper

advertisements calling Pepper "a man who stirs up racial strife and discord in

violation of Southern tradition." The advertisements said Edmunds believed that

"the party principle of white supremacy must be maintained."37 But Pepper's

strong defense of the white primary system, and statements on white supremacy,

kept Edmunds from successfully exploiting the issue.

Edmunds' other major primary issue was Pepper's support of the New

Deal. By 1944 the New Deal had become controversial with many believing it

was costing too much, robbing the individual of rights, and creating a huge

bureaucracy which was involved in every facet of American life. Speaking in

Miami, Edmunds said, "The daily life of every one of us has been so affected by

petty tyrants and bureaucratic dictators who was wasting billions of precious


The strangest disagreement in the campaign came over money. Although

both were running inexpensive campaigns, each accused the other of having

huge slush funds. Edmunds said, "A slush fund to stagger the imagination has

been raised by those who have grown rich from profiteering on war contracts.

This fund, reported to exceed $250,000, is being lavishly spent by the largest

political organization in Florida history. The war profiteers are opposed to Ollie

Edmunds. I am proud of it."3

Pepper saw it the other way. It was Edmunds who had unlimited money

provided by wealthy businessmen determined to drive Pepper from the Senate.


"They have offered every financial inducement, including financial security after

the campaign."" Columnist Drew Pearson, a friend of Pepper's, wrote, "the GOP

is pouring piles of money into the race" to defeat Pepper.41 Another columnist,

Marquis Childs wrote that "Pepper had the formidable enmity of wealthy

Northerners who have established residence in the resort state."42

Actually neither candidate had abundant funds. The financial status of the

Edmunds campaign is perhaps best illustrated by Cosby Haddock, Sr., a dairy

company employee, who was loaned to the Edmunds campaign as a driver and

advance man by his employer. Haddock said that on more than one occasion,

he had to share a hotel room with Edmunds, hardly a sign of a healthy financial


Both candidates followed a traditional pattern which included an

automobile tour of the state, and speeches at county courthouses. Both also

used radio to carry their speeches, although Pepper was more effective both in

arranging for broadcast time and in his presentation. The one-minute or thirty-

second commercial had not yet come to Florida and newspapers were the

primary vehicle for advertising. The real value of newspapers was not in the

advertisements but in the news columns and editorial pages. Newspapers

routinely used their news columns to voice support of a candidate, and this

coverage could be vital to a candidate. There were front page editorials and

cartoons either supporting a candidate or lampooning the opposition. Pepper

received the support of all but two of the state's newspapers, failing to get the


endorsements of those owned by Perry. With financing from Ball, Perry bought

daily and weekly Florida newspapers and soon owned a statewide media

empire. Perry had turned from a supporter into a vigorous opponent.

One editor, Martin Anderson, the owner of the Orlando Morning Sentinel

was typical of the publishers backing Pepper. He wrote, "Can a citizen of Florida

figure out any percentage in putting an anti-Roosevelt freshmen into the Senate

against a pro-Roosevelt young veteran who by 1949 easily may become one of

the outstanding figures of the world."44

The power of Pepper's relationship with Roosevelt was shown five days

before the election. The Gandy Bridge, connecting Tampa and St. Petersburg,

opened in 1924, and charged a thirty-five cent toll. For two decades, residents

complained about the toll, and asked the federal government to take over the

bridge and eliminate the toll. With the election days away, Roosevelt lifted the

toll as a wartime measure. The honor of making the announcement went to

Pepper. In Tampa and St. Petersburg there were celebrations and the schools of

St. Petersburg were closed the day after the announcement.45 Edmunds

maintained that the announcement killed his campaign. Although he did do

worse in Pinellas County than his statewide average, the difference was not

enough to give him a victory.4

In the May 2 election, Pepper received 194,445 votes, Edmunds 127,157,

Conklin 33,317, and the two other candidates received a total of 26,000 votes.

Pepper was held to 51.8 percent of the vote, just enough to win the election


without a runoff. A shift of just 5,000 votes from Pepper to the other candidates

would have forced Pepper into a runoff. It was not just that Pepper had come

close to being thrown into a runoff, it was that he lost support in every area of

the state. Even though the state's population had increased, along with voter

registration, Pepper received fewer votes in 53 of the state's 67 counties than he

had in 1938. In some counties his total declined by half. Pepper did well in Dade

County-which was already becoming a haven for retirees-but in the Gold Coast

counties, such as Palm Beach, where wealthy Northerners were flocking, Pepper

did poorly.47

Pepper seemed unfazed by his close call. In 1936 he won without

opposition, in 1938 he was re-nominated with 58 percent of the vote, and in

1944 won with just 52 percent. This came in an era when most Democrats in the

South were routinely returned to office with no opposition or only token

opposition. Pepper had another six years to mend his political fences.

Ball was angry at Edmunds for not attacking Pepper more. He said that he

had told Edmunds "he couldn't follow the Marquis of Queensberry rules in a

barroom brawl, but he wouldn't listen."48 But while Pepper won another six-year

term, Ball's campaign to unseat him continued. Crisp kept working to defeat

Pepper, creating The Florida Democratic Club as an umbrella group for all those

who wanted to see Pepper defeated in 1950.

During his first full term in the Senate, Pepper had emerged as a national

figure, known for his early condemnation of Hitler, his support of American aid to


Great Britain, and as a devoted New Dealer. Nevertheless, he had managed to

alienate some powerful interests in his home state, who could undermine in

senatorial career and his national ambitions. He seemed unmindful of the

political problems he was creating for himself as he resumed his seat in 1945.


1. Freeman Lincoln. "The Terrible-Tempered Mr. Ball." Fortune, November 1952,

2. Tracy Emanuel Danese, "Claude Pepper and Ed Ball: A Study in Contrasting
Political Purposes" (Ph.D. diss., Florida State University), 1997, 199-201.

3. New York Times, 5 August 1942.

4. Danese, 204.

5. Congress, Senate, Committee on Finance, "Revenue Act of 1943," 78*
Congress, 1l Session, December, 29, et.seq., 1943, 925. Danese, 201.

6. Pepper, Eyewitness, 117-118.

7. Pepper, Diary, 23 February 1944.

8. Danese, 208.

9. New York Times, 8 April 1944.

10. Ibid.

11. Danese, 210-211.

12. Spessard L. Holland to Ed Ball, 3 July 1958, box 812, file 77, Spessard
Holland papers, Florida State University Special Collections, Tallahassee,

13. Statement Regarding Reorganization Proceedings of the Florida East Coast
Railway by the Trustees of the Alfred I duPont Estate, July 1947. Pepper


14. Interstate Commerce Commission, Finance Docket 13170, 252 ICC 423,
1942, Pepper Papers.

15. Interstate Commerce Commission, Finance Docket 13170, in re Florida East
Coast Railway Reorganization, "Memorandum by Senator Claude Pepper of
Florida in support of a rehearing in this case, filed in his capacity as a citizen of
Florida and on behalf of the public," 13 April 1945. Pepper Papers.

16. Danese, 216.

17. St. Augustine Chamber of Commerce, "Why the Florida East Coast RWY.
Should be an Independent Railroad," in Pepper Papers.

18. Champion Davis to Pepper, 1 November 1945. Pepper Papers.

19. Pepper to James C. Clements, 3 November 1945. Pepper Papers.

20. Jacksonville Journal, 6 November 1945.

21. Transcript of Interstate Commerce Commission hearing, October 9, 1946,
4599-4601, Pepper Papers.

22. Pepper to Moorman M. Parrish, 29 December 1945, Pepper Papers.

23. Ollie Edmunds to Fred M. Ivey, 20 January 1934, Pepper Papers.

24. Mrs. Ronald Slye, interview by Evans Johnson, 13 June 1985.

25. Crosby S. Haddock, Sr., interview by author, 15 December 1985.

26. V.O. Key, Southern Politics in State and Nation (New York, Alfred A. Knopf,
1949), 98.

27. Miami Herald, 25 April 1944.

28. Slye, interview.

29. Robert Sherrill,"George Smathers, The South's Golden Hatchetman," In
Gothic Politics in the Deep South, (New York: Grossman, 1968), 143-144.

30. Orlando Morning Sentinel, 2 May 1944.

31. Henry A. Wallace, The Price of Vision, John M. Blum, ed. (Boston:
Houghton-Mifflin, 1973), 328.

32. Key, 99.

33. Pensacola Journal, 25 March 1944

34. Jacksonville Journal, 21 March 1944.

35. DeLand Sun-News, 29 April 1944.

36. Miami Daily News, 5 April 1944.

37. Orlando Mornina Sentinel, 29 March 1944

38. DeLand Sun News, 12 April 1944.

39. Winter Haven Chief, 13 April 1944.

40. Lakeland Ledger, 7 April 1944

41. Miami Herald, 1 April 1944.

42. St. Petersburg Times, 10 May 1944.

43. Haddock, interview.

44. Orlando Morning Sentinel, 26 April 1944.

45. Karl H. Grismer, The Story of St. Petersburg: The History of Lower Pinellas
Peninsula and the Sunshine City (St. Petersburg: P. K Smith, 1948), 142-43.

46. R. A. Gray, Secretary of State of Florida, Tabulation of Official Vote. Florida
Democratic Primary Election, May 2, 1944 (Tallahassee: State Printer, 1944), 6.

47. Ibid.

48. Lincoln, 158.


Once World War II started, Pepper began to think about the future-both

for himself and the world. He came to believe that world peace would be the

issue that would dominate politics in the post-war period, Seven weeks after the

Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Pepper wrote to his friend, Raymond Robins,

a Florida resident who was close to the Soviet leadership, "Of course, I am

concerned about winning the war. Very much concerned. But I am primarily

beginning to think about the Post War period, economically, politically,

spiritually.... I am doing what I can to foster an appreciation of the necessity of

some kind of a world governmental structure to be built upon the Post War


In April 1942-five months after Pearl Harbor-he submitted a resolution

calling for the United States to join a world organization after the war.2 For the

remainder of the war, Pepper continued his efforts to form a world organization.

He believed the issue would also increase his standing in the Senate. He told

his friend Sherman Minton he had "a feeling that I have gained somewhat in

influence in the Senate .... I have usually had to be so far ahead of the Senate

that I was constantly in an exposed position .... There is no need concealing

the fact that all of them have never thought that I was the greatest person in the


world."3 To Robins, he wrote that he had developed liberal groups in Michigan,

Indiana, Ohio, and Wisconsin to "work in the next Democratic Convention for a

liberal platform and a liberal candidate." A friend from Harvard Law School

began to work on a "plan for forming an organization on my behalf throughout

the country."4

As part of his effort to become a national political leader, he took a major

role in getting Henry Wallace confirmed as secretary of commerce in 1945. The

two men were devoted to the ideals of the New Deal and, from 1945 through

1948, they emerged as Washington's leading New Deal supporters and both

became estranged from the Democratic Party after Roosevelt's death. Wallace,

who was considered to be an extreme left-winger, and too friendly toward

Russia, was nominated for the cabinet post as a conciliation prize after losing

the vice presidency to Harry S Truman, but there was strong opposition in the

Senate. The Commerce Department had the responsibility for loaning money to

foreign nations, and there was a fear that he would use that power to loan

money to Russia. Pepper helped engineer a compromise in which Wallace was

confirmed, but lost the power to lend money. Although Pepper believed it had

enhanced his standing in the Senate and in the White House, the battle also

served to tie he and Wallace closer together in the mind of the public.5

The Truman Presidency

Roosevelt's sudden death in April 1945 was a severe blow to Pepper.

Roosevelt was his political hero, and Pepper was always the first to rally to a

Roosevelt idea and willing to lend his considerable oratorical skills to defend the

President on the Senate floor. It was a double blow because it placed Harry

Truman in the White House. Pepper believed that he or Wallace-not

Truman-was the logical heir to the Roosevelt political legacy. Years later, he

told an interviewer, "I liked Harry Truman, but he was not someone to take

seriously."6 It was an error on Pepper's part to underestimate Truman and would

eventually contribute to his 1950 defeat.

Pepper was not the only one to underestimate Truman. Time magazine

concluded that "Harry Truman is a man of distinct limitations, especially in high

level politics. He knows his limitations... In his administration there are likely to

be few innovations and little experimentation."7

Although the New Deal stumbled badly after 1936, its champions still saw

it as the best hope for the future of America. They were confident that Roosevelt

would engineer a comeback for the New Deal once the war was over. Liberals

questioned whether Truman would continue Roosevelt's policies. Five months

after Roosevelt's death, Truman urged a continuation of Roosevelt's domestic

programs, an ambitious reorganization of the executive branch, increases in the

minimum wage, greater rights for collective bargaining, more public works and a

permanent Fair Employment Practices Committee permanent. He also talked

about better housing and health care. Truman said, "Let us make the attainment

of those rights the essence of postwar American life," he said.8 As Donald R.

McCoy has observed, Truman's domestic program was more than a warmed

over New Deal.' Former New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia said, "Franklin

Roosevelt is not dead."10

Although Pepper had reservations about Truman, the new president had

disliked Pepper since their days in the Senate. After becoming president,

Truman discussed Pepper with Henry Wallace and other members of his

cabinet. Wallace recorded that Truman, "... has a very deep animus against

Pepper. He says Pepper's only motive is to get publicity." Truman said that while

the two were at the Bath Shipyards in Maine during the war, and he was

speaking, Pepper tried to take the microphone away from him. Truman told the

cabinet that "all that was necessary to get 90 percent of the senators against

anything was to have Claude Pepper come out on the floor for it.""

Truman and the Liberals

Pepper was not alone in his feelings about Truman. Many liberals saw

disturbing signs in Truman's actions. The Roosevelt cabinet, with its strong

liberal element, began to change under Truman. Within four months after taking

office, only Wallace and Interior Secretary Harold Ickes were left from the


Roosevelt cabinet, and they were eventually cast aside. One study found that 80

percent of Truman's most significant appointments in 1945 and 1946 went to

businessmen, corporate lawyers, bankers and military men."12

As historian Robert Griffith wrote, "While he pledged himself to

Roosevelt's reform agenda in his September 1945, address to Congress, there

was a wide discrepancy between the new Chief Executive's words and

actions."13 One critic, historian Susan Hartmann suggested that Truman words

were part of a strategy designed to create liberal issues, not to secure

enactment of liberal programs."1 Still he faced a Republican Congress beginning

in 1947, and had little leverage in getting legislation passed.

Roosevelt intimate Tommy Corcoran told Alabama Senator Lister Hill that

such New Dealers as Wallace, Pepper, William O. Douglas and Hugo Black,

"had the world in their hands last year, and now they're just a bunch of political

refugees. ... a helpless bunch of sheep."15 Pepper and the other New Dealers

found themselves on the outside, their advice no longer sought, their

participation in the highest political councils no longer wanted. Under Roosevelt,

Pepper was a frequent visitor at the White House, and could count on the

president for assistance.

Pepper must have wondered how Truman, a virtual stranger to Roosevelt,

could have ended up as president. During the 1944 campaign, Roosevelt and

Truman had never campaigned together, and as vice president, Truman had

held just three brief meetings with Roosevelt. During those three meetings,

Roosevelt failed to give him any assignments, tell him what the administration

was doing-especially the development of the atomic bomb-and made no effort

to keep him informed of domestic or foreign policy issues.16

Truman faced huge problems. Millions of soldiers were clamoring to get

out of the service, at home people were tired of doing without a long list of

rationed items, businesses wanted to get back to producing consumer

merchandise, and the labor unions were displaying increasing militancy.

Beginning in late 1945, unions staged a record numbers of strikes as workers

sought to gain the pay raises they felt had been lost during the war. There were

strikes in nearly every industry, steel, coal lumber, shipping, railroads. In all,

four-and-a-half million workers walked off the job in more than five thousand

strikes in 1945 and 1946.17 In some cases, the strikes forced Truman to take

anti-union positions, alienating the Democrats' most faithful supporters.

Truman's problems hurt his popularity ratings and by July, Pepper was

expressing more misgivings about Truman. To Wallace, Pepper "spoke at some

little length about his disillusion about the way things were going. He seemed to

think there was danger of the present administration making many of the same

mistakes that the Harding administration made."'" Some of his dislike of Truman

may have come from Pepper's belief that he or Wallace, not Truman, should

have had the 1944 vice presidential nomination, and thus the presidency.

On July 30, 1945, Pepper received an unsigned memorandum entitled

"Your Personal Future." The plan called for Pepper to join the Truman ticket as a

vice presidential candidate in 1948, then become the Presidential nominee in

1952. Pepper was urged to be "an independent party regular with a personal

following." The memo advised him to become "the prophet of the future ... the

most active and best publicized liberal." But the memorandum cautioned that

"The path of Pepper's significance does not lie in international affairs. It only lies

specifically in the applications of the world trend in internal politics."'1

While Pepper accepted some of the advice, he rejected one part of it that

cost him dearly. Instead of working to get on a ticket with Truman, he did as

much as he could to antagonize the President. Instead of concentrating on

domestic issues, he devoted his attention to foreign affairs, using his seat on the

Senator Foreign Relations Committee to push his views. Pepper may have felt

that pushing a domestic agenda could not advance his political fortunes. Some

other Southerners had a national reputation, but there was one reality all

Southern politicians faced: the race issue. Although it proved to be his undoing,

Pepper's only route to higher office was through international affairs as he saw

it. If he could become a world figure, it might overcome his region's racial views

and secure his national ambitions.

During World War II, there was a feeling-and certainly a hope-that

America and the Soviet Union might be able to maintain their good relationship

after the war. Fortune magazine conducted a public opinion survey in 1943 that

revealed that 81 percent of Americans thought the United States and Russia

should work as equal partners after the war. There were attempts to make the


Russians look like Americans. Look magazine, seeking to make Stalin look like a

regular guy, published a cover story entitled, "A Guy Named Joe." Collier's

magazine offered a special issue which concluded that the Russian form of

communism wasn't so bad, but simply a "modified capitalist set-up," moving

toward democracy.0 Life magazine called the Russians, "one hell of a people,

who look like Americans, dress like Americans and think like Americans." Stalin's

brutal secret police were described as "a national police similar to the FBI."2'

Pepper was one of the millions of Americans who shared the hope that

Russia and the United States would coexist peacefully. In June 1945, in a

nationwide radio address in June 1945, Pepper spoke on behalf of loaning

money to Russia to rebuild when the war ended. "The next thing that we have

got to understand with our heads and our hearts is that we cannot have world

well being unless we help one another economically. We cannot have full

employment, we cannot have prosperity, we cannot have stable political

conditions or economic conditions unless the world generally is well off."'

Pepper in Russia

In August 1945, one week after the war ended in Japan, Pepper left for a

tour of Europe and the Soviet Union. Although he said he was going in an

official capacity as a member of the Small Business Committee to look for

foreign trade opportunities, he went at his own expense." To finance the trip,

Pepper agreed to write a series of articles for the North American Newspaper

Alliance, a newspaper syndicate. The syndicate, in turn, sold the articles to a

number of newspapers including The New York Times. He was paid $1,000 for

articles about his trip.24 It was a most unusual arrangement; he met with world

leaders as a member of the United States Senate, then wrote a story about the

meeting as a journalist. The leaders he interviewed assumed he was

approaching them as a member of the United States Senate, not as a journalism.

He first visited London, Paris, Frankfurt, and Berlin. In Berlin he inspected Adolf

Hitler's office in the Reich Chancellery and the air raid shelter "in which he and

Eva Braun are supposed to have committed suicide. I don't believe either of

them is dead."25

On September 14, he flew to Moscow to meet with Soviet dictator Joseph

Stalin. The interview lasted one hour, but haunted Pepper for the remainder of

his Senate career. United States Ambassador Averill Harriman was out of the

country when Pepper arrived, and it fell to diplomat George F. Kennan to

arrange the interview. Kennan was clearly outraged that Pepper was traveling as

both a Senator and a journalist. Kennan thought he was setting up a private and

confidential meeting with Stalin for a member of the Senate Foreign Relations

Committee. On the evening before the interview, Pepper told Kennan about the

newspaper deal. "I recall only a sense of hopelessness I experienced in trying to

explain to the Russians why a distinguished statesman, discussing serious

problems of international affairs with a foreign governmental leader, would be


interested in exploiting for a very minor private gain whatever value the interview

might have," Kennan wrote."

But Pepper was not the only one exploiting the meeting. The Russians

were able to use it to obtain something they sorely needed-positive publicity.

Pepper went on Soviet radio to make a speech, which was printed and

distributed by the Russians. In his radio address, he called Stalin "one of the

great men of history and of the world," and predicted that "Russia's greatest era

lies not in her glorious past but in her future." He concluded by praising the

Russians for working toward "the destruction of tyranny and the restoration of

freedom and independence in the world.'27

As part of his writing assignment, he wrote in The New York Times that he

was "privileged to talk with the single most powerful man in the world, the man

who is going to determine in a large way what kind of world ours is to be."" Most

Americans believed that it was the president of the United States who was the

most powerful man in the world, not Stalin. In his regular column to Florida

newspaper, Pepper continued to praise Stalin and the Russians: 'The Russians

like the Americans. They are generally a friendly agreeable people." Pepper said

he did not think the Russians had aggressive intentions and urged the United

States to cooperate with them.29

In his private notes, Pepper wrote, "As for foreign policy, the objective of

the Soviet Union was to collaborate with other nations of the world in keeping

peace."3 He said that when he and Stalin first met, Stalin asked about his age.


Pepper said he was forty-five years old. Stalin said, "I envy you." Pepper replied,

'There are a great many who envy you, too." As a present, Pepper gave Stalin a

copy of a Henry Wallace book, Sixty Million Jobs.31

His statements drew increasing attention from the Daily Worker, the

communist party newspaper, with his trip abroad receiving regular coverage in

the newspaper. When Pepper visited Paris, the paper reported, "Senator Claude

Pepper urged in Paris that the atom bomb be placed at the disposal of the

Military Staffs Committee of the United Nations."32

In December 1945, Pepper returned to the United States after four

months in Europe and encountered a strong wave of criticism in Florida. The

Fort Lauderdale News said, "Claude Pepper believes in Communism. WE DO

NOT. That's why we suggest that the sooner you realize he is NOT a part of

OUR AMERICAN WAY OF LIFE the better off we all will be."' Even Pepper's

friends were alarmed at the trip and its results. One wrote to a Pepper aide, 'The

Florida crackers are not interested in statesmanship, and they are not interested

in Europe and world affairs. They are principally selfish and they think the

Senator should be devoting his time and talent to the narrow interests of the

state of Florida only, and it is going to take some good work... to overcome the

ground that has been lost by his prolonged trip to Europe." One constituent

advised that Pepper would do better to "spend more time in Florida and devote

more attention to local problems."'3 Pepper thought his trip could "make a

greater contribution to future peace ... and even if defeat should be the price

still I would have no complaint." He said he thought constituents "are going to

complain always when I don't devote my whole time to their petty, personal

matters," and felt he had five years to repair his base in Florida." Perhaps if he

had started mending his relations with Florida voters then, he could have

recovered by 1950 and won re-election. But for Pepper, things only got worse.

He was never able to admit that the trip was a political mistake.

While he was away, there was a sea change in public opinion about the

Soviets. Beginning in late 1945, the leaders of the West came to believe that the

Soviets did not want peace, but rather wanted domination.37 Secretary of State

James F. Bymes reached what he thought was an understanding with the

Russians over the structure of the governments in Romania and Bulgaria so that

they would include more non-Communists. But many thought Bymes was going

too easy on the Russians. Within the State Department there were cries that

Bymes had not done enough for Romania and Bulgaria, and in Congress,

Republicans complained that Bymes had given too much to the Soviets in

agreeing to share some atomic controls. Truman was angry because Bymes had

made the decisions without consultation with the White House. When Bymes

returned to Washington from Europe, an angry Harry Truman told him, "I do not

think we should play compromise any longer ... I'm tired of babying the

Soviets."3 Truman decided not to make further concessions to the Russians."

Truman saw a shift in American attitudes toward Russia, and thought correctly

that the Republicans would make it a campaign issue in 1946.4 Stalin stoked the

fires with a rare speech in February 1946 in which he said communism and

capitalism were incompatible.41

The Growing Soviet Threat

As 1946 began, the liberal movement in the United States split over the

question of how to deal with the Soviet Union. Eventually, two wings emerged.

One supported Truman's hard line policy toward the Soviet Union and was

represented by such groups as the Americans for Democratic Action. The ADA

saw the Soviet Union as a military threat and supported continuation of the New

Deal. The other, the National Citizens' Political Action Committee (NC-PAC),

believed the key to peace was through the maintenance of good relations

between the United States and the Soviet Union. That group was willing to

overlook Soviet aggression in Eastern Europe to maintain peace. They

supported Soviet-American unity and were allied with the Congress of Industrial

Organizations. Both Pepper and Henry Wallace became frequent speakers at

NC-PAC events. Wallace was committed to NC-PAC, and Pepper certainly

agreed with its goals.42 NC-PAC and the Independent Citizens Committee of the

Arts, Sciences, and Professions merged to form the Progressive Citizens of

America. The PCA had a number of Communists and fellow travelers among its

members, but that did not deter Pepper from speaking at its rallies. The group

could turn out thousands to cheer for Pepper, crowding his schedule with

appearances throughout the country. As Walter Reuther once observed,

"Communists perform the most complete valet service in the world... they

provide you with applause, and they inflate your ego."4

On February 27, 1946, Pepper spoke at the Red Army Day dinner in

Chicago to raise money for Russian relief. According to an account in the Daily

Worker, Pepper "wished a long life to the Red Army as a warning to all tyrants

who might attempt conquest." Pepper said that the Soviet people want

friendship but "our handling of the atom bomb does not east their minds."44

There had been hopes that the United States would share the secret of the

bomb, perhaps though the United Nations. Any chance that the atomic bomb

would be placed under international control died with the growing anti-Soviet

feeling in the United States.

The anti-Soviet sentiment was given a boost early in 1946, when former

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill arrived in the United States for an

extended vacation. In March, he spoke in Fulton, Missouri as Truman looked

on. He warned that, ". .. an iron curtain has descended across the Continent."

He seemed to be seeking an Anglo-American alliance to stand up to the

Soviets. The following day, Pepper and two fellow senators, Harley M. Kilgore

and Glen Taylor, criticized Churchill's speech. They said such an Anglo-

American alliance would "cut the throat" of the United Nations.4

On March 20, 1946, Pepper attempted to explain his views in a major

Senate speech. He urged the United States to "destroy every atomic bomb

which we have, and smash every facility we possess which is capable of

producing only destructive forms of atomic energy." He also urged an

immediate summit meeting between Britain, Russia, and the United States.46

The speech received little coverage from mainstream newspapers in the United

States, but was embraced by the Daily Worker. The front page headline read

"TREAT U.S.S.R. AS FRIEND PEPPER URGES," and the story said that

Pepper had "collided head on with the anti-Soviet hysteria now gripping the

capital."47 On April 4, Pepper made another Senate speech, this one entitled

"Peace Through Equal Justice For All Nations." He sharply criticized the foreign

policy of Great Britain. Calling the United States the "guarantor of British

imperialism." Pepper's speech implied that it was Britain, not the Soviet Union,

that was responsible for the problems in the world.4

The speech brought him the greatest criticism of his career, unleashing a

stream of negative publicity that would continue until his 1950 defeat. He was

out of step with the American people. A survey found that 60 percent thought

the United States was too soft in dealing with Russia.4 The decline was

dramatic. In March 1945, a public opinion survey showed that 55 percent of

Americans said the United States could trust Russia. One year later, the

percentage had fallen to 35 percent."

The day after Pepper gave the speech, Florida's senior senator, Charles

O. Andrews, demanded an apology. Andrews said Pepper's speech, "does not

represent the feeling and sentiment of the great mass of people of Florida."

Andrews singled out Pepper's charge that the United States and Britain were

"ganging up" against Russia, but said he did not agree with "any part of his

statement."51 Pepper did not respond to Andrews, and did nothing to slow down

his criticism of American foreign policy and general praise of the Soviet Union.

In the United States, the only praise Pepper received came from the

Daily Worker. In an editorial, the paper said Pepper's speech "can well be

studied by every patriotic American .... It should raise to new heights the fight

for an affirmative foreign policy for our nation."52 Russian newspapers gave

Pepper's remarks more attention than a major speech by Truman in Chicago.'

The Washington Post carried an editorial entitled "Red Herring." It was the first

time the word "Red" had been used in print in connection with Pepper. The

editorial said, If he keeps it up, he will be making a strong bid for the distinction

of being America's number one white-washer of aggression. .. .We don't see

how the Senator's constituents can avoid asking him where his loyalties lie.""

Before the controversy had quieted over his April speech, Pepper set off

another firestorm with an April 8" article in The New Republic. In it he wrote,

"The United States is nursing exclusive possession of the atomic bomb, seeking

globe-girdling military bases and considering military conscription." Pepper

again proposed the destruction of all atomic weapons, called on the United

Nations Security Council to establish the joint occupation of all strategic bases

outside their own homelands, and equal access to raw materials for all


In Moscow, Pepper's article received extensive coverage in the

Russian newspaper, Pravda. A telegram to Secretary of State James F.

Byres from the American Embassy in Moscow noted that the Russian

newspaper "prominently publishes abbreviated translation of Pepper's New

Republic article." The telegram also noted the Russian newspapers reported

on a Pepper speech, "in which he accuses the British of 'desiring to force

US to shed American blood so that British may rule Palestine as a colony,'

and asserts that US too often supports British in British-Soviet conflicts on

interest in Europe and Middle East.""

Pepper's remarks and writings also brought scrutiny from the Federal

Bureau of Investigation. The Bureau prepared a memorandum about

Pepper's association with groups suspected of being communist fronts. The

May 1 memo from FBI official D. M. Ladd to Director J. Edgar Hoover

included a note, "I thought you would be interested in the following

information further pointing out Senator Pepper's pro-Russian attitude." At

the bottom of the note, Hoover wrote a personal note ordering that the report

be sent to Truman aide Harry Vaughan at the White House.s5 "I thought the

President and you would be interested in the following information...

concerning the continued pro-Russian attitude of Senator Claude Pepper

about whom previous information has been furnished to you by me.'"

A second memo from Ladd to Hoover contended that "Senator

Pepper has been associated with, given approval to, or spoken before at

least twenty-three Communist Front organizations .... Pepper has

consistently followed the general Communist Party line in his political views

since as early as 1940."59

The memo also noted that "a number of his speeches since early

1946 have been written by individuals who are prominent Communists or

who travel in high Communist circles.0 The speech writer the memo referred

to was Charles Kramer, who was also known as Charles Krivitsky and

Charles Krevisky. Kramer, who had been active in communist affairs,

worked for Pepper's House Subcommittee on Wartime Health and Education

beginning in 1945. Kramer had editor of the Communist publication "New

Masses" until 1931, and had been identified as a Communist and a member

of the "Soviet espionage apparatus." The FBI identified Kramer as the

source of government information being passed to the Soviets. Beginning in

1946, the FBI placed Kramer under surveillance. In March, the surveillance

showed that Pepper held a meeting in his office with Kramer and three other

men suspected of being involved in Soviet espionage. In 1947 the

surveillance took them to Pepper's Washington apartment, where Pepper

met with Kramer and three others with communist links for more than six


It is not known whether Pepper knew of Kramer's links to the

Communist Party, or those of his associates. But for a man already linked to

left-wing causes, hiring someone such as Kramer only served to rouse the


interest of the FBI. After leaving the Senate, Robert M. LaFollette published

an article in which he said that four Senate committees, including Pepper's,

had been infiltrated by Communists. LaFollette wrote, that the staff of the

Pepper subcommittee, "Probably did great harm to the cause of improved

health in this country by its reckless activities."62 When Kramer's past

became public, Pepper fired him.

Pepper managed to further connect himself to communists with an ill-

advised decision to write the introduction for a book entitled The Great

Conspiracy, a blatantly pro-Communist book published by the International

Workers Order, which was linked to Communists. Pepper wrote that "A

continuation of the disastrous policies of anti-Soviet intrigue so vividly

described in this book would inevitably result in a Third World War."6 From

Kramer to Wallace to Raymond Robins, nearly all of the people Pepper

listened to were on the far left.

Even when he engaged in national affairs, Pepper managed to anger

Truman. A nationwide strike of railroad workers had disrupted the nation's

transportation system. On May 17, Truman seized the railroads under his

wartime powers, but workers walked off the job on May 23. Truman asked

Congress for the authority to draft the workers. The House went along, but

the Senate balked, largely because of the opposition of the Senate

Republican leader Robert A Taft, and Pepper. Pepper said he saw nothing


which "justified the effort which was made to rush, in a unseemly and hasty

manner, this measure into law.'64

Truman expected Taft's opposition, but was very angry about

Pepper's criticism. At a cabinet luncheon in late May, the discussion

centered on the railroad legislation. According to Wallace, Truman said

"Pepper Is purely opportunistic."6 The opposition of Taft and Pepper slowed

down what had been a stampede to draft the workers. The measure was

defeated 70 to 13. As historian David McCullough observed, it failed with

"the initial cries of Taft and Pepper having grown to a chorus."" Although

Pepper thought he had done the right thing, his union support did little to

help him in Florida, and his opposition served to separate him further from


Pepper's main concern remained international affairs, and he

believed Truman was pursuing a disastrous course. He wrote to Robins

complaining, "This that we are doing now is essentially American

imperialism as the imperialists of McKinley's day.... They want the United

States to dominate the world's economy and with our own force give shape

and direction to the whole trend of things on earth."67

It was a heady time for Pepper. He had met with world leaders,

including Stalin, fought and won a battle with President Truman, had a

calendar full of speaking engagements throughout the nation, and his

opinion was routinely sought by journalists. His political successes fueled

his ambition for higher office. Amid all of this Pepper failed to see that his

actions were hurting him in Florida and would imperil his re-election in 1950.


1. Pepper to Raymond Robins, 28 January 1942, Pepper Papers.

2. United States Congress, Senate, Resolution 135, 78" Cong., 1 Sess., 1943,

3. Pepper to Sherman Minton, 10 March 1945, Pepper Papers.

4. Pepper to Robins, 21 May 1945, Pepper Papers.

5. Pepper to Minton, 10 March 1945, Pepper Papers.

6. David McCullough, Truman (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992), 220.

7. Joseph G. Goulden, The Best Years. 1945-1960 (New York: Atheneum,
1976), 61.

8. Donovan, Robert J., Conflict and Crisis: The Presidency of Harry S Truman,
1945-1948 (New York: Norton, 1977), 113.

9. Donald R. McCoy, The Presidency of Harry S. Truman (Lawrence: University
of Kansas Press, 1984), 44.

10. William H. Chafe, The Unfinished Journey: America Since World War II
(New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), 81.

11. Wallace, 575.

12. Chafe, 82.

13. Robert Griffith, "Truman and the Historians: The Reconstruction of Postwar
American History," Wisconsin Magazine of History, 59 (Autumn 1950): 34.

14. Susan M. Hartmann, Truman and the 80" Congress. (Columbia, Mo.:
University of Missouri Press, 1971), 113-214.

15. Virginia Van der Veer Hamilton, Lister Hill: Statesman from the South
(Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1987), 133.

16. Goulden, 61.

17. John Patrick Diggins, The Proud Decades: America in War and Peace,
1941-1960 (New York: Norton, 1988), 101.

18. Wallace, 464-465.

19. Unsigned memorandum to Pepper, 30 July 1945, Pepper Papers.

20. Martin Walker, The Cold War: A History (New York, Henry Holt and Co.,
1993), 29-30.

21. Ibid.

22. "The American Forum of the Air, 5 June 1945, broadcast transcript, Pepper

23. New York Times, 15 August 1945.

24. New York Times, 1 October 1945.

25. Pepper, "Russia In Transition," newspaper column, 27 September 1945,
Pepper Papers.

26. George F. Kennan, Memoirs. 1925-1950 (Boston: Atlantic-Little Brown,
1967), 278.

27. Embassy of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, Information Bulletin, 2
October 1945, Pepper Papers.

28. New York Times, 1 October 1945.

29. Pepper, "Russia In Transition."

30. Pepper, notes, 14 September 1945, Pepper Papers.

31. Ibid.

32. Daily Worker, 7 February 1945.

33. Fort Lauderdale News, 21 September 1945.

34. Moorman M. Parrish to James C. Clements, 20 November 1945, Pepper

35. R. K. Lewis to Robert W. Fokes, 22 October 1945, Pepper Papers.

36. Pepper to Parish, 17 December 1945, Pepper Papers.

37. Walker, 31.

38. Ibid., 36-37.

39. John Lewis Gaddis, The United States and the Origins of the Cold War.
1941-1947 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1972), 284.

40. Ibid., 289.

41. Ibid., 299.

42. Hamby, Beyond the New Deal (New York: Columbia University Press, 1973),

43. Diggins, 105.

44. Daily Worker, 27 February 1946.

45. Gaddis, 309.

46. Congressional Record, 79th Cong., 2nd sess., vol. 92: 2463.

47. Daily Worker, 21 March 1946.

48. Congressional Record, 79th Cong., 2nd sess., vol. 92: 3087.

49. Gaddis, 315.

50. Melvyn P. Leffler, A Preponderance of Power: National Security, the Truman
Administration, and the Cold War (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press,
1992), 106.

51. The New York Times, 6 April 1946.

52. Daily Worker, 6 April 1946.

53. The New York Times, 10 April 1946.

54. The Washington Post, 10 April 1946.

55. The New Republic, 8 April 1946, p. 471.

56. Department of State, telegram to Secretary of State, 28 June 1945, File 94-
4-684-47, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Washington, D.C.

57. D. M. Ladd to J. Edgar Hoover, 1 May 1946, File 94-4-684-54, Federal
Bureau of Investigation, Washington, D.C. Hereafter referred to as FBI Pepper

58. Hoover to Brigadier General Harry Vaughan, 9 May 1946, FBI Pepper file.

59. Ladd to Hoover, 28 March 1947, FBI Pepper file.

60. Ibid.

61. Ibid.

62. Earl Latham, The Communist Controversy in Washington: From the New
Deal to McCarthy (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1966), 110, 121.

63. Michael Sayers and Albert E. Kahn, The Great Conspiracy Against Russia
(New York: International Workers Order, 1946), 1.

64. Congressional Record, 79th Congress, 2nd Session, vol. 92, 5819-5822.

65. Wallace, 575.

66. McCollough, 506.

67. Pepper to Robins, 5 June 1946.


From 1944 to 1950, Pepper received a stream of negative publicity for his

support of the Soviet Union. Except for the Soviet newspaper, Pravda, and the

newspaper of the American Communist Party, Daily Worker, it is difficult to find a

pro-Pepper article in any newspaper or magazine. Time, Newsweek, U.S. News,

and nearly all of the Florida newspapers criticized Pepper harshly and often. As

for his hope of being a national candidate, only the Daily Worker saw him as a

viable candidate. On June 6, a Daily Worker story headlined "More Third Party

Talk," said, "Senator Claude Pepper, rather than Henry Wallace, is the figure

most often mentioned as a possible standard bearer .... The Floridian has

caught the public imagination."'

In the wake of his speech about Britain and his stand in the railroad case,

it was difficult to pick up a magazine or newspaper and not read an article about

Pepper. The day after the Daily Worker article appeared, United States News

carried a story on Pepper with the headline, "Senator Pepper's Emergence as

Champion of Left-Wing Groups." The story was unflattering both in its tone and

selection of facts. "Senator Claude Pepper has bobbed up suddenly as an

outstanding hero of the labor unions and leader of the country's liberal to


leftward groups. ... In such circles and among labor leaders, Senator Pepper's

name now is being bracketed with that of Henry A. Wallace when 1948

presidential campaigning is discussed."2

The stories about Pepper were increasingly hostile. A Washington Times-

Herald columnist sought to link Pepper to the communists, when he spoke to the

American Slav Congress, a group with strong links to Communists. "I heard from

the lips of that great soldier, that dynamic leader, the man that drove the Nazis

out of Yugoslavia, Marshal Tito, the story of the partisan struggle in Yugoslavia..

.. I saw a republic being born in Yugoslavia," Pepper told the group.3

At the end of August, the Saturday Evening Post, one of the largest

magazines in America, published an article entitled "Pink Pepper." The article

said, "The Communist press whoops it up for Pepper because he has been

taking Russia's side in international disputes .... When he first came to the

Senate he followed the straight Roosevelt line. People said he was a stooge, a

mere loud mouth from the South. But that still leaves Pepper himself

unexplained. What is he up to?"4 It was a good question. With the election still

two years away, he had tried to cast himself as a running mate for both Truman

or Wallace, and as a presidential candidate himself.

Three months after carrying a critical profile of Pepper, United States

News again reported on Pepper's activities. Senator Claude Pepper, a

foremost advocate of a go-easy with Russia policy, is emerging as the forthright

leader of America's more extreme or radical liberals.... Mr. Pepper more


recently has been building a record that led some to accuse him of following the

Communist line..... The Senator, of course, has his eye on the Presidency.'"

The same week, Newsweek also contained an unflattering article.

"Months ago talk on the left fringe of American politics had begun to revolve

about Pepper as the best for Democratic Vice President or third-party leader in

1948. At 46, Pepper appears to regard himself as a man of considerable

destiny." Newsweek repeated Pepper's praise of Tito in Chicago.6

In October, there were two more critical articles in national publications.

The American Mercury ripped him as "Claude Denson Pepper of Florida-the

current darling of the ultra-left wing press .... the fellow who made a pilgrimage

to the Kremlin for a cozy, confidential chat with Comrade Stalin barely a year

after he had campaigned for the Senate re-election on a platform that included

white supremacy for the South" The magazine became the first to write Pepper's

political obituary. "Pepper's career has probably reached its zenith. Though the

United States electorate makes mistakes, it is usually quick to tell the synthetic

or imported from the genuine."7

The second article appeared in a magazine with a small circulation, but

with a major impact. Medical Economics was read primarily by doctors, who were

already suspicious of Pepper's views of government-funded medical care. "He

represents, not Florida, but that vague area known as the left-of-the CIO-PAC,

the American Labor Party, and the 'friends of the Soviet Union.'... The big red

faced gentleman from Florida has an uncanny talent for making the opposition

look bad. And he has no compunction about selecting facts to gain an end. '"

Despite the criticism, Pepper continued to attack American foreign policy

and urge support for Russia. Speaking at a Labor Day Rally in Los Angeles,

Pepper said, "These foolish people who tell us we can never get along with

Russia and encourage us to widen instead of bridge the gap between the two

nations, who want us to go back to the Hoover and Coolidge and Harding enmity

for Russia instead of the Roosevelt friendship, will divide the race of Man into

two mutually destructive forces."9 Pepper saw himself as pursuing the policy

Roosevelt would have followed if he had lived. As Newsweek observed, "His

colleagues believe he has become convinced that he is heir to FDR's big

mantle, especially in matters concerned with foreign policy, and that he speaks

today as FDR would have spoken."'0 There was reason for Pepper to feel that

way. Three days before he died, Roosevelt had written a letter to Pepper that

influenced him for the remainder of his career. Regarding Pepper's views on

foreign policy, Roosevelt wrote, "I like what you say, and it is perfectly clear that

fundamentally you and I mean exactly the same thing." Referring to the

Russians, Roosevelt wrote, "nations are coequal and therefore any treaty must

represent compromises." As the Truman administration became more

antagonistic toward Russia, Truman remembered Roosevelt's words and thought

he was doing as Roosevelt would have done."


Time after time, Pepper took to the Senate floor to explain his position in

lengthy speeches. He thought the United States should loan money to help

Russia rebuild from the devastation of World War II. In 1943 there had been

discussions about a loan to the Russians, who wanted a billion dollars. The loan

had widespread backing, including support from Treasury Secretary Henry

Morgenthau, Jr., and the president of the United States Chamber of Commerce.

But the loan clashed with Truman's increasingly hostile view of the Soviets. The

Russians filed a loan request in August 1945, but seven months later, the State

Department, in a silly statement, announced that it had lost the application.12

Pepper called for Truman to meet face to face with Stalin (there was no meeting

between an American president and a Soviet leader between 1945 and 1955),

but no one was willing to listen. Just as they had when he called for greater

military preparedness before World War II, he was ridiculed and isolated. As

Thomas Paterson observed, "His opponents were annoyed by his persistent

questioning, derived largely from his belief that Americans applied one set of

standards to the international behavior of other countries and another set to that

of the United States.""3

The 1946 Elections

Despite the negative publicity, Pepper began to discuss openly his

national ambitions. A small publication, Readers Scope, carried a series of

articles about possible presidential candidates and included Pepper as one of

the potential candidates. He received encouragement from Dr. Francis E.

Townsend, the father of the pension plan which bore his name. Townsend wrote,

"I think you are the logical choice for the Democrats as candidate for the

presidency."14 Pepper also began to get questions from reporters about his

political ambitions. On August 13, he had a conversation with reporters in which

he discussed numerous possibilities for 1948. The United Press story showed

Pepper to be aligning himself with anyone who would have him. He said he

would "not run away" from the Democratic presidential nomination, although he

predicted Truman would be re-elected. Pepper also said he would be delighted

to be a vice presidential candidate for either Truman or Wallace, but said he

preferred Wallace. "I would be happy to be on a ticket with anyone." The wire

service story caught the eye of the Truman's staff and was placed in the files of

Truman's secretary.Is

Pepper saw the 1946 congressional elections as a referendum on his

views. Victories by liberal Democrats would show that there was support for his

position, he believed. He traveled throughout the country in the summer and fall

of 1946, campaigning for Democratic candidates. But Pepper's tour was a

disaster. Although he had bragged about how many invitations he had received

to speak, most were from far left-wing groups. In Boston on October 9, his

speech was boycotted by the Democratic candidates he was supposed to be

speaking for.16 In Michigan, he was heckled when he spoke on behalf of a

candidate opposing Republican Senator Arthur H. Vandenberg.'7

The most memorable appearance came in September. The left-wing

National Citizens Political Action Committee and the Independent Citizens

Committee of the Arts, Sciences, and Professionals planned a huge political rally

at Madison Square Garden as part of the campaign against New York Gov.

Thomas Dewey's re-election. NC-PAC, a creation of those who wanted close

relations with Russia, later evolved into Wallace's Progressive Party." Pepper

was a favorite speaker at NC-PAC events. The main speaker was Wallace, with

Pepper serving as a secondary speaker.

Wallace was to speak on Republican obstructionism in Congress, but the

NC-PAC organizers learned that he had privately urged Truman to change his

thinking on American-Soviet relations and Wallace was asked to talk about

that.19 Wallace had cleared the speech with Truman, and while it generally

agreed with the administration's foreign policy, it was different in significant

ways. Before 18,000 people, Wallace criticized what he said was British

imperialistic policy in the Near East. "The tougher we get, the tougher the

Russians will get," Wallace warned."

The Wallace speech was far milder than the speech Pepper gave.

Pepper held nothing back in his criticism of the Truman administration. "With

conservative Democrats and reactionary Republicans making our foreign policy

as they are today, it is all we can do to keep foolish people from having us pull a


Hitler blitzkrieg and drop our atomic bombs on the Russian people." He added, "I

think we ought to remember, however that the last two fellows who tried to get

rough with the Russians, you may remember them from their first names,

Napoleon and Adolf, did not fare well."21

The crowd at Madison Square Garden cheered wildly for Pepper, who

asked, "What do you expect in a foreign policy which really meets the approval

of Senator Vandenberg and John Foster Dulles?" Wallace's more temperate

remarks often brought boos and catcalls. In the Soviet Union, it was the Pepper

speech that drew the most attention and praise for his opposition to those who

"undermine the foundations of peace, poison and international atmosphere and

provoke conflicts among great powers."22

Even though Truman had initially approved Wallace's remarks, the

President began to back-peddle. Secretary of State James F. Byrnes was in

Paris for the Council of Foreign Ministers meeting. With Byrnes in Paris was

Republican Senator Arthur Vandenberg-the subject of the Pepper attack.

Truman and Byrnes worried that Vandenberg, and other Republicans, would

drop their support of the president's foreign policy, and turn the entire incident

into a campaign issue. The meeting represented the first use of the get-tough

policy Truman had adopted for dealing with the Russians. On September 20,

Wallace received a letter from Truman asking for his resignation. Despite his

bumbling of the situation, Truman had little choice than to fire Wallace. Historian

John Lewis Gaddis wrote that "Keeping Wallace would have alienated

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