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ROAD TO DEFEAT:
CLAUDE PEPPER AND DEFEAT IN
THE 1950 FLORIDA PRIMARY
JAMES C. CLARK
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
James C. Clark
TABLE OF CONTENTS
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
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
ROAD TO DEFEAT:
CLAUDE PEPPER AND THE DEFEAT IN
THE 1950 FLORIDA PRIMARY
James C. Clark
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
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
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
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,
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.
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.
MAKING OF A LIBERAL
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
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.
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.
THE JUNIOR SENATOR
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
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
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,
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.
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
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
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.
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,
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.
48. Lincoln, 158.
THE SEARCH FOR PEACE
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
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,
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.,
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,
26. George F. Kennan, Memoirs. 1925-1950 (Boston: Atlantic-Little Brown,
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.
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,
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.
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.
THE CONTROVERSIAL POLITICIAN
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
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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