Harold Ickes: An Example for Today And For Old Harbor Village Memories: (Part 3 of 5)

When President Calvin Coolidge was on vacation he decided not to run for re-election explaining to reporters: “If I take another term, I will be in the White House till 1933 … Ten years in Washington is longer than any other man has had it—too long!” The candidate then chosen by the Republicans was Herbert Hoover. Ickes had this to say about Hoover: “either he is immune to all human ordinary emotions or that he thinks he is a vice regent of God, divinely appointed to favor our country with the infallible administration that he doubtless proposes to give us.”

The Democrats picked Al Smith. Ickes stayed out of race. He believed Smith lost in a landside because of his religion. Surprisingly Smith aside from winning Massachusetts and Rhode Island also won the deep South states: Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Georgian and South Carolina. These Southern states traditionally were firmly established in the anti-Catholic camp.

Why this unusual result is discerned by knowing Mississippi Governor Theodore G. Bilbo claimed that Hoover had met with a black member of the Republican National Committee and danced with her. Hoover’s campaign quickly denied the “untruthful and ignoble assertion.” The South’s hostility toward Blacks surpassed its hostility to the Catholic Church.

In the intervening years Ickes remained close to Johnson. He returned to Chicago to work against the machines attempt to take control over all the public transportation like street cars and buses. He told Johnson in March 1929 talking about Hoover that it would be ironic if “this super intellectual, this great engineer and administrator” faced a collapse of the economic system after “little Calvin Coolidge, possessed of no ability at all, was able to leave the office with a record of abundant national prosperity to is supposed credit.” I turned out that would be the case.

Ickles supported Democratic Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) against Hoover. He convinced California’s Senator Johnson and other Midwest and western Republicans to do the same. Ickes in conversation with Johnson mockingly said: “Hoover knows that the essential thing to do is to look out for the big fellow while Roosevelt with his narrow and limited vision talks about the forgotten man as if he amounted to anything in peacetime when there is no great call for cannon fodder.” They came out publicly for him. The results of the 1932 presidential election showed that FDR received 57% of the vote, Hoover would get 40%.

It was the first good year for Ickes. Two other candidates he backed won their races: one was a Republican running for a state office who happened to be his wife, Anna; another Thomas J. Courtney, a young Democrat running for Cook County State’s Attorney general in Illinois who ousted the machine candidate.

FDR in forming his cabinet wanted to show his thanks to a progressive Republican for the help they gave him. He offered Senator Hiram Johnson the cabinet position of Secretary of the Interior. He declined and after a little more inquiry and with Johnson’s support the position was offered to Ickes who at age 59 would be sworn in as Secretary of the Interior a position he held until February 1946 under Truman.

He was called before a Congressional Committee in 1946 where in response to an inquiry he told how Truman’s nomination for Secretary of the Navy had suggested to him that a $300,000 political contribution could be made if his department dropped its claim to the oil-rich off shore lands. Truman angered said Ickes memory must be at fault. Ickes resigned by letter noting: “I don’t care to stay in an Administration where I am expected to commit perjury for the sake of the party…. I do not have a reputation for dealing recklessly with the truth.”  

[This series started on December 17 and will appear on 18th, 21st, 22 th, and 23rd]