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John Nance Garner

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“If my radio speech has in any way contributed toward Democratic success, I am indeed happy.”

John Nance Garner IV, 1868-1967.  Vice President of the United States, 1933-1941; Representative from Texas, 1903-1933; Speaker of the House of Representatives, 1931-1933.  Typed Letter Signed, Jno N. Garner, one page, quarto, on stationery of The Speaker’s Rooms, House of Representatives, U.S., Washington, D.C., October 24, 1932.

Fifteen days before he would be elected Vice President with Franklin D. Roosevelt, “Cactus Jack” thanks Wall Street financier S. R. Bertron for compliments on Garner’s first and only radio address during the 1932 presidential campaign.  He writes, in full:  “Just received yours of the 18th and wish to thank you for your kind expressions.  /  If my radio speech has in any way contributed toward Democratic success, I am indeed happy.  /  I note that you are chairman of the Board of the Roosevelt-Garner Clubs of Nassau County, and I am confident your organization will prove important in placing New York in the Democratic column in November.”

On October 14, 1932, Garner took to the nationwide airwaves to reply to Republican attacks.  He described himself as “a plain business man who has happened to have had a long legislative experience as a representative of a conservative community.”  He accused the Hoover Administration of concealing the true financial condition of the United States, and he argued that the nation’s greatest need was “a budget balanced by careful economy and scientific revenue.”  During efforts to balance the budget, Garner said, the “record shows that the administration was either hopelessly at sea as to the actual treasury situation for two years, or else deliberately concealing the true state of affairs.”  He derided “the administration’s murky, involved and obscure financial policy that is responsible for much of the continued uncertain condition.”  Although the Democratic Congress was “determined and willing to go to the limit for a balanced budget,” he said, that “purpose has been by the same methods this administration has practiced for three consecutive years.”  In the struggle for a balanced budget, Garner said, “the Republican administration did not raise a finger to help.”  As for “the humanitarian part of this program,” he said, “the administration has no credit.  The provision for hunger loans and self-liquidating construction were exclusively of Democratic origin and literally forced through over the administration’s stubborn resistance.”

Garner’s balanced budget conservatism stood in stark contrast to Roosevelt’s expansion of government spending during the New Deal.  Roosevelt found Garner to be a good sounding board as he considered sending new programs to Congress.  But in the long run, Garner had little influence on Roosevelt’s policies, and by Roosevelt’s second term Garner openly broke with him on a number of issues.

Indeed, Garner had become the vice presidential candidate because of a backroom bargain.  Roosevelt, former New York Governor Al Smith, and Garner were the principal contenders for the 1932 Democratic presidential nomination.  Although Garner was never a serious contender and did not campaign for the nomination, he had important support from newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst.  After three ballots, Garner’s support had increased marginally, but FDR still led in delegates but did not have the necessary two-thirds majority.  When Smith tried to stampede the convention for one of his surrogates, Roosevelt supporter Joseph P. Kennedy convinced Hearst, whose views were diametrically opposed to Smith’s, to pressure Garner to support Roosevelt.  Roosevelt campaign manager James A. Farley then offered Garner the vice presidential nomination in exchange for the support of the Texas delegation on the fourth ballot.  Garner, who preferred to remain Speaker of the House, and who thought the vice presidency was “not worth a bucket of warm spit,” reluctantly agreed in order to avoid another deadlocked convention of the type that had produced John W. Davis’s nomination in 1924.   Although Garner had won the California primary, Californian William Gibbs McAdoo, the former son-in-law of President Woodrow Wilson who would himself be elected United States Senator from California in 1932, then swung the California delegation behind Roosevelt, and the rest of the states fell into line.   

With the nation mired in the depths of the Great Depression, the independent-minded Garner thought victory in hand.  Although Roosevelt thought that Garner’s homespun appeal would be valuable, Garner refused Roosevelt’s request that he campaign extensively because he saw the election as merely a referendum on the performance of incumbent President Herbert Hoover.  He was so confident of victory that he told Roosevelt, “All you have got to do is stay alive until election day.”  But he finally tired of Republican attacks and made this speech.

Samuel Reading Bertron (1865-1938), to whom Garner wrote this letter, was president of the New York international banking firm Bertron, Griscom & Company.   He was also a director of the American-Russian Chamber of Commerce, which promoted economic, commercial, and industrial relations between the United States and the Soviet Union.  In the early 1920s, Bertron was one of several financiers who sought to develop commercial airship operations in the United States after the United States seized German patents on rigid airships during World War I.

Garner has signed this letter in black fountain pen.  The letter has two horizontal mailing folds, a paper clip impression in the top margin, and light overall toning.  Garner’s name is written in pencil in another hand in the upper left corner.  The letter is in fine condition.

Unframed. 

 

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