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Victoria Saker Woeste
Research Fellow
American Bar Foundation


1996-1997
The Purpose of the Research

The research I conducted in the Baruch Papers during the 1996-1997 academic year was for the purpose of investigating one piece of a much larger project. That project is a study of the intersection of agricultural policy, modernism, anti-radicalism, and anti-Semitism during the Interwar years. With this project I am undertaking an historical and legal investigation into the relationships between certain identified extra governmental policymakers and conservative voices who sought to blunt the influence these policymakers had on agriculture. As my original project proposal describes, the conservative opponents of change in agricultural policy were engaged in a much broader political movement that can be described at least in part as a reaction against economic and political internationalism. These opponents focused some of their attack on prominent proponents of agricultural modernization and economic efficiency. These proponents, some of whom happened to be Jewish lawyers and investors, worked with Bernard Baruch during the 1920s to shape agricultural policy at the state and federal levels. As a result, they became the targets of a virulent, highly public anti-Semitic campaign to discredit them and disparage their work.

The research I completed in the Baruch Papers at Princeton Library enabled me to ascertain some of the aspects of Baruch's involvement with other historical actors more central than Baruch to my larger story. By reading all of the personal and business correspondence contained in the collection, I sought to determine as fully as possible the depth of Baruch's interest in agriculture; the nature of his relationship with such individuals as Aaron Sapiro, Eugene Meyer, Henry Ford, and others; the nature of his connections to the Democratic Party while the Republicans held the White House during the 1920s; the character of his advocacy on behalf of farmers during the period; and the way in which he responded to anti-Semitic charges and prejudice in this and other contexts of his public life.

Findings

A. Description of the Collection

The collection that Baruch left to Princeton Library is large but not all of it is of historical significance. The bulk of the correspondence consists of social letters and notes--invitations extended and received, thank you notes, condolence notes written and received, and the like. Much of this correspondence is of little historical value except for the autographs of the famous persons with whom Baruch closely associated (Woodrow Wilson, Edith Bolling Wilson, Georges Clemenceau, William Jennings Bryan, for example).

Still there is much here for the historian of political parties during the 1 920s. Baruch was an important player in Democratic Party politics throughout the decade and beyond. He personally contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the party and its candidates for national office, and he was deeply involved in behind-the-scenes maneuvers during the 1924 campaign. Without his endorsement, such presidential hopefuls as Henry Ford were obliged to retreat to the sidelines. Baruch was both partisan and principled, and his correspondence reflects the substantial influence he had on the selection of candidates and the shaping of party platforms.

Perhaps the richest part of the correspondence collection concerns Baruch's tenure as chair of the War Industries Board during World War I and his response to the charges of mismanagement and fraud that followed the Armistice. These attacks, usually staged by Senate conservatives, were not framed in anti-Semitic terms; rather, it seems they had more to do with Baruch's personal wealth and the suspicion, apparently frivolous, that he made his money at the government's expense. (His tax returns for 1916 and 1917, which are preserved in the eollection, would probably supply the evidence to disprove the allegations conclusively.)

On the issues most germane to my project, however, I was disappointed not to find more abundant evidence of Baruch's involvement in agriculture, his relationship to Aaron Sapiro, the plaintiff in an important libel lawsuit against Henry Ford in 1927, and Baruch's work on behalf of agricultural marketing cooperatives. From published records I know that Baruch and Sapiro met often between 1920 and 1924 at the very least, and I was hoping to discover what role, if any, Baruch played in assisting or supporting Sapiro in his action for damages against Ford for anti-Semitic publications in Ford's Dearborn Independent. As perhaps the most prominent Jew in American public life, Baruch experienced anti-Semitic prejudice during this period in both public and private settings; but it was Sapiro who staged the decade's most famous attempt to force an apology for published anti-Semitic statements, and I had hoped to find evidence that Baruch's involvement with Sapiro and their mutual interest in agriculture extended to the Ford lawsuit. But I saw no mention of the litigation in any letters in the collection, and surprisingly few of Sapiro himself.

B. Areas of Specific Research Conducted During the Fellowship

1. Baruch's Work on Agriculture, 1920-1928

In Unit VI of the collection, "Selected Correspondence," can be found letters selected by Baruch for preservation in ornate bound leather volumes. Throughout the period under review, I found letters, speeches, and copies of newspaper and magazine articles relating to Baruch's interest in agriculture. Baruch first went public with this interest in 1920, delivering a speech to a meeting of the Kansas wheat growers on the post-war economic problems facing agriculture. This speech received wide public notice and was reprinted in the Atlantic Monthly (Baruch to A.J. Smith, Boston Post, December 21, 1921, Vol. III, Unit IV). It brought Baruch, who had already returned to the private sector, work as a consultant to state governments and farm organizations as an expert on the marketing problems of agriculture (Baruch to William Jennings Bryan, August 4, 1920, Vol. III, Unit IV). Baruch's expertise coincided with the beginning of Aaron Sapiro's own national promotional work in the area of cooperative marketing. It also brought him into contact with Robert W. Bingham, a Kentucky state judge and newspaper owner who was a leader in the cooperative movement in that state's tobacco industry (Bingham to Baruch, November 8, 1922, Vol. IV, Unit IV); and with Kansas senator Arthur Capper (Baruch to Capper, January 97 1922; Capper to Baruch, January 10, 1922, February 8, 1922; Vol. IV, Unit IV). Baruch was particularly interested in the credit problems of farmers and believed that the problem of chronic agricultural surpluses could be solved by using them as part of the program to rebuild Europe after the war (Baruch to Woodrow Wilson, March 16, 1922, Vol. VI, Unit IV; story on Baruch by Edward M. Thierry, NEA Service Staff Writer, New York, April 1923, Vol. VIII, Unit IV).

2. Anti-Semitism

Baruch's characteristic way of dealing with incidents of anti-Semitism in his personal and professional lives was generally to identify anti-Semitism when he experienced it and to maintain his dignity by avoiding direct confrontation. When his New York horse racing club established a policy that no (other) Jews would be admitted into membership, Baruch resigned and would not return even when told that an exception had always been intended in his case. (Get cite) When his son apparently had some encounter at the Harvard Club of New York that raised the issue of prejudice, Baruch intervened because he believed the animus was actually directed at him (Baruch to Mark Sullivan, New York City, December 20, 1923, Vol. IX, Unit IV).

3. Henry Ford

Ford and Baruch tangled a few times during the early 1920s. Apparently Baruch sued Ford over the latter's published accusation that Baruch had unresolved conflicts of interest while chair of the War Industries Board (In re Baruch v. Ford, 1921 (?), Vol. III, Unit IV). Yet Baruch's attitude towards Ford was complex; he admired the industrialist and did not hesitate to say so: "Mr. Ford has said a lot of unpleasant things about me, not in the least justified by facts. But I have not been blinded by his ignorance of me to the many sterling qualities that he possesses; nor do I share in the general criticism of him. Indeed, many people do not understand why I speak of him as highly as I do concerning his ability as an industrial giant, although he has spoken so unfairly about me" (Baruch to Samuel Crowther, November 27, 1922, Vol. IV, Unit IV).

Unit XII ofthe collection, "General Correspondence, 1916-1932," was less systematic in its organization and content. There is extensive correspondence between Baruch and leaders of the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) relating to the wheat industry. Of interest to my project were some letters discussing the problem of Baruch's being an "outsider" in agriculture: "[Farmers] are suspicious of your efforts to help with your experience in financial matters, owing to your prominence in financial circles" (H.R. Nelson to Baruch, December 31, 1921, Box 172, Unit XII). Baruch was often invited to speak before farmers' organizations and rural meetings, but he eschewed a visible public role and preferred to work behind the scenes (Baruch to J. W. Coverdale, secretary, AFBF, April 28, 1923, Box 172; Baruch to J. R. Howard, President, AFBF, December 3, 1920, Box 185; Unit XII). Herbert Hoover, who at the time was Secretary of Commerce under President Coolidge, consulted with Baruch on agricultural marketing and credit problems (Hoover to Baruch, June 1, 1921, Box 185? Unit XII). Correspondence between Baruch and George R. James provides insight into Baruch's thinking on the relationship between agriculture and war reparations and recovery (Baruch to James, November 8, 1920, February 3, 1921, Box 187, Unit XII). Correspondence with Eugene Meyer (Box 191) shows that Meyer sought to distance himself from Sapiro--and sought Baruch's help to do so--but sheds little light on the relationships among and between the three men.

Conclusion

The overall quality of the Baruch collection is mixed. Anyone interested in Baruch's post
World War II career in nuclear weapons and in his New York business interests will find much of
significance here. The fact that the correspondence was carefully culled and selected by Baruch
himself, however, limits the historical value of the overall collection. Nothing that I saw that was
relevant to my project put Baruch in anything less than a flattering light. There is little here of real
backroom policy-making, of the kind of confidential exchange that provides new light on
important and famous historical episodes and issues. It is unfortunate that because of Baruch's
actions in selecting and presenting this correspondence for preservation we cannot know what it
was that he has prevented historians from seeing. I continue to believe, on the basis of other research, that Baruch's relationships to Henry Ford and Aaron Sapiro were complex, ongoing, and marked by both intrigue and conflict. It appears that I will have to find primary evidentiary support for my hypotheses in other places.




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