The Du Pont Role in the American Liberty
(excerpt from Dupont Dynasty)
By Gerard Colby
The main vehicle the Du Ponts used for control over the Republican Party was their American Liberty League. Most of the League's 1935 Congressional program was incorporated into the 1936 Republican platform.
The League undoubtedly owed the first sixteen months of its existence to the Du Ponts. Irénée and [seven other family members and top business associates] each gave $5,000. By December 1935, Du Pont associates contributed another $152,622. Du Pont loans to the League, amounted to a staggering $114,000, $79,750 from Irénée alone. The Du Ponts contributed not only to the League, but also its more provocative auxiliaries. (The Senate Lobby Investigating Committee revealed that Du Pont donations to the League totaled $282,459.)
With these funds, full-time organizers established League chapters at twenty-six colleges and universities; 100 pamphlets were written and printed, and several million copies distributed; a speakers' bureau was established and the League sponsored many nationwide radio addresses, all echoing Lammot DuPont's demand that "all government regulation of business should be abolished." From its 31-room office manned by fifty people (the Republican Party had a 17-man staff in 12-rooms), press releases spewed forth constant attacks on the New Deal, relief, and the proposed thirty-hour work week. Payment of war veterans adjusted compensation bonus was described as an "extravagance," [see Bonus Army] as were the Social Security Act and all "burdensome taxes imposed upon industry for unemployment insurance and old age pension." Most of the major newspapers of the country fell in line, printing releases or carrying favorable news articles on the League's positions. The New York Times gave the League front-page billing 35 times between August 1934, and November 1936.
The League also created or subsidized a host of auxiliary anti-democratic organizations. (Known Du Pont donations to each organization - as revealed by the Senate Lobby Investigating Committee - appear in brackets):
American Federation of Utility Investors ($250)
American Taxpayers League
Economists National Committee ($1,100)
Farmers Independence Council ($6,000)
League for Industrial Rights
Minute Men and Women of Today ($1,400)
National Economy League
New York State Economic Council ($1,000)
Sentinels of the Republic ($125)
Southern Committee to Uphold the Constitution ($14,600)
Women Investors in America, Inc.
[Press for Conversion! Editor's Note: For a sizable
list of donors (Dupont family members and others) to the American
Liberty League and its front groups (for example, the Sentinels
of the Republic, Crusaders, Southern
Committee to Uphold the Constitution, and other fascist American
organizations in the 1930s), refer to a table of data prepared
by Senator Black (originally published in the Digest of Data,
Special Committee to Investigate Lobby Activities, 74th Congress
2nd Session). It was later published in 1000 Americans,
Seldes, Boni & Gaer, 1947, p. 292-298.
This table of data on donations to American fascist organizations is now availale online by Glen Yeadon, The Nazi Hydra in America, 2004.
"Appendix 1: Big Donors to the Pro-Nazi Groups, The 1930s: Nazis Parading on Main Street."]
Of all the Du Ponts, Irénée was the moving spirit in the Liberty League. In 1935, when 40,000 national guardsmen were called out in nineteen states to put down strikes, he lashed into Roosevelt's unemployment relief and farm subsidy policies. "The Roosevelt Administration," he said, "practices the socialistic maxim 'work like hell so that the parasites may get the benefit of your labor.'"
When Hitler's Italian ally, Mussolini, attacked Ethiopia and a world war looked inevitable, Roosevelt decided to use the situation to announce the continuation of Hoover's nonintervention policy, and to launch his own reelection campaign with a declaration of war on America's leading munition makers, the Du Ponts.
Before an unprecedented joint session of Congress in the House Chamber on January 3, 1936, Roosevelt introduced his "Neutrality Act," establishing an arms and ammunition embargo, as well as an embargo on the export of all commodities that might be used for war purposes. Then, abandoning his previous underplaying of their significance, the President attacked his critics in the Liberty League.
"They steal the livery of great national ideals to serve discredited special interests," he charged. "This minority in business and industry ... engage in vast propaganda to spread fear and discord among the people. They would gang up against the people's liberties." He leveled a broadside attack on the League's anti-labor policies. "They seek the restoration of their selfish power. They offer to lead us back round the same old corner into the same old dreary street."
Before the astonished minority of Republican Congressmen, Roosevelt attacked the League for trying to
"hide their dissent in a cowardly cloak of generality."
"Our resplendent economic aristocracy does not want to return to that individualism of which they prate, even though the advantages under that system went to the ruthless and the strong.
"They realize that in 34 months we have built up new instruments of public power. In the hands of a people's government this power is wholesome and proper. But in the hands of political puppets of an economic aristocracy, such power would provide shackles for the liberties of the people.
Give them their way and they will take the course of every aristocracy of the past-power for themselves, enslavement for the public ... their weapon is the weapon of fear."
The League was clangorous, charging the President with "fermenting class hatred." Roosevelt was quite willing to use the popular anger against the League's wealthy strikebreakers in order to beat back their challenge and continue the program of reform he believed necessary if American capitalism were to endure.
One of Roosevelt's greatest allies was Roy Howard, head of the largest newspaper chain in the country and the United Press International Wire Service. As early as January 9, 1935, UPI ran an article by Herbert Harris charging that
"the only liberty the League fosters is the liberty to water stock, rig the market, manipulate paper, and pyramid holding companies to the stratosphere. it is the liberty to pay starvation wages and break strikes with hired thugs . It is the liberty to warp the minds and bodies of children in textile mills and on sharecropping farms. It is the liberty to buy opinions of the pulpit and the press. It is the liberty which leads to death."
When the Senate Lobby Investigating Committee released a list of the Liberty League's leading corporate contributors in January 1936, the United Press headlines screamed, "Liberty League Controlled by Owners of $37,000,000,000." When the Treasury Department, on January 9, charged Pierre Du Pont and [John] Raskob with tax evasion for their fraudulent 1929 exchange of $4.5 million worth of stocks, the UPI gave the news top billing.
On January 30, Raskob releasing an appeal, on his private stationery, to corporate leaders:
"As a property owner, stockholder and director in several corporations, I hope you will not think me presumptuous in calling on you and your friends to unite with others in issuing a clarion call to join the American Liberty League ... which is doing everything possible to root out the vicious radical element that threatens the destruction of our government."
"The brood of anti-New Deal organizations spawned by the Liberty League," wrote the New York Post, "are in turn sponsoring fascism" (April 18, 1936). The Southern Committee to Uphold the Constitution also came under fire. "This is a hybrid organization financed by northern money," charged the Baltimore Sun, "but playing on the Ku Klux Klan prejudices of the South. When Raskob, a Roman Catholic, contributed $5,000, he was told his money would be used to stir up the KKK and finance a venomous attack on Mrs. Roosevelt."
The Republican standard-bearer, Kansas Governor Alfred Landon, rode on a wave of Du Pont cash. By September, Lammot Du Pont had contributed $105,000; Irénée Du Pont, $95,000 and Pierre Du Pont, $84,090. Additional donations totaling $47,000 were made by a dozen other Du Pont family members. Five Du Pont executives and directors donated a total of $7,500.
The Republican ticket also received the general support of most of the heavy manufacturing and financial interests.
Ohio and Maine received special attention from the Du Pouts. Irénée, Lammot, and Pierre each gave $5,000 to the unsuccessful Ohio Republican machine. In Maine, holder of the slogan "as Maine goes, so goes the country," Irénée donated $5,000, helping the Republicans win the governorship and three congressional seats in the December 1935 elections.
Against so popular a President and dynamic a campaigner as Roosevelt, Landon never even stood a chance. On November 2, Roosevelt was reelected on the largest landslide in history, carrying every state but Maine and Vermont.
It was the greatest political defeat ever suffered by the Du Pouts. Over $855,520 donated by some eighteen Du Pouts to the Republican banner had been lost, a total of $116,100 from Irénée alone. Another $500,000 raised through the Liberty League had also been to no avail.
The League had been a total failure. When it was founded in 1934, a membership of 4 million had been projected. By January 1936, 70,000 members were claimed. As it spoke only to the interests of businessmen and bar associations, the League never became a mass organization. The League became a hated name throughout America. Even the defeated Landon bitterly described the League's support as a "kiss of death."
League subsidiaries suffered a similar fate. The Farmers Independence Council, had been a total failure: no real farmers joined. Over $350,000 in donations to these right-wing subsidiaries had been rendered futile. This was a crushing blow to the family's morale, for support of these fascist tendencies was quite widespread throughout the family.
In addition, the Delaware branch of the Liberty League received $10,357 from seven Du Pont family members.
Never before had one family so singly dominated a political campaign. Hence, the crushing defeat of the Republican ticket in 1936 was also a crushing rejection of the Du Ponts. Du Pont was probably the most hated name in America. Pierre and Irénée du Pont and John Raskob gave up politics. The League and most of its subsidiaries were abandoned.
Source: Excerpts from the chapter, "Decade of Despair," Du Pont Dynasty: Behind the Nylon Curtain. (Secaucus: Lyle Stewart, 1984), pp. 347-357.