It seems a splendid idea to have the young New Deal stalwarts testify on the way it was, and, despite missteps and waste...



It seems a splendid idea to have the young New Deal stalwarts testify on the way it was, and, despite missteps and waste motion, so it turns out to be. There is a good deal of the remembered euphoria that Frank Freidel alludes to in the Foreword--talk not only of ""camaraderie"" and ""esprit de corps,"" of digs and crazy parties and all-night grinds, but also of turning the country around: ""And we did, damn it, we did."" Paul Freund puts it astutely: ""It was a glorious time for obscure people because the big names and captains of industry and the majors of public life were themselves in a quandary."" But the book is not just a kind of D.C. counterpart to the testimony of Depression victims, as it first appears--from editor Louchheim's prefatory recollections too. Nor is it the unstructured, unfocused nostalgia-thon one might think from the sizable early sections of Supreme-Court-clerk reminiscences--stocked with great, late Holmes stories (from Thomas Corcoran, Alger Hiss, Donald Hiss, James Rowe, Jr.), and great Stone (Herbert Wechsler), Cardozo (Joseph Rauh, Jr.), and Frankfurter (Rauh, Edward Prichard, Jr.) stories. The succeeding section, however, takes us into the Solicitor General's office--with Robert D. Stern, Charles Horsky, David Morse, and Freund--which, as the government's lawyer, defended New Deal legislation before the Supreme Court. . .and, until FDR proposed to ""pack"" the Court, lost case after landmark case. We have already heard about those cases from the liberal jurists' point of view; we will hear about them again from the viewpoint of their drafters in the several departments: the cross-currents, and outright conflicts-of-testimony, are fascinating--and could themselves comprise a book. Throughout, we are aware of Tom Cochran's managing hand and Ben Cohen's brilliant mind. Individual sections bring: Gerhard Gesell on the embezzlement conviction of snob broker Richard Whitney (""I am not insolvent,"" as he's led away: ""I can still borrow money from my friends""); Wilbur Cohen on the advent of Social Security (Hoover refused to apply for a number, and had to be assigned one); Abe Fortas on William Douglas and others; Robert Weaver on the ""Black Cabinet"" (an emerging topic elsewhere too). One incidental aspect might be called the affirmation of Alger Hiss--who testifies not only as a Holmes clerk, but also as an AAA official; and to whom others make favorable reference. Still another aspect, pertinent to both the recent Caro biography and to William Leuchtenberg's In the Shadow of FDR (above), is the considerable presence of Lyndon Johnson--even apart from Lady Bird Johnson on the NYA. Rough, to a degree--but also history in the raw and in the round.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1983


Page Count: -

Publisher: Harvard Univ. Press

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1983

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