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More than any other Supreme Court justice in American history, William O. Douglas involved himself deeply in the political affairs of his day. In over 36 years on the Court, Douglas served as advisor to Democratic presidents from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Lyndon B. Johnson and was himself four times seriously considered by Democratic party activists for the presidency or vice-presidency. Certainly Douglas involved himself heavily in the policy debates of his times. Did he, though, have presidential ambitions? Historians, political scientists, legal scholars, and judicial biographers all have attributed to Douglas a desire to leave the Court for the White House. They portray him as a restless jurist who regretted taking a seat on the Court in 1939 at the age of 40, cutting short a promising political career begun as the highly successful and politically visible chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. Douglas is sometimes portrayed as a behind-the-scenes manipulator (or silent benefactor, at least) of a concerted effort to get him off the Court and into the presidency or vice-presidency. Indeed, it has become a rarely challenged axiom of American political history that Douglas harbored presidential ambitions.(1)

This work offers a different interpretation. While the historical record clearly reveals the lifelong, open, and often vigorous political activism of Justice Douglas in both foreign and domestic affairs, it does not support the notion of an ambitious justice looking to enter electoral politics. Contrary to nearly all the existing scholarship concerning Douglas and his supposed presidential ambitions, the justice did not covet the Oval Office. Of course, one cannot know the thoughts of another; it is certainly possible, perhaps even likely, that Douglas regretted his failure to actively pursue elective office in the 1940s. As Douglas himself said,
   I didn't particularly like it [being on the Court] after I got there. It
   took me two years to get used to the routines. But later I came to
   appreciate the chance for quiet and reflection and independence, and I
   became greatly absorbed in the court's work.(2)

The documentary record reveals a man deeply immersed in politics, yet wary of it; a man politically connected to the Washington of his times, but also set apart from it by the very nature of his position; a justice who forcefully involved himself in the policy questions of the day, but who also held to a peculiarly personal set of beliefs concerning the propriety of political activity on the part of Supreme Court justices. Douglas refused to make any public statements about his possible candidacy in 1944 lest they be misinterpreted as political ambition, and many scholars incorrectly take Douglas's public inaction as proof of his complicity in the attempts to get him into politics. Privately, however, he repeatedly asked that political activity on his behalf cease. While surrounded by political intrigue and intense political machinations conducted on his behalf by admirers of his political philosophy, Justice William O. Douglas opted to stay out of elective politics and instead played an active political role from the security of the Bench.

Had Douglas harbored presidential ambitions, though, he could not have planned a better opportunity than the 1944 contest for the Democratic vice-presidential nomination. Well aware of Roosevelt's failing health, he and other Washington insiders knew that the man chosen for the second spot in 1944 almost certainly would be the next president of the United States, through either FDR's death or resignation due to illness. Current Vice President Henry A. Wallace, a liberal who had dabbled in mysticism and mediums, had fallen into general disfavor, particularly in the South and with Democratic party leaders and city bosses. He retained favor only with the liberal and labor wings of the party.(3) Douglas, on the other hand, had a proven record as an able New Dealer, and many Roosevelt insiders saw him as the heir apparent to the president. He had the backing of such political luminaries as Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, Joseph P. Kennedy, New Deal insider and corporate lawyer Tommy Corcoran, and Secretary of the Navy James V. Forrestal, as well as prominent journalists such as Edward R. Murrow, Eric Sevareid, Henry Luce, and Eliot Janeway. They believed Douglas to be an ideal replacement for Wallace, who was now considered a liability.

Further, had Douglas wanted the vice-presidency, he had ample opportunity to make his wishes known to Roosevelt. He saw Roosevelt on a regular basis, and Douglas was aware that he was seriously considering him as a running mate. FDR had a genuine personal affection for Douglas, admired his poker skills and his raconteur's way with a story, and would have been as pleased to run with him as with anyone. Had Douglas made the president aware of any ambition for the vice-presidency, he might have been invited to join the ticket. In such an event, the party leadership would have had little choice but to go along; the party bosses, though powerful, could not deny a sitting president his choice of running mate.(4)

Talk of Douglas running with FDR in 1944 began in November 1940, following Roosevelt's defeat of Wendell Willkie. Only days after that victory, the President and Harold Ickes discussed who should be "built-up" as the presidential successor. Ickes suggested William Douglas, but Roosevelt at that time turned a critical eye: "No one knows whether he can make a campaign or not. He has never been tried out."(5) FDR threw out several other names for discussion, but in a matter of months the president would come to prefer Douglas as his 1944 running mate.(6)

Douglas's supposed run for office in 1944 became a source of increasing gossip in Washington over the next three years. Justice Felix Frankfurter certainly thought Douglas was "making a `build-up' for the White House," and Judge Learned Hand rued "what a `build-up' it is getting to be!"(7) Frankfurter later wrote Chief Justice Harlan Stone that "there have been Presidential hopefuls on the court since 1789--too many of them but never before has any Justice sought a Vice-Presidential nomination!"(8) Vice President Wallace also worried about a potential Douglas candidacy. He believed that political gadfly Thomas "Tommy the Cork" Corcoran had been arranging for Justice Douglas "to meet a great variety of people," presumably to increase Douglas's chances in a future political bid.(9) Justice Robert Jackson told Wallace that Stone "was deeply concerned about the way in which Bill Douglas was running for President or Vice President."(10) Wallace also knew that Joseph P. Kennedy "was strong for Bill Douglas for Vice President."(11)

Thomas E. Dewey's Republican candidacy was one reason many people felt so strongly about a Douglas candidacy. Ickes and Forrestal agreed that Douglas matched up very favorably against Dewey, and in many respects Douglas would have been an ideal Democratic candidate. Douglas's youth (he was 45) would act as a deterrent to the so-called "age issue"--really a health issue--that confronted the 62-year-old FDR in 1944. Douglas and Dewey had graduated from Columbia Law School together, and while Douglas finished second in his class, Dewey ranked in the bottom third. Dewey made his name busting racketeers as New York's tough district attorney, while Douglas cleaned up Wall Street as chairman of the SEC. Corcoran also thought that "Dewey had a particularly strong inferiority complex" with respect to Douglas: "Dewey would not take a moot court case [at Columbia] when Douglas was on the other side." Corcoran believed a Douglas candidacy would have a "bad psychological effect upon Dewey."(12)

Douglas, however, preferred to keep his seat on the Supreme Court. In early February 1943, he told Harold Ickes that he "wouldn't be interested in political appointments," since he had "come to like [his] job, and doubtless appreciat[ed] its security"(13) Concerns about economic security had always played a role in Douglas's life. Raised in poverty, he had worked since childhood to help support his widowed mother and two siblings, and to put himself through Whitman College and Columbia Law School. When asked why he planned to return to the Yale University Law School after his tenure as chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Douglas responded with one word: "Security."(14) Doubtless security influenced Justice Douglas's decision to remain out of politics in 1944 as well.

As rumors about Douglas's political ambitions grew in the early 1940s, Douglas was forced to become more vociferous about his position. He and Harold Ickes reminisced over lunch late in 1943 about the 1940 election, in which Douglas had "called off" an Oregon movement to get him on the Democratic ticket. "He did not want to be mixed up in the Vice Presidency," Ickes recalled. Douglas "said that he had never been ambitious politically, and was not now."(15) E. Palmer Hoyt, publisher of The [Portland] Oregonian, and SEC official Jerome Frank, both close friends of Douglas, also discussed his prospects. They agreed that even though the justice's "modesty forbade any discussion of the topic," Douglas should run for president.(16) Such discussion caught up with Douglas early in 1944 at a small dinner party he expected to be a purely social affair. In actuality, admirers of the justice had planned it as an occasion to propose that he begin a drive for the presidency or vice-presidency. Caught off guard and shocked that the talk of his "political ambition" had come to this, he told his admirers that "I would not give my approval, that I had no political ambitions, that I wanted to stay on the Court for the rest of my life, that I would not authorize any such undertaking."(17) Having forcefully conveyed his disinterest to the group, Douglas left confident that he had disposed of the matter. He related this to his friend Senator Frank Maloney of Connecticut. Should anyone approach Maloney about a Douglas candidacy, the Justice wanted the senator to
   have the facts and to know that I am not a candidate for any office, that
   my sole desire is to remain on the Court until I reach retirement, that any
   proposal to launch openly or silently any campaign for me is wholly without
   my authority and contrary to my desire, and that I do not think it would
   comport with judicial standards for one on the Court to nurture political

Maloney assured Douglas that he would keep the justice's wishes in mind. "I know that you do not aspire to either of these places--because you have so many times told me that you were happy in your present position." Maloney recalled Douglas's "intense desire" to avoid the 1940 vice-presidential nomination and promised, should anyone approach him on the matter, to "remember that you want to stay where you are."(19)

But in the months following this exchange with Douglas, Maloney, nudged along by Eliot Janeway, came to believe that Douglas had a duty to serve, regardless of his personal wishes in the matter. "I am unhappy" he wrote Douglas, "at my inability to come completely in line with your intense feeling. I have tried but I can't do it." Knowing it would "aggravate" Douglas, Maloney tried to convince his friend that "if you are called upon to be a candidate, you cannot `easily' decline. I see the situation as one calling for a great sacrifice--and cannot see how you can refuse."(20) Other friends also pressured the justice to accept a draft.

In the spring of 1944, Edward R. Murrow and Eric Sevareid approached Douglas looking for "the word" on the vice-presidential situation. As personal friends of the justice, both men assured him that they would exercise discretion. Douglas just "shook his head," unwilling to make a public statement of any kind. Douglas firmly believed that any statement by him, even a stern denial of candidacy, could be misread as a political maneuver and that the issuance of such a statement went beyond the bounds of proper judicial behavior. Better to answer with silence than risk being misinterpreted and in the process damage the image and reputation of the institution he greatly respected. "Public denial of political aspirations has too often in our history been actual public assertion of the very ambitions which are denied," he told Frank Maloney. "Aside from that, it is conduct unbecoming a judge of a high court."(21) The very fact that Douglas accepted appointment to the Supreme Court implied that he had withdrawn from electoral politics, therefore obviating to Douglas the need for any public statement removing himself from vice-presidential consideration.(22)

Ickes continued to float Douglas trial balloons wherever he could throughout that spring, as did FDR advisor and speechwriter Sam Rosenman, who told Douglas that he had suggested his name to the president. Rosenman and Ickes were "in hearty concurrence" as to a Douglas candidacy.(23) The justice, though, still tried to call them off. At lunch with Ickes on 2 June, the two discussed the vice-presidency. Both agreed that Wallace should be dropped, but Douglas once again "disclaimed any interest in the place himself" a statement Ickes said he "sincerely believed." Yet Ickes ignored Douglas's wishes and plowed ahead anyway with his various vice-presidential scenarios, trying to persuade others that Douglas "would be a great strength to the ticket" and would assure the Democrats of carrying Washington and California in 1944. Finally, Douglas told him that before the convention went into session he "would be in a canoe going up a certain river from Idaho into Oregon," where he could not be reached "by telephone, messenger or even by airplane."(24) Douglas, reported the New York Times on 8 June, "sternly opposed" recent suggestions that he be regarded as a vice-presidential possibility.(25) Surely he must have believed that he had made his wishes clearly known.

Talk of Douglas as a vice-presidential candidate approached its peak in early summer 1944. Harold Ickes talked to FDR about the vice-presidency in mid June, mentioning Douglas as a possibility. Unlike the critical assessment he gave a Douglas candidacy immediately after the 1940 election, this time Roosevelt reacted warmly to the prospect. While waiting to see the "Boss," Ickes also ran Douglas's name past FDR's appointments secretary Edwin "Pa" Watson, who "felt all right about Douglas" as well.(26) A friend wrote Douglas, "You could help the boss a lot, Bill, even though you yourself might not like the idea."(27) This became the common refrain in the early summer of 1944. The Ickes-Corcoran strategy involved getting as many influential people as possible talking about Douglas. In addition to the suggestions made personally to the president, Douglas supporters hoped general talk of Douglas would catch Roosevelt's attention.

Meanwhile, FDR told each of several vice-presidential hopefuls that they had his personal support. At various times, Roosevelt expressed support for Henry Wallace, James F. Byrnes, Douglas, and Harry Truman as his running mate. Indeed, only an hour after FDR told Henry Wallace that he favored him for a second term as vice-president, he clearly indicated both to Sam Rosenman and Harold Ickes that Douglas would be the strongest candidate.(28) Roosevelt's "unwillingness to be unpleasantly frank was notorious among those who knew him well, recalled Sam Rosenman.(29) FDR reduced everything about the selection of a running mate "to indirection." The vitally important choice of a vice-president thus became a battle of influence: who could sway FDR to their candidate and who stood in the best position to make up the president's mind for him, since he seemed content to let the contenders fight it out in Chicago. Party leaders, though, certain that FDR would not survive his fourth term, did not want to leave it up to chance.(30)

Douglas's supporters vigorously promoted their candidate, who with as little fanfare and publicity as possible continued to call them off. National party chairman Robert Hannegan was equally hard at work trying to move fellow Missourian Harry S. Truman into vice-presidential contention. By the second week of July Hannegan was still not sure "just who the President wanted for Vice President" but he thought "Douglas remained first on the list."(31) Harold Ickes had the same impression. He spoke to Roosevelt in early July 1944, and "more clearly than ever the President indicated that he believed Bill Douglas would be the strongest candidate"(32) By the morning of 11 July, only eight days before the convention, neither Ickes nor Hannegan knew "anything definite about the Vice Presidency" but hoped a White House meeting scheduled for that evening would resolve the issue.(33)

Dining with the president on that Tuesday evening were Hannegan, Chicago mayor Edward J. Kelly, Democratic National Committee (DNC) officials Edwin Pauley and George Allen, Postmaster General and former DNC chairman Frank Walker, New York City "boss" Edward Flynn, DNC vice chair Oscar Ewing, and FDR's son-in-law John Boettiger. After martinis and dinner, the group adjourned to the president's muggy second-floor study and began their dissection of prospective vice-presidents. The group, dressed down to shirtsleeves in the hot office, discussed a wide range of possibilities, including James F. Byrnes, House Speaker Sam Rayburn, and Senator Alben Barkley. Throughout the meeting FDR said little, instead allowing the other participant, to carry the discussion of various candidates. They disposed of Rayburn, then Barkley, and then Byrnes in that order.(34)

No one brought up Douglas until the president himself raised his name, much to the surprise of Truman advocate Robert Hannegan, who believed he had already talked the president out of Douglas. FDR, however, had been steadily warming to the idea of running with the justice, as he told the gathering. The president pointed out that Douglas, like Wallace, had a following in the party's left wing. Young and dynamic, Douglas also "looked and acted on occasions like a Boy Scout" and would have great "appeal at the polls--and besides, played an interesting game of poker."(35) The justice's name, however, "fell flat. No one wanted Douglas any more than Wallace."(36) Democratic party leaders saw Douglas as a potential liability, a political neophyte with no campaign experience and perhaps too independent of the party machinery. He also had little name recognition among rank and file Democrats. The discussion turned to Truman, who found general acceptance among the group, and knowing that these men would run the campaign, Roosevelt bowed to their wishes. "I know this makes you boys happy," Roosevelt told Hannegan, "and you are the ones I am counting on to win this election. But I still think Douglas would have the greater public appeal."(37) In the end, though Douglas was his first choice, it did not really matter to the president with whom he ran.

Unaware of the outcome of the 11 July meeting, Douglas supporters continued to push him to accept a draft. Eliot Janeway, a zealous Douglasite as well as personal friend, tried to convince him that his judicial image and that of the Court would not be harmed with a Douglas draft for office. "It's a sacrifice on your part," Janeway said, implying that Douglas could play up the theme of sacrificing his court position to serve the country in a greater capacity.(38)

In the days following the 11 July meeting, the Douglas campaign, run wholly without the consent of its object, hit its stride. Supporters turned up the heat on FDR, sending him telegrams and letters to support the president's belief that Douglas had public appeal, at least in the West. The chairmen of the California and Oregon delegations to the upcoming convention wired both the White House and party chairman Hannegan expressing their support of Douglas for vice-president.(39) They did not know that Hannegan had been trying to torpedo Douglas for months, or that FDR had already allowed the party men to select Truman. FDR could also see support for Douglas in the editorial pages of newspapers around the country. At least one newspaper thought Douglas had a "firmness and down-to-earth interest in the details that make the clock tick which would command a very considerable respect on Capitol Hill."(40)

During the mid-summer, while admirers furiously promoted Justice Douglas for office, he vacationed at his remote cabin in the mountains of Oregon. With no telephone or mail service, he had to ride to the nearest small town to place or receive calls and collect his mail. Douglas and his fishing companions, he recalled, were "pretty well isolated" and got "news of national affairs only infrequently" On 12 July he wrote from his retreat to Chief Justice Harlan F. Stone of his surprise that despite his efforts to quietly remove himself from consideration, he continued to be "rather actively promoted as [a] vice-presidential candidate." He told Stone, his former professor at Columbia, that there had been "some such effort made before I left Washington and I did all I possibly could to put an end to it." Certain convention delegates from western states had approached Douglas prior to his vacation, asking if they could with authority promote him as a vice-presidential candidate. He answered, as he told Stone, that first, he "was not a candidate, had not been a candidate, and would not be a candidate"; second, no one had authority to promote his nomination, and he would give no such authority; and third, that if nominated, he would not accept. "I hope this puts an end to the matter," he told Stone. "I think political ambitions are incompatible with [the] performance of our judicial functions. I do not think the Court should be used as a stepping stone to any political office."(41)

Douglas sent a similar letter to Frank Maloney, his close friend in whom he had earlier confided his plans to remain on the bench, asking him to make Douglas's feelings known to the Democratic convention and if need be to act in his name to keep him out of consideration for the vice-presidency.(42) As Eliot Janeway wrote in a Fortune article on the convention, Douglas essentially gave Maloney "power of attorney to take him out of any convention-floor cat-and-dog fight into which overzealous supporters [like Janeway himself] might thrust him."(43)

Marked "Personal and Confidential," the Maloney letter spelled out Douglas's original feelings regarding the vice-presidency and his potential candidacy. As he had told Stone, Douglas had "done all that is possible to discourage the use of my name.""If by chance the nomination were tendered me," he continued, "I would not accept it." When personally confronted, Douglas had always "indicated my displeasure and lack of interest as forcefully and as diplomatically as I could under the circumstances." His refusals, he wrote, were not based in any disdain for the office of vice-president, "a great office in itself and even greater as its occupant is great," but because
   I am a member of the Supreme Court and a lawyer. As a lawyer and as a
   judge, I have some deep convictions not only about the responsibilities of
   the office I hold but of the limitations such a position imposes on the
   incumbent. One of those responsibilities is scrupulously to refrain from
   such conduct as might be considered as political. One of the limitations is
   to refrain if possible from public political utterances, since public
   denial has too often in our history been actual public assertion of the
   very ambitions which are denied.(44)

For those reasons, Douglas did not feel it wise at that point to do anything except speak through Maloney in order to make his true intentions known to the convention.

Having armed Maloney with a statement of disinterest, Douglas left his cabin retreat for a 10-day trek into the mountains, confident that he no longer figured into the vice-presidential sweepstakes. While Douglas lost himself amid the splendor of the Wallowa mountains, the Democrats met in Chicago to select a vice-president and in the process anoint a successor to Franklin Roosevelt.

Prior to the 1944 Democratic convention, it seemed that everyone running for vice-president had President Roosevelt's personal assurance as his first choice for a running mate. Roosevelt told James Byrnes that he "was devoted to him and regarded him better qualified than any other one proposed."(45) Robert Hannegan carried a letter from the president to the convention stating that FDR would be "very glad to run" with Harry Truman or Bill Douglas.(46) The president also provided a letter for Henry Wallace stating that were he a delegate, he "personally would vote for [Wallace's] renomination.(47) For convention purposes, however, Roosevelt affected an air of detachment; he would leave it up to the delegates to select his running mate. When Oscar Chapman, assistant secretary of the interior, stopped by the White House on his way to Chicago to ask the president for instructions on the vice-presidential question, FDR replied, "As far as a candidate is concerned, I would not try to dictate to individual delegates in any form."(48)

Delegates to the 1944 Democratic National Convention in Chicago in late July therefore assumed that while FDR again would head the Democratic ticket, they would choose the running mate and heir apparent. Douglas's supporters hoped that a first or second ballot logjam among such frontrunners as Wallace, Byrnes, Truman, and Kentucky Senator Alben Barkley, as well as a surfeit of favorite sons, might pave the way for Douglas as the best compromise vice-presidential candidate. Tom Corcoran envisioned just such a deadlock, "with Barkley and Byrnes ready to throw to Douglas to defeat Wallace." Ickes, too, believed that Byrnes, who did not want to see Wallace, Barkley, or Truman get the nomination, "would rather throw to Douglas."(49) But for any Douglas scenario to be successful, Wallace would have to drop out, since the vice-president appealed to the same liberal constituency as Douglas.(50)

Harold Ickes initially did not plan to attend the convention. "In the end" he wrote Roosevelt, "I went hoping that I might be able to be of some help, if there were any chance to nominate Bill Douglas."(51) The Douglas people, including Maloney, Ickes, Janeway, Corcoran, Attorney General Francis Biddle, delegation chairmen Robert Kenny of California and Henry L. Hess of Oregon, and Chicago Mayor Ed Kelly, among others, armed themselves with a plan of action to get the justice nominated as a draft compromise candidate. They counted on first and second ballot deadlocks, and if no candidate broke from the pack after the second ballot, they planned to call for a recess to work the floor for a Douglas "landslide compromise," jump-started by a pledge, of support from the California and Oregon delegations.(52)

Unknown to the Douglas supporters, however, Hannegan carried a postdated (19 July) "Dear Bob" letter from Roosevelt citing Truman and Douglas by name as the vice-presidential candidates of choice: "You have written me about Harry Truman and Bill Douglas. I should, of course, be very glad to run with either of them and believe that either one of them would bring real strength to the ticket."(53) The letter and Hannegan's handling of it proved to be a source of discord at the convention. FDR secretary Grace Tully, to whom Roosevelt had dictated the letter, stated that the original letter FDR gave to Hannegan on 11 July named "Douglas and Truman in that order." Shortly thereafter the president and his staff left by train for the west coast but stopped over in Chicago at Hannegan's request. While the president's train sat in a Chicago rail yard, Hannegan came aboard to talk political strategy. "Hannegan had a lengthy palaver with the Boss," wrote Tully, "and when he came out of the President's sitting room he was carrying in his hand the letter naming Douglas or Truman as an acceptable running mate. `Grace,' said Hannegan, `the President wants you to retype this letter and to switch these names so it will read `Harry Truman or Bill Douglas.'"(54)

With Truman listed first, it would appear as though the president preferred him to Douglas. Hannegan later denied reversing the names, but Tully's assistant Dorothy Brady, who retyped the letter aboard the train, corroborated the story of the juxtaposition. Missouri State Democratic party chairman Sam Wear also stated that he personally knew Hannegan switched the names to put Truman's ahead of Douglas.(55) Hannegan initially concealed the letter from the convention, mainly because Roosevelt had listed Douglas along with Truman as an acceptable running mate. Ed Kelly gave a dinner the evening of 18 July in Hannegan's honor, and Henry Wallace later noted that Hannegan, already in possession of the Truman-Douglas letter, "worked the table saying the President was for Truman but not saying a word about Douglas." When word leaked that Hannegan had the letter listing two names, Hannegan had to divulge the letter and its contents to the press. The New York Times reported that the letter was made public in order to "bolster the waning strength" of Truman's vice-presidential candidacy. Hannegan said he did not release the letter earlier because he needed FDR's consent to do so.(56) Wallace thought the incident damaged Hannegan's reputation. Harold Ickes noted that "some of the delegates were very indignant about this deception," and many called for "Chairman Shenanigan's" resignation. The letter helped both to promote Truman's stock at the convention and to downplay Douglas.(57)

As the voting began on 21 July, Douglas supporters watched nervously. On the first ballot, Wallace received 429 1/2 votes to Truman's 319 1/2, with 589 votes needed to carry the nomination. Fourteen others received votes as well, creating exactly the situation for which they had hoped: a first ballot deadlock. After the voting, Maloney sought out Ed Kelly, and they agreed to move for a recess after the second ballot to begin the Douglas drive. Douglas supporters had agreed before the convention that Robert Kenny, chairman of the California delegation, would nominate Douglas, and that Frank Maloney, despite his firsthand knowledge of the justice's wishes to remain out of contention, would second the nomination. In order to protect Douglas, this would be done "only as ratification of an accomplished fact, when, as and if Wallace and Truman got into a stalemate."(58) Everyone clearly understood that "nothing would be done except to carry out a certainty," thus insulating Douglas from everything save a fait accompli. The Douglas people, particularly Maloney, were confident that if faced with a true Democratic Party draft, Douglas, out of deference to Roosevelt, would be unable to decline. Maneuvers by Hannegan and the party regulars to nominate Truman, however, prevented any chance of a Douglas "landslide compromise." Additionally, the justice's admirers found it difficult to promote a Douglas candidacy since, as Ickes wrote, "the suggestion of his name was always met with the statement that `I understand that Douglas doesn't want to be nominated and would not accept.'"(59)

On the second ballot, Truman showed early substantial gains, and many delegates hopped aboard the Truman bandwagon to stop Wallace, who, to the horror of Hannegan and party leaders, had been very warmly received by the convention. The second ballot showed Truman with 1,031 votes to Wallace's 105. During the second round of voting, the outcome no longer in doubt, Henry Hess grabbed Maloney's shoulders, tears in his eyes, and cried, "What do we do now?"(60) Douglas received four votes from the Oregon delegation. There would be no Douglas compromise candidacy.

Furious Douglas supporters believed that Hannegan and other party leaders had forced Truman, the product of Missouri machine politics, on the convention. Redfaced, Mayor Ed Kelly, himself a machine politician, cursed Hannegan, Flynn, and Pauley, "calling them sons-of-bitches in one breath and sons-of-bitching lunatics in the next" Eliot Janeway wrote afterward.(61) This convention "bossism" especially bothered Ickes, who during the convention dashed off a telegram to the president: "No one here is deceived as to the impetus behind the Truman candidacy." The "ghost of Pendergast," a reference to former Missouri Democratic boss Thomas J. Pendergast, presided over the convention. "Here is an issue made to order for Dewey whose whole reputation and whose nomination today is based upon his apparently fearless onslaught on the kind of machine and corrupt politics" that Hannegan represented.(62) Ickes so feared that Dewey would make campaign hay over Truman's background that he became a Wallace promoter as a means to block Truman.

When Justice Douglas returned to Washington from his combined vacation and hiding place, he expressed relief that the convention had ended and tried to convince Chief Justice Stone that the whole affair concerning him and the vice-presidency had been overblown. "For a while I feared that pressure might be put on me to go on the ticket. It was not," Douglas lied. "Every one of my friends knew I had no political ambitions," but just in case, Douglas added, he vacationed "where not even the Lone Ranger could find me."(63) In fact, tremendous pressure had been put on Douglas to bow to a vice-presidential draft. In being less than truthful, Douglas perhaps tried to downplay the episode in order to reassure Stone, who had been concerned about members of his court being politically ambitious.

Six weeks after the convention, Douglas, who had a profound affection for FDR, admitted to Harold Ickes that had the president specifically sent for him and asked him to run on the ticket, he would have been hard pressed to refuse. "An FDR `draft' would have been difficult to resist," Douglas later wrote. "I am glad I never had to face up to it in 1944."(64)

While Douglas never wavered in his belief that his "place was on the court" he undeniably enjoyed the attention and the publicity, and he was genuinely touched by the display of affection his admirers expressed in their attempt to draft him. "That we had a difference of opinion," he told Ickes, "does not make me less grateful for the great confidence you expressed in me."(65) Later, Douglas reiterated that though flattered, he had "thoroughly frowned upon any effort to make him the vice-presidential nominee."(66) Even Felix Frankfurter, who ascribed almost everything Douglas did to political ambition and a thirst for the presidency, came to understand Douglas had not sought the 1944 nomination. "What a pity that those who actively promoted Douglas for V.P. not only before but at the convention," he wrote, "did not realize that Douglas, like General Sherman for the Presidency, was unalterably unavailable."(67)

After FDR's reelection, Douglas's indefatigable core of supporters believed that he was well-positioned for the 1948 presidential nomination. "Destiny," Henry Hess told Douglas, "is saving you for the Presidency at a later date."(68) Janeway, Ickes, Forrestal, and Corcoran all believed Douglas should carry FDR's banner in '48. "To your role as a justice" wrote Janeway, the most adamant of Douglas's supporters as well as the most disappointed in his failure to accept a draft, "has been added that of a leader"; unalterable political momentum had been created for a "Douglas movement" for political office and political leadership, he said. "Nothing you do can stop it."(69)

Janeway was right. As 1948 approached, Douglas again found himself the object of an intensive political draft movement, as supporters vigorously promoted him for the presidency and vice-presidency despite his protests and renewed attempts to call them off. President Truman wanted Douglas as well and offered him the vice-presidency, but Douglas refused, citing his desire to remain out of politics and on the Court. Truman settled for Kentucky Senator Alben Barkley, and Douglas remained out of the candidate's spotlight until 1952, the last year he was seriously promoted for the presidency.

Though no amount of graceful deterrence or forceful denial of political ambition dissuaded his admirers from attempting to draft their hero for office, Douglas did not seek political office. He made all reasonable efforts to stop his friends from promoting him for the vice-presidency, even taking the remarkable step of physically isolating himself prior to and during the Chicago convention. Despite the wishes of his active core of supporters, and ignoring FDR's desires, Douglas chose to remain on the Court and eschewed any and all opportunities for the 1944 vice-presidency.

(1) See, e.g., James F. Simon, Independent Journey: The Life of William O. Douglas (New York, 1980), 266; Joseph P. Lash, ed., From the Diaries of Felix Frankfurter (New York, 1975), 77; Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., "The Supreme Court: 1947," Fortune 35 (January 1947): 75; Robert H. Ferrell, Choosing Truman: The Democratic Convention of 1944 (Columbia, 19941,84; G. Edward White, The American Judicial Tradition, rev. ed. (New York, 1988), 399; Frank Freidel, Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Rendezvous with Destiny (Boston, 1990), 535; Melvin I. Urofsky, ed., The Douglas Letters: Selections from the Private Papers of Justice William O. Douglas (Bethesda, Md., 1987), 214; Stephen J. Whitfield, The Culture of the Cold War, 2d ed. (Baltimore, 1996), 159.

(2) Douglas, interview with Alden Whitman, 1971, quoted in the New York Times, 20 January 1980, p. 28.

(3) Patrick J. Maney, The Roosevelt Presence (New York, 1992), 177.

(4) See Ferrell, Choosing Truman, 10.

(5) Harold L. Ickes Manuscript Diary, 1 December 1940, container 6, 5020, Library of Congress, Manuscripts Division, Washington, D.C. (hereafter Ickes Diary LC). The dates cited in the diary are not necessarily the dates on which actual events occurred, as Ickes often recorded the week's events on the weekend.

(6) Ferrell, Choosing Truman, 5.

(7) Learned Hand to Felix Frankfurter, 7 September 1942, box 64, Felix Frankfurter Papers, Library of Congress, Manuscripts Division, Washington, D.C. (hereafter FFP).

(8) Frankfurter to Harlan E Stone, 22 August 1944, Harlan Fiske Stone Papers, box 74, Library of Congress, Manuscripts Division, Washington, D.C. (hereafter HFSP).

(9) John Morton Blum, ed., The Price of Vision: The Diary of Henry A. Wallace, 1942-1946 (Boston, 1973), 139, diary entry 30 November 1942.

(10) Ibid., 250 (15 September 1943).

(11) Ibid., 213 (31 May 1943); see also Michael R. Beschloss, Kennedy and Roosevelt: The Uneasy Alliance (New York, 1980), 254.

(12) Ickes Diary LC, container 12, 8966 (4 June 1944), 9083 (16 July 1944).

(13) Ickes Diary LC, container 10, 7430 (7 February 1943).

(14) Quoted in Arthur Krock, Memoirs: Sixty Years on the Firing Line (New York, 1968), 176-77.

(15) Ickes Diary LC, container 11, 8490 (26 December 1943).

(16) E. Palmer Hoyt to Douglas, 27 February 1943, box 340, William O. Douglas Papers (hereafter WODP), Manuscripts Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

(17) Douglas to Francis T. Maloney, 14 January 1944, WODP, box 353.

(18) Ibid.

(19) Maloney to Douglas, 17 January 1944, WODP, box 353; see also William O. Douglas, The Court Years, 1939-1975 (New York, 1980), 281-82. Because Douglas's memoirs, especially The Court Years, are fraught with embellishments and sometimes inaccurate reconstruction, they must be used with great care; in this instance, the memoirs are consistent with the extant historical record.

(20) Maloney to Douglas, 10 July 1944, WODP, box 537.

(21) Douglas to Maloney, 14 July 1944, WODP, box 357.

(22) Douglas, Court Years, 281-82; Melvin I. Urofsky, "Conflict Among the Brethren: Felix Frankfurter, William O. Douglas, and the Clash of Personalities and Philosophies on the United States Supreme Court" Duke Law Journal 1988 (February 1988): 104.

(23) Ickes Diary LC, container 11, 8922 (27 June 1944).

(24) Ickes Diary LC, container 12, 8957-58 (4 June 1944).

(25) New York Times, 8 June 1944, p. 17.

(26) Ickes Diary LC, container 12, 9012 (18 June 1944).

(27) Richard Neuberger to Douglas, 8 July 1944, WODP, box 359.

(28) Freidel, Roosevelt: Rendezvous with Destiny, 533.

(29) Samuel I. Rosenman, Working with Roosevelt (New York, 1952), 440.

(30) Ferrell, Choosing Truman, 3.

(31) Ickes Diary LC, container 12, 9080 (16 July 1944). Hannegan and Ickes spoke "earlier in the week," presumably prior to the 11 July meeting in which FDR finally accepted Truman as his running mate.

(32) Ibid., 9082-83.

(33) Ickes Diary LC, container 12, 9086 (16 July 1944).

(34) See James MacGregor Burns, Roosevelt: The Soldier of Freedom (New York, 1970), 504-5; Freidel, Roosevelt: Rendezvous with Destiny, 533-34; Simon, Independent Journey, 262-63; Ferrell, Choosing Truman, 11-14; Rosenman, Working with Roosevelt, 444-45; David McCullough, Truman (New York, 1992), 300-301; George E. Allen, Presidents Who Have Known Me (New York, 1950), 128-29; Matthew J. Connelly Oral History transcript, 92, HSTL.

(35) Ed Pauley to White House staffer Jonathan Daniels, memorandum, n.d., quoted in Ferrell, Choosing Truman, 13.

(36) George E. Allen oral history transcript, HSTL; see also Simon, Independent Journey, 263; McCullough, Truman, 300; Burns, Soldier of Freedom, 504.

(37) Edwin Pauley and George Allen overheard FDR tell this to Hannegan; quoted in Ferrell, Choosing Truman, 14.

(38) Eliot Janeway to Douglas, 11 July 1944, WODP, box 537.

(39) See, e.g., Robert Kenny to Franklin Roosevelt, 12 July 1944, box 237, Harold Ickes Papers, Library of Congress, Manuscripts Division, Washington, D.C. (hereafter HIP); Henry L. Hess to Robert Hannegan, 13 July 1944, box 537, WODP.

(40) "For Vice-President: Why Not Douglas?" St. Louis Star-Times, 14 July 1944, p. 12, in box 237, HIP.

(41) Douglas to Harlan F. Stone, 12 July 1944, box 74, HFSP.

(42) Douglas to Maloney, 14 July 1944, box 537, WODP.

(43) Eliot Janeway, "Birth of the Tickets," Fortune, September 1944, 132.

(44) Douglas to Maloney, 14 July 1944, box 537, WODP.

(45) See Ickes Diary LC, container 12, 9092 (16 July 1944).

(46) Roosevelt to Robert Hannegan, 19 July 1944, reprinted in the New York Times, 21 July 1944, p. 1.

(47) See Rosenman, Working with Roosevelt, 446, 449.

(48) Oscar Chapman Oral History transcript, 21-22, HSTL.

(49) Ickes Diary LC, container 12, 9092 (16 July 1944).

(50) See Ferrell, Choosing Truman, 83.

(51) Ickes to Roosevelt, 24 July 1944, box 237, HIP; see also T. H. Watkins, Righteous Pilgrim: The Life and Times of Harold L. Ickes, 1874-1952 (New Yolk, 1990), 812.

(52) Janeway to Douglas, 4 August 1944, box 537, WODP; see also George Killion to Douglas, 1 August 1944, box 537, WODP; and Maloney to Douglas, 27 July 1944, box 537, WODP.

(53) Reprinted in the New York Times, 21 July 1944, pp. 1, 10; see also Ferrell, Choosing Truman, 81; Rosenman, Working with Roosevelt, 446; McCullough, Truman, 306; Freidel, Roosevelt: Rendezvous with Destiny, 534.

(54) Grace Tully, F.D.R.: My Boss (New York, 1949), 276; see also Douglas, interview with Eric Sevareid, CBS, "CBS Reports" September 1972, "Mr. Justice Douglas" transcribed in In Honor of Justice Douglas: A Symposium on Individual Freedom and the Government, ed. Robert H. Keller (Westport, Conn., 1979), 148-69, esp. 152; Douglas, Court Years, 283.

(55) See Ferrell, Choosing Truman, 83, 120

(56) New York Times, 21 July 1944, pp. 1, 10.

(57) Blum, ed., Price of Vision, 368; Ickes Diary LC, container 12, 9113 (23 July 1944).

(58) Abe Fortas to Douglas, 25 July 1944, box 537, WODP.

(59) Ickes Diary LC, container 12, 9705 (6 May 1945).

(60) Janeway to Douglas, 4 August 1944, box 537, WODP.

(61) Ibid.

(62) Ickes, telegram to Roosevelt, 19 July 1944, box 237, HIP.

(63) Douglas to Stone, 12 August 1944, box 74, HSFP.

(64) Ickes Diary LC, container 12, 9279 (7 October 1944); Douglas, Court Years, 283-84.

(65) Douglas to Ickes, 21 August 1944, box 237, HIP.

(66) Ickes Diary LC, container 13, 9775 (2 June 1945).

(67) Frankfurter to Stone, 22 August 1944, box 74, HFSP.

(68) Henry L. Hess to Douglas, 5 August 1944, box 537, WODP.

(69) Janeway to Douglas, 4 August 1944, box 537, WODP.

James L. Moses is a visiting assistant professor of history at Arkansas Tech University.

Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, who served from 1939 to 1975, was one of the most politically active justices in U.S. history. Contrary to current historical interpretation, however, he did not have ambitions for the White House, as James L. Moses shows in his examination of the 1944 Democratic vice-presidential nomination.
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Title Annotation:Review
Publication:The Historian
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2000

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