28 January, 2009

Arthur Vandenberg


Arthur Hendrick Vandenberg was a Republican Senator from the U.S. state of Michigan who participated in the creation of the United Nations.

Arthur Vandenberg was born to Aaron and Alpha Hendrick Vandenberg and raised in the city of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Vandenberg attended public schools there and studied law at the University of Michigan (1900-1901); while there he joined Delta Upsilon. He had no additional formal education. After a brief stint in New York working at Collier's magazine, he returned home in 1906 to marry his childhood sweetheart, Elizabeth Watson. They had three children. She died in 1917, and in 1918 Vandenberg married Hazel Whittaker; no children followed.

He was a newspaper reporter, editor and publisher for the Grand Rapids Herald from 1906 to 1928.

On March 31, 1928, he was appointed to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Senator Woodbridge Nathan Ferris: Governor Fred Green reluctantly did so following considerable political pressure, and Vandenberg immediately declared his intention to stand for election to both the short, unexpired term and the full six-year term. In November 1928, he was handily elected for a full term. In the Senate, he piloted into law a bill for automatic redistricting of the House of Representatives after each national census. He was at first an ardent supporter of President Herbert Hoover but he became discouraged by Hoover's intransigence and failures in dealing with the Great Depression. After the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932, Vandenberg went along with most of the early New Deal measures, except for the NIRA and AAA. With the exception of his amendment to the 1933 Glass-Steagal Banking Act, which created the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Vandenberg failed to secure enactment of any significant legislative proposals. By the 1934 election, his own political position was precarious, and although he lost his home district he was reelected by 52,443 votes.

When the new Congress convened in 1935, there were only twenty-five Republican senators, and Vandenberg was one of the most effective opponents of the second New Deal. He voted against most Roosevelt-sponsored measures, notable exceptions being the Banking Act of 1935 and the Social Security Act. He pursued a policy of what he called fiscal responsibility, a balanced budget, states' rights, and reduced taxation. He felt that Roosevelt had usurped the powers of Congress, and he spoke of the dictatorship of Franklin Roosevelt. But at the 1936 Republican National Convention, Vandenberg refused to permit the party to nominate him for Vice President; he sensed the coming debacle and did not want to suffer a humiliating defeat.

As part of the conservative coalition of Republicans and Democrats in the Senate, Vandenberg helped defeat Roosevelt's attempt to pack the Supreme Court. Thereafter, Vandenberg worked closely with this group. He helped defeat such pork-barrel legislation as the Passamaquoddy Bay and Florida Canal projects, voted against the National Labor Relations Act, various New Deal tax measures, and the Hours and Wages Act.

Vandenberg had become a member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations in 1929. A modified internationalist, he voted in favor of United States membership on the World Court; but the situation in Europe moved him towards isolationism. Also his experiences during the Nye Committee hearings on the munitions industry, of which he was the Senate cosponsor, convinced him that entry into World War I had been a disastrous error. He supported the isolationist Neutrality Acts of the 1930s but sponsored more severe bills which were designed to renounce all traditional neutral "rights" and restrict and prevent any action by the President that might cause the United States to be drawn into war. He was one of the most effective of the die-hard isolationists in the Senate. Except for advocating aid to Finland after the Soviet invasion of that country and urging a quid pro quo in the Far East to prevent a war with Japan over the Manchuria-China question, his position was consistently isolationist. In mid-1939 he introduced legislation nullifying the 1911 Treaty of Navigation and Commerce with Japan and urged that the administration negotiate a new treaty with Japan recognizing the status quo with regard to Japan's occupation of Chinese territory. Instead, Roosevelt and Secretary of State Cordell Hull used the resolution as a pretext for giving Japan the required six months' notice of intent to cancel the treaty, thus beginning the policy of putting pressure on Japan that led to the Attack on Pearl Harbor.

During World War II, Vandenberg's position on American foreign policy changed radically. Although he continued to vote with the conservative coalition against Roosevelt's domestic proposals, Vandenberg gradually abandoned his isolationism to become an architect of a bipartisan foreign policy, which he defined as a consensus developed by consultation between the President, the State Department, and congressional leaders from both parties, especially those in the Senate. On January 10, 1945, he delivered a celebrated "speech heard round the world" in the Senate Chamber, publicly announcing his conversion from "isolationism" to "internationalism." In 1947, at the start of the Cold War, Vandenberg became chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In that position, he cooperated with the Truman administration in forging bipartisan support for the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, and NATO, including presenting the critical Vandenberg resolution.

In 1940 and 1948 Vandenberg was a "favorite son" candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, but he was defeated both times by Republicans from New York. In 1950 Vandenberg announced that he had developed cancer. He died on April 18, 1951.

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