About Hamilton Stuyvesant Fish, III
Hamilton Fish III (born Hamilton Stuyvesant Fish and also known as Hamilton Fish, Jr.; December 7, 1888 – January 18, 1991) was a soldier and politician from New York State. Born into a family long active in the state, he served in the United States House of Representatives from 1920 to 1945 and during that time was a prominent opponent of United States intervention in foreign affairs and was a critic of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. When Fish celebrated his 102nd birthday in 1990, he was the oldest living American who had served in Congress.
Background, family, and early life
Fish was born Hamilton Stuyvesant Fish in Garrison, Putnam County, New York to former U.S. Representative Hamilton Fish II and the former Emily Mann. His paternal grandfather, Hamilton Fish, was United States Secretary of State under President Ulysses S. Grant. The father of the first Hamilton Fish, Nicholas Fish (born 1758), an officer in the Continental Army and later appointed adjutant general of New York State by Governor George Clinton.
The wife of Nicholas Fish was Elizabeth Stuyvesant, a descendant of Peter Stuyvesant, who was the Dutch colonial governor of New York. Through his mother, Emily Mann, Hamilton Fish III was also a descendant of Thomas Hooker, who settled Hartford, Connecticut in 1636. Fish's uncle Elias Mann was a judge and three-term mayor of Troy, New York.
Fish's great-grandmother, Susan Livingston, married Count Julian Ursyn Niemcewicz in 1800 after the death of her husband, John Kean (who had been a delegate to the Continental Congress from South Carolina.) A soldier and statesman, Niemcewicz was credited with writing the Polish Constitution of 1791. John Kean and Susan Livingston's great-grandson, and thus a relative of Fish, was Thomas Kean, who was elected governor of New Jersey in 1982.
A cousin of Hamilton Fish III (also named Hamilton Fish) was sergeant in Company L of Theodore Roosevelt's "Rough Riders", and the first American soldier killed in action during the Spanish-American War. At the age of ten, Hamilton Fish II had his son's name legally changed from Hamilton Stuyvesant Fish to just Hamilton Fish to honor his fallen cousin (he and Hamilton Fish III never met).
Fish was married in 1921 to Grace Chapin Rogers (1885–1960), daughter of onetime Brooklyn Mayor Alfred Clark Chapin. Their son, Hamilton Fish IV, was a thirteen-term U.S. Representative from New York, holding office from 1969 to 1995. The Fishes' daughter Lillian Veronica Fish married David Whitmire Hearst, son of William Randolph Hearst.
During his childhood, Fish attended Chateau de Lancy, a Swiss school near Geneva, which his father also attended in 1860; there, the younger Fish learned French and played soccer. He spent summers with his family in Bavaria. He began his U.S. boarding school education at Fay School in Southborough, Massachusetts, and he later attended St. Mark's School, a preparatory school also in Southborough. Fish later described himself as a "B student" but successful in several different sports.
Graduating from St. Mark's in 1906, Fish went on to attend Harvard University. There, he played on Harvard's football team as a tackle and was a member of the Porcellian Club. Standing 6 feet 4 inches (1.93 m) and weighing 200 pounds (91 kg), "Ham" Fish was highly successful as a football player; he was twice an All-America and in 1954 was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. After graduating from Harvard, Fish continued his involvement in football. He donated $5000 for several awards to Harvard football players; and organized the Harvard Law School football team, which played exhibition games with other colleges around the country.
In 1909, aged twenty, Fish graduated from Harvard with a cum laude degree in history and government. He declined an offer to teach history at Harvard and instead took a job in a New York City insurance office.
Hamilton accepted an offer from Col. William Hayward to become a captain in the 369th U.S. Infantry Regiment, a unit made up of African American enlisted men which came to be known as the "Harlem Hellfighters." The summer after President Wilson's declaration of war against Germany (in April 1917), Fish and about two thousand soldiers began training at Camp Whitman (in New York). In October 1917, the unit was ordered to Camp Wadsworth (in South Carolina) for further training. In November 1917, the regiment boarded the USS Pocahontas, destined for France, although shortly thereafter the ship returned to shore due to engine problems. After another abortive departure, the ship left on December 13, 1917. Despite colliding with another ship and not having a destroyer escort to protect against German submarines, the regiment reached France. (Fish complained to Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt about the lack of an escort.)
Fish and his unit landed in Brest, France on December 26; the 369th was placed under the control of the French army by U.S. General John Pershing. Altogether, the 369th spent 191 days on the front lines, which was the longest of any American regiment. It was also the first Allied regiment to reach the Rhine River. Fish, as well as his sister Janet (who had been a nurse near the front lines), were both later inducted into the French Legion of Honor for their wartime service.
Service in the U.S. Congress
First elected to fill the vacancy caused by Edmund Platt, Fish was a member of the United States House of Representatives from November 2, 1920 until January 3, 1945, having been defeated for reelection in 1944. In nearly 25 years as a congressman, Fish would become known as a strong anti-communist and a bitter opponent of his erstwhile friend Franklin D. Roosevelt, which raised his profile and made him an ally of the anti-Roosevelt members of Congress.
He was opposed to Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal policies before and after Pearl Harbor. A non-interventionist until Pearl Harbor, Fish was responsible for a number of legislative and diplomatic moves aimed at helping Jews out of Hitler's Germany and turned aside as refugees. His unapologetic opposition to the New Deal provoked Roosevelt into including him with two other Capitol Hill opponents in a rollicking taunt that became a staple of FDR's 1940 re-election campaign: "Martin, Barton and Fish." Finally, in part under the influence of New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey, Fish's congressional career ended when he won the Republican Party primary in his district but lost the general election in 1944.
The Unknown Soldier of World War I and the Tomb of the Unknowns
On December 21, 1920, Congressman Hamilton Fish introduced legislation which was to be among his most enduring and patriotic acts as a member of Congress. It was Resolution 67 of the 66th Congress which provided for the return to the United States the remains of an unknown American soldier killed in France during World War I and for interment of his remains in a hallowed tomb to be constructed outside the Memorial Amphitheater in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia across the Potomac River from the nation's capital. The Congress approved the resolution on March 4, 1921. On October 23, 1921 at Châlons-sur-Marne, France, about 90 miles from Paris, remains of an unknown soldier were selected from among six caskets containing remains of unknown American soldiers killed in France. The selected remains were returned to the United States and interred at the tomb site in Arlington National Cemetery on November 11, 1921 in solemn ceremony following a state funeral procession from the U.S. Capitol building where the World War I Unknown had lain in state. The tomb, completed in 1937, came to be known as The Tomb of the Unknowns (Soldiers) which is today guarded around the clock daily by elite sentries of the U.S. Army's historic ceremonial but combat ready 3rd Infantry Regiment—"The Old Guard." The tomb, and unknown soldiers of three U.S. wars interred there today, is thought to be the most hallowed military site in the United States and may well be Fish's greatest legacy to the nation.
Hamilton Fish was a fervent anti-communist; in a 1931 article, he described communism as "the most important, the most vital, the most far-reaching, and the most dangerous issue in the world" and believed that there was extensive communist influence in the United States.
On May 5, 1930, he introduced House Resolution 180, which proposed to establish a committee to investigate communist activities in the United States; the resulting committee, commonly known as the Fish Committee, undertook extensive investigations of people and organizations suspected of being involved with or supporting communist activities in the United States. Among the committee's targets were the American Civil Liberties Union and Communist Party presidential candidate William Z. Foster. The committee recommended granting the United States Department of Justice more authority to investigate communists, and strengthening of immigration and deportation laws to keep communists out of the United States.
Fish's alleged Nazi ties and "isolationism"
Fish was touted by the Germans as a friendly American ally. Time magazine once termed him "the Nation's No. 1 isolationist."
On August 14, 1939, Fish, president of the U.S. delegation to the Interparliamentary Union Congress conference in Oslo, Norway, met with Joachim von Ribbentrop. Ribbentrop served as Foreign Minister of Nazi Germany from 1938 until 1945. Fish flew to Oslo in Ribbentrop's private plane. Fish, a staunch opponent of Roosevelt, advocated better relations with Nazi Germany and hoped to solve the "Danzig question" during the conference in Norway. "Stepping out of Joachim von Ribbentrop's plane in 1939, Fish opined that Germany's claims were 'just.'"
On his return to the United States, Fish used his office to distribute copies of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. When accused of antisemitism, he responded, "It doesn't bother me any. There's been too much Jewism going around anyway."
In 1940, just after the presidential election, Fish sent a telegram to Roosevelt which read: "Congratulations. I pledge my support for national defense ... and to keep America out of foreign wars."
In 1941, a judiciary panel investigating the activities of Nazi agents in the U.S., sent officers to the Washington headquarters of an anti-British organization, the Islands for War Debts Committee, to seize eight bags of franked Congressional mail containing speeches by isolationist members of Congress. George Hill, Fish's chief of staff, had the mail whisked away to Ham Fish's office storeroom just prior to their arrival.
A grand jury was convened and summoned George Hill to explain: 1) why he had been so solicitous about the Islands for War Debts Committee's mail; and 2) his close association with George Sylvester Viereck, a Nazi propaganda agent. (Viereck would later be convicted of violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act and for having subsidized the Islands for War Debts Committee.) Hill said he had not sent for the mail and did not know George Sylvester Viereck. The jury promptly indicted George Hill on a charge of perjury.
Shortly after the indictment, Fish defended Hill claiming, "George Hill is 100% O.K., and I'll back George Hill to the limit on anything." During the trial, Hill had explained that Viereck visited Capitol Hill in 1940 and arranged for wholesale distribution of Congressional speeches attacking the Administration's foreign policy. After hearing a jury had reached its verdict and anticipating a conviction, Fish issued a statement: "I am very sorry to learn that George Hill, a disabled, decorated veteran of the World War and a clerk in my office, has been convicted of perjury... Mr. Hill is of English ancestry... He had an obsession against our involvement in war."Twenty hours later, the jury did convict Hill.
Less than two weeks before the 1942 midterm congressional election, columnist Drew Pearson's nationally-syndicated column (Washington Merry-Go-Round) described in detail how in 1939 Fish had received over $3,100 in cash from a source with German ties.
Britain's campaign to defeat Hamilton Fish
The British Security Cooperation focused a great deal of effort attempting to influence Congressmen through front groups, campaigning, and agents of influence. In 1940, BSC agents ran the Nonpartisan Committee to Defeat Hamilton Fish in order to “put the fear of God into every isolationist senator and congressman.” The committee raised substantial sums of money for Fish’s opponent, coordinated several media attacks, created false charges of wrong doing just before elections, and helped distribute books charging Fish with disloyalty. The committee as much as possible tried to make attacks on Fish appear to originate from his district though historical documents indicate most attacks originated outside of his district. Fish survived the attack in 1940 but won his election with less than half the margin of victory he earned 2 years earlier.
In the 1942 election, Fish (like other former isolationists) was considered vulnerable. The Orange and Putnam district that Fish represented had begun to turn against him. Polls predicted, incorrectly, that Fish would not even win the Republican primary. For the first time in his 22 years of political campaigning he opened campaign headquarters. Soon thereafter he was repudiated by the popular Republican gubernatorial candidate, Thomas Dewey. But the November 1942 election occurred when voters were impatient for the battlefield victories that would later come, and Fish defeated his Democratic opponent by 4,000 votes.
However, reapportionment, which took effect in 1944, fragmented his district. That year he ran in a district that no longer included his home county of Putnam, but included one county (Orange) from his previous district and three new counties. Fish was defeated by approximately 5,000 votes. As Time magazine reported, "In New York, to the nation's delight, down went rabid anti-Roosevelt isolationist Hamilton Fish, after 24 years in Congress. His successor: liberal Augustus W. Bennet, 47, Newburgh lawyer."
About his exit from Congress, Fish said in his election-night concession speech that "my defeat should be largely credited to Communistic and Red forces from New York City backed by a large slush fund probably exceeding $250,000." As he viewed it several weeks later, "It took most of the New Deal Administration, half of Moscow, $400,000, and Governor Dewey to defeat me...."
Embittered by his defeat, Fish promptly sued Robert F. Cutler (executive secretary of the group, Good Government Committee) for libel, seeking $250,000 in damages for advertisements depicting Fish as a Nazi sympathizer. The ads also depicted Fish associating with the "American Führer", Fritz Kuhn. He would later discontinue the lawsuit without a settlement.
Although pledging on December 8, 1941 that he would volunteer for the Army to avenge the attack on Pearl Harbor, Fish did not serve in World War II; he was actually 53 years old at that time.
Fish wrote a short history of World War I and an autobiography, Hamilton Fish: Memoir of an American Patriot, published shortly after his death. For many years he was a familiar speaker at various political and veterans' functions; an indefatigable traveler, he was known to do it by car as often as not. Almost invariably, he ended such speeches with, "If there is any country worth living in, if there is any country worth fighting for, and if there is any country worth dying for, it is the United States of America." In 1958 Fish founded the Order of Lafayette, a hereditary and patriotic organization to honor those men who fought in France in both world wars. Fish was the Order's first President, serving for a number of years.
Ancestors and descendants
Although he was the third Hamilton Fish in direct line in his family, like his father and his son, he was known as Hamilton Fish, Jr. during his time in Congress. His grandson has also been known as Hamilton Fish III, and was publisher of the left-wing magazine The Nation before making his own unsuccessful run for Congress as "Hamilton Fish, Jr." in 1994. He is also referred to as Hamilton Fish V. Hamilton Fish III married his fourth and last wife, Lydia Ambrogio Fish on Sept.9th 1988 and they remained married until his passing. She survives to this writing and lives in retirement in Port Jervis, NY.
Hamilton Fish, III's Timeline
December 7, 1888
Putnam, New York, United States
June 3, 1926
Washington, District of Columbia, District of Columbia, United States
January 18, 1991
Cold Spring, Putnam, New York, United States