About Harold LeClair Ickes
Harold LeClair Ickes (/ˈɪkəs/IK-əss; March 15, 1874 – February 3, 1952) was a United States administrator and politician. He served as United States Secretary of the Interior for 13 years, from 1933 to 1946, the longest tenure of anyone to hold the office, and the second longest serving Cabinet member in U.S. history next to James Wilson. Ickes was responsible for implementing much of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's "New Deal" and is the father of Harold M. Ickes. He and Labor Secretary Frances Perkins were the only original members of the Roosevelt cabinet who remained in office for his entire presidency.
Born in Altoona, Pennsylvania, Ickes moved to Chicago at the age of 16 upon his mother's death and attended Englewood High School there. He was the class president while at Englewood High School. After graduating, he worked his way through the University of Chicago, finishing with a B.A. in 1897. At Chicago, Ickes was a charter member re-establishing the Illinois Beta Chapter of Phi Delta Theta.
He first worked as a newspaper reporter for The Chicago Record and later for the Chicago Tribune. He obtained a law degree from the University of Chicago in 1907 but rarely practiced. Instead, he became active in reform politics.
Initially a Republican in Chicago, Ickes was never part of the establishment. He was unsatisfied with Republican policies and joined Theodore Roosevelt's Bull Moose movement in 1912. After returning to the Republican fold, he campaigned for progressive Republicans Charles Evans Hughes (1916) and Hiram Johnson (1920 and 1924).
He fought lengthy and legendary battles first with Chicago figures Samuel Insull, the utilities magnate, William Hale Thompson, the mayor, and Robert R. McCormick, the owner of The Chicago Tribune. Later he had an ongoing battle with Thomas E. Dewey, the presidential candidate.
Although locally active in Chicago politics, he was unknown nationally until 1933. As part of this involvement, Ickes was involved in Chicago's social and political affairs; among his many activities include his work for the City Club of Chicago. After Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected president in 1932, he began putting together his cabinet. His advisers thought the Democratic president needed a progressive Republican to attract middle-of-the-road voters. He sought out Hiram Johnson, a Republican Senator at the time who had supported Roosevelt in the campaign, but Johnson was uninterested. Johnson did, however, recommend an old ally, Ickes.
Ickes was a strong supporter of both civil rights and civil liberties. He had been the president of the Chicago NAACP, and supported African American contralto Marian Anderson when the Daughters of the American Revolution prohibited her from performing in DAR Constitution Hall. He was an outspoken critic of the Japanese American internment during World War II. Also, as an official delegate to the founding United Nations conference in San Francisco, Ickes advocated for stronger language promoting self-rule and eventual independence for the world's colonies.
Secretary of the Interior
Ickes served simultaneously in several major roles for Roosevelt. Although he was the Secretary of the Interior, he was better known to the public for his simultaneous work as the director of the Public Works Administration. Here he directed billions of dollars of projects designed to lure private investment and provide employment during the depths of the Great Depression. His management of the PWA budget and his opposition to corruption earned him the name "Honest Harold". He regularly presented projects to Roosevelt for the President's personal approval.
Ickes' support of PWA power plants put increased financial pressure on private power companies during the Great Depression, which had both positive and negative effects. He tried to enforce the Raker Act against the city of San Francisco, an act of Congress which specified that because the dam at Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park was on public land, no private profit could be derived from the development. The city continues selling the power to PG&E, which is then resold at a profit.
He was instrumental in establishing the Kings Canyon National Park, commissioning Ansel Adams as a 'photographic muralist' in a visionary public relations project Ickes had himself conceived to document and communicate - viscerally - the outstanding beauty of the parks for the Washington public to see, and indirectly but effectively persuading the Congress to support the bill to President Roosevelt in 1940.
After the Hindenburg disaster, Nazi Germany sought to obtain helium to replace the flammable hydrogen in their fleet of dirigibles. Ickes opposed the sale, although practically every other member of the Cabinet supported it, along with the President himself. Ickes would not back down, fearing military use of the dirigible. Germany could not obtain the helium from other sources. Hence, Ickes virtually shut down the German dirigible program himself.
The Saudi Aramco oil corporation, through Secretary of the Interior Ickes, got Roosevelt to agree to Lend-Lease aid to Saudi Arabia, which would involve the US government in protecting American interests there and create a shield for ARAMCO.
Between June and October 1941, during a projected oil shortage, Ickes was successful in issuing orders to close gasoline stations in the Eastern United States between the hours of 7 p.m. and 7 a.m.
Ickes was a terrific orator and the only man in the Roosevelt administration who could rebut John L. Lewis of the United Mine Workers, who often delivered radio addresses critical of the Roosevelt Administration.
In the 1930s Ickes ordered the desegregation of national parks, including those in the South.
Jewish refugees in Alaska
Main article: Slattery Report http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slattery_Report
In a news conference on the eve of Thanksgiving 1938, Ickes proposed offering Alaska as a "haven for Jewish refugees from Germany and other areas in Europe where the Jews are subjected to oppressive restrictions." This proposal was designed to bypass normal immigration quotas, because Alaska was not a state. Ickes had toured Alaska that summer, meeting with local officials to discuss how to attract greater development, both for economic reasons and to bolster security in an area so close to Japan and Russia and to develop a plan to attract international professionals, including European Jews. In his press conference, he pointed out that 200 families had been relocated from the Dust Bowl to Alaska's Matanuska-Susitna Valley. The Department of the Interior prepared a report detailing the advantages of the plan, which was introduced as a bill by Utah's Senator William H. King and California's Democratic Representative Franck R. Havenner. The plan met with little support from American Jews, however, with the exception of the Labor Zionists of America; most Jews agreed with Rabbi Stephen Samuel Wise of the American Jewish Congress that the plan, if implemented, would deliver "a wrong and hurtful impression ... that Jews are taking over some part of the country for settlement". The final blow was dealt when Roosevelt suggested a limit of only 10,000 immigrants a year for five years, with a maximum of 10 percent Jews. He later reduced even that number and never publicly mentioned the plan.
Although he stayed on in President Harry S. Truman's cabinet after Roosevelt died in April 1945, he resigned from office within a year. In February 1946, Truman nominated Edwin W. Pauley to be Secretary of the Navy. Pauley was the former Democratic Party national treasurer. He once suggested to Ickes that $300,000 in campaign funds could be raised if Ickes would drop his fight for title to oil-rich offshore lands. Ickes testified to this during Pauley's Senate confirmation hearing. This led to a confrontation with Truman who had suggested that Ickes's memory might have been mistaken. Ickes wrote a 2,000-word resignation letter, reading in part: "I don't care to stay in an Administration where I am expected to commit perjury for the sake of the party.... I do not have a reputation for dealing recklessly with the truth." Truman accepted the resignation and gave Ickes three days to leave. Soon after, Pauley declined the nomination.
Ickes had bought a working farm, Headwaters Farm, near Olney, Maryland, in 1937. His wife Jane managed the farm and Ickes grew flowers as a hobby. President Roosevelt spent occasional weekends there before the establishment of "Shangri-La", the presidential retreat now known as Camp David. After he resigned from the Cabinet in 1946, Ickes retired to his farm but remained active on the political scene, working as a syndicated columnist.
In December 1945, Ickes accepted the position of executive chairman of the newly founded Independent Citizens Committee of the Arts, Sciences, and Professions, a group that criticized Truman's lack of fidelity to FDR's principles. A thousand people attended the hotel banquet that celebrated his appointment. He resigned in November 1946, unhappy with the organization's failure to pay him the agreed-upon salary and unwilling to support the organization of a new political party to support Henry Wallace's presidential race.
Critiques and battles
Ickes was known for his acerbic wit and took joy in verbal battles. He often took verbal abuse too. For instance, Roosevelt selected Ickes to deliver a response following the nomination of Wendell Willkie. In response to Ickes' comments, Senator Styles Bridges called Ickes "a common scold puffed up by high office." Republican Congresswoman Clare Boothe Luce once famously remarked that Ickes had "the mind of a commissar and the soul of a meataxe."
In September 1944, Thomas E. Dewey, the Republican nominee for president, promised to fire Ickes if elected. Ickes penned a letter of resignation to Dewey and it was widely printed in the press. Ickes wrote, in part:
Hence, I hereby resign as Secretary of the Interior effective, if, as and when the incredible comes to pass and you become the President of the United States. However, as a candidate for that office you should have known the primary school fact that the Cabinet of an outgoing President automatically retires with its chief.
He married divorcee Anna Wilmarth Thompson in 1911. She died in an automobile accident on August 31, 1935. He married Jane Dahlman (1913–1972), who was 25 at the time, on May 24, 1938, when he was 64. He had one son, Raymond, with Anna and a stepson, Wilmarth, from her first marriage. Ickes had two children with his second wife, Harold McEwen Ickes and Elizabeth Jane. He also adopted two children while married to Anna; Robert and Frances. His sister was Mary Ickes, who was married to John B. Watson, a famous American psychologist who lost his post at Johns Hopkins University due to a scandal involving his affair with a graduate student named Rosalie Rayner and subsequent divorce from Mary Ickes.
Pronunciation and spelling of name
Asked how to say his name, he told The Literary Digest "I think you come as close as anybody when you suggest that it rhymes with sickness with the n omitted. The e is halfway between a short e and short u": hence, /ˈɪkəs/ IK-əss. His son Harold M. Ickes, however, pronounces the name /ˈɪkiːz/ IK-eez.
The correct spelling of Ickes' middle name is undetermined. It is sometimes spelled Le Clair, Le Claire or LeClare.
In the musical play Annie, Roosevelt demands that Ickes sing "Tomorrow" in the Oval Office, and orders him to get louder. Ickes was largely a comic figure in the play, despite acting rude, vulgar, and arrogant. Annie helps him to sing, and he gets somewhat carried away. He ends the song on his knees, much to the dismay of the Cabinet and the President.
Harold Ickes plays a key part in the backstory of Michael Chabon's alternative history The Yiddish Policemen's Union.