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Roosevelt's "Brain Trust"

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Roosevelt's "Brain Trust"

Brain trust began as a term for a group of close advisers to a political candidate or incumbent, prized for their expertise in particular fields. The term is most associated with the group of advisers to Franklin Roosevelt during his presidential administration. More recently the use of the term has expanded to encompass any group of advisers to a decision maker, whether or not in politics.


The first use of the term brain trust was in 1899 when it appeared in the Marion (Ohio) Daily Star: "Since everything else is tending to trusts, why not a brain trust?" This sense was referring to the era of trust-busting, a popular political slogan and objective of the time that helped spur the 1890 Sherman Antitrust Act and was later a key policy of President Theodore Roosevelt's administration. The term appears to have not been used again until 1928, when Time magazine ran a headline on a meeting of the American Council on Learned Societies titled "Brain Trust".

Roosevelt's "Brain Trust"

Franklin Roosevelt's speechwriter and legal counsel Samuel Rosenman suggested having an academic team to advise Roosevelt in March 1932. This concept was perhaps based on The Inquiry, a group of academic advisors President Woodrow Wilson formed in 1917 to prepare for the peace negotiations following World War I. In 1932, New York Times writer James Kieran first used the term Brains Trust (shortened to Brain Trust later) when he applied it to the close group of experts that surrounded United States presidential candidate Franklin Roosevelt. According to Roosevelt Brain Trust member Raymond Moley, Kieran coined the term, however Rosenman contended that Louis Howe, a close advisor to the President, first used the term but used it derisively in a conversation with Roosevelt.

The core of the first Roosevelt brain trust consisted of a group of Columbia law professors (Moley, Tugwell, and Berle). These men played a key role in shaping the policies of the First New Deal (1933). Although they never met together as a group, they each had Roosevelt's ear. Many newspaper editorials and editorial cartoons ridiculed them as impractical idealists.

The core of the second Roosevelt brain trust sprang from men associated with the Harvard law school (Cohen, Corcoran, and Frankfurter). These men played a key role in shaping the policies of the Second New Deal (1935–1936).


First New Deal

  • Adolf Berle - original Brain Trust
  • Hugh S. Johnson
  • Raymond Moley - original Brain Trust (Moley broke with Roosevelt and became a sharp critic of the New Deal from the right)
  • Basil O'Connor
  • Rexford Tugwell - original Brain Trust
  • Frances Perkins
  • Harry Hopkins
  • Harold L. Ickes
  • Louis Brandeis
  • James Warburg - original Brain Trust

Second New Deal

  • Benjamin V. Cohen - 2nd New Deal
  • Thomas Gardiner Corcoran - 2nd New Deal
  • Felix Frankfurter - 2nd New Deal

Other Advisers

  • Louis Howe
  • Paul M. O'Leary
  • George Peek
  • Charles William Taussig
  • Robert F. Wagner
  • F. Palmer Weber