Description

    Harry L. Hopkins: Rare 1939 Autograph Narrative Concerning FDR's Supreme Court Reorganization Battle.
    -April 3 1939. Warm Springs, Georgia. Three pages. 11" x 15.25".
    -Paper slightly toned, with a central fold crease, staple holes in the upper left corner, else fine.

    Written barely two years after the events, this unbelievably rare and historic multi-page narrative handwritten by Harry L. Hopkins, one of FDR's key political advisors, confidantes, and friends gives an intimate account of the genesis of FDR's struggle with the Senate to reorganize the Supreme Court. This historical, hitherto unknown first-person account begins: "A statement to me by Thomas Corcoran giving his recollection of the genesis of the Supreme Court fight between the President and the U. S. Senate." Thomas Gardiner Corcoran (nicknamed "Tommy the Cork" by FDR), was a member of Roosevelt's brain trust during the New Deal. The entire document is worthy of quoting but the first few paragraphs set the stage for the rest of this fascinating document. It reads in part: 'The President offered Felix Frankfurter the post of Solicitor General at the beginning of his first term which offer Felix refused because he feared he would be pitched into the political arena thereby destroying his usefullness [sic] as a Presidential advisor. Furthermore, he had no confidence in the Attorney General, Homer Cummings. Cummings and his friends induced the President to appoint [James Crawford] Biggs of N.C. - an incompetent lawyer - to the most important legal position in the Executive branch. This started the trouble because our legal guns were of very small calibre. [sic]...". Hopkins adds an interesting footnote to the narrative: "Footnote:/ Neither Tommy Corcoran or Ben Cohen had anything much to do with the Court fight. Tommy believed the Court should have simply been enlarged by three members. Once the President moved Tommy and Ben did what they could but Cummings and Richberg were jealous of all the other legal advice and kept Tommy at arms length./ H.L.H." A very unique and historical first person account of the 1937 Supreme Court reorganization fight by the Roosevelt Administration, as dictated by Tommy the Cork to Harry Hopkins, with Hopkins's own footnote and interpretation of Corcoran's role in this defining battle involving all three branches of Government during the second Administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt.


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    The extended description below was supplied by the consignor. We are making it available to our web bidders who are interested in more in-depth research and broader historical perspective. Please note that presentation (i.e. framing), lot divisions, and interpretations of condition and content may occasionally differ from our descriptions. Assertions of fact and subjective observations contained in this description represent the opinion of the consignor. These remarks have not been checked for accuracy by Heritage Auctions, and we assume no responsibility for their accuracy; they are offered purely to allow the bidder insight into the way the consignor has viewed the item(s) in question. No right of return or claim of lack of authenticity or provenance based upon this extended description will be granted.

     

    An unbelievably rare and historic multi-page narrative handwritten by Harry L. Hopkins, one of FDR's key political advisors, confidantes, and friends after the death of Colonel Louis McHenry Howe in 1936; a three page handwritten account by Hopkins, then FDR's Secretary of Commerce, written from Warm Springs, Georgia where Hopkins and Missy LeHand accompanied FDR to Warm Springs, Georgia from the White House on March 30, 1939, concerning FDR and the Supreme Court reorganization battle with the United States Congress in 1937.  This autograph document signed "H.L.H." for Harry Lloyd Hopkins, from Warm Springs, Georgia, is dated April 3, 1939. This handwritten narrative comprises three large pages, foolscap, measuring 10 7/8 x 15 1/8," being "a statement to me by Thomas Corcoran giving his recollection of the genesis of the Supreme Court fight between the President and the U.S. Senate." This is history, as it is a hitherto unknown first person account given to Hopkins by Thomas G. "Tommy the Cork" Corcoran, whom FDR entrusted as one of his advisors in the waging of the Supreme Court battle on his behalf in the United States Senate, although Hopkins himself at the end of his handwritten narrative in a footnote downplays Corcoran's role in this sensational affair that enveloped FDR's second term as President of the United States. A very unusual piece of New Deal history in which Tommy Corcoran's reflections on the initiative by FDR and his Administration to achieve judicial reform on the United States Supreme Court is told to and transcribed by none other than Harry L. Hopkins. Hopkins writes in his own hand: "A statement to me by Thomas Corcoran giving his recollection of the genesis of the Supreme Court fight between the President and the U.S. Senate./ ‘The President offered Felix Frankfurter the post of Solicitor General at the beginning of his first term which offer Felix refused because he feared he would be pitched into the political arena thereby destroying his usefullness [sic] as a Presidential advisor. Furthermore, he had no confidence in the Attorney General, Homer Cummings. Cummings and his friends induced the President to appoint [James Crawford] Biggs of N.C. – an incompetent lawyer – to the most important legal position in the Executive branch. This started the trouble because our legal guns were of very small calibre. [sic]/ In early 1935 – [Supreme Court Associate Justice Louis D.] Brandeis sent for Felix – told him he didn't like the N.R.A. and made it perfectly clear to Felix that if he ever got a chance he would kick the N.R.A. out the window. [Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Evans] Hughes and the conservatives on the Court were very restive – thoroughly angry with the President and only waiting to be sure of Brandeis and [Supreme Court Associate Justice Harlan Fiske] Stone./ Biggs was such a wash out that the President finally fired him and appointed Stanley Reed. There had been a long feud between Cummings and [Donald R.] Richberg, the N.R.A. attorney on one side and Reed on the other. Reed was kept in ignorance of the legal moves. Injunctions were issued right and left and an N.R.A. case testing the Constitutionality of the statute was bound to come before the Court at any early date. The President had indicated that he did not want the Shecter [sic: Schechter Poultry Corporation v. United States] case used feeling it was the weakest case the government had – Reed agreed. But Cummings and Richberg differed and while the President was away on a short fishinig trip, determined to hold a press conference the next day and commit the Dept. of Justice to using the Shecter [sic] case as the test./ I felt this was not only wise [sic: unwise?] but I thought it was against the President's own wishes. I continued to get a message thru to the President urging him to order Cummings to hold up his announcement. This the President did but the message arrived too late – the press conference was held and the announcement made. I believe to this day that the President's message was deliberately held up. The Shecter [sic] case was lost, Brandeis leading the parade. The Court having tasted blood now gave the New Deal the works – every important measure including the triple A [Agricultural Adjustment Act] – were pitched overboard by the bitter and prejudiced old men on the Court./ There followed the President's framers ‘horse and buggy' interview – he – the President – thoroughly aroused, looking for away [sic] to prevent the Court from blocking, what he believed to be, the very fundamentals of our democracy. The court in his opinion was prejudiced and delivering opinions based on their outmoded political philosophies. The legal pride of Cummings and Richberg, particularly the latter, was badly hurt. Cummings discovered that [Supreme Court Associate Justice James C.] McReynolds, our bitterest opponent on the Court, had while Attorney General in the Wilson administration proposed a scheme to provide substitutes for judges who were disabled. Cummings brot [sic] this to the White House – received the President's approval and was told to work very confidentially with Richberg on a message to Congress. Cummings prepared the first draft – but Richberg added the venom. No one saw the draft or the re-writing so far as I know but Cummings, Richberg and Sam Rosenman. The latter acquainted me of some of the statements which I was sure were wrong – notably the one about the crowding of the Court calendar – I tried to see the President to caution him because I had no confidence in Cummings but Rosenman said the President was determined to send the message at once. I did get in to see him the morning the message went to the hill – I urged him to tell Brandeis in advance, hoping to soften the blow on him – the President told me to see him at once – I crashed the sacred robing room – he waked with me in the hall while the balance of the Court filed by – not knowing of the bombshell that was awaiting them. Brandeis asked me to thank the President for letting him know but said he was unalterably opposed to the President's actions and that he was making a great mistake./ The fight in the Senate was bungled from the beginning – the message itself was weak – we had no adequate line of communication with the leaders – the President's messengers were incompetent – and perhaps disloyal. I tried to keep Senator [Burton K.] Wheeler [of Montana] in line but he hated Cummings and walked out on us. We missed a compromise when that could have been accomplished – Cummings and Richberg were advising the President to stand pat altho [sic] neither of them had any influence in the Senate and in fact completely misjudged the sentiment of that body. Cummings went for a holiday right in the middle of the fight. I didn't believe we would have won the compromise even tho Joe Robinson [Senate Majority Leader from Arkansas] had lived. A grand idea was lost by bungling lawyers and bad political strategy.'/ Footnote:/ Neither Tommy Corcoran or Ben Cohen had anything much to do with the Court fight. Tommy believed the Court should have simply been enlarged by three members. Once the President moved Tommy and Ben did what they could but Cummings and Richberg were jealous of all the other legal advice and kept Tommy at arms length./ H.L.H." Wow! Declaring in his Second Inaugural Address that "I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished," FDR was determined to push forward with further New Deal reforms. With large Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress, there remained only one obstacle to his objectives: the Supreme Court of the United States. During FDR's first term, the Court, which consisted entirely of pre-Roosevelt appointees, had invalidated several key New Deal measures, and cases challenging the Social Security Act and the Wagner Act were pending. To make the Court more supportive of reform legislation, FDR – through the mechanisms described above by Corcoran and written down by Hopkins in his own hand – proposed a reorganization plan that would have allowed the President to appoint one new justice for every sitting justice age 70 years or older. The reorganization bill provoked heated debate in Congress and eventually was voted down, which handed FDR his first major legislative defeat. Arguably, however, the fight over reorganization seemed to alter the Supreme Court's attitude toward the New Deal, and both the Social Security Act and the Wagner Act were upheld. On April 3, 1939, when Corcoran dictated this first person account to Hopkins which the Secretary of Commerce committed to paper in his own hand, he was ill. Having been recently confirmed as Secretary of Commerce, here is Hopkins's own narrative of his trip with FDR to Warm Springs in the spring of 1939: "We left Washington early in the afternoon of Wednesday, March 29 – Mrs. Roosevelt had invited Diana [his daughter] to stay at the White House while I was in Warm Springs – so promising real live ducks for Easter – I kissed my adorable one good-by and for the first time in two weeks stepped out of doors on my all too wobbly legs. I had a room in the President's car and slept the afternoon through – and now more than a week has passed and I am feeling ever so much better. There is no one here but Missy – the President and me – so life is simple – ever so informal and altogether pleasant. And why not – I like Missy – the President is the grandest of companions – I read for hours – and slept ever so well. The food as ever around the W.H. menage is medium to downright bad." This joint preparation of the immediate history of the Supreme Court reorganization plan between Hopkins and Corcoran came at the very time when Hopkins was increasingly influential with FDR, and Corcoran on the down slide in the Administration. It was Corcoran who assisted Hopkins in the fall of 1938 to get enough business support, in large part by winning over the backing of Averell Harriman, then the Chairman of the Business Advisory Council, to back Hopkins as FDR's nominee for Secretary of Commerce. Corcoran reportedly told Harriman that "Harry has the keys to the White House, not only the front door, but the back door, too." Shortly after Corcoran dictated this history of the Supreme Court reorganization fight to Hopkins, while back in his Washington, D.C. office Hopkins paid him a visit and told him "Tommy, I will be the first to tell you – the President wants me to succeed him." Therefore, when Hopkins wrote this Supreme Court reorganization narrative in his own hand, taking direct dictation from Tommy Corcoran on April 3, 1939, many other interesting goings on were happening involving these two New Dealers. Harry Lloyd Hopkins (1890-1946) was born in Sioux City, Iowa, the fourth child of David Aldona and Anna Pickett Hopkins. Hopkins attended Grinnell College and soon after his graduation in 1912, he took a job with Christodora House, a social settlement in New York City's Lower East Side ghetto. In the spring of 1913 he accepted a position with the New York Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor (AICP) as "friendly visitor" and superintendent of the Employment Bureau. In October 1913, Harry Hopkins married Ethel Gross and the couple eventually had three sons: David (1914-1980), Robert (1921-) and Stephen (1925-1944). In 1915, New York City Mayor John Purroy Mitchel appointed Hopkins executive secretary of the Bureau of Child Welfare, which administered pensions to mothers with dependent children. With America's entrance into World War I, Hopkins moved his family to New Orleans where he worked for the American Red Cross as director of Civilian Relief, Gulf Division. Eventually, the Gulf Division of the Red Cross merged with the Southwestern Division and Hopkins, headquartered now in Atlanta, was appointed general manager in 1921. Hopkins helped draft a charter for the American Association of Social Workers (AASW) and was elected its president in 1923. In 1922, Hopkins returned to New York City where he became General Director of the New York Tuberculosis Association. During his tenure there, the agency grew enormously and absorbed the New York Heart Association. When the Great Depression hit, New York State Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt called on Hopkins to run the first state relief organization in the nation – the Temporary Emergency Relief Administration (TERA). Hopkins met Eleanor Roosevelt only after he had accepted the job as head of the TERA. She reported, "I never heard of Mr. Hopkins until long after he had been working for my husband in New York State, so that whole paragraph on my having discovered him is untrue." In Albany, Hopkins and ER began an enduring friendship, which had significant impact on New Deal policy. Soon after FDR's inauguration as president in 1933, he summoned Hopkins to Washington as Federal Relief Administrator. Convinced that work should be the chief antidote to poverty, Hopkins used his influence with FDR to push for federal programs to provide government-sponsored jobs for the unemployed. Reinforced by ER and Lorena Hickok's reports from the field, Hopkins worked to alleviate the suffering of the unemployed by creating work and relief programs for the unemployed. His particular contributions to the New Deal included the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA), the Civil Works Administration (CWA), and the Works Progress Administration (WPA). He supported ER's call for a National Youth Administration and the Federal One Programs, and the two worked closely together to promote and defend New Deal relief programs. During the war years, Hopkins acted as FDR's unofficial emissary to Winston S. Churchill and Joseph Stalin, as Administrator of Lend-Lease, and as the shadowy figure behind Roosevelt at the Big Three conferences. Hopkins died in early 1946, succumbing to a long and debilitating illness. Thomas Gardiner Corcoran (1900-1981) was one of several Irish American advisors in FDR's extended Brain Trust during the New Deal, and later, a close friend and advisor to President Lyndon B. Johnson. Corcoran was born in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, and educated at Harvard Law School. In 1932, after five years of practicing corporate law in New York, Corcoran joined the Reconstruction Finance Committee. When FDR began to take notice of his efforts, Corcoran was given a wider range of responsibilities than his official position as assistant general counsel allowed. He organized administrative agencies for various New Deal programs and assisted in drafting such legislation as the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. Much of his work during the New Deal was in conjunction with Benjamin V. Cohen. Together Corcoran and Cohen were known as the "gold dust twins" and were on the cover of Time Magazine's September 12, 1938, edition. Nicknamed "Tommy the Cork" by FDR, Corcoran was the outgoing yin to Cohen's shy and retiring yang. Corcoran's work after leaving Government service led him to be dubbed the first of the modern lobbyists. A very unique and historical first person account of the 1937 Supreme Court reorganization fight by the Roosevelt Administration, as dictated by Tommy the Cork to Harry Hopkins, with Hopkins's own footnote and interpretation of Corcoran's role in this defining battle involving all three branches of Government during the second Administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt.



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