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“The Fall in the House of Roosevelt” by Janeway Review Report

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Updated: Sep 9th, 2021

Introduction

As Michael Janeway reveals from the beginning of the book the events and fact that it describes are deeply personal to the author: “I grew up inside the world this book describes.” This book is a portrait of a world that was inhabited by Eliot Janeway, his father, who was business editor for Fortune, Life and Time magazines and one of the most influential economic advisors to Franklin D. Roosevelt.

As an important figure in the politics of that era Janeway has much to reveal about the political and personal connections between advisors, secretaries, politicians, intellectuals and different party activists that were influential during New Deal Era politics.

Various historians, journalists and other personalities active during New Deal era described on these pages. Being an insider Janeway has much to say about personal characteristics, family secrets, clandestine developments and intrigues. Much of the first six chapters are devoted to Janeway describing his own life and the activities of his father. He tells the readers about his father’s first marriage, flirtation with Communist party in the youth which further created some minor problems, the secrets of his Jewish origin and FBI background on him and other members of his family.

The next three chapters represent a comprehensive analysis of political and ideological climate of New Deal period through the prism of elite perception. The dilemmas, problems, opinions of the highest political circles on the issues of national building, social and international politics is described in a solid literary way using wide documental and personal materials. Janeway describes general political climate dominant in the United States during Roosevelt presidency and future years when the New Deal was maintained as a qualitatively new perception of national policies and the all-embracing feeling of necessity to rebuild national political sphere and society to make it more democratic and inclusive.

The fifth chapters starts with a general description of archetypical features of New Deal leaders worldview. They are not described as totally positive heroes but as ordinary people, sometimes selfish, sometimes arrogant.

Further chapters are the portrayals of key players in New Deal politics which Janeway was himself an important constituent. There is no denying the importance of the fact that the description of such personalities as wheeler-dealer Thomas G. Corcoran and James Forrestal seem to be superficial in factual terms and due to the lack of space but however thus can not shadow the fact that the insider nature of narration is particularly interesting and thrilling.

The chapters 9-13 provide a comprehensive overview of personal, professional and political credos of such important New Deal personalities as already mentioned Corcoran, Benjamin V. Cohen, Abe Fortas, William O. Douglas, James Rowe and some others. Janeway’s book provides interesting information on how New Dealers talked with one each other, what topics and moods were dominant. Consider Corcoran, who was Roosevelt’s chief aide whose telephone monologues Janeway uses in his book. In one call, for instance, he says: ”December is a serious month in the law business, my boy. It’s the end of life for which the first is made.” In another call, he says to Fortas that he has ”got the circuit moving” for him toward the judgeship. Criticizing Roosevelt’s successor Truman, he says that Truman’s main credo is ”Let me have men about me not too smart.” From Democratic convention held in 1968, Corcoran writes to President Johnson, ”If you want me, I’ll be doggo at the Lake Shore Drive Hotel.” These interesting details that reveal the personalities and hidden features of personal relations between New Dealers play a crucial role in Janeway’s book and are something that make it thrilling and live.

Janeway pays much attention to their role in the formation of modern Democratic Party and shaping coalition of progressive politicians, journalists and intellectuals leading in a political sphere for more than 30 decades.

It is noteworthy that the discussed book does not only provide the wide spectrum of insider information but thorough political analysis of political and economic conditions in the then United States. This is particularly true of Chapter 12 which provides a comprehensive outlook of basic political developments in Democratic Party. Janeway father as a political and business editor who worked in the leading journals such as Fortune and Life magazines left many private letters and other documents which were extensively utilized in Janeway Jr.’s book. These documents which are presented as length in the Chapter 13 prove that the reform thinking at the electoral level and deep commitment for rebuilding the American state were one of the crucial moving forces of New Deal circle.

As was mentioned above the space for gossip in this novel is found by Janeway. This concerns for instance the Douglas’s divorce and his father’s denial of Jewishness which are described in Chapter 6. Chapter 13 and Chapter 14 provide readers with thorough and comprehensive analysis of Carter presidency during which the significant break with New Deal ideals was made.

These chapters show that Janeway has good sociological skills. His attitude on Democratic party moving away from Rooseveltian ideals is negative since these ideals are his own and as he suggests they are the main prerequisite of creating genuine democracy in the United States.

Mr. Jefferson’s Lost Cause

Roger Kennedy’s book Mr. Jefferson’s Lost Cause represents an interesting insight into the problem of South states development under the presidency of Jefferson in the beginning of 19-th century. Such crucial issues as slave economy in the South, the barriers for industrial development are analyzed through the prism of Jefferson’s role in these processes. This president is presented as the supporter of slave economy as he himself owned a plantation. There is no denying the importance of the fact that that the discussed book presents a comprehensive outline of main political and economic relations of that time and the role different politicians such as Jefferson played.

In order to provide with a comprehensive analysis of this book it is necessary to make chapter by chapter summary. The first chapter is a description of Jefferson political platform and his stance on the issues of economic development and slavery. The author claims that though Jefferson is claimed to be a supporter of agricultural entrepreneurship represented in free and independent yeomen he was responsible for immense expansion of plantation system base on the slaveholding which is particularly true after the United States purchased Louisiana territories which belonged to France. The first chapter is a comprehensive analysis of choices and dilemmas that which American statesmen faced up with in the end of 18 century such as the necessity of small farms development as a prerequisite for forming capitalist economy and political relations between South slaveholding aristocracy and Northern authorities. Kennedy rightly suggests that these relations were difficult and tense which obscured rapid resolution of land question. Kennedy analyzes different approaches to agricultural development presented by planters and yeomen. Particular emphasis is put on the consequences of poor climate conditions in Virginia in the end of 18 century.

The second chapter provides an interesting outline and discussion of Washington and Jefferson views on economic development of agriculture. Besides this the philosophy of plantation migrancy is introduced with a particular emphasis on philosophy of Garland Harmon.

The third and fourth chapter is particularly interesting as Kennedy discusses the evolution of Jefferson’s political and economic views through the prism of his social status. The conclusion is made that his ownership of plantation where the slaves’ work was used provides an explanation for his political sympathies to expanding slaveholding in Southern states.

In the following chapters of the fist part Kennedy analyses the main contours of slavery economy in the South claiming that it was environmentally destructive. Kennedy claims that in comparison with smaller-scale farms which used wage-labor, slave-holding plantations were much more destructive to soil as planters didn’t have any economic stimulus for developing cost-effective practices since the labor they used was slave labor.

The second part begins with a seventh chapter where Kennedy provides an interesting insight into the role of American slavery economy in the wider context of colonial imperialism. Slaveholding plantations were oriented at the export of cheap textile to British empire and hence created the dependence of newly formed United States on its former sovereign – British empire. The relations between British and ruling ‘plantocracy’ with a particular emphasis on Hamilton and Jefferson policies directed at fostering the interests of planters are described in length in Chapter 8. Kennedy claims that both Hamilton and Jefferson had their share in cotton business and hence were interested in maintaining slaveholding order in the South.

Chapter 10-13 are devoted to analysis of internal colonial policies of American planters reflected in the violent takeover of Indians land in the west. These policies were coordinated by central government and Jefferson which issued necessary legitimization laws and decrees. Indians were deprived of their lands through various mechanisms: violent dispossession or debt burden. Debt burden was one of the most wide-spread form of Indians dispossession. In this way according to Kennedy the system of internal colonialism was developed with a primary role of Jefferson and other politicians who betrayed their republican principles to maintain stable relations with planters. Chapter 12 is a outline of Jefferson’s firm strategy and his policies. The whole spectrum of legislation, decrees, Jeffersonian agents etc. are analyzed.

The chapter 13 presents deep and insightful analysis of events that preceded buying Louisiana: debates in political circles including Jefferson, James Monroe’s mission to France, strategies and priorities of different stakeholders.

Conclusion

Finally, the epilogue chapter provides the analysis of Jefferson’s legacy through the prism of Civil War, Homestead Act and future economy of land use.

Among the sources which Kennedy quotes the most prominent and crucial are Jefferson writings including letters, private papers, autobiography and other documents where Kennedy found Jefferson’s opinions on the main political events of his time as well as his ideological standpoint.

References

Jefferson, Thomas. Writings : Autobiography / Notes on the State of Virginia / Public and Private Papers / Addresses / Letters. Library of America, 1984.

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IvyPanda. ""The Fall in the House of Roosevelt" by Janeway Review." September 9, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-fall-in-the-house-of-roosevelt-by-janeway-review/.

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IvyPanda. 2021. ""The Fall in the House of Roosevelt" by Janeway Review." September 9, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-fall-in-the-house-of-roosevelt-by-janeway-review/.

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IvyPanda. (2021) '"The Fall in the House of Roosevelt" by Janeway Review'. 9 September.

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