Henry Morgenthau, Jr.
|Henry Morgenthau, Jr.|
|52nd United States Secretary of the Treasury|
January 1, 1934 – July 22, 1945
|President||Franklin D. Roosevelt
Harry S. Truman
|Preceded by||William H. Woodin|
|Succeeded by||Frederick M. Vinson|
|Born||May 11, 1891
New York City, New York
|Died||February 6, 1967
Poughkeepsie, New York
Henry Morgenthau, Jr. (//; May 11, 1891 – February 6, 1967) was the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury during the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt. He played a major role in designing and financing the New Deal. After 1937, while still in charge of the Treasury, he played the central role in financing US participation in World War II. He also played an increasingly major role in shaping foreign policy, especially with respect to Lend Lease, support for China, helping Jewish refugees, and proposing (in the "Morgenthau Plan") to prevent Germany from again being a military threat by wrecking its industry and mines.
Morgenthau was born into a prominent Jewish family in New York City, the son of Henry Morgenthau, Sr., a real estate mogul and diplomat, and Josephine Sykes. He had three sisters. He attended the Dwight School, then studied architecture and agriculture at Cornell University. In 1913, he met and became friends with Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. He operated a farm near the Roosevelt estate in upstate New York, specializing, like FDR, in growing Christmas trees. He was concerned about distress among farmers, who comprised over a fourth of the population. In 1922 he took over the American Agriculturalist magazine, making it a voice for reclamation, conservation, and scientific farming. In 1929, Roosevelt, as Governor of New York, appointed him chair of the New York State Agricultural Advisory Committee and to the state Conservation Commission.
In 1933, Roosevelt became President and appointed Morgenthau governor of the Federal Farm Board. Morgenthau was nonetheless involved in monetary decisions. Roosevelt adopted the idea of raising the price of gold to inflate the currency and reverse the debilitating deflation of prices. The idea came from Professor George Warren of Cornell University.
- Roosevelt gradually made MacDonald, and the world, understand. Step by step he reengineered the value of the dollar. He directed the treasury to bid up the price of gold. Every morning he met with Henry Morgenthau, a close adviser who would become his treasury secretary; George Warren, a Cornell University professor who specialized in farm economics; and Jesse Jones, the director of the federal Reconstruction Finance Corporation, to discuss that day's gold purchases. Roosevelt, sitting in bed eating his soft-boiled eggs, would pick a number to serve as the target rise in the gold price. One morning Morgentau, as frowningly serious as usual, suggested that something between 19 and 22 cents would be appropriate. Roosevelt immediately decided on 21 cents. "It's a lucky number, because it's three times seven," he said, laughing. Morgethau considered the president's answer entirely too flippant. "If anybody ever knew how we really set the gold price, through a combination of lucky numbers, etc., I think they would really be frightened," Morgenthau recorded in his diary.
- There was method to Roosevelt's gold-buying scheme, but not enough to please all the economists. George Warren contended that plumbing gold would pull up farm prices. "A rise in prices is essential," Warren told Roosevelt. "The only way in which a rise in price can be brought about and held is reducing the gold value of the dollar. . . . If the treasury is ordered to buy a certain amount of new gold at a certain price, and if the price is raised at frequent intervals, this would probably accomplish the purpose." Other economists vehemently rejected this arguement. John Maynard Keynes blasted Warren's theories, and Roosevelt's policies, in an open letter in the New York Times. Keynes endorced the concept of managing the value of the dollar, but he thought the president was going about it all wrong. "The recent gyrations of the dollar have looked to me more like a gold standard on the booze than the ideal managed currency of my dreams," Keynes said.
- Yet Roosevelt's gold policy was less about economic theory than about political practice. The depression had inspired farmers' advocates to do what their predecessors during the last long depression, of the late nineteenth century, had done: insist on expansion of the currency as a way of raising prices. 
In 1934, when William H. Woodin resigned because of poor health, Roosevelt appointed Morgenthau Secretary of the Treasury (an act that enraged conservatives). Morgenthau was an orthodox economist who opposed Keynesian economics and disapproved of some elements of Roosevelt's New Deal. To finance World War II, he initiated an elaborate system of marketing war bonds.
To protect the New Deal, in 1934, President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked Morgenthau to examine the taxes of William Randolph Hearst because FDR was "advised that Hearst was planning to use his newspapers to launch a major attack on the New Deal and its economic policies." Treasury Secretary Morgenthau explained that he examined the taxes of William Randolph Hearst and actress Marion Davies and "advised FDR to mount a preemptive attack on both her and Hearst."
The Great Depression, rampant unemployment, and deficit spending were of primary focus for Morgenthau. And after almost two terms served by Roosevelt, Morgenthau assessed the federal effort to relieve economic conditions by proclaiming, "We have tried spending money. We are spending more than we have ever spent before and it does not work....We have never begun to tax the people in this country the way they should be.... I don't pay what I should. People of my class don't. People who have it should pay.... After eight years of this administration we have just as much unemployment as when we started...and an enormous debt to boot!"
Campaign against corruption
Morgenthau used his position as Treasury chief to investigate organized crime and government corruption. Treasury Intelligence and other agencies (the notoriously fragmented US federal law enforcement system had five in the Treasury Department alone) were uncoordinated in their efforts; efforts to create a super-agency were stalled by J. Edgar Hoover, who feared his FBI would be overshadowed. Nevertheless, Morgenthau created a coordinator for the Treasury agencies; although the coordinator could not control them, he could move them to some cooperation.
Former head of IRS' criminal investigators Elmer Lincoln Irey, who had directed major investigations including the successful prosecution of Al Capone, assumed the position in 1937. Investigations of official corruption caused the fall of political boss Thomas "Big Tom" Pendergast of Kansas City. A Mafia-related shootout and massive official corruption led to successful investigations against Pendergast and the local Mafia head Charles Carrollo. Other officials — as well as gangsters, in a few rare cases — were convicted because of Morgenthau's investigations.
Morgenthau believed in balanced budgets, stable currency, reduction of the national debt, and the need for more private investment. The Wagner Act regarding labor unions met Morgenthau's requirement because it strengthened the party's political base and involved no new spending. Morgenthau accepted Roosevelt's double budget as legitimate — that is, a balanced regular budget, and an "emergency" budget for agencies, like the Works Progress Administration (WPA), Public Works Administration (PWA) and Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), that would be temporary until full recovery was at hand. He fought against the veterans’ bonus until Congress finally overrode Roosevelt's veto and gave out $2.2 billion in 1936. In the 1937 "Depression within the Depression", Morgenthau was unable to persuade Roosevelt to desist from continued deficit spending. Roosevelt continued to push for more spending, and Morgenthau promoted a balanced budget. In 1937, however, Morgenthau successfully convinced Roosevelt to finally focus on balancing the budget through major spending cuts and tax increases; Keynesian economists have argued that this new attempt by Roosevelt to balance the budget created the Recession of 1937. On November 10, 1937, Morgenthau gave a speech to the Academy of Political Science at New York's Hotel Astor, in which he noted that the Depression had required deficit spending, but that the government needed to cut spending to revive the economy. In his speech, he said:
"We want to see private business expand. … We believe that one of the most important ways of achieving these ends at this time is to continue progress toward a balance of the federal budget."
His biggest success was the new Social Security program; he reversed the proposals to fund it from general revenue and insisted it be funded by new taxes on employees. Morgenthau insisted on excluding farm workers and domestic servants from Social Security because workers outside industry would not be paying their way. He questioned the value of the deficit spending that had not reduced unemployment and only added debt:
"We have tried spending money. We are spending more than we have ever spent before and it does not work. And I have just one interest, and if I am wrong … somebody else can have my job. I want to see this country prosperous. I want to see people get a job. I want to see people get enough to eat. We have never made good on our promises. … I say after eight years of this Administration we have just as much unemployment as when we started. … And an enormous debt to boot."
To reduce the deficit he argued for increased taxes, particularly on the wealthy.
"We have never begun to tax the people in this country the way they should be..... I don't pay what I should. People in my class don't. People who have it should pay."
Once confronted by the Holocaust, the Allied Powers reacted slowly. In 1943, Morgenthau's Treasury Department approved the World Jewish Congress' plan to rescue Jews through the use of blocked accounts in Switzerland, but the State Department and the British Foreign Office procrastinated further. Morgenthau and his staff persisted in bypassing State and ultimately confronting Roosevelt in January 1944. He obtained the presidential creation of the US War Refugee Board in January 1944. The Board sponsored the Raoul Wallenberg mission to Budapest and allowed an increasing number of Jews to enter the U.S. in 1944 and 1945; as many as 200,000 Jews were saved in this way.
Hurwitz (1991) argues that in late 1943, the Treasury Department drafted a report calling for the creation of a special rescue agency for European Jewry. At the same time, several congressmen connected with the "Bergson Boys" introduced a resolution also calling for the creation of such an agency. On January 16, 1944, Morgenthau presented Roosevelt with the Treasury report, and the president agreed to create the War Refugee Board (WRB), the first major attempt of the United States to deal with the annihilation of European Jews.
Blum argues that by mid-1944, the War Refugee Board:
- "Had begun to fulfill Morgenthau's high expectations. His experience in getting the board established and in helping to oversee its operations constituted his signal wartime success to that date in nurturing humanitarian purpose in American foreign-policy."
As for the top Germans, Morgenthau at one point in summer 1944 suggested to Roosevelt that the top 50 or 100 German "arch-criminals" should be shot upon capture. He changed his mind and by early 1945 proposed formal trials.
The Morgenthau Plan
In 1944, Morgenthau proposed the Morgenthau Plan for postwar Germany, calling for Germany to lose the heavy industry, and the Ruhr area "should not only be stripped of all presently existing industries but so weakened and controlled that it can not in the foreseeable future become an industrial area". Germany would keep its rich farmlands in the east. However Stalin insisted on the Oder-Neisse border, which moved those farming areas out of Germany. Therefore, the original Morgenthau plan had to be dropped, Weinberg argues, because it was "too soft on the Germans, not too hard as some still imagine."
At the Second Quebec Conference on September 16, 1944, Roosevelt and Morgenthau persuaded the initially very reluctant British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to agree to the Morgenthau plan, likely using a $6 billion Lend Lease agreement to do so. Churchill chose however to narrow the scope of Morgenthau's proposal by drafting a new version of the memorandum, which ended up being the version signed by the two statesmen. The gist of the signed memorandum was "This programme for eliminating the war-making industries in the Ruhr and in the Saar is looking forward to converting Germany into a country primarily agricultural and pastoral in its character."
The plan faced opposition in Roosevelt's cabinet, primarily from Henry L. Stimson, and when the plan was leaked to the press, there was public criticism of Roosevelt. The President's response to inquiries was to deny the press reports. As a consequence of the leak, Morgenthau was in bad favor with Roosevelt for a time.
German Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels used the leaked plan, with some success, to encourage the German people to persevere in their war efforts so that their country would not be turned into a "potato field."  General George Marshall complained to Morgenthau that German resistance had strengthened. Hoping to get Morgenthau to relent on his plan for Germany, Roosevelt's son-in-law, Lt. Colonel John Boettiger, who worked in the United States War Department, explained to Morgenthau how the American troops that had had to fight for five weeks against fierce German resistance to capture Aachen and complained to him that the Morgenthau Plan was "worth thirty divisions to the Germans." In late 1944, Roosevelt's election opponent, Thomas Dewey, said it was worth "ten divisions". Morgenthau refused to relent.
On May 10, 1945, Truman signed the U.S. occupation directive JCS 1067. Morgenthau told his staff that it was a big day for the Treasury, and that he hoped that "someone doesn't recognize it as the Morgenthau Plan." The directive, which was in effect for over two years directed the U.S. forces of occupation to "...take no steps looking toward the economic rehabilitation of Germany".
In occupied Germany Morgenthau left a direct legacy through what in OMGUS commonly were called "Morgenthau boys". These were U.S. Treasury officials whom General Dwight D. Eisenhower had "loaned" in to the Army of occupation. These people ensured that JCS 1067 was interpreted as strictly as possible. They were most active in the first crucial months of the occupation, but continued their activities for almost two years following the resignations of Morgenthau in mid-1945, and some time later, of their leader, Colonel Bernard Bernstein, who was "the repository of the Morgenthau spirit in the army of occupation". They resigned when, in July 1947, JCS 1067 was replaced by JCS 1779 which instead stressed that "An orderly, prosperous Europe requires the economic contributions of a stable and productive Germany."
In October 1945, Morgenthau published a book titled Germany Is Our Problem in which he described and motivated the Morgenthau plan in great detail. Roosevelt had granted permission for the book the evening before his death, when dining with Morgenthau at Warm Springs. Morgenthau had asked Churchill for permission to also include the text of the then still secret "pastoralization" memorandum signed by Churchill and FDR at Quebec but permission was denied. In November 1945 General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Military Governor of the U.S. Occupation Zone, approved the distribution of 1000 free copies of the book to American military officials in occupied Germany. Historian Stephen Ambrose draws the conclusion that, despite Eisenhower's later claims that the act was not an endorsement of the Morgenthau plan, Eisenhower both approved of the plan and had previously given Morgenthau at least some of his ideas on how Germany should be treated.
Following his resignation, along with other prominent individuals such as the former first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, Morgenthau remained for several years an active member of the group campaigning for a "harsh peace" for Germany.
Morgenthau was a leading participant in the Bretton Woods Conference, which established the Bretton Woods system, the International Monetary Fund and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (the World Bank).
Later career and legacy
Morgenthau resigned in mid-1945, when Truman became President and Morgenthau's advice was no longer sought. He devoted the remainder of his life to working with Jewish philanthropies, and also became a financial advisor to Israel. Tal Shahar, an Israeli moshav (agricultural community) near Jerusalem, created in 1948, was named in his honor (Morgenthau means "morning dew" in German, and so does the Hebrew name "Tal Shahar").
Morgenthau donated his diary of 840 volumes to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum. He died in Poughkeepsie, New York, in 1967. His son Robert M. Morgenthau was the District Attorney of New York County from 1975 to 2009.
The 378-foot (115 m) United States Coast Guard Cutter Morgenthau is named in his honor.
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- Blum, John Morton, ed. From the Morgenthau Diaries, a 3-volume narrative of Morgenthau's New Deal years (1928–45) based very closely on his diary.; abridged edition: Roosevelt and Morgenthau: A Revision and Condensation of From the Morgenthau Diaries (1970)
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Henry Morgenthau, Jr..|
- Time Magazine October 15, 1945 Morgenthau's Hope Reaction to the publication of Morgenthau's book "Germany is Our Problem" where he promotes the "Morgenthau Plan".
- Time Magazine September 22, 1967 Vengeance v. Vision Review of Years of War, 1941–1945; From the Morgenthau Diaries by John Morton Blum.
- U.S. Treasury – Biography of Secretary Morgenthau
- Stay the Hand of Vengeance by Gary Bass
William H. Woodin
|U.S. Secretary of the Treasury
Served under: Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman
Fred M. Vinson