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Rexford Tugwell

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Rexford Tugwell
Governor of Puerto Rico
In office
September 19, 1941 – September 2, 1946
Preceded byJosé Miguel Gallardo
Succeeded byJesús T. Piñero
Personal details
Rexford Guy Tugwell

(1891-07-10)July 10, 1891
Sinclairville, New York, U.S.
DiedJuly 21, 1979(1979-07-21) (aged 88)
Santa Barbara, California, U.S.
Political party
Alma mater

Rexford Guy Tugwell (July 10, 1891 – July 21, 1979) was an American economist who became part of Franklin D. Roosevelt's first "Brain Trust", a group of Columbia University academics who helped develop policy recommendations leading up to Roosevelt's New Deal. Tugwell served in FDR's administration until he was forced out in 1936. He was a specialist on planning and believed the government should have large-scale plans to move the economy out of the Great Depression because private businesses were too frozen in place to do the job. He helped design the New Deal farm program and the Resettlement Administration that moved subsistence farmers into small rented farms under close supervision. His ideas on suburban planning resulted in the construction of Greenbelt, Maryland, with low-cost rents for relief families. He was denounced by conservatives for advocating state-directed economic planning to overcome the Great Depression.

Roosevelt appointed Tugwell as the governor of Puerto Rico during World War II (1941–1945). He became a professor at various universities, with lengthy service at the University of Chicago and the University of California at Santa Barbara. He wrote twenty books, covering the politics of the New Deal, biographies of major politicians, issues in planning, and memoirs of his experiences.

Early life and education


Rexford Tugwell was born in 1891 in Sinclairville, New York. In his youth, he gained an appreciation for workers' rights and liberal politics from the works of Upton Sinclair, James Bryce, Edward Bellamy,[1] Frederick Winslow Taylor,[2] and Charles Richard van Hise.[3][4] Tugwell began studying economics in graduate work at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and completed his doctorate at Columbia University. At university, he was influenced by the teaching of Scott Nearing and Simon Patten, as well as the writings of John Dewey in philosophy.[5]


Tugwell in 1922.

Academic economist


After graduation, Tugwell served as junior faculty at the University of Washington, American University in Paris, and Columbia University. At Columbia University he taught economics from 1920 to 1932.[6]

Tugwell's approach to economics was experimentalist, and he viewed the industrial planning of World War I as a successful experiment. He advocated agricultural planning (led by industry) to stop the rural poverty that had become prevalent due to a crop surplus after the First World War. This method of controlling production, prices, and costs was especially relevant as the Great Depression began.[7]

Roosevelt administration


In 1932 Tugwell was invited to join President Franklin Roosevelt's team of advisers known as the Brain Trust. After Roosevelt's inauguration in 1933, Tugwell was appointed first as Assistant Secretary and then in 1934 as Undersecretary of the United States Department of Agriculture. He helped create the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA) and served as its director. The AAA included a domestic allotment program, which paid farmers to voluntarily reduce their production by roughly 30% so that reduced supply would increase the price they received. It was funded with a tax on processing companies that used farm commodities. Tugwell's department managed the production of key crops by adjusting the subsidies for non-production.[8] The act was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1936 in United States v. Butler, and had to be replaced in 1938.

Tugwell was also instrumental in creating the Soil Conservation Service in 1933, to restrict cultivation, restore poor-quality land, and introduce better agricultural practices to farmers to conserve the soil.[9] This was especially necessary given the widespread damage of the 1930s' Dust Bowls. He additionally played a key role in crafting the 1938 Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.

In April 1935 Tugwell and Roosevelt created the Resettlement Administration (RA), a unit of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration. Directed by Tugwell, the RA sought to create healthy communities for the rural unemployed by relocating them to new communities for access to urban opportunities. Some of the RA's activities dealt with land conservation and rural aid, but the construction of new suburban satellite cities was the most prominent. In her book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, the author Jane Jacobs critically quotes Tugwell on the program: "My idea is to go just outside centers of population, pick up cheap land, build a whole community and entice people into it. Then go back into the cities and tear down whole slums and make parks of them."[10] She believed that he underestimated the strengths of complex urban communities and caused too much social displacement in "tearing down" neighborhoods that might have been renovated. This resulted in greater damage to inner city neighborhoods.[11]

The RA completed three "Greenbelt" towns before the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit found the program unconstitutional in Franklin Township v. Tugwell. It ruled that housing construction was a state power, and the RA was an illegal delegation of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration's power.[12][13]

Tugwell had previously been denounced as "Rex the Red".[14] The RA's suburban resettlement program earned him condemnation as Communist and un-American because of its social planning aspects. Historians agree he was at all times a loyal American and was never affiliated in any way with the Communist Party.[15]

Tugwell and President Roosevelt inspecting the construction progress at the Greenbelt, Maryland town site, in February 1937.

American Molasses Co.


Given the opposition to his policies, Tugwell resigned from the Roosevelt administration at the end of 1936. He was appointed as a vice president at the American Molasses Co. At this time, he divorced his first wife and married Grace Falke, his former assistant.[16]

Director of New York City Planning Commission


In 1938 Tugwell was appointed as the first director of the New York City Planning Commission. New York's reformist mayor, Fiorello LaGuardia, created the commission as part of a city charter reform aimed at reducing corruption and inefficiency. The Planning Commission had relatively limited powers: all actions needed approval from the legislative Board of Estimate. Tugwell tried to assert the commission's power. He tried to retroactively enforce nonconforming land uses, despite a lack of public or legal support. His commission sought to establish public housing at moderate densities, yet repeatedly approved FHA requests for greater density. Robert Moses killed Tugwell's proposed fifty-year master plan with a fiery public denouncement of its open-space protections.[17]

Governor of Puerto Rico


Tugwell served as the last appointed American Governor of Puerto Rico, from 1941 to 1946. He worked with the legislature to create the Puerto Rico Planning, Urbanization, and Zoning Board in 1942. Tugwell supported Puerto Rican self-government through amendment to the Organic Act in 1948 but fiercely opposed decentralizing government agencies and services away from the city of San Juan "despite most Puerto Ricans in need of such services not residing in the capital." In one case, he vetoed a bill approved by both chambers of the Puerto Rico Legislature, and supported by 59 of 77[a] municipalities, establishing a state medical school in the city of Ponce, calling it "regionalism."[18] He publicly supported Luis Muñoz Marín's Popular Democratic Party, which wanted a Commonwealth status.[19]

As he prepared to retire from the Governorship, Tugwell was instrumental in getting the first Puerto Rican appointed to the job, Jesús T. Piñero, then serving as Resident Commissioner in Washington, D.C. Tugwell also served as Chancellor of the University of Puerto Rico.

Return to academia


After his stint as governor, Tugwell returned to teaching at a variety of institutions. He had years of service at the University of Chicago, where he helped develop their planning program. He moved to Greenbelt, Maryland, one of the new suburbs designed and built by the Resettlement Administration under his direction.

After the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Tugwell believed that global planning was the only sure way to prevent a nuclear apocalypse. He participated in the Committee to Frame a World Constitution from 1945 to 1948. He also thought the national constitution needed to be amended to enable economic planning.

Progressive Party (1948)


In 1948, Tugwell served as chair of the platform committee for the Progressive Party. During its convention (July 23–25, 1948), he recounted a conversation with presidential candidate Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1942 during which Roosevelt warned him of internal clashes that might destroy the Democratic Party but might also create a "Progressive Party", adding in his own words that Roosevelt "would have led a movement like that which we now join." Tugwell pled for party unity under a platform that The New York Times summed up as "endorsing Red foreign policy".[20]

Later life


Late in life, Tugwell drafted a constitution for the Newstates of America. In it, planning would become a new branch of federal government, alongside the regulatory and electoral branches.[21] During this time, he wrote several books, including a biography of Grover Cleveland, subtitled: A Biography of the President Whose Uncompromising Honesty and Integrity Failed America in a Time of Crisis (1968). His biography of Franklin D. Roosevelt was entitled FDR: An Architect of an Era. A Stricken Land was his memoir about his years in Puerto Rico. This book was reprinted in 2007 by the Muñoz Marín Foundation.

Representation in other media


Books and articles by Tugwell

  • The Economic Basis of Public Interest, Menasha, Wisconsin: George Banta Publishing Company, 1922.
  • Industry's Coming of Age, New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1927.
  • "Russian Agriculture," in Stuart Chase, Robert Dunn, and R. G. Tugwell, eds. Soviet Russia in the second decade: a joint survey by the technical staff of the first American Trade Union Delegation (The John Day Company, 1928)
  • "The Principle of Planning and the Institution of Laissez Faire." American Economic Review: Supplement, Papers and Proceedings of the Forty-Fourth Annual Meeting of the American Economic Association (1932) 22#1 pp. 75–92 in JSTOR
  • "Experimental Control in Russian Industry." Political Science Quarterly (1928): 161–187. in JSTOR
  • Mr. Hoover's Economic Policy, New York: John Day, 1932.
  • The Industrial Discipline and the Governmental Arts, New York: Columbia University Press, 1933.
  • with Howard Copeland Hill. Our economic society and its problems: a study of American levels of living and how to improve them (NY: Harcourt, Brace, 1934)
  • The Battle for Democracy, New York: Columbia University Press, 1935.
  • Changing the Colonial Climate: the Story, from His Official Messages, of Governor Rexford Guy Tugwell's Efforts to Bring Democracy to an Island Possession Which Serves the United Nations as a Warbase, selection and explanatory comments by J. San Juan Lear: Bureau of Supplies, Printing, and Transportation, 1942.
  • Puerto Rican Public Papers of R. G. Tugwell, Governor, San Juan: Service Office of the Government of Puerto Rico, Printing Division, 1945.
  • Forty-Fifth Annual Report of the Governor, 1945, San Juan: Government of Puerto Rico, 1945.
  • The Stricken Land: The Story of Puerto Rico, Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1947. ISBN 978-0-8371-0252-8
  • The Place of Planning in Society: Seven Lectures, San Juan: Office of the Government Planning Board, 1954.
  • A Chronicle of Jeopardy, 1945–1955, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1955.
  • The Democratic Roosevelt: A Biography of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1957.
  • The Art of Politics, As Practiced by Three Great Americans: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Luis Munoz Marin, and Fiorell H. LaGuardia, Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1958.
  • The Enlargement of the Presidency, Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1960.
  • The Light of Other Days, Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1962.
  • How They Became President, Simon & Schuster, 1964.
  • FDR: An Architect of an Era, Macmillan, 1967.
  • The Brains Trust, Viking Press, 1968. ISBN 978-0-670-00273-3
  • Grover Cleveland, Macmillan, 1968.
  • In Search of Roosevelt, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1972. ISBN 978-0-674-44625-0
  • The Emerging Constitution, Harper's Magazine Press, 1974. ISBN 978-0-06-128225-6.
  • The Diary of Rexford G. Tugwell: The New Deal, 1932–1935 (Greenwood, 1992)

Tugwell also wrote the foreword to Edward C. Banfield's first published work, Government Project (Free Press, 1951), a history of one of Tugwell's collective farm programs in California.

Tugwell's autobiographies include The Light of Other Days (1962), To the Lesser Heights of Morningside (1982), The Stricken Land (1947), A Chronicle of Jeopardy (1955), The Brains Trust (1968), Off Course (1971), and Roosevelt's Revolution: The First Year, a Personal Perspective (1977).


  1. ^ Namorato, Michael. Rexford G. Tugwell: A Biography. 1988. 11–18.
  2. ^ The Crisis of the Old Order: 1919–1933, The Age of Roosevelt, By Arthur M. Schlesinger, p. 210
  3. ^ A Commonwealth of Hope: The New Deal Response to Crisis
  4. ^ The American People in the Great Depression: Freedom from Fear, Part One
  5. ^ Namorato, Rexford G. Tugwell: A Biography, pp 21–54.
  6. ^ Caves, R. W. (2004). Encyclopedia of the City. Routledge. p. 680. ISBN 978-0415862875.
  7. ^ Namorato, Michael. Rexford G. Tugwell: A Biography. 1988. 35–54.
  8. ^ Sternsher, Bernard. Rexford Tugwell and the New Deal. Rutgers University Press, 1964. 183–193.
  9. ^ Namorato, Rexford G. Tugwell: A Biography. pp. 81–82.
  10. ^ Chapter 16, "Gradual Money and Cataclysmic Money," p. 310
  11. ^ Chapter 16, "Gradual Money and Cataclysmic Money," p. 310
  12. ^ Myhra, David. "Rexford Guy Tugwell: Initiator of America's Greenbelt New Towns, 1935 to 1936," Journal of the American Planning Association, Vol. 40, no. 3 (1974).
  13. ^ Arnold, Joseph. The New Deal in the Suburbs. Ohio State University Press, 1971.
  14. ^ Gilbert, Jess and Carolyn Howe. "Beyond "State vs. Society": Theories of the State and New Deal Agricultural Policies." American Sociological Review 56, no. 2 (1991): 216.
  15. ^ Namorato, Rexford G. Tugwell: A Biography. 1988. 114–115.
  16. ^ Milestones, Dec. 5, 1938 "Rexford Tugwell, Time, 1938
  17. ^ Gelfand, Mark. "Rexford G. Tugwell and the Frustration of Planning in New York City," Journal of the American Planning Association 51, no. 2 (1985): 151–159.
  18. ^ Carmelo Rosario Nadal. Ponce en su Historia Moderna: 1945–2002. Secretaria de Cultura y Turismo. Gobierno Municipal de Ponce. 2003. pp. 75–76.
  19. ^ Namorato, Michael. Rexford G. Tugwell: A Biography. 1988. 138–143.
  20. ^ Lawrence, W. H. (July 26, 1948). "New Party Blocks Ban on Endorsing Red Foreign Policy: With Communists in Control, Platform Is Adopted Avoiding Any Criticism of Russia". The New York Times. p. 1. Retrieved March 18, 2016.
  21. ^ Namorato, Michael. Rexford G. Tugwell: A Biography. 1988. 149–162.
  22. ^ "Mank (2020) - IMDb". IMDb. Retrieved December 5, 2020.


  1. ^ Florida was not yet a municipality

Further reading

  • Chichester, Steven A. "Making America Over: Rexford Guy Tugwell and his thoughts on central planning," (MA thesis Department of History." Liberty University Lynchburg, Virginia, 2011) online
  • Gelfand, Mark. "Rexford G. Tugwell and the Frustration of Planning in New York City," Journal of the American Planning Association 51, no. 2 (1985): 151–159.
  • Myhra, David. "Rexford Guy Tugwell: Initiator of America's Greenbelt New Towns, 1935 to 1936," Journal of the American Planning Association, Vol. 40, no. 3 (1974).
  • Namorato, Michael. Rexford G. Tugwell: A Biography (1988)
    • review by Ellis W. Hawley, Reviews in American History (1990) 18#2 pp 229–234. in JSTOR
  • Namorato, Michael. "Tugwell, Rexford Guy"; American National Biography Online Feb. 2000 Access Aug 23 2014
  • Sternsher, Bernard. Rexford Tugwell and the New Deal (Rutgers University Press, 1964)
  • Whitten, David O. "Tugwell after Eighty Years." Essays in Economic & Business History 22 (2012). [online]
Government offices
Preceded by Governor of Puerto Rico
September 19, 1941 – September 2, 1946
Succeeded by