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Tuesday, July 4, 2017

FDR AND WOODIN | Warm Springs, Georgia

Treasury Secretary Will
Woodin (L) and FDR.
John Reagan (“Tex”) McCrary, who lived from  1910 to 2003), ran a radio show for NBC from the RCA Building.

On August 12, 1949 he wrote to General Motors financial executive John J. Raskob (1879-1950) at 350 Fifth Avenue, the Empire State Building).

Tex McCrary enclosed a copy of Westbrook Pegler’s column for August 4, 1949 and a transcript of his own broadcast comments on Pegler's column. (The correspondence may be found at http://digital.hagley.org/raskob-1456.)

The correspondence is interesting from two perspectives.
Al Smith (L) and John J. Raskob (R). 

First, there is venom in Pegler's bite at Raskob for accepting a "bribe" from FDR. It was also a side-swipe at FDR himself. 

In the New York Journal American (syndicated by King Features), Pegler said:
[Al] Smith never told publicly the truth about the bribe of $250,000 which John Raskob underwrote as Roosevelt’s price for coming out of his convalescence to run for Governor in 1928. That was the year Smith ran for President.
McCrary reported on Pegler's column in a broadcast the next day:
Yesterday [Pegler] hit an all-time low in unsubstantiated slander. According to Pegler, John J. Raskob underwrote a bribe of $250,000 as the price of persuading the late Franklin D. Roosevelt to come out of his convalescence to run for Governor … According to Pegler, the $250,000 was milked from Raskob as a contribution to Warm Springs Foundation for Crippled Children. 
The other interesting aspect of the correspondence is the sweeping denial that Raskob wrote back to McCrary on August 16:
I know nothing whatever about the financing and operation of Warm Springs except that the late William Woodin, former Secretary of the Treasury, did head a drive for funds some years ago to which I contributed.
What is going on here? I have read elsewhere about Raskob's involvement with solving FDR's financial problems at Warm Springs. I consulted a new book by Kaye Lanning Minchew, A President in Our Midst: Franklin Delano Roosevelt in Georgia (Athens, Georgia: The University of Georgia Press, 2016), and on page 74, it is all spelled out:
In addition to health concerns and his fear that 1928 might not be the year for the Democrats, Roosevelt hesitated to run for governor because of his heavy financial commitments at Warm Springs. John J. Raskob, a wealthy businessman who had recently been named chair of the National Democratic Committee, talked to Roosevelt on the phone on October 2. Following their discussion of Roosevelt's obligations to Warm Springs, Raskob wrote a check for $250,000. When Roosevelt refused the check, Raskob formed a committee to raise funds while committing $50,000 to the cause. Following that conversation, Roosevelt agreed to run for governor.
What there seems to be agreement on is that Roskob recruited Will Woodin to head the committee to pay off the Warm Springs debt. Woodin also served on the board of the Warm Springs Foundation. If Minchew's story is accurate, then Raskob was being disingenuous in his letter of August 16 (in other words, he lied or had severe amnesia). His suggestion to McCrary that Woodin was the man who knew was a safe one, since Woodin was entombed in his Berwick mausoleum 14 years earlier.

Even if Pegler's facts are correct, it is hardly fair to label FDR's agreeing to run for governor in return for assistance to the Warm Springs Foundation as a "bribe". The Warm Springs debt was an obstacle to FDR's running for Governor of New York State. I have read that FDR's mother Sara Delano Roosevelt said she would not give FDR any money for his campaign unless and until he paid off the Warm Springs debt. The committee's contributions to the Foundation removed this obstacle to FDR's running for governor.

What is peculiar about all this is Raskob's denial of any knowledge about the Warm Springs finances. Doubtless he was not familiar with every detail, but he had to be aware of the large size of the Foundation deficits. In 1928 Al Smith wanted FDR to run for governor so that New York State would be safe for Democrats. It was when FDR ran for President himself four years later that Raskob decided FDR was a dangerous radical and from then on perhaps he preferred not to take any credit for having helped him become governor.