Mr. Cromwell of the U.S.A.
Meet the athlete, author, businessman and traveller who today is United States ambassador to Canada
FLOYD S. CHALMERS
NOT LONG ago the President of the United States wrote a letter to King George.
“Great and Good Friend...” it began.
It ended "May God have Your Majesty in His wise keeping...Your Good Friend, Franklin D. Roosevelt.”
In between this salutation and this ending Mr. Roosevelt notified “his great and good friend” that he had conferred the rank of Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary upon Mr. James H. R. Cromwell, “a distinguished citizen.” with the object of representing in Canada the interests of the United States of America.
There was a lot more to the letter, all about the desire to cultivate to the fullest extent the friendship that has so long existed, etc., and a few g<x>d wishes for the prosperity of Canada.
Mr. Cromwell himself brought the letter to Canada. He put on a white tie and a boiled shirt in the middle of the day and presented the letter to His Majesty’s representative in Canada, the late Governor-General. Lord Tweedsmuir expressed his gratification in equally courteous, equally diplomatic and equally sincere language.
The archaic but pleasant amenities having been observed, the Governor-General went on with his writing and the new American Minister went back to a more comfortable shirt.
Much of a minister’s job is formal and ritualistic. But the best work that the best ambassadors do is done in private, and through intimate personal contacts.
That is the way “Jimmie” Cromwell will do most of his work at Ottawa. He will observe the rules of protocol when his staff tells him he must. The rest of the time he will just try to keep busy doing things that his instinct tells him will be good for both the United States and Canada.
Two years ago Cromwell had not even made the pages of “Who’s Who in America.” His only venture into public office has been as a member of the New Jersey State Tax Commission.
Most men suddenly thrust into what most Washingtonians regard as the second most important foreign post the United States has to offer, would be a little nervous. They would suddenly acquire overpowering consciousness of the dignity of their post. Not “Jimmie” Cromwell. To him the job is just a chance to do public service. Where dignity helps, fine. When dignity is not necessary, why not be
natural? That is the way he looks at it.
I dropped in to see him at the legation. The Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary, seated in his panelled office, was just an athletic figure in a light jacket and flannel trousers. (No vest, no suspenders, just a belt.)
We talked for an hour. Then he jumped up and said, "I’m getting hungry. Let’s go get ourselves some lunch.”
It was three below zero outside. I put on my heavy muffler, pulled on my doubleweight overcoat and shrouded my feet in goloshes. Cromwell didn’t even put on a hat. He just walked out of the front door of the legation, strode briskly into the Rideau Club next door and sat down amid cabinet ministers and central bank governors and senators, with the air of a man who knows that it is not wearing a morning coat but rather doing a good job that makes an ambassador a success.
'X/fR. CROMWELL’S appointment was -l-''-'not won by arduous ladder-climbing through consulates and chancellories. It was not a reward for faithful service as a party hack. Personal friendship and loyal support for President Roosevelt and the New Deal entered into the picture. Also he is wealthy enough to afford a $10,000 job that costs $30,000 to $40,000 a year to keep up. But the main reason for the appointment is that Mr. Cromwell has for years been readying himself for public service.
Cromwell might have stayed in the picture pages and the society pages, and never gained recognition as other than a “playboy,” if it had not been for a spirit of enquiry and protest in his soul.
His whole life has been a series of one-man protest meetings. If he had a crest, the motto would probably be “Why?” He takes nothing for granted. If society conducts its affairs in a certain way, Cromwell wants to know “why” society does that instead of looking for a better way.
He has written lxx>ks and given speeches demanding to know why the oldsters don’t learn from experience. His first book started off with a quotation from Lowell containing these words:
“The time is ripe and rotten ripe for change.
“Then let it come ...”
That book, “The Voice of Young America,” was published in 1933, when he was in his early thirties. It offered thirty-four reforms for American political and economic life. They ranged all the way from cutting the expenses of bureaucracy and adopting a federal budget fashioned on the British system, to the recognition of Soviet Russia, “slapping down” on the “trusts” and government ownership of utilities.
I do not intend to recite all of the thirtyfour “reforms.” Cromwell himself would not today support all of them. He admits that some of his suggestions then were “slightly socialistic.” He says, with disarming frankness, “I do not believe all of that stuff now.” Well, he may not believe all “that stuff.” but he can look back on a record that few apostles of reform can boast. For a very considerable number of the major policies adopted later by the New Deal were recommended in Cromwell’s little book. Among them were such things as repeal of the Prohibition law; guarantee of bank deposits; separation of investment underwriting from commercial banking; federal-aided public works and unemployment insurance.
That book and sundry other public expressions of his point of view won him a reputation as a “progressive,” even as a Socialist. Neither label quite fitted. Cromwell leaned just far enough to the Left to annoy the people among whom he had been brought up, and just far enough to the Right to make the real Leftists very suspicious of him.
He constantly argued for reforms to be carried on within the framework of capitalism. He does not want to destroy capitalism. He merely wants to make it work.
“Capitalism,” he says, “is an ideal that has never been achieved. True capitalism is not dead because it has never lived.”
The truth is that Cromwell, when he thought he was propagandizing a new society, was really only searching for it—and doing his thinking aloud. As his ideas formed he put them down on paper. As they were modified, he published new versions. His final book. “In Defense of
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Capitalism,” is longer and sounder than “The Voice of Young America”—and also a good deal duller. (This may be due to the fact that he hired an economist to help him write it.)
Champion of Reform
HOW COULD a man who was brought up “in the lap of luxury,’’whomingled in his boyhood days with the wealthiest men in America—men of the “old school” —become so keen and zealous an evangelist for “change,” for reform?
I asked him that question. He said: “I think my life is in itself a pattern of the changes that have come over society; that mark out the young men and women of this generation from those of the last generation.
“When I was a boy I accepted without question the economic and social system as it was. I knew the businessmen of the last generation. I looked up to them. My only ambition was to follow them and become one of them.
“Among them were some of the old buccaneers of business. They looked at life, saw what it offered them and took whatever they could get. That was what I wanted to do; to look out for myself and let the other fellow' look out for himself.
“When I went to college, almost all the other boys there had the same ideas as I had. Their attitude w-as that America was like a huge pie, and the idea wras to cut yourself the biggest piece possible; if there wasn’t enough left to go around, that was just too bad for the hindmost. The devil would take care of them.
“We knew little about government or social problems, or how the other fellow lived, and did not consider it any of our business. All we knew or cared about w’as our own business; and it was a narrow and selfish concept of business at that.
“Today the young man or woman starting out in life has an entirely different conception of his or her responsibility to society.
“The generation that has emerged from adolescence in this period of cruel depression is a generation of young men and women interested in their obligations to their fellow citizens. It is not how big a piece of pie they can get for themselves that dominates their thinking, but how they can increase the size of the pie and share it more equitably among everyone.
“Today public service is becoming the career of hundreds of young college graduates who have the good fortune to be financially independent.”
Mr. Cromwell, who remains a supporter of the underlying philosophies of the New Deal w'hile opposing many of its practices, gives his friend Franklin D. Roosevelt credit for some of the change. “Mr. Roosevelt has made the public socially conscious. No matter what you think of him or of the New Deal, you have to recognize that fact. It is the biggest achievement of his career as President.”
Mr. Cromwell may give the credit to Roosevelt for making people socially conscious. But in the new Minister’s own business career one will see the reasons why he himself has become socially conscious. Let us sketch that career very briefly. Cromwell’s father was a Washington lawyer, whose home was the centre gathering place for many distinguished people. Cromwell, Senior, died when Jimmie was a boy.
His mother married again. The new stepfather was one of the wealthiest men in the United States, E. T. Stotesbury, senior partner of J. P. Morgan and Co. and head of the Philadelphia branch of the firm. Drexel and Co.
Cromwell attended the “best” schools. In due course he went to the Wharton
School (business and economics) at the University of Pennsylvania.
His intention was to go into the Drexel firm. But events shaped a different course. His first marriage created a new career. The girl was Delphine Dodge, daughter of one of the two Detroit motor multimillionaires. He took an interest in their company. He made money for it by personally designing a sporty little touring car that pepped up sales. When company officials smiled indulgently but unenthusiastically at his model, he had a demonstration model built and drove it around the country selling it to dealers. The model sold as high as 200 a day. It was a brisk financial success.
He formed the Cromwell-Dodge Corporation. an automobile finance company. The business grew from nothing to fifty million dollars a year. Cromwell sold it at a good profit.
When the two Dodges died, it was Cromwell who instigated the sale of the company to Dillon, Read and Company, Wall Street bankers. He got for the company a price of one hundred and sixty million dollars, the biggest corporation transaction in history up to that time.
These were successful ventures in business. But Cromwell was not equally successful with everything he touched.
There was an apartment house venture in New York that was not a financial success (except for the lawyers who made fat fees out of litigation).
And then there was the shutdown of the Peerless Motor Car Co., in Cleveland, of which Cromwell had become vice-president. That crash, which came just after 1929, jolted Cromwell intellectually far more than financially.
Up to that time Cromwell had not asked many questions about life. He was content to float on the tide—the rising tide and the ebbing tide. But 1929 did not seem like an ordinary ebbing of the tide. It was more like the withdrawal of a tidal wave. First had come the thrilling ride on the crest, and then the maelstrom, as the waters seemed to pour down a bottomless hole, dragging everything to destruction.
How can such things happen? Cromwell asked himself. Look at Peerless, he said. “The company had ample money, youthful leadership, a progressive policy and a great future. It just didn’t make sense that the factory had to shut down and discharge thousands of able and efficient workers. It didn’t make sense that there should be scarcity in the midst of plenty.” He thought there must be a solution to it all somewhere. He decided that he would endeavor to find it.
COLLAPSE of Peerless left 5.001 persons out of a job. Cromwell was the “1.” There were millions and millions of unemployed in the U.S. But unemployment meant leisure and not personal suffering to him. Cromwell used his leisure to read, to study economics. He wanted to know about those millions to whom unemployment was not just leisure.
Shortly, he began to get his ideas straightened out. Since then he has put them in “The Voice of Young America,” in several pamphlets, in public addresses, in arguments before Congressional committees at Washington, and even in a movie.
In this period he wras an “idle rich” young man who was not idle.
He battled against the “devil-take-thehindmost” philosophy. He developed an alternative philosophy. Its major objectives resembled the New' Deal. But having rejected one ready-made philosophy. Cromw'ell was not willing to take another in its piace without enquiry. So he was as vigorous an antagonist of some parts of New
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Deal policy as he was a supporter of other parts. For instance, he scoffed at the Eccles-Morgenthau theory (borrowed from Keynes) that “over-saving” was a basic cause of depression. He had no use for the “aoak-the-rich” theory of taxation. In fact, he urged abolition of the income tax. And while Roosevelt was adding several hundred thousand people to the public payroll, he railed at the “tyrannical oligarchy of the bureaucrats.”
In those post-crash years Cromw'ell began, too, to take a keen interest in politics. He had roundly upbraided both Democrats and Republicans. But under the American system (similar to our own tw'o-party system) he had to be one thing or the other. Cromw'ell became a Democrat, first a supporter of AÍ Smith and then a supporter of Roosevelt. He has been active in New Jersey; has put up plenty of money to finance political clubs and campaigns; has poured his ow'n and his wife’s money into the National Democratic chest.
Cromwell has been mentioned as a candidate for the United States Senate from New' Jersey. This has been both flattering and embarrassing to him. Cromwell would like to be a member of that august and powerful body. Who wouldn’t? But he does not want the Canadian people to think that his appointment was merely a temporary one—to fill in time until the Senate job comes along. He does not w'ant people to think he was named Minister to Canada merely to “build up” publicity for him. If Roosevelt wants him to stand for the Senate, he will have to do it. Otherwise he will be most happy to stay here. “I am here for as long as the office wants me,” he told me.
Even if Cromwell does go to the Senate in due course, it will be a good thing for Canada that he has spent some time here. Canada has always been short of understanding friends in the Senate, men who knew Canada from first-hand knowledge.
In these recent years while he has been laying the foundations for a career of public service, Mr. Cromwell has done much travelling. His second marriage was to Doris Duke, daughter of the late James B. Duke, and inheritor of a large fortune. (Hence that “richest-girl-in-the-world” rot the tabloids talk about.)
The Duke millions were chiefly known as tobacco millions. This is somewhat misleading. Mr. Duke’s greatest achievements in business were in the field of developing industrial communities based upon the use of waterpower to multiply human energy. With the late Sir William Price, he founded the Duke-Price Power Company in the Maria Chapdelaine country of Northern Quebec. This was one of a succession of creative investments he had made during his lifetime.
When Mrs. Cromwell came to Canada she came to a country wherein her father’s energies had helped to create thousands of new jobs for Canadians and millions of new wealth for the province of Quebec.
With his new bride Cromwell circled the earth. In England they saw the coronation of King George. In Russia, Cromwell was arrested by the OGPU and put through a couple of hours of close examination because he snapped a picture of the Red Square and the Kremlin walls. In Germany he talked to Goering, in I ndia to the viceroy and with Gandhi, in the Philippines to Quezon, in China to Soong and Kung.
Cromwell has been in every major country except South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.
Cromwell knows Canada well and hopes his wife will soon know it as well as he does. He has fished and hunted in several provinces. This W'inter he and his wife have been skiing in the Laurentians..
They intend to visit every province. That will be a real ambassadorial job. The Cromwells are good newspaper “copy” at any time. When they are photographed
against the background of Canadian resorts and scenic attractions they will make Canada more intimately known and of new interest to many thousands of readers of newspapers and periodicals throughout the United States and elsewhere.
Both are restless types. They like to do things or go places. When they came to Ottawa in January, they came by train. Usually they travel by airplane. They would have flown to Ottawa, but the parental State Department said “No; ministers always arrive in Ottawa by train, at least the first time. After that you can do as you like.” So Mr. King met the Cromwells at the Union Station and not at the flying field.
Faith in Canada
ROMW’ELL has used up some of his excess energy in sports. At college he played football. He is a good golfer. He plays a good game of tennis. He once boxed a few rounds with Tommy Loughran, world’s heavyweight champion contender. This w'as merely a stunt, put on for charity and Cromwell got the referee’s “nod.” He looks like a boxer—tall, lean, broadshouldered, with the quick, guarded movements of a ring-trained athlete.
Cromwell should be a good minister. He likes this country. He wanted to come here.
Once upon a time he remarked that Canada would in time become the major country of the Empire and that Ottawa would be the chief capital city of the Commonwealth.
An ambassador or minister is supposed to speak only as his country speaks. But he can think as he likes, so long as his thinking does not get reported in the papers.
What Cromwell thinks about this war and Canada’s part in it is something he will not be allowed to say. But one can record three facts and let the reader draw his own conclusions:
1. Cromwell believes in democracy and thinks it is worth defending. He dislikes and distrusts totalitarian states.
2. Last year when Colonel Lindbergh made some unkindly remarks about Canada’s part in the war, Cromwell replied to him vigorously; in effect told him not to make a fool of himself.
3. President Roosevelt has told the American people that while they must be neutral in action they need not be neutral in thought.
Cromwell’s first speech at Ottawa was as thinly veiled an onslaught on Germany as have been most of Roosevelt’s and Hull’s speeches in recent years.
Cromwell has a great respect for the British tradition in government and private life. He acquired some of this respect w'hen he was ordnance officer in the American Navy during the last war and served on the Brest destroyer patrol. His conception of public service includes a keen desire to tell the Americans more about Canada, things they ought to know'. He does not worry so much about telling Canadians about the United States, because American new's and ideas and ways of life are constantly being thrust upon us anyway.
He will probably shock us once in a while by pretty plain speaking, or by unorthodox ideas in the field of economic and social life. But those ideas are not as unorthodox as they once were.
“The pendulum of reform has swung too far,” he remarked to me recently.
A remark like that, made in public, might be misunderstood. A lot of people would criticize Cromwell for making it. But he hasn’t got where he is today by merely saying things that no one could criticize.
“I may be wrong,” is the way someone has paraphrased his philosophy, “but I will be honest.”