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Arthur Schlesinger on:
The America First Committee

Arthur Schlesinger Q: Can you tell me who made up America First?

AS: It began actually in New Haven. There was a kind of Chicago-Yale axis. And Chicago became its greatest source of strength. But a number of bright young people, among them Kingman Brewster, who later became President of Yale, Gerald Ford, who later became President of The United States, Jonathon Bingham who became congressman from New York, somewhat older people Chester Bowles and William Benton on the liberal side. But the great source of support came from Mid-Western businessmen, like General Robert E. Wood, who was the head of Sears, Roebuck. But it won support from several old-time Mid-Western isolationists like the Taft family-- from Irish Catholics who had an historic dislike and distrust of Great Britain, like John D. Flynn who was a pamphleteer and economist, financial writer, who headed the New York chapter of America First. It was essentially a rather broad coalition of people opposed to the war, but essentially it represented more than anything else the business community.

Q: And it was quite a popular organization wasn't it, in many parts of the country?

AS: Well, it could certainly turn out enthusiastic rallies and so on. And there were some isolationists who were rather mistrustful of America First because they thought it was too conservative, and they organized something called the Keep America out of War Congress. It must also be remembered that the Communists, during the period from the pact of August '39 to NAZI attack on the Soviet Union in June '41, were also vociferous isolationists. So there was a wide political spectrum of isolationists.

Q: Did Des Moines destroy America First?

AS: I think the Des Moines speech shook up America First very severely. There are a lot of people in the America First Committee, like John D. Flynn for example, Norman Thomas, others who were really shocked by that speech and by its implications but I think what destroyed the America First Committee was Pearl Harbor, not the Des Moines speech.

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