Clare Hoffman: A Congressman FDR Wanted to Indict for Sedition

Clare Eugene Hoffman

In 1932, Michigan’s 4th Congressional District elected a Democrat for the first time in a long time. Unfortunately, it turned out that the victor, George Foulkes, was corrupt; he was accused of soliciting and accepting illegal campaign contributions from postmasters in August 1934 and sentenced to 18 months imprisonment in 1935 for it. Because of this district’s typical partisan leanings and Foulkes’ ethical failings, Clare Hoffman (1875-1967) defeated him in 1934. Hoffman was a prominent attorney who was said to have established much of the law in Michigan given the cases he took on, including representing a nudist colony in 1933. He was also a man of unique practices, including having his suits tailored with no pockets to counter a habit of putting his hands in his pockets. Hoffman also had in 1912 backed Theodore Roosevelt over William Howard Taft through running on the Bull Moose ticket for reelection (unsuccessfully) as Allegan County’s prosecutor, but you wouldn’t know it given his record in Congress. Hoffman voted against Social Security, holding that it was an exercise in taking “from thrifty, saving Peter to Pay unfortunate Paul” (Walker, 20). He was also highly critical of the more radical Townsend Plan and stood along with C. Jasper Bell (D-Mo.) and Scott Lucas (D-Ill.) as the plan’s harshest critics. Hoffman considered the plan an “economic impossibility” and questioned the math behind the plan, which indeed didn’t add up (Walker, 22). Perhaps the most liberal he got was in backing the Patman Bonus Bill, which President Roosevelt twice vetoed. After the Flint Sitdown Strike of 1936-1937, outraged by the intrusion on property rights, he became an intractable enemy of organized labor, opposing union initiatives at every turn and pushing numerous efforts to limit their power and influence. In 1937, he offered to the mayor of Monroe, Michigan, given Governor Frank Murphy’s tolerance of sit-down strikes that he thought were illegal and the threat of CIO organizer Van A. Bittner to send his men into the city, a “group of peaceably inclined but armed and well equipped reliable citizens to aid in the defense of your city” (Walker, 49-50). This sounds very familiar to modern readers given the civil disturbances that began in 2020. Hoffman’s proposal was of course highly controversial and opposed by Monroe’s Congressman, Republican Earl Michener. However, he spoke so often on this and other issues that he got appreciation from people who felt cowed by the aggressive CIO. Hoffman himself once joked that a good argument could be made for retiring him to save money on printing pages in the Congressional Record given the frequency of his speeches (Walker, 111). Indeed, he would daily make one minute speeches denouncing Roosevelt and the New Deal. Hoffman both dished it out to his opponents and was able to take it, which made him formidable on the House floor. Although he introduced numerous bills to counter organized labor, none passed. However, Hoffman would participate in the drafting of the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act.

Congressman Hoffman often accused President Roosevelt of trying to become a dictator, and his proposal for court packing and executive reorganization he regarded as evidence in addition to other legislation that increased the powers of the Executive. However, some of his criticisms of his targets were way blown out of proportion and could be petty, such as his attack on Eleanor Roosevelt’s (one of his favorite targets) Office of Civil Defense during World War II, mocking her for employing two Hollywood stars as providing cushy jobs for the wealthy, resulting in the resignation of Roosevelt and the actors (Walker, 130).

Clare Hoffman: Seditionist?

Although Hoffman voted for American participation in World War II and pledged to support the war effort, he remained outspoken in his caustic criticism of FDR. This included delivering two incendiary speeches in January 1942, together titled “Don’t Haul Down the Stars and Stripes”, more commonly known as the “Judas” speech, in which he accused Interior Secretary Harold Ickes and others including author Clarence Streit (who wrote books calling for a world government) of being “Judases” by betraying the nation’s sovereignty in supporting the creation of a United Nations, which was subsequently distributed by American fascists for their propaganda (Walker, 121). Although Hoffman didn’t name Roosevelt, he was known as a supporter of the creation of a UN and thus by implication could be regarded as a “Judas”.

Another issue brought up against him included Congressman Hamilton Fish’s (R-N.Y.) secretary, George Hill, using his frank to distribute propaganda from Nazi propagandist George Sylvester Viereck before American involvement in World War II (Walker, 124). He delivered speeches at rallies for Gerald L.K. Smith’s America First Party, an overtly anti-Semitic party, and he was also highly critical of the Great Sedition Trial of 1944. Hoffman’s characteristically caustic criticisms of the Roosevelt Administration as Pearl Harbor remained fresh in the memories of Americans plus his views on foreign policy from 1939 to 1941 led his detractors to accuse him of being a fascist or pro-fascist. President Roosevelt had been pressing a reluctant Attorney General Francis Biddle for a trial of people FDR saw as fascist and/or subversive, and eventually such a trial did happen with the Great Sedition Trial. However, he had been pushing Biddle for more than just a group of propagandists and activists, he wanted two Congressmen indicted as well. One of them was his hated enemy Hamilton Fish (R-N.Y.) and the other was Hoffman, and The New Republic actively encouraged the Roosevelt Administration to censor conservative critics (Powers, 183). Roosevelt was probably smarting over the latter’s “Judas” speech. Hoffman did indeed have to testify before a grand jury four times regarding this speech before plans to indict him were dropped (Walker, 119). One of the defendants of the Great Sedition Trial, Elizabeth Dilling, was indicted for reprinting one of Hoffman’s speeches in her newsletter. Hoffman condemned the trial, stating that the defendants were no more guilty than he was. The newspaper of the Communist Party of the USA, The Daily Worker, claimed this to be an admission of guilt. As I wrote before on the trial, none of the defendants would be convicted.

Ultimately, regarding accusations of sedition, researcher Donald Edwin Walker (1982) concludes in his dissertation on Hoffman, “That he may have not shown the most astute judgment in choosing the people with whom he associated is true, but it is also apparent that he was to a great extent merely the victim of guilt by association. He agreed with the fascists on various points, mainly on the need to avoid war and the threat of Communism, but he was not as extreme in some of his views as many of the fascists were, nor did he share the rabid anti-Semitism that characterized some. It seems that the connection between the fascists and Hoffman was simply that they used each other as a means to disseminate some of their ideas” (143). Hoffman did indeed never criticize the war effort itself, and his constituents agreed that he was patriotic, returning him to Congress in the 1944 election by a hefty margin. His popularity among his constituents was not just because he was a staunch Republican opposed to the CIO, but also due to the great attention he gave to the needs of his constituents. It is critical to understand the importance of constituent relations when considering why an elected official gets back in office despite perhaps being extreme or making outlandish statements. Hoffman would later be deeply involved in the drafting of the National Security Act of 1947, the government reorganization that established the Central Intelligence Agency.

The Hoffman/Winchell Feud

Radio commentator Walter Winchell, who repeatedly cast doubt on the patriotism of Hoffman and others who had the temerity to criticize the Roosevelt Administration, including him asking “How about the voters going after those other saboteurs who landed in Congress?” met Hoffman’s ire (Walker, 144). He did not take this lying down. Hoffman commented on Winchell that his “imagination is exceeded only by his disregard for the truth and his insane desire to injure. His warped brain is constantly taxed to find new individuals to slanders. His broadcasts bring to mind a moronic child who gains pleasure by impaling flies on pin points or torturing small animals. Apparently, he derives a sadistic pleasure when he thinks he has injured someone by his malicious half-truths or complete falsehoods” (Walker, 144). Hoffman and Winchell, who also engaged in legal action against each other, would trade barbs so much that some members of Congress grew tired of the former talking about the latter.

Hoffman and Anti-Semitism

Unfortunate as it is, Clare Hoffman made some anti-Semitic remarks and was accused of being an anti-Semite. He recommended anti-Semite Elizabeth Dilling’s “The Red Network”, he was a good friend of Rep. John Rankin (D-Miss.), the worst of the House’s race and Jew baiters of the time, and he engaged in some of his own on the latter in 1945 in response to proposals for a Fair Employment Practices Committee. Hoffman denied that anti-Semitic discrimination happened in most alleged cases and stated, “It is a well known fact that many of the most powerful financial institutions in this country are controlled by the Jews” and called for for statistics on ownership of numerous industries owned by Jews (The Sentinel). Such statements did not go unanswered, especially considering we were on the verge of winning the war against Nazi Germany. When accused of Jew-baiting by Rep. Matthew Neely (D-W.V.), he responded thusly, “If I were a member of the Jewish race, I’d be proud of it. Why shouldn’t I be? Don’t Jews hold good jobs in the country? Aren’t they in control of the moving picture industry? Don’t they hold high places in industry? They don’t hold these high places simply because they’re Jews” (The Sentinel). Hoffman maintained an association with Gerald L.K. Smith until 1949, when they broke over the latter’s racism after the former introduced an anti-discrimination measure. Smith attributed Hoffman’s action to “senility”, which was clearly false (Jeansonne, 88). Indeed, he hardly slowed down until the early 1960s.

The Truman Era: No Compromise!

In 1943, Hoffman had voted against the Fulbright Resolution calling for the establishment of a United Nations and in 1945, he was one of only fifteen representatives to vote against American participation in the body. Hoffman led the opposition to the Truman Administration’s Full Employment Bill, which was intended to have been a full execution of Keynesian policy. Congress ultimately adopted a compromise the following year that called for “maximum employment”. Hoffman characteristically voted against that one too. Hoffman also voted against the Greek-Turkish Aid Act as well as the Marshall Plan in the 80th Congress. Despite having his hopes for Truman initially, Hoffman if anything became more opposed to him than Roosevelt.

The Eisenhower Era: No Compromise! 

Hoffman didn’t go along with the modern Republicanism of President Eisenhower and opposed him just about any time he went in a liberal direction. He remained a foe of foreign aid and opposed federal aid to education. Hoffman opposed all major expansions of domestic government for reasons both budgetary and Constitutional. He also during this time mentored Rep. H.R. Gross (R-Iowa) in parliamentary procedure so he too could be a formidable presence in the House.

He was also a vigorous investigator, and as a member of the subcommittee investigating organized labor and racketeering in the Detroit area, he set his sights on the Teamsters Union. His investigation was revealing some highly unsavory things about the Teamsters Union and its boss Jimmy Hoffa including misuse of employee pension funds, but it was for the time shelved by Republican leadership allegedly at the behest of Postmaster General Arthur Summerfield over his and committee chairman Wint Smith’s (R-Kan.) protests. Hoffa was a life-long Republican who had given backing to President Eisenhower as well as to Senator Homer Ferguson of Michigan for reelection. In 1958, Hoffman condemned as silly Jimmy Hoffa’s “independent” investigation into racketeering in the Teamsters Union, headed by former Senator George Bender (R-Ohio), which the McClellan Committee ultimately discovered had, despite him being paid $58,000, produced no ousters of organized crime figures in the union (Walker, 311). Hoffman’s investigation was used as evidence in hearings by the McClellan Committee on union corruption and resulted in the Eisenhower-backed Landrum-Griffin Act in 1959 that curbed secondary boycotts and picketing. Much of the Landrum-Griffin Act itself, by the admission of sponsor Robert Griffin (R-Mich.), was influenced by Hoffman (Walker, 320). Evidence from Hoffman’s investigation would also be used to convict Hoffa in 1964 on misuse of pension funds.

Hoffman and Civil Rights

Hoffman was one of the few Republicans to vote against anti-lynching legislation, doing so in 1937 and 1940. He also opposed bans on the poll tax through federal legislation, and the Truman Administration’s Fair Employment Practices Bill. Before the 1948 election he urged Southern Democrats to push to nominate someone palatable to the GOP in exchange for the shelving of Truman’s civil rights program (Walker, 199). In 1949, Hoffman proposed a third way between segregation and desegregation, stating his support for separate facilities for whites and blacks with the latter getting at least equal if not better (as recompense for whites having many more years of opportunities) and facilities for those who wanted to integrate (Walker, 229-230). He didn’t want anyone forcibly integrated or segregated, and like most whites in his time he was at least personally against interracial sexual relationships. Hoffman was, unsurprisingly for someone of this time, staunchly opposed to homosexuality. He called for the firing of all homosexuals from the federal government (Walker, 232). Hoffman also introduced a version of the Equal Rights Amendment in 1946 that included sex, ancestry, and union membership but it was recommitted to the House Labor Committee where it was shelved (Freeman, 177). He also tended to see parallels between civil rights and labor issues. For instance, while condemning the lynching of a black man, Hoffman stated, “Is it a crime to kill a man when he is colored but just a customary union procedure to beat him to death during a strike?” (Walker, 312)

After Brown v. Board of Education (1954), he voted against the 1956 civil rights bill and the Civil Rights Act of 1957. The latter he regarded as undermining right to trial by jury as criminal contempt of court violations would not be ruled on by juries and reasoned that denial of the right to vote should just be made illegal instead of providing four reasons (Walker, 311). However, he voted for Powell Amendments in 1946, 1956, and 1960 and voted for the final version of the Civil Rights Act of 1960 after voting against the House version of the bill. He did not speak on the House floor why he changed his vote from the original House bill to adopting the Senate amendments, but I strongly suspect given his propensity to compare civil rights legislation to other matters, particularly labor, that he voted for because of what Congressman Emanuel Celler (D-N.Y.) noted on changes to the bills, “In title I, obstruction of court orders, the House version was limited to the obstruction of court orders dealing with school desegregation. The other body broadened the scope of this title to include all Federal court orders and increased from 6 months to 1 year the penalty of imprisonment” (Congressional Record, 8498). Hoffman had voted for Richard Poff’s (R-Va.) motion to delete that section, perhaps because it wasn’t expansive, as the Senate ultimately made it. Given that Hoffman had expressed feelings against racial discrimination on several occasions and his strong beliefs on adherence to the law, his Powell Amendment votes do appear to add up as sincere. This is especially so when you consider that he had a reputation for being frank and upfront about his views, which colleagues appreciated even when strongly disagreeing with him.

Hoffman Declines

Clare Hoffman was, as could be expected, a firm opponent of the Kennedy Administration, but his vigor was hampered by a stroke in early 1962 that followed a minor one in late 1961. This prompted the octogenarian to retire, albeit reluctantly. In 1965, at ninety years old, he refused to participate in the newly enacted Medicare (Walker, 333). Hoffman died on November 3, 1967, being born during Reconstruction, and having lived to see the Civil Rights Era and the Summer of Love. I see on the plus side that Hoffman was a staunchly committed conservative, never was accused of profiting off his office, was a highly capable debater, contributed to important labor and national security legislation, and was honest in his views. I see on the downside that he on multiple occasions espoused anti-Semitic sentiments and he was rather behind on civil rights in numerous ways, even if some of those ways were meant as part of his views on organized labor. Hoffman’s MC-Index score was a whopping 99%.

References

Braden, T. (1977, February). The Birth Of The CIA. American Heritage, 28(2).

Retrieved from

https://www.americanheritage.com/birth-cia#1

Celler, E. (1960, April 21). Civil Rights. Congressional Record.

Retrieved from

Freeman, J. (2008). We will be heard: women’s struggles for political power in the United States. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

Hoffman Counters Charges Of Jew-Baiting With More. (1945, March 22). The Sentinel.

Retrieved from  

Jeansonne, G. (1988). Gerald L.K. Smith: minister of hate. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press.

Langeveld, D. (2013, December 27). George E. Foulkes: postal service shakedown. The Downfall Dictionary.

Retrieved from

http://downfalldictionary.blogspot.com/2013/12/george-e-foulkes-postal-service.html

Powers, R.G. (1995). Not without honor: the history of American anticommunism. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

S 1580. Provide For the Appointment of Representatives of the US in the Organizations and Agencies of the UN. On Passage. Govtrack.

Retrieved from

https://www.govtrack.us/congress/votes/79-1945/h100

Walker, D.E. (1982). The Congressional career of Clare E. Hoffman, 1935-1963. Michigan State University.

Retrieved from

https://d.lib.msu.edu/etd/25616/datastream/FULL_TEXT/view/

2 thoughts on “Clare Hoffman: A Congressman FDR Wanted to Indict for Sedition

  1. Hoffman seems like a forerunner to current Arizona representative Paul Gosar. From the points you highlighted in this excellently detailed entry, several similarities stand out:

    – the association with anti-Semitic rabble-rousing bigots (Gosar touting his ties to Nick Fuentes)
    – hard-core rightist voting records, though not necessarily conservative in the most traditional sense
    – non-interventionism, association with America First causes
    – being considerably controversial and accused of sedition

  2. That’s an interesting parallel, Hoffman and Gosar also have similar DW-Nominate scores, scoring 0.691 and 0.689 respectively. Although I suspect that if Hoffman were serving today it would be even higher. His association with Minister Gerald L.K. Smith was certainly prolonged compared to others on the non-interventionist right, who saw a powerful orator like him as a good ally before Pearl Harbor.

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