Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

William Gibbs McAdoo: The last Progressive, (1863–1941)
by Chase, Philip M., Ph.D., University of Southern California, 2008, 429; 3341909
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation is a biography of William Gibbs McAdoo, one of the most important American political leaders in the 20th century, but one of the least known, despite a set of achievements that greatly affected the American polity at the time they occurred, and have continued to generate effects in the following generations.

McAdoo was born in Georgia in 1863, moved to Tennessee in the 1870s, and began a business career before moving to New York in 1892. There he achieved notoriety and plaudits for organizing the construction of subway tunnels between New York and New Jersey. Against the opposition of entrenched interests in the railroad industry, as well as the political opposition of Tammany Hall, McAdoo managed to create a system that, within a decade of its completion, was carrying 100 million passengers a year.

In 1909, McAdoo met Princeton president Woodrow Wilson, and soon joined the faction promoting Wilson for President. When Wilson was about to concede the 1912 nomination after being informed he had too few votes to survive, McAdoo made a dramatic telephone call to the New Jersey governor and convinced Wilson to stay in the race After Wilson’s victory, McAdoo was named Secretary of the Treasury, and his achievements there led many contemporaries to declare him “the best Treasury Secretary since Hamilton.”

A brief summary of McAdoo’s accomplishments in the Cabinet include: a key role in the creation of the Federal Reserve system, and later its survival; saving the US banking system after the World War began; starting the Federal Farm Loan Board, running the railroads in 1918-19; and selling $17 billion of war bonds, ten times the expected revenue.

Most research on McAdoo stops in 1918, but his later years were also crowded with notable contributions to the Progressive movement, and later, the New Deal. In 1920 and 1924, McAdoo was the favorite to become the Democratic nominee for President, but external events and internal character traits kept him out of that role. In the later 1920s, after moving to California, McAdoo became the most vocal proponent of Prohibition nationwide, and was considered the political heir to William Jennings Bryan (as well as Wilson).

In the 1930s, McAdoo led the California Democratic Party, and once again changed history when his 1932 convention speech saved the nomination of Franklin Roosevelt. McAdoo was elected Senator, and supported the New Deal assiduously, especially with his own proposal for banking safety, the FDIC. In 1938, he lost his Senate race, and became the chair of the American President Lines, a moribund shipping company that soon became prosperous.

This work is the first biography of McAdoo that examines his entire career. It also addresses historiographical issues such as the fractured nature of Progressivism and the American political development from Wilson to FDR. In addition, I will show how McAdoo’s personal life was integral to his public decision-making, and how his background as a Southerner and an idealist had lasting effects on the man and his times.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Ethington, Philip J.
Commitee: Gustafson, Thomas F., Ross, Steven J.
School: University of Southern California
Department: History
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-A 70/01, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Biographies, American history
Keywords: 1924 Convention, Mcadoo, William Gibbs, Progressivism, Wilson, Woodrow
Publication Number: 3341909
ISBN: 9780549982326
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