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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 68


This is the grave of Rexford Guy Tugwell.

2016-08-31 17.05.49

Born in Sinclairville, New York in 1891, Tugwell was exposed to left leaning thinking early in his life, reading people such as Upton Sinclair and Edward Bellamy. He attended the University of Pennsylvania, where he majored in Economics. He then did a Ph.D. at Columbia. He held a number of academic positions at the University of Washington, American University in Paris, and then at Columbia. He became a believer in widescale government economic planning at a time when the government did very little of this. When FDR became president in 1933, realizing that times had changed and only the government could fix the Great Depression, Tugwell joined the government.

He was part of what became known as the Brain Trust, a group of left-leaning social planners who wanted to push the New Deal toward forms of socialism and away from the small government conservatism that had dominated the Democratic Party and was still powerful within the administration. Aligning himself with people such as Henry Wallace, Tugwell was influential in the administration’s early years. He served as the first director of the Agricultural Adjustment Administration, a fitting job as his academic specialty was the farm economy. He helped create the Soil Conservation Service as well. In 1935, he helped create the Resettlement Administration, intended to help rural people move nearer the cities to create economic opportunities for them at a time when millions of people were being forced off the land, mostly sharecroppers, both white and black. As part of the RA, Tugwell was in charge of creating the Greenbelt cities to move these people, of which 3 were created before it was ruled unconstitutional.

Conservatives hated Tugwell, including in Roosevelt’s administration. People such as Jesse Jones and Vice-President John Nance Garner basically thought of Tugwell as a communist and a danger to democratic (and Democratic) values. He was forced out of the administration at the end of 1936. In 1938, Fiorello LaGuardia named Tugwell the first director of the New York City Planning Commission, where he soon ran afoul of Robert Moses for wanting to protect open space. In 1941, he left that position to become governor of Puerto Rico, the last governor appointed by Washington. He served in that position until 1946, supporting the transition to self-government in the imperialist occupied colony. He then went back to the academy. He ended up living in Greenbelt, Maryland, one of the greenbelt towns he had created through the RA. He continued advocating national economic planning. In 1968, he wrote a glowing biography of Grover Cleveland, for reasons that surpass my understanding. He also a biography of FDR, a memoir of his time in Puerto Rico, and many other books. He died in 1979.

Tugwell has never been portrayed on screen (where are our films on national economic planning!) but he was in a documentary in 1959 titled “Project XX: Life in the Thirties.”

Rexford Guy Tugwell is buried in Evergreen Cemetery, Sinclairville, New York.

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