The Conversion of Senator Arthur H. Vandenberg

The Conversion of Senator Arthur H. Vandenberg: From Isolation to International Engagement

Lawrence S. Kaplan
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    The Conversion of Senator Arthur H. Vandenberg
    Book Description:

    The United States has looked inward throughout most of its history, preferring to avoid "foreign entanglements," as George Washington famously advised. After World War II, however, Americans became more inclined to break with the past and take a prominent place on the world stage. Much has been written about the influential figures who stood at the center of this transformation, but remarkably little attention has been paid to Arthur H. Vandenberg (1884--1951), who played a crucial role in moving the nation from its isolationist past to an internationalist future.

    Vandenberg served as a U.S. senator from Michigan from 1928 to 1951 and was known in his early career for his fervent anti-interventionism. After 1945, he became heavily involved in the establishment of the United Nations and was a key player in the development of NATO. As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during 1947 and 1948, Vandenberg helped rally support for President Truman's foreign policy -- including the Marshall Plan -- and his leadership contributed to a short-lived era of congressional bipartisanship regarding international relations.

    InThe Conversion of Senator Arthur H. Vandenberg, Lawrence S. Kaplan offers the first critical biography of the distinguished statesman. He demonstrates how Vandenberg's story provides a window on the political and cultural changes taking place in America as the country assumed a radically different role in the world, and makes a seminal contribution to the history of U.S. foreign policy during the initial years of the Cold War.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6060-3
    Subjects: Political Science, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. 1 Hamilton’s Impact, 1906–1928
    (pp. 1-20)

    Arthur Vandenberg’s background does not quite fit the Horatio Alger story. His father was a prosperous harness-maker and the owner of a leather-goods factory in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The family was firmly in the middle class. His Dutch origins in a region filed with immigrants from the Netherlands reinforced this position, which in turn was complemented by his mother’s membership in the Park Street Congregational Church. Through his mother’s Yankee family, Vandenberg could claim a grandfather who helped to nominate Abraham Lincoln at the 1860 Republican Party convention as well as an ancestor who served in the American Revolution.¹


  6. 2 The Republican Moderate, 1928–1936
    (pp. 21-40)

    There were good reasons for Vandenberg to tread cautiously in 1928. No matter how ready he felt to serve as senator, he was aware of political obstacles that had deterred him in 1918 from making a run for the Senate. At that time his friend and mentor William Alden Smith retired rather than challenge the seemingly unbeatable Henry Ford for the Republican nomination. Ford ultimately ran under the Democratic banner with President Wilson’s blessing, only to lose to Republican Truman H. Newberry. Smith judged that if he would not face the Ford challenge then Vandenberg would have even less chance...

  7. 3 Toward Insulation, 1934–1937
    (pp. 41-60)

    Arguably, it was Vandenberg’s participation in the Nye investigation of the munitions industry’s activities in the world war that ultimately propelled him into the leadership of the movement to keep America out of the impending war in Europe. Unlike Senator Gerald P. Nye (R-ND), a spokesman for western farmers and an investigator of the Teapot Dome oil scandal in the 1920s, the Michigan senator had only a small measure of empathy for the radical Republican dissidents of the 1920s. But the behavior of munitions makers profiting from war was another matter. Vandenberg was as upset about them profiting from war...

  8. 4 Isolationism Challenged, 1938–1941
    (pp. 61-86)

    Vandenberg’s primacy as the spokesman for the foreign policies of the Republican Party, if not for the party itself, was widely understood after the debacle of the 1936 presidential election.Newsweekimplicitly recognized his position as a leader of the party when it observed that the Republican National Committee selected him to frame a set of party principles that would revive its fortunes. As the magazine noted, “With the same sense of astute timing that has helped to make him the most talked-of prospect for his party’s presidential nomination,” the Michigan senator managed to broadcast his own ten-point program over...

  9. 5 The Impact of World War, 1941– 1945
    (pp. 87-114)

    In the long run Senator Vandenberg was justified in his belief that the attack on Pearl Harbor “ended isolationism for any realist.”¹ In his case, as a realist he recognized that there was no alternative to future international cooperation and collective security. But he was looking back to 1941 when he recorded those words. They did not reflect his judgments at the time. His immediate reactions had little to do with collective security and even less with an international organization and much more to do with lack of unity between the executive and legislative branches of the U.S. government.


  10. 6 The Conversion Experience, 1945
    (pp. 115-142)

    If the celebrated speech of January 10, 1945, did not transform Vandenberg into an internationalist who had truly left isolationism behind, then a case may be made that his appointment as a delegate to the conference in San Francisco to draw up the UN Charter did make him a true believer in a new order. Remembering Woodrow Wilson’s mistake in dispatching to Versailles in 1919 a delegation that lacked a genuine Republican representative, the president on February 28 appointed a delegation that was as inclusive as possible. Among the members were Harold Stassen, former Republican governor of Minnesota and currently...

  11. Photographs
    (pp. None)
  12. 7 The Senator as Diplomat, 1945–1946
    (pp. 143-168)

    Vandenberg’s commitment to the United Nations was tested in the year following the San Francisco conference, when he spent 213 days at conference tables, primarily discussing the translation of the charter into reality, at the first meeting of the General Assembly in London, three times in Paris for the Council of Foreign Ministers, and at the second session of the General Assembly in New York at the end of 1946. Despite frustrations Moscow posed at every opportunity, despite his suspicions of the selfish interests of the Allies, and despite his annoyance with some of the tactics that the American delegation...

  13. 8 The Senator as Statesman, 1947–1948
    (pp. 169-202)

    Vandenberg’s stock was never higher than it was at the beginning of the first session of the Eightieth Congress in January 1947. Without expending any time or energy in campaigning, he had won reelection to the Senate by a surprisingly large margin. He was now more than spokesman in foreign relations for the Republican Party; he was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as well as president pro tempore of the Senate in the absence of a vice president. His position was thus a testament to the wisdom as well as the success of his particular brand of bipartisanship....

  14. 9 Charter and Treaty, 1948–1949
    (pp. 203-234)

    From 1947, when Vandenberg assumed the mantle of Republican leadership in matters of American foreign policy, until his hospitalization in the fall of 1949, the postwar world in Europe entangled him in conflicting emotions about the direction the United States should take. His polestar was the United Nations Charter; since his active participation in its composition at San Francisco in 1945, he had identified America’s—and the world’s—future with the success of this new international organization. His subsequent diplomatic experiences as a delegate to UN agencies and to meetings of foreign ministers confirmed the United Nations’ indispensable role in...

  15. 10 In Retrospect, 1950–1951
    (pp. 235-242)

    Senator Vandenberg died of cancer on April 18, 1951, after more than a year and a half of painful operations and incomplete convalescences. A lung lesion was removed in a six-hour operation on October 3, 1949, leaving “50 well intentioned stitches which are more annoying than a Senate filibuster.” Despite a “stubborn convalescence”—a description he used frequently, almost to his deathbed, in writing to correspondents—he returned to Washington in December in the hope of resuming his seat when the Eighty-First Congress convened in January. He admitted that “ I find major surgery something like war. You win the...

  16. Appendix 1. Excerpts from “The Need for Honest Candor: Clarification of Our Foreign Policy”
    (pp. 243-246)
  17. Appendix 2. The Vandenberg Resolution
    (pp. 247-248)
  18. Notes
    (pp. 249-274)
  19. Bibliography
    (pp. 275-280)
  20. Index
    (pp. 281-294)
  21. Back Matter
    (pp. 295-298)