|53rd United States Postmaster General|
March 4, 1933 - September 10, 1940
|President||Franklin D. Roosevelt|
|Walter Folger Brown|
|Frank Comerford Walker|
|Chair of the Democratic National Committee|
July 2, 1932 - August 17, 1940
|John J. Raskob|
|Edward J. Flynn|
|Chair of the New York Democratic Party|
October 1930 - June 1944
|M. William Bray|
|Member of the New York Assembly|
from Rockland County
January 1, 1923 - December 31, 1923
James Aloysius Farley
May 30, 1888
Grassy Point, New York, U.S.
|Died||June 9, 1976 (aged 88)|
New York City, New York, U.S.
|Resting place||Gate of Heaven Cemetery|
Elizabeth Finnegan (m. 1920)
|Education||Packard Business College|
James Aloysius Farley (May 30, 1888 - June 9, 1976) was one of the first Irish Catholic politicians in American history to achieve success on a national level. He simultaneously served as chairman of the New York State Democratic Committee, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and Postmaster General under the first two administrations of President Franklin Roosevelt. A business executive and dignitary and a Knight of Malta, Farley was commonly referred to as a political kingmaker, and he was responsible for Roosevelt's rise to the presidency. Farley was the campaign manager for New York State politician Alfred E. Smith's 1922 gubernatorial campaign and Roosevelt's 1928 and 1930 gubernatorial campaigns as well as Roosevelt's presidential campaigns of 1932 and 1936. Farley predicted large landslides in both, and revolutionized the use of polling data.
He was responsible for pulling together the New Deal Coalition of Catholics, labor unions, African Americans, and farmers. Farley and the administration's patronage machine over which he presided helped to fuel the social and infrastructure programs of the New Deal. He handled most mid-level and lower-level appointments, in consultation with state and local Democratic organizations.
Farley helped to normalize diplomatic relations with the Holy See and in 1933, he was the first high-ranking government official to travel to Rome, where he had an audience with Pope Pius XI and dinner with Cardinal Pacelli (future Pope Pius XII).
Farley opposed Roosevelt for breaking the two-term tradition of the presidency; the two broke on that issue in 1940. As of 1942, Farley was considered the supreme Democratic Party boss of New York.
In 1947, President Harry S. Truman appointed Farley to serve a senior post as a commissioner on the Hoover Commission, also known as the Commission on Organization of the Executive Branch of the Government.
Farley guided and remained at the helm of Coca-Cola International for over 30 years and was responsible for the company's global expansion as a quasi-government agency in World War II. It was used as a boost to the morale and energy levels of the fighting men. Shipped with food and ammunition as a "war priority item," the deal spread Coke's market worldwide at government expense. Also at US expense, after the war, 59 new Coke plants were installed to help rebuild Europe.
He was born in Grassy Point, New York, one of five sons whose grandparents were Irish Catholic immigrants. His father, James Farley, was involved in the brick-making industry, first as a laborer and later as a part-owner of three small schooners engaged in the brick-carrying trade. His mother was the former Ellen Goldrick.
After his father died suddenly, Farley helped his mother tend a bar and grocery store that she purchased to support the family. After graduating from high school, he attended Packard Business College in New York City to study bookkeeping and other business skills. After his graduation, he was employed by the United States Gypsum Corporation.
In 1911, Farley officially began his service as a politician, when he was elected town clerk of Stony Point, New York. Despite Stony Point's Republican leanings, Farley was reelected twice. He was elected chairman of the Rockland County Democratic Party in 1918, and he used the position to curry favor with Tammany Hall Boss Charles F. Murphy by convincing him that Alfred E. Smith would be the best choice for governor. Farley married the former Elizabeth A. Finnegan on April 28, 1920. They had two daughters and one son, Elizabeth, Ann and James Aloysius Farley, Jr.
Farley managed to secured the upstate vote for Smith north of the Bronx line, when he ran for governor the same year. The Democrats could not win north of the Bronx line before Farley organized the Upstate New York Democratic organization. After helping Smith become Governor of New York State, Farley was awarded the post of Port Warden of New York City. He was the last Democrat to hold the post, which was later taken over by the Port Authority of New York.
Farley ran for the New York State Assembly in 1922 and won in Rockland County, normally a solid Republican stronghold. He sat in the 146th New York State Legislature in 1923, but he lost it at the next election for having voted "wet," for the repeal of the Mullan-Gage Act, the state law to enforce Prohibition.
Farley was appointed to the New York State Athletic Commission at the suggestion of State Senator Jimmy Walker in 1923, and Farley served as a delegate to the 1924 Democratic National Convention, where he befriended Roosevelt, who would give his famous "Happy Warrior" speech for Smith.
Farley fought for civil rights for black Americans as chairman of the New York State Athletic Commission. In 1926, Farley threatened to resign his post as Athletic Commissioner if boxing champion Jack Dempsey did not fight the mandatory challenger, African-American fighter Harry Wills. Farley banned Dempsey from fighting Gene Tunney and publicly threatened to revoke Tex Rickard's Madison Square Garden license if he ignored the ruling of the commission.
Farley's public stand for black rights proved to be a valuable asset to the Democratic Party for generations, and it would sow the seeds of the black bloc of the New Deal.
Wills was perhaps the most well known victim of the "color line" drawn by white heavyweight champions after the title reign of Jack Johnson. Wills fought between 1911 and 1932 and was ranked as the number one challenger for the throne, but he was never given the opportunity to fight for the title. In 2003, he was named to Ring Magazine in its list of the 100 greatest punchers of all time.
Meanwhile, Farley merged five small building supply companies to form General Builders Corporation, which would become the city's largest building supply company. Farley's firm was awarded federal contracts under the Republican Hoover administration to supply building materials to construct buildings now considered landmarks, such as the Annex of the James A. Farley Post Office Building, in New York City. General Builders supplied materials for the construction of the Empire State Building as well. Farley was an appointed official and resigned his post from General Builders when he joined Roosevelt's cabinet.
After some convincing from Farley and long time FDR confidant Louis McHenry Howe, Roosevelt asked Farley to run his 1928 campaign for the New York governorship. Farley orchestrated Roosevelt's narrow victory in the 1928 gubernatorial election. Farley was named secretary of the New York State Democratic Committee and orchestrated Roosevelt's reelection in 1930. He was named chairman of the New York State Democratic Committee, which he held until his resignation, in 1944. Farley helped bring to Roosevelt's camp the powerful newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst and helped Roosevelt win the 1932 presidential nomination and election.
Farley's ability to gather the Catholics, unions, and big city machines, while maintaining the Solid South, into the New Deal Coalition greatly helped Roosevelt. Farley would repeat the process in 1936 when he correctly predicted the states Roosevelt would carry and the only two states he would lose: "As Maine goes, so goes Vermont." That prediction secured Farley's reputation in American history as a political prophet.
In accordance with political tradition, Roosevelt appointed Farley Postmaster General, a post traditionally given to the campaign manager or an influential supporter, and Roosevelt also took the unusual step of naming him chairman of the Democratic National Committee in addition to the cabinet post in 1933. Farley was constantly criticized by Roosevelt's opposition for insisting on keeping both posts simultaneously.
Farley worked hard to keep the Post Office going through the Depression. His expert stewardship made the once-unprofitable Post Office Department begin to turn a profit. Farley was instrumental in revolutionizing transcontinental airmail service and reorganized the Post Office's airmail carriers. Farley worked in concert with the Pan American World Airways' (Pan Am) president, Juan Trippe, to see that the mail was delivered safely and cost-effectively. That was after a brief period of the Army carrying the mail, with servicemen killed flying in bad weather. Farley oversaw and was responsible for the flight of the first China Clipper.
Farley is remembered among stamp collectors for two things. One is a series of souvenir sheets that were issued at commemorative events and bore his name as the authorizer. The other is the 20 stamps, known as "Farley's Follies," which were preprints, mostly imperforated and ungummed, of stamps of the period: Farley bought them at face value, out of his own pocket, and gave them to Roosevelt and Interior Secretary Harold Ickes, both collectors, and to members of his family and special friends of the Administration. (Farley himself did not collect stamps.) Unfortunately, some of them reached the market, offered at the high prices commanded by rarities. When ordinary stamp collectors learned of that, they lodged strenuous protests, newspaper editorials leveled charges of corruption and a heated Congressional investigation ensued. Finally, in 1935 many more stamps of the unfinished stamps were produced and made generally available to collectors at their face value.
Today, the souvenir sheets and the single cutout reprints are not scarce. The original sheets were autographed to distinguish them from the reprints, and 15 were displayed in an exhibit at the Smithsonian's National Postal Museum in June 2009.
Farley controlled federal patronage in the new administration and was very influential within Roosevelt's Brain Trust and the Democratic Party throughout the United States. Farley used his control of the patronage to see that Roosevelt's first 100 days of New Deal legislation was passed. Farley masterfully used the patronage machine to line up support for the New Deal's liberal programs.
He helped to bring about the end to Prohibition and the defeat of the Ludlow Amendment. The latter was an attempt by opponents of the war to limit the foreign affairs powers of the president by requiring a referendum for a declaration of war unless there was an attack. By swaying the votes of the Irish Catholic legislators in the Congress, Farley was able to bring about a defeat to the amendment, which if passed, would have prevented the President from sending military aid to Britain. Many Irish legislators had refused to lend aid to the British because of the potato famine.
Farley's close relationship with Roosevelt deteriorated as 1940 drew closer. Farley began seeking support for a presidential bid of his own after Roosevelt refused to publicly seek a third term but indicated that he could not decline the nomination if his supporters drafted him at the 1940 convention.
As chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Farley had no legitimate candidate. Roosevelt would publicly support Cordell Hull after privately telling Farley and others that they could seek the nomination.
Farley also opposed the Judicial Procedures Reform Bill of 1937 to "pack" the Supreme Court. In all other instances, however, he was continuously loyal and supportive of Roosevelt's policies. Farley was asked by Roosevelt to seek the governorship of New York multiple times but always refused.
In 1940, Farley resigned as postmaster general and party chairman after placing second in delegates at the 1940 Democratic National Convention in Chicago in which Roosevelt was "drafted" for a third term. Farley was the third Irish-American Roman Catholic to be nominated for the presidency. He was also the first Irish-American Roman Catholic to achieve national success when Roosevelt appointed Farley to his cabinet as postmaster general and chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
Eleanor Roosevelt flew to the convention to try to repair the damage in the Roosevelt-Farley relationship. Although Farley remained close to her and to James Roosevelt, he felt betrayed by the President and refused to join his 1940 campaign team.
In 1938, Farley wrote his autobiography, Behind the Ballots.
After resigning from the Roosevelt administration in 1940, Farley was named chairman of the board of the Coca-Cola Export Corporation, a vehicle that was created exclusively for his talents. Farley held this post until his retirement in 1973. Farley defeated a Roosevelt bid to secure the nominee for New York governor in 1942. He received one ballot vote in the 1944 Democratic National Convention. Farley once again became an important national political force when his old friend, Harry Truman, became president with the death of Roosevelt.
In 1948, Farley's autobiography "Jim Farley's story; the Roosevelt years," was published by McGraw-Hill Publishers. In the book, Farley praises his own view of his importance to the administration, defends his presumed legacy and was not at all kind to his former "boss," Roosevelt. He continues by describing, at length, his own weighty position and numerous responsibilities in Roosevelt's White House. However, according to Roosevelt's secretary, Grace Tully, in her book F.D.R: My Boss, published in 1949 by Scribner's Sons, "...aside from his role as a party leader, inside the cabinet, he contributed little or nothing to the shaping of Administration policies." She goes on to refer to Farley's book as "a hymn of hate against Roosevelt." In fact, in his book, he fancies himself as a possible successor to Roosevelt in the 1940 presidential election, as he overestimated his own popularity by the accolades that he often received as a member of the administration. In fact, as Tully explained, "Jim made the mistake of thinking that the applause which greeted him at new post offices was an applause for him personally."
Farley remained active in state and national politics until his death at 88, in 1976, in New York City. When he died, Farley was the last surviving member of Roosevelt's cabinet. Farley was interred at the Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne, New York.
Farley, the former chairman of Coca-Cola Export, was the only man to serve as National Party Chairman, New York State Party Chairman, and Postmaster General simultaneously. Farley's respect crossed party lines. Towards the end of his career, Farley was an elder statesman and pushed for campaign finance reform and a reduction of the influence of special interest groups and of corporations in politics.
|Party political offices|
M. William Bray
| Chair of the New York Democratic Party
John J. Raskob
| Chair of the Democratic National Committee
Edward J. Flynn
| United States Postmaster General